Saturday, May 31, 2014

The pre-history of anti-blasphemy activism in Pakistan // Raza Rumi: Pakistan's blasphemy law is used to fuel violence and death.

"As (Allama) Iqbal placed the body of Ilm Din into the grave, he tearfully declared: "This uneducated young man has surpassed us, the educated ones."

NB - These articles are courtesy the Brown Pundits blog:

The 1920’s in India witnessed the publishing of an inflammatory book vilifying Prophet Muhammad (SAW) thereby adding fuel to the existing Muslim/Hindu tensions. The British Raj ruled India and the creation of Pakistan was still a distant dream in the hearts of the Indian Muslims. The Muslim population was understandably incensed and mass protests were held. Prashaad Prataab had authored Rangeela Rasool (The Colourful Prophet), under the pen name of Pandit Chamupati Lal. The word rangeela means ‘colourful’ but can be understood in this context to mean ‘playboy’. [Nauzbillah]


NB: B.R. Ambedkar states that Rangila Rasool was written in response to the inflammatory pamphlet Sita ka chinalaPakistan or the Partition of India, (Chapter 9, footnote 29) -DS


Rajpal was a Hindu book publisher from Lahore. He took the responsibility of publishing the book in 1923 and pledged not to disclose the author’s real name. Pressure from the Muslim community resulted in the matter being taken to Session court Lahore which found Raj Pal guilty and sentenced him. Subsequently Rajpal appealed against the decision of Session Court in the Lahore High court. The appeal was heard by Judge Daleep Singh who gave leave to appeal on the grounds that on the basis of criticism against the religious leaders, no matter how immoral it is, is not covered by S.153 of the Indian Penal Code. Thus Rajpal could not be sentenced as law did not cover blasphemous criticism against religion. The High Court decision was widely criticised and protests were made against it by Muslims of India. Little did anyone suspect that one young man’s course of action would bring about a significant change in the Law, ensuring that Islam would be covered by blasphemy laws.

Ilm Din was an illiterate teenager from Lahore. His father was a carpenter. One day he was passing near Masjid (mosque) Wazir Khan. There was a huge crowd shouting slogans against Rajpal. The speaker thundered: "Oh Muslims! The devil Rajpal has sought to dishonour our beloved Prophet Muhammed (S.A.W) by his filthy book!”

Ilm Din was deeply affected by this passionate speech and vowed to take action. On 6th September 1929 Ilm Deen set out for the bazaar and purchased a dagger for one rupee. He hid the dagger in his pants and waited opposite Rajpal’s Shop. Rajpal had not arrived yet. His flight had arrived at Lahore airport and he proceeded to phone the police in order to request them to provide him security. Ilm Deen did not know what the publisher looked like. He asked a few passer-by’s as to Rajpal’s whereabouts and said that he needed to discuss something with him. Rajpal entered the shop without detection but soon after a man alerted Ilm Din that Rajpal was inside. The young man entered the shop, lunged forward and attacked him. He stabbed his dagger into the chest of Rajpal with such force that his heart was ripped from his body. Rajpal fell dead on the ground. Ilm Deen made no attempt to escape. Rajpal’s employees grabbed him and shouted for help.

The police arrived at the scene and arrested Ilm Deen. He was kept in Mianwali jail. The case went to court and Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah was his defence lawyer. Jinnah fought Ghazi Ilm Deen's case on a special request from Allama Iqbal. Jinnah urged Ilm Din to enter a plea of not guilty plea and to say that he had acted due to extreme provocation. The fact that Ilm Din was only 19 years old would have also worked in his favour. Ilm Din refused to offer such a plea and insisted that he was proud of his actions. This case was the only one that Jinnah ever lost. The Session Court awarded Ilm Din the death penalty. Against his wishes, the Muslims lodged an appeal, but it was rejected.

Ilm Din's execution occurred on 31st October 1929. When asked if he had any last requests, he simply requested that he be allowed to pray two rak’at (units) nafl (voluntary) prayer, thus following the example of Khubaib (RA) who also prayed 2 rak’ats nafl before the pagan Quraish executed him. As the noose was put around the neck of Ilm Din, he repeated before the huge crowd: "O people! Bear witness that I killed Rajpal to defend our last Prophet Muhammed S.A.W, and today they are going to hang me. I am sacrificing my life whilst reciting the kalimah (shahadah - testimony of faith)."

The young man was killed and the authorities buried him without any Janazah (funeral) prayer being offered for him. Mass demonstrations broke out and there the tension between the Hindu and Muslim communities was palpable. The inhabitants of Lahore wanted Ilm Din’s body returned in order to give him an Islamic janaza (funeral). Two celebrated activists — Dr. Muhammed Allama Iqbal and Mian Abdul Aziz — campaigned to have the body of Ilm Din returned to Lahore for the Janaza prayer. The British were worried that this would incite unrest. Only after Allama Iqbal gave his assurance to the British that no riots would erupt, was permission given.

When the body of Ilm Din was exhumed from its grave, it was found to be the intact without any change whatsoever. The kaffan (shroud) had not changed its colour. This occurred on 14th November 1929 — a full 15 days after the hanging. After a two-day journey, the body arrived in Lahore. Muslims from the whole city and millions from adjoining areas attended his funeral. Ilmuddin's father requested Allama Muhammad Iqbal to lead the funeral prayer and this shivered Dr. Allama Iqbal who replied that I am a sinful person not competent to do this job to lead the funeral of such a matchless warrior. 200,000 Muslims attended the funeral prayer which led by the Imam of masjid Wazeer Khan, Imam Muhammed Shamsuddeen. Mawlana Zafar Ali Khan said ahead of the burial: "Alas! If only if I had managed to attain such a blessed status!"

Allama Iqbal carried the funeral bier along its final journey. As Iqbal placed the body of Ilm Din into the grave, he tearfully declared: "This uneducated young man has surpassed us, the educated ones."

