Ambedkar, Buddhism and Caste

ambedkar

Written by Randeep Singh

Dr. B.R. Ambedkar was one of modern India’s most remarkable statesman. He drafted the Constitution of India, served as the country’s first Minister of Law and led the Untouchables in his fight against the caste system.

Ambedkar singlehandedly revived Buddhism in India. On October 14, 1956, he converted to the religion, prompting the mass conversion of hundreds of thousands of his followers. He created a new identity for India’s Untouchables, but he polemicized his interpretation of Buddhism in the process.

Ambedkar claimed that the Buddha did everything to uproot the caste system, but ignored the fact that the caste system remained entrenched in India throughout the Buddhist period (c. 268 BCE – 551 CE). He did not mention that the practice of Untouchability first emerged during this period. He gushed about how Buddhism gave India democratic parliaments with whip, quorum, resolutions, ballot voting and vote counting.

He still inspires me though and I believe that Buddhism, as secularized political philosophy, can help undermine the caste system. It was the first religion to challenge the caste system by turning upside down the concepts upholding it. Its insights in this respect are interesting from a modern, secular perspective.

Buddhism is concerned with the end of suffering as a human problem.  Its primary concern is to promote human welfare and happiness. It holds that only humans can end their own suffering through moral action, self-discipline, and understanding. No God, divine being, black magic, superstition or astrological charts are necessary.

Humans are equal in Buddhism in the sense of being equally capable of achieving enlightenment. They are equally subject to one universal moral law (‘Dharma’) with moral obligations to one another such as to respect one another’s life, liberty and dignity. This contrasts to the caste system which differentiates laws on the basis of caste.

The Buddha recognized the existence of caste in his society. He exhorted his followers, however, to emphasize the cultivation of moral character as an indication of self-worth. Caste or rather class in Buddhism arise due to human expediency, not divine sanction: it is a matter of vocation, not birth.

Caste is not static either. Like all existence, individual or collective, it is subject to change, interrelated and composite and conditioned by many interdependent factors. The seasons come and go, empires rise and fall and ancient communities perish. There is no “caste” other than the conditions giving rise to it.

Lastly, Buddhism left an important secular legacy for India. It inculcated a more humane ethic in politics (e.g. the reign of Ashoka). It formulated a social contract theory of government. It established inclusive social institutions such as universities, monasteries, and hospitals. Its appeal to reason, ethics and its concern for human well-being, can enlighten India yet.

 

The Burqini Ban

burqini

Written by Randeep Singh

The Muslim women of France are being forced to be free, again.

A few days ago, on a beach in Nice, police forced a woman to remove her burqini. The woman was fined and charged with disrespecting secularism. She stood in the shadow of four police officers armed with handguns, batons and pepper spray. She was gawked at by others, told to go home.

I am not a fan of the hijab, niqaab or any form of face or head covering. I think they are a form of oppression. But it is not my place to tear them off Muslim women. Nor is it the place of a state with all its coercive powers to force women toward freedom by having them remove their clothing or head covering.

Like any law or ideology, French secularism is not neutral. It is the product of French culture, history and society. It reflects the will of the French majority. It did little for its Jewish minorities living in an anti-Semitic French society and culture before World War II, just as it struggles to manage an ethnically and religiously diverse society today.

The Muslim woman’s veil, in particular, has long haunted France. Colonial France saw the veil as the major barrier to the spread of her superior, egalitarian civilization. In the Algerian War of Independence (1954 to 1962), the French called themselves liberators of Muslim women. In 1957, Muslim Algerian women were publicly unveiled as part of the French “emancipation” program.

Then there’s the policing of women’s morality. This, of course, is not unique to Muslim women. In 1907, the first woman to sport a sleeveless swimming outfit in Australia arrested. The two-piece bikini was banned in Spain, Italy and Portugal and denounced by the Pope. In 1967, French women in mini-skirts were stripped by a mob.

And of course, Saudi Arabia enforces the niqaab, Iran upholds the hijaab and Pakistan has its shariah-compliant bra. To veil or not to veil is a question answered by the state, cleric or clan, but rarely just left to the Muslim woman.

Further Reading:

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/aug/24/the-burkini-ban-what-it-really-means-when-we-criminalise-clothes

Film Review: Aligarh

aligarh-still1-759

Directed by Hansal Mehta

Starring: Manoj Bajpayee (Ramchandra Siras); Rajkummar Rao (Deepu Sebastian); Ashish Vidyarthi (Anand Grover).

Aligarh is a drama based on the true story of Ramchandra Siras. Siras was dismissed from his position as Chair of Modern Indian Languages from Aligarh Muslim University in 2009, on charges of homosexuality. Mehta’s film is both a sensitive look into Siras’ life and a nuanced critique of how Indian society marginalizes homosexuals in the name of morality.

At the heart of Aligarh is Manoj Bajpayee’s portrayal of Siras. Bajpayee bears Siras’ soul and isolation whether in his barring himself up away from the world or listening to Lata Mangeshkar on whiskey-filled nights.

He also reveals Siras’ quiet charm in his conversations with Deepu, the journalist who interviews Siras after his dismissal from Aligarh. When Deepu asks Siras if he is gay, Siras speaks of his sexuality in terms of metaphor. This is a way for him to leave behind the world of “gay” and “straight” for what matters. But it’s also how Siras makes sense of himself in a society which has no vocabulary for his experience.

Through the courtroom scenes, demonstrations and Deepu’s investigations, we see how the issue of homosexuality in India has become at once political, legal, cultural and moral. But for Siras, it isn’t about politics, activism, collective morality or social censure. It’s about living a life of quiet dignity denied to him.

