Nelson Mandela would have made a fine peace journalist #Sundayreading


By Steven Youngblood
Director, Center for Global Peace Journalism, Park University

At a fundamental level, Mandela and peace journalists share an understanding of the importance of language. One key tenant of peace journalism is that the words we as journalists use matter—that they can either soothe or inflame passions. Mandela might have gone one step further, noting not only journalists’ responsibility to choose their words carefully, but also their duty to use language in a way that bridges divides and brings people together.  Mandela said, “Without language, we cannot talk to people and understand them. One cannot share their hopes and aspirations, learn their history, appreciate their poetry and savor their songs. I again realize that we are not different people with separate language; we are one people with different tongues.” (http://africa.waccglobal.org/what%20is%20peace%20journalism_.pdf )

Another value peace journalists share with Mandela is a commitment to ongoing dialogue, like the kind begun under Mandela’s post-apartheid Peace and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa. The Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory is continuing that work today, offering “a non-partisan platform for public discourse on important social issues…that contribute to policy decision-making.” (nelsonmandela.org)  Peace journalists, of course, can provide this platform, but not just to those in power. We seek to give a voice to all parties, with a special emphasis on giving voice to the voiceless.

I hope Mr. Mandela would be proud of the work that one group of peace reporters just concluded in Lebanon.  These reporters told the stories of Syrian refugees living in Beirut in a way that demystified the stereotypes about these individuals while fostering a dialogue within Lebanese society about how to accommodate and protect 440,000 refugees.

Many of Mandela’s principles not only align with peace journalism, but also lay out a blueprint for successful peace journalists.

This blueprint for peace journalists can be found, succinctly, in the UN’s written declaration of July 18th as Nelson Mandela International Day.  The UN declaration “recognizes Nelson Mandela’s values and his dedication to the service of humanity, in the fields of conflict resolution, race relations, the promotion and protection of human rights, reconciliation, gender equality and the rights of children and other vulnerable groups, as well as the uplifting of poor and underdeveloped communities. It acknowledges his contribution to the struggle for democracy internationally and the promotion of a culture of peace throughout the world.” (masterpeace.org).

This statement is not only Mandela’s legacy, it is his charge to all of us, but especially to those of us who subscribe to the notion that we as journalists have a higher responsibility. This means that we must study and understand conflict resolution, and apply that knowledge to balanced reporting that gives proportionate voice to those who seek peace rather than exclusively to those who rattle the sabers of violence.  Mandela’s legacy charges peace journalists with facilitating meaningful dialogues on race, and empowering those in our society who are marginalized (women, children, and the poor).  This means that along with peace journalism, we should practice development journalism, using our platforms to focus attention on societal problems and solutions.

Most of all, this legacy charges journalists with putting the spotlight on the Nelson Mandelas in each society—those who seek  peace and reconciliation. Mandela’s statement during his 1964 trial is a testimony to the positive power of language, and to journalism’s responsibility to give voice to those who seek a peaceful path.  Mandela told the court, “I have fought against white domination and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.” (transcend.org)

 

#India- #Bhavesh Parmar Techie returns a free man 8 years after drifting into #Pakistan #goodnews


Yudhvir Rana & Bella Jaisinghani, TNN | Oct 26, 2012, 07.34AM IST

MUMBAI: Vile Parle resident Hansaben Parmar’s agonizingly long wait for her son finally ended on Thursday. Eight years after Bhavesh strayed across the border, he was repatriated by Pakistani authorities following his release from a Lahore prison.

A software engineer by education, 32-year-old Bhavesh crossed into India in the afternoon through Wagah border, where Hansaben was waiting for him. “Mamma mil gayee,” he exclaimed on embracing his mother. “I am so happy. I came all the way to Attari almost crying.”

Bhavesh is believed to have wandered into Pakistan in 2004 in a mentally disturbed state. That was the year his father passed away from cancer. His long leave of absence from work cost Bhavesh his job with a leading manufacturer of ATM machines.

On Thursday, Bhavesh, attired in a salwar-kameez and a jacket, said he accidentally boarded Samjhauta Express from Amritsar and fainted before reaching Pakistan. It is unclear how he reached Amritsar or got on the train. According to activists, Bhavesh was arrested in 2007 and in 2009 sentenced to three years’ imprisonment. Bhavesh said he was treated well in Lahore’s Kot Lakhpat jail.

Vile Parle MLA Krishna Hegde, who accompanied Hansaben to Attari, said Bhavesh will be taken to Mumbai on Friday after all formalities are completed.

During the Thursday reunion , Bhavesh’s mother kept breaking down. “These tears are of happiness. I have finally got my son back,” Hansaben said. While she expressed delight at his return , she wished Pakistan had repatriated him immediately after the arrest.