The killing of Ilm Din had far-reaching repercussions. A provision was added to the Penal Code, making insult to the religious beliefs of any class an offense. Allama Iqbal’s proposal of a separate Muslim state in 1930 resulted in the creation of Pakistan in 1947. The Pakistan Penal Code makes it a crime for anyone who "by words or visible representation or by an imputation or insinuation, directly or indirectly, defiled the name of the Prophet Muhammad ". In 1982, President Zia ul-Haq introduced Section 295B to the Pakistan Penal Code punishing "defiling the Holy Qur'an" with life imprisonment. In 1986, Section 295C was introduced, mandating the death penalty for "use of derogatory remarks in respect of the Holy Prophet" in keeping Islam’s hudood (prescribed punishments). Ilm Din’s legacy is still visible across Pakistan, where parks, hospitals and roads carry his name.



The recent murder of a brave human rights lawyer Rashid Rehman reminds us of the society we have shaped. It is now an unregulated space where even defending the rights of an accused is a crime. Rehman had made all the threats, including those in the courtroom, public. The local state authorities did next to nothing to protect him or rein in the individuals and groups preaching violence. It seems when it comes to religiously motivated violence the might of the state disappears. Victims of blasphemy law are no longer fit for due process. They need to be punished directly. A few days after the murder of Rehman, another accused of blasphemy was shot dead by a teenager in a police station near Lahore.

Since the brutal murder of Salmaan Taseer in January 2011, debates on the colonial blasphemy law have disappeared from the public domain. Those who advocated against its misuse were also silenced through litigation in courts by the right-wing lobbies that no longer constitute the lunatic fringe. In fact, the idea of blasphemy as a threat to Pakistan's carefully constructed "Islamic" identity mixes passion, politics and power. A state that quietly smiles at the success of its project is now complicit in mob justice and even brutal killings such as the one that took Rashid Rehman's life.

Fear and silence
Earlier in March, on the eve of Hindu festival Holi, an allegation of blasphemy against a local Hindu led to the attack on a community centre and a temple in the stronghold of liberal PPP (Pakistan Peoples Party) Larkana in Southern Pakistan. The scenes of vandalisation in Sindh province, otherwise known as the land of Sufis and where the largest number of the Hindu population lives, were chilling.

It is pointless to moan the response of the state officials who are content with terming such issues "sensitive" or in other words a no-go area carved in the public imagination. A report by Reuters states that March 2014 was the "worst month for attacks on Hindus in 20 years with five temples attacked, up from nine during the whole of 2013". Nearly a month ago, a Lahore court awarded death sentence to another alleged blasphemer, Sawan Masih, marking a new low in our legal and judicial system. A low income settlement in Lahore - Joseph Colony - was attacked in 2013 and nearly a hundred homes were torched. The mayhem was triggered by an 'allegation' of blasphemy. To give credit where it is due the Punjab government promptly helped in rebuilding these homes. However, its police and prosecution failed to nab those who were involved in this kind of "collective punishment". 
The ruling party even failed to take cognizance of the reported involvement of its local leader from the area. And the judicial system - trained in the curricula and discourse of Islamisation and deeply afraid - meted out a tough sentence to another Christian.

The Punjab based militant organisations according to reports maintain close surveillance of Christian settlements. The results of this activism have been witnessed in Gojra, Jospeh Colony and elsewhere. Collusion by political parties and inability of law enforcement agencies have led to a state of confusion and impunity.

Pakistan has the unique distinction of abusing the controversial blasphemy laws and according to a recent report (prior to Sawan's sentence), 14 individuals were on death row on blasphemy convictions and 19 convicts were serving life sentences There are hundreds of others who have been arrested or charged with the crime. It is not the execution of a sentence but the fear and mob justice that comes in the wake of such charges. After Rehman's murder, lawyers would think twice before taking such a case. Judges would be afraid to deliver verdicts and the police - already partisan - will further abandon its job.

 After the sentencing of Sawan Masih, a few parliamentarians raised this issue in the national assembly but nothing changed. Outraged citizens protest, write op-eds in the English press and few reckless types like me, who tried to raise these issues on television, face bullets. Currently, Pakistan's largest private TV network - GEO - is under attack for allegedly airing a blasphemous morning show. The controversial content was a lapse of editorial judgment but the charges have put thousands of workers' lives at risk. The channel that has been in a tug of war with Pakistan's premier intelligence agency - the ISI - has now been entangled in the ultimate crisis. It may mend its relations with the state but charges of blasphemy will continue to risk its staffers.

Protecting Islam?
Pakistan has turned into a society where even an allegation of blasphemy is enough to sentence and burn people. In Sindh and Punjab mobs have burnt the accused reminding one of the ugliest of practices in human history. The abuse of blasphemy law is nothing but an issue of power and ideological supremacy by the fanatics in our society.

Ghazi Ilmudin Shaheed, who killed a Hindu writer for blasphemy in the early twentieth century, is a national hero of Pakistan's collective memory. It cannot be denied that the love and veneration for Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) is a tenet of lived Islam across the Muslim world. However, in Pakistan's case, this is less of a religious obligation and more of a political project. Implementing the blasphemy law with or without the due process is a means of dealing with a pre-Islamic past, the colonial experience, and modernity.

Above all, it is a direct result of a state project which has drummed Islamo-nationalism to build widespread public support for "strategic" aims. The battle with India is not about Kashmir or water but it is about believers vs infidels. Similarly, the engagement with the West can be managed by invoking the spectre of West attempting to harm Islam and Muslims.

