The Asian Age – Opposition should work together to save democracy, says Mamata

She accuses the NDA government of trying to halt the developmental process in her state.

New Delhi-India, 24 November 2017. West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Friday said that democracy is under threat in the country under the BJP rule and called upon Opposition parties to work together for the greater interest of the people before the next Lok Sabha polls.

She accused the NDA government of trying to halt the developmental process in her state.

“Democracy is under threat in this country under the present central government. It is a super emergency that is going on in the country. I have been an MP for nearly two decades but I have never seen such a government at the Centre,” she said at the India Today Conclave East.

“I believe in collective leadership… At present all are working together and that is the best policy. Let us work together,” Banerjee said about the Opposition, adding she shares good relations with the DMK, the SP, the BSP and the BJD and is working with the Congress inside Parliament on various issues.

When asked whether she is hinting at a broader opposition coalition with the Congress before the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, she said, “In Bengal, the Congress and the Left are working with the BJP at the state level. But at the national level for greater interests, I think we should work together.”

To a question whether the country would see a grand opposition coalition ahead of 2019, she said, “It depends. We are working together in Parliament. I went to (RJD chief) Lalu Prasadji’s programme in Patna.”

Banerjee said, “I have a good relationship with (Samajwadi Party chief) Akhilesh ji and (BSP chief) Mayawati ji in Uttar Pradesh, with Stalin ji (DMK), Naveen ji (BJP)… I maintain the best of relations with so many other people. Even, within the BJP I maintain good relation with some people, but not with all.”

Bengal will never accept divide and rule politics of the BJP, she asserted and dismissed that it was a challenger to the ruling (TMC) Trinamool Congress government. “The BJP is nowhere in Bengal but only on media and social media.
They only shout. Let the BJP shout along with their bike vahini, but they cannot do anything in Bengal,” Banerjee said.

The BJP is trying to position itself as the main opposition in the state.

The Tribune – Over 8 000 people disappeared during 1980 till 1995 in Punjab: NGO

Chandigarh, 2 December 2017. Punjab Documentation and Advocacy Project (PDAP), an NGO, on Saturday claimed that they have found over 8,000 people going “disappeared” during 1980 till 1995 in Punjab and demanded an independent judicial commission to probe the matter.

Satnam Singh Bains, representing PDAP, claimed that they have identified and documented hundreds of victims who were allegedly “cremated as unclaimed unidentified” and killed in “fake encounters”.

“In our seven-year long investigation, we have identified 8,257 persons from different sources who disappeared from 1980 to 1995 in Punjab,” he claimed.

Bains said the records pertaining to “disappeared” people were collected by visiting villages, meeting victims’ family members and also from media reports.

“The latest report is a further step in the long struggle by people of Punjab for justice and accountability for victims and for their kin,” Bains said.

Punjab Documentation and Advocacy Project (PDAP), who was also present, said, “people disappeared. They (their families) have the right to know why they disappeared. They have the right to know why human right violations took place.”

People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) national convener Kavita Srivastava, while speaking on the occasion, sought formation of a judicial commission under retired sitting judge of the Supreme Court to probe the “disappearance” of the people.

Bains said they will soon move to the Supreme Court with the findings of their report and demand detailed investigation in the matter.

Gent: Sint-Pieters NMBS Station

Sint-Pieters NMBS Station
04 November 2017

Diesel train to Ronse

Diesel train to Ronse

Delayed train to Brugge and Oostende

Waiting for the train to Eupen to take me to Leuven

IC train to Brussel and Eupen

To see all my pictures:

More Belgian pictures to be published
Harjinder Singh
Man in Blue


The Guardian – Our love turned us into pariahs but we never backed down

When Khurrum Rahman, a Muslim, and Rajinder, a Sikh, fell for each other at school, they became pariahs overnight. But the disapproval, threats and even violence only served to cement a bond that has lasted 24 years.

The year was 1993. I was 17, and heading for the sixth form at a new school in Hounslow, west London. I wasn’t expecting it to change my life. Looking back, I struggle to remember a white face there. It was a sea of brown, where Muslim, Sikh and Hindu students mixed easily: it seemed a surprisingly harmonious environment.

Beneath the surface, though, cultural tension lurked, particularly between the Muslims and the Sikhs. All I had to do was keep my head down and my mouth shut. I didn’t want any part in the school politics.

I remember the girls. They all seemed to wear black leather jackets and black platform shoes and they listened to R&B. Rajinder was different. She wore flowing flowery skirts and a faded jean jacket with scuffed Dr Martens boots and listened to Guns N’ Roses. I had never met anyone like her.

I was not one of those cool types who could approach a girl and ask her out; my deep-seated fear of rejection saw to that. However, peer pressure is a powerful thing.

My friends, her friends, hounded me until, at 12.40pm on 11 November, I was standing in front of her, mumbling and stumbling my way through those six terrifying words. “Will you go out with me?”

Word spread quickly. A Muslim boy and a Sikh girl amid the cultural tension and confusion. First the whispers started, then friends we held dear distanced themselves.

Even some teachers pulled us to one side to deliver a warning, masked as meaningful advice. Wrapped up in each other, we shut it all out, brazenly walking through the playground holding hands. We fell for each other quick and hard without a thought of the impact we were having on our communities.

