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Abusing Covid-19 Public Curfew

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By K.N. Pandita

How sad that some intransigent people in some parts of the country fail to listen to the warnings issued by the government at various levels. No less a person than the Prime Minister repeatedly said that he would request the public with folded hands to stay back home and not come out on streets to make crowds. The reason for this kind of unique appeal and with such a profound humility by the highest authority in the country deserves extraordinary regard and response.

The nation has responded very positively to the call of the Prime Minister. Complete public curfew has been ensured by the responsible Indian nation. It is worth remembering that the entire nation of 130 million people has fully responded to the call given by the Prime Minister. The call is not for his party and its affiliates; the call is not to be sympathetic towards his government. No, the call is for the people of this country from a new-born baby to a centurion senior citizen. The call is to ensure their health and wellness and to keep the epidemic away.

Unfortunately, a handful of miscreants or irresponsible people have failed to grasp the seriousness of the issue and have broken the code of conduct officially declared by the government. There have been reports of some miscreants entering into an argument with the doctors and the Para-medical staff engaged in taking care of the patients of the pandemic brought to the hospitals for either treatment or tests. One cannot help hanging one’s head in shame on such disappointing stories. Instead of lending a helping hand and appreciating what services the medical staff is rendering at the risk of its life and wellness, some miscreants are reported to have roughed up the medical and Para-medical staff. It is completely shameful and unacceptable behaviour never to be condoned by a cultured society.

People need to understand the gravity of the situation. Italy, Spain, Iran and the UK are among the advanced societies with immensely advanced and efficient health services. Yet despite all that, the pandemic has wrought havoc in those societies. God forbid if the intensity of the pandemic spreads and deepens one will shudder at the scenario which will be there to see and lament at for the vast and teeming millions of Indians. Nothing will survive. Already, the pandemic has begun to eat into the vitals of the world economy and if the grave situation is not controlled as early as possible the consequence are horrendous. The devastation of life can be so grave as to keep the survivors away from disposing of the dead bodies because of the fear of contagion.

In the background of this scenario, it is of great importance that we appreciate the pre-emptive strike by the Modi government at the roots of expansion of the virus. In good advance, the Prime Minister worked on several fronts silently but effectively to keep the predator away from causing vast damage to human life. We don’t think that any European country took so quick and so effective and timely steps to stonewall the impending disaster. Galvanizing the vast medical and paramedical manpower into action, tightening the administrative machinery in all the states and gearing it up for meeting the grave challenge, ensuring civil supplies to 130 million mouths, updating the entire administrative machinery on day o day and hour to hour basis, are no small tasks for a country of our size. We should understand with what dedication and fortitude he is trying to protect the entire country from this scourge that has been thrust on the world through human error or intransigence.

In such a situation, it is absurd that a handful of people want to run their own will and disregard the dangers involved for the rest of the people in their neighbourhood. By defying the public curfew the defaulters are not inviting serious trouble for themselves only but for the broader sections of society as well. They need to understand what a filthy role they are playing by defying the official guidelines.

It has to be remembered that doctors, nurses, Para-medical manpower, karamcharis etc. are also human beings and vulnerable to the impact of the epidemic. Yet despite these dangerously looming threats, they have volunteered to serve the people irrespective of any consideration. Are not they entitled to the safety and security of health? Why do these defaulters endanger their lives and for what purpose? If they do not desist from breaking the law and endangering society, there are only two options to handle them. Either they should be rounded up and sent behind the bars or allowed to get lost to their families and society.

Some people put under quarantine are reported to have given a slip to the police and run away. When arrested, they complained that there were not adequate facilities in the quarantine. This depicts nothing but insensitivity and foolhardiness. When the entire country is engulfed in a life and death struggle, do they expect the government to give them five-star hospitality in the quarantine? If they are made of delicate stuff they can ask for their private quarantine arrangement under the supervision of the law enforcing agencies. This is a strange logic. If the government did not provide the isolation arrangement they would cry hoarse and now that the government has provided it they expect VIP treatment.

Compare the disaster which the pandemic has brought to the advanced countries with the enormous efforts made by the Modi government to keep the human loss as low as possible; we should have all the praise for the administrative machinery in this country. People must learn to live with fortitude and bear small inconveniences against the looming fear of death and destruction. The entire world is watching India, with the second-largest population in the world as to how it is going to meet the challenge. This will prove the greatness of this country. A few defaulters and miscreants will not be allowed to imperil the lives of millions of people. People coming from foreign countries with the mission of religious propagation are reported to be kept hidden in worshipping places by their local conduits so that they are not exposed to police investigation. This is a criminal and anti-national act against the interests of the people. No country in the world will tolerate such aberrations. The law of the land should take its normal course.