This is why a good number of my countrymen view the debate on blasphemy law as "Western agenda" and something that West sponsored "evil" NGOs propagate to damage Islam and Pakistan. Are we the only Muslim country on earth? There are at least a billion Muslims living outside Pakistan and we cannot assume the gatekeeping of Ummah. No one denies that the Western aggression and misadventures haven't helped either. But we are now trapped in our own discourse, glued to an identity that values exclusion over pluralism. The rise of such discriminatory discourses in Pakistan through publications, media, militant groups - considered legitimate - have compounded our everyday reality. Upholding human rights is now a sin punishable by death.

We do stand at an abyss whether we like it or not.

In the short term, Pakistan's Parliament needs to change the investigative procedure of the blasphemy law and institute safeguards against adverse police reporting. Most importantly, it will need to protect the judges and lawyers who defend human rights. 




Subhash Gatade - Footsoldiers in Search of an Icon - on V D Savarkar

The epitaph for the RSS volunteer will be that he was born, he joined the RSS and died without accomplishing anything.”-V. D. Savarkar
(D.V.Kelkar, “The R.S.S.” Economic Weekly ( 4 Feb 1950: 132) Page 36, The Brotherhood in Saffron,The RSS and The Hindu Revivalism, Andersen and Damle,Vistaar, 1986, Delhi)
 'Veer Savarkar was a Veer Purush who was not scared of death. He was a Shastra Upasak and Shaastra Upasak' : Shri Narendra Modi
May 29, 2013 Author: admin (http://www.narendramodi.in/)
Celebrations at the central hall of Parliament are a marker of the political ambience in the country. The change of guard at the centre was very much visible at the place recently where the entire top brass of BJP including PM Narendra Modi were present to celebrate the birth anniversary of Savarkar. Modi described Savarkar as a prolific writer, poet and social reformer. “Tributes to Veer Savarkar on his birth anniversary. We remember and salute his tireless efforts towards the regeneration of our motherland.”
People would recall that normally it used to be a low-key event. Last year, the celebrations were further muted. Only few prominent leaders of the BJP were present there. The ascendance of BJP led government had clearly made the difference.
A trip down memory lane would tell us that even for the Sangh Parivar and its affiliated organisations this has not been the case always. The iconisation of Savarkar in the Parivar is not very old. Late nineties when Shiv Sena-BJP ran a coalition government in Maharashtra they did not even think of putting his portrait in the state the assembly. For them this discovery of Savarkar happened during the BJP led NDA regime at the centre (1998-2004).
Perhaps neither Modi nor any of his cabinet colleagues, most of whom started their social political life in the RSS or Rashtra Sevika Samity ( which is meant for women of the Hindutva brigade), would like to remember today that they are singing paens to the man who when alive had castigated the Hedgewars-Gurujis’ – founders and pioneers of RSS – and their Swaymsevaksumpteen times ( Sample the quote above) and the Hedgewars’-Golwalkars’ had also returned the compliment in the same vein.
Even a cursory glance at the trajectory of Hindu Mahasabha under the leadership of Savarkar or the way in which RSS unfolded itself during those days makes it quite clear that the differences in priorities between the two organisations was already visible from the day Savarkar was elected president of the Hindu Mahasabha after his release from jail ( 1937).In a sympathetic study of RSS  “The Brotherhood in Saffron,The RSS and The Hindu Revivalism,” the authors Andersen and Damle clearly explain (Page 40, Vistaar, 1986, Delhi) that in fact Savarkar’s emphasis was on turning Mahasabha into a political party in opposition to the Congress when Hedgewars’ had already decided to insulate RSS from any active politics and concentrate on ‘cultural work’. Hedgewar and later Golwalkar also neither wanted to be associated with a formation whose confrontational activities would place the RSS in direct opposition to the Congress. According to him there were apprehensions regarding each other’s role in the Hindu Unification Movement. The souring of relations between the two organisations is visible in a angry letter issued by Savarkar’s office in 1940 advising that
“..When there is such a serious conflict at a particular locality between any of the branches of the Sangh RSS and the Hindu Sabhaites that actual preaching is carried out against the Hindu Mahasabha …, then the Hindu Sabhaites should better leave the Sangh …and start their own Hindu Sabha volunteer corps.( Letter from V.D.Savarkar to S.L.Mishra, 3 March 1943, Savarkar files, Bombay) “
Definitely the fact that this ‘Veer Patriot’ ( to quote title of a write-up which appeared in ‘Panchajanya’ sometime back discussing Savarkar) died a lonely man abhorred especially by the thriving ‘Parivar’ then, which made special efforts to maintain distance from him in those days, did not bother these ‘legatees’ then. It did not pertrub their conscience a bit that it took more than thirty four long years after his death that they ultimately decided to claim their lineage from this pioneer of the Hindutva project.
Just to recapitulate, a decade back, when the Vajpayi led NDA was ousted out and UPA I led by Congress, had assumed reins of power a controversy had erupted about removal of Savarkar’s plaque from Port Blair’s cellular jail where Savarkar was jailed, Vikram Savarkar, Savarkar’s own nephew in an interview to a national daily exposed BJP’s lack of interest in him and castigated them for their sudden love for him. (Savarkar nephew hits out at BJP, August 30, 2004, Indian Express)
It may be noted that he had accused the senior leaders of the BJP for ‘keeping mum despite noticing the removal of his uncle’s quotations from Port Blair’s Cellular Jail’. According to him Ram Kapse, the then incumbent Lt. governor of Andaman and Nicobar and former M.P Ram Naik ( both BJP workers) “..did not utter a word when the plaque was removed.” The report further says that ,’ ..he is not surprised at BJP’s lack of interest in Savarkar. “We know very well that the BJP and RSS did not appreciate his (Savarkar’s) philosophy.”..’ ..The report further says that ‘ (Vikram- author) Savarkar insists BJP’s sudden love for the legend is an eyewash.’ “It is an effort to woo voters for the Assembly elections in Maharashtra.”
II
“Many people worked with the inspiration to free the country by throwing the British out.After formal departure of the British this inspiration slackened.In fact there was no need to have this much inspiration.We should remember that in our pledge we have talked of the freedom of the country through defending religion and culture. There is no mention of departure of the British in that”. – M.S. Golwalkar alias Golwalkar Guruji ( Sri Guruji Samgra Darshan,Volume IV, p.2 )
“ In 1942 also there was a strong sentiment in the hearts of many. At that time too the routine work of Sangh continued. Sangh decided not to do anything directly”.  – M.S. Golwalkar alias Golwalkar Guruji ( Sri Guruji Samgra Darshan, p.41)
Of course even a layperson can understand that this ‘discovery of Savarkar’ which happened in late 90s or or the first decade of the 21 st century and the memory recall experienced by the R/SS brigade vis-a-vis Savarkar did not have spiritual but purely temporal considerations. As an aside it need be mentioned here that Savarkar’s portrait was unveiled in the Parliament in the year 2003 – exactly five years after they BJP came to power at the centre.It is clear that apart from the immediate task on hand this complete claim over Savarkar’ serves a larger purpose for them and it relates to their utter compromising role during the anti-colonial struggle.
