Today is Election Day here in Calcutta, and could be a historical one for the state of West Bengal. The CPI(M) – The Communist Party of India (Marxist), that has ruled the state with an iron sickle and hammer, for three and a half decades, is said to be on its way out! People of my generation, who have never known a Bengal under any other influence, can’t quite fathom what this change might bring.
But there is an uneasiness that’s discomforting. There’s police everywhere, and para-military — in full battle gear, armed to the teeth, patrolling the streets, and directing polling booths. I suppose till India learns that democracy means the free and calm exercise of choice, this is how we will continue to vote! Since the Lok Sabha election polls, two years ago, when the electorate first indicated that they were weary of the CPI(M) and desperate for change, even if it means choosing the Trinamool Congress party led by the chaotic and highly strung Mamata Banerjee, West Bengal has been in a state of a virtual blood-bath. There’s news of abductions and killings almost every other day. The CPI(M) has no intentions of leaving without an all-out fight! Nine of the eleven constituencies in Calcutta have been declared “sensitive” for the polling period – meaning prone to violence.
Wishing to avoid the poll warriors, I was at my designated booth by 6.30 a.m. There were about 50 other people there, already, in line who probably thought the same way. My poll booth is an old, ram shackled, government school-building. All schools remain closed today as they double as polling booths. The voter’s line ran parallel to the water line – that is the line of people with buckets and plastic drums waiting to fill water at the municipal tap, which for some reason is located 6 feet directly in front of the school’s entrance. A woman at the water line, with about 4 big buckets in tow, smiled at me and said, “Remember to give the water vote.” I smiled back and asked, “Now who would that be?” She thought about it, and shrugged her shoulder, “Probably no one. We’ve waited 40 years for water, voting for it every year.” I asked, “Aren’t you going to vote?” She laughed. “No, I think water is more important.” The municipal tap does not release water again till mid-afternoon, and if her family wants water for the day, for drinking, cooking and cleaning, she’s got to get it now.
Mamata Banerjee has been hailed as the down-to-earth, friend of the poor, and saviour of the down-trodden, who knows what it means to be deprived, as she amply demonstrates by wearing her rubber bathroom slippers to the Parliament meetings. Oddly, that was just the line—the Robin Hood avowal—that brought the CPI(M) to power and kept them there for almost four decades. That, and a network of goons. A few months ago, a policewoman who had stopped a busload of Ms. Banerjee’s party workers at a cross-light so an ambulance could pass, was beaten up and gang-molested by the party workers for daring to to make them wait. The woman in the water-line, waiting with four buckets knows what she’s waiting for. The question is what are the rest of us waiting for?
There has been a lot of debate about whether introducing the Alternative Vote (AV) would make it more likely that a BNP or similar candidate would be elected. Given that AV is not a proportional representation system, I think that this is unlikely, but, more importantly, it shouldn’t matter.
The problem with the BNP and other extremist groups is not that they might send a representative or two to a legislature (where they usually behave badly and often fail to get re-elected), but that support exists for them at all.
If the BNP/EDL have, say, 5% support nationally, then that is what needs to be addressed, not worrying which voting system will best keep them out of power. It is in day to day life that this matters the most; the BNP are a racist, anti-immigrant party, so it will be local non-whites and immigrants who bear the brunt of living in an area where people support the BNP.
Having no BNP representatives at any level doesn’t mean that support for them has disappeared. No one should be happy if a BNP representative is elected, but that is a symptom of the problem, not a cause.
Further to the recent Pickled Politics article highlighting the EDL’s “Sikh” spokesman Guramit Singh’s admission of hatred towards other South Asians, some further information about Guramit himself is continuing to come to light.
Doublespeak in action
A new Youtube video focusing specifically on Guramit is an excellent compilation and definitely worth watching in full. The repeated juxtaposition of Guramit’s disingenuous assertions about the EDL compared with the ugly reality demonstrates the point particularly effectively. You can watch the video via Youtube here.
“I consider the Guru Granth Sahib to be my Guru”
In response to the recent ultimatum, Gurmait subsequently released a public statement on the EDL’s main blog declaring that he refuses to leave the EDL irrespective of the ultimatum and threatening retaliation (including making a sinister threat to involve unspecified supporters from “outside the Sikh community”) if any attempts were made to excommunicate him.