Back to the Moment of Promise – ‘Azadi’ (freedom) Series of Art Work by Shahid Mirza

Artist Shahid Mirza’s Azadi Series is a set of seven mix media paintings illustrating different aspects of our ‘freedom’ from British rule in the 1947 partition of India. From the direct, explicit and in-your-face bloody history of our colonization to the fading shades of secularism in Pakistan, these paintings invite us to contemplate on ourselves post-partition.

Choice of mix media creates the eerie feeling of contemporality within the historicity of the past. With each of these paintings, the Artist tries to bring us back to that moment of promise when freedom from colonization and sectarian bigotry seemed possible; when millions of lives were lost to achieve it.

By bringing us back to that moment of promise, the Artist encourages us to confront our own concepts and constructs of ‘freedom’ before we go on and congratulate ourselves on the continuation of the hollow and shallow facade of celebrating August 14.

azadi-1a-shahidmirzaAzadi 1
Blood-letting of the powerless.

azadi-2a-shahidmirzaAzadi 2
Destruction of life by agents of the state.

azadi-3-shahidmirzaAzadi 3
Changing positions of (Muslim and Hindu) power-brokers.

azadi-4-shahidmirzaAzadi 4
The deadly religio-spiritual antagonist.

azadi-5-shahidmirzaAzadi 5
Sectarian violence.

azadi-6-shahidmirzaAzadi 6
Early faces of hope.

azadi-7-shahidmirzaAzadi 7
Freedom for who?

Created after the formation of Bangladesh, Bhutto’s assassination, Zia’s Islamicization, and Pakistan’s Talibanization, Azadi Series displays the history of partition in the context of today, and, in bringing the past into the present where we continue to suffer from the same but intensified problems of inequality, these paintings insist that the moment of promise is now.

View Shahid Mirza’s profile
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Azadi Series by Shahid Mirza first Published at Uddari Art, Punjab 1947 & After
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‘What is happening in Palestine is a genocide and we will not allow anyone to bully us into sanitizing our words.’

Uddari supports the following statement
made by Dream Defenders on August 6, 2016.

dreamdefenders

Dream Defenders Statement
on the Condemnation of M4BL Platform
by Some Pro-Israel Groups

On Monday, the Dream Defenders along with 50 other organizations, representing hundreds of Black people across the country launched A Vision for Black Lives, an agenda that clearly defines policies, organizing tactics and resources to advance Black liberation. The platform included a call for the US government to divest from military expenditures and US aid to the State of Israel and instead, invest this war-making money towards building infrastructure to support Black and Brown communities in the US. Since our launch, some Zionist organizations have condemned the platform and have announced that they will cut all ties with the Movement for Black Live, going so far as to label some in the BLM movement anti-semitic.

Their response has made it all the more clear why we stand in solidarity with Palestine and with Black and Brown people around the world fighting for justice.

Those who have previously claimed to be allies of the Black lives matter movement have shown us that they are comfortable with our resistance so long as it fits within particular confines and restrictions. It is convenient to endorse black lives matter when it benefits you. And as long as we stay silent about Israeli apartheid, they will “stand” with Black liberation in the US. Now that our movement has taken a stand against all forms of white supremacy and oppression, Black lives no longer matter. We want no part in this quid pro quo form of politics. True solidarity does not come with strings attached.

We’ve been dealing with this type of hypocrisy with our supposed “allies” for generations. On the American left, there are many wolves in sheeps clothing. You have revealed yourselves. And now that we know who you are, we will not forget.

We remain steadfast in our condemnation of the State of Israel and their illegal occupation of the Palestinian people’s homeland no matter the consequence. Solidarity with Palestine is not a requirement, it is a choice” and is rooted in the basic understanding that the state violence we experience is directly tied to the violence facing Black and Brown communities in Palestine and around the world. While our struggles are not identical, we recognize that we are up against the same systems. What is happening in Palestine is a genocide and we will not allow anyone to bully us into sanitizing our words. In 1948, the State of Israel created a Jewish majority by destroying approximately 500 Palestinian towns and driving over 700,000 Palestinians out of their homeland.  Ethnic cleansing continues today in the form of expulsions, Jewish-only settlements, massive attacks in Gaza and across Palestine, in addition to over 50 Israeli laws that sanction discrimination and apartheid.

As Black and Brown people living in the US, the heart of global empire, we bear a particular responsibility for global liberation. It is our taxpayer dollars that are funding Israeli apartheid and a military industrial complex that is devastating entire peoples and communities throughout the world.  Having an international analysis, means we must call for the divestment of our support of Israeli apartheid and to the wars being waged in Africa, Latin America and throughout the Middle East, just like we are calling for a divestment from the policing of our neighborhoods and incarceration of our people. This is both an ideological and a strategic decision. Resources are needed to advance the Vision for Black Lives platform and there are plenty of resources to be distributed, they are just being spent on waging war against, rather than stabilizing, our peoples.This is why the Dream Defenders believe in Black and Brown solidarity and why we fight for the liberation of Palestine.

We have more work to do now than ever before. In moments like these, we must double down and fight on. Check out A Vision for Black Lives – it is full of information about potential legislative action at the local, state and federal level and campaigns to support our efforts to advance global liberation. Launch a Campaign in support of the Boycott Divest and Sanctions Movement to show the State of Israel that we do not support their oppression of the Palestinian people. If you want to see it for yourself, look to organizations who run delegations with a principled stance that would allow for a real look at the situation on the ground, not a manicured one. Read more about what Black Palestinian solidarity means and looks like here. Do not stay silent. We applaud Jewish organizations like, Jewish Voices for Peace, If Not Now and the Jews of Color Caucus  that have spoken out in this moment in solidarity with the Movement for Black Lives and have called upon others to do the same.