Everybody knows that the RSS came into being in the mid twenties when the anticolonial struggle was surging ahead but preferred to keep itself aloof from this upsurge and concentrate on its supposedly ‘cultural work’. Not even once during this twentyplus year journey till we reached independence did it give any call specifically opposing the Britishers, rather it penalised those activists who wanted to participate in the people’s movement for freedom. Even its founder Mr Hedgewar went to jail only once after the founding of RSS and that also under the Congress banner.  It has been well documented how sheepish their behaviour was during those days when even the secret  reports of the Britishers did not write anything averse about them. The Britishers even ‘appreciated’ their immediate compliance when they were ordered to stop military type training in the late 30s. Not content with their opposition / non participation in the independence movement they even made special efforts to break the broad anti imperialist unity of the Indian people by dividing them on communal lines.
Anybody can vouch that this ‘controversial past’ of theirs cannot be erased from public memory. The ‘iconisation’ and the ‘glorification’ of Savarkar thus serves a dual purpose.The projection of Savarkar as a great freedom fighter and claiming lineage from him whitewashes the ‘Parivar’s’ silence during those stormy days then and Savarkar’s later transformation from a nationalist  into a Hindutva Supremacist serves them equally well.
It is also evident that there are many aspects of Savarkar’s life which they find rather discomfiting. In fact, it would not be incorrect to state that they find themselves in catch 22 situation while defending him e.g. The controversy surrounding the clemency petitions sent by Savarkar to the Britishers for his release while he was in the Andamans still simmers. While his detractors have been able to show his clearcut surrender before the Britishers by presenting documentary proofs which includes Savarkar’s own petitions his die hard supporters have rather adopted a more ‘flexible’ strategy to buttress their case. Initially they challenged the vearcity of his clemency petitions themselves but when that could not be sustained they have portrayed the whole exercise as a tactical move on his part to get out of  jails so that he could join the struggle outside. In fact this whole exercise to discover ‘tactics’ behind Savarkar’s petitions for clemency are a great insult to the memory of those known and unknown revolutionaries who braved heavy odds to persist in their struggle many of which embraced death rather than seek amnesty.
Definitely there are many loopholes in this defence. One is surprised to find that a leader of his stature whose heroic deeds in the prime of his youth for the cause of freedom struggle had electrified the nation had started sending letters of apology and demanding amnesty immediately after being sent to Andamans as part of his punishment for life imprisonment. He even disregarded the fact that an All India Defence Committee had already come up for his release and the Congress Party then had urgently taken up his case before the British regime.But as the book ‘Penal Settlement in Andamans’ by Mr R.C. Mazumdar ( Gazettees Unit, Department of Culture, Ministry of Education and Social Welfare, Govt of India, 1975, P.221) vividly demonstrates he was really so demoralised with the tough conditions existing there that he promised to serve the government in any capacity in exchange of his release.
Sample this concluding part of a mercy petition which Savarkar personally presented to Sir Reginald Craddock, Home Member of the Government of India when he came to visit Cellular Jail in 1913 (November 14, 1913). The mercy petition concluded with the following words :
I am ready to serve the Government in any capacity they like, for as my conversion is conscientous so I hope my future conduct would be. The Mighty alone can afford to be merciful and therefore where else can the prodigal son return but to the parental doors of the Government.
(R.C. Mazumdar, op cit. Page 213)
The assassination of one of the noblest sons of the Indian people namely Mahatma Gandhi and the role played by Savarkar in it has also been a major controversy revolving about it. Despite enough evidence to show that he had a hand in the conspiracy to kill the Mahatma, his supporters have glossed over all the facts on mere technical grounds.
Kapur commission also examined Savarkar’s role in the assassination. As things had unfolded in the trial court of Atma Charan, Godse had claimed full responsibility for planning and carrying out the attack, in absence of an independent corroboration of the prosecution witness. Here Badge’s testimony was not accepted as it lacked lacked independent corroboration. This was later corroborated by the testimony of two of Savarkar’s close aides – Appa Ramachandra Kasar, his bodyguard, and Gajanan Vishnu Damle, his secretary, who had not testified in the original trial but later testified before the Justice Kapur commission set up in 1965. Kasar told the Kapur Commission that they visited him on or about January 23 or 24, which was when they returned from Delhi after the bomb incident. Damle deposed that Godse and Apte saw Savarkar in the middle of January and sat with him (Savarkar) in his garden.
Justice Kapur concluded: “All these facts taken together were destructive of any theory other than the conspiracy to murder by Savarkar and his group.”.
A few other crucial aspects of his personality which could help us in reaching a balanced conclusion have either not been considered or have been dropped as irrelevant for the debate. It is time one revisits some of these aspects and also take a fresh look at his weltanshaung (world view) through which many of the tragic as well as bloody events in the history of Independent India can be foretold.
In fact the myth makers engaged in building a ‘halo’ around Savarkar about his ‘bravery’ do not want to uncover that he preceded Jinnah in propounding the ‘two nation theory’.If Jinnah is portrayed as a ‘villain’ in the  popular imagery supposedly for demanding partition how it is proper to wrap Savarkar in the garb of hero if he was the one who forcefully laid down the principle much before him. The presidential address delivered by him in Ahmedabad at the 19 th session of the Hindu Mahasabha in 1937 not only explained his understanding of Hindutva but also declared that India comprises of two nations. According to him
there are two antagonistic nations living side by side in India, several infantile politicians commit the serious mistake in supposing that India is already welded into a harmonious nation, or that it could be welded thus for the mere wish to do so.These our wellmeaning but unthinking  friends take their dreams for realities.That is why they are impatient of communal tangles and attribute them to communal organizations. But the solid fact is that the so-called communal questions are but a legacy handed down  to us by centuries of cultural, religious and national antagonism between the Hindus and Moslems … India can not be assumed today to be a unitarian and homogeneous nation, but on the contrary there are two nations in the main : the Hindus and the Moslems, in India.
( V.D.Savarkar, Samagra Savarkar Wangmaya Hindu Rasthra Darshan ( Collected works of V.D.Savarkar) Vol VI, Maharashtra Prantik Hindusabha, Poona, 1963, p 296
It is now history how in 1942 when the Britishers were engaged in the World War II and the Congress’s call for ‘Quit India’ reverbated throughout India, thousands of people engaged in government jobs including police and military left their jobs to protest continuation of British regime. It is worth noting that while the RSS preferred to keep itself aloof from the ‘Quit India Movement’ and concentrate on its divisive agenda when the broad masses of the Indian people were figthing the Britishers the pioneer theoretician of the project of HinduRashtra went one step further. At that time ‘Veer’ Savarkar preferred to tour India asking Hindu youth to join the military with a call ‘Militarise the Hindus, Hinduise the nation’ .. Read more:
http://kafila.org/2014/05/29/footsoldiers-in-search-of-an-icon/