A United Nations panel investigating allegations of war crimes by Sri Lankan troops at the end of the bloody battle against Tamil rebels in May 2009 found that there was credible evidence that government soldiers had targeted civilians, shelled hospitals and attacked humanitarian workers, according to a leaked copy of the panel’s report.
The long-awaited report, the result of an extensive investigation by Marzuki Darusman, a former Indonesian attorney general, contradicted the government’s assertion that the war was a humanitarian effort aimed at liberating civilians trapped with the Tamil Tigers in an ever-shrinking corner of northern Sri Lanka.
“The government shelled on a large scale in three consecutive no fire zones, where it had encouraged the civilian population to concentrate, even after indicating that it would cease the use of heavy weapons,” the report said, according to a leaked copy that was published over the weekend in the Island, a Sri Lankan newspaper. “Most civilian casualties in the final phases of the war were caused by government shelling.”
The fact that its been published in a Sri Lankan newspaper means more internal strife and accusations. It also vindicates many of Tamils who congregated in Westminster last year saying that innocent civilians were being killed in Sri Lanka.
The UN is also criticised in the reporting for failing “to take actions that might have protected civilians.” The panel says casualty figures collected by the UN should have been made public at the time.
Releasing casualty figures isn’t enough. Why was the world happy to sit by and watch while this was going on, and ignore the pleas of Tamils everywhere to intervene?
Further to the joint statement by numerous major British Sikh & Hindu temples and organisations condemning the EDL and any Sikhs who join them, followed by the recent ultimatum issued to the EDL’s “Sikh” spokesman Guramit Singh, some more facts about Guramit himself are coming to light.
“I f****** hate the Pakis”
As can be heard in the Youtube clip below, a BBC Three documentary about the EDL included audio footage of Guramit Singh secretly referring to other South Asians as “Pakis” and describing his hatred of them. Perhaps it’s time Guramit actually looked in the mirror.
Apparently David Cameron has gone to Pakistan and admitted the obvious: that a lot of the world is shaped by Britain’s past and therefore it has responsibility for some of its ills.
This doesn’t mean the UK has to constantly apologise or pay reparations necessarily: it’s just a fact. The partition fiasco was precipitated by the British Raj’s hurried exit, which forced millions of people to uproot themselves and move in a matter of weeks or days. hat led to huge riots and deaths. Almost every Indian and Pakistani knows this.
Anyway, what caught my eye was this quote by Sean Gabb of the Libertarian Alliance (who?):
It’s a valid historical point that some problems stem from British foreign policy in the 19th and 20th centuries, but should we feel guilty about that? I fail to see why we should.
Some of these problems came about because these countries decided they did not want to be part of the British Empire. They wanted independence. They got it. They should sort out their problems instead of looking to us.
Sorry what? Does Gabb know how many people died in that fight for independence? The eedjit seems to think it was some sort of a bloodless transfer of power that took place when one side had enough.
Where do they find these politically and historically illiterate pricks to comment on national newspapers?
Further to the recent joint statement by multiple British Sikh and Hindu groups condemning the English Defence League (EDL) and any Sikhs who support them, the EDL’s “Sikh” spokesman Guramit Singh has been given an ultimatum by the Sikh signatories involved: He must publicly renounce the EDL by the end of the major Sikh festival of Vaisakhi on 14 April 2011.
Failure to do so will result in the matter being formally escalated directly to the most senior global Sikh authorities at the Golden Temple complex in Amritsar, India, who will be requested to issue an excommunication order to permanently expel Guramit Singh from the worldwide Sikh faith. As an ultimate sanction, this could result in him being formally declared a pariah to be ostracised by the world’s entire Sikh population, including being formally stripped of his right to be called a Sikh, along with being permanently banned from every Sikh temple in the world.
As confirmed by the extensive list of signatories involved, this action is endorsed by the British Sikh population, including numerous influential Sikh temples & organisations across the United Kingdom, particularly in London and Birmingham. This includes the two largest Sikh temples outside India — one of which involves the Guru Nanak Nishkam Sewak Jatha, which was given an award last year by the Queen for its exceptional humanitarian activities and is run by “Bhai Sahib” Mohinder Singh, one of the most senior and respected Sikh figures outside India. Bhai Sahib was previously discussed on Pickled Politics here and here, and has been involved in interfaith bridge-building activities on an international scale, including efforts to counteract the increasing bigotry towards ordinary Muslims in Britain in recent years. Bhai Sahib was also responsible for escorting the Queen around the Golden Temple during her visit to Amritsar in the late 1990s.
