India Insight

Is the outraged Indian over-sensitive or culturally prudent?

Protests are as common in India as the ‘Singh’ surname in the national hockey team.

On the face of it, it’s one indicator of a free society where every citizen can get his voice heard. But agitations like the recent one against a film crew for recreating parts of Chandigarh to look like a Pakistani city seem to create an impression of misplaced priorities (and some would say too much free time for the protesters).

Hindu radicals decried the Pakistan link; and not to be left out, a Muslim umbrella body said the movie about the killing of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden showed their religion in a bad light.

Apart from Pakistan and religion, one also has to be careful in making public comments on topics which touch on caste, class, ethnicity, geography and gender.

The straight-talking and self-professed forward-looking chairperson of the National Commission for Women, Mamta Sharma, discovered the gender minefield when she said at a seminar that girls should not be offended if someone calls them ‘sexy’.

Kashmiri separatists seek Saudi mediation to end dispute

Mirwaiz Umar FarooqMirwaiz Umar Farooq, a senior Kashmiri separatist leader, has urged Saudi Arabia to use its influence and bring India and Pakistan closer to solve the decades-long conflict over the disputed Himalayan region.

Farooq arrived in the Kingdom last Thursday to perform the Umrah pilgrimage and his visit, two weeks after the visit of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, is being considered significant.

Farooq is chairman of Kashmir’s moderate separatist alliance — the All Parties Hurriyat Conference.

Lalu Prasad’s roller: courting the Muslim vote in Bihar

Muslims are seen as a crucial vote bank in several possible swing states in India’s general election and many politicians are making the right noises to court the community.

In the state of Bihar, which I recently visited, its chief minister Nitish Kumar told me his campaign focused on caste-blind development but also communal harmony:

“Now everybody is happy. There is complete communal harmony,” he said as we sat at night on the veranda at his residence.

Will West Bengal’s Muslims vote for the left?

Are the ruling communists in the stronghold state of West Bengal losing the confidence of its traditional Muslim voters, ahead of their most crucial electoral test this month?

For decades, Muslims have always felt safe in West Bengal, although they have been caught in an uncomfortable position elsewhere in the country after each bomb or militant attack.

West Bengal’s left boasted that Muslims, a little over 26 percent in the state of 80 million people, were free from discrimination and were living in harmony.

U.N. report says real risk of Indian religious strife

It did not get great publicity but a recent U.N. report on religious freedom in India offers a stinging image of a country suffering from communal divisions and mob-inspired religious persecution.

 It argues there is a very real risk of a repeat of a tragedy like the Gujarat riots of 2002, when more than 2,000 people, mainly Muslims,were killed by Hindu mobs.

The U.S. Special Rapporteur of religion or belief Asma Jahangir, a well-respected Pakistani human rights activist, travelled to India last March to prepare the report. It catalogues violence and discrimination faced by India’s religious minorities, whether Muslim or Christian or Sikh.

Anger, agreement at Muslim leaders gathering

jama.jpgSecurity was tight at the entrance to Gate No. 7 of the Jama Masjid in Old Delhi, a 17th century mosque built by Mughal kings, and the venue on Tuesday for a gathering of Muslim leaders from across the country to debate the persecution of Muslims.

Police shooed away fruit vendors and cycle rickshaws spilling over from the crowded market nearby, while others stood around the metal detectors at the entrance while their colleagues cased out the giant white shamiana inside with sniffer dogs under the slowly revolving ceiling fans.

 A full half hour after the scheduled time, when only the first few rows of seats were occupied, Maulana Naksh Bandi of the Jama Masjid began the proceedings, inviting various leaders to the dais, and declaring in Urdu: “there is no law, there is no justice for us. It is the rule of the jungle.”

With Islamist militancy, has India passed the tipping point?

Victims of the bombings in AhmedabadThe bombings that killed 45 people in the communally sensitive city of Ahmedabad have shaken India’s establishment. It is now sinking in that India faces homegrown Islamist militant groups operating with a scale and sophistication unheard of in
previous years.   

A group called “India Mujahideen” claimed responsibility for the attacks, the same group that said it carried out the bombings in Jaipur in May that killed 63 people.

For years, India had been seen as country that had largely rejected the attractions of global militancy spurred on by wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. U.S. President George W. Bush notably said there were no Indians in al Qaeda.

Sophistication and savagery in Ahmedabad

One of the most striking things about the weekend’s bomb attacks in Gujarat was the mixture of savagery and sophistication.

Security personnel search for evidence near a bomb blast site in Ahmedabad July 27, 2008. REUTERS/Amit DaveSavagery because of the way a second wave of bombs were detonated at a hospital, apparently to target the crowds of concerned relatives who had gathered there. Had they been watching Contract, a recently released Bollywood film with a similar plotline?

Sophistication because of the way the coordinated attack was planned and executed without the intelligence agencies getting a sniff of it, even though dozens of people must have been involved.

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