Comrade Kumbhkarna play review- Sonalee Hardikar

If you like to go to the theatre so that you can take plays home in your head; if you want to go in search of images that will move you, even if you do not immediately ‘understand’ them, and if you are a seeker of restlessness, then Ramu Ramanathan’s COMRADE KUMBHKARNA presented by the National School of Drama (NSD) repertory company is a must see.

From the dark recesses of the stage comes forth a troupe of performers to create and inhabit an imaginary world that is at once ancient yet contemporary, impoverished yet dreamy, profane and vulgar, and yet at the same time immensely poetic and beautiful. Before your eyes the story unravels myths, age old lores that we take as given, staid authority, and its banal memorandums. In a very Marquezesque fashion, the divide between the god and the demon, the Aryan and the Dravidian, the good and the cruel is analyzed and cut to size.

Instead we are given a new lore, a new protagonist- a hero in chains instead of the arch archer. An actor who becomes the character he plays; a hero who is part folk performer, part Kumbhakaran…A Kumbhakaran who is part demon, part god. By mussing up the divide between the real and the unreal, between the personal and the political, between the historical and the contemporary, we are taken on a wild journey. It’s also a precarious one as most journeys that take you away from the known are. It’s also a bold play for its current political resonances. There is intensity to it due to the eloquent hyper real imagery that director Mohit Takalkar and his team have evolved to tell the story.

Though the original text by Ramu Ramanathan is in English, the Hindi version by Santwana Nigam is equally remarkable for the nuances it generates while fitting the original to a Hindi speaking, Hindi singing, and Hindi dancing culture of the play’s world. Music by theater veteran Kajal Ghosh is alluring as it takes off from the age old rhythms of the folk and becomes one of the most accessible and entertaining elements of the production.

COMMORADE KUMBHKARNAA special mention needs to be made about the light design by Pradeep Vaiddya. While working at a repertory, that too of a national stature, one often tends to be compelled to make a statement with the kind of facilities available and to dazzle the audience with the power of technology. Pradeep successfully shirks these temptations. The lighting is novel. It is extremely economical and yet very interesting and effective. So was the initial idea for the costumes of the play, but the execution lacks conviction. It would have been interesting to see more grime, dirt, real wear and tear, and crumpling of the costumes and the effect it would have on the overall narrative, akin to the effect that the crumpled tape spools or the red trunk and the mirrors have.

While casting actors without knowledge of fluent English, the director needs to explore other devices that would fit well with the varying power structures that the characters represent. Actors playing the characters of Tripathi and Singh are otherwise quite capable actors but come out as limited in their rendering because of their self consciousness in speaking the English text. The younger Kumbhakaran played by Ajit Singh Pahlavat brings a lot of energy and vulnerability to the role. Though the older Kumbhakaran succeeds at the poetic moments in the play, the angst that can spark revolutions, the simmering and smoldering of the protagonist, is missing from the body language, and makes for a lukewarm portrayal of the central role.

The twin sister played by Rakhi Kumari is memorable and some of the images she creates are stunning. A special mention is required for the role of Amma played by Sajida. Her stage presence, the texture of her voice all lend favorably to the portrayal. The irreverence and the grit of Amma’s character is played out with a studied amount of detailing by Sajida and it’s a pleasure to watch her throughout the play.
Madame X, although a small role, is played by Ipshita Chakraborty with a commendable poise.

Some questions that I took back with me that may or may not be in direct relation to the play-but concern the broader context of theatre and Indian theatre in general —would the real “Kumbhakarans” (who are mentioned at the end of the play’s brochure and who Ramu dedicates the play to….) be really silent on the key issues that get picked up in the play but are met with silence by the stage Kumbhakaran?

COMMORADE KUMBHKARNAIn current political scenarios of the Indian subcontinent what is and should be the role of theatre— can it be ok for us to just be mirrors and reflect back the complex painful reality?

If one is taking pangas with the powers that be…why take a non committal panga? Why make Kumbhakaran silent on key issues? Is it only possible in the Indian context for a playwright to be writing about Gandhian thought and Maoist thought one after the other, and what are the implications of such writing- if any? Will the repertory take such a play to the real places out of which the characters in the script have developed? If at all any such interaction is generated what shape would the play take then?

