Apr 28, 2009


Decades before the cartographer sliced the subcontinent into Pakistan and India, ancestors of Kalyan Singh demonstrated the wanderlust typical of the Sikh community. They settled down in the green, picturesque Ferozkhel valley of Orakzai, one of the seven autonomous agencies which together comprise what is now called the Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA). In his own 45 years of life, Kalyan had never experienced religious discrimination. He ran his business, lived a contented life with his family. And, despite the intolerance now sweeping across a swathe of FATA, Kalyan Singh would have told you, had you ever asked him, that the sturdy Pashtuns are hospitable, caring and kind-hearted.

Kalyan Singh’s feelings are now memories, his bucolic life in complete disarray. Much of Orakzai began to change when, early in 2008, Tehrik-e-Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud’s men swept in here from South Waziristan through the neighbouring North Waziristan, inaugurating a reign of terror. Soon, Hakimullah Mehsud, Baitullah’s deputy, established an ‘Islamic emirate’ here, evoking horrific images of religious intolerance that scared a few Sikh families into migrating to Peshawar.

Kalyan Singh refused to shift out from what he saw as his ancestral home, believing he was safe living among the Orakzai tribals. But then, a fortnight ago, Hakimullah descended on the Ferozkhel valley and ordered members of the Sikh community, including women, to gather in an open area. They were told they were now in the custody of Taliban, and that they must pay jazia (a religious tax imposed on non-Muslims living under Islamic rule in the medieval times) or convert to Islam.

The soldiers of the Islamic emirate then picked up Kalyan Singh, tortured him in custody for 10 long days even as negotiations for the amount to be paid as jazia kept apace. Herjeet Singh, a local Sikh, quotes an eyewitness to say, "The militants convened a shura of their own and passed the verdict that Sikhs should pay Rs 100 million as jazia. Our elders pleaded that poor members of the community have no means to raise such a huge amount." Herjeet is among those who sneaked out of Orakzai before jazia was imposed.

The Sikh community’s plea prompted further talks, with the Taliban scaling down their initial demand to Rs 40 million, ultimately agreeing to Rs 12 million as the jazia, a source told Outlook. Kalyan Singh was then set free and asked to raise the demanded amount. His and 50 other families were held hostage. They were warned that any attempts to escape would lead to the slaying of men and conversion of children and womenfolk to Islam. "This is unheard of. Our forefathers lived among the Pashtuns for centuries and were never subjected to such humiliation and barbarism," laments Herjeet Singh.

Kalyan, these days, is in Peshawar, persuading the Sikh community here to somehow raise the whopping amount. Sources say he has managed to collect Rs 3.5 million. Only when Rs 12 million is paid fully will the Sikhs in Ferozkhel be set free, provided protection and allowed to practise their religion.

It’s an onerous task for the Sikhs to raise the ransom, more so because the Sikhs constitute a minuscule percentage of NWFP, approximating just 10,000. Mainly concentrated in Peshawar, some of them migrated from Afghanistan during the reign of mujahideen and Taliban. They are mostly cloth merchants, or trade in cosmetics; a few are medical professionals. The Sikhs of the Tirah Valley in Khyber agency and parts of Orakzai are also engaged, as are local Afridi and Orakzai tribesmen, in the sale and purchase of hashish, a tribal custom many centuries old. Those living in FATA are as tribal as Pashtuns are, speaking the language with the same thick accent and eagerly participating in communal ceremonies such as marriages and funerals.

The imposition of jazia marks a disruption of this tradition of harmony. The Orakzai tribals have, understandably, remained silent, fearing reprisal from the Pakistan Taliban, who are drawn mainly from the Mehsud tribe. An Orakzai jirga, for instance, was bombed by Mehsud’s men last year, killing 160 elders and injuring another 200. The jirga had been summoned to raise a tribal armed force to evict the militants. The attack demoralised them, enabling Mehsud’s men to establish their sway. Those who oppose the Taliban version of Islam are labelled as infidels and killed in cold blood. "We are told our prayers will not be answered because Allah will not entertain non-believers," said Soranjeet Singh, who recalled the conversation he had with a militant in Orakzai a few weeks ago. "We have not seen such people. They are neither Muslim nor Pashtun."