The 57-year-old said Bhavesh’s mental condition worried her and she would get medical exams conducted . “Bhavesh was dedicated to his father’s treatment. But we lost my husband within three months.” Bhavesh disappeared after the death while Hansaben was away at her parents’ place as per local traditions. “I had told my neighbours to take care of Bhavesh. But when I returned I found him missing.” She did not lodge a missing report with the police since she thought he might have gone in search of another job.

Hansaben was clueless about her son’s whereabouts until 2008, when Intelligence Bureau informed her about his presence in Pakistani jail. “We started making efforts to bring him back when we came to know that he was imprisoned in Pakistan,” explained Hansaben. The process was not easy but as time passed immense support poured in for Bhavesh’s release . Britainbased lawye r Ja s Uppal reported the case to the United Nations, Amnesty International , Human Rights Watch and to others. In July 2012, Pakistani lawyer Awais Sheikh filed Bhavesh’s mercy petition before the country’s president Asif Ali Zardari.

Back in Mumbai, friends and neighbours at Kamla Terrace building in Vile Parle who had helped Hansaben through the ordeal awaited Bhavesh’s return. “I was to travel to Wagah but could not make it,” said activist Jatin Desai.

‘MAMMA MIL GAYEE’ 

Tragedy at home 

Bhavesh Parmar, a software engineer, lived with his aged parents Hansaben and Kantilal Parmar at Kamla Terrace in Vile Parle He held a mid-level position with one of India’s largest manufacturers of ATMs The young man was left traumatized following the death of his father due to cancer in mid-2004 His prolonged absence from work owing to his father’s illness and then death cost him his job Unable to cope with the double blow, he wandered away from home in a disoriented state

Odyssey & ordeal 

The 24-year-old ended up in Pakistan aboard Samjhauta Express in 2004 He was arrested in 2007 and a case was registered under section 14 of the Foreigners Act In 2009, Bhavesh was given a three-year sentence with a penalty of Rs 5,000 For non-payment of penalty, he was made to undergo further imprisonment of three months His case was placed before Pakistan’s supreme court and Bhavesh was declared an internee on June 2 for three months. The term ended on September 28

Sparks of hope 

Earlier this year, Hansaben received a letter from journalist Neeraj Sharma informing that Bhavesh was in Kot Lakhpat Jail in Lahore Sharma had interviewed a batch of prisoners released at Wagah. One of them, Ram Rajji, passed on a chit of paper on which Bhavesh had scribbled the family’s Mumbai address A friend of Bhavesh telephoned the reporter, who, in turn, put him through to Rajji Hansaben approached local MLA Krishna Hegde in February 2012. The MLA, in turn, sought help from MP Priya Dutt. The chain led to external affairs minister S M Krishna and the Indian High Commission in Pakistan Soon, activists across the UK, Pakistan and India reached out to help In Pakistan, lawyer Awais Sheikh represented Bhavesh to secure his release.

 

Mumbai, Karachi press clubs for liberalized media visas


 

KARACHI: The Press Club, Mumbai and Karachi Press Club have welcomed the scheduled meeting between Indian External Affairs Minister, S M Krishna, and Foreign Minister, Hina Rabbani Khar, to be held in Islamabadon September 7-9, 2012.In a joint statement issued both the prestigious press clubs reiterated their demands of free movement of journalistsbetween two countries in order to promote people-to-people contact and enduring peace in the sub-continent.The press clubs hoped both foreign ministers would give due attention to their demands.

In the meeting both the foreign ministers will review the resumed peace process, which began last year.

I the statement issued the press clubs have demanded of the ministers to liberalize the visa regime for the journalist community and should be made easily available.

It is pertinent to mention that the joint statement issued by Indian and Pakistan’s Foreign Secretaries after their meeting on July 4-5, 2012 had emphasized the need to promote media and sports contacts.

Moreover they also demanded removal of the cap on the number of journalists allowed to function in both the countries as currently only two newspersons from one country are allowed work in the other and vice versa.

The statement also said that more and more journalists from both the countries should not only be encouraged bul also allowed to move easily.

Sale of hard copies of newspapers and periodicals should be allowed to sell in other country, said the joint statement.

Sufi Balm for troubled times #Sundayreading


 

Jay N Jayaram

An urs, or commemoration of the death of a Sufi philosopher-poet-singer, began in Kasur/Qasur, in Pakistan on Friday, August 24, and someone posted a few lines on Facebook from a beautiful poem anyone – atheist or believer – can identify with.

Baba Bulleh Shah’s poem, Bulla, ki jaana maen kaun(text and youtube links below), has particular resonance in the context of a great deal of xenophobia and distrust of the other that we are witnessing in many parts of the world, and especially in India.