Massacre of Sikhs in Kabul

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By K.N. Pandita

“Sikhs have suffered widespread discrimination in the conservative Muslim country (Afghanistan) and have also been targeted by Islamic extremists. Under Taliban rule in the late 1990s, they were asked to identify themselves by wearing yellow armbands, but the rule was not enforced. In recent years, large numbers of Sikhs and Hindus have sought asylum in India, which has a Hindu majority and a large Sikh population.

In July 2018, a convoy of Sikhs and Hindus was attacked by an Islamic State suicide bomber as they were on their way to meet Afghan President Ashraf Ghani in the eastern city of Jalalabad, the capital of Nangarhar province. Nineteen people were killed in that attack,” wrote the Los Angeles Times in its issue of 26 March.

On Wednesday, 24 March, heavily armed terrorists attacked a group of nearly 200 Sikh and Hindu worshippers in the gurudwara at Shor Bazaar in the civil lines of Kabul city. The ISIS claimed the attack. At the same time, the Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid not only denied any involvement of his organization in the carnage but also disparaged it. However, the July 2018 attack on the Sikh and Hindu delegation in Jalalabad in which 19 of them were killed and 21 injured was victoriously claimed by the Taliban.

The Wednesday attack raises some important questions on the subject. It is useful to know something about the Sikh-Hindu minority of Indian origin in Afghanistan before we attempt an analysis of the tragic event in Kabul.

India-Afghanistan relations are of great antiquity going back to the times of the migration of Aryans from Central Asia to the plains of India in the hoary past. Kushan Empire with its capitol at Pushkalavati, modern Peshawar, was the disseminator of many strands of common culture among the peoples of the vast geographical region. It was only during the British colonial rule over India that strict restrictions were imposed on Indians in perpetuating their age-old relations with the peoples to the immediate west of India namely the Afghans, Iranians and those in Central Asia.

During the reign of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, a large number of Sikhs and Hindus of Indian origin, conducting trade in Afghanistan, settled down in that country and with time became its nationals. These brave and adventurous people not only conducted their affairs honestly but also befriended the Afghan people and their culture, language and lifestyle. They felt proud to be called Afghans, and conversely, they received very friendly rather fraternal treatment from the Afghans. As an integral part of Afghan society they took part in the political process of the country as well and even today two names have come to us that can be mentioned. One is Anarkali Kaur Hunaryar, a Sikh lady who is a member of Afghan Senate and Narendra Singh Khalsa, an MP in Afghan Parliament.

Appreciably, the Afghan Hindu-Sikh minority never became a source of embarrassment either for the Afghan or the Indian government. Conversely, they usually contributed to the strengthening of Indo-Afghan ties over the centuries especially in recent cataclysmic times. The attachment of the Sikh and Hindu religious minority to Afghanistan, which is now the motherland of those who were born and brought up in that country made them build temples and gurudwara and never met with any obstruction in performing their religious rites and ceremonies. This was a true and happy picture of secularism, a philosophy about which neither Afghans nor Indians made any fetish and took it as a way of life.

For the first time when in their history in Afghanistan the religious minority of the Sikhs and Hindus apprehended danger was in 1996, the year when Pakistan-sponsored Taliban captured power in Kabul and declared Afghanistan an Islamic Caliphate. The Taliban showed no sympathy to them because of deep ideological brainwashing through which the Taliban had gone in Pakistani seminaries. Even then, the Sikhs and Hindus tried not to panic and brace a difficult time with great fortitude.

When the Taliban rule became atrocious and unbearably oppressive and the Talibs began massacring their brethren, the Sikh and Hindu religious minority members became fear struck. Some of them left Afghanistan and came to India seeking their relatives and near ones for succour.

When the US decided to take on the Afghan Taliban after finding that Taliban had links with Osama and his Al-Qaeda, the Sikh and Hindu minority members in exile in India began moving gradually back to their country. A national government replaced the Taliban in Kabul in 2001 and the members of the religious minority felt safe under the new dispensation. They resumed their normal chores of life though the threat of the Taliban did not leave Afghan society as such, and recurrent incidents of Taliban attacks on nationalist forces and civilians continued throughout the US and NATO operations against the Taliban.

In July 2018 there happened the tragedy of Taliban attack on a Sikh-Hindu delegation, while it was headed towards Jalalabad. The question that was often discussed in political circles in New Delhi and Chandigarh was why the Sikhs and Hindus were staying back and not moving in the face of the rising threat of instability that was likely to engulf Afghanistan once the American troops were withdrawn.

The process of engaging the Taliban for talks with the US through the instrumentality of Pakistan was well-known to them. They and the entire world both were aware that the Americans wanted to wriggle out of the stranglehold of Taliban somehow. It should have prompted the Afghan religious minority to reconsider their position in an Afghanistan where now the Americans were not averse to the Taliban becoming a component of the new government. The religious minority failed to make a dispassionate assessment of the upcoming situation.

Finally, the axe fell when the US-Taliban deal was signed in Doha recently and not only the Sikh-Hindu minority but also the large segments of nationalist Afghans were also under the threat of decimation. The threat was loud and clear when only a day after signing the US-Taliban deal, the latter launched a massive attack in an eastern province of Afghanistan and killed many people. They made it clear that unless their 5000 captives with the American forces were released, their attacks would continue. The hand of Pakistan agencies in th is dastardly massacre cannot be ruled out although officially Pakistan has condemned the heinous crime.

The tussle for power between Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah for the position of the presidency has become complicated and the US Minister of State Pompeo, after failing to bring about reconciliation between the two claimants of the post of President, out of frustration announced cutting off of one billion dollars annual aid to Afghanistan. The deal does not seem to stabilize.

The Sikh and Hindu community in Afghanistan numbering more than ten thousand is in a state of threat and uncertainty. In all probability, they may have to repatriate to their country of origin viz. India. At this point we would like to put a question to those in India who are opposing the CAA tooth and nail what will they have to say if all these tens of thousands of Sikh and Hindu minority members approach the Government of India for asylum under human considerations and they elect to change their nationality. The CAA was brought about keeping in mind these realities. And strangely, the Punjab government has decided not to implement the CAA. Will the Kabul gurudwara episode make them re-think their opposition and talk realpolitik.

Harsh words spoil diplomacy

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By K.N. Pandita

Iran has joined three other Islamic countries to express “anguish” on what they call “killing of Muslims” in recent communal riots in north-eastern Delhi. Turkey and Malaysia lost no time to react angrily on the incident. The OIC has also given vent to similar statement.

None of them has ventured to know the facts of the incident available only from the Ministry of External Affairs of the Government of India. Apparently, they have depended either on the sections of media usually critical of India or on what partisan sources conveyed to them.

OIC’’s anti-India resolution is nothing new; it is a normal practice with them to begin with an anti-India resolution on Kashmir. The general impression created is that the signatories are not really serious in what they want to convey. Pakistan with embedded animosity against India, pushes the Islamic countries at the OIC meets to rake up Kashmir issue.

The use of rather strong words by the Turkish President and Javed Zarif, the foreign minister of Iran at the previous OIC meet is somewhat surprising. Even the twitter of the supreme Iranian religious leader Ayatollah Khamenei is certainly uncalled for. Release of about 85,000 persons from the jails of Iran owing to the covid=19 threat speaks volumes of how freedom and rights are curbed in Iran. Arn’t they giving vent to some cumulative anger about something that has little to do with the Delhi riot incident and more with political underpinning?.

Some high mark facts of the history of past one century of the sub-continent will help these Islamic countries understand the fundamentals of the Indian State. A majority of exclusivist Muslims of united India, led by their UP feudal class, had vehemently opposed Gandhi’s freedom movement against the colonial rule and demanded a separate state arguing that Muslims will not and cannot live under the majority domination of the Hindus. Gandhi was asking freedom for all Indians and not of Hindus alone. Many enlightened Muslims of India like Maulana Abul Kalam Azad lent full support to Gandhi’s struggle but communal Muslim leadership denounced him.

Unable to convince the Muslims of India that a free, secular and democratic India would give all Indian communities their rights and status, Gandhi agreed to the partition of the country and creation of a new State (Pakistan) on the basis of religion. The demand of the Muslim League was conceded and the Muslim State of Pakistan with two wings (West and East Pakistan/Bangladesh) distanced by thousands of miles came into existence.

The partition took place with all the bitterness and animosity imaginable. Millions of people of both communities were butchered and millions were forced out of their homes and hearths for no fault of theirs. The wounds and scars were deep.

Hardly twenty-four years after the creation of a new state for the Muslims of India viz. Pakistan, that state broke into two and one part declared its independence and adopted the name of Bangladesh. Thus the state created on the basis of Islamic religion did not survive beyond two decades and half.

Pakistan (actually West Pakistan) was declared an Islamic Republic like contemporary Iran while India declared herself a secular democratic republic. In the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, the population of the Hindus, now its religious minority dwindled from 27 per cent in 1947 to 1.3 per cent in 2019. On the other hand, the population of Muslims in India in 1947 (at the time of partition of India) rose from fifty million to nearly two hundred million in 2019 to become the second largest Muslim concentration in the world. Is this the “massacre of Muslims”– to borrow Ayatollah Khamenei’s twitter?

Iran, Turkey and Malaysia should try to ask how come this demographic scenario shaped differently in two neighbouring countries. The simple answer is that India is committed to secular-democratic ideology not as a matter of political expediency but as the manifestation of her age-old cultural value.

The question is what would have been the demographic complexion of India today if she had also decided to be a Hindu State as against the Islamic State of Pakistan or Iran, and treated her minorities the same way as in these Islamic Republics? It has to be noted that the present regime in India, which these critics of ours call “Hindu Right Wing” government never even thought of converting India into a formal Hindu State and then resort to bigotry and revanchist ideology.

Unfortunately, the critics have been carried away by the intransigent propaganda unleashed by those who believe that one particular faith is destined to rule the world and other faiths have no right to exist. What these detractors should have tried to understand is what freedoms and rights and privileges are conceded by the Indian constitution, civil society and the Indian administration to its minorities of which Muslims form the largest one. A dispassionate study of the rights and freedoms allowed to the Muslims of India and the steps taken by successive governments in New Delhi to alleviate their backwardness and deprivation will undoubtedly make them ask a question to their own selves whether their countries have allowed same level and quantum of rights, privileges and freedoms to their own Muslim citizens. We will bring in only one example. The triple talaq (divorcing a legal Muslim wife by uttering thrice that I divorce you) has been considered an aberration and hence discarded by almost all Muslim countries in the world including Pakistan. But India did not touch it until a time came when a very large number of leading Muslim women demanded that the government bring in legislation of discarding the practice. This government introduced a bill in the parliament which was hotly debated in both houses and finally adopted on the basis of a majority vote. Most Indian Muslim women welcomed it as a very progressive step. Yet surprisingly, the opposition in the Parliament and some sections of fanatical clerics raised hue and cry and called it interference in the private lives of Muslims. The question is did the India government want to ameliorate the lot of her Muslim women or relegate them to distress?

Voices have been heard in the circles of India’s detractors that the acting “Hindu Right” government in Delhi has deprived the Muslims of the Babri Masjid and handed it over to the Hindus. This canard surfaces owing to total ignorance of the history of the case. The Babri mosque dispute is about a century old and a legacy of the colonial rule. The two communities of Hindus and Muslims failed to resolve the deadlock through dialogue and finally agreed to abide by the decision of India’s Supreme Court. After decades of litigation and after examining a plethora of documents and evidences the Supreme Court of India decided that the site should go to the Hindus and about eight acres of land are given to the Muslims for construction of a new mosque away from the site. The “Right Wing” government has had nothing to do with this verdict.

While the secular democratic India protects the rights of all communities including the Muslims, it is, in a way, more liberal and sympathetic to the Muslims in particular. The critics will be surprised to know that the Indian government which they call “Rightist Hindu” government imposes taxes on Hindu temples and shrines and pays from this revenue the free financial assistance to the Muslims of India proceeding on Hajj pilgrimage. Indian government provides scholarships to the Muslim students, from the lowest to the highest levels, whose number is larger than the number of the students in many Islamic countries put together. Indian government gives monthly stipends to tens of thousands of Muslim Imams conducting prayers in mosques and delivering Friday sermons (in most case anti-national) to the audience. Indian authorities never closed a mosque, never denied the Muslims to observe religious rites and never dictated a dress code as is the case in some developed Asiatic countries.

However, Indian government and the Indian nation expect its Muslim population to be rational, thankful and righteous. In the armed insurgency that surfaced in the Indian State of Jammu and Kashmir in 1990, about 1341 members of the Hindu religious minority of Kashmir called Pandits, — the most innocent, harmless and defenceless community — were killed in cold blood in their homes, workplaces, markets and in buses. The entire Hindu minority comprising nearly four hundred thousand souls was forced to leave their homes and hearths and find safety of life hundreds of mile away from their homes. Not a single Muslim organization of India said a word in sympathy for these unfortunate Kashmiri Pandits. For last thirty years these hapless people are refugees in their own country thanks to Islamic grandeur. The OIC