Saturday, April 27, 2013

Are Sharia councils failing vulnerable women?

By Jane Corbin

BBC Panorama has uncovered fresh evidence of how some Sharia councils in Britain may be putting Muslim women "at risk" by pressuring them to stay in abusive marriages.

In a small terraced house in east London, a woman and her husband argue before an Islamic scholar who sits on a dais above them in a room that looks and feels like a court.

This is Leyton Islamic Sharia Council, and Dr Suhaib Hasan will decide if the woman can have a divorce. Her husband is refusing to grant her one and the couple has been coming here for a year.

She accuses him of refusing to work, ignoring the children and verbally abusing her. He vehemently denies it. When Dr Hasan orders the husband to leave the room, the woman breaks down in tears.
"I hate him, I can't even bear to look at him, he has ruined my life," she sobs.

Dr Hasan sends the couple away for another month to try to save their marriage, with the help of Allah.

Fearful women

Leyton Islamic Sharia Council is Britain's oldest Islamic council and one of the most active, hearing about 50 cases a month - mainly marital disputes. Nine out of 10 are brought by Muslim women from all over the country.

With an Islamic marriage, it is far easier for a man to divorce. The only way for women is through these councils.

"We are not here just to issue divorces," says Dr Hasan.

"We want to mediate first. We try to save marriages so when people come to us we try to reconcile them."
But Islamic rulings given here are not always in the interests of the women concerned, and can run counter to British law.

In Leeds I met Sonia, a woman who suffered extreme violence from her husband, who punched and kicked her and threw her down the stairs. He also hit their son. When Sonia got a civil divorce, the courts would allow him only indirect access to the children.

Sharia courts are not allowed to interfere in child access matters, but when Sonia went to Leyton Islamic Sharia Council for a Sharia divorce, they told her she would have to give the children up to her husband.

"I couldn't bear the thought of such a violent person having my children," said Sonia.

"What was shocking was when I explained to them why he shouldn't have that access to the children, their reaction was - well, you can't go against what Islam says."

Sonia stood her ground and eventually got Leyton Islamic Sharia Council to drop their demand.

The council told BBC Panorama that when a marriage ends the question of access to children for both parents is crucial. Safety is paramount, it says, and any UK court order must be followed.
We had seen the public face of Leyton Sharia Council, but we sent an undercover reporter to see what advice they would give a vulnerable female client. Her story was that her husband was hitting her.

The government says domestic violence is a crime which should be reported to the police.

But Dr Hasan told the undercover reporter: "The police that is the very, very last resort. If he becomes so aggressive, starts hitting you, punching you of course you have to report it to the police, that is not allowed."

He went on to tell her that reporting the abuse to the police would be a final blow and she would have to leave the house and go to a refuge. He said that was a very "bad option".

His wife, a counsellor at Leyton Islamic Sharia Council, also told the undercover reporter not to go to the police but to involve the family instead.


When Leyton Islamic Sharia Council were asked about the secret filming, they said it may be essential to involve the police and other authorities in cases of domestic violence but it can be a step with irrevocable consequences.

We showed our secret footage from Leyton Islamic Sharia Council to Nazir Afzal, chief crown prosecutor for the North West.

Mr Afzal, himself a Muslim, said: "I'm disappointed but not surprised. Most of them [Sharia councils] are fine but there are some clearly like this who are putting women at risk."

He described what he had seen as "dangerous" because if people were deterred from seeking help they could suffer significant harm.

I met another woman who had tried to get a divorce from a different Sharia council in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire.

Ayesha's husband was in prison for violence, but Dewsbury Sharia Council told her she would have to go to mediation with him.

"I said I can't do that because he's not even allowed near my house and because I am frightened, I can't face him... but they didn't take any notice," she said.

Eventually Dewsbury Sharia Council agreed to see her without her husband but she had to face five men alone without legal representation. It took her two years to get a Sharia divorce.

Dewsbury Sharia Council said they could not comment on individual cases but they were aware of the standing and gravity of UK court orders and would never advise clients to breach them. They said they could arrange separate meetings on different days to avoid such breaches.

The women I spoke to believe it is not the Islamic code that is at fault, but the way some Sharia councils interpret it, and they want them investigated and held accountable.

Although these women eventually freed themselves from unhappy marriages, there are others condemned by religious councils to miserable lives.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Bangladesh simmers as Islamic conservatives and progressives clash

As popularity of rightwing party Hefazat-e-Islam grows, millions of female garment workers increasingly fear for their jobs

Six mornings a week, Tania Akhter leaves her home in the Banasri Ullah Para neighbourhood in the north of Dhaka, the Bangladeshi capital, for the garments factory where she stitches jackets and trousers to be sold on western high streets. The journey takes the 23-year-old through a simmering city.

Protests and clashes in Dhaka and elsewhere in the country have diminished in recent weeks but with about 100 dead and thousands injured, tensions remain high. A series of "shutdowns" have been enforced by political groups, more are threatened and many fear violence will flare again.

The battle pits religious conservatives against more moderate, progressive voices in a fight to determine the future direction of the country – the world's eighth most populous – 40 years after it won independence from Pakistan in a brutal war.

The most recent development is the emergence of a radical conservative Muslim party, Hefazat-e- Islam, as the standard bearer of the religious right. Earlier this month, at a huge rally in Dhaka attended by more than 100,000 according to police, the party issued 13 demands. They included the introduction of measures to stop "alien culture" making inroads in Bangladesh, the reinstatement of the line "absolute trust and faith in the Almighty Allah" in the nation's constitution, which is largely secular, and a ban on new statues in public places.

But it was Hefazat-e-Islam's demand that men and women do not mix in public – seen by many as a bid to stop women working outside the home – that most worried Akhter, one of tens of millions of female labourers in Bangladesh's booming garment industry.

"If we are not allowed to work, how will we survive?" asked Akhter, who supports her elderly parents on her monthly wage of 6,500 takas (£55). "Many of our coworkers were abandoned by their husbands. Some families only have daughters, whose parents are old. What will a single mother do? We will not have any means for a living."