Also see: 
 This is an examination of certain aspects of the history of the Hindu Mahasabha and the political career of its sometime leader, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar. By the time he came to head the Mahasabha in 1937 it had been in existence for two decades, but his agenda directly opposed to the Congress and the Muslim League and to the national movement for independence. A former revolutionary terrorist, Savarkar had been incarcerated in the Andamans Cellular Jail after being sentenced in December 1910 to transportation for life and forfeiture of property for masterminding the conspiracy to assassinate A.M.T Jackson ICS, Collector of Nasik in Bombay Presidency in December 1909 and conveying the revolver employed for that purpose. 

In prison he became persuaded that the enemy was not the British but the Muslims and accordingly won increasing privileges. Released from imprisonment to detention, he asked for and was paid a pension, and was permitted to conduct anti-Muslim propaganda. Released from detention by the provincial Congress Government, he headed the Mahasabha from 1937 to 1942, when it set out a programme to arm Hindus against Muslims by recruiting them to the Indian army, promoting military education, influencing the administration of the princely states including their armies, gaining access to weaponry from their state forces to harass Muslims, obtaining arms licenses from sympathetic Congress ministers, attempting to set up a munitions factory at Gwalior in the expectation of support of the Darbars and the Birla industrial group, and exploring contacts with European fascists. 

None of this was discouraged by the British, who at the very same time suppressed anti-Nazi propaganda by left and liberal organisations. Despite its earlier praise for Mussolini and Hitler the Mahasabha hailed the proclamation of the new state of Israel in 1948 and promised it support. I shall argue that the Mahasabha pioneered what might be termed a subaltern fascism

Savarkar’s exemplary conduct in jail won him favour. When World War One began, he protested his desire to serve the war effort and asked for amnesty: 
The siding of Turkey with Germany as against England, roused all my suspicions about Pan-Islamism and I scented in that move a future danger to India. I...feared that in this grim struggle between two mighty powers the Muslims in India might find their devils opportunity to invite the Muslim hordes from the North to ravage India and to conquer it."

To combat this he proposed a new British union with her imperial subjects where, from Ireland to India,
an empire would emerge from the process, which can no longer be the British Empire. Until it assumed any other suitable name, it might well be called “The Aryan Empire”.

Savarkar’s petition of 30 March 1920 claims that since he was ‘without danger to the State’, he should be granted a reprieve; for, far from espousing
the militant school of the Bukanin (sic) type...I do not contribute even to the peaceful and philosophical anarchism of a Kropotkin or a Tolstoy.

Accordingly, he promised that his release would be
a new birth and would touch my heart, sensitive and submissive to kindness, so deeply as to render me personally attached and politically useful in future

George Lloyd, Governor of Bombay, later Lord Lloyd, an influential British imperialist who later  administered Egypt and a supporter of fascist movements in his subsequent political career, was persuaded not by Savarkar’s grand designs but by the use to which he could be put as a former revolutionary. Accordingly, the Government periodically reviewed his loyalty. Only its assurance ensured each improvement in his living conditions and successive reductions in his sentence.
To disarm any suspicion that may yet linger in the Government Quarters, the petitioner begs to solemnly pledge his word of honour that he shall cease to take any part in politics whatever.

Thus Savarkar is said to have renounced all
methods of violence resorted to in days gone by and I feel myself duty bound to uphold law and a constitution to the best of my powers and am willing to make the reform a success in so far as I may be allowed to do so in future.

A new politics
He was released on 4th January 1924. He then published the lessons of his experience in the Andamans, which were that through his struggles he had managed to overcome every humiliation inflicted by the Muslim staff and prisoners and persuaded the prison management to appoint him to run the key operations of the prison and subordinate the Muslims to him, thus creating ‘Hindu rule’... 

