Rosa Parks, The Power Of Resistance And the #delhigangrape #Vaw

By Vidyadhar Date

4 January, 2013

This year marks the centenary of the birth of Rosa Parks, the young woman who refused to give her seat to a white man in a bus and sparked the civil rights movement in the days of segregation in the U.S. in 1955. Rosa becomes all the more relevant to us in the context of the recent rape of the girl in a Delhi bus and her murder .

Incidentally, resistance to injustice in public transport has triggered two epoch making, peaceful protests. The first was Mahatma Gandhi’s in protest against the humiliation he faced in the train in South Africa.

Rosa became a rallying figure in American history and went on to live for another 50 years after her act of resistance. The Delhi girl medical student became a victim at a young age but like Rosa she has triggered a mass moement.

The nationwide protests in India have focused mainly on the issue of rape. But these could as well extend to the arena of public transport because the girl’s rape and death are directly related to the inadequacy of public transport and the government’s abject failure to provide basic amenities to the masses.

Rosa Parks, a black woman, was sitting in the rear portion of the bus reserved for blacks. When a white man came in and the driver of the bus asked her to offer her seat to him, she refused. For this she was arrested . In protest there was a prolonged boycott of buses by the black community which led to the resistance movement of the black people. Her resistance was not an accident. She was for many years an activist in the movement for the rights of the exploited people.

The resistance movement in the U.S. is relevant to India particularly because public transport in the country is deteriorating even while the government slavishly and brazenly encourages motor cars in contempt of the national urban transport policy. The government does this by yielding to the pressure from the car lobby which sees India as a focus area as the market for cars is declining in the West. The State Bank of India routinely gives front page advertisements in leading English language dailies offering incentive loans to push the sale of motor cars. What a cruel irony that this is the priority area for India’s oldest and biggest and State-controlled bank. Has anyone ever seen a bank giving advertisements offering loans for buying bicycles ? There are countless who need these. But the banks want to bail out the automobile industry which is one of the biggest drivers of capitalism for decades.

It is not only in the raped girl’s death that the government has blood on its hand. It is the same story everywhere because of the government’s policy. Many people are now falling to death from overcrowded trains in Mumbai, the nation’s financial capital. So bad is the situation in the Mumbai suburban railway network that the Marathi daily Prahar, controlled by Maharashtra’s industries minister, described the Central Railway as the Murderous Railway (Khooni Madhya Railway) in the heading of an editorial on new year day. The minister Narayan Rane is a Congressman and an aspirant for the chief minister’s job. The bitter editorial is a reflection of the extreme anger among the people. It is only that people have not come out on the streets in Mumbai. The government is extraordinarily lucky that they have not.

Even the commissioner of railway safety (central circle), Mr Chetan Bakshi has admonished the authorities for the shoddy `modernization’ work in progress on the railway tracks. And even Mr Rakesh Saxena, managing director of Mumbai Rail Vikas Corporation, confesessed at the urban mobility conference in Delhi last month that the conditions in the suburban railway for passengers were inhuman. That was much before the recent public outrage.

India has the disgraceful record of accounting for the highest number of deaths in road crashes in the world. Most of the victims are poor people. So what does the government care ? The government routinely observes a road safety week annually in January as it is doing this week. That this is routine in the extreme can be seen from the fact that road fatalities are actually increasing by eight per cent every year, according to the government’s own figures. And the actual toll may be much higher if one sees how the police routinely refuse to register cases of road crashes unless the case is serious . There is collusion at every level. One senior surgeon in Mumbai had the temerity to enter the morgue of a public hospital recently and perform an operation on a body and tamper with the evidence of the accident. He was a complete outsider, he must have bribed someone and obviously, he was trying to protect someone. That is how deep the rot is. This means the poor not only lose life and limb their chances of getting any sort of justice, any compensation become extremely slim because of the callousness, or shall we say cruelty, of the authorities.

It is estimated that by the year 2030, the annual death toll on roads in India would rise to 260,000 . This would be equal to deaths caused by multiple plane crashes and terrorist attacks every month of the year. That is the magnitude. This is particularly unacceptable because Western governments have consistently brought down the number of deaths in their countries.

A report on road safety prepared by a committee headed by Prof Dinesh Mohan of IIT, Delhi, for the Planning Commission severely exposes several sectors. It says there is a total lack of commitment on the part of policy makers, designers, inventors, operators and researchers. There is too much emphasis on the engineering aspect and neglect of many other aspects. Safety is the first casualty of the PPP (public private participation) model. Yet, observers point out this model is trumpeted by the authorities day in and day out. It is a constant refrain in high level seminars. It is a fraud. A retired senior government servant remarked recently that PPP was actually an ATM (any time money) for politicians.

That the authorities have absolutely no regard for the basic rights and amenities for the people and are obsessed with elitist schemes for the benefit of the rich is clear from this example. The Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC) has for its main priority currently a project to create a Formula 1 racing track on the outskirts of Mumbai and using hundreds of acres of precious land in the process. Of course, there is no demand from anyone for this utterly wasteful and unnecessary project. Such projects are increasingly coming under attack in the West. The authorities have the gall to claim in their website that this will help transform Mumbai into a major tourist and sports destination and enhance its global image. They should know that the country already has one and the new race track in Delhi has a poor record.

So let the poor fall from overcrowded trains and be run over by the cars of the arrogant, drunken rich but we will cater to the demands of the international car lobby and promote the cult of vehicular speed making it more difficult for people even to cross the road.

The venue of the launch of the road safety week in Mumbai on January 1 at Marine Drive in Mumbai seems like a cruel joke.It is the most unsafe place to reach on foot. Since this is a time for some reflection for politicians, the chief minister would do well to cross the road from Talk of the Town restaurant to Marine Drive without any escort and go incognito. True, there are good officers in the police but they are in a minority.

Coming back to Rosa Parks. She is one of the best inspirations in the present times particularly since women are now coming out into the open to reclaim their space, their rights. The American right wing tried to appropriate her legacy. When she died in 2005 , her body lay in state in the Rotunda of Capitol Hill. A critic bitterly noted that here lay in 1972 the body of J Edgar Hoover who had worked to destroy everything Rosa Parks stood for. For half a century, he waged a war against blacks, homosexuals and Communists. Similarly, vested interests will try to appropriate the raped medical student, the victim. They will try to deflect attention from the circumstances through some gestures which will be basically empty.

We do have an apartheid though it is of a different kind from the one that Rosa Parks fought. Delhi particularly is a stark example. It has the most naked disparities in transport. It has more cars than Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai totally have. So while the rich travel in air conditioned comfort and at breakneck speed in their cars on Delhi’s wide roads, young girls struggle to travel in constant dread in public transport buses. That is why the fighting spirit of Rosa Parks is relevant to us.

Vidyadhar Date is a senior journalist and author of the book Traffic in the era of climate change. Walking, cycling, public transport need priority.


Syria: Neoliberal Reforms in Health Sect Financing: Embedding Unequal Access?

Coat of arms of Syria -- the "Hawk of Qur...

The recent volatility and uprisings in several countries of the Arab world have been interpreted by the West solely as a popular demand for political voice. However, in all the countries of the region,including those in which there is ongoing violent opposition, the underlying economic dysfunction speaks for itself. The legacy of
joblessness, food riots, and hunger is commonplace and is most often related to structural reforms and austerity measures promoted by the IMF and World Bank. These have played a significant role in reinforcing the rich-poor divide over the past three decades,fostering inequality, suffering, social divisions, and discontent,
which are often overlooked by Western observers. In Syria, the state introduced policies for the liberalization of the economy as early as 2000; these were formalized into the 10th Five-Year Plan (2006-2010). Economic liberalization has been supported by the European Union with technical support from the German Technical Cooperation agency (GTZ). Changes made to the health sector and the labor market include: the piloting of health insurance schemes to replace universal coverage,the charging of fees for health services in public hospitals, and job losses across the board. While the West views discontent in Syria largely as political, its own role in promoting economic reforms and
social hardship has been largely missed. In large part, discontent in Syria and in the region as a whole are a part of a phenomenon that has repeatedly highlighted the failure of policies that aim at rapid commercialization with little consideration for pre-existing disparities in wealth and resources. This paper traces some of the proposed changes to the financing of health care and examines the implications for access and equity.

Read full paper here

Open Letter to Kenneth Roth of Human Rights Watch

Separate  Between Religion and State

Having experienced the ways in which religious fundamentalists have used both armed violence and state power to attack fundamental freedoms, we want to express our alarm at the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood and other representatives of political Islam. We believe that secularism is a minimum precondition for the freedom and equality of all citizens. It is intrinsic to democracy and the full realisation of human rights.

Rather than becoming complicit with religious fundamentalists in power, we call on Human Rights Watch to report violations and threats against those targeted by fundamentalists and to support the call for secularism, and the continuing struggle for social justice.

Dear Kenneth Roth,

In your Introduction to Human Rights Watch’s World Report 2012, “Time to Abandon the Autocrats and Embrace Rights,” you urge support for the newly elected governments that have brought the Muslim Brotherhood to power in Tunisia and Egypt. In your desire to “constructively engage” with the new governments, you ask states to stop supporting autocrats. But you are not a state; you are the head of an international human rights organization whose role is to report on human rights violations, an honorable and necessary task which your essay largely neglects.

You say, “It is important to nurture the rights-respecting elements of political Islam while standing firm against repression in its name,” but you fail to call for the most basic guarantee of rights—the separation of religion from the state. Salafi mobs have caned women in Tunisian cafes and Egyptian shops; attacked churches in Egypt; taken over whole villages in Tunisia and shut down Manouba University for two months in an effort to exert social pressure on veiling. And while “moderate Islamist” leaders say they will protect the rights of women (if not gays), they have done very little to bring these mobs under control. You, however, are so unconcerned with the rights of women, gays, and religious minorities that you mention them only once, as follows: “Many Islamic parties have indeed embraced disturbing positions that would subjugate the rights of women and restrict religious, personal, and political freedoms. But so have many of the autocratic regimes that the West props up.” Are we really going to set the bar that low? This is the voice of an apologist, not a senior human rights advocate.

Nor do you point to the one of the clearest threats to rights—particularly to women and religious and sexual minorities—the threat to introduce so-called “shari’a law.” It is simply not good enough to say we do not know what kind of Islamic law, if any, will result, when it is already clear that freedom of expression and freedom of religion—not to mention the choice not to veil—are under threat. And while it is true that the Muslim Brotherhood has not been in power for very long, we can get some idea of what to expect by looking at their track record. In the UK, where they were in exile for decades, unfettered by political persecution, the exigencies of government, or the demands of popular pressure, the Muslim Brotherhood systematically promoted gender apartheid and parallel legal systems enshrining the most regressive version of “shari’a law”. Yusef al-Qaradawi, a leading scholar associated with them, publicly maintains that homosexuality should be punished by death. They supported deniers of the holocaust and the Bangladesh genocide of 1971, and shared platforms with salafi-jihadis, spreading their calls for militant jihad. But, rather than examine the record of Muslim fundamentalists in the West, you keep demanding that Western governments “engage.”

Western governments are engaged already; if support for autocrats was their Plan A, the Muslim Brotherhood has long been their Plan B. The CIA’s involvement with the Muslim Brotherhood goes back to the 1950s and was revived under the Bush administration, while support for both the Muslim Brotherhood and Jamaat e Islaami has been crucial to the “soft counter-terror” strategy of the British state. Have you heard the phrases “non-violent extremism” or “moderate Islamism?” This language is deployed to sanitize movements that may have substituted elections for bombs as a way of achieving power but still remain committed to systematic discrimination.

Like you, we support calls to dismantle the security state and to promote the rule of law. But we do not see that one set of autocratic structures should be replaced by another which claims divine sanction. And while the overthrow of repressive governments was a victory and free elections are, in principle, a step towards democracy, shouldn’t the leader of a prominent human rights organization be supporting popular calls to prevent backlash and safeguard fundamental rights? In other words, rather than advocating strategic support for parties who may use elections to halt the call for continuing change and attack basic rights, shouldn’t you support the voices for both liberty and equality that are arguing that the revolutions must continue?

Throughout your essay, you focus only on the traditional political aspects of the human rights agenda. You say, for instance, that “the Arab upheavals were inspired by a vision of freedom, a desire for a voice in one’s destiny, and a quest for governments that are accountable to the public rather than captured by a ruling elite.” While this is true as far as it goes, it completely leaves out the role that economic and social demands played in the uprisings. You seem able to hear only the voices of the right wing—the Islamist politicians— and not the voices of the people who initiated and sustained these revolutions: the unemployed and the poor of Tunisia, seeking ways to survive; the thousands of Egyptian women who mobilized against the security forces who tore off their clothes and subjected them to the sexual assaults known as “virginity tests.” These assaults are a form of state torture, usually a central issue to human rights organizations, yet you overlook them because they happen to women.

The way you ignore social and economic rights is of a piece with your neglect of women, sexual rights, and religious minorities. Your vision is still rooted in the period before the Vienna Conference and the great advances it made in holding non-state actors accountable and seeing women’s rights as human rights. Your essay makes it all too clear that while the researchers, campaigners, and country specialists who are the arms and legs and body of Human Rights Watch may defend the rights of women, minorities, and the poor, the head of their organization is mainly interested in relations between states.


Canadian Council of Muslim Women (CCMW)

Centre for Secular Space (CSS), global

Marea, Italy

Nijera Kori, Bangladesh

One Law for All, UK

Organisation Against Women’s Discrimination in Iran, UK

Secularism Is a Women’s Issue (SIAWI), global

Southall Black Sisters, UK

Women’s Initiative for Citizenship and Universal Rights (WICUR), global

Women Living Under Muslim Laws (WLUML), global

Individuals (organizations listed for identification purposes only)

Dorothy Aken’Ova, Exercutive Director, INCRESE, Nigeria

Codou Bop, Coordinator, Research Group on Women and the Law, Senegal

Ariane Brunet, Co-Founder, Urgent Action Fund, Canada

Lalia Ducos, WICUR-Women’s Initiative for Citizenship and Universal Rights

Laura Giudetti, Marea, Italy

Asma Guenifi, President, Ni Putes Ni Soumises, France

Lilian Halls-French, Co-President, Initiative Féministe Européenne pour Une Autre Europe (IFE-EFI)

Anissa Helie, Assistant Professor, John Jay College, US

Marieme Helie Lucas, Secularism is a Women’s Issue

Alia Hogben, Canadian Council of Muslim Women

Hameeda Hossain, Bangladesh

Khushi Kabir, Nijera Kori, Bangladesh

Sultana Kamal, Executive Director, Ain O Salish Kendra (ASK), Bangladesh

Frances Kissling, Visiting Scholar, University of Pennsylvania Center for Bioethics

Maryam Namazie, One Law for All and Equal Rights Now; Organisation against Women’s Discrimination in Iran, UK

Pragna Patel, Southall Black Sisters, UK

Gita Sahgal, Centre for Secular Space, UK

Fatou Sow, Women Living Under Muslim Laws (WLUML)

Meredith Tax, Centre for Secular Space, USA

Faizun Zackariya, Cofounder, Muslim Women’s Research and Action Front (MWRAF), Sri Lanka

Afiya Zia, Journalist, Pakistan



The Swede Who Convinced Taliban To Allow Girls Schools

Anders Fange

Anders Fange first went to Afghanistan as a young radio journalist in the early 1980s after Afghans began fighting against the Soviet occupation.
He later moved to humanitarian relief work and helped keep 40,000 girls in education during the worst excesses of the Taliban years.

These days Anders Fange, 65, lectures on Afghanistan in his native Sweden. His main challenge is to convince skeptical audiences to shed preconceptions when they think about Afghanistan. He hones this point by drawing on nearly three decades of experience in that mountainous country.

Fange’s public speaking engagements and private conversations are deeply engaging owing to his detailed knowledge of Afghanistan. Anecdotes from his long years there are more than a match for the dry academic comparisons that frequently dominate such events in the West.

Fange first went to Afghanistan as a young radio journalist in the early 1980s after Afghans began fighting against the Soviet occupation. He later moved to humanitarian relief work and even worked for the United Nations political mission in the country.
Afghanistan always continues to surprise you.

“Afghanistan always continues to surprise you. You always get new explanations for things,” Fange says. “It’s a complicated country in many ways — that makes it difficult and it makes it exciting.”

In 1984, Fange spent three months walking with the mujahedin through valleys, passes, and forests. They often stayed in village mosques. He witnessed their attacks against Soviet convoys and government garrisons.

“From those years, I took with me the thing that I have been saying since then: that the future of Afghanistan is not decided in Kabul,” he says. “It is decided out in the valleys. It is decided in the rural areas.”

He was fascinated by the Afghan culture — in particular, the practice of hospitality. “It’s most impolite to leave a guest alone. From my upbringing in Sweden, I was used to [having] my own room. But there, you could never be alone,” he says of the days he spent in remote Afghan villages.

In the early 1990s, Fange joined the Swedish Committee for Afghanistan (SCA) and began living in Peshawar in western Pakistan.

In his role as an aid worker, he experienced Afghan suffering first-hand. But he was impressed by Afghan resilience.

“Their capacity for work, their capacity for being able to carrying through in very difficult circumstances — I doubt that there is any other people on earth who had this kind of capacity,” he says.

The Swedish Committee for Afghanistan became one of the largest aid groups at the height of Afghan civil war, when the Taliban militia swept through much of the country. Fange dealt with many Taliban officials.

“Most of the Taliban, even the ministers we dealt with in Kabul, had a pretty pragmatic view,” he says. “Somehow it was understood that they needed this humanitarian assistance of which we were one of the providers.”

One of the most sensitive issues he negotiated with the Taliban was rural schools where some 40,000 Afghan girls were educated. After long talks with Amir Khan Muttaqi, the regime’s minister of education, the Taliban agreed to sign a protocol allowing the Swedish Committee for Afghanistan to work in the country.

“When we finalized these negotiations, he told me, ‘We know you have these girls’ schools. We know it, but don’t tell us,’ he said,'” Fange says as he recalls the conversation. “In other words, it was a very Afghan view that if it’s not official, then a lot more is tolerated and allowed than what’s in official life.”

The schools, however, were not immune to Taliban interference. In the summer of 2001, Fange says, some local mullahs in remote rural districts attempted to close down a school. His answer to such a menace was to threaten the closure of all Swedish Committee for Afghanistan education, health care, and agriculture projects in the area.
‘Keep a low profile’

“Without exception, they came back the day after or even the same day and said, ‘OK, you can stick to the girls schools, but keep a low profile,'” he recalls of the often tricky negotiations with rural clerics. “During Taliban [rule] we never were actually forced really to close girls schools.”

After 9/11, Fange became a leading member or the UN political mission in Afghanistan. But he was soon disappointed at what he regarded as political blunders made by Afghan leaders and the international community in rebuilding the country, including disenfranchising certain segments of the population while reenergizing and empowering some of the most notorious warlords.

“The West is obsessed with its own political system as a perfect political system,” he says, adding that Western states have struggled for centuries to improve their democracies.
“Then we throw it on Afghanistan and say, ‘You have 10 years to fix this,'” he says. “Of course it doesn’t work.”

Source: RFE/RL | Gandhara  


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