In complete violation of core Sikh tenets, Guramit Singh has been heavily involved in the EDL’s persecution of ordinary Muslims en masse whilst explicitly representing himself as a Sikh and claiming to be acting in the name of Sikhism, including deliberately modifying & grossly distorting sacred verses by the Sikh Gurus in order to “inspire” EDL members present during his foul-mouthed public speeches demonising Muslims, Islam and the Prophet Mohammad. Guramit Singh’s excommunication would therefore be entirely in line with historical precedents during the time of the Sikh Gurus along with the temporal authority permanently bequeathed to the Khalsa by the 10th Sikh Guru Gobind Singh. As recently discussed on Pickled Politics, it has also been confirmed that one of the EDL’s founders is a convicted criminal for downloading child pornography, and that the EDL itself has multiple links to international terrorists.
As popular unrest threatens to topple another Arab neighbor, Israel finds itself again quietly rooting for the survival of an autocratic yet predictable regime, rather than face an untested new government in its place.
Syrian President Bashar Assad’s race to tamp down public unrest is stirring anxiety in Israel that is even higher than its hand-wringing over Egypt’s recent regime change. Unlike Israel and Egypt, Israel and Syria have no peace agreement, and Syria, with a large arsenal of sophisticated weapons, is one of Israel’s strongest enemies.
“Officially it’s better to avoid any reaction and watch the situation,” said Maj. Gen. Amos Gilad, the Defense Ministry’s policy director. He predicted Assad’s regime would survive the unrest.
This of course comes not long after the Israeli government was loudly hoping that Hosni Mubarak would stay in power. Seems like they’re really interested in democracy spreading to the Middle East aren’t they?
Ratna Raman, an academic in India, writes powerfully on ‘honour’-based violence in India. The piece is excellent, and there isn’t much more to add to it. Just read it:
Something is rotten in the fabric of our country. Something continues to dog and intimidate and brutalise young women. It injures men too in the attempt to settle scores relentlessly and lethally, notching points on behalf of insularity and barbarism and gratuitous gender cruelty. In 2000 the newspapers carried reports that Bibi Jagir Kaur, a Shiromani Akhali Dal councillor in Punjab, had allegedly abducted her daughter Harpreet, subjected her to an abortion, given her an overdose of pills and consigned her to the flames. This was because the young woman in question had married in secret while studying at a medical college. To date no one has been punished and witnesses in the face of muscle and money power have now turned hostile. What exactly was the crime these two young women had committed? What was the basis of their family’s behaviour? How could one even hope to understand this vicious and vitiating practice?
On paper we won our independence in 1947. Our constitution extends the fundamental right to self-expression even to women. Yet, everywhere around us despite the cries of a liberal plural space what we see is the buttressing and endorsement of hegemonic feudal stereotypes.
Baroness Eliza Manningham-Buller, the former head of the Security Service (also known as MI5), has suggested that the British government should be talking to al-Qaeda:
The baroness said she hoped people were trying to talk to “people on the edges of al-Qaeda”. “There won’t be a Waterloo or an El-Alamein,” she added.
Critics of the “war on terror” have argued that the torture of terror suspects and the continuing use of Guantanamo Bay for detainees has led to a propaganda victory for al-Qaeda. Baroness Manningham-Buller says hearts and minds are critical in combating terrorism.
“I think making sure we hold to our values, our ethical standards, our laws, and are not tempted to go down a route which others, in my view have made the profound mistake of going down, means in the longer run we’ll have a chance from that moral authority of addressing some of the underlying causes of these problems,” she said.
There are some reasonable arguments against this. Some see talking to an enemy as akin to surrendering (thanks to events like Neville Chamberlain’s disastrous attempt to negotiate with Nazi Germany). Other might feel that treating with al-Qaeda legitimises a gang of criminals and murders. There is also the question of whether a group of people willing to blow themselves up can be reasoned with, or that what they want can or should be granted. Even if negotiations were successful, would the cells around the world listen to a leadership who many believe have limited control over them?