Thankfully the life of repertory productions is far greater than most other productions that get mounted elsewhere in the country. And a lot can be done with such a play. It will be quite interesting to watch the journeys that it embarks on, and the effect it produces.

*Sonalee Hardikar is a graduate of the National School of Drama and also the recipient of the Jim Henson fellowship under which she studied scenic design at the University of Maryland. She is a visiting faculty at the National School of Drama and runs a photo studio in Albany, New York.

Original article here


Hunger strike only option to get basic human rights in Prison– Arun Ferreira

Arun Ferriera who spent four years in prison shares his experinces of torture and struggle for human rights inside prison. He was speaking at the  Human Rights Education Seminar, at St Pius College, organised by the South Asian Human righst education centre. He also talks how he was not allowed to get in Constitution of India, to read


Joint Statement on Police atrocities and state repression on anti -posco struggle


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We strongly condemn the attack on and illegal abduction by the Odisha police of Umakanta Biswal, a famer belonging to Dhinkia village of Odisha, and an active member of POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti (PPSS), that has been engaged over the last six years in resisting the forcible acquisition of their land by the Odisha government for handing over to the South Korean multinational corporation POSCO. This incident, which occurred on 2nd March 2012, is the latest in the series of atrocities inflicted by the Odisha government and by hired goons associated with the government and the POSCO company, on the people of these villages. Umakanta Biswal, who was engaged in agricultural activity in his paddy field at the time of his abduction, was pursued by a group of armed plainclothes policemen on a motorbike, and shot at when he tried to escape. He has reportedly been kept in Paradip prison, and has not been produced in front of a magistrate within 24 hours of his arrest, as is required under law. We have cause to fear that he is being tortured in police custody, and are gravely concerned about his safety. This highly irregular, and illegal, form of detention of a citizen, amounting to a kidnapping by the police, is emblematic of the situation in which the villagers of the POSCO-affected area are living for the last six years, just because they have tried to protect their lives and livelihoods from being devastated by corporate greed. Numerous villagers have multiple false cases lodged against them by the police, and people are in danger of being abducted and detained by the police while being engaged in day to day activities such as farming. There have also been incidents where a villager taking his sick child to hospital has been arrested by the police. This continuing victimization and violation of basic human rights of a whole community of people is intolerable, and goes against all tenets of constitutionality and humanity. We condemn this brutal and illegal action by the Odisha government and demand that Umakanta Biswal be immediately produced in court and released. We hope request the National Human Rights Commisssion will take cognizance of this illegal detention and violation of rights of a citizen, which is symptomatic of the violation of rights of the entire community of villagers in the area of the proposed POSCO project.

Prof. Manoranjan Mohanty POSCO Pratirodh Solidarity Samittee, New Delhi

Prafulla Samantara NAPM and Lok Shakti Abhiyan

Prof. Ajit Jha Samajwadi Jan Parishad

Partho Sarathi Roy SANHATI Collective

Kiran Shaheen Media Action Group, Delhi

Aarti Chokshi Secretary PUCL, Karnataka

Kamayani Bali Mahabal  Human Rights Lawyer Activist, Mumbai

Students for Resistance Delhi University and JNU

Amit Chakrabarty Research Scholar, JNU

Mamta Das NFFPFW and POSCO Pratirodh Solidarity, Delhi

Subrat Kumar Sahoo POSCO Pratirodh Solidarity Samittee, New Delhi

Asit Das POSCO Pratirodh Solidarity Samittee, New Delhi

Nayan Jyoti Krantikari Naujawan Sabha

Shankar Gopal Krishnan Campaign for Survival and Dignity

Mayur Chetia Research Scholar JNU

Arya Thomas Krantikari Naujawan Sabha

P.K. Sunderam Research Scholar JNU

Bhanumati Gochhait POSCO Pratirodh Solidarity, Delhi

Ranjeet Thakur Journalist, Uttarakhand

Rajni Kant Mudgal Socialist Front

Rita Kumari Pravasi Nagarik Manch

Pushpa Achanta

Women against Sexual Violence State Repression Karnataka

Vedanta’s PR campaign backfires as Bollywood celebs pull out

A bid by British mining giant Vedanta Resources to repair its tarnished international reputation has backfired after two major Bollywood celebrities withdrew from a film competition supposed to show the ‘happiness’ the company creates.

Renowned filmmaker Shyam Benegal and Bollywood actress Gul Panag were both part of a judging panel, which had until the end of this month to pick a winning film out of the 38 submitted.

The films were all shot by ‘budding film-makers’, who were escorted by Vedanta around villages where it has a presence.

The objective of the competition was to show the ‘happiness’ Vedanta brings to local communities where it works.

Vedanta’s reputation was irreversibly damaged when it ignored the rights of the Dongria Kondh tribe, whose sacred mountain it sought to mine for aluminum ore.

Read more here


National Yatra in Support of Anti-Kudankulam NPP agitation – March 15-16, 2012

Kudankulam Nuclear Plant

Kudankulam Nuclear Plant (Photo credit: Eunheui)

APPEAL: Kudankulam Chalo! Let Us All March To Kudankulam!!

Join the National Yatra to Kudankulam, March 15-16, 2012

Appeal issued on behalf of Admiral Ramdas, Lalita Ramdas, Praful Bidwai, Prof. Banwarilal Sharma, Fr. Thomas Kocherry, Justice Kolse Patil, Vaishali Patil, Sunil, Soumya Dutta, Anil Choudhary, P. K. Sundaram, Sajeer Rehman, Musab Iqbal, Neeraj Jain, and many others

The government of India has launched a most vicious propaganda campaign to malign the heroic struggle of the people of the southern Tamil Nadu who are fighting the Kudankulam Nuclear Plant. The people of the region had been opposing the plant since the late 1980s; the Fukushima nuclear accident of March 2011 greatly increased their concerns and they intensified their agitation demanding that the plant be shut down and the government focus on conservation of energy and renewable forms of energy to meet the energy needs of the country.

Since October 2011, the people of the region have been sitting on a relay hunger strike, which has entered its sixth month now. Tens of thousands of people have participated in massive rallies, village campaigns, public meetings, seminars, conferences, and other demonstrations such as shaving our heads, cooking on the street, burning the models of the nuclear plants etc. It has been an entirely peaceful Gandhian agitation, of which even Mahatma Gandhi would have been proud.

Instead of paying heed to the people’s concerns and the concerns voiced by numerous intellectuals all over the country about the terrible dangers of nuclear energy – which have once again become highlighted after the deathly Fukushima accident in Japan, the government has launched a most despicable campaign to slander and terrorise the people of Idinthikarai and the surrounding villages, in order to break their will and prepare the grounds for repressive action. There is the possibility of a military-style crackdown in the offing. The slander campaign is being headed from the front by the Prime Minister himself, who announced to the media that India’s nuclear programme is being derailed by NGOs funded by the Americans. Next, an innocent and unsuspecting German tourist, Sonntag Rainer Hermann, was picked up from his budget hotel at midnight, and deported on suspicion that he was illegally diverting funds to the Koodankulam campaign. Hermann is a harmless backpacker, who had come to India a month ago from Bangkok, and like tens of thousands of Germans, is a nature lover, and has a healthy scepticism of nuclear energy. The media has most shamefully lapped up these allegations, without bothering to even make the most elementary efforts to verify them. The government has also filed hundreds of serious cases of ‘sedition’ and ‘waging war on the Indian state’ on the leaders of the movement.

In a stirring letter to the people of the country, the leaders of the agitation write: ‘To put it in a nutshell, this is a classic David-Goliath fight between the ‘ordinary citizens’ of India and the powerful Indian government supported by the rich Indian capitalists, MNCs, imperial powers and the global nuclear mafia. They promise FDI, nuclear power, development, atom bombs, security and superpower status. We demand risk-free electricity, disease-free life, unpolluted natural resources, sustainable development and harmless future. They say the Russian nuclear power plants are safe and can withstand earthquakes and tsunamis. But we worry about their side-effects and after-effects. They speak for their scientist friends and business partners and have their eyes on commissions and kickbacks. But we fight for our children and grandchildren, our progeny, our animals and birds, our land, water, sea, air and the skies.”

APPEAL: Kudankulam Chalo! Let Us All March To Kudankulam!!

Dear friends,

On behalf of CNDP (Coalition for Nuclear Disarmament and Peace) and NAAM (National Alliance of Anti-Nuclear Movements), we had organised a two day National Consultation in Delhi on February 25-26, wherein it was resolved that all of us should go for a two-day visit to Kudankulam and Chennai to express solidarity with the fighting people of Idinthikarai and the surrounding areas in their agitation agaisnt the Kudankulam Nuclear Plant.

The struggle of the people of this region has reached a crucial turning point. With work on the plant stalled, and the ‘real foreign hand’ of the Russians breathing down the government’s neck, the government is desperate to use every trick and weapon in its book to crush the movement. At such a crucial juncture, it is important for all of us, who stand for genuine democracy, for people-centred sustainable development, for a strong India which does not lick the boots of imperial powers, to go to Kudankulam and express our solidarity for their struggle, to express our disgust with the tricks resorted to by India’s rulers to malign a heroic people’s movement, and demand that the government stop using slanderous and repressive tactics to gag discussions on nuclear or any other ‘development’ issues and instead adopt a consultative approach with people of the region, to resolve their issues and concerns.

We call upon all of you to join us for this two day visit to Kudankulam. The program is:

March 15: Reach Kudankulam by the afternoon, 2 pm or so. Address a public meeting there.

March 15 night: Travel to Chennai by train.

March 16: Chennai – address a Seminar and a Press Conference.

You can reach Kudankulam by flying down to Trivandrum or Madurai, and then driving down to Kudankulam. Since there will be many of us, we can coordinate and take a common vehicle, which we shall arrange. So do let us know where you plan to come, and we will do the coordination. Trivandrum is more well connected by air, so that might be more convenient.

Or you can come by train, via Chennai or Bangalore, to Kanyakumari/Nagercoil.

Do let us know if you can join us, and we will then see how to coordinate amongst all those who are coming. Please feel free to contact any of the following for more details:

P K Sundaram, New Delhi (9810556134,

Lalita Ramdas (

Neeraj Jain, Pune (

Sajeer Rehman, Calicut (

Musab Iqbal, Bangalore (

Corporate Abuse Abroad, a Path to Justice Here

By LINCOLN CAPLAN, Published: March 3, 2012 , NYTIMES

Should foreigners be allowed to use American courts to sue foreign corporations for human rights atrocities committed abroad?

 Charles Wiwa in Chicago last month. He is one of the Nigerians trying to sue three companies in American courts, charging them with human rights violations in Nigeria.

The Supreme Court heard arguments last week on this question in a case brought by Nigerian citizens against the Royal Dutch Petroleum Company and other firms, charging gross violations of human rights in Nigeria. Four conservative justices expressed skepticism about the federal courts having the reach to deal with such disputes.

But an arcane 1789 law, called the Alien Tort Statute, permits just such lawsuits to be heard in federal courts if brought against individual defendants. The same should hold true for corporations accused of such offenses abroad, provided they have contact with this country, say, by selling products here.

In a world where multinational corporations are primary actors, the need for a way to hold them accountable for extreme abuses is more urgent than ever. When corporations do business in America, they have to operate under American law. Providing a forum for victims seeking justice against corporate bad actors is appropriate to America’s history and role in the international community.

The aim of the statute — which allows suits for “any civil action by an alien for a tort only, committed in violation of the law of nations or a treaty of the United States” — was to help enhance this role. The law was passed as part of the new nation’s efforts to show the world respect for the law of nations by opening its courts to foreign claimants. The statute lay dormant for 170 years, but the principle is just as important today.

It was not until 1980 that the law was unearthed and employed in a watershed case that led to a $10.4 million judgment against a former official of Paraguay (who was visiting the United States) for the torture and murder of a young man in Paraguay. Since then, federal courts have heard over a hundred cases brought by foreign nationals against foreign individuals, and since 1997, against corporations as well.