I as a German prefer much more to see India under British Government than under any other...I must not connect the fate of the German people with these so-called ‘oppressed nations’ who are clearly of racial inferiority (Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, German edition, p. 747)



Honouring Mukul Sinha: The Struggle of Memory Against Forgetting: Saumya Uma and Arvind Narrain

Among the miniscule tribe of human rights lawyers, even one loss is irreplaceable. We felt that way when we lost K. Balagopal in 2009, K.G. Kannabiran in 2010 and most recently when, Mukul Sinha passed away on 12 May 2013. Each of these figures were giants in the world of human rights activism who struggled for an idea of India which all too often remained an ideal and a vision, sometimes far from reality. Regardless of how distant the vision of a real and functioning democracy, founded on the ideals of social and economic justice was, these three figures never lost heart, always communicating a spirit of hope about the future based on concrete and grounded work in the present.
As such the lives of these three great figures of the contemporary human rights movement are nothing less than exemplary lives, always acting as an inspiration for each of us to do more to ensure that justice moves from being an abstract ideal to a concrete and lived reality. Mukul Sinha was a part of this great trio and he exemplified a dogged commitment to make the state and its agents accountable for its acts of commission as well as omission of constitutionally mandated duties, in very difficult times. [1]
Through his work inside and outside the courts, Mukul Sinha kept alive the struggle of the Gujarat violated of 2002 for justice and functioned as the public conscience of India in very dark times. Through his work as part of the Jan Sangarsh Manch which he founded, Mukul Sinha fought to ensure that the crimes of Gujarat 2002 would be accounted for. Post the overwhelming victory of Narendra Modi in the Lok Sabha elections of 2014, the temptation to forget Gujarat 2002 will be immeasurably higher. Honouring Mukul Sinha means that we continue to struggle against the forces whose aim is to ensure that the world forgets the injustice of Gujarat 2002.
 Responding to injustice
Mukul Sinha joined the Physical Science Laboratory in Ahmadabad to do a Ph.D. in physics. However he did not remain for long in the secluded confines of scientific research but was moved to respond to the injustice in the world around him. When he saw a supervisor kick a helper Mukul spontaneously intervened. When he went on to raise the issue with his faculty, he was told that he was student and that he should behave as a student. The issue snowballed into a protest by employees and turned into a major confrontation between the managers and the employees. Mukul was marked as a trouble maker. When finally Mukul was dismissed from his position he challenged the dismissal all the way to the Supreme Court. As he puts it,
“ I still remember the judge in the Supreme Court asking a question to which my counsel who were Girish Patel and Soli Sorabjee had no answer. If the petitioner is a scientist why is he a member of a trade union? Finding no answer my petition was dismissed. I remember that Girish Bhai was very upset and had tears in his eyes, I consoled him and said well at least it is clear now that I have no place in a scientific establishment as there is no relationship between science and trade unions.”[2]
Mukul Sinha continued his work as a trade unionist organizing the educational sector connected with research and becoming a part of the Gujarat Federation of Trade Unions.   Realizing the usefulness of a law degree, in 1986, he started doing his law. In 1987 he finished his law and in 1989 he got his sanad. That time onwards, in his words, ‘I became a lawyer and my identity as a physics guy went away.’
The other reason why the period in the Physical Science Laboratory was important was that he met Nirjhari a research student at the same laboratory who went on to become not only his wife but his closest companion – both in his personal life as well as in his political work. As Mukul put it regarding his time at the Physical Science Laboratory, “It was the most useless time ever. But then my life changed in 1977. I fell in love. It was cosmic.”[3]
As Mukul Sinha recalled to us, it was Nirjhari Sinha who did the crucial initial analysis of the record of all mobile phone conversations which were made between the 28 of February and 3rdof March 2002. Theirs was a partnership where their personal commitment to each other was intimately connected to a larger commitment to the struggle against injustice.
 Gujarat Pogrom 2002 – Towards Constitutional Liability
Mukul Sinha’s work in Gujarat began as a labour lawyer and activist working on organizing labour in the institutions of higher education. However he felt that the trade union framework itself was inadequate to address issues such as slum displacement and environmental pollution and hence went on to form the Jan Sangharsh Manch. This organization took up labour issues including low wages of drivers and conductors of state transport corporations, and the rights of other sections of society that he felt had been ignored by the government. He then felt that this framework of a civil liberties group was also inadequate and went on to form a political party called the New Socialist Movement. Mukul envisaged these three organisations as sister organisations through which the struggle for justice could be taken forward. Though Mukul’s individual work was extraordinary, equally important was his ability to build a larger committed team. The Jan Sangharsh Manch, for example, is composed of a team of at least fifteen lawyers who are committed to the project of social and economic justice.
 To people within Gujarat, Mukul Sinha will be known as a trade unionist, a lawyer as well as a political activist. But to people around the world, his indelible contribution will be in the direction of consistently taking on the state government on the Godhra train burning incident, and his efforts at making the state and its agents accountable for the Gujarat pogrom of 2002. In this regard, Mukul Sinha’s work showed qualities of both head and heart as he applied a quiet intelligence to the almost impossible task of making the state accountable for allowing the murder, rape and brutalization of its own people. Just in bare figures, the story of breaking the cycle of impunity for the violence of Gujarat 2002 is unprecedented in the history of independent India. The story of communal pogroms in India has been a shameful story of complete impunity for the perpetrators. The first time that that the narrative changed in independent India was in the case of Gujarat where for terrible crimes, perpetrators were convicted.
At present 96 persons have been convicted for their role in the mass crime. (32 in Naroda Patiya) (11 in Bilkis Bano), (31 in Sardarpura) (18 in Ode) (4 in Best Bakery). In the convictions till now perhaps the most significant is the conviction of the 32 persons in Naroda Patiya one of whom was Mayaben Kodnani – a former minister in the Gujarat Cabinet and a key confidante of Narendra Modi. Among the courageous band of human rights activists responsible for eking out justice from a recalcitrant state, the role of Mukul Sinha cannot be forgotten.
While clearly one cannot forget the courage and determination of Mukul Sinha in making the public servants and political figures accountable for the pogrom, equally important is the question of craft. Mukul Sinha’s enduring contribution to the craft and vision of the human rights lawyer was to decide in 2002 to participate in the proceedings while every other activist boycotted the Commission of Inquiry set up to inquire into the reasons for the riots, . While Mukul was clearly aware of the politics of the commission of inquiry, and its establishment by the state government as a delaying tactic and cover for its culpability, his effort was to use the Commission of Inquiry to both extract vital information out of the state as well as to use it to keep the spot light on what happened in 2002.
In Mukul Sinha’s words,
“All organizations boycotted the Commission; however we looked at it politically. Our objective was to use the Commission to get data. Today all that we know about the riots from official documents has really emerged from the Commission. Some of the information which has been key to convictions has also emerged from the Commission. For example Rahul Sharma’s C.D of phone call records made in Ahmadabad on the crucial days of the riots was produced before the Commission. Since everyone else boycotted the Commission, the Commission also realized that a Commission without opposition is meaningless and hence we were given some leeway. Since many government officials deposed before the Commission, the cross examination was one way of getting some good evidence.”.. read more:

Friday, May 30, 2014

Chris Hedges: Imploding the myth of Israel

Max Blumenthal - Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel
Reviewed by Chris Hedges

Israel has, and has always had, within its population intellectuals, including the great scholar Yeshayahu Leibowitz, who sought to save Israel from itself. Leibowitz, whom Isaiah Berlin called “the conscience of Israel,” warned that if Israel did not separate church and state it would give rise to a corrupt rabbinate that would warp Judaism into a fascistic cult. “Religious nationalism is to religion what National Socialism was to socialism,” said Leibowitz, who died in 1994. He understood that the blind veneration of the military, especially after the 1967 war that captured the West Bank and East Jerusalem, was dangerous and would lead to the ultimate destruction of the Jewish state and any hope of democracy. “Our situation will deteriorate to that of a second Vietnam, to a war in constant escalation without prospect of ultimate resolution.” He foresaw that “the Arabs would be the working people and the Jews the administrators, inspectors, officials, and police—mainly secret police. A state ruling a hostile population of 1.5 million to 2 million foreigners would necessarily become a secret-police state, with all that this implies for education, free speech and democratic institutions..

As Blumenthal documents, even Israeli Jews no longer live in a democracy. The mounting state repression against human rights advocates, journalists and dissidents has reached the proportions of U.S. Homeland Security. The overtly racist cant of the political elite and the masses—“Death to Arabs” is a popular chant at Israeli soccer matches—has emboldened mobs and vigilantes, including thugs from right-wing youth groups such as Im Tirtzu, to carry out indiscriminate acts of vandalism and violence against dissidents, Palestinians, Israeli Arabs and the hapless African immigrants who live crammed into the slums of Tel Aviv. Israel has pushed through a series of discriminatory laws against non-Jews that eerily resemble the racist Nuremberg Laws that disenfranchised Jews in Nazi Germany. The Communities Acceptance Law, for example, permits “small, exclusively Jewish towns planted across Israel’s Galilee region to formally reject applicants for residency on the grounds of ‘suitability to the community’s fundamental outlook.’ ” And all who denounce the steady march of Israel toward fascism—including Jewish academics—are attacked in organized campaigns as being insufficiently Zionist. They are branded as terrorists or collaborators with terrorists...

Israel has been poisoned by the psychosis of permanent war. It has been morally bankrupted by the sanctification of victimhood, which it uses to justify an occupation that rivals the brutality and racism of apartheid South Africa. Its democracy—which was always exclusively for Jews—has been hijacked by extremists who are pushing the country toward fascism. Many of Israel’s most enlightened and educated citizens—1 million of them—have left the country. Its most courageous human rights campaigners, intellectuals and journalists—Israeli and Palestinian—are subject to constant state surveillance, arbitrary arrests and government-run smear campaigns. Its educational system, starting in primary school, has become an indoctrination machine for the military. And the greed and corruption of its venal political and economic elite have created vast income disparities, a mirror of the decay within America’s democracy.

And yet, the hard truths about Israel remain largely unspoken. Liberal supporters of Israel decry its excesses. They wring their hands over the tragic necessity of airstrikes on Gaza or Lebanon or the demolition of Palestinian homes. They assure us that they respect human rights and want peace. But they react in inchoate fury when the reality of Israel is held up before them. This reality implodes the myth of the Jewish state. It exposes the cynicism of a state whose real goal is, and always has been, the transfer, forced immigration or utter subjugation and impoverishment of Palestinians inside Israel and the occupied territories. Reality shatters the fiction of a peace process. Reality lays bare the fact that Israel routinely has used deadly force against unarmed civilians, including children, to steal half the land on the West Bank and crowd forcibly displaced Palestinians into squalid, militarized ghettos while turning their land and homes over to Jewish settlers. Reality exposes the new racial laws adopted by Israel as those once advocated by the fanatic racist Meir Kahane

Reality unveils the Saharonim detention camp in the Negev Desert, the largest detention center in the world. Reality mocks the lie of open, democratic debate, including in the country’s parliament, the Knesset, where racist diatribes and physical threats, often enshrined into law, are used to silence and criminalize the few who attempt to promote a civil society. Liberal Jewish critics inside and outside Israel, however, desperately need the myth, not only to fetishize Israel but also to fetishize themselves. Strike at the myth and you unleash a savage vitriol, which in its fury exposes the self-adulation and latent racism that lie at the core of modern Zionism.

