BBC News – I am 70: The shopkeeper who lived through Kashmir’s wars

Athmuqam, Azad Kashmir (POK), 17 August 2017. As India and Pakistan celebrate 70 years since their creation as sovereign states, the BBC’s M Ilyas Khan meets a Kashmiri shopkeeper who was born at the same time as Pakistan.

The story of Mohammad Younus Butt is the story of Neelum Valley, a narrow river valley in north-western Kashmir.

Mr Butt’s father died three months before his birth, leaving a widow, three more sons, a daughter and a two-acre farm.

He was born in Athmuqam, then a tiny, obscure village. A that time the former princely state of Kashmir was threatened with division and a newly-created Pakistan was about to launch its first proxy invasion to annex it.

He has since lived through two more conflicts, and alternating spells of peace and confrontation.

“My mother told me that I was born in the month of Inqilab (revolution),” he says, using the term many Kashmiris use for partition.

“She told me it was just before the Hindu families in Keran and Tethwal started to flee across the (Neelum) river. The panic was caused by waves of armed Pathan tribal fighters who came up the river from Muzaffarabad.”

These tribesmen were part of a larger tribal militia raised and armed by Pakistan that was to descend on Srinagar, the region’s major city, from the north.

A year later, the fighting was over and Kashmir was effectively divided. Athmuqam, which fell on the Pakistani side, was left to carry on with its isolated pastoral existence.

Mr Butt’s earliest memories are of a place where there was not much else to do beyond tending cattle or playing hide and seek on terraced farmlands.

“There was no school in the village, and hardly a literate person. If someone received a letter, they would take it to Keran (12km away), where there was a post office and they could find a clerk to read it for them.”

If someone wanted to send a telegram, they had to travel to Teethwal, 50km away, where the only tele-printer in the entire valley was installed.

There was no road in the region and no transport. People used to travel on foot or on mules.

When he was about seven years old, his mother sent him to school. The primary school was 8km away and the middle school 4km beyond that.

“Life then was all about walking to school, walking back home, tending to cattle, helping on the farm, and finding time to play.”

He left school when he failed grade seven. “But I had learned to read and write. I was among the first literate people in my village,” he said.

Adulthood arrived with a bump in 1962, when several things happened.

That year, he got married to his cousin, then his mother gave him money to set up a grocery shop, only to die a few months later.

“She gave me 520 rupees to start the shop – it was the third shop in Athmuqam.”

In those days the road from Muzaffarabad came only as far as Nauseri, about 65km away. It was the nearest wholesale market.

“I brought six pony-loads of groceries on my first trip. We would walk the entire day from dawn to dusk to reach Nauseri. And it would take us two days to get home because the ponies needed to be rested.”

He started to get involved in local politics, and was influenced by K H Khurshid, a respected politician appointed president of Pakistan-administered Kashmir in 1959 who was seen as a champion of Kashmiri rights.

But Mr Khurshid’s career was short-lived, ending in 1964 when he fell out with the Pakistani establishment over the constitutional status of Kashmir, meaning the end of Mr Butt’s political activism.

But 1964 was also the year Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru died, and preparations for the second “tribal invasion” of Kashmir came, this time with local Kashmiris instead of tribal Pathans leading the guard, recruited by Pakistan. Pakistan’s military has never officially confirmed it ever commissioned such a force.

“The policemen went from village to village recruiting Kashmiri youth. People would fall in line, and the chief police officer would walk down the queue, sizing up each individual. He would touch those he chose on the shoulder and ask them to step into a separate line.”

The chief policeman patted Mr Butt on the shoulder.

“I told him I had a shop. He said all you need to do is accept the rifle and stay at home. I took the rifle. But weeks later they came and asked me to shut my shop and join training.”

He and his fellow recruits spent three months training in Muzaffarabad’s Nisar Camp. Most of them then infiltrated into Indian Kashmir, but some who could read and write were kept behind for clerical work at supply depots.

“I was posted at a camp in Athmuqam where I kept records of equipment and supplies. I was there until our forces were defeated in Kashmir, and India attacked Pakistan (on 6 September 1965).”

After the two countries signed a peace agreement in January 1966, the force was disbanded.

“Those who wanted to stay in the army stayed on, while the rest of us handed in our rifles and came home. I came home to my shop. It was still locked and there was merchandise in it.”

After the war, people in Athmuqam discovered that Indian forces had moved closer and set up permanent posts on high ground opposite their village.