In my southern Indian city, Bangalore, rumours recently led to the exodus of thousands of people originally from Northeastern India. The rumours were blamed on another minority in the city, the Muslims, who then felt obliged to host extensive rounds of Iftar parties (breaking the fast during the month of Ramadan/Ramzan) and dinners, inviting people from Northeastern India living in Bangalore, so as to reassure them that neither posed any threat whatsoever to the other.

It was apposite that just as the city began to recover from that ignoble trauma, the urs for a humanistic saintly figure began in another part of the subcontinent, where too large numbers of Pakistani civil society activists were energetically denouncing attacks on minorities and outrageous allegations of blasphemy. The troubles in India itself had started because of exaggerated rumours and false pictures depicting the fate of the Rohingyaminority in Burma. And what is far worse, there have been clashes in the northeastern Indian state of Assam, pitting tribal people against presumed ‘outsiders’ from Bangladesh.

Who are outsiders and insiders among human beings who have been constantly migrating for thousands of years, whose DNAs can be traced back, according to overwhelming scientific evidence, to an African mother and whose languages, philosophies and religions are so interlinked? What earthly basis is there for this Auslaender raus (outsider out) thinking?

The poem by Bulleh Shah (1680-1757) contains many lines acutely relevant to the present times. This version is taken from the singer Rabbi Shergill’s websites.

Bulla, ki jaana maen kaun (Bulla, to me I’m not known – also translated as Bulla, who knows who I am?)

Na maen momin vich maseet aan
Na maen vich kufar diyan reet aan
Na maen paakaan vich paleet aan
Na maen moosa na pharaun.
Bulleh! ki jaana maen kaun
Not a believer inside the mosque, am I
Nor a pagan disciple of false rites
Not the pure amongst the impure
Neither Moses, nor the Pharaoh
Bulleh! to me, I am not known

Na maen andar ved kitaab aan,
Na vich bhangaan na sharaab aan
Na vich rindaan masat kharaab aan
Na vich jaagan na vich saun.
Bulleh! ki jaana maen kaun.
Not in the holy Vedas, am I
Nor in opium, neither in wine
Not in the drunkard`s intoxicated craze
Niether awake, nor in a sleeping daze
Bulleh! to me, I am not known

Na vich shaadi na ghamnaaki
Na maen vich paleeti paaki
Na maen aabi na maen khaki
Na maen aatish na maen paun
Bulleh!, ki jaana maen kaun
In happiness nor in sorrow, am I
Neither clean, nor a filthy mire
Not from water, nor from earth
Neither fire, nor from air, is my birth
Bulleh! to me, I am not known

Na maen arabi na lahori
Na maen hindi shehar nagauri
Na hindu na turak peshawri
Na maen rehnda vich nadaun
Bulla, ki jaana maen kaun
Not an Arab, nor Lahori
Neither Hindi, nor Nagauri
Hindu, Turk, nor Peshawari
Nor do I live in Nadaun
Bulleh! to me, I am not known

Na maen bheth mazhab da paaya
Ne maen aadam havva jaaya
Na maen apna naam dharaaya
Na vich baitthan na vich bhaun
Bulleh , ki jaana maen kaun
Secrets of religion, I have not known
From Adam and Eve, I am not born
I am not the name I assume
Not in stillness, nor on the move
Bulleh! to me, I am not known

Avval aakhir aap nu jaana
Na koi dooja hor pehchaana
Maethon hor na koi siyaana
Bulla! ooh khadda hai kaun
Bulla, ki jaana maen kaun

I am the first, I am the last
None other, have I ever known
I am the wisest of them all
Bulleh! do I stand alone?
Bulleh! to me, I am not known

The legendary Mehdi Hasan sings it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JMbqs2QbZZg

And Pakistan’s world-renowned Coke studio http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FOriUKHfnrs

Iqbal Bahoo http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hNDTc35g2GI

Sain Zahoor Ahmed looking every bit a Sufi recluse http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yd0Wbli39zA&feature=related

Imran Aziz Qawwal http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TSY9k2Soedk&feature=related

The great Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan has sadly been let down in this recordinghttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MbRPnehCgnk

A version which has gotten massive hits is Rabbi Shergill’s:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pTxZy32Fv_0

Baba Bulleh Shah’s supreme relevance to today’s India and the world is further brought out in these superb lines:

Chal Way Bullehya Chal O’thay Chaliyay

Jithay Saaray Annay

Na Koi Saadee Zaat PichHanay

Tay Na Koi Saanu Mannay

O’ Bulleh Shah let’s go there

Where everyone is blind

Where no one recognizes our caste (or race)

And where no one believes in us

Or in the words of that 20th century Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore,

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;

Where knowledge is free;

Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls;…”

This day, 49 years ago, Martin Luther King Jr made his stirring I have a Dream speech which too contain similar sentiments: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” http://www.mlkonline.net/dream.html

Different continents and centuries, one dream.