Yet it is still worth a try. Al-Qaeda is not a monolithic block; clearly the commanders (including Bin Laden) aren’t too keen to join their suicidal followers in the afterlife. Nor has Al-Qaeda been crushed by military force, and, as the Baroness says, it is very unlikely that there will a decisive battle. Negotiation should just be one more weapon in the arsenal in the fight against al-Qaeda and affiliates. Detaching some of them with acceptable promises (whatever they may be) weakens the organisation.
UK forces are preparing to help enforce a no-fly zone over Libya after the UN backed “all necessary measures”, short of an invasion, to protect civilians. Downing Street has cautioned against earlier suggestions that British planes could be in action “within hours” and declined to put a timetable on it. The UN resolution rules out a foreign occupation force in any part of Libya.
David Cameron has also indulged in some clever politicking:
The Cabinet will decide if there is to be a vote in the House of Commons prior to any UK military action. When he was in opposition, Mr Cameron pledged to give MPs the final say over sending UK forces into action.
Labour are pledging to back the no-fly zone, which means if things go wrong, the coalition government can point out that the opposition supported it too.
Karen Buck, the shadow minister for work and pensions, has accused the government of wanting to deport non-whites and women from central London by with their housing benefit reforms:
She said: “[The Government] do not want lower-income women, families, children and, above all, let us be very clear – because we also know where the impact is hitting – they don’t want black women, they don’t want ethnic minority women and they don’t want Muslim women living in central London. They just don’t. They want people to be moving out of anywhere that is a more prosperous area into the fringes of London and into places like Barking and Newham. I have nothing against Barking and Newham. The problem is they are already full of people who are quite poor.”
No evidence was provided for this statement. There have been some valid criticisms of the proposed housing benefit reform, especially surrounding the change in percentile reaction (though its ultimate impact is unclear at this point), and the impact on very expensive areas needs to be rexamined (and a broader debate on paying housing benefit should be had). Ms. Buck’s hyperbole does not to help the debate though.
She also made this accusation:
When you listen to the Tories speaking in Parliament, there is an arrogance and an ignorance that I have never known in my 13 years in Parliament: basically, thinking that anyone whose income is below the top rate of tax shouldn’t have children.”
That is presumably why the Conservatives abolished child benefit for people earning enough to place them in the top rate of tax, whilst leaving it in place for everyone else.
I have been enjoying the latest research by Shrabani Basu into Queen Victoria and her relationship (almost certainly non-sexual) with her Indian tutor, a young Muslim named Abdul Karim who arrived in the UK aged 24:
That Mr Karim inspired the empress of India could be seen not just by her newfound love of curry. Her eagerness to learn Urdu and Hindi because of his teaching was so strong that she even learned to write in both languages – and gave him a signed photo written in Urdu.
She also used his briefings on political developments in India at the turn of the 19th Century to berate successive viceroys, her representatives in India – much to their displeasure – on measures they could have taken to reduce communal tensions. “At a time when the British empire was at its height, a young Muslim occupied a central position of influence over its sovereign,” Ms Basu said.
He was sacked by her son Edward VII a few hours after her death, and efforts were made by the royal court to destroy all records of him.
Sunrise is a thought provoking and hard-hitting film that addresses the taboo of child abuse in India. In 2007, the Ministry of Woman and Child Development published the ‘Study on Child Abuse: India 2007‘. It reveals that an alarming 53.22% of children in India reported having faced sexual abuse. Nevertheless, the Indian Penal Code does not recognise child abuse as an offence and most offenders (local and foreign) escape with light sentences.
Sunrise (Arunoday) is being made by writer-director Partho Sen Gupta, with Adil Hussain (who has just finished shooting for Ang Lee in The Life of Pi) and Tannishtha Chatterjee (who starred in Brick Lane as well as Sen Gupta’s first film, Hava Aney Dey).
Much of the debate on welfare reform has centred around the introduction of the Universal Credit, which will hopefully reduce some of the byzantine complexity of the currently system (if it works) by merging a number of benefits into one. While this plan has been understandably praised, there are a number of bad measures currently under consideration as the Welfare Reform Bill reaches its second reading. Benefits activist Sue Marsh summarises the three key proposals which should be stopped or reformed:
1) Removing Disability Living Allowance mobility payments from adults in residential care.