However, religious scholars and tribal elders in other areas have condemned the imposition of jazia. "No one has the right to create a state within the state and collect ransom in the guise of religion. Jazia can only be collected when there is a proper Islamic welfare state based on solid foundations," remarks Abdul Latif Afridi, a tribal elder from Khyber agency and president of the Peshawar High Court Bar. He says the jazia incident will not only give a bad name to the Pashtuns, but provoke a worldwide reaction. "Pakistan is already in the midst of so many troubles because of terrorism; the discrimination against the minorities will prove fatal," he said.

Sources also revealed that some Sikh families living in Ferozkhel have shifted to the Shia neighbourhood of Kalaya in Orakzai. The Shias are opposed to the Taliban, and at least in Kurram agency the two have been engaged in a protracted conflict for years now. But the option of shifting to Kurram, once jazia is paid, is unlikely to be exercised because all roads leading to the agency headquarters, Parachinar, have remained closed for the past two years, cutting off the Shias from the rest of the country.

Ultimately, the drama unfolding in Orakzai isn’t just about the Sikhs. It’s also about tribal customs. As Afridi says, "Our elders gave protection to all minorities who were counted among the recognised clans of our tribes, but it’s such a pity that we can now neither protect nor rescue the Sikhs." His lament doesn’t seem adequate to goad Islamabad into action.
- Behroz Khan

Related reading: Dost Mohammad Khan

Apr 26, 2009

418 49 (O) in Bhopal Elections 2009

As per a report in TOI:
A total of 1,473 voters in Madhya Pradesh trooped out of polling centres Thursday without voting because they did not find a suitable candidate to support, an official said Saturday.

The voters came to the polling booths, got their names registered and then left without voting for anyone in the Lok Sabha elections.

According to the State Election Commission, this was done under Section 49(0) of the Conduct of Election Rules.

The section allows a person to register his/her presence at the polling centre and then not vote for any candidate.

Such votes are recorded by the presiding officer and considered rejection of all candidates.

The highest number of such “votes” were cast in the Khajuraho Lok Sabha constituency (712), which incidentally also recorded the lowest voting at 43.21 percent.

This was followed by 418 in Bhopal constituency, 189 in Chhindwara, 41 in Betul, 31 in Satna, 20 in Balaghat, 17 in Rewa, 15 in Vidisha, 14 in Shahdol, seven each in Jabalpur and Hoshangabad, four in Mandla and two in Sidhi.

So they showed the middle finger to the politicians, in place of the index finger. However, on the other hand, Election Commission actually asked the voters of Maharastra to show their middle fingers!

Apr 25, 2009

Brewing storms

Lahore has finally been encircled by the layers and tremors of violence. If the events of March 2009 were not enough, there is now a concerted effort to create panic in the city. In the past few weeks, girls’ schools have been threatened that they would face the music for educating girls and promoting co-education. How can children and their middle-class urban parents survive these gruelling times? (pic left:Pir Baba’s shrine is now closed to visitors )

I have been naively protecting my children from the gory news. This is an age of violence. If a news channel displays human limbs and heads and the shrieks of a flogged girl, the cartoons present extensive violence and deadly, sadistic stunts for entertainment. Indeed, these are strange times to live in anywhere, especially in the land of the pure. Violence is a commodity; each news item carries an advertised price tag, and of course the cultural experience gets brutalised in this maze of uncertainty and confusion.

Lahore’s Police chief said in March that those who caused carnage in Mumbai created havoc by attacking Sri Lankan cricketers in Lahore. With the change of government, a city police chief has shifted the blame to the favourite nemesis of the Pakistani state: India. Surely, there can be foreign involvement, but what about those whom we saw escaping with impunity in a rather relaxed, Hollywood style escape from the terror scene? They were not alarmed or afraid of being caught. Has anyone been ‘captured,’ to use the term repeated on TV screens for days with little results? No, we the silent spectators, called citizens elsewhere in the world, are interested more in where the terror-boys disappeared, rather than which regional power caused this incident to ‘destabilise’ an otherwise stable, well functioning society called Pakistan. (pic above right: The unfortunate road between Buner and Swat )

Islamabad is already gloomy under a besieged Presidency, innefective parliament and its woeful citizenry is clueless as to what is happening. Barricades stare at you everywhere you move, and there is an unprecedented level of uncertainty everywhere. The state announces that there is a terror threat and the Capital shuts down. Schools, colleges, shops and offices are locked, and so is the bruised public imagination that stops questioning in the need to survive. The question is that if the mighty state cannot protect its citizens, what good are the nuclear weapons, missiles and layers of security and administrative apparatuses?