 

Two Muslims who took on the Azad Maidan rioters- #mustread


 

HAVE FAITH, WILL NOT FIGHT

While last Saturday’s riots stoked resentment against Muslim leaders, two members of the community taught a few others that Islam is about humanity

Jyoti Punwani , Mumbai Mirroe, August19,2012

Even as the leaders of Saturday’s rally shrug off any responsibility for the violence, two ordinary Muslims, Shadab Siddiqui and Farooq Mapkar stood up to a number of vandals in their community and took them on single-handedly and unarmed. Both say they could not watch as the youngsters sullied the name of Islam through their misconduct.
Thirty six-year-old poetess and social activist Shadab Siddiqui was on her way to work on Saturday afternoon when she saw around 40 Muslim boys with flags, travelling on the roof of the same Harbour line train as she was on.
They were all headed to the Azad Maidan rally, and were shouting religious slogans, clambering down into compartments, leaning out and clinging on to windows.
“Other commuters were not only getting annoyed with the noise they were making, but were also worried that they could lose their limbs, or even their lives,” she said. However, every time a commuter told them to get down, the commuter ended up getting shouted at.
Shadab, who works in the office of the Avami Vikas Party (recently founded by ex-ACP Shamsher Khan Pathan), had herself sent out press releases for the rally. “We made sure to describe it as a peaceful protest, but these boys were anything but quiet. It really bothered me,” she said. She immediately called an Urdu journalist and asked him to alert the police, but nothing happened.
When the train halted at Wadala, Shadab got off and requested the railway police to take action, but they said they were helpless. Then, she marched straight to the motorman who also said he didn’t dare intervene. Feeling she had had enough, Shadab jumped onto the tracks in front of the train, sat down there, and shouted that she would not move till the boys came down. If they didn’t, she told the motorman, he could start the train and run her over. “I thought that if the boys saw a Muslim standing up against them, they would be very ashamed,” she said.
It worked. And Shadab only got up when the last boy got off the roof and into the compartment.
“Earlier, I didn’t want to go to this allmale rally,” she said. “But now I was so furious that I decided I would go to Azad Maidan, get onto the stage and tell the organisers that they had failed in their responsibility to ensure a peaceful rally.”
However, when she reached CST, Shadab found vehicles burning, and volunteers asking everyone to go home. As she entered the station, she saw that a bus had been set on fire.
“Many women and children were huddled inside the police cabin on Platform 1 for a very long time. Non-Muslims kept asking me what was going on, and I felt so ashamed. If I could, I’d talk to those boys and tell them that inconveniencing others is not Islam.”
For Farooq Mapkar, a victim of the Hari Masjid firing during the 92-93 riots, it would have been easy to join the mob of youngsters he saw misbehaving with a Hindu at Wadala station on the way back from the rally. Especially since Mapkar has been fighting for 14 years to get the policeman (a Hindu) who shot him inside Hari Masjid punished. Instead, when the youngsters got on the train, Farooq reprimanded them all the way from Wadala to Mankhurd.
The youngsters shot back, saying that Hindus had killed Muslims in Assam. “That doesn’t justify your behaviour here with innocent Hindus,” Farooq told them. “I told them my story, and also that those who have helped me the most have been non-Muslims. I explained to them that their misconduct would make it very difficult for any Muslim to expect non-Muslims to help them in future.”
Farooq said he felt that his patience had paid off when the group of once-incensed youngsters turned around and apologised to him as they got off the train.

Shadab Siddiqui said she wishes she could tell the rioters that inconveniencing others is not Islam
Farooq Mapkar spent a long time convincing a group of Muslim boys that hurting innocent Hindus in Mumbai was not the answer to their problems

 

OPEN LETTER AND APPEAL TO SHRI TARUN GOGOI, CM ASSAM


July 25, 2012

To,

Shri Tarun Gogoi
Hon’ble Chief Minister of Assam

OPEN LETTER AND APPEAL

 

Dear Sir,

We, citizens of India committed to its deep secular and peace loving ethos appeal to you as head of the government in Assam to take all steps to ensure that violence stops, security is given to all displaced and dishoused by the violence so that they may return to their homes forthwith; adequate reparation for the lives lost and homes and other properties destroyed is paid and more than anything else a Fair and Time Bound Judicial Investigation by a Sitting HC Judge is conducted into the build up and fallout of the violence.

What concerns us deeply is the divisive discourse that seeks to create legitimacy for the violence by words and phrases like “infiltrators.” Since the mid 1990s tensions have simmered between the majority Bodo Councils and Muslim settlers despite the fact that the latter status was recognised in the Assam accord. Yet under the guise of discriminating between the two a small skirmish blew into a full blown communal conflagration; while the ethnicity of the 32 persons who lost their lives does not matter, the fact that the five persons who lost their lives to police bullets are from the minority has generated fear. There are already 1,70,000 persons in relief camps and they must be assisted with due security to return to their homes immediately. Dialogue must begin between the majority Bodo villages and the Muslim settlers for integrated rehabilitation.