An adult who needs to live in residential care will have extensive needs and are often amongst the most severely disabled. The mobility component of DLA afforded them their only freedom, allowing them to choose to fund a power wheelchair otherwise unavailable on the NHS, or to pay for taxis or transport to get out now and then. Taking this away would leave the most vulnerable disabled people effectively housebound. There is no support for this change anywhere – charities, independent benefit reports and even the government’s own advisers have called for this to be removed from the bill
2) Scrapping DLA entirely and replacing it with Personal Independent Payments (PIPs).
DLA is a very effective benefit with fraud rates of less than 1% (DWP own figures) It is already incredibly hard to claim and the qualification criteria are very narrow. The government have announced that DLA claimants will also soon face assessment and that the overall number of claimants will be reduced by at least 20%. The government’s own advisory committee concluded that they could find no justification for this reform and have asked for clarification from the government. If a benefit is already very efficient, yet a government announce a 20% cull before a single assessment has even taken place, we conclude it can only be a cost cutting measure that will ignore genuine need.
Last week I blogged about a campaign against the London-based imam Dr Usama Hasan, by a group of Muslim fanatics. The fanatics wanted to oust him from his mosque in Leytonstone for talking about evolution, and saying women should be free not to cover their hair.
Some clarifications for those already following the story. It turns out that the letter I posted saying he had been ousted was a fake, circulated by the fanatics to make it look like it came from the Mosque. It didn’t. Dr Hasan still remains the imam there, though the fanatics are still after him.
Hasan, who has taken out extra security on his house where he lives with his wife and four children, said he was adamant he would not be leaving the mosque, although he would not be returning to give prayers for the time being.
“I’m not leaving,” he said. “I’ve been here for 25 years and I fear that the mosque could fall into the hands of extremists. There are plenty of other mosques in the country that have gone that way. My supporters [at the mosque] don’t want that and are encouraging me to stay to fight our corner.
“I’ve stopped giving prayers because they were interrupted by outsiders who were making some women members feel intimidated. Most people come to the mosque once a week for a quiet space to pray and find peace and inspiration and I want to respect that.”
Inayat Bunglawala, chair of Muslims4UK, a group promoting Muslim engagement in British society, said there was “widespread ignorance” about evolution among the Muslim community. “Many traditional imams are grounded in ancient books in Arabic but have very little grounding in science. I find it staggering how they can be so strongly opposed to evolution without reading about it. That seems to be opposite of the very first commandment of the Qur’an, which is to read,” Bunglawala said.
I’m going to keep an eye on this story to see how it develops.
At a time when important services are being cut in this country, eGov monitor highlights yet more waste and largesse from the EU, where MEPs have voted themselves thousands more to run their offices for spurious reasons:
While Europeans are struggling with a sluggish economy and fears of inflation at a time when wages are stagnant, MEPs voted to increase their office allowances by another 1,500 Euros today to run their offices. Nice touch from our elected representatives. MEPs, now have 18,820 Euros to run their offices while most Europeans are finding it tough to make ends meet. This latest move would add 13.2 Million Euros to the European Parliament’s operating budget.
The European law makers or most of them argued that they need the additional money to handle the extra work Lisbon Treaty has entrusted in our elected representatives. But didn’t they use the Lisbon Treaty has a justification for last year’s increase of 1,500 Euros as well? Yes, they did. But the Parliament’s bureau, which is comprised of the parliamentary leadership of the President and his 14 Vice Presidents, thought their colleagues deserved some more of tax payers’ money. According to research by eGov monitor, no other group of legislators are as pampered as our representatives in the European Parliament [read more]
What I have never understood is the reluctance from many on the left (though not all) in this country to criticise the EU’s wasteful spending. Perhaps because most Conservatives now dislike the EU the idea that “my enemy’s enemy is my friend” is seen to apply. This is a clear and repeated case of money being wasted that could be spent on things which are actually useful and are being cut. Criticising the EU doesn’t make an individual anti-European any more than criticising the Coalition government makes one anti-British. Yet how often do we see high profile left wing politicians or commentators condemning EU waste and calling for the billions to be better spent in this country?
This is a guest post by Dr. Mitu Khurana. Mitu is a doctor and activist whose struggles and campaign have been covered here.