“Until then, our shepherds had always considered those areas our land. The same thing happened in several places down the valley.”

For a while, peace prevailed. The road was gradually extended from Nauseri to Athmuqam, and further on. It was little better than the mule tracks it replaced, but it did bring transport and lifestyle changes for the area’s growing population.

Athmuqam emerged as the main town in Neelum Valley. A general hospital and several schools were built, bank branches opened and a telephone exchange was set up.

“We built a new house, and all of my children – a boy and two girls – went to university,” Mr Butt said.

But more conflict was to come, with the 1989 insurgency in Srinagar. Fresh hordes of private militiamen started to descend on Neelum Valley. This time the proxies were Islamic militants, organized by the Pakistani military to infiltrate Indian Kashmir.

The Indians, having occupied the valley’s high ground in 1965, had the settlements in their rifle sights. As the conflict intensified, so did retaliatory fire from the Indians.

“I can’t recall a worse time for Athmuqam. Everything that was built in 20 years was turned to rubble in 15 years of hostilities,” he said.

The hospital was destroyed, and so were schools and colleges. Farming activity became impossible. Nearly all the population moved to safer areas, such as Muzaffarabad, or to gullies higher up which were not exposed to direct fire.

Only a handful of people remained to look after their own properties. Mr Butt was one of them.

“Athmuqam was a lonely place then. You couldn’t find a soul to talk to. My brothers went away with their families, leaving their belongings in my care.

“In this neighbourhood only three households stayed behind. Our houses were damaged. We would eat and sleep in bunkers we had dug. Our orchards were destroyed.

“No children went to schools in those years. A whole generation missed out on education.”

Over the last 14 years, since the 2003 ceasefire, much of the infrastructure has been rebuilt. A generation of educated young people are now adults and the government is trying to promote the area as a tourist destination.

But peace is brittle. One incident of cross-border fire during the season scares the tourists away for months.

“Life has revived, but the danger is there all the time,” he says.

Mr Butt says his “innings” is nearing its end. He has had three operations so far, two of them during the last three years.

But he is glad that business has grown, and Athmuqam has grown.

“I’m lucky to have been born in freedom, and I hope our future generations will guard this freedom as a precious gift of God.”

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-40927163

Sikh24.com – Buddhists remove holy scripture of SGGS from Gurdwara Dangmaar Sahib in Sikkim

Sikh24 Editors

Sikkem, India, 22 August 2017. Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji and other religious articles from within Gurdwara Guru Dangmaar Sahib (Sikkim) was removed from the Gurdwara Sahib premises by local Buddhists and villagers after local authorities decreed that the Gurdwara Sahib will be converted for alternative uses.

Situated at an altitude of 18000 feet at Indo-Tibetan border, Gurdwara Dangmaar Sahib was established in 1971 by and for Sikh army men.

Bhai Yadwinder Singh, who is serving as a ‘Granthi’ in the Gurdwara Sahib, revealed that some local Buddhists and other people had brought the Holy Scripture and other religious articles of Gurdwara Sahib to handover over to him but he refused to accept them as it was a forced upon him.

“At this, the Buddhists ran away and placed the Holy Scripture and whole religious articles on road,” he added.

Bhai Yadwinder Singh further shared that he then respectfully again installed the Holy Scripture of Sri Guru Granth Sahib in Gurdwara Sahib with the help of other Sikhs.

SGPC members S. Sukhdev Singh Bhaur, S. Rajinder Singh Mehta, Colonel Davinder Singh Grewal had immediately arrived on spot as soon as news of the incident became apparent.

Speaking to Sikh24, Colonel Davinder Singh Grewal said that some fanatics had earlier also tried to take over possession of this Gurdwara Sahib and the then SGPC President Jathedar Gurcharan Singh Tohra was apprised about it at that time.

He added that Jathedar Gurcharan Singh Tohra had forced the then Defense Minister George Fernandez to intervene, resulting the matter being resolved.

Colonel Davinder Singh further said that these miscreants had deliberately removed the Sri Nishan Sahib from Gurdwara premises and had tried to convert it into a prayer place of all religions by placing statues of Hindu and Buddhists prophets.

SGPC President Professor Kirpal Singh Badungar has expressed deep concern over this unfortunate incident. He said that he would take up the matter with Union government of India to sort the matter at the earliest.

http://www.sikh24.com/2017/08/22/buddhists-remove-holy-scripture-of-sggs-from-gurdwara-dangmaar-sahib-in-sikkim/#.WZz-gtFLfIU

Capelle aan de IJssel Gurdwara

Capelle aan de IJssel Gurdwara
16 July 2017

Entry to the Gurdwara

Langar

Langar


Gurbani Kirtan
Singing of hymns from the Guru Granth Sahib

Gurbani Kirtan
Singing of hymns from the Guru Granth Sahib

Sardar Jarnail Singh behind the Guru Granth Sahib

To see all my pictures:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/12445197@N05/

More Netherlands pictures to be published
Harjinder Singh
Man in Blue

Runnymede Trust – Race Matters – How is caste discrimination different from racism?

Published 18 August 2017 by CasteWatchUK in Culture, Employment, Equality, Equalities Legislation, Featured, Global, History, Identity, Racism

While the caste system, and the discrimination it engenders, originated in South Asia, it is very much present in the UK. Here Castewatch UK reports on the effects of caste discrimination.

An elderly woman reported receiving poor quality of care from a medical professional who, on learning of her caste, considered her to be unclean and refused to touch her.

This is just one of the experiences of caste discrimination taking place today in the UK, which has been reported to us at Castewatch.

Caste is associated primarily with cultures of the Indian sub-continent. According to those who practise and promote it, Caste is determined by birth and cannot be changed. Each Caste continues in a state of social paralysis, antagonistic and hostile towards the others’ interests, with inter-marriage discouraged if not prohibited.

Whereas, in a class-based system there is the possibility of vertical mobility, this is denied in a Caste-based system.

There are four categories, each ranked differently in terms of social honour. Below these groupings are those in the lowest position of all: Dalits, who were previously known as ‘untouchables’.

Although the practice of ‘untouchability’ is legally prohibited in India, those from the Dalit community continue to be shunned socially and economically.

Yet caste discrimination is not limited to South Asian countries. In March 2017, the Government Equalities Office opened a public consultation regarding caste-based discrimination in Great Britain. The consultation seeks public views on what measure(s) the UK Government should take to outlaw caste-based discrimination.

UK law does not specifically protect against caste discrimination, however Section 9 of the Equality Act 2010 provides for caste to be made an ‘aspect of race’, as mandated under The Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013 (alongside the already protected characteristics of colour, nationality and ethnic/national origins).

This provision would benefit those who may be affected by caste discrimination in employment, provision of goods and services and public functions, by providing them with a clear route for legal recourse.

The notion that the Dalit community is by nature ‘impure’ and therefore inherently bound to servitude continues to create social divisions across South Asia.

Although Dalits are the most severely affected group, caste-based discrimination in the UK is pervasive, affecting all communities among the South Asian diaspora because of the entrenchment of caste as a social paradigm.

Discrimination based on one’s caste holds similarities to discrimination based on one’s ethnic background or race; members of one group hold prejudice and exercise discrimination towards the group that they deem to be inferior.
However, it is important to note that while the discrimination experienced can be similar to racism, caste is different from race.

While ‘race’ (as a social construct) may be understood as a way of classifying people in to groups based on physical traits, ‘caste’ is a system of social stratification, where groups are assigned a way of life defined primarily by occupation.

Caste has no distinguishable physical feature and members of the same ‘race’ group may be of several different caste groups. In Britain, Dalits have progressed economically and do not follow their traditional occupations of cleaning toilets and skinning dead animals, but caste-based discrimination can be encountered in social interactions.

Unlike race discrimination, caste discrimination is intra-racial and is practised among those of the same nationality, ethnic origin and/or cultural background.

According to Census data, the British South Asian community in the UK is numbered at more than 3 million. Findings of a 2010 study led by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (pdf) suggest that caste discrimination is occurring in Britain in places of work, places of worship and in the provision of goods and services.

The same study estimated that there are between 50,000 and 200,000 people in diaspora communities that may be experiencing caste discrimination.

Our research and outreach activities have led to a number of people approaching Castewatch UK with their own experiences of caste discrimination, as in the case of the elderly woman above. In another example, a man in his fifties was subjected to regular humiliation and bullying in the workplace.

A colleague even verbally abused him using language designed to degrade him on the basis of his caste. This occurred in front of other colleagues, who did not know how to react. When approaching both his supervisor and local union representative, the victim received no help or interest in his complaint.

We also have cases of children being subjected to caste-based bullying in schools. In another report we had, a man recalled that he was subject to caste discrimination since his school years, where being called an “untouchable” was commonplace.

As a young musician, he and others would play instruments at South Asian weddings. He recalled that some would comment that tips should not be given to him as he was a ‘beggar,’ which was in reference to his caste.

Caste discrimination can also be present in everyday, often overlooked, interactions.

One person described to us how discriminatory treatment towards him in his shop has now become normalised: “I was serving a customer at my shop and this customer was of a so-called high caste background who constantly questioned me about my caste. This lady refuses to put money in my hand, like I am an untouchable.”

Those opposed to any legislation to combat this prejudice argue that it is unnecessary. Some say that making caste discrimination illegal will adversely affect community cohesion among diaspora communities or that it would open a ‘Pandora’s box’ of litigious action.

It is important to acknowledge that these arguments are not new to legal debates in the UK. Similar arguments were cited as a cause for concern by those opposed to the establishment of The Race Relations Act 1976.

We at Castewatch UK argue that the proposed amendment to the Equality Act 2010 is an important step to furthering anti-discrimination measures in the UK.

We urge those interested to get involved and respond to the consultation, guidelines for which can be found at http://www.casteintheuk.org. The deadline for submissions to the consultation has recently been extended to 18 September 2017.

For more information on Castewatch UK, follow the link above or email

info@castewatchUK.org

http://www.runnymedetrust.org/blog/what-is-caste

Dawn – America’s flawed plan for Afghanistan

Zahid Hussain

Op/Ed, 23 August 2017. There is nothing in the new US policy laid out by President Donald Trump that can bring the 16-year-long Afghan war to an end. The much-awaited strategy that links Afghanistan with the US South Asia policy is likely to only deepen regional tensions.

The toughening stance on Pakistan may have serious repercussions for an already troubled relationship between Islamabad and Washington.

Although Trump has said that US troops would not stay in Afghanistan for long, there is certainly no clear exit plan. As in the past, the emphasis is on the military solution that may keep the US involved in the Afghan war forever.

Trump has not specified the number of additional US forces being deployed there, but he has already given the Pentagon approval for 3,900 soldiers thus bringing the total American troop presence in the country close to 10,000.

This marks a complete turnaround in Trump’s election promise to pull out US troops from Afghanistan. He seems to be getting the US more deeply engaged in what he had earlier described as a futile war.

It is apparent that he has given in to the pressure from the American military establishment, though one tends to agree with him that complete military withdrawal would have disastrous consequences for regional security.

Most US defence analysts agree that a surge in troops can only help in maintaining the existing stalemate. The new American strategy has come at a time when the Afghan Taliban insurgents have expanded their influence to over 40 per cent of the country that is plagued by rising internal political discord.

There still seems to be no realisation in the Trump administration about the seriousness of the Afghan situation. It will not be easy for the US forces to contain the Taliban advance and to maintain the status quo for a longer period.

What is most alarming is the spread of the insurgency even to regions in north Afghanistan that were previously considered secure.

Diplomacy and political options are clearly not a priority for the Trump administration.

It has been the bloodiest year in Afghanistan in terms of civil and military casualties since the US invasion in 2001. The rising spectre of the militant Islamic State group and daring terrorist attacks, claimed by the network, have worsened the security situation.

The surge in US troops is not likely to shift the balance in the war significantly. The surge is more of a patchwork effort than a serious attempt at exploring the possibility of a political solution to the Afghan conflict.

Diplomacy and political options are clearly not a priority for the Trump administration, though there has been a fleeting mention of the administration’s willingness to begin talks with the Afghan Taliban insurgents.

There is certainly no road map for peace. Like his predecessor Barack Obama, Trump has made it clear that the United States will not be engaged in nation-building in Afghanistan.

But there is also no plan to stabilise the political and economic situation in Afghanistan. The danger is that a confused and flawed policy may push the United States much deeper into the Afghan quagmire and fuel regional tensions.

While assigning India a greater role, there is no plan to engage other neighbouring and surrounding countries in the effort to resolve the Afghan conflict.

Not surprisingly, Trump reserved his strongest criticism for Pakistan. While acknowledging Pakistan’s sacrifices and its efforts in fighting terrorism, he declared this country a part of the problem too.

It is perhaps for the first time that a US president has, publicly, warned Pakistan of severe consequences if the country does not take effective action against the alleged terrorist sanctuaries along its borders.

It is not clear what kind of military and economic actions the US administration has been considering. But such threats would not help win Pakistan’s support unless Islamabad’s own national security concerns are addressed.

Like the previous administrations, the Trump administration too believes in unquestioned cooperation, ignoring Islamabad’s interests completely.

What has made the situation for Pakistan more complicated is Trump’s policy of getting India more deeply engaged in Afghanistan. Islamabad’s concerns about India’s economic and strategic cooperation with Kabul may be exaggerated, but the previous US administrations were careful not to encourage Delhi to expand its role in Afghanistan.

Pakistani officials contend that the Trump administration has crossed the red line by making India a part of its Afghan strategy, though the Indian authorities may not be too pleased by Trump’s remarks about their country getting trade benefits from the US and not sharing the burden.

Interestingly, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi a few hours before Trump’s speech to convey a more nuanced message to alleviate Pakistan’s concerns. But there are still lots of questions about the new American policy of lumping South Asia with Afghanistan.

There is the implicit US threat of expanding action against the Afghan Taliban insurgents to the Pakistani border regions. There is also a possibility of drone strikes targeting alleged terrorist hideouts in the settled areas close to the tribal areas.

That will surely make things difficult for Pakistani authorities to win public support for cooperation with the United States.

Indeed, one must not gloss over our own policy debacle and not getting our concerns heard in Washington, and not putting our own house in order. It is a huge foreign policy failure that during the past seven months we could not establish meaningful contacts with the Trump administration.

It also shows a crisis of leadership both in civil and military spheres that we could never formulate a clear Afghan policy.

Our Afghan policy has largely been reactive and based on duplicity. We lost the opportunity to improve relations with President Ashraf Ghani’s government in Kabul.

There is still no clarity on how we intend to deal with the new challenges arising from the toughening American stance. The political instability in the country has added to our foreign policy and national security problems.

Trump has declared that the US will strive for an ‘honourable’ resolution to the Afghan war. But his strategy can neither win the war nor result in peace.

The writer is an author and journalist.

zhussain100@yahoo.com

https://www.dawn.com/news/1353296/americas-flawed-plan

The Times of India – Row over civil surgeon’s circular

Bharat Khanna

Patiala, 22 August 2017. The Patiala civil surgeon’s circular asking the medical officers (MOs) in the district to remain prepared for a quick emergency response in anticipation of clashes between Sikhs and the dera followers after the August 25 CBI verdict in the rape case against Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, has drawn severe criticism on social media where it got circulated.

“It is completely a matter of rule of law. Sikhs are not in the picture then how can anyone blame the community for any probable clash?

It is not a matter related to the Sikhs. It is a conspiracy of the government to pollute the matter and make it an issue between the Sikhs and the dera followers. We have always raised our voice for peace,” said Gurdeep Singh, United Akali Dal general secretary.

However, Patiala civil surgeon Dr Balwinder Singh said that he had just forwarded the letter as received from the office of the deputy commissioner. “I had cited the letter issued from the DC office on August 16.” Patiala DC Kumar Amit could not be contacted for comments.

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/chandigarh/row-over-civil-surgeons-circular/articleshow/60169426.cms

The Tribune – Writer Sangat Singh of ‘Sikhs in History’ fame dead

Tribune News Service

New Delhi, 20 August 2017. Writer Sangat Singh who acquired fame for his books on the history of the Sikh community passed award here. He was cremated on Sunday.

Singh, who retired as an officer in the Ministry of External Affairs wrote “Sikhs in History” and also on events around the 1984 riots.

Former chairman of National Minorities Commission Tarlochan Singh recalled that Sangat Singh wrote extensively on the happenings of 1984 and brought new facts in his book which became very popular in Sikh diaspora.

He travelled a lot for lectures on Sikh history.

The bhog ceremony will be on August 26 in Gurdwara Greater Kailash, Part-2, New Delhi, he said.

http://www.tribuneindia.com/news/punjab/writer-sangat-singh-of-sikhs-in-history-fame-dead/454769.html

Den Haag HS – Rotterdam Centraal – Capelle Schollevaar

Rotterdam Centraal – Capelle Schollevaar
16 July 2017

New Delft sub-surface NS rail station
Taken from moving train with interesting mirror effects

Rotterdam Centraal Station
Bay platform


Track 16 Sprinter to Uitgeest via Capelle Schollevaar

Capelle Schollevaar
Suburban rail station and bus stop

Capelle aan de IJssel Gurdwara
16 July 2017

More mirror effects !

Singh Sabha (Zuid) Holland
Stationsplein 20
2907 MJ Capelle a/d IJssel

To see all my pictures:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/12445197@N05/

More Netherlands pictures to be published
Harjinder Singh
Man in Blue

New Socialist – Fascism without Borders: Britain and the BJP

Shruti

21 August 2017

In May 2015, as campaigning for the general election in Britain was underway, a flyer surfaced online urging “Dharmic voters” (a catch-all term intended to encompass Hindus, and those who the Hindu Right sees as part of its religious “family”, including Sikhs and Jains) to vote for the Conservative party.

The document accused Labour and the Liberal Democrats of branding every “Dharmic” person “today and forever as being born casteist”, and exhorted members of those religious communities to vote Conservative,the only party willing to not pursue the matter of including caste as an axis of discrimination in the Equality Act 2010.

This ought not to be too surprising, given that in 2015 the Conservative government was already voicing discontent with anti-discrimination legislation they were mandated to enact under European law (a prelude to the Brexit that was to come), and that the most vocal opposition to anti-caste legislation has often come from the demographic of wealthy or middle-class upper-caste British-Indian votes they have sought to woo.

In 2015, British-Indians were a key voting bloc for the Conservative Party, with an estimated 615,000 migrant Indian voters in the UK, and 1.4 million people of Indian origin living in the UK.

This group has historically voted Labour, but the Tories have made significant inroads over the years, and by the election in 2017, a post-election survey showed that the Tories enjoyed an 8% advantage over Labour among British Hindus and Sikhs.

It is easy to see why, for one, Corbyn’s social democratic offer alienated aspirational middle-class Indians; Theresa May has repeatedly emphasised the importance of India as a trading partner; and Corbyn has long been a supporter of the Dalit rights movement in the UK, and serves as honorary chairperson of the Dalit Solidarity movement.

Further, Corbyn supported a motion in the House of Commons that called on the Secretary of State to reinstate a ban on the then-Gujarat Chief Minister (now India’s Prime Minister) Narendra Modi’s travel to the UK, given his alleged role in and failure to prevent the communal massacres of 2002 that claimed the lives of over a thousand Muslims in the state of Gujarat (including British nationals) and displaced thousands more.

Still, the British-Indian love affair with the Conservatives was by no means inevitable. Despite the ploys made by the Tories to scupper anti-caste legislation, including Bob Blackman’s manifesto pledge to keep it out of the Equality Act in the 2017 election campaign, the major draw that Labour has held for middle-class Indians has been their comparatively progressive policies on both race and immigration, areas normally key to a migrant community’s vote.

Several Labour Party members have also extended a warm hand to Narendra Modi, chief among them is Barry Gardiner, a man whose star has risen among Corbyn supporters after his performance during the election, who invited Modi to address the House of Commons, describing it as a “culmination of several years of engagement between senior representatives of the Labour Party and Modi”.

Gardiner, in his role as Chairman of Labour Friends of India, has been one of Nahrenda Modi’s most vociferous champions and in an interview with the Times of India he revealed a warm admiration for the man himself, describing him as ‘a secular leader who has the overwhelming support of all communities in Gujarat…proven time and time again in state elections”.

He added, “I have met politicians from across the world and I rank him on the pinnacle of all political leaders I have known. His competence to govern is unbelievable.”

During Modi’s state visit to Britain in 2015, several other senior Labour MPs (Keith Vaz, Virendra Sharma, Seema Malhotra, and Steve Pound) pledged to donate their pay raises to the dazzling event held at Wembley Stadium with David Cameron, which was highly attended by the British-Indian community.

The three-day state visit resulted in more than £9 billion in signed business deals, and David Cameron heralding a “new and dynamic partnership” between Britain and India, one that was no longer “imprisoned by the past”.

The visit certainly did mark a change from the days when the US had repeatedly denied Modi a visa to enter, and the UK government had a working policy to have no contact with the Gujarat state government, over concerns regarding the bloodshed in Gujarat in 2002.

The death toll was estimated to be over 1,000 persons (over 2,000 by some other estimates), largely perpetrated by organised groups of Hindus targeting Muslims, often with the tacit or explicit support of state forces.

Mass rape, the burning alive of people, homes and small businesses, and the widespread destruction of mosques raged across the state for several weeks.

Modi has been widely held responsible by civil rights groups for the Gujarat government’s failure to act swiftly to respond to the violence, and the National Human Rights Commission reported numerous incidents of state collusion and a refusal to pursue justice against the perpetrators of violence.

The state government steadfastly refused to pay compensation to victims, or provide anything but the most basic of relief to those displaced by the violence (of whom there were over 200,000), many of whom have not returned to their villages or towns to this day.

Narendra Modi has neither personally apologised for the violence nor expressed any regret, and went on to appoint key figures accused of instigating the violence to high-level government positions.

When the United States government under George W Bush denied Modi a visa, citing the National Human Rights Commission report on the 2002 violence, Modi and his party reacted with outrage, variously labelling it an act of “racism”, an “insult to the entire nation”, an “insult to the Constitution”, and claiming it did not need “lessons in religious freedom from anyone in the world”.

There are strong reasons to reconsider the reversal of this approach, even if Modi is now the Prime Minister of the country, and even if he was elected to that position.

Since the ascendancy of Narendra Modi’s party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), to power there has been a growing climate of hate and fear that targets marginalised groups, silences those that dissent from the government’s enforced jingoism by branding them as “anti-national”, and further emboldens the militant Hindu fundamentalist elements within the party and their ferociously anti-Muslim politics.

To those who have know the origins of the BJP and its ideology, this will seem an almost natural outcome of their politics, they are linked to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a Hindu nationalist group whose founders consider Indian national identity to be narrowly identified with Hindu culture and beliefs: religious minorities must pay allegiance to the Hindu nation and refrain from practicing their faith in the public sphere.

Not much has changed for the contemporary avatars of Hindu nationalism. It remains a project committed to reducing religious minorities to second-class citizens, consolidating a muscular iteration of what it sees to be “Hinduism” (often a distillation of upper-caste practices and beliefs) through a cultural and electoral absorption of castes and tribes that have historically been excluded from Hinduism.

The results of this are visible nearly everywhere across the country today, mob lynchings of Dalits and Muslims are on the rise, often accompanied by allegations that the victims were are carrying beef or transporting cattle for slaughter (as the cow is considered by some Hindus to be a sacred animal); the state gives credence to spurious claims that inter-religious marriages are a plot by Muslim men to “steal” Hindu women and there have been numerous attacks on non-governmental organisations and universities that criticise the government.

In January 2015, Priya Pillai from Greenpeace India was scheduled to travel to London to testify on the effects of Essar Energy’s mining before she was deplaned.

The Indian government claimed that she was not allowed to travel as her testimony would project a “negative” image of the government at an international level, never mind that the abuses of the UK-registered coal mining company were being inflicted on its own indigenous citizens.

It later emerged that the Central Government had also had a hand in events at Hyderabad Central University where a Dalit student who was involved in student politics, Rohith Vemula, was stripped of his scholarship and subjected to institutional persecution until he committed suicide in January 2016.

The then-Minister for Human and Resource Development had received a letter accusing the student group of engaging in “anti-Hindu” activities and it was this that led to the suspensions.

Subsequent events at Jawaharlal Nehru University in February 2016 advanced this assault on students, after student groups held protests to mark the hanging of Afzal Guru, a Kashmiri separatist who the state claims had a hand in a 2001 Parliament attack though this has been widely disputed, three students were later arrested and charged with sedition for allegedly shouting ‘anti-national’ slogans.

For those who believed that Modi’s affiliation with the RSS, which began in his boyhood, would be tempered by high office, that the moderate elements in his party would win out, or even that the trend to authoritarian religious nationalism would be a price worth paying for economic progress and development, none of these promises have been borne out.

The debacle that was “demonetisation” (an overnight move taken by the Government that rendered 86% of currency notes invalid) has had lingering financial effects; surveys have indicated that unemployment is at a 5 year high; whilst investment in improving social welfare and government employment schemes has so far been negligible.

For all the bluster of the government, their constant unveiling of new plans and slogans, there is only so much that can distract from the ground reality of economic pressures, religious polarisation and jingoism can only carry them so far electorally.

And yet, this is precisely the strategy they are employing. In a move that stunned many, Yogi Adityanath was made Chief Minister of India’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, in March 2017.

Adityanath is a man widely seen as representative of the most violent elements of the BJP, having been involved in drives to mass “convert” religious minorities to Hinduism, engaging in murderous anti-Muslim rhetoric, and calling on the Indian government to adopt a ban similar to Trump’s ban on citizens from 7 Muslim-majority countries from entering the country.

Under ordinary circumstances this should be more than enough to give pause for thought, but not in the post-Brexit era. Britain is desperate for allies outside Europe for the uncertain years that lie ahead, as was made clear when Theresa May made her first trade mission visit to India in November 2016.

In many ways, the Conservative Party has made its own compromises with the far Right in the United Kingdom, adopting its racist and xenophobic line on migrants, refugees, and asylum-seekers, and British governments have hardly minded turning a blind eye to the actions of its friends in the past.

But the sanitisation of Hindutva (as Hindu nationalism is called by its adherents) in British politics marks a dangerous turn, far from being uneasy bedfellows, it marks a willingness to completely disregard all prior apprehensions about Narendra Modi’s record to leap into trade arrangements and business deals.

The controversy around the inclusion of caste in the Equality Act also demonstrates that Hindutva has a role to play in British politics too: in consolidating an identity around Hindus, Jains, and Sikhs, and in opposing mechanisms of justice being made available to Dalit and Bahujan diaspora by calling caste a product of colonialism and arguing that legislating it would entrench it.

Besides, Hindutva groups are active in the British-Indian community beyond lobbying against anti-caste legislation – the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh (HSS) is the overseas wing of the RSS and is a UK-registered charity, and the Hindu Student Council has a similar ideological outlook.

The HSS was investigated for hate speech by the Charity Commission after a speaker engaged in anti-Muslim and anti-Christian rhetoric at a camp, and has been told to distance itself from the RSS.

Meanwhile, Priti Patel has openly expressed her admiration for the RSS and Narendra Modi’s “vision”, whilst Bob Blackman has publicly attended HSS events where the RSS chief, Mohan Bhagwat, was in attendance.

The international wings of the RSS actively fundraise and funnel their money into their activities, fuelling their campaigns of religious communalism including military training for their recruits in camps that teach them to fight for the “Hindu nation”.

The untrammelled rise of Modi to power has meant that he has received little international scrutiny for either his actions or those committed and enabled by his government, party, and groups affiliated to it. If Corbyn’s Labour party is serious about furthering transnational solidarities based on social and economic justice, they must refuse to engage in the cynical electoral and economic ploys of the Conservative Party.

Opposing Modi’s government, questioning his human rights record, and continuing to support the struggle to enact anti-caste legislation must form part of a singular strategy to combat a government that enables and intensifies the persecution of minorities, this is the internationalism needed in this era to counter fascism.

https://newsocialist.org.uk/fascism-without-borders-britain-and-the-bjp/

The Hindu – Open-ended USA presence in Afghanistan, Pakistan on notice, bigger role for India: Trump’s South Asia policy

“We can no longer be silent about Pakistan’s safe havens for terrorist organizations,” Mr Trump said.

Varghese K George

Washington, 22 August 2017. Unveiling a new strategy for South Asia on Monday that has many elements of continuity from the past, President Donald Trump said the USA troops would stay in Afghanistan for an open-ended period of time and America would no longer tolerate Pakistan’s policy of harbouring terrorists.

Mr Trump said America’s strategic partnership with India will deepen in South Asia and the Indo-Pacfic and demanded that India make more financial contribution for the stabilisation of Afghanistan. The President linked this demand to India’s trade surplus with America saying, India makes “billions and billions of dollars” in trade.

In agreeing to continue with American engagement in Afghanistan, Mr. Trump deferred to the advise of conventional military planners in his administration. “My original instinct was to pull out, and historically I like following my instincts,” the President said, adding that once he studied the Afghanistan situation, he changed his mind.

He did not announce any increase in troops, but said the military will have more operational autonomy to pursue terrorists, and commanders have been given authority to attack whenever they chose to.

“…we will also expand authority for American armed forces to target the terrorist and criminal networks that sow violence and chaos throughout Afghanistan.

These killers need to know they have nowhere to hide, that no place is beyond the reach of American arms,” the President said, indicating willingness for a new wave of American offensive against Islamist groups in South Asia.

http://www.thehindu.com/news/international/open-ended-us-presence-in-afghanistan-pakistan-on-notice-bigger-role-for-india-trumps-south-asia-policy/article19538428.ece?homepage=true