Respecting your commitment to intra community peace we appeal to you to respond to this anguished appeal.
Teesta Setalvad, Mumbai
Javed Anand, Mumbai

Dr Asghar Ali Engineer, Mumbai
Ram Puniyani , Mumbai

Irfan Engineer, Mumbai
Hasan Kamal, Mumbai

Zafar Agha, Mumbai

Kamayani Bali Mahabal, Mumbai

MM Tirmizi, Ahmedabad

Rupa @Tanaz Mody, Ahmedabad
Sairabehn Salimbhai Sandhi, Ahmedabad

Salimbhai Noormohammed Sandhi, Ahmedabad
Tanveer Jafri, Surat

Rajendra Prasad, SAHMAT, Delhi

Ram Rahman, Delhi

M K Raina, Delhi

Mumbai Man found in Lahore Jail after eight years


Letter from Pakistan – I want to return home

Vile Parle man who went missing in ’05 found in Lahore jail

After his father passed away, Bhavesh left home for Amritsar, hopped on to Samjhauta Express and crossed into Pakistan without any papers

Nazia Sayed, Mumbai Mirror
Thursday, May 03, 2012 at 09:39:40 PM

The man in the photograph is 32-year-old Bhavesh Kumar. He went missing from Mumbai eight years ago. The letter you see is one he wrote to his mother – 57-year-old Hansa Kantilal Parmar – in February this year. She got the letter from a man called from Ram Rajji, who described Bhavesh as being “very quiet”, as being a man who cried when he thought of home but at most times recalled nothing.

Rajji had spent time with Bhavesh in jail; a jail in Lahore, where Bhavesh has spent the last eight years remembering and forgetting the past. For Hansa, the letter has brought fresh hope that she may yet see her long-lost son.

Bhavesh’s and his mother’s story reads like a melodramatic film script, even if no one’s sure how it will end. According to the version the police managed to piece together, Bhavesh had drifted into depression after his father’s death. He stole money from home before boarding a train to Amritsar.

There, though it’s unclear how, he managed to board the high-security Samjhauta Express, and once he got to Pakistan, he was detained because he had neither a visa nor any documents to prove who he was.

It’s hard to believe how smoothly things were going for him back in 2004. A bright student, Bhavesh had graduated from NIIT and landed himself a decent job. He lived with his family in Vile Parle, and like many parents of 24-year-old boys, his were on the look-out for a suitable bride.

Then his father lost a prolonged battle against cancer. “He was very close to his father, and after his death he went into depression,” Hansa told Mumbai Mirror. “He had not only lost his father but a friend as well. After that he also lost his job. The family fell into financial trouble and he blamed himself for not being able to look after us.”

Hansa had gone to her maternal home to perform some rituals when the next tragedy struck.

She got a call from her neighbours saying that Bhavesh had not returned home for a few weeks. Hansa returned immediately and when she couldn’t find him anywhere, registered a missing complaint with the police. “Some people told me he must’ve died or committed suicide, others said he had run away. I didn’t know what to do so I decided to wait,” she said.

She waited four years before she heard about her son: the good news was Bhavesh was alive; the bad news that he was in jail in Pakistan, and that getting him back would not be easy.

“In October 2008, officers from the Mumbai Police special branch came looking for me. They told me my son was being held in Kot Lakpath jail in Lahore,” Hansa said. “The cops also told me that he was mentally unstable, and that all he did was mutter the name of his college and call out for his mother. The police got my address from his college records,” Hansa said.

With this information in hand, she started the long battle to get her son released. She wrote to the Home Ministry and to the Ministry of External Affairs pleading with them to get her son back.

A few months later, there came another glimmer of hope. In July 2009, she got a letter from the Indian High Commission in Pakistan confirming that her son was indeed lodged in one of their jails.

The letter also stated that a team from the High Commission had met him, and that they had confirmed his nationality status to the government of Pakistan. The letter said that they were in touch with the Pakistani government and were seeking Bhavesh’s release and repatriation to India at the earliest.

Once again, Hansa was left with nothing else to do but wait; this time, for another two-and-a-half years (more painful, considering she knew where her son was but could do nothing to help him).

Out of the blue, on February 24 this year, she got a call – not from a police station or an embassy, as she had been expecting. It was from a man called Ram Rajji, Bhavesh’s fellow prisoner who had returned to India bearing a letter from her son.