Hefazat-e-Islam's demand is opposed by employers too. "There are women in media, defence, and development. There cannot be development [by] keeping half of a population ineffective," Mushrefa Mishu, president of the Garment Workers' Unity Forum, told the Guardian.

But beyond the issue of women working are much larger questions. "Although Bangladesh is a Muslim-majority country, it is a people's republic, not a Muslim country," said Mishu.

The unrest was initially provoked by the first verdicts passed by the international war crimes tribunal, set up by Sheikh Hasina, the prime minister and daughter of the wartime leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, to investigate atrocities committed during the 1971 conflict.

When a group of young moderates in Dhaka demonstrated in the central Shahbag Square, their protest quickly grew into a mass movement demanding accountability and harsh sentences for alleged crimes during the war.

The conflict left up to 3 million people dead. At least 200,000 women were raped while millions fled to neighbouring India.

Bangladesh's biggest Islamist party, Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), opposed the independence movement during the 1971 war and worked with the Pakistani army to fight nationalists. It is largely senior officials from JI who have been indicted by the tribunal. Two have been convicted this year.

Religious conservatives, many loyal to JI, took to the streets to counter the Shahbag demonstrators, accusing their leaders of being atheists and blasphemers.

Some of the violence has been explicitly sectarian, with attacks on places of worship of the small Hindu minority. Several activists have been shot dead by the police who routinely use live ammunition to quell protest.

The leader of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist party (BNP), Khaleda Zia, the widow of the independence war's best-known military commander, has accused Hasina of using the tribunal to hound political enemies.

In turn, Zia has been charged with encouraging and exploiting the rightwing anger. Hefazat-e-Islam are close to JI, which is a key ally of the BNP.

The conservatives say they are victims of a smear campaign and that their aims have been misunderstood. "The idea that Hefazat-e-Islam is taking the country back to the medieval age through its demands is propaganda," said Moinuddin Ruhi, joint secretary of the party. "We are not opposing women's development … Hefazat demands women refrain from free mixing in society to avoid sexual harassment and incidents such as rape. This does not … mean we want them to refrain from going to work or study. They should go to work and study following the principles of Islam."

Akhter countered that she and her female colleagues were "responsible enough to protect our own prestige and self-respect".

Hefazat-e-Islam officials say they will "besiege" Dhaka next month if the government does not agree to their demands.

There are fears that the pressure from the conservatives is having an effect. Shortly after officials said their demands would be considered last week, police detained four bloggers who are seen as sympathetic to the Shahbag movement and critical of Islamists on charges of "hurting religious sentiment".

In Bangladesh, defaming a religion on the internet can carry a 10-year jail sentence. One of Hefazat-e-Islam's principal demands is that the death penalty be imposed in such circumstances.

Pinaki Bhattacharya, a blogger and online activist, describes the arrests as unacceptable. "I believe we should not unnecessarily hurt someone's beliefs. I believe everybody should be sensible. Everybody should have their own sense of responsibility and they should not indulge into things which might create unrest and trouble in society," said Pinaki.

Police in Bangladesh have also arrested the acting editor of Amar Desh, a pro-opposition newspaper, on several charges, including sedition. Mahmudur Rahman of the Bengali-language publication was detained in a raid on his office in Dhaka, said a city police official Masudur Rahman.

The arrest has concerned local journalists. Nurul Kabir, editor-in-chief of Bangladesh's popular English daily New Age, said: "I have serious disagreement with the editorial policy of Mahmudur Rahman and the most of the contents that his paper Amar Desh disseminates, but I have no doubt that the government has arrested him primarily because of his active support for the opposition political camps. In a democratic dispensation, this is unacceptable."

Elections are due in Bangladesh later this year or early in 2014.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Boy, 8, one of 3 killed in bombings at Boston Marathon; scores wounded

Two bombs struck near the finish line of the Boston Marathon on Monday, turning a celebration into a bloody scene of destruction.

Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis said Monday night that the death toll had risen to three. Scores were injured at the scene. One of the dead was an 8-year-old boy, according to a state law enforcement source.Hospitals reported at least 144 people are being treated, with at least 17 of them in critical condition and 25 in serious condition. At least eight of the patients are children.

At least 10 people injured had limbs amputated, according to a terrorism expert briefed on the investigation.

Several of the patients treated at Massachusetts General Hospital suffered injuries to lower limbs that will require "serial operations" in the coming days, trauma surgeon Peter Fagenholz said Monday night. Some injuries were so severe amputations were necessary, Fagenholz added.

 In Washington, President Barack Obama vowed, "Any responsible individuals, any responsible groups, will feel the full weight of justice."

Boston "is a tough and resilient town," he said, adding that Americans will stand by Bostonians "every single step of the way."

'Like a huge cannon'

The terrorist attack, near the marathon's finish line, triggered widespread screaming and chaos, shattered windows and barricades and sent smoke billowing into the air at Copley Square. The blasts were about 50 to 100 yards apart, officials said, on a stretch of the marathon course lined with spectators cheering runners through the final yards of a 26-mile, 385-yard endurance feat.

"It felt like a huge cannon," a witness told CNN about one of the blasts.

Allan Panter, a doctor who was near the finish line waiting for his wife to finish the race, told CNN he was standing about 20 to 25 feet from the first blast. He said he treated victims on the street after the explosion.

"I saw at least six to seven people down next to me," he said. "They protected me from the blast. One lady expired. One gentleman lost both his (lower) limbs. Most of the injuries were lower extremities."

 Bill Iffrig, 78 and a veteran marathoner, was nearing the finish when "the shock waves just hit my whole body and my legs just started jittering around." Iffrig, who can be seen in video of the explosion wearing an orange tank top, was helped to his feet by an event volunteer and had just a scratch from his fall, he told CNN.

Federal authorities are classifying the bombings as a terrorist attack, but it's not clear whether the origin was domestic or foreign, a federal law enforcement official with knowledge of the investigation said.