The Dream Defenders remain committed to a world in which ALL people are free. As Black people fighting for our freedom, we are not thugs and our Palestinian brothers and sisters are not terrorists. For the children who are met with tear gas and rubber bullets as they walk home from school, for the families of those we have lost to police violence, for the communities devastated by economic violence and apartheid walls, we fight. To all those who believe in a world in which all people are free, join us. For those who no longer stand with Black people because of this belief, goodbye. We do not need nor want you in our movement.

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Sheikh Hasina Wajed! Protect Bangladesh’s Secular People from Religious Fanatics!

photo-ap
Bloodstained glass is visible near the spot where Samad was hacked to death. Photograph: AP’ an earlier image from the theguardian.com

In the past week, a gay rights activist and the editor of the only LGBT magazine Xulhaz Mannan was murdered with Tanay Mojumder, a community organizer, for being ‘pioneers of practicing and promoting homosexuality in Bangladesh’. This came two days after the killing of Rezaul Karim Siddique, a professor Of English, for promoting secular ideas. More is here:
washingtonpost.com

It appears to be an ongoing strategy of religious fanatics to eliminate their critics and others who do not believe in their favored religion. It’s happening not just in Bangladesh but also in India, Pakistan and elsewhere. We are proud to stand against religious bigots everywhere.

Please use the following links to send messages urging the Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina Wajed to take necessary steps to assure safety of secular people, journalists, writers and activists.

Sheikh Hasina Wajed
Prime Minister of Bangladesh
Send an email
info@pmo.gov.bd
Send a Facebook message
facebook.com/Sheikh-Hasina-Prime-Minister-of-Bangladesh
H. E. Kamrul Ahsan
High Commissioner for Bangladesh in Canada
Send an email
bangla@rogers.com

Sample message to the Prime Minister of Bangladesh
‘We condemn the three extra-judicial murders of secular minded people in Bangladesh, and we demand from Bangladesh government to take necessary measures against religious extremists to assure safety of peaceful activists, journalists and educators. These killings give us a clear view of the extreme religious mind: It is intolerant, uses bullying tactics, tries to bend others to their will with violence, uses sickening cruelty, disregards laws, becomes the judge and the jury, dishes out death instead of justice. Your government must act with force and conviction to defeat this mindset.’

Secular Pakistan & Uddari Weblog
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60 Vancouver Area Writers/Artists Sign Support Letter for Indian Authors

bolaka-bo-bally

Writers, artists, performers, filmmakers, academics and activists of Vancouver Lower Mainland have added their names to support the heroic action of our Indian peers in their struggle against the regime-encouraged intolerance of Indian society.

‘We, the writers and artists of Vancouver Lower Mainland, fully support the protesting Indian authors, artists, actors and filmmakers who have returned their awards and those who have resigned from their posts to protest the Indian establishment’s inaction over the cold-blooded murders of Dr Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare, and in August, of Prof Malleshappa Madivalappa Kalburgi. The protest also marks the general escalation of intolerance in Indian society projected in the recent Dadri incident where an alleged ‘beef-eater’ was lynched by a mob.

‘We urge the Government of India and its literary establishments to listen to protesting authors and artists and to take required action to create a tolerant society that is able to protect freedom of expression and the human rights of all its citizens.’

Signed by the following 61 authors, artists, filmmakers, performers, academics and activists:

Joanne Arnott
Jarnail Artist
Chinmoy Banerjee
Krishan Bhanot
Ajay Bhardwaj
Sadhu Binning
Edward Blodgett
Aadil Brar
Nachhattar Brar
Harinder Kaur Dhahan
Iinderjeet Dhami
Barjinder K. Dhillon
Sukhjeet K. Dhillon
Jagdev S. Dhillon
kc dyer
Janet Fretter
Nirmal K. Gill
Sonja Grgar
Christine Grimard
Patricia Gruben
Pasi Gunguwo
Alan Hill
Sukhwant Hundal
Mahtab Janjua
Sana Janjua
Nirmaljit K. Johel
Ranbir Johal
Surjeet Kalsey
Avtar Kaur
Sushil Kaur
Shahzad Nazir Khan
Ranbir Khana
Rupinder Rupi Khera
Amarjit K. Manget
Amrit K. Mann
Jasbir K. Mann
Darshan S. Mann
Manolis
Kyle McKillop
Anne Murphy
Haider Nizamani
Nadeem Parmar
Summer Pervez
Randeep Purewall
Fauzia Rafique
Jeewan S. Rampuri
Ajmer Rode
Surinder K. Sahota
Jagjit Sandhu
Joginder S. Shamsher
Jarnail Sekha
Bakhshinder Singh
Neena Singh
Bonnie Quan Symons
Gurcharan Talewalia
Ashley Tombu
Raghavendra Rao K.V.
Rc Weslowski
Rita Wong
Julian Worker
Mariam Zohra

This support letter will be sent to protesting authors, and to the government of India and it’s literary agencies.

Signatories include individual members of New West Writers, Punjabi Lekhak Manch, Purple Poppy Press, South Asia Film Education Society, Surrey International Writers Conference, Surrey Muse, Uddari Weblog, and more.

Photo from Boiaka Bo Bally

Related posts
Add Your Name to Support India’s Protesting Authors & Artists
Support India’s protesting authors

Surrey Muse and Uddari Weblog thank everyone for participating in this signature campaign.