Unlike Bhavesh, Rajji was the victim of a con. In 2004, an agent in Amritsar had told him he had arranged a job for him in Lahore, and that he would meet his point-of-contact when he reached that city. There was no one waiting for him and Rajji found himself in jail. He was released in February this year as part of a group of 19 Indian prisoners who were sent back home.

When Mumbai Mirror contacted Rajji, he said that Bhavesh seldom spoke about his home or his family. “For many years, he was very quiet. He used to break into tears when he remembered things from his past but at most times he recalled nothing. On the day I was getting released, he pushed a piece of paper in my hand and told me to give it to his mother. He also asked me to click a photograph of his and show it to his mother as proof that he was alive.”

Rajji was taken aback, mainly because of how quiet Bhavesh had been until then. “But I was moved by his sudden emotional outburst. I promised him that I would personally meet his mother and tell her that her son was alive.”

After receiving the letter, Hansa once again approached the authorities. Vile Parle (East) MLA Krishna Hegde, who is helping Hansa out, said, “I have written to the Ministry of External affairs explaining the situation. We are now waiting for their reply.”

For Hansa, the letter has brought with it fresh strength to fight. “For the first time in eight years my son remembered me. He scribbled his address on a piece of paper, he gave Rajji a message for me.”

And what was the message? “He said he wants to come back home.”

A Sufi message from a Pakistani President


Saeed Naqvi, April 9,2012, The Hindu

Asif Ali Zardari must be applauded for choosing to visit the shrine of Chishti at Ajmer at a time of rising extremism in India and Pakistan.

That Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will visit Pakistan at a suitable time is important news, of course. But, put it down to my personal bias if you like, the loftier symbolism of the visit lies elsewhere. The appearance of such a large Pakistani delegation at the Sufi Saint Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti’s shrine in Ajmer will strike a chord with an overwhelming majority of Pakistanis who are more comfortable with the soft, humane message of the Sufis compared with the vengefulness that Hafiz Saeed represents.

Disconcertingly, his ratings in Pakistan have shot up in an atmosphere of high voltage anti-Americanism. In this atmosphere, an American bounty even on the head of the devil would give him championship in the popularity stakes. That is why Mr. Zardari’s Ajmer mission deserves applause.

Contrary to popular perception, the rapid spread of Islam across the length and breadth of India was primarily the handiwork of Sufis. At a time when Rahul Gandhi and his cohorts are wondering how to win friends and influence people, the Sufis offer an excellent model. For the model to gain traction, the first requirement is a message which can be simply put across. The message the Sufis sought to communicate offended nobody: oneness of Being (Wahdat ul Wajood), equality of men, Love as a universal value.
Egalitarian

Rungs of the stratified Hindu order found the egalitarianism of Sufi Khanqahs, ashrams, hospices, compelling. The first-time visitors to the hospice were overwhelmed by the hospitality. The cuisine was custom made for universal consumption. It was not just vegetarian but care was taken to avoid garlic and onion too which some Hindu sects abstain from.

If there was one dogma the Sufis lived by, it was their total aversion to Kings and Sultans or those who sat at the top of the feudal heap. Since they would not visit the Sultans as a matter of principle, there were instances of the rulers who, overawed by the saint’s boundless popularity, expressed a desire to visit them at their hospices.

“If the King enters from the front gate, I shall leave by the backdoor” Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia once famously said. They lived by the Biblical dictum: it is easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye than a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. So, the poor and the intellectually precocious flocked to them.

It was not just their charming temperament, demeanour and belief which attracted the people to them. It was part of their spiritual training to harmonise totally with the cultural environment of whichever place they had made their home. They accepted and adopted the local culture.

Their contribution therefore to folk, popular and classical art forms was immense. For instance, Hazrat Amir Khusro, principal disciple of Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia, invented the sitar, tabla, ragas. And, by experimental fusion of Hindvi and Persian, he virtually laid the foundation of what later came to be recognised as Urdu. For popular participation, there were always the Qawwalis, with trance inducing rhythms deftly employed between spiritual and romantic lyrics.

It was in pursuance of the trend set by the Sufis that every great Urdu poet proceeded to strengthen sub-continental syncretism. Hasrat Mohani always followed up his “haj” by a visit to Barsana for a “darshan” of Radha, because it was a belief he fancied that God had sent prophets to every country and the one he sent to India was Lord Krishna! It can only happen in the subcontinent: Maulana Hasrat Mohani was a member of the Communist Party and a member of the Constituent Assembly. He refused to sign the Constitution because it was “anti-people”. He is an icon in modern Urdu ghazal. The famous ghazal sung by Mallika Pukhraj, “bezubaani zubaan na ho jai” (hark! Silence begins to have voice) is the Maulana’s composition.

Quite naturally, the rapid expansion of this spectacular, colourful Islam, far removed from the arid rigidity of Najd in Saudi Arabia, invited a puritanical reaction.