At the end of the school day, we would go our separate ways. Rajinder would routinely be ignored on the bus and I would walk the mile home with cars slowing to give me the eye. I was being watched carefully. A few months in, the curtains on the veiled threats were pulled back.

It started with phone calls. I would scramble to the landline in fear of my parents answering and smile my way through the threats. The “older lot”, as they were affectionately known, colourful characters about whom I had heard many gang-related stories, came out of the woodwork and turned up at my house; let’s go for a walk.

Rather than having my parents find out about my relationship, I would agree readily.

On one occasion, I was bundled into a phone box, a kitchen knife touching my skin, as half a dozen of the older lot queued impatiently outside. On another memorable occasion, having recently passed my driving test, I was driving my mum’s cherry red Nissan.

My rear windscreen exploded at a junction and people with furious faces, armed with bats and bars, circled my car. I put my foot down and led them on a merry dance around the back streets of Hounslow, losing them somewhere en route to the police station.

I never blamed them. I never doubted their intentions. In their own misguided way, they were trying to protect one of theirs from one of us.

Like a typical teenager, I thought I was invincible. I never gave in to them. She meant too much to me. We continued in the same vein, the threats and intimidation slowly dissolving as our opposers found other battles to fight.

Two years into our relationship, we were walking aimlessly. Rajinder stopped at a bridal shop window and pointed at the mannequin wearing a white bridal gown. “That’s what I’ll wear,” she said, before pointing at the mannequin wearing a black tuxedo. “And you can wear that.”

We had never before talked about where our relationship was heading, but that seemingly innocuous comment made us face issues that we had long been avoiding.

It was time our parents found out.

They would be unhappy. We understood that. But it turned out to be so much more. We hadn’t realised that the effects of our actions would take such an emotional toll on our families. They had dreams for our future: plans, visions and hard-earned money from relentless overtime set aside for a path that we would never take.

My father, a man of few words, was stoic. His silence articulated what words never could. My mother, emotionally intelligent, searched desperately for a solution that wasn’t there.

Her father, immensely proud, watched all that he held dear crumble around him. Her mother was strong, honourable and fiercely protective of her family.

Each was behaving in accordance with their beliefs and ideologies as the criticism of our communities tightened around us.

It never felt like us against them. It wasn’t as romantic a notion as that. We finally understood the impact we were having on those closest to us. “Why can’t you be happy for us?” was never going to cut it.

We couldn’t blame them for their thinking, which was embedded long before our existence and which they had hoped to pass on. We never begrudged the way they felt. Simply, we had shattered their world.

There wasn’t any way we could mend what we had caused. It was worse for her, I know it was, for the sole reason that she was a girl. From all corners she was taunted and told in no uncertain terms that she was being used. That I, a Muslim boy, would never fully commit to a Sikh girl.

But I did. We did. Rajinder and I married. It didn’t change a thing. We achieved nothing other than proving a poor point. We needed our families. We needed their acceptance.

I can’t tell you exactly what changed. I think time played its part. Something adjusted and our tilted world straightened out. Over the years, a bond that had fractured was slowly mended. Through commitment and never giving up on one another, our families became part of our lives again.

Through it all, my wife and I have never been apart, never considered the alternative. We have been together for 24 years and married for 18. As I write this, she is next to me, invading my space on the footstool and snacking noisily on masala chai and low-fat crackers licked with Nutella.

Upstairs, my beautiful boys, six and one, sleep soundly. They celebrate Eid, Diwali, Christmas and everything else in between. They lead a culturally enriched life, the best of both wonderful worlds.

Both sets of grandparents dote on them. As a result of our marriage, there may be times where they face hardship, but we are raising them to be strong-willed, open-minded and to question everything.

Tonight, we are visiting my in-laws for dinner. Tomorrow, my parents are coming to ours for Sunday lunch. They are now fully immersed in our lives. The phone calls are frequent, the text messages often. Sometimes it gets too much. But we wouldn’t have it any other way.

East of Hounslow by Khurrum Rahman (Harlequin, £12.99). To order a copy for £11.04, go to or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over £10, online orders only. Phone orders min. p&p of £1.99.

Dawn – Militants’ long and bloody war on education

A look at all major terror attacks targeting educational institutes since 2011

Op/Ed, 01 December 2017. As the shock of the brazen attack on Peshawar’s Agricultural Training Institute subsides, parents across the country face the struggle of coming to terms with yet another terrorist attack targeting students.

With the wounds of the 2014 Army Public School tragedy still fresh, and later attacks on the Bacha Khan University and Quetta’s Police Academy branded painfully on our collective memory, they have suffered tragic reminders time and again that their children’s future in a Pakistan free of extremist and radical ideologies is far from secure.

Both civilian and military authority’s continue to insist, quite depressingly, that such attacks are actually a sign that violent extremism is on the retreat in the country.

In this worldview, educational institutions are described as ‘soft targets’; hence, an attack on them is somehow not an alarming security failure, but evidence that the enemy cannot touch ‘real’, ‘hard’ targets.

With no visible signs that this deeply problematic approach to the security of Pakistan’s most vulnerable citizens has changed or will change, here’s a look back at all the attacks targeting students and educational institutions that have continued unabated since 2011.