Recently I attended a performance held by the “Asmita” group of artists, in collaboration with an N.G.O ‘Ekatra’ in New Delhi,. Everyone was in tears by the end of the play. The play titled –“TERI MERI USKI BAAT”- raised several questions which need to be discussed by every citizen in today’s India.
A girl playing the role of a minor raped at the age of 7 years , asked the audience- “why was my schooling stopped, why did my friends stop playing with me, why was I being singled out and pointed out everywhere I went ,what was my fault? No one blamed the rapist; it was my life which stopped. The rape happened when I did not even realize what has happened to me, I knew of only the physical pain. My parents did not want to go to police because I would be stigmatized. Today the physical pain is no longer, but it has been replaced by a mental pain at a much deeper level- the pain of being violated, the pain of being rejected by my friends, the pain of my own stopping my life where it was. WHY? Why should be the stigma on me, when I did no wrong?”
Another girl played out the role of a minor girl whose marriage was fixed up by her parents, without consulting her at a tender age when she was not even 18 years old. The vows of the marriage included- “I will never speak out against my husband”, “I will never ask my husband anything if he comes late”, “I will tolerate all abuses”, “I will bring gifts from my parents for my husband and in laws throughout my life” and “I will never give birth to any girl child throughout my life” among other such vows. The play showed her life after she became pregnant with a daughter. Her parents refused to support her, her siblings refused to help her save the baby, and when she went to her husband, he kicked her and beat her up mercilessly in order to cause her abortion. The whole theatre rang out with her screams – “PLEASE SAVE MY DAUGHTER, PLEASE DO NOT KILL HER.”
Earlier in the week Shahbaz Bhatti, a Christian member of the Pakistani government, was murdered because of his support for a Christian woman facing execution and for his desire to reform the blasphemy law. He became the second high profile politician to be killed following the murder of Salman Taseer earlier in the year. As Pakistani blogger Raza Rumi put it at Pak Tea House:
It is time for Pakistan’s political parties to take stock of this situation and get their own ideological house in order before they are wiped out as well. Pakistani state organs have been appeasing the Right and Islamofasicsts for too long. It is time to stand up. If they think they can be safe then they ARE WRONG.
PTH condemns this murder and recalls that Pakistan was not created for this violence and bigotry that is now our halmark and has made us a joke in the international community. Taseer’s murderers have to be booked, Benazir Bhutto’s murderers have to be brought to book and Bhatti’s murder should not go to waste. Wake up Pakistan and our appeal to Pakistanis: stand up for your rights for living in a secure, tolerant society.
Liberals and secularists are becoming an endangered species in Pakistan.
US warships are moving towards the region and the UK government is stepping up the rhetoric. But the chances of invasion? Virtually nil.
I’m not even sure why people are getting worked up about it. This is just grandstanding in the hope Gaddafi backs down from international pressure.
The UK will not go in alone and the USA has no money for an invasion anyway; it’s just about keeping White House from being shut down. I thought all this was obvious?! Please give Obama some credit people: he may have been crap on civil liberties but a neo-con he definitely is not.
Of course Cameron will say “we have to prepare for every eventuality” – to say anything is not only political suicide but incompetence. If Gaddafi started gassing Libyans enmasse would people still sit around saying there should be no invasion? Highly doubt it. The warships are there to remind Gaddafi what could happen if he even thought about it…
As far as I can see, the US and UK are taking the correct course of action.
A group of roughly 2000 young members of the Muslim Brotherhood say they are planning to stage a “revolt” against the group’s authoritative Guidance Bureau and Shura Council on 17 March to demand the dissolution of the two governing bodies.
Young members say there is no reason why the group should work in secrecy considering the “wave of freedom” witnessed by Egypt following the 25 January uprising, which led to the ouster of Egypt’s longstanding president Hosni Mubarak on 11 February.
Looks like the pro-democracy fervour in Egypt has deeply infected the Muslim Brotherhood there too.
On the other hand, Hamas are trying to stop a UN programme from teaching Palestinian children about the Holocaust. There is accompanying Holocaust denial too.
We cannot agree to a programme that is intended to poison the minds of our children,” said a statement from the ministry for refugee affairs.
“Holocaust studies in refugee camps is a contemptible plot and serves the Zionist entity with a goal of creating a reality and telling stories in order to justify acts of slaughter against the Palestinian people.”
Is there anyone still out there who believes Hamas aren’t anti-semitic?