There are very few intellectuals or writers who have the tenacity and courage to confront this reality. This is what makes Max Blumenthal’s Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel one of the most fearless and honest books ever written about Israel. Blumenthal burrows deep into the dark heart of Israel. The American journalist binds himself to the beleaguered and shunned activists, radical journalists and human rights campaigners who are the conscience of the nation, as well as Palestinian families in the West Bank struggling in vain to hold back Israel’s ceaseless theft of their land. Blumenthal, in chapter after chapter, methodically rips down the facade. And what he exposes, in the end, is a corpse.

I spent seven years in the Middle East as a correspondent, including months in Gaza and the West Bank. I lived for two years in Jerusalem. Many of the closest friends I made during my two decades overseas are Israeli. Most of them are among the Israeli outcasts that Blumenthal writes about, men and women whose innate decency and courage he honors throughout his book. They are those who, unlike the Israeli leadership and a population inculcated with racial hatred, sincerely want to end occupation, restore the rule of law and banish an ideology that creates moral hierarchies with Arabs hovering at the level of animal as Jews—especially Jews of European descent—are elevated to the status of demigods. It is a measure of Blumenthal’s astuteness as a reporter that he viewed Israel through the eyes of these outcasts, as well as the Palestinians, and stood with them as they were arrested, tear-gassed and fired upon by Israeli soldiers. There is no other honest way to tell the story about Israel. And this is a very honest book.

“Goliath” is made up of numerous vignettes, some only a few pages long, that methodically build a picture of Israel, like pieces fit into a puzzle. It is in the details that Israel’s reality is exposed. The Israeli army, Blumenthal points out in his first chapter, “To the Slaughter,” employs a mathematical formula to limit outside food deliveries to Gaza to keep the caloric levels of the 1.5 million Palestinians trapped inside its open air prison just above starvation; a government official later denied that he had joked in a meeting that the practice is “like an appointment with a dietician.” The saturation, 22-day bombing of Gaza that began on Dec. 27, 2008, led by 60 F-16 fighter jets, instantly killed 240 Palestinians, including scores of children. Israel’s leading liberal intellectuals, including the writers Amos Oz, A.B. Yehoshua and David Grossman, blithely supported the wholesale murder of Palestinian civilians. 

And while Israelis blocked reporters from entering the coastal Gaza Strip—forcing them to watch distant explosions from Israel’s Parash Hill, which some reporters nicknamed “the Hill of Shame”—the army and air force carried out atrocity after atrocity, day after day, crimes that were uncovered only after the attack was over and the press blockade lifted. This massive aerial and ground assault against a defenseless civilian population that is surrounded by the Israeli army, a population without an organized military, air force, air defenses, navy, heavy artillery or mechanized units, caused barely a ripple of protest inside Israel from the left or the right. It was part of the ongoing business of slaughtering the other.

“Unarmed civilians were torn to pieces with flechette darts sprayed from tank shells,” Blumenthal writes. “Several other children covered in burns from white phosphorous chemical weapon rounds were taken to hospitals; a few were found dead with bizarre wounds after being hit with experimental Dense Inert Metal Explosive (DIME) bombs designed to dissolve into the body and rapidly erode internal soft tissue. A group of women were shot to death while waving a white flag; another family was destroyed by a missile while eating lunch; and Israeli soldiers killed Ibrahim Awajah, an eight-year-old child. His mother, Wafaa, told the documentary filmmaker Jen Marlowe that soldiers used his corpse for target practice. Numerous crimes like these were documented across the Gaza Strip.”

By the end of the assault, with 1,400 dead, nearly all civilians, Gaza lay in ruins. The Israeli air force purposely targeted Gaza’s infrastructure, including power plants, to reduce Gaza to a vast, overcrowded, dysfunctional slum. Israel, Blumenthal notes, destroyed “80 percent of all arable farmland in the coastal strip, bombing the strip’s largest flour mill, leveling seven concrete factories, shelling a major cheese factory, and shooting up a chicken farm, killing thirty-one thousand chickens.” “Twelve [years old] and up, you are allowed to shoot. That’s what they tell us,” an Israeli sniper told Haaretz correspondent Amira Hass in 2004 at the height of the Second Intifada, Blumenthal writes. “This is according to what the IDF [Israel Defense Force] says to its soldiers. I do not know if this is what the IDF says to the media,” the sniper was quoted as saying.

The 2008 murderous rampage is not, as Blumenthal understands, an anomaly. It is the overt policy of the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who advocates “a system of open apartheid.” Israel, as Blumenthal points out, has not lifted its state of emergency since its foundation. It has detained at least 750,000 Palestinians, including 10,000 women, in its prisons since 1967. It currently holds more than 4,500 political prisoners, including more than 200 children and 322 people jailed without charges, Blumenthal writes, including those it has labeled “administrative detainees.” Israel has a staggering 99.74 percent conviction rate for these so-called security prisoners, a figure that any totalitarian state would envy.

Blumenthal cites a survey of Jewish Israeli attitudes on the Gaza bombing, known as Operation Cast Lead. The survey, by Daniel Bar-Tal, a political psychologist from Tel Aviv University, concluded that the public’s “consciousness is characterized by a sense of victimization, a siege mentality, blind patriotism, belligerence, self-righteousness, dehumanization of the Palestinians, and insensitivity to their suffering.” Bar-Tal tells Blumenthal “these attitudes are the product of indoctrination.” And Blumenthal sets out to chronicle the poison of this indoctrination and what it has spawned in Israeli society.

The racist narrative, once the domain of the far right and now the domain of the Israeli government and the mainstream, demonizes Palestinians and Arabs, as well as all non-Jews. Non-Jews, according to this propaganda, will forever seek the annihilation of the Jewish people. The Holocaust, in which Israeli victimhood is sanctified, is seamlessly conflated with Palestinian and Arab resistance to occupation... read more: