Friday, September 4, 2009

Explore not the ‘who’ but why of Partition

Balbir K. Punj Union home minister P. Chidambaram is the latest person in authority to have expressed serious doubts on what really happened in Shopian, Kashmir. First, the dead bodies of two young women are found floating in a river. According to the police, it is a case of death by drowning. Suddenly crowds gather and insist that security people had killed the two girls. The state government finally yields and the legally-required tests are carried out. The case is now recorded as rape and murder. It then turns out that the swabs and samples taken from the bodies and sent for testing had been tampered with. Once again the crowds have a case against the police. Then it turns out that the Kashmiri doctors conducting the tests had "accidentally" dropped the glass that contained the samples and essentially destroyed the evidence. The state government then asks the Centre to transfer the case to the Central Bureau of Investigation. A few days later, some militants kill a man and his son in daylight at their home near Shopian. No crowds protest and no bandhs are called. This brutal murder is tolerated without a murmur of protest. Why? The unexpressed suspicion is that the two incidents are linked — both seem to have been planned to show the administration in poor light. The first incident goes a step further as it helps the militants and separatists paint the security forces as rapists and killers and alienate them further from the people. There have been many incidents in Jammu and Kashmir where crowds gather and pass their "kangaroo verdict" that security forces are the culprits. To rub the separatists’ or militants’ agenda in, they organise strikes and bandhs at the drop of a hat. Shops in Srinagar remain shut. The shopkeepers probably play safe — they do not want their ware to be destroyed in the mob fury that the separatists can easily orchestrate. But the closed shops are taken as an endorsement of the separatist/militant hold and deflate the government’s claim of public support. Yet another trend has surfaced. The other day a highly respected Islamic scholar and principal of a college in Kashmir, Muhammud Ashraf, was waylaid by militants and his car was destroyed. He was given an ultimatum to enforce the hijab on 3,000 girl students or face consequences. Already the separatists’ women wing is forcing the purdah on Kashmiri women; now this is being enforced with the support of the gun. No one in the Valley or outside is protesting this high-handedness and moral policing. Compare chief minister Omar Abdullah’s leniency towards such moral policing with what happened only last week in Bharatiya Janata Party-ruled Karnataka. The principal of a Mangalore college insisted that his students should not wear burqa. At once the administration got into action and asked the principal to explain his conduct. The Karnataka state government acted to protect the right of every Indian citizen to make his/her choice regarding what they wear and also to check educational institutions imposing arbitrary and discriminatory codes. The incident where some hooligans tried to enforce their morals on girls who visited a Mangalore pub had also invoked strong reaction from the state government and the leader of the self-styled Ram Sene was banned from entering the Dakshina Kannada district. But one wonders why several Muslim leaders and the so-called "secularists" go into silence mode when purdah is enforced, or when girls’ schools are torched or women are punished for wearing jeans. Kashmir is separated from Kabul by a thousand miles and is even more distant from Khartoum, the Sudan capital. But the mental attitudes do not seem to differ much. In poll-bound Afghanistan, the Taliban has been targeting girls’ schools. Not just this, they even shot an Afghan Muslim pioneer of girls’ education. Girls were prevented from going to school or even getting educated privately during the Taliban rule. The schools reopened after the Taliban rule ended and a democratic government was elected to power with a proper Constitution. Afghanistan is currently electing its President for the second time — a country that never knew any democracy before 2002. But even this elected government is so scared of the power of the orthodox clergy that an Afghan bill permitting a husband to starve his wife if she refuses to have sex has become law! A lady in Khartoum is to be given 30 lashes publicly for the "crime" of wearing jeans. Such barbaric practices are endorsed because the label of religion is attached to them. In another Islamic capital, a Libyan who planted a bomb in an American plane that killed 160 people has been received with public honours on his release from a Scottish prison where he was serving a 27-year sentence. As someone who had already served 20 years and was suffering from terminal cancer, he was released on compassionate grounds. All these incidents are greeted by a deafening silence on the part of "secularists". Why? Do they not see that this double standard helps entrench this retrograde mindset. Throughout his life Mahatma Gandhi sought to mould the Indian Independence movement in terms of Hindu-Muslim brotherhood. At the end of his life some Muslim leaders followed the two-nation theory of Muhammad Ali Jinnah rather than the one-people theory of Mahatma Gandhi and his deeply devout companions, including Maulana Azad and Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan. Why? Today, when Partition and those guilty of it are in public discourse, it would be worthwhile to find out not who is guilty but what mentality made this two-nation theory a reality. Will nourishing this separatist mindset in the name of "secularism" pour oil into fire or bring about a change in that mindset? That is the critical issue — not Jaswant Singh, the Bharatiya Janata Party, or any other person or outfit. Balbir K. Punj can be contacted at Source : The Asian Age

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