There were one or two schools of Sufism, like the one to which Shaikh Ahmad Sirhindi belonged and which deviated towards puritanism divorced from the colours of India. He was principally opposed to Moghul Emperor Akbar’s effort at forging Din-e-elahi or a common religion of God. Later, Shah Waliullah opposed the syncretic excess which leaned too much on the arts, music and dance as a path towards spirituality.

Darul Uloom at Deoband became the centre for puritanical reform within Islam. The effort to bring the faithful back to the straight and narrow continues. Unfortunately, politicians in search of vote banks find Deoband and one or two Imams of mosques, the only Muslim middlemen they know.

These institutions have been plodding away for decades. However, it was the war on terror painting Muslims as terrorists which generated anger in the community, enabling Deoband to marginally augment its reservoir.

By and large, Islam in Afghanistan, Kashmir, North West Frontier Province, other parts of Pakistan and India has, for years, been cloaked in colours of Sufism. But it was the manufacture of Wahabism in Afghanistan to fight the Soviet Union which was at the bottom of recent Islamic upheavals, of which 9/11and its aftermath are landmarks.
Islamic extremism

Basically, a strand of Islamic extremism has been in Pakistan’s DNA since the country’s inception but it was only a strand. The Munir Commission in 1953 investigated what is true Islam and came to no conclusion. But a backlash from the Afghan war reached its crescendo with the fall of the Lal Masjid in Islamabad in 2007. Extremism has remained on a plateau since, helped by U.S. policies and the military establishment in equal measure.

Hafiz Saeed is currently the most high profile representative of this extremism which is linked to Wahabism first manufactured in Afghanistan in 1980. In India, Deoband is a harmless reform school. But in Pakistan, Deobandi/Salafi alliance is embarked on a vicious Jehad for the soul of the nation.

It is for this reason that Mr. Zardari’s pilgrimage to Ajmer has symbolic value for Pakistan and beyond.

(The writer is a senior journalist, television commentator and interviewer.)

Pakistan nationals will be able to roam freely in India soon


Map indicating locations of Pakistan and India

Image via Wikipedia

7H FEB, 2012

In a bid to ensure more people to people contact, India is contemplating easing visa regulation for Pakistan nationals. With the cabinet note on the issue set to be tabled in a few days, it might be a couple of weeks before visa regulations are eased.

The new regulation ensures that Pakistan nationals on a visiting visa have wider access to the country, the new norms will allow Pakistan nationals access to five Indian cities as opposed to three cities earlier.

Unlike in the past where Pakistan nationals were not allowed to enter and exist India from different cities, the new norms ensure that Pakistan nationals can enter and exit from different cities in the country.

The new regulation ensures that Pakistan nationals on a visiting visa have wider access to the country. Reuters

India has also eased business visa rules for Pakistani businessmen. Business establishments with a turn over of half a million dollar or more will benefit with the new visa norms.

The new visa norms are expected to help students, senior citizens, business men, tourists and group tourists. The new visa regime however does not amend any restrictions for religious tourists.

India has extended the olive branch to Pakistan although there has been no forward movement by Pakistan on the issue of Hafiz Saeed, Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, and more importantly 26/11 attacks in India.

India hasn’t heard from the judicial panel from Pakistan, probing the 26/11 attacks and Ajmal Kasab’s role in the episode, that was expected to come to India earlier this month. A Pakistan official had earlier this year said that the probe panel will visit India on February 3.

The new visa norms come in the backdrop of Pakistan easing its stand on the Kashmir issue, with Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, suggesting that all issues with India be resolved through dialogue, diplomacy, prudent policy and national consensus. Gilani said said Pakistan and India cannot afford another war in the 21st century and described talks as the only way forward.

Mr. Minister, my name is Sunanda Deshapriya. I am not a terrorist.


5 Feb, 2012,  Sunanda Deshapriya      

Tamil rebels in a pickup truck in Killinochchi...

Image via Wikipedia

An Open Letter to Srilankan Minister Keheliya Rambukwella

Mr. Minister, I don’t know whether you have seen the film called ‘my name is Khan. In it, the main character played by popular actor Shah Rukh Khan Repeats the lines ‘My name is Khan. I am not a terrorist’ at different points in the film, in order to affirm his innocence. I too am about to tell you a similar story. ‘My name is Sunanda Deshapriya. I am not a terrorist’. This is my theme.

The story of ‘My name is Khan’ centres around the harassment a Muslim man with the name of Khan has to endure following the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York, USA. These attacks on the Twin Towers generated both fear and anger in the minds of the American people. Some extremist groups tried to unleash the feelings of anger against ordinary Muslim people living in the US. The film’s narrative is set against this background.

