Dawn – More space

Owen Bennett-Jones

Op/Ed, 28 September 2017. The case for mainstreaming is attractive. Groups that have for decades relied on violence, the argument goes, could be persuaded to take a growing interest in the democratic process.

By being allowed to participate in polls, violent jihadists might come to see that power does not come only through the barrel of a gun but also by winning public support in a democratic way. Slowly, they could be turned into more centrist Islamists committed to the parliamentary process.

The NA-120 by-election result encouraged those who hold these arguments. The Milli Muslim League won 5,822 votes. It was enough to keep the Jamaatud Dawa interested in the electoral process but not so much to worry those who fear violent jihadists winning power.

Some supporters of mainstreaming say that even if violent jihadists win a few seats, in southern Punjab perhaps, there would be nothing to worry about. ‘Let them!’ the argument goes, ‘they still won’t have any real power?’

There was a time when Nawaz Sharif might have been expected to support these arguments. But his third removal from prime ministerial office seems to have edged him towards ever more liberal positions. He recently said in London that the participation of banned groups in NA-120 was a cause of concern for democratic forces.

Supporters of mainstreaming contend that this amounts to nothing more than the PML-N trying to ensure that a competitor with the potential to split the party’s conservative vote bank doesn’t even get the chance to stand.

As for other political leaders Imran Khan says he supports mainstreaming “on balance”. But even if privately they oppose mainstreaming, in public politicians are unlikely to go much further than Sharif.

History shows that civilian leaders are so afraid of the violent jihadis’ capacity to assassinate them, they tend towards a policy of appeasement.

What will happen when extremists enter the mainstream?

As the NA-120 campaigning showed, violent jihadists have formidable organisational capacity. Few doubt that when it comes to running disciplined social media campaigns, their highly committed activists will do a more effective job than those in the traditional parties.

But the main point of the opponents of mainstreaming is that violent jihadists should be forced to make a choice, support the parliamentary process or continue down the road of violence. Being allowed to hold a gun whilst simultaneously running in an election gives them an unfair advantage.

If the violent jihadists can use both violence and parliamentary tactics they will become stronger. Let’s suppose that at the height of its power 10 years ago, the TTP had been able to stand in elections. It would, no doubt, have intimidated the people in Swat into voting for them.

How much more difficult would it then have been for the army to remove the violent jihadists from Swat? Elections confer legitimacy. Why on earth, critics of mainstreaming ask, allow violent jihadists in banned groups to become more legitimate? Just look, they say, at how others around the world have handled similar situations.

In Northern Ireland, for example, the key sticking point in the peace process was the British and Irish governments’ insistence that the IRA disarm before it could participate in the political system. It took several years for agreement on that point to be achieved but, eventually, the IRA did decommission its weapons.

There are also pragmatic political considerations. The Israeli system has shown what can happen when religious extremists with a small number of seats hold the balance of power.

Vital partners with the capacity to make or break ruling coalitions, they wield disproportionate influence and are able to force through policies which have very little public support.

Many liberals believe that senior military officers support mainstreaming. They fear that by allowing mainstreaming to happen, or even quietly encouraging it, the army is trying to build the case for backing the ‘good Taliban’.

After all, it is much easier to argue that it is too difficult to confront the LeT and the SSP if they have an electoral base.

It has long been the case that many Pakistanis, military and civilian, have downplayed the fundamental contest between the violent jihadists and what General Musharraf used to call ‘the silent majority’.

Even after the gruelling confrontation between the army and TTP made the nature and depth of that clash blindingly obvious, there is an unwillingness to face up to the fact that the violent jihadists are fundamentally opposed to the interests of most Pakistanis and are prepared to use force to impose their ideas on the rest of society.

Mainstreaming, its critics argue, is the latest example of that disastrous ambivalence.

The writer is a British journalist and author of Pakistan: Eye of the Storm.



Dawn – 70 years on, India and Pakistan have successfully de-humanised each other in popular imagination

Anam Zakaria

Op/Ed, 14 August 2017. On the 70th anniversary of Partition, intellectuals, analysts, writers, artists and engaged citizens seem driven to try to understand 1947, to make sense of the bloodshed and trauma, to explore the legacy of Partition, and to uncover the personal stories that were far too often sidelined in favour of grand state narratives on both sides of the border.

The first Partition Museum is being inaugurated in Amritsar this month while the 1947 Partition Archive, the largest repository of Partition interviews, has just moved forward to release the narratives for public consumption.

This is indeed imperative, 70 years on, we are on the brink of losing the Partition generation and there is an urgency to record their stories, to understand history more holistically, to uncover the nuanced experiences Partition survivors had, and to try and challenge one-sided jingoistic state narratives.

This is even more important because Partition is not just a static event that took place in 1947 that we can move on from.

Even as we lose the Partition generation, Partition will remain a centrepiece in our history and in our present day discourse, it will continue to inform our politics, our media debates, our nationalism, our external affairs and most importantly our identity formation.

Partition is very much an ongoing process, its journey after 1947 only becoming more complex. The residue of Partition is perhaps most acutely felt by divided families, separated by hostile politics, visa hurdles, wars and mounting India-Pakistan antagonism.

A couple of years ago, I had interviewed two sisters in Lahore. One held an Indian nationality while the other was Pakistani.

They spoke to me about not being able to meet each other for years, of missing out on special occasions, of the blackouts during war, and of the breakdown in communication channels. They spoke of the pain of being kept away from the countries they saw as home, from their family and their friends.

Another man I interviewed told me of how he’d opted to move to Pakistan when he was barely 18-years-old even though his family supported the Congress and decided to stay back in Nagina, Uttar Pradesh.

He spoke of how much independence meant to him, of the freedom Pakistan symbolised, and of how he thought he’d continue to have two homes, one in Nagina and the other in Lahore. And for many years, it stayed that way. He could easily travel back and forth and felt that he really belonged to both worlds.

But over the years, wars, terrorism and growing animosity between India and Pakistan left imprints on his life. When his parents passed away, he was unable to get a visa to attend their funeral. Such was the price he had to pay for his country.

He told me, “You have to fight a constant struggle every day, to visit, to be one with them. I don’t regret my decision [of moving to Pakistan] but I had never realised how much I would have to give up for Pakistan.

I had no idea that things would ever become so bad… I was unable to make it for my parents’ funerals. I didn’t have the visa to go. I was their son and I couldn’t go…”

However, the impact of Partition and its ongoing journey doesn’t only affect Partition survivors and their families. The communal identities and resulting communal tensions, which were crystalised at Partition, have penetrated deep into the fabric of society today.

Both India and Pakistan currently define nationalism in terms of religious identity. To be Pakistani has become synonymous with being Muslim, ideally Sunni Muslim, and even more ideally Sunni Muslim hailing from Punjab.

In India, religious nationalism is also on the rise, with extremist Hindutva ideology making inroads into all segments of society.

Textbooks are hence revised on both sides of the border in an effort to purge Muslim and Hindu influences respectively, trying to carve out national identity premised on religious fervour, teaching children that a particular religion or civilisation has always been superior to the other.

Hindus are cast away as deceitful and treacherous in Pakistan and Muslims as barbaric and savage in India. Mob lynchings become increasingly common, whether on blasphemy allegations or in the name of gau raksha.

Patriotism is questioned at whim and it becomes all too easy to be charged with the anti-national label. Cricket matches become a war of civilisations, people feeling dishonoured and resorting to burning posters and pelting stones after losing at the hands of the enemy nation.

In short, Pakistan and India define themselves in opposition to each other, both nations determined to justify that they are better than the other: they insist they are more pious, more righteous, more prosperous, mightier and stronger than the enemy lurking across the border.

Not only is the Two-nation Theory still endorsed at the state level in Pakistan, the rise of the Hindutva movement in India is also premised on a similar idea that to be Hindu is somewhat superior, and distinct to Islam.

Both countries are clinging on to Partition to convince their citizens that they are indeed better off than the other, and without the other.

Over the years, the consequences of this rhetoric have been felt by millions of people on both sides. The same narrative of otherisation was used to demonise the Bengali Hindus and their influence over the Muslim population of East Pakistan after the creation of Pakistan.

The indigenous resistance movement was sidelined in favour of grand narratives of Indian-funded separatism, encouraging the public in West Pakistan to turn a blind eye to the civil unrest and violence brewing in the other part of the country.

Today, the war is taught as an Indian conspiracy, with Pakistan refusing to introspect upon its own unjust policies that may have led to 1971. This holds an eerie resemblance to India’s narrative in Kashmir, which dismisses local grievances and struggles and labels the movement for freedom as Pakistan-funded terrorism.

By blaming the other both states are able to shrug off any responsibility for their own actions and inactions.

Today, minorities on both sides have to constantly prove their patriotism, the vulnerability they face palpable. The Gujarat riots of 2002, the recent lynchings of Muslims in India and attacks on Hindu temples and forced conversions in Pakistan are all residues of Partition.

Children in Pakistan today openly call Indians infidels and demons. In India, students have come to believe that all Pakistanis are savages and fanatics. Many of them even refuse to talk to each other, holding their biased textbook curriculum and media reports as sacred opinions of the other.

70 years later, both nation-states are holding onto Partition like an existential imperative; it helps them define national identity, lead antagonistic state policies, and instill patriotism in citizens – patriotism based on the hostility of the other.

The pity is that the Partition narratives they cling onto are myopic and simplistic understandings of a complicated past. These metanarratives are bent upon juxtaposing one religious community as triumphant and humane over the other.

Nowhere in these narratives do we find the possibility of understanding the complexities of Partition, the diversity of experiences, the coexistence of fault lines and inter-communal harmony, of violence and rescue stories.

Linear, simplistic versions of 1947 are promoted on both sides, with clear lines between victims and perpetrators. And these versions are here to stay for they serve as the raison d’être of both nations, instilling hostile and jingoistic ‘national spirit’ in post-Partition generations.

70 years later, Partition lingers on, its shadow deformed and distorted but stubbornly looming over us for the years to come.

Did you, or anyone in your family, have to leave home due to Partition? Share your story with us at blog@dawn.com

Anam Zakaria is the author of Footprints of Partition: Narratives of Four Generations of Pakistanis and Indians and an upcoming book on Azad Jammu and Kashmir.


Dawn – End of Sharif dynasty?

Zahid Hussain

Op/Ed, 29 July 2017. The inglorious exit of Nawaz Sharif may have come as a serious blow to the country’s most powerful political dynasty.

The devastating ruling by the five-member Supreme Court bench has not only seen the former prime minister disqualified for life but has also indicted almost all the Sharifs who have dominated the country’s political scene for more than three decades, whether in or out of power.

But one is not sure if it marks the end of the family’s political legacy. It is evident that the baton of leadership will now be passed on to Shahbaz Sharif, thus maintaining the dynastic hold over power at least for now.

Indeed, the unprecedented judicial action against a sitting prime minister is a watershed moment for the country’s democratic evaluation and has been described as a step forward in efforts towards establishing the rule of law.

Notwithstanding the scepticism over the judgement perceived as radical, the action came from within the system and not outside the constitutional framework. It also signifies a milestone in the development of an independent judiciary not subservient to the executive, though the perceived harshness of the ruling can rightly be disputed.

For sure, the ruling appears to have generated an upheaval and a period of political uncertainty, that is bound to happen when any entrenched political dynastic order is shaken.

It also appears that the ruling has further deepened political polarisation in the country. But it certainly does not threaten the democratic political process as speculated by Sharif’s supporters.

In fact, it is a serious blow to dynastic politics that has been the biggest impediment to the development of democratic institutions and values in the country.

The Panama ruling has also broken the widespread perception that Sharif being a Punjabi leader was untouchable while leaders from Sindh and the other smaller provinces could easily be dispensed with.

So this hue and cry over the fall from grace of Sharif and describing the events as a setback to democracy is beyond comprehension. The case against Sharif went through a whole legal process and cannot be described as part of a conspiracy or a judicial coup.

It became quite apparent that the prime minister was in deep trouble after the JIT report came out with a damning indictment of him and his family.

It went beyond the family’s failure to provide a money trail for the London properties and included charges of perjury and non-disclosure of some foreign financial assets. But such extreme action against the entire family and a consensus ruling came as a shock not only to the government but also to those outside.

Indeed, indictment of other family members and sending corruption cases against them to NAB has disrupted the dynasty’s succession plan.

While the court ruling against Maryam Sharif was expected after the allegation of forged documents, the inclusion of Shahbaz Sharif in the list was unexpected. That has exacerbated the PML-N’s leadership predicament.

But many in the party appear confident that the junior Sharif can still lead them despite facing charges in NAB. There is a move by the PML-N to play the victimhood card and project the ousted prime minister as a ‘political martyr’.

But one is not sure that will work in the present situation. Sharif’s influence over the party has become limited with his moral and political position weakened.

A child of the establishment Nawaz Sharif was politically baptised by Gen Zia’s military government in the early 1980s as part of the plan to prop up an alternative leader to challenge Benazir Bhutto.

His trajectory from Punjab chief minister to prime minister in the 1990s owed to the backing of the military and the powerful civil establishment of Punjab.

That political power also saw a massive rise in the family’s business fortunes. That financial scandal continued to dog him throughout his political career particularly after his ascent to the country’s top position. It finally caught up with him after the Panama Papers named his family, and caused his downfall.

With his rise to the pinnacle of political power, Nawaz Sharif tried to break away from the influence of the military establishment that also brought him down in his previous terms.

The former protégé turned into the nemesis of the military establishment. It is not surprising that he remained locked in perpetual conflict with the military leadership throughout his third term in office.

Although the Muslim League has historically remained close to the military establishment, Nawaz Sharif tried to transform it into a mass populist party, though he may not have been fully successful in his endeavour.

Still, over the years, despite ups and downs, Sharif developed a popular mass base that elected him to a record third term in office. The backing of the powerful Punjabi civil establishment, including the bureaucracy and sections of the judiciary, also appeared to have helped his family’s stranglehold over Punjab.

A big question is whether a disgraced Nawaz Sharif will be able to keep the party united. More importantly, will the Punjab establishment continue to back the PML-N under the younger Sharif’s leadership after the damning indictment of the family?

Previously, cracks showed up in adverse situations. The biggest example was the formation of the PML-Q after Musharraf’s coup. Interestingly, many defectors returned to the ranks with a sizeable number on the treasury benches, even in the cabinet.

That will be the most serious challenge to the Sharif family. Party unity will also depend on the ability of the PPP and PTI to make inroads in the PML-N stronghold in Punjab that remains the main political battlefield. The other provinces are not affected by Nawaz Sharif’s downfall.

There doesn’t seem much chance of his return to power, but one is not sure if the family rule is over.

The writer is an author and journalist



The Times of India – The immigrant swansong: New Delhi must tactfully seek to expand freedom of movement for trade and commerce

Chidanand Rajghatta

Op/Ed, 19 June 2017. There’s an old joke about the scene that greeted Neil Armstrong and co when they stepped on the moon: They saw an auto garage shop manned by an Indian Sikh; they drank chai at a tea stall run by a Keralite Malayali; and finally they checked into a motel managed by a Gujarati Patel.

Advancing the script, the first person to travel to Mars in the near future, who may well be of Indian origin, would apocryphally meet a ‘sardar’ managing the Martian branch of Tesla, a ‘Mallu’ (or Goan) running Mars’s first Michelin-star restaurant, and a ‘Gujju’ managing a five-star hotel.

Ethnic stereotyping aside, the legend of the Indian diaspora is immense. There are more than 30 million people of Indian origin across the globe, a population almost the size of Canada’s. There is no country where they are not present, including remote island states such as Nauru in the Pacific and isolated outposts such as Barrow, Alaska.
Their expansive emigration has allowed India to build bridges with countries and communities across the globe, giving New Delhi economic openings, a stake in the political stability and prosperity of resident countries, and geopolitical heft.

Such is the allure of its diaspora for India, in no small measure because of the nearly $70 billion they remit annually, that New Delhi has now developed a template for community outreach whenever the prime minister travels abroad.

Over the years, such community events have become bigger, brighter and more boisterous, as the Indian immigrants have found their voice on the strength of sweat and toil, smarts and savvy, embracing success like few other ethnicities have managed.

Slogans and cries of Bharat Mata ki jai now rend the air in arenas across the globe, from New York’s Madison Square Garden to Sydney’s Super Dome to Dubai’s cricket stadium. (Even in as politically restrictive a country as Saudi Arabia, temporary home to an estimated three million Indian workers, the Indian prime minister recently reached out to the country’s toiling expats.)

Nowhere has the Indian diaspora grown and thrived as much as in America, home to nearly four million People of Indian Origin and Non-Resident Indians, now chronicled extensively as the wealthiest and best-educated community not just in the US, but arguably anywhere in the world.

From architects to astronauts, from yoga instructors to zoo keepers, from law and politics to acting and entertainment, there is not a sphere of activity they haven’t broken into.

With a median family household income of over $1,00,000 and 70% of its adult population holding at least a master’s degree (both way above the US average), this ‘model minority’ is the envy of other nations and, till recently at least, pride of the host country in showcasing its diversity and openness.

Indeed, no country on earth has taken in as many Indians as its citizens as the United States.

There is a growing sense, and a few small indicators, that the historical mandate for openness and acceptance in what is fundamentally an immigrant society is being altered, if not subverted.

Next week, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrives in the US capital, he will meet the Indian community at the Ritz-Carlton in Tysons Corner in neighbouring Virginia, in a modest ballroom of 14,000 square feet that can accommodate some 1,500 people.

This is a far cry from the 15,000 plus people who stampeded into New York City’s Madison Square Garden in 2014 and Silicon Valley’s SAP Center in 2015, two events that set the tempo and provided the template for similar prime ministerial outreach across the world.

Of course, it is possible that availability and security issues may have resulted in a distant venue, but scuttlebutt suggests there is more to this.

Mind you, the capital area’s Indian-origin population is large enough to have merited the Walter E Washington Convention Center (which offers the city’s largest ballroom at 52,000 square feet), or at least the Washington Marriott Wardman Park or Omni Shoreham, venues where Modi’s predecessors Manmohan Singh and AB Vajpayee respectively addressed the community.

But this is not the time, nor the dispensation, with which you share or showcase the strength of the diaspora.

In as much as previous administration officials and US lawmakers were awed by the Madison Square Garden spectacle (and said so publicly), and saw it as a celebration of the country’s diversity, this regime is more likely to see it as a threat.

Already, the signs are not propitious, not just in the US but in many immigrant destinations abroad, including the UK and Australia.

From proposing ideological tests for potential immigrants to shutting down guest worker visas (which have led to US citizenship for many Indians) on the pretext of misuse, nativist boffins have begun to curtail immigration, initiating steps that have also put a hex on Indian students who venture abroad to study, on tourists, and indeed on businesses.

Of course, no country can afford to have open borders and every country needs to regulate inflow of immigrants; New Delhi shouldn’t mind that.

But what India should aim for is to secure and expand the facility of its people to freely travel for education and entertainment, trade and commerce, India’s great strengths, while hoping both for its and America’s sake that the nativist mood against globalisation is a temporary aberration.

Immigration is not the issue; trade and commerce are.

Disclaimer: Views expressed above are the author’s own.


Sikh24.com – Op/Ed: The dangers of a schism in Sikhism

Dr Gurnam Singh, Coventry University, UK

Coventry, 18 May 2017. Like many 1000’s of Sikhs across the world, I am saddened by the recent clashes between different Sikh groups in Italy and Germany. These follow a worrying pattern, where a Sikh preacher is accused of distorting Sikh traditions and is ordered to stop his preaching.

This produces a reaction and before we know it, two camps emerge, each upping the anti and the result is not dialogue but physical threats and violence. There is nothing Sikhi like in this and it is the innocent on both sides that suffer.

The sentiments of ordinary, impressionable individuals are manipulated by much bigger fish that hide in the shadows.

Sikh teachings are very clear, opposition to anything should be proportionate. So, if you disagree with somebody you make your case in a reasoned and polite way.

If you are physically attacked then you have the right to defend yourself. There is no justification for acting in any offensive manner and violence should always be an absolute last resort.

To understand the pattern of events and violent incidents, it is necessary to stand back and take in a broader perspective. The tragedy is unfolding before our very eyes is not just about a few skirmishes in particular Gurdwaras but the crushing of a nation.

It is nothing less that an attempt to destroy a revolutionary movement commenced by Guru Nanak. A movement that sought to fuse social justice with human rights and spiritual consciousness. An ideology that rejected the authority of the priestly class and a force that took on imperialists and tyrants like Aurangzeb and the East India Company.

The dreams of ‘Heleimi raj’ (Just rule) or Begampura, (classless society) that are captured in the Guru Granth Sahib and form the basis for Sikh political ideology are evaporating and the saffron fascists are asserting themselves.

Today the ‘Godmen’ and their foot soldiers have become the defenders of Santana Hindu ideology.

Today whilst some Sikhs seek political office and awards, OBE’s, MBE’s, etc a revolutionary sprit in Punjab is being crushed, today a generation of youth has been sedated on drugs, peasant farmers are choosing suicide than living an undignified life of debt, violence against women and girls is rampant and an egalitarian spirit of the essential oneness of all is slowly being forgotten.

But all is not lost; each and everyone of us needs to reflect, how true are we to the tenants of Sikhi and the revolutionary spirit of our Gurus?

Today we must look beyond the bricks and mortar of ornate Gurdwaras and take our struggles into the political mainstream. Today Modi is the new Aurangzeb and he is busy recruiting his storm troopers from the various sects in Punjab and elsewhere.

Today we need to step outside of the narrow confines of jathebandis and like the missal period, unite to defeat the saffron fascists. Anybody that advocates violence to stop anybody expressing their ideas is a fascist. So we need to decide which side of the line and of history we stand; simple as that!


BBC News – How India’s currency ban is hurting the poor

Soutik Biswas, India correspondent

Op/Ed, 12 November 2016. India’s latest crackdown on black money is turning out to be a nightmare for the poor and the middle class.

Three days after 500 ($7) and 1,000 rupee notes were withdrawn as part of anti-corruption measures, hordes of panicky people are thronging banks and ATMS to deposit expired money and withdraw lower denominations to run their lives.

The queues are getting longer and angrier, and despite the government’s loud promises, banks and ATMs are quickly running out of cash. Limits on cash withdrawals are not helping matters much.

There are stories of desperate people burning sacks of illegal cash and of people unable to pay for cremations and hospital admissions. Wherever I go, my workplace, the community park, the local market- people are fretting over ways to get some of their own hard-earned money to run their lives.


A kind neighbour swiped his card to take 400 rupees out of a groaning cash machine and give it to me when he saw my crestfallen face after the machine rejected my card.

Friends and co-workers are generously lending from their own limited stocks of small cash. After several unsuccessful visits to overcrowded banks and empty cash machines, many ordinary people are living on a wing and a prayer.

Outside the chaos inflicted upon honest, tax-paying and low-income Indians, a burlesque of sorts is playing out as others try to game the system and convert hordes of scrapped illegal cash into gold and goods, which they can then hoard or sell. For a country inured to corruption and illegal money, there’s no dearth of ideas.

A salesman of a shop selling mobile phones in an upscale Delhi suburb told me that a man walked up to his shop on Wednesday with 3 million rupees in cash and offered to buy up his entire stock of iPhones. (He said the owner balked, and shut shop.)

A politician in Bihar walked into a jewellery shop and bought gold ornaments worth 20 million rupees. In Kolkata, a dengue patient reportedly settled his 40,000 rupees hospital bills in coins.

There is also what is being called a thriving ‘discount scam’: people are offering to buy stocks of scrapped notes at a premium, before laundering the expired money.

A builder in the capital has apparently paid his daily wage workers two years of advance salaries with the expired cash, leaving his workers to exchange the money. Relatives with expired money at home are calling friends and relatives and asking if they can deposit some of their money into their accounts.

Then there’s my favourite story of a doctor who had some cash at home which he planned to turn over to the bank, and then discovered to his dismay that his wife had squirreled away six times the amount in her cupboard.

Desperate times

These are desperate times which require desperate measures. Last week, the central bank assured Indians that production of new notes had been “ramped up” to meet requirement, but banks are running out of cash very quickly. What is happening in far-flung villages at this point is anybody’s guess.

If the banks are unable to ease cash supplies soon, the reported goodwill for prime minister Narendra Modi’s so-called game-changing, path-breaking crackdown on illegal, or black, money could easily lead to an angry backlash.

What is being also described as his political masterstroke, key state elections in Punjab and Uttar Pradesh are due early next year and his government’s “war on black money” could be an effective campaign slogan, could also backfire.

At the root of this chaos is the fact that India is an overwhelmingly paper currency country: some 90% of the transactions are done with cash. India’s cash-to-GDP ratio is 12%, some four times that of Brazil, Mexico and South Africa.

More than half of Indians still don’t have a bank account, and some 300 million have no government identification. The two scrapped denominations – 500 and 1,000 rupees – account for more than 85% of the value of cash in circulation.

Shadow economy

Some of the cash is stashed and transacted in what is a booming “black economy” to evade taxes, politicians, property developers and dealers, traders, doctors, lawyers and sundry white-collar professionals are some of the biggest hoarders. A lot of the illegal cash is actually held in assets, real estate, jewellery, and in banks outside the country.

The size of India’s shadow economy is estimated at more than 20% of its GDP, and nobody quite knows how much of it is in cash and assets.

However millions of low income working class people, poor and roadside small businesses and traders hoard cash because they need the liquidity to run their lives and also, because there is no bank where they live.

Supporters of the move say Indians will suffer some short-term disruption to make a dent in the shadow economy, but many are asking why the honest taxpayer and the poor should suffer most.

Demonetisation of currency, India’s third after two previous exercises in 1946 and 1978, has predictably turned into an administrative nightmare, as a commentator feared, in a country with a strained state and creaky services.

It has also opened a Pandora’s box, bringing out the worst, and occasionally, the best, in Indians. It also reminds me of Groucho Marx, who said  :

“While money can’t buy happiness, it certainly lets you choose your own form of misery.”


BBC Asian Network and radicalization of next generations

Dr Gurnam Singh

In reaction to an article written by Gurmukh Singh

Gurmukh Singh is right, we all need to be weary of unscrupulous and sloppy journalism that seeks to play on stereotypes and to sensationalise; this is what improves ratings and sells newspapers and perhaps we get the journalism we deserve as a consequence of your own desires for titillation.

And yes, the sensationalism and disproportionate reporting of the Leamington incident certainly has dome much damage to our image and polarised the debate and community.

That said, it would also be a a grave error to bury our heads in the sand in assuming that Sikhs, because of the wonderful example set by our Gurus and their teachings, are immune from bigoted attitudes.

Though there is a principled and theological defence of the argument that the Anand Karaj ceremony should be restricted to Sikhs, if this rule is applied inconsistently, then suspicions do arise about the true motives of those who oppose inter-faith marriages.

It is for this reason that I have decided to adopt the view that we should restrict Anand Karaj to Amridharis alone and develop a different ceremony for all the others. Clearly, such a change will need to be done in a graduated way with some pilot schemes and rigorous evaluation.

I have no doubt that amongst Sikhs, there is section that privately does hold racist views, that takes pride in their ‘caste/race identity’, that denies the existence of cultural and racial mixity and who totally disagrees with any kind of inter-racial relationships; there are equivalents in all communities.

For these people, the Anand Karaj is an excuse; they are generally hostile towards cultural mixing, even though we all know that all cultures develop through a process of syncretisation or synthesis of beliefs and cultures.

Like all bigots, they need to be isolated, challenged and educated. So, to suggest such persons or problems do not exist in our community is to renege on the mission of the gurus, which was to fight all forms of discrimination and injustice.

As for the Leamington protests, thankfully, I don’t think most of young people involved in the protests necessarily hold such strong beliefs, but, I do feel they are impressionaable and are perhaps being manipulated or deliberately misguided by shadowy figures with their own ulterior motives.

I would also apply the same argument to those at the helm of Leamington Gurdwaras. As the Panjabi saying goes, “they are using somebody elses shoulder to fire their weapon”.

One can only suspect what the motives may be, some may be simple bigotry and hatred, or perhaps personal experiences or may I also speculatively (I have no concrete proof!) suggest that the RSS through proxies may be working both sides. What better way to defeat the Sikhs than to get them to destroy each other and certainly destroy their good name!

In conclusion, to run a story on a minor incident in a minor town in the UK on the front pages of major newspapers or on the main TV news at a time when bombs are raining in on Syrian towns, and major political upheavals across the UK and world take place, is grossly unfair and irresponsible.

However, it is a reality that today, in a media driven age, such indecencies will not go unnoticed and therefore this incident must be a wake-up call for Sikhs.

We must not allow our gurdwaras to become battle grounds, we must improve our PR by investing in media training and in this regard we could learn a lot of lessons from the Jewish community, and we must root our a cancer in our community who believes it is OK to hold racist views.

I am not talking about ordinary people, or the young protesters, but those in power and influence.

Dr Gurnam Singh

Gurnam Singh <hsx035@coventry.ac.uk>

Sikh24.com – Op/Ed: The Banning of the Burkini – implications for Sikhs and religious minorities in France

Dr. Gurnam Singh, Coventry University

Opinion, 1 September 2016. Sikhs have been struggling for many years to be allowed to wear the dastar or turban in France. Though there is no ban on wearing the turban in public and private spaces, there are severe restrictions in relation to public buildings.

And so for example, under the official state policy of secularism, unlike the UK not only are ethnic minorities officially recognised, Sikh children are not allowed to wear turbans or even parkas/bandanas in school premises.

There are similar restrictions in transport, where Sikh taxi drivers are required to display a photo without the turban and other spheres where official documents are a requirement.

It was through campaigning by the French Sikhs and other international sikh campaigning groups like Sikhs for Justice and United Sikhs that 3 years ago the UN human rights committee passed a resolution that the French Government was in contravention of the UN charter on human rights and that they were ordered to change their policies.

Needless to say, nothing the French government failed to comply with. If the situation was already difficult for Sikhs, then I fear the banning of the ‘burkini’ or overgarment associated with Islam that some women chose to wear to cover their bodies whilst going for a swim in beaches and other public places, will make things even more dire.

Sikhs are very comfortable with the general principles of secularism, after all it was a policy that was widely practiced by Maharaja Ranjeet Singh during the period of the Sikh rule in Punjab during the 19th Century.

There is a brand of secularism that seeks to show no favour to one faith over another, but the actions of the current French government to ban any expression of religious expression is totally unacceptable.

Forcing somebody to wear religious garb seems to be to be the same as forcing people to wear ‘secular’ clothing! How can it be morally acceptable for a women to be allowed to wear a bikini that reveals almost the entire body in public and yet if a women choses not to openly display her body in public she is criminalised?

Not only is this ‘law’ stupid it is playing into the hands of the religious fundamentalists whose narrative is that the west has degenerated into a pornographic objectification of women’s bodies and that also it is the enemy of Islam.

The war against terror is not against peoples choice of clothing but those who deny the God given gift to every human being of free will.

It is only through educating our children about equality and social and environmental justice, of the virtues of tolerance, compassion, universalism, non-violence, peace, dialogue, human and animal rights, etc that we can hope to defeat terrorism and religious fanaticism.

I fear what the so-called war on terror and Islamic religious fundamentalism is simply a front for the assertion of fascism. Attacks on Muslims and other minorities and displaced people’s across the world have become normalised.

From the US and the anti-immigrant racist vitriol of Trump, to the actions of the French in Europe, From Putins aggressions on the borders of Russia to Modi’s Hindutva in India we are seeing neo-fascism raising its ugly head.

One of the lessons of history is that when the elites are faced with an economic crisis like the one we are seeing unfolding with the collapse of the fraudulent neoliberal capitalist economics, then to divert attention away from them, the most vulnerable in society become the scapegoats.

And policies such as the ones adopted by the French banning the so called ‘burkini’ are simply a smokescreen to obscure the real crisis, which is related to jobs, health, education and security.

So I say, we should not be banning ‘burkini’s’ or ‘Turbans’ in France, but intolerance and greed. It is so sad to see a nation with wonderful republican and revolutionary traditions, of art and culture, degenerating into allowing such contemptible policies to be established.

The greatest tragedy of the French situation is that it appears to have totally abandoned it libertarian legacy. Today political parties of both left and right appear to be competing with each other to show who is best able to deal with the so called Islamic threat.

Shame on both the right and the left. No doubt the Paris and Nice bombings have shook the nation, but you don’t deal with terrorism by criminalising and alienating a whole community. The historic truth is that during the imperial period France chose to colonise large sections of North Africa and in the process invited Muslims to become part of the French republic.

The fact is that whether we are talking about the relatively recently establish French Sikh community or the more established French Muslims, if they chose to speak out against the ongoing discrimination they face and/or to assert their religious identity, this should not be seen as a threat but a challenge to work harder at social inclusion.

To afford minorities the basic human right to practice their faith freely and to maintain their cultural traditions, as long as this does not deny others the same right, lies at the core of a modern democratic society.

The tragedy is that, a country that claims to be the paragon of high culture is revealing an ugly and unsophisticated underbelly of bigotry which needs to be challenged.

Op/Ed: The Banning of the Burkini – implications for Sikhs and religious minorities in France