A federal law enforcement official told CNN that both bombs were small, and initial tests showed no C-4 or other high-grade explosive material, suggesting that the packages used in the attack were crude explosive devices.

Another explosive device found

Authorities in Boston found at least one other explosive device that they were dismantling, Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis said.

Rep. Bill Keating of Massachusetts, meanwhile, said two more were found.

One unexploded device was found at a hotel on Boylston Street near the bomb site and another unexploded device was found at an undisclosed location, Keating, a Democrat and member of the House Homeland Security Committee, said. He called the bombing a "sophisticated, coordinated, planned attack."

 It was unclear who may have planted the marathon bombs. There were no credible threats before the race, a state government official said.

There is no suspect in custody, but many people are being questioned, Davis said.

Investigators warned police to be on the lookout for a "darker-skinned or black male" with a possible foreign accent in connection with the attack, according to a law enforcement advisory obtained by CNN. The man was seen with a black backpack and sweatshirt and was trying to get into a restricted area about five minutes before the first explosion, the lookout notice states.

Also, a Saudi national with a leg wound was under guard at a Boston hospital in connection with the bombings, but investigators cannot say he is involved at this time and he is not in custody, a law enforcement official said Monday evening.

In addition to scrutinizing images of surveillance cameras in the area, the FBI likely was issuing subpoenas for records from cell towers in the area to isolate and trace calls from around Copley Square at the time of the blasts, according to a former federal law enforcement official who now works in the intelligence community.

 The unexploded devices that were recovered could provide a treasure trove of information such as fingerprints and indications of the bomb maker's design, and from the bombs that did explode, investigators would be looking for fragments and anything indicating the "signature" of the bomb makers, the official told CNN.

As authorities searched the scene, numerous suspicious packages were found, possibly because people fled the area, leaving items behind. Investigators were checking them.

All off-duty Boston police were called in.

The Marriott hotel at Copley Place was evacuated as a precaution.

The Lenox Hotel was also evacuated as a precaution, the Boston Globe reported.

 'Horrific day'

Crowds were in the area watching the runners take part in the world's oldest annual marathon.
It was also Patriots Day, commemorating the opening battle of the Revolutionary War.
Within seconds, the festive occasion turned into devastation.

"This is a horrific day in Boston," Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick said in a statement.

"My thoughts and prayers are with those who have been injured. I have been in touch with the president, Mayor (Thomas) Menino and our public safety leaders. Our focus is on making sure that the area around Copley Square is safe and secured. I am asking everyone to stay away from Copley Square and let the first responders do their jobs."

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder spoke with FBI Director Robert Mueller and U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz, a Justice Department official said. Holder has directed the full resources of the Justice Department to be deployed to ensure the matter is fully investigated, the official said.

The Federal Aviation Administration placed a flight restriction over the site of the blasts.

Other cities, including New York and Washington, tightened security as a result. Following standard protocol, the White House cleared out an area in front of the West Wing.

Mike Baingon, who works at the Atlantic Fish Company in Boston, said an explosion took place in front of the restaurant and that he was right by the front door at the time.

The explosions occurred at about 2:45 p.m., more than two hours after the first of the race's nearly 27,000 runners had crossed the finish line, CNN Producer Matt Frucci reported.

The race was halted as was subway service into the area.

Troops from the Massachusetts National Guard, already at the site as part of the marathon's security and crowd-management plan, were assisting police as well.


Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Remembering the last hero of Chittagong uprising

Benode Behari Chowdhury, the last warrior of the Chittagong uprising of 1930-34 passed away last Wednesday night (April 10) at the age of 104 in a hospital in Kolkata. The passing of this legendary figure comes at a time when Hindus in Bangladesh and Pakistan are facing a renewed wave of persecution and West Bengal is witnessing the growth and expansion of Islamist forces which feel a greater connect to the razakars and the Jamaat of Bangladesh than to their own fellow citizens in the state.

Throughout his long, active and eventful life Benode Behari essentially fought against such disruptive forces and indefatigably championed the cause of the Hindus and other minorities in Bangladesh. Till the very end he remained concerned and disturbed at the fact that the Hindus of Bangladesh were being squeezed out by radical elements and that pro-Pakistan elements were on the ascendancy in the country.  Around a decade ago, when the BNP-led four-party alliance of which the Jamaat and its rabidly anti-Hindu leaders were the leading lights, was in power in Bangladesh, Benode Behari, at the advanced age of 93, had protested their treatment of the minorities in the country.

As early as 1972, when anti-Hindu attacks rocked newly liberated Bangladesh, Benode Behari’s advise to Sheikh Mujeeb was indeed crucial, he had warned the President that “he would not remain in power if Pakistani elements were not checked.” He clearly saw that these elements would never reconcile themselves to the emergence of a new Bangladesh which wanted to be free from the asphyxiating yoke of a wahabised Islam while yearning to forge a new religio-cultural identity for itself. Bangladesh today remains locked in an epic struggle between these forces of destruction and betrayal and those who yearn to go back to the original vision and ideals of the liberation movement.

When not yet 20, Benode Behari had thrown in his lot with Surya Sen – Masterda – the leader and ideologue of the Chittagong uprising. Passionately moved by the “golden dream – the dream of a free India” as his leader described it, Benode Behari braved British bullets – a bullet pierced his neck – and participated in raising the banner of armed revolt against the mighty Empire in far off Chittagong by declaring it liberated territory. Young Benode was transported to prison in distant Rajputana and then incarcerated in a deserted camp. The prolonged episode which had galvanised the entire area and other revolutionary movements across the subcontinent had badly shaken the Empire, till then firmly ensconced in its belief of invincibility. Yet the episode is neither remembered today in India – where empty chairs at the screening of Chittagong demonstrated the general apathy towards such riveting episodes of our history, nor in Bangladesh were Benode Behari would lament that in some quarters Surya Sen continued to be described “as a dacoit, a Hindu leader!” In fact, Bangladesh and India are yet to erect a suitable memorial to the martyrs of that uprising.