You are trying to do the same thing today. You are trying to use the fear and anger generated in the minds of the Sinhala people because of the brutality of the LTTE against those of us who have been advocating respect for human rights in Sri Lanka, including respect for the rights of the Tamil people of our country. When I say ‘you’ I do not only mean you as an individual, Mr. Minister. I include the entire gamut of people who do your bidding, including those media persons who sing your praises with no shame.

Do you know what baseless and venomous lies the media under your control has spread about me in the past few weeks? Have either you or your acolytes ever tried to behave in accordance with universally accepted media ethics and asked me for my comments on your revelations? Isn’t your talk about media ethics therefore to be understood as mere political hogwash?

In the film, Sameer, the young son of Khan and his wife Mandira is brutally killed by a gang of boys of his own age. This act of savagery became possible only because the feelings of anger and hatred that I described earlier had been let loose in their community. There can be nobody who watches this film whose heart and mind are not captivated by the tragedy of the child’s murder and the subsequent events. In the past weeks I too have read newspaper reports about your children. How disturbed you would have been after reading such stories? Can you imagine how many deaths my family, my children, have gone through as a result of the vicious campaign being carried out against me by you and the media that serves your will?

I fervently hope that one day you will be able to think about others as you think about yourself; this is the preaching of the Lord Buddha.

You talk over and over again about media ethics. You order news websites to be shut down because they are acting without respect for these ethics. You warn us that you will bring about a Code of Ethics for the Media that will be very special to Sri Lanka.

You are levelling charges against a group of journalists, accusing them of receiving money from the LTTE and carrying out a traitor’s agenda. You say that these media persons and journalists are now living abroad. You say they cannot be prosecuted because the Sri Lankan law does not permit it.

Mr. Minister, while your media people broadcast your words on this subject, they project images of me at various media freedom demonstrations on the screen behind them. With respect to which Code of Ethics are you displaying my photograph to illustrate baseless allegations? You say that it is because you cannot prosecute these persons who have obtained money from the LTTE under existing Sri Lankan law that you are not revealing their names. But your media institutions carry my photograph as an illustration to this statement. What is the intention behind this? Is it NOT to implicate me in your statement? Why is it that your acolytes have permission to do what you don’t dare to do? It must be that you think you do not need to be bound by any ethical standards because you are in power.

You advise the media about the use of language. Yet the media under your control continue to use the vilest forms of hate speech against me, shamelessly and without any proof to back up whatever they are saying. You reward these acolytes of yours with awards of media excellence.

Is it your theory and your practice that only your opponents should be held responsible for respecting media ethics? Is this how you devalue your own use of the media?

Wasn’t it your media that repeatedly broadcast the canard that at the session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in September last year, the Maldivian President said that ‘Sunanda Deshapriya is a traitor to the nation’ even after it had been proved to be false and inaccurate? Where were the media ethics that you preach, then? The first ethical consideration of any journalist or media person is that of respect for the truth. Doesn’t the media under your control break this principle every day? Is the proverb ‘Practise what you preach’ not applicable to Ministers of this government?

Since a while ago I have publicly challenged your government to prove that I have received even one cent from the LTTE. The truth of the matter is that neither you nor your government nor anyone else holds on shred of evidence to prove this. If your government is capable of indicting members of the military and the Police for having accepted money from the LTTE, why should we believe that you are not able to do the same in the case of journalists who have received money from the LTTE? I accuse you of trying to unleash the same forces of extremism that Khan and Mandira faced on the murder of their son Sameer against me and all others working for the defence of human rights and media freedom in Sri Lanka today.

It is no secret that I hold an extremely critical view of the Rajapakse regime. As Media Minister, you are obliged to defend my right to hold those views. Instead, you are engaged in taking away that space from us and terrorizing us. Please remember that the right to hold dissenting views is one of ethical bases of media freedom.

On ITN, in the ‘Athulanthaya’ (Interior) programme, you said something ridiculous: That because you cannot take these charges before the law, lacking evidence, you are instead placing them before the people. What does this mean? Why must you take information that has no basis and therefore would not stand scrutiny in a court of law into the public arena? Doesn’t this show us that you are trying to build a hate campaign against me in the minds of the people?

In June 2009, award-winning journalist and Secretary of the Working Journalists’ Association, Poddala Jayantha, was abducted and brutally assaulted because of a similar hate campaign. You who are levelling the most absurd of charges against media persons fighting for media freedom today, what have you done to bring the perpetrators of the attack on Jayantha to justice, almost three years after the attack? Tell us if there is even one example where you and your government have brought any of those responsible for killing, beating and harassing journalists and media persons to justice.

As Media Minister, you are raising against unfounded allegations against us. But the allegations we raise against you as media freedom fighters are completely factual.

When cartoonist and media activist Prageeth Eknaligoda was abducted three years ago, it is you who confidently told us that he would return in two weeks time.

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