Such questions become even more pertinent the moment you cross the Attock and see the waters of the Indus and the Kabul speak of the gruesome blood-letting in the northwest. The proud Pakhtuns have been betrayed by their elected representatives and their state agencies for capitulating before carefully crafted Frankenstein[s]. Peshawarites have already given up and are bracing themselves for the inevitable – as some would put it –‘takeover’ or covert control as has happened in Swat and more recently in Buner. My friends in Peshawar are petrified, for they might just live with a sectarian version of Islam, but they cannot risk the destruction that might precede that eventuality. But what can people do, especially those who have to live here?

It was Rehman Baba’s shrine the last time, and now it is Pir Baba whose tomb is locked and under the unholy control of the Taliban. Hazrat Sayyed Ali Tirmizi, or Pir Baba, was a 16th century Sufi whose family migrated from Afghanistan to Delhi when his father joined the army of the Emperor Humayun. A travelling sage like most Sufis, Pir Baba in the last years of his life, settled in Buner permanently. This was during Akbar the Great’s reign.

Centuries later, Pir Baba’s shrine became the fulcrum of resistance against British imperialism. This was the time when nationalists of the secular and religious variety co-existed and fought for their rights. Pir Baba’s name runs across the geography and culture of Pakhtunkhawa. Following the importance of the shrine, the host village is also known as Pir Baba. This peaceful mausoleum is visited by thousands of people each spring. There is hardly a Pakhtun who does not know of Pir Baba, whether he/she believes in miracles or not. A friend tells me that the inhabitants of the southern districts of Kohat and Bannu believe that a prayer offered at Pir Baba’s shrine for marriage is almost always fulfilled. Many dejected and yearning lovers frequent Pir Baba to gain solace or pray for a union. This has been a space for love, fulfillment and hope for centuries. Today, it is locked shut. Love is on trial in the state of Pakistan.

Earlier, a few weeks ago, the marching hordes moved into the Buner valley situated on the north-eastern side of Peshawar. At first, the Talibs agreed on April 9, 2009 to leave the valley. But they reneged on this commitment and by Friday afternoon on April 10, they had captured main Buner without any resistance from the law enforcing agencies. The people of Buner say that the Taliban and their troops are roaming in the valley scot free, while the police and the Frontier Constabulary are prisoners in their check-posts. It is now an old and familiar story.

Buner is not far from Mansehra and Abbottabad, the latter an important outpust lovingly created by the British Raj. The colonial experience, despite its destructive patterns, ushered in the forces of modernity. God forbid, if these cities and towns, the verdant villages of Pakhtunkhawa, keep on falling, Islamabad is not far away. This is what most of us fear. If this was the Islamism of the Turkish or Algerian variety or a result of a democratic process, the cause of worry would have been different. This is about losing civilisation, of negating modernity and Pakistan’s bright chances of progress and integration into a twenty-first century globalising world.

Above all, it is about our children, their lives and future. They cannot be residents of a polity without hope, where mosques and Imambargaahs are bombed, Sufi shrines are locked, public spaces become opportunities for violence, and where panic and fear permeate our consciousness. It is about keeping Jinnah’s ideals alive. It is Jinnah’s war against theocracy. It is Pakistan’s war for survival. A battle of hope against despair. Of love against hate.

This is the land where Buddha lived and where Nanak spread his message of love. It is also the garden where the Sufis weaved their songs of tolerance and inclusiveness. What a shame that we have come to this pass – straddling a tunnel and searching for light. And all we find are more tunnels of darkness, conspiracies and confusion.

Lahore, Islamabad, Karachi and Peshawar are directly and indirectly in the grip of extremism. This is the writing on shaky Pakistani walls. Let those who took oath under the Constitution, the legislators and the rulers, read the Articles where citizens’ life, liberty, property and freedom to worship are guaranteed by the state. No excuse, no foreign hand and grand narrative of a Jewish conspiracy will do. We want peace and our nuclear-armed state must deliver it to us. Or else, it should take a sombre view of its capacities and correct them before the enemies annihilate its writ altogether. There is no other way out.

We cannot afford to fail. Thirty eight years ago, we lost half the country. This time around we might lose it all. Let us hope not.

-Raza Rumi in The Friday Times

Apr 20, 2009

Bhopal Election Musings 2009

The election scene some how reminds me of my favorite episode from the Bombay film industry, as blind Dhritrashtra goes "Yeh kya ho raha hai?"