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Asma Jahangir: A Great (Punjabi) Woman

Asma-Jahangir-oslofreedomforum
I had to face imprisonment and house arrests, but it made me tougher. As a lawyer, many a time I took up difficult and sensitive cases dealing with minorities’ and women’s rights. Yes, I constantly receive threats, and to be very honest, at times it is very scary. But I have to continue my work.’

Asma Jahangir is a lawyer (to say the least) defending the rights of women, children and men in Pakistan’s harsh climate of religious extremism, misogyny and child abuse. She does it in the courtroom, on the street, in the media, and on the international scene.

Since 1972, when she launched a case against the Government of the Punjab for the release of her father Malik Ghulam Jilani who was arrested for resigning from the National Assembly to protest the Pakistan Government’s military action in Bangladesh, Asma has been an honorable and courageous leader of Pakistan’s political, legal and social movements. She was one of the leaders of the long and often dangerous campaign waged by women activists against the Hadood Ordinances and the draft law on evidence; She forced the parliament to pass a legislation in favor of bonded child laborers of brick kilns. She is a founding/serving member of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), Women Action Forum (WAF), Punjab Women Lawyers Association (PWLA), and of the AGHS Legal Aid Cell that offers free legal services to vulnerable population groups.

In 2010, Asma was elected as the first woman President of the Supreme Court Bar Association of Pakistan. She is a former chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, and a UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Arbitrary or Summary Executions from 1998 to 2004, and UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion and Belief from 2004 to 2010.

She is the author of Divine Sanction? The Hadood Ordinance (1988) and Children of a Lesser God: Child Prisoners of Pakistan (1992). She has received numerous international and national awards including honorary Doctor of Law degrees from universities in Switzerland, Canada, and the USA; the Right Livelihood Award or the ‘alternative Nobel prize’ in 2014; American Bar Association’s International Human Rights Award in 1992; the Martin Ennals Award, the Ramon Magsaysay Award, and Sitara-I-Imtiaz in 1995.

Asma was placed under house arrest and later imprisoned for participating in the movement for the restoration of democracy against the military regime of General Zia-ul-Haq in 1983. She, and her family, has often been a target of vandalism, violent attacks, hate campaigns and character assassinations carried out by militant groups, political interests and their media representatives. Un-deterred, she continues to be a force to reckon with for each successive government, and for the interest groups who violate the rights of people.

More on Asma is here
oslofreedomforum.com
dw.com

Contact Asma Jahangir
crisisgroup.org
twitter
facebook
wikipedia

View the above on its page
Great Women of Punjabi Origin

Years of unceasing democratic work against armed and unarmed adversaries, and in over four decades of active politics, Asma has refused to serve the interests of any colonial, hegemonic or familial power. At all times, she has taken a firm stand on the side of the people, often being victimized, and she has gone onto extend protection to them wherever and whenever possible. The local and international power brokers have introduced their own heroes who come backed with enormous resources and a wide international network of organizations, forums and media outlets. As is the nature of colonizing mind, they make it appear as if Pakistani women had no history of resistance prior to their presentation of it.

May be all this money, resources and influence will for some time sideline our real heroes such as Asma Jahangir, Hina Jillani, Hussain Naqi, Abdur Sattar Edhi and others. But sooner or later we will see through these schemes, and we will be able to acknowledge the ceaseless contributions to the betterment of our lives of our heroes like Asma Jahangir, and we will find deserving ways to nurture and honor them.

Fauzia Rafique
gandholi.wordpress.com
frafique@gmail.com

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One Canada, One Citizen

canadian-citizen-7025359
Written by Randeep Singh

It’s Canada Day, a good time to reflect on what Canada means to us. I immigrated to Canada like many before and after me. I became a citizen. I am proud to be Canadian.

The Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act (better known as Bill C-24), hasn’t made me any less proud to be Canadian, even if it does put me in a different class of citizenship.

All countries differentiate between citizens and foreign nationals or citizens and permanent residents. Canada previously revoked citizenship if it was obtained through fraud or misrepresentation. This was in accordance with the Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness; but, differentiating between citizens?

The French Revolution developed the modern idea of the “citizen.” The Revolution sought to create a society where people (men) existed as equal citizens before law, not as subjects with differing privileges. In The Origins of Totalitarianism, Hannah Arendt referred to citizenship as the “right to have rights,” the right to belong to a political community and have one’s rights protected by that community. In a 1997 ruling, Justice Iacobucci for the Supreme Court of Canada stated, “I cannot imagine an interest more fundamental to full membership in Canadian society than Canadian citizenship.”

In differentiating between different classes of Canadian citizens and in revoking (or maintaining) their citizenship status accordingly, the Government of Canada (the Conservative Party of Canada) is not only revoking a legal status; it is revoking all constitutionally enshrined rights associated with such status.

The law apparently infringes equality rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms by discriminating between Canadians (individuals and groups) on the basis of national and ethnic origin. There are all sorts of practical and humanitarian concerns to consider. How can the government send de-nationalized persons “back” to a country which does not receive them? Can it return a person back to a country where he or she may be persecuted?

The Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act is an act of splintering Canadian citizenship. It creates different classes of citizenship (for different reasons) just as states in the Deep South of the United States created different classes of American citizens through legal discrimination.

I can only take comfort that it will be challenged and under the grounds of the Constitution of Canada which affirms the equality of Canadians, regardless of their differences.