After partition, Benode Behari stayed on in East Pakistan and during a particularly dangerous time emerged as a rallying point for the minorities of that half of Pakistan. Steadfastly remaining in Chittagong, which over the years developed into a hotbed of radical elements including the Jamaat, Benode Behari remained unscathed and succeeded in organising the Hindus of the district. One of the then leading papers in Chittagong Azad had, pouring vitriol, proclaimed in early 1950 (February 8-9) that the “Real enemies of Pakistan are Hindus” and that “Hindus are not reliable.” It was against such odds that Benode Behari struggled for the rights, protection and dignity of his co-religionists and of other minorities of East Pakistan. Eventually, it was largely due to his efforts that Hindus in Chittagong became an important bloc in the region’s local politics.

Each time a compromise was made with Islamic fundamentalist forces, Benode Behari came out openly condemning the turn. He did not spare the Awami League either which had its phases of infatuation with the “Khelafatists”, as happened in 2006 when it came to an agreement with the fundamentalist Khelafat Majlish and agreed to support the issuance of fatwas by alems when it came to power.

Benode Behari Chowdhury’s life thus had two distinct parts, both of them revolutionary and full of struggle. The early part was a struggle against the idea and manifestations of an empire and the second was a ceaseless battle against a rising tide of Islamic fundamentalist consolidation and in support of efforts for protection of the Hindu voice in a continuously shrinking religio–political space in the land of his birth. He never considered the option of migrating, for a warrior that option was not even the last one, it never existed.

His example needs urgent and dedicated emulation across all parts of Bengal today, but does the Bengali Hindu bhadralok have time and tenacity for it?

Thursday, April 11, 2013

From the heart of a Muslim - by Tawfik Hamid .....

I was born as a Muslim and lived all my life as a follower of Islam.

After the barbaric terrorist attacks done by  my fellow Muslims everywhere on this globe, and  after  the  too many  violent acts by Islamists in many parts of  the world, I feel responsible as aMuslim  and as a human being,  to speak out  and tell the truth to protect the world  and Muslims as well from a coming catastrophe and war of civilizations. 
I  have to admit that our current Islamic teaching creates violence  and hatred toward Non-Muslims. 
We Muslims are the ones who need to change. Until now we have accepted polygamy, the beating of women by men, 
and killing those who convert from Islam to other religions. We have never had a clear and strong stand against the concept of slavery or wars, to spread our religion and to subjugate others to Islam and force them to pay a humiliating tax called Jizia. 
We ask others to respect our religion while all the time we curse non-Muslims loudly (in Arabic) in our Friday prayers in the Mosques. 
What message do we convey to our children when we call the Jews "Descendants of the pigs and monkeys"..

 Is this a message of love and peace, or a message of hate? 
I have been into churches and synagogues where they were praying for Muslims.
 While all the time we curse them, and teach our generations to call them infidels, and to hate them.
We immediately jump in a 'knee jerk reflex' to  defend Prophet Mohammed when someone accuses him of being a pedophile while, at the same time, we are proud with the story in our Islamic books, that he married a young girl seven years old (Aisha) when he was above 50 years old. 
  I  am sad to say that many,  if not most of us, rejoiced in happiness after September 11th and after many other terror attacks. 
Muslims denounce these attacks to look good in front of the media, but we condone the Islamic terrorists and sympathize with their cause.   
Till now our 'reputable' top religious authorities have never issued a Fatwa or religious statement to proclaim Bin Laden as an apostate, while an author, like Rushdie, was declared an apostate who should be killed according to Islamic Shariia law just for writing a book criticizing Islam. 
Muslims  demonstrated  to get more religious rights as  we did in France to stop the ban on the Hejab (Head Scarf), while we did not demonstrate with such passion and in such numbers against the terrorist murders. 
It is our absolute silence against the terrorists that gives the energy to these terrorists to continue doing their evil acts   
We Muslims need to stop blaming our problems on others or on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. As a matter of honesty, Israel is the only light of democracy, civilization, and human rights in the whole Middle East . 
  We kicked out the Jews with no compensation or mercy from most of the Arab countries to make them "Jews-Free countries" while Israel accepted more than a million Arabs to live there, have its nationality, and enjoy their rights as human beings. 
In Israel, women can not be beaten legally by men,  and any person can change his/her belief system with no fear of being killed by the Islamic law of 'Apostasy,' while in our Islamic world people do not enjoy any of these rights. I agree that the 'Palestinians' suffer, but they suffer because of their corrupt leaders and not because of Israel. 
It is not common to see Arabs who live in Israel leaving to live in the Arab world. On the other hand, we used to see thousands of Palestinians going to work with happiness in Israel , its 'enemy'. If Israel treats Arabs badly as some people claim, surely we would have seen the opposite happening. 

We Muslims need to admit our problems and face them. Only then we can treat them and start a new era to live in harmony with human mankind.  Our religious leaders have to show a clear and very strong stand against polygamy, 
pedophilia, slavery, killing those who convert from Islam to other religions, beating of women by men and declaring wars on  non-Muslims to spread Islam. 

Then, and only then, do we have the right to ask others to respect our religion.

The time has come to stop our hypocrisy and say it openly: 'We Muslims have to Change'. 

Tawfik Hamid

(Dr. Tawfik Hamid (aka Tarek Abdelhamid), is an Islamic thinker and reformer, and one time Islamic extremist from Egypt. He was a member of a terrorist Islamic organization JI with Dr. Ayman Al-Zawaherri who became later on the second in command of Al-Qaeda. Some twenty-five years ago, he recognized the threat of Radical Islam and the need for a reformation based upon modern peaceful interpretations of classical Islamic core texts.) 

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

A rally for war criminals: Why are TMC, Left silent?

A belligerent rally in Kolkata by 16 Islamic organisations in support of Delwar Hossain Sayeedi, one of the prime accused in the 1971 genocide in Bangladesh, is indicative of West Bengal’s liberal space shrinking, says Dr Anirban Ganguly.

Something unprecedented happened on March 30 in Kolkata. Sixteen Islamic organisations came together at the Maidan, the second largest public ground in the city, in protest against the ongoing war crimes trial in Bangladesh, against the Shahbag sit-in and in support of the vice-president of the Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh, Delwar Hossain Sayeedi, one of the prime accused in the 1971 genocide in Bangladesh.

It was astounding to see a huge and belligerent crowd gather from all over the state to support one of the best known razakars and collaborators with the Pakistan Army in its genocide against Muslims and Hindus in East Pakistan.

Speakers addressing the gathering attempted to whip up hysterical support for the Jamaat and its leaders and pledged that just as West Bengal’s Muslims prevented Salman Rushdie from the entering the state and hounded out Taslima Nasreen  in 2007 they would generate a movement against the pro-war crime trial bloggers in Bangladesh and would take on their supporters with the same zeal. They even threatened to block any future visit of Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina  to India.

But most shocking was their brazen support for Sayeedi, a known vocal anti-India preacher, a rabid anti-Hindu who has been active in organising pogroms against minorities in Bangladesh over the years and one of the most avid collaborators in Pakistan’s genocide against fellow Muslims.

They openly declared their support for Sayeedi saying that a death sentence for Sayeedi in effect meant a death sentence for the Koran and Islam. These speakers chose to ignore the fact that Sayeedi was being tried for killing in cold blood their fellow religionists. It was for the first time that such a mobilisation took place in Kolkata and it simply reinforced an emerging mindset which has begun trying to consolidate a pan-Bengal Islamic identity.

Incidentally, it was from the Maidan in August 1946 that the call for ‘direct action’ was given by the Muslim League. The result of that call on the history of both parts of Bengal is too well known to even require a passing reiteration. But our politicians have deliberately chosen to ignore that past.

Not a single political party, and in them especially those who at the first opportunity, jump to dissect delusional dimensions of Hindu fascism and habitually get into describing various conjured Hindutva theatres of genocidal experiments or pontificate on the need to maintain the secular and syncretic texture of our nationhood, came forward to condemn the positions taken in the meeting.

Not one political party even recalled that Sayeedi and his ilk were part of those criminal groups which selectively hunted out and massacred Hindus, fellow Bengali Muslims and helped to sustain Pakistani resistance to Indian soldiers. The Shahbag protesters have been calling for the establishment of a truly secular and constitutional Bangladesh where religious bigots would be reined in and their anti-national tendencies curbed and yet they find no support from our political secularists.

Both the Left Front and the Trinamool Congress have maintained a studied silence having mortgaged over the years their politics to Islamic fundamentalist elements in the state. Comrades who jump at every opportunity to display their secular credentials in order to keep communal forces at bay through organising rallies, sit-ins, and seminars have not issued even as much as a statement.

In fact Sayeedi himself had a very clear benchmark for Communists, “Leftists are not Muslims. They don’t believe in prayers,” he had declared. It has always been an axiomatic truth for him that no non-Muslim could be allowed to live in Bangladesh. He assiduously worked for it ever since the War of Liberation in 1971. No wonder comrades in Bangladesh find it difficult to survive on their own and have prudently sided with Sheikh Hasina.

The Congress believing that it shall gain space with the electorates’ gradual disillusionment with the TMC has obviously kept quiet. Its studied silence is part of its larger grand design of mobilising country wide minority support. Nor has the Indian media come forward to debate the phenomenon; it is still incapable of visualizing its status once congregations such as these begin  spawning Sayeedi clones all over India.

For the media and journalists Sayeedi had a simple equation, “Journalists write lies. They are the enemies of Islam”. It is well documented as to what Sayeedi did to those whom he considered as enemies of Islam. It is this stoic silence in face of a rising vocal Islamic fundamentalism which is worrisome and condemnable. The liberal space in Bengal is fast shrinking and we have paid a heavy price for such a constriction in the past.  

Those in whose support the Maidan congregation was organised were at their vicious best when it came to treating minorities in their own country. Sayeedi himself, as head of the local Al Badr and Al Shams, has been convicted of killing Hindus, burning their homes and businesses and of forceful conversion. He assisted the Pakistan army in its operation of decimating Hindus.

Sydney Schanberg, then correspondent of the New York Times, noted this selective approach, ‘the [Pakistani] army is now concentrating on Hindus, the killing is more selective, [and] has not stopped.’ Schanberg further recorded how the Pakistan army had ‘painted big yellow H’s on the Hindu shops to identify the property of the minority, eighth of the population that it has made it special targets.’

Archer Blood, the ‘dissenting diplomat’, then American Consul General in Dhaka cabled on March 29, 1971 on how the ‘Hindus [were] particular focus of [the] campaign and how the army was ‘going after Hindus with a vengeance.’

Veteran Pakistani journalist Anthony Mascarenhas, who fled to London in order to tell the truth about the Pakistan army wrote in exasperation in his columns in the Sunday Times that the Pakistani military operation had two distinctive features: ‘ One, the cleansing process’, the other ‘rehabilitation effort’ -- ‘turning East Bengal into a ‘docile colony of West Pakistan.’ Sayeedi and his political colleagues had wholeheartedly facilitated all of these; the Maidan congregators were silent on that.

It was Sayeedi who had once said of the Hindus of Bangladesh, ‘Why should we feel sad when the Hindu brothers choose to leave our country? Do we mourn when we have indigestion and materials leave our bodies?’

Do we then assume that those in West Bengal who have organised the Maidan rally in Sayeedi’s support and those who have, through their silence given consent to their demands, really support that line?


Monday, April 8, 2013

A Dangerous Connivance

It is worrying that West Bengal’s political class remained tactical spectatorss to the Kolkata rally organised by Muslim groups in support of Bangladeshi war criminals

West Bengal looked to the Shahbag protests in Dhaka with hope. In 1971, a massive relief and solidarity effort was undertaken in West Bengal for the millions trying to escape a veritable genocide. The then leaders of the Jamaat-e-Islami in East Bengal and its students wing organised murder and rape squads in collaboration with the Pakistani forces. Their crimes included mass murder, rape as a weapon of war, arson and forced conversions. Post-1975, generals used them to cast an Islamic veneer of legitimacy over their illegal capture of power. Their immunity lasted until the present Bangladesh government restarted the legal proceedings in the War Crimes tribunal. The Shahbag protests demanded maximum punishment for the guilty.


In West Bengal, a few meetings have happened around Shahbag, mostly expressing support. But, shockingly, the largest was a massive rally held in Kolkata on March 30, explicitly against the Shahbag protests and in support of the war criminals already convicted. Various Muslim groups, including the All Bengal Minority Council, the All Bengal Minority Youth Federation, the Madrassa Students Union, the Muslim Think Tank and the All Bengal Imam Muazzin Association, organised the rally. People arrived in buses from distant districts of Murshidabad and Nadia, as well as from neighbouring districts. Students of madrassas and the new Aliah Madrassa University were conspicuous at the gathering.

The old rallying cry, “Islam is in danger in Bangladesh,” was heard. We heard a similar cry in 1952 during the mother-language movement, in 1954 when Fazlul Haq and Maulana Bhashani challenged the Muslim League, in 1969 when the Awami League made its six demands and during the 1971 liberation struggle — basically during every secular movement for rights and justice. The rally thundered that West Bengal would be “cleansed” of supporters of war crimes trial and the present Prime Minister of Bangladesh. They promised that political forces supporting Shahbag would be “beaten with broom-sticks” if they came asking for Muslim votes. Like Taslima Nasreen and Salman Rushdie, Sheikh Hasina would not be allowed inside Kolkata. They expressed solidarity with the anti-Shahbag “movement” in Bangladesh. This assertion is worrisome, as the anti-Shahbag forces in Bangladesh have initiated a wave of violent attacks on Hindus, Buddhists and secular individuals, and the destruction of Hindu and Buddhist homes, businesses and places of worship. Amnesty International documented attacks on over 40 Hindu temples as of March 6. That number has increased.

This large gathering and its pronouncements have been in the making. A collapse in the Muslim vote was important in the Left Front’s demise. Muslim divines regularly remind the present government of this. The Trinamool Congress wants to ensure a continued slice of this vote. In an unprecedented move, the government handed out monthly stipends to imams and muezzins to build a class of Muslim “community leaders” who eat out of its hand. The debt-ridden, vision-deficient government is unable to solve the problems that are common to the poor. It has wooed a section of the marginalised on the basis of religion by selective handouts. These are excellent as speech-making points masquerading as empathy. This also gives fillip to forces whose trajectories are not under usual political control.

The Left Front’s political fortune stagnated after 2011. It has cynically chosen not to strongly oppose this communal turn. Waiting for the incumbent to falter is its roadmap to power. The damage this is doing to the West Bengal’s political culture is possibly irreparable. The incumbent’s connivance and the opposition’s silence are due to the long-eroded tradition of democratic political contestation through grassroots mobilisation. Both deal with West Bengal’s sizeable minority population primarily via intermediaries, doing away with any pretence of ideology in the transactions.

Politics of blackmail

Organisations inspired by political Islam have used this disconnect to the hilt to blackmail the government. An emerging bloc of divines, and former and present student leaders have used students and youths as storm troopers at short notice. Sadly, they are unconcerned about life and livelihood issues of Muslims. With assistance from the Left Front regime, they drove out the persecuted humanist writer, Taslima Nasreen. The extent of their clout as blackmailers was evident from the government’s pro-activeness in keeping Salman Rushdie out of Kolkata, after his visit to Bangalore, New Delhi and Mumbai. This pushing of the envelope fits into a sequence of events that is increasingly stifling the freedom of expression. The double-standards are clear.

On March 21, a group of small magazine publishers, human rights workers, theatre artists and peace activists were disallowed from marching to the Deputy High Commission of Bangladesh to express their support to the war-crimes trial efforts. The police had “orders;” some marchers were detained. A month earlier, the same police provided security cover to an anti-Shahbag march and later to the marchers when they submitted a memorandum to the Deputy High Commission demanding the acquittal of convicted war criminals. Last year, public libraries were directed to stock a sectarian daily even before its first issue was published! The State thinks that it can play this brinksmanship game with finesse. When the political class acts as tactical facilitators or tactical spectators to apologists of one the largest mass-murders ever, the demise of Kolkata as a centre of culture is a natural corollary. A combination of circumstances can cause an uncontrollable unravelling. Bengal’s experience with sectarian politics is distinctly bitter.

The bye-election to Jangipur, a Muslim-majority Lok Sabha constituency, saw the combined vote of the two main parties fall from 95 per cent in 2009 to 78 per cent in 2012. The beneficiaries were the Welfare Party of India, a thinly-veiled front organisation of the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind, and the Social Democratic Party of India, a similar group. “Tactical pluralism” is their game, a concept quite akin to the tactical defence of Taslima’s freedom of speech by Hindu communal political forces. The rally in support of war criminals has exposed this faux pluralism.

There was another significant beneficiary in the same election — the Bharatiya Janata Party. Communal tension has been rising, with serious disturbances in Deganga and Canning. Sensing a subterranean polarisation, the majoritarian forces see an opportunity. Mouthing banalities about Bengal’s “intrinsically” plural culture is useless. Culture is a living entity, recreated every moment. It is being recreated by the victimisation discourse by fringe groups like Hindu Samhati and in certain religious congregations where unalloyed poison produced by divines like Tarek Monawar Hossain from Bangladesh is played on loud-speakers. Thanks to technology, vitriol produced in a milieu of free-style majoritarian muscle-flexing in Bangladesh reaches West Bengal easily. Hence the popularity of one of the convicted war criminals, Delwar Hossain Sayedee, who in his post-1971 avatar had become a superstar in the Bengali waz-mahfil circuit.

What are the effects of cultural exchange of this kind? The rally is a clue. A defence of Sayedee and the claim that he is innocent, made repeatedly in the rally, are like perpetrating Holocaust-denial.

A day after the anti-Shahbag rally in Kolkata, almost as a divine reminder of starker realities beyond the defence of Islam, nearly 45 lakh unemployed youth, Hindus and Muslims, sat for the primary school teachers’ recruitment examination for 35,000 posts. Clearly, the ‘minority’ employment exchange set up by the incumbents has failed. West Bengal has petitioned the Centre for a relaxation of the minimum qualifications for primary school teachers. The promotion of religious education is hardly the way to empowerment and livelihood generation for the minorities in a State where they have been grossly under-represented in all white-collar services. There are no short-cut solutions.

(Garga Chatterjee is a researcher at Massachusetts Institute of Technology)


Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Bengal on verge of collapse due to Muslim Appeasement: Tapan Ghosh

IBTL team talked to Social Activist & Hindu Samhati Chief Tapan Ghosh to know his version of the recent violence and atrocities happened on Hindus in West Bengal and the role of the left parties and Trinamool Congress in it.

Mr. Gosh at present there are religious riots going on in West Bengal, and in this regard almost the entire nation is uninformed, What do you feel about this?

First of all I would like to inform you that the riots were spread across four villages on 19th of February, in which about 200 houses of Hindus were burnt. This is just one incident, such incidents take place atleast four to five times a year. Last year on the 14th of May, there was similar situation in Taarnagar and Rupnagar of 24 south pargana districts when Muslim rioters burnt down houses of several houses. I visited those villages in person, and arranged trauma relief programmes for the victims. Two years ago in Chaopur village of Murshidabad also there was a very violent situation.  Hindus were beaten blue and black, at first two houses belonging to Hindus were set on fire and later a Hindu youngster was put to death. Commotion of similar intensity was also spread in Taarnagar. Several women were sexually assaulted. About two and half years before this incident in 2010 September Hindu women were assaulted largely in Muslim majority areas of the North 24 pargana district.  Those days CPM was ruling Bengal but now it is Mamtaji’s government. The current governments and the previous ones have subjugated these incidents from coming to lime light because these were favourable to them. The governments have exploited these situations for their political interests. Even the Bengali is also is acting as a buffer from exposing the riots taking place in different regions of West Bengal. It is evidently failure of the Government and Media, that they could not prevent such incidents. Some to feel ashamed about is that in four villages under the Canning police circle which is hardly 60 km away from Kolkata on the 19th of February all the Hindu houses were looted and then set on fire. The natives of those villages and the victims informed me that a large numbers of Muslim have come to their villages, and that there about 150 trucks by which they had traveled from Kolkata. The rioters have looted all that that was portable. The other heavy things like grains which they couldn’t carry with them; they just splashed petrol and set them on fire. During this entire incident Police acted as silent spectators.

Do you feel that this is not just a temporary phenomenon but a long term strategy? Is that seeds of separatism are being sowed similar to that in Kashmir, there was also information that Badruddin Ajmal the mastermind behind the Assam riots was also in Bengal three days ago?

I feel this is not just a Temporary phenomenon but it seems like a strategy. These happenings may be a part of long term plans. Through these actions they are showing off to the government their muscle power and are also inducing fear into the Hindu community which will compel them to flee from these villages and to migrate to other regions. I do not have any clue about Badruddin Ajmal, including that you have mentioned. Yes he did visit Kolkata to launch his party. Apart from him there is another Muslim leader P.D.Choudary who has merged his party into Badruddin’s party. I feel that this is a conspiracy by top Muslim leaders of CPM and TMC. And they are involved in accomplishing the same.

What about Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee who claims that religious riots take place only in Gujarat and not in West Bengal?

There cannot be a lie bigger than this. There are atleast a thousand riots in Bengal each year. These are just subjugated and pushed under the carpet. The politicians are making policies to please Muslim voters as a part of their vote bank politics.

Do you feel that following the UPA in centre and CPM in the state, now even TMC is also playing the Muslim minority card and indulging in minority politics?

Even a blind would get to see that Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee who claims to be secular, but still goes to mosques to offer prayers. She is also providing special stipend to the Muslin students, distributing cycles among them and also paying remunerations to Imams and facilitating the minorities with many things which the others do not get to enjoy. In the vicious drama of the Alcohol issue there was an anti-social element behind the screen that is referred to as the White Emperor. He runs many illegal and unethical businesses. After the riots the government of Bengal gave such people an amount of Rs. Two lakh as ex-gratia, despite the fact that they were into ill-legal activities. In the state of Bengal the Mamata run government resorted to all sorts of things to please Muslims. And she is walking in the footsteps on the communist parties.

The Indian Media stills discusses the Gujarat riots, but pays no attention to this repeated attack on Hindus in Bengal, do you feel Media is biased?

The justification Media gives for not having covered the riots is that the news may instigate riots in rest of the country. And they claim that regulations do are stooping them from covering the riots. The question to be raised with Media in first place is that who made this regulation? Is the Press council of India working under the central government or under the government of West Bengal? The Media is lying, there is no such regulation. To report whatever has happened is the first and foremost duty of the Media and Media has failed to do so. Media is under the pressure of Muslim forces and the current government. Even the leading newspaper of West Bengal Anand bazaar patrika has always been biased and anit-hindu. They are least bothered about the Hindus (Majority)

Sentiments and publish articles criticizing Hindu gods and goddesses, none of the media ever dare to comment on Muslim believes. Bengal media has always ignored their wrong deeds. If at all in future Bengal turns to be an Islamic state, the credit would go to Media houses like the Anand bazaar patrika.

What is your opinion on the way Media is reporting about the Gujarat Riots? Wherein without any sort of judgments by any court they are projecting him as a villain with respect to the issue?

The fund Media generates through Ads and in other ways most of it comes from the Islamic (Arabic) nations or Christian missionaries. The instructions they have got is to project that Hindus are rioters everywhere and also project Modi as a fundamentalist belonging to RSS. This is their strategy. They feel that Muslims can never indulge in wrong practices. Whereas on the other hand Muslim rioters have brutally killed Vinod Mehta the deputy commissioner of Kolkata port area. They have chopped his body into pieces, cauterize him with cigarette and even cut his private parts and tortured him. Though Muslims have done all this, this have never been shown on news because Muslims are like their brothers, and when your brother does something wrong you leave it unnoticed after all he is your brother so he can do. He can even break the country or terrorize but still he is not innocent since he is your brother.

Most of the Media institutes and Higher Education Platforms seem to be in the clutches of the communists. Where the students are brain washed and convinced of communism. Can we expect them to be unbiased?

It is matter of fact that though the communist are no longer in power, they still have full control over the media and Education in state. Not just there but even in the fates of the Bengalis of West Bengal the communists exercise their power. Communism was born in the Soviet. The communist have failed from giving the Nation a vision. They have always been anti-nationals. It would not be wrong even if I say that it is the ill-fate of the Bengalis as communists exist in West Bengal. They haven’t done any good to the state and in fact turned it into a sick state. Nationalists need to work in this direction. Even after the entire world faulted Stalin as Evil, the communists still worship him. That looks more like actions of a brain dead. Until they exist there nothing can be done.

There is another question similar to the previous one. Do feel that the Education system nurtured by the communists as isolated an entire generation from the rest of the nation?

Communists are the second convicts in this regard. The primary damage has been done by Macaulay through the reforms he has got. Sad part is that the English (British) and communists were friends as they were allies in the Second World War where the British and the Soviet fought together. Even in India the communists turned puppets in the hands of the British. For the reason that Nehru had good relation with the Soviet Union he allotted the education planning to the communists. For instance Nooral Hasan was holding office in the communist party, but still he was made the Education minister. In pre Independence there was an understanding between the British and the communists, which after the independence turned into an illicit relation between congress and the communists. The Indian Education system was made deficient of nationalistic vision and had small sphere of inclusion as a part of their revenge. The interference of Communists in the Education and syllabus planning is spoiling the future of our country. The revisions made in the CBSE syllabus are fine examples of this.

What do you think is the role of communists in raising Muslim acculturation and separatism tendencies in India?

Yes I feel that they intentionally ignore the Muslim fundamentalism and separatist ideas. I feel that in any corner of their heart the communist do not have anything that is in favour of India. The partition of India in 1947 is an example of the separatist ideology of Muslims. Based on the teachings of their religion people following Islam would not like to stay with people of other religions. They aim at Islamisation of the entire world as per Dar-ul-Islam and the same ambition has caused the partition of India too. The partition has also caused the death of many Hindu brethren. Several Hindu women have been raped, and still such a situation is prevailing. Is this all not a part of History? But the communists have buffered all this from the records of history and wrote up some stories as history. The massacre of Hindus and forceful conversion of people to Islam by the Mughals have been replaced stories praising the Mughals for many fake reasons. Bengal has always been under the rule of insane rulers. During Independence Justice Suhravardhi was the chief minister; in the name of Direct Action he had caused riots in the city of Kolkata. On 16th of Aug 1946 there were several communist leaders present there who were shouting aloud slogans “We want Independence only after portioning India into India and Pakistan.” After which the Muslim population has raised to 26 percent whereas the Hindu population fell down to 54 percent. The Communists have ruled Bengal for about 34 years. The riots are an illustration of the growth of fundamentalism in the Muslims in all these years.

Do see any sought of Hindu Movement rising in Bengal in the coming years?

There would not be just some sought of movement but I feel there would be outburst of a Hindu revolution. All the political parties and Media houses are trying to some how suppress this. Following the same fashion in pleasing the minorities already our country had been divided once in the past. Lakhs of Hindu men were killed, Women were raped, temples destroyed but now Hindus will no longer tolerate this again. The current political parties in Bengal are dedicated in pleasing the Muslims. The need of the hour is to alienate such evil forces from coming to power. And soon the world is going to witness a mass Hindu revolution in West Bengal.

Do you think in coming days we are going to see a Pro-Hindu party forming government in West Bengal?
I don’t think any pro-Hindu party can form government or even think of it, because there are about 30 percent Muslims who generally vote in bulk for the same party. Like in the last elections they have voted for TMS or Congress as they have moved away from Communists. That why the parties always try to please Muslims leaders so that they can have the support of the bulk Muslim voters who constitute to 30 percent of the voters. Even BJP which is labeled a Hindu party is also unable to raise its voice against this partiality of the government. There are many other parties which are secular. Hindu votes get divided among several parties. If a party wants to work for the interest of the Hindus, some Nationalist party needs to come forward and unite the Hindus voters.

Many different Hindu organizations are working on various issues across the country. Do you think all of them should meet on a single platform to work together?

I have interacted with several Hindu organizations from different parts of the country working on different issues; one thing I have observed about them is that they do not have a National vision.  They are sincerely working to improve things in spheres they have selected, but they are not willing to work in national level as there are different problems and difficulties associated with each cause. But if a National level organisation is ready to take the lead they are willing to extend their support. That body, should co-ordinate with all of them and unite them. Small and regional organizations are also not able to raise their voice; even if they raise their voice it is not given importance in National scenario. If all the Hindu organizations are able to meet on one platform nationally then the state of Hindus in this country will develop.

Many times it seems that the Hindu groups themselves are not aware of the basic teachings of their religion. Some organizations do protests on issues of no importance, but ignore those issues which pertain to interest of Hindus. What do you feel about this?

I totally agree with you on this. I think you are talking in regard to the Bangalore pub issue. The incident is over and the anti-Hindu media has exploited the situation fully against the Hindu organisation involved in that incident. To do moral policing Valentine’s Day is not the primary objective of Sri Ram Sena but it is just a part of their cause. The need of the hour is to form a Platform to accommodate all the Hindu organizations so that they work together for a National cause.