Human rights lawyers realized that suing only individuals was often inadequate because multinational firms were among those violating international law. Offenses growing out of companies’ operations (for example, the brutal use of forced labor) contributed to their profits, so it made sense to seek damages from them for ill-gotten gains.

It was not until 2004 that the Supreme Court took up a case applying this law. In a 6-to-3 ruling, it confirmed that the law allows foreigners to sue for violations of a limited category of universally accepted rights. It also held that those rights and violations should reflect the law when a case is brought.

In 1789, the violations concerned piracy, mistreatment of ambassadors and violations of safe passage. Today, federal courts have found that such violations include torture, genocide, slavery and other crimes against humanity.

The statute does not explicitly say who can be sued. But even in 1789, corporations could be sued for damages for their actions and those of their employees. Under American law, corporations are granted rights like the ability to shield their investors from liability, and in exchange, they are legally accountable for wrongdoing.

Four federal appeals courts have ruled since 2005 that corporations can be held liable under the Alien Tort Statute. Only the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum, the case now before the Supreme Court, has rejected that concept on grounds that international tribunals have not held corporations liable for human rights violations.

The Nigerian plaintiffs are seeking monetary damages for a brutal campaign in the mid-1990s by three oil companies and the military dictatorship in Nigeria to silence protesters against environmental damage caused by oil operations. Scores were allegedly killed. Many others, including the plaintiffs, said they were captured and beaten. The conduct alleged includes torture, crimes against humanity and executions.

Royal Dutch Petroleum argues that the Supreme Court must look to the law of nations on the question of corporate liability and that no such provision exists in international law. It also contends that finding liability could create international tension.

That stance is wrong on law and policy. International law defines the violations, but enforcement is up to each nation’s domestic law, and under American law, corporations have been subject to suits for centuries. Worries about international repercussions are also overblown. As the Supreme Court decided in 2004, the statute applies only to the most abhorrent conduct, and federal courts have carefully rejected suits for infringing on American foreign policy-making as well as for evidentiary reasons.

There is no good justification for a categorical rule against corporate liability. As the economist Joseph Stiglitz said in an amicus brief, these lawsuits can be an efficient way to enforce human rights in countries where court systems and other means of policing violations are ineffective. Potential civil liability gives corporations an incentive to improve their conduct. If a multinational company commits an offense like torture, the fact that it is a corporation and not an individual is immaterial in the pursuit of justic

Marching Orders

Marching Orders

Shobhan Saxena, TNN | Mar 4, 2012,

When a backpacker is woken up by the police in the middle of the night, forced to reveal the password of his laptop, and put on a flight toGermany because he is suspected of “financing” an agitation in the area, it looks both silly and paranoid.”In India, I lived on $10 per day. There was no budget for financing organizations or people. I never made any money transfer on behalf of other people or organizations. I am unemployed,” says Rainer Sonnntag Hermann, the German tourist who was deported from Chennai on Wednesday. “I participated in some anti-nuclear demonstrations. As far as I know, this was no illegal activity,” he adds from his home in Essen, Germany.

This week, as the Centre began looking into the funding of some NGOs for their “role” in the agitation against the Kudankulam nuclear plant, a WikiLeaks report revealed that a private US intelligence firm, Stratfor, has been spying on NGOs and activists in Bhopal on behalf of Dow Chemicals, the company they have been fighting with for compensation and justive to victims of the gas tragedy in 1984.

With the government breathing down their neck and private spooks on their tail, activists see a devious design – an attempt to silence protests . “There has been a concerted effort to criminalize the whole Bhopal movement. After 27 years of the tragedy , the people and firms responsible for the death of thousands of people remain unpunished, but there are a number of cases against the activists. If convicted , we could spend up to 15 years in jail,” says Satyu Saranagi, an activist who has been tracked by Stratfor, the Texas-based firm.

Is space for genuine protests shrinking in India? Is the government so fearful of the so-called foreign hand? The government denies there is a witchunt in this case. “Accounts of NGOs are generally being scrutinised by various agencies. It is incorrect to say that 77 NGOs are being investigated. We are looking into the accounts of 12-13 Indian NGOs with regard to allegation of funds diversion,” Union home secretary R K Singh said on Friday.

But activists say bigger issues are stake. “There is a sharp contradiction here. The multinational corporations can come to India, do business and also influence government policies but foreign NGOs and activists have to face all kinds of problems,” says Sarangi.

In the inter-connected world, say activists, this paranoia makes little sense and governments must learn to live with global activists. “I was shocked when people were killed in police firing at Jaitapur, Maharashtra . Indian police killing their own people for the interest of a French nuclear company is unacceptable to us. I have a right to protest in my country as well as in India,” says a French activist who doesn’t want to be named as she fears revocation of her visa.

Visa is one of the sticks the government uses to beat the “trouble-making” foreign activists and NGOs with. The Foreign Currency Regulation Act (FCRA) and Income-Tax laws are other methods to “discipline” people. In states like Chhattisgarh and Orissa, there has been so much harassment by government agencies that NGOs receiving foreign aid have almost stopped organizing protest rallies. “Local intelligence units and the police regularly check our accounts and and scare us with FCRA and I-T laws,” says Indu Netam, a well-known activist who runs Adivasi Samta Manch in Kanker, Chhattisgarh . “By changing the definition of ‘political activity’ in FCRA, the government has made it impossible for us to organize rallies and the entire culture of protests has been silenced.”

What’s a democracy without disagreements and protests? Should a government try to control civil society groups and movements by using laws against them? The government should, say experts , regulate and not control NGOs. “Regulate the sector as you regulate foreign investment or companies . For years, NGOs have been demanding that they should be under FEMA and not FCRA as it’s that act which applies to companies using foreign exchange in India. All foreign companies operating in India may not be good for the country, but the government doesn’t try to control them. The same principle should apply to NGOs,” says Maja Daruwala of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative. “I can’t understand this paranoia, this belief of the government that certain sector requires their suspicion, and others not.”

With NGOs and foreign activists under the scanner , there is a big question mark over the future of protests in the world’s biggest democrac

Tribal student at AIIMS hangs self

Durgesh Nandan Jha, TNN | Mar 5, 2012

NEW DELHI: A first-year MBBS student at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, who hailed from a village in Rajasthan and was the second topper in the Scheduled Tribe category at the all-India medical entrance test, allegedly committed suicide by hanging himself from the ceiling fan of his hostel room on Saturday.

Anil Kumar Meena, 22, was reportedly struggling to cope with the English-medium teaching at the institute. His friends and family members alleged that Anil, the son of a tribal farmer in Baran district, had been facing discrimination at the institute due to his rural background and Hindi-medium education.

MBBS students at AIIMS have decided to boycott classes from Monday, demanding the resignation of institute director, Dr R C Deka, over Anil’s death. Anil was depressed for the past few days as he had failed to clear his first-year exams and was to reappear as a fresh candidate for the semester tests starting Monday.

Deputy Commissioner of Police (South) Chaya Sharma said Anil had locked himself up in his hostel room throughout Saturday. “His concerned friends called the security guard and made him look through the room ventilator on Sunday morning. The guard found him hanging. No suicide note was found,” she said.

Sharma said the body had been sent for post mortem and that cops were probing all angles.

Anil had got admission in the 2010-11 batch but he was barred from taking the final exam due to low attendance. He was asked to take supplementary exams three months later in which he failed.

Exam stress: Second suicide at AIIMS in 2 years

Anil Kumar Meena’s friends expressed shock at his suicide. “We played cricket together on Friday afternoon. After that, he also came over to my hostel room in the night to watch a comedy serial. Though he was sad over his poor results, he did not appear suicidal,” said Rajendra Ghunawat, a second-year student who was the first person to inform other hostel mates about Anil not coming out of his room. Ghunawat said he last saw Anil around 2.30am on Saturday when he went to the first floor of the hostel to fetch water.

“He was sitting silently and did not respond to my call. I left thinking he might be sleepy. We did not see him the next day and finally called the guards on Sunday,” he said.Omesh Meena, the victim’s cousin, claimed that the teachers had declared at the last moment that only 50% marks of the main exam will be counted and the rest will be from internal assessment.

“Anil was a bright student. He scored 75% marks in senior secondary school and had second rank in AIPMT 2010 in the ST category. Because he was from a Hindi medium background, he faced problems understanding the lectures. He was also taking private tuitions in English,” he said. “Anil missed a lot of classes in the first year because teachers did not really help him overcome the language barrier and he felt humiliated,” Omesh claimed. AIIMS Students’ Union president Tungish Bansal held the institute director morally responsible for Anil’s death.

“This is the second death of an MBBS student over exam-related issues. Two years ago, a final-year had committed suicide. But no remedial measures have been taken. The director refused to meet the victim despite several attempts made by him over the past 10 days,” said Bansal. Students took out a candlelight march on Sunday evening and gheraoed AIIMS director R C Deka, demanding his resignation. Deka did not respond to TOI’s calls.Rani Kumar, the dean of examinations at AIIMS said there was no caste-based discrimination and the institute had taken several measures like forming a stress management committee to look into problems faced by students.

Pakistan- Run for your life

Map of Pakistan

By Pervez Hoodbhoy

Published: March 4, 2012

Eighteen bloodied bodies, shot Gestapo-style, lay by the roadside. Men in army uniforms had stopped four buses bound from Rawalpindi to Gilgit, demanding that all 117 persons on board alight.Those with Shia sounding names on their national identification cards were separated out. Minutes later it was all over; the earlier massacres of Hazara Shias in Mastung and Quetta had been repeated.

Having just learned of the fresh killings, I relayed the news on to colleagues and students at the cafeteria table. Some looked glumly at their plates but, a minute or two later, normal cheerful chatter resumed. What to do? With so many killings, taking things too seriously can be bad for one’s mental health.

In Pakistan one’s religious faith, or lack of one, has become sufficient to warrant execution and murder. The killers do their job fearlessly and frequently. The 17th century philosopher and mathematician, Blaise Pascal, once observed that “men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it for religious conviction”.

Equipped with just enough religion to hate those with another faith — but not enough to love their coreligionists — Pakistanis have mostly turned their backs on religious atrocities. Exceptionally grotesque ones, such as when 88 Ahmadis quietly praying in Lahore on a Friday were turned into corpses, have also failed to inspire public reaction. Mass executions do not interest Pakistan’s religious parties, or Imran’s Khan’s PTI. For them, only the killings by American drones matter.

The title of this essay deliberately excludes Hindus, Christians, and Parsis. The reason: these communities were never enthused about India’s partition (even though some individual members pretended to be). Indeed, they were soon slapped with the Objectives Resolution of 1949 which termed them “minorities”, hence freaks and outcasts dispatched to the margins. Some accepted their fate, keeping a low profile. Others altered their names to more Muslim sounding ones. The better off or more able ones emigrated, taking valuable skills along with them.

But with Shias and Ahmadis it was different. Whatever they might feel now, they were enthusiastic about Pakistan. Mr Jinnah, born a Gujrati Shia Muslim, believed that Muslims and Hindus could never live together peacefully but that Muslims, of course, could. Chaudhry Zafarullah Khan, an Ahmadi leader, was commended by Jinnah for having eloquently argued the Two-Nation theory, and then appointed by him in 1947 as Pakistan’s first foreign minister. Mr Jinnah died early, but Zafarullah Khan lived long enough to see disillusionment. The inevitable had happened: once the partition was complete, the question of which version of Islam was correct became bitterly contentious.

Until recently, Pakistan’s Shias did not have the self-image of a religious minority. They had joined Sunnis in supporting Mr Bhutto’s 1974 decision to declare Ahmadis as non-Muslim. But now they are worried. The Tribal Areas are convulsed in sectarian warfare: Kurram, Parachinar and Hangu (in the settled districts) are killing grounds for both Sunni and Shia, but with most casualties being Shia. City life has also become increasingly insecure and segregated; Karachi’s Shia neighborhoods are visibly barricaded and fortified.

But while Shias are numerous enough to put up a defence, Ahmadis are not. Last month, a raging 5,000-strong mob descended upon their sole worship place in Satellite Town, Rawalpindi. Organised by the Jamaat-i-Islami, various leaders from Jamaat-ud-Dawa, Lashkar-e-Taiba and Sipah-e-Sahaba addressed the rally demanding the worship place’s security cameras and protective barricades be removed. The police agreed with the mob’s demands, advising the Ahmadis to cease praying. The worship place has now been closed down.

Forbidden from calling themselves Muslims, Ahmadi children are expelled from school once their religion is discovered. Just a hint may be enough to destroy a career. Knowing this, the school staff at a high school in Mansehra added the word ‘Qadiani’ to the name of an Ahmadi student, Raheel Ahmad, effectively eliminating the boy’s chances of getting a university education. The same school also held an anti-Ahmadi programme, distributing prizes to winners.

The latest outrage is that new ID cards, issued by the Punjab government, require the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) to insert a ‘Qadiani’ entry in the online forms. Ahmadis now do not have the option of declaring themselves non-Muslims. Instead the government demands that they open themselves to public persecution, a method that Nazi Germany used against Jews.

Even dead Ahmadis are not spared: news had reached the Khatm-e-Nabuwat that Nadia Hanif, a 17-year old school teacher who had died of illness ten days ago, was actually an Ahmadi but buried in a Muslim graveyard in Chanda Singh village, Kasur. Her grave was promptly dug up, and the body removed for reburial.

Pakistan’s state apparatus, for all its tanks and guns, offers no protection to those deemed as religious minorities. Is it just weakness? Or, perhaps, complicity? While swarms of intelligence agents can be seen in many places, they fail spectacularly to intercept religious terrorists. More ominously, recent months have seen state-sanctioned Difah-e-Pakistan Council (DPC) rallies across the country, drawing many tens of thousands. Prominent self-proclaimed Shia and Ahmadi killers, prance on stage while holding hands in a show of unity.

At the Multan DPC rally on February 17, Khatm-e-Nabuwat leaders bayed for Ahmadi blood while sharing the stage with the famed Malik Ishaq, a self-acclaimed Shia-killer. Newspaper reports say Ishaq was freed last year after frightened judges treated him like a guest in the courtroom, offering him tea and biscuits. One judge attempted to hide his face with his hands. But after Ishaq read out the names of his children, the judge abandoned the trial.

What does the Pakistan Army think it will gain tolerating — or perhaps encouraging — such violent forces once again? Its jawans pay an enormous price in fighting them, and their offshoots, elsewhere in the country. But perhaps the notion that extremists are Pakistan’s ‘strategic assets’ for use in Kashmir and Afghanistan has captured the military’s mind. Or, post-OBL, perhaps a miffed leadership seeks to show anger at the US through such rallies. Whatever the explanation, Pakistan’s minorities face catastrophe.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 5th, 2012.

UNESCO: Launch of World Atlas of Gender Equality in Education

To mark International Women’s Day, UNESCO and the UIS have jointly released the World Atlas of Gender Equality in Education, which includes over 120 maps, charts and tables featuring a wide range of sex-disaggregated indicators.

The vivid presentation of information and analysis calls attention to persistent gender disparities and the need for greater focus on girls’ education as a human right.

The atlas illustrates the educational pathways of girls and boys and the changes in gender disparities over time. It hones in on the gender impact of critical factors such as national wealth, geographic location, investment in education, and fields of study.

The data show that:
Although access to education remains a challenge in many countries, girls enrolled in primary school tend to outperform boys. Dropout rates are higher for boys than girls in 63% of countries with data.
Countries with high proportions of girls enrolled in secondary education have more women teaching primary education than men.
Women are the majority of tertiary students in two-thirds of countries with available data. However, men continue to dominate the highest levels of study, accounting for 56% of PhD graduates and 71% of researchers.

The atlas also provides a fresh perspective on the progress countries are making towards gender-related targets set by the international community under Education for All and the Millennium Development Goals.

The print edition of the atlas will be accompanied by an online data mapping tool that enables users to track trends over time, adapt maps and export data. This eAtlas will be regularly updated with the latest available data from the UNESCO Institute for Statistics.

Download full report here

Download the full report or obtain a printed copy


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