Further Reading:

http://www.toptipsclub.com/blog/immigration-citizenship/nine-things-you-need-to-know-about-the-changes-to-canadian-citizenship/

Works Cited:

“Revocation of Citizenship after the Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act,” Peter Edelmann in Immigration Issues: Not Business as Usual, (Continuing Legal Education Society of BC, 2014).

Why Criticizing Islam is Not Islamophobia

Hallaj

Written by Randeep Singh

Writing in the wake of Charlie Hebdo in Al-Jazeera, Abdullah Al-Arian argues that Islam has been “unfairly criticized and ridiculed” by the West for centuries. Such a history, he writes, has prejudiced the West into into painting Islam as illiberal and intolerant.

Islamophobia is a reality. So too are problems within Islam and the Muslim world. Islamophobia should be condemned; but not criticizing or questioning Islam or Muslim societies.

If I criticize Islam for engendering patriarchy, the persecution of minority groups and its smug, supremacist view of itself, it’s because I have criticized Christianity for the same reasons. I oppose Christian organizations for their homophobia, without hating Christianity. I criticize Israel without hating Jews. I criticize Islam without hating it. I am not hating or fearing anyone: I am striving for equality, inclusion and justice regardless of who or what we are.

The fight for freedom of expression is not a clash between civilizations. It has been happening within the Muslim world for centuries. Mansur Al-Hallaj (856-922) became a martyr for proclaiming “I am the Truth (God).” Sarmad (1590-1661) too was martyred for his “heretical” views. Bulleh Shah (1680-1757) challenged the mullah for his sectarian views. In modern times, Nazim Hikmat (1902-1963), Saadat Hassan Manto (1912-1955) Faiz Ahmad Faiz (1911-1984) and Naghuib Mahfouz (1911-2006) have all been imprisoned, exiled or censured for their art and political views.

Criticism of the Muslim world as illiberal and intolerant today is likewise vindicated. Just ask Raif Badwai, the blogger who recently received 50 lashes in Saudia Arabia. Or ask Aasiya Bibi, the Christian women who languishes in prison on charges of blasphemy in Pakistan. Or how about Salman Rushdie?

Without change, the Muslim world will become progressively more intolerant and creatively barren. Denying any criticism of Islam produces a culture which is afraid to ask questions and unable to find answers.

South Asia’s Banned Books

bannedbooksweek

To celebrate Banned Books Week (Sept 21-27), we are presenting a list of books banned by South Asian governments. Find the link to Banned Books Week web page below to view USA’s 10 Most Challenged titles of 2013.

‘Banned Books Week is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read. Held during the last week of September, it highlights the value of free and open access to information. Banned Books Week brings together the entire book community –- librarians, booksellers, publishers, journalists, teachers, and readers of all types –- in shared support of the freedom to seek and to express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular.

‘Banned Books Week was launched in 1982 in response to a sudden surge in the number of challenges to books in schools, bookstores and libraries. More than 11,300 books have been challenged since 1982 according to the American Library Association. There were 307 challenges reported to the Office of Intellectual Freedom in 2013, and many more go unreported.’
http://www.bannedbooksweek.org/about

Most of the following from Wikipedia:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_books_banned_by_governments
Some from:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/2218972.stm

The Hindus: An Alternative History (2014)
Wendy Doniger, History.
Penguin Books India ‘agreed to withdraw from sale all copies of a book that takes an unorthodox view of Hinduism, and will destroy them as part of a settlement after a case was filed against the publisher.’

Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle With India (2011)
Joseph Lelyveld, Biography.
Banned in Gujarat for suggesting that Mahatma Gandhi had a homosexual relationship. Gujarat’s state assembly voted unanimously in favour of the ban in April 2011.

Jinnah: India-Partition-Independence (2009)
Jaswant Singh, Biography.
Temporarily banned in Gujarat, India in August 2009. The ban was overturned by the Gujarat High Court in December 2009.

Islam – A Concept of Political World Invasion (2003)
R. V. Bhasin, Political ideology.
Banned in Maharashtra, India in 2007, after its publishing on grounds that it promotes communal disharmony between Hindus and Muslims.

Shivaji – Hindu King in Islamic India (2003)
James Laine, History.
Banned in Indian state of Maharashtra in 2004 for “promoting social enmity”; ban overturned by Bombay High Court in 2007.

Wild Wind (2002)
Taslima Nasrin, Memoir.
Banned in Bangladesh for containing ‘anti-Islamic remarks’.

The True Furqan (1999)
Al Saffee and Al Mahdee, Religious text.
Import into India prohibited on the grounds of threatening national security.

My Girlhood (1999)
Taslima Nasreen, Memoir.
Banned in Bangladesh for containing ‘anti-Islamic remarks’.

Lajja (1993)
Taslima Nasreen, Novel.
Banned in Bangladesh, and in a few states of India.

Soft Target: How the Indian Intelligence Service Penetrated Canada (1989)
Zuhair Kashmeri & Brian McAndrew, Investigative journalism.
Banned in India.

The Satanic Verses (1988)
Salman Rushdie, Novel.
Banned in the following countries for alleged blasphemy against Islam: Bangladesh, Egypt, India, Iran, Kenya, Kuwait, Liberia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Pakistan, Senegal, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Tanzania and Thailand.

Smash and Grab: Annexation of Sikkim (1984)
Sunanda Datta-Ray, Non-fiction.
Banned in India. Describes the process of the annexation of the Buddhist kingdom of Sikkim by the Indian government of Indira Gandhi in 1975.

Jinnah of Pakistan (1982)
Stanley Wolpert, Biography.
Banned in Pakistan for recounting Jinnah’s taste for wine and pork.