Rahul Gandhi said in Kochi - "A young person looks to the future, the old look to the past. Our prime minister looks to the future. When he introduced economic reforms in 1991, he looked 20-30 years ahead. If you sit with him, he will start telling you one, two, three, four, five, six, seven his plans. His opposition is a person who harks back to the past, to 2004. He only speaks of what has been done - there is nothing about the next five years."

This could well have been said for Bhopal too.

The hoardings of BJP talks about Kailash Joshi the ex-Chief Minister, without any corruption charges. What he offers for the future - after getting nominated as BJP candidate of Bhopal by throwing tantrums and scaring the shit out by holding talks with ex-rebel Sekhawat?

Only assurance is that this will be last election of the man. So vote and forget for next five years, just to give him a last chance at getting richer?

Presently 79, he would be 84 by the end of this term. Then he assures he would not contest, but we sadly have our opinions about the politicians commitments. What should one make of this Emotional Atyachar?

Mian Banne Bhopali famously commented the other day "Agar khambe ko bhi Bhopal mein kamal ke nisan pe khara karoge toh woh bhi jeet jayega".

So there.

Meanwhile check out the affidavits filed by contesting candidates of Bhopal.

In other parts of India, in the absence of any actual difference between the contesting parties it is a free for all.

Sample these:

"... I still prefer the Congress to the BJP. This is because the Congress stands for nothing, while the BJP stands for something pernicious. The BJP has, in its DNA, the politics of divisiveness. It is true that the Congress has also played such politics, but out of convenience, not belief. That makes their acts no less heinous, but, in my eyes at least, it makes them slightly less dangerous because there is less chance of things going wrong, of a repeat of 1984 or 2002.
And ya, it burns me up that I need to decide who I support on the basis of who is less dangerous. That totally sucks, but such it is, so there we go." - Amit Verma

"Advani likes to call me a weak prime minister. I cannot help pointing out that when held to the fire during the Kandahar hijacking, the BJP's Iron Man melted." - Manmohan Singh

"... since he has raked up the issue of conceding the demands of terrorists, it would be in order to remind him that a Government of which he was the Finance Minister had ensured safe passage for terrorists who had taken over Srinagar’s Hazratbal shrine. And, till such time they were holed up inside the shrine, the Government had fed them biryani and oranges. But they would have blown up the mosque if we had not done so, Mr Singh will argue. Sure. Just as the hijackers of IC 814 would have blown up the plane with the hostages had the NDA Government not released three terrorists. Mr Singh, representing the Congress in discussions with the Government, would repeatedly assert one point: Do whatever it takes to ensure the safety of hostages - something which he forgets today." - Pioneer

"... will give jaadu ki jhappi and pappi (magical hug and kiss) to the people of Pratapgarh and given a chance I will do the same with the Chief Minister and BSP supremo Mayawati." - Sanjay Dutt

In case you are interested in designing Indian Political Posters, adapt suitably for local conditions from this awesome resource.

So who is the winner? Every winner - as said by T N Ninan

"So now we know that, while every fourth member of the Lok Sabha has a criminal record, virtually every member is a crorepati. Quite a few would even qualify for membership of the Business Standard Billionaire Club (those with assets of over Rs 1 billion, or Rs 100 crore). We also know that these standard-bearers of socialism (every political party has to swear to this creed if it wants to be registered with the Election Commission) have increased their wealth manifold in the last five years.

All this suggests a range of possible hypotheses: that politics is India's most lucrative profession, that those with criminal records make more money than honest tribunes of the people, that those who speak in the name of the poor and rail against capitalist excesses are actually plutocrats in mufti, that you can get fat on the "mammaries of the welfare state" (every member can ask for Rs 2 crore to be spent on his favourite project, every year; that's Rs 10 crore in a five-year term), that members can and do make money by asking questions in the House, that members can and do get offered money to vote in a particular way...All this is true even when you do not occupy ministerial office (which brings with it access to more mammaries), and though you have to spend campaign funds vastly in excess of what the law allows?"

All posters from The Comic Project

PS: Do check this site before you cast your votes. Send your Voter ID Card No to 9425601845 for Polling station details

Apr 18, 2009

Elections 2009

The manifestos (BJP,Congress) are unappealing. The rhetoric is worse. The candidates are not to your liking.

Don’t let this hold you back from going out there and voting. Voting is a necessary step to change things.

So go out and vote.

List of Contesting Candidates (Source)
General Elections 2009 - BHOPAL - Madhya Pradesh

Sl. No:1 ER. ASHOK NARAYAN SINGH Age:: 53 Category:GEN Sex:M
Address: E-7 HX 27 Arera Colony, bhopal
Party: Bahujan Samaj Party
Symbol Allotted : Elephant

Sl. No:2 KAILASH JOSHI Age:: 79 Category:GEN Sex:M
Address: B-30,74 Bunglow, Bhopal
Party: Bharatiya Janata Party
Symbol Allotted : : Lotus

Sl. No:3 MHOD. MUNAWAR KHAN KAUSAR Age:: 44 Category:GEN Sex:M
Address: H. No. 56 Near Sufia Masjid, Palace Road Koh-E--Fiza
Party: Samajwadi Party
Symbol Allotted : : Bicycle

Sl. No:4 SURENDRA SINGH THAKUR Age:: 55 Category:GEN Sex:M
Address: D-29,74 Bunglow, Swami Dayananad Nagar
Party: Indian National Congress
Symbol Allotted : : Hand

Sl. No:5 ASHOK PAWAR Age:: 47 Category:SC Sex:M
Address: E-1/150 Arera Colony, Bhopal
Party: Prajatantrik Samadhan Party
Symbol Allotted : : Jug

Sl. No:6 AHIRWAR LAKHANLAL PURVI Age:: 42 Category:SC Sex:M
Address: 16/1,Samera Kala Post Chand Bad, Ward No. 65 Bhopal
Party: Republican Party of India (A)
Symbol Allotted : : Railway Engine

Address: 503 Yadav Pura, Purani Vidhan Sabha Bhopal
Party: Gondvana Gantantra Party
Symbol Allotted : : Saw

Sl. No:8 RADHESHYAM KULASTE Age:: 38 Category:ST Sex:M
Address: 100 Om Nagar, Jhuggi No. 1 Bhopal
Party: Gondwana Mukti Sena
Symbol Allotted : : Balloon

Sl. No:9 RAMDAS GHOSLE Age:: 54 Category:SC Sex:M
Address: Naya Pura Tehsil Huzur, Bhopal
Party: Republican Party of India (Democratic )
Symbol Allotted : : Banana

Sl. No:10 SANJEEV SINGHAL Age:: 42 Category:GEN Sex:M
Address: 34 Vaibhav Apartment B Block, Surendra Palace
Party: Savarn Samaj Party
Symbol Allotted : : Electric Pole

Sl. No:11 ANIL SINGH Age:: 30 Category:SC Sex:M
Address: E 3/123 A Arera Colony, Bhopal
Party: Independent
Symbol Allotted : : Basket

Age:: 72 Category:GEN
Party: Independent
Symbol Allotted : : Nagara

Sl. No:13 KAPIL DUBEY Age:: 37 Category:SC Sex:M
Party: Independent
Symbol Allotted : : Batsman

Sl. No:14 D. C. GUJARKAR Age:: 52 Category:SC Sex:M
Party: Independent
Symbol Allotted : : Battery Torch

Sl. No:15 DARSHAN SINGH RATHORE Age:: 53 Category:GEN Sex:M
Party: Independent
Symbol Allotted : : Almirah

Party: Independent
Symbol Allotted : : Bread

Sl. No:17 DR. MAHESH YADAV 'AMAN GANDHI' Age:: 40 Category:GEN Sex:M
Party: Independent
Symbol Allotted : : Cup & Saucer

Sl. No:18 MUKESH SEN Age:: 32 Category:GEN Sex:M
Party: Independent
Symbol Allotted : : Ring

Sl. No:19 MEHDI SIR Age:: 30 Category:GEN Sex:M
Party: Independent
Symbol Allotted : : Black Board

Sl. No:20 RAJESH KUMAR YADAV Age:: 42 Category:GEN Sex:M
Party: Independent
Symbol Allotted : : Coconut

Address: G-8 /23 NORTH T.T. NAGAR, BHOPAL
Party: Independent
Symbol Allotted : : Brief Case

Sl. No:22 SHAHNAWAZ Age:: 59 Category:GEN Sex:M
Party: Independent
Symbol Allotted : : Bat

Sl. No:23 SHIV NARAYAN SINGH BAGWARE Age:: 60 Category:SC Sex:M
Party: Independent
Symbol Allotted : : Brush

Also : Google Page on Election 2009

Bhopal : A Prayer for Rain

Bhopal : A Prayer for Rain, a film on the Bhopal gas tragedy of 1984, was declared tax-free in Madhya Pradesh by chief minister Shivraj ...