Understanding Islam through Hadis (1982)
Ram Swarup, Critique of political Islam.
Banned in India

An Area of Darkness (1964)
V. S. Naipaul, Travelogue.
Banned in India for its negative portrayal of India and its people.

Unarmed Victory (1963)
Bertrand Russell, History.
Banned in India. Contains unflattering details of the 1962 Sino-Indian War.

Nine Hours To Rama (1962)
Stanley Wolpert, Novel.
Banned in India. It exposes persons responsible for security lapses that led to Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination.

The Heart of India (1958)
Alexander Campbell, Fiction.
Banned by the Indian government in 1959 on grounds of being “repulsive”.

Angaray (1932)
Sajjad Zaheer, Short stories.
Banned in India in 1936 by the British government.

Rangila Rasul (1927)
Pt. Chamupati, Religious.
Banned in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh.
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An Evening with Arundhati

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Written by Randeep Singh

She came. She spoke. She conquered. Arundhati Roy filled the pews of St. Andrew’s Wesley Church on April 1 as part of the Indian Summer Festival 2014.

Roy began by criticizing “representative democracy” as too much representation, not enough democracy. Democracy has plenty of institutions, Roy remarked, but those institutions have turned into conduits for a short-term, extractive, economic philosophy. “Could it be that democracy is such a hit with modern humans,” she reads, “precisely because it mirrors our greatest folly – our nearsightedness?”

Capitalism controls culture too. Roy spoke of how corporations engage in “perception management,” deliberately not funding artistic projects which question the system. Martin Luther King Jr., Roy says, drew a connection between capitalism, imperialism and the Vietnam War; but American multinationals did not highlight this aspect of his legacy when they sponsored the Martin Luther King Junior Centre for Non-Violent Social Change, an organization which works with the US Department of Defence. The Indian mining group, Vedanta, Roy points out, recently sponsored the “Creating Happiness” film competition for film students to make films on sustainable development (in communities affected by the mining) with the tagline “Mining Happiness.”

Roy also questioned Gandhi as the mahatma or “great soul.” Roy recounted how the anti-imperialist, anti-racist Gandhi fought alongside Great Britain in the Boer Wars, refused to ride in the same railway carriages as Africans and wrote in prison that Indians deserved separate prisons from vile and immoral blacks and Chinese.

When asked whether she was an activist, Roy replied she was a writer telling the world’s stories. Her readings and discussion with The Tyee’s David Beers, brought to life the politics of development, resistance movements and the management of culture by corporations just as the arts have reenacted the Vietnam War, the civil rights movement or the experience of Canadian aboriginals in Residential Schools. As Roy puts it, “why wouldn’t we write about the critical issues our society is facing?”

A Gay Guy in a Turban

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Written by Randeep Singh

On December 15, 2013, Kanwar Anit Singh Saini attended the Global Day of Rage in Toronto to protest the Supreme Court of India’s upholding of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code which criminalizes homosexual sex.  He kisses another gay man at the protest. Another protester holds a poster above them with two men and the word “pyaar” written in Urdu. The photo was posted on his Facebook page with the caption “proud to be illegal.”

It’s interesting that while many in the diaspora have condemned what has happened in India, fewer have bothered to reflect on homophobic prejudice and intolerance within their local communities. The photo of Saini kissing another man generated hateful comments on Facebook from within the diaspora. Saini recalls on his Facebook page how his uncle once said the family would’ve killed Saini as a boy had they known he was gay.

South Asian GLBT persons like Saini continue to fight hate and intolerance within (and outside) their ancestral communities, including from “progressive” Indians, Pakistanis etc. Recently, I received a statement issued by a local South Asian group to the Indian Law Commission condemning the Supreme Court ruling. I was surprised to see the statement being lauded by people whom I have experienced homophobia from personally. I asked the group’s President that while I welcomed the statement, we’d do well to challenge prejudices in our backyard.

The openly gay former Indian prince Manvendra Singh Gohil said recently in an interview on CBC Radio that challenging Section 377 in India’s courts is one thing, but challenging Indians to open their hearts and minds is the greater struggle. That too is true here in Vancouver, as well as in Toronto, London, California and Queens. Saini has helped us all in that struggle by reminding us that GLBT South Asians are here and will keep up the fight.

The Union of India vs. Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgendered Indians

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Written by Randeep Singh

The Supreme Court of India has upheld section 377 of the Penal Code of India, which characterized homosexual sex as “against the order of nature.” The decision reversed a 2009 ruling of the Delhi High Court which had ruled that the law violated constitutional rights to equality and personal liberty.

To clarify, Section 377 was never abolished by the Delhi High Court: it has remained the law in India, including New Delhi. The Delhi High Court decision was only binding in that Union Territory and no where else in India. The law can only be abolished by Parliament, not by any court, including the Supreme Court of India.

As for the problems with the decision.

First, the Supreme Court’s otherwise correct statement that only Parliament can amend the law, overlooks the historical importance of the Supreme Court of India in upholding the fundamental rights and freedoms of Indians despite the state. The Supreme Court has interpreted rights and freedoms expansively to include the right to education, the right to work with dignity and on behalf of socially disadvantaged including the poor, women and backward castes. It has historically been the Supreme Court of India which has persuaded Parliament to enact socially inclusive laws, not vice-versa.

Second, the Supreme Court held that “a miniscule fraction of the country’s population constitute lesbians, gays, bisexuals or trans-genders.” How did the court come to this determination? How many Indians are in the closet? Is not one person enough to challenge a law as unconstitutional? Moreover, the Supreme Court of India has historically upheld the rights of a vulnerable social group from the excesses of more dominant social groups, as it has done in the case of backward classes, the poor and women. Why has it failed to do so now?

Third, the Supreme Court holds that Section 377 criminalizes certain acts and not sexual orientation. Under this logic, Indian homosexuals are not breaking the law so long as they do not engage in sexual intercourse. There is no separation between the act of sex and one’s sexual orientation. Legally prohibited from having sex, India’s homosexuals will have to either think twice before getting intimate with their partners or they will have to go further underground. It is a clear case of discrimination based on sexual orientation.

I’m reminded of the Supreme Court’s decision in 2005 when it refused the appeal of Afzal Guru (who was convicted of the December 2001 attack on the Indian Houses of Parliament). The court ruled that the “collective conscience of the society will only be satisfied” if Afzal received the death sentence. In this case too, the Indian Supreme Court has sought to appease the collective “moral” conscience of society, represented in this case by conservative religious bodies, supported in the recent past by senior leaders of the BJP like the late B.P. Singhal who argued homosexuality was against the ethos of Indian culture.

Section 377 remains law, but change will come eventually. Just before posting this piece, I read that Sonia and Rahul Gandhi have criticized the ruling and that India’s Law Minister has stated the government has not abandoned efforts to make homosexuality legal. The law has changed for other socially disadvantaged groups in the past and the composition of the Supreme Court and Parliament is changing. Legal reasoning is dynamic and new precedents can be set. More than anything, the GLBT community in India, and its supporters locally, nationally and internationally will keep moving forward. The moment hasn’t come yet but the destination beckons.

Pakistan’s Gay Community Quietly Breaking Barriers

Written by Ron Moreau and Sami Yousafzai

Actor Assad Khan is part of a generation of young men breaking barriers for gays in conservative Pakistan, where homosexuality is punished by prison or worse.

Assad Khan knew he was different from a very young age. As a child at home he preferred playing with his two sisters rather than his two brothers. At school, too, he gravitated toward playing with girls. “In school I was more secure and happy playing with girls than with boys,” says the 23-year-old, boyishly handsome Khan. As a result of his behavior, he says, his family largely ignored him. “I got a terrible complex as my family favored, and gave more attention to, my brothers,” he recalls.

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As he grew up in Islamabad, reached puberty and realized he was gay, he suffered even more. “Being a gay in a society like Pakistan is not easy,” Khan says. “For a long time, I was frightened of who I was, so I hid my gay status…I acted 24 hours a day.”

Even so, he was constantly teased and harassed for his appearance and mannerisms, even ostracized. His parents and cousins made fun of him. His parents were ashamed to introduce him as part of the family. “At the mosque during Friday prayers I was teased and stared at,” he recalls. “At school and in college other students shunned me and my small circle of friends.”

Now a successful actor and fashion designer, Khan has lived and worked in the conservative and bomb-terrorized northwestern city of Peshawar for the past three years. “I felt that society was telling me I was not one of them, that I was not a proper person,” he says. “But soon I realized that it’s not my fault that God made me gay. So as a young man I came to accept who I was and to be proud of myself.”

He has flourished ever since he made that realization—succeeding against all the odds in homophobic Pakistan, where the powerful Muslim clergy preaches that homosexuality is prohibited under Islam, and where sodomy is illegal under the civil code and punishable by a long jail term (though the harsh sentence is rarely handed down). In the Taliban-controlled territory of the northwestern tribal agencies, the penalty is worse: death by firing squad or stoning. Even the man on the street seems to have no time for gays. A Pew Research Center survey of 39 countries published in early June found that only two percent of Pakistanis believed that “society should accept homosexuality,” second only to Nigeria, which registered a rock-bottom one percent acceptance rating of gays. (By way of comparison, 80 percent of Canadians said they accepted gays.)

While the Pakistani government doesn’t target LGBT citizens, neither does it have much tolerance for the gay community or its issues. Late last month and without comment, Islamabad shut down the country’s first and only gay website, queerpk.com, which was first launched last July. The website’s founder, who goes by the pseudonym Fakhir, says the ban is “unconstitutional and opposes freedom of speech.” But he does not want to pursue legal action as he doesn’t want a confrontation with the government, which could unmask those behind the website whose subtitle is “Know us, Don’t Hate Us.” Fakhir says the site is not “blasphemous or pornographic” but is aimed at educating gays on health issues such as preventing the spread of HIV, and on how to deal with social and family pressures and with depression.

Bucking discrimination, Khan, an ethnic Pashtun who goes by the nickname of Danny, studied fashion design at a college in Islamabad and quickly fell into the growing businesses of fashion, modeling and acting. His acting career got a big boost in 2009 when he was cast in a British film, called Kandahar Break: Fortress of War, which was being shot in Baluchistan, the wild-and-woolly home of his ultra-traditional Safi tribe in western Pakistan. He played a Taliban interpreter with gay tendencies who worked for a British explosive ordinance disposal team that Mullah Mohammad Omar’s regime had hired to clear mine fields in 1999.

In 2010, Khan moved to heavily Taliban-influenced Peshawar to further his acting and fashion careers, but chiefly to be closer to his partner. At first he was terrified, afraid of the Taliban and the frequent terror bombings. Every day he cautiously emerged from his hotel filled with trepidation. But he was soon pleasantly surprised by what he found: gays were not as unwelcome and under the gun as he had imagined. On the contrary, he quickly received a vibe that many young men in the ostensibly macho, largely Islamist city were gay or gay-friendly. “In Peshawar I feel like almost every second guy is gay by the way they look and talk,” he says. “On the streets and in the markets I think most people look at cute boys more than at girls.” But, he adds: “Unfortunately gays feel they have to hide their feelings and their true selves,”

Khan and other Pakistani gays say that being gay in Pakistan is not all that unusual despite the ostensibly strong prejudice against homosexuals. “I’ve found that male-to-male sex is more common than you’d imagine in our society,” says Shehzad, a smart, fashionable and educated 25-year-old gay man from Lahore. A June article in Mother Jones magazine confirmed Shehzad’s feeling, reporting that Pakistanis lead the world in Google searches for the terms “shemale sex,” “teen anal sex” and “man f—king man.”

Pakistani gays like Khan and Shehzad say the country is rife with hypocrisy. “I know that some Pakistani policy makers practice gay love in private, then go out and make laws against gays,” says Shehzad. Khan agrees: “I know that some Pakistani politicians of all parties, including those from religious parties, are interested in gay men,” he says. “Even some men who teased me for being gay suddenly come on to me when we are in a quiet spot.” “If you heard the names of the prominent members of Pakistani society who are gay, you wouldn’t believe your ears,” adds Chaudhry Javid, a 28-year-old gay man who works for a foreign aid agency and lives in a luxury apartment in Islamabad.

Still, Javid keeps his sexual orientation in the closet, hiding it from his family and friends, and claiming it is too early for him to reveal himself. “If we come out, our families will cut us out like a cancer,” he says. He adds that he’s ashamed that he can’t tell his parents that his best friend is also his sexual partner whom he loves. “I suffer when I lie to my parents describing him as just a good friend,” he says. Shehzad, too, says it’s too early for him to come out. “Society doesn’t accept us,” he says. “I don’t dare to go public.” Faisal Khan, a 28-year-old government bureaucrat in Peshawar, says he would get fired or worse if he came out. (He is not related to Assad Khan.) “I cannot expose myself,” he says. “People in the office would use it against me and I’d lose my job.” Faisal Khan says he doesn’t dare visit his family’s home village just south of Peshawar for fear the Taliban would find out about his gayness and capture him, causing a scandal for his family.  Nor would he dare to confess his sexual persuasion to the mullah at his mosque. “He would probably send me to the Taliban who would make a kebab of me,” he says.

Even so, Faisal Khan and other Pakistani gay men see hope in the future as they sense that public attitudes are slowly changing. For starters, people are beginning to tolerate unmarried young men and women congregating together in public. If the public is beginning to accept men and women dating, they reason, then eventually gay relationships will also be tolerated. Wearing a suit and red tie and sporting long black hair, Faisal Khan points to the numerous heterosexual couples sitting together in a modern University Town café in Peshawar, talking and laughing as they eat western food and listen to rock music. “Look, these boys and girls are here in public without any hesitation or fear of society or the Taliban,” he says. Javid says that a decade ago you would never see young men and women holding hands in public. Now it is almost common in the cities. Ironically, it’s not uncommon, and not viewed as homosexual behavior, for young men to hold hands in public as they walk—it’s a customary sign of friendship.

But there are still strict limits. In rural, traditional Pakistan there is a clear separation of the sexes as boys and girls are forbidden to meet in public. Yet in the tradition-bound confines of the countryside, it is easier for gay Pakistani couples to congregate in public than for mixed-sex couples. “It’s normal for a group of men to hang out together so no one can bother us,” says Javid. “But in some traditional areas, boys and girls going out together is still a sin against society and our religion.”  Javid adds that viewing homosexuality as a sin, as most Pakistanis do, is absurd since there is no victim. “Aren’t the rampant corruption in our society and the killing of innocents by the Taliban greater sins?” Javid asks.

For most gays in Pakistan, society’s views are not changing fast enough. So for now, they are forced to live largely an underground existence. They point to the many and lavish subterranean gay parties as the highlight of their social lives. “These weekly underground parties keep us happy,” says Shehzad. “Here we have a place to enjoy ourselves hidden from the Taliban, the government and the police.” Organizing these extravagant, gay parties in Islamabad and Peshawar has become a good business for Assad Khan. He says that many of the parties he organizes cost $5,000 or more to cover the expense of renting a large, posh house or reception hall, providing private security, live bands, food and drinks and paying off the cops. Partyers pay an admission charge, allowing Khan to make a profit. “Islamabad is a city famous for the biggest number of gay parties,” Assad Khan says. “The number of these parties, and the number of gays attending, is increasing, even in Peshawar.” He also helped organize a summer music festival in the mountain resort of Swat this past summer in the face of Taliban threats, and he plans to bring fashion shows to conservative Peshawar soon.

Although it may be premature, Khan is trying to organize a gay rights movement capable of standing up to the Taliban, the politicians and aggressive Pakistani cops. As a result of his efforts, he has received anonymous, threatening phone calls and has escaped an attempt to kidnap him at a wedding reception not long ago. But he remains unshaken. “We have to defeat the concept of fear and terror,” he says. “Everyone should have the right to live as they please. No one has the right to dictate to us.” He adds: “I want to be a leading voice for gay rights and protection.”

But he quickly emphasizes that his push for gay rights stops short of campaigning for the legalization of gay marriage. “We don’t want to push for gay marriage, only for our human rights,” he says. Most other gays steer clear of any gay rights movement, fearing retaliation. “The Taliban and other extremists will target any gay rights movement,” says Shehzad. “It’s too dangerous to get involved.”

Originally published in The Daily Beast, October 30, 2013: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/10/30/pakistan-s-gay-community-quietly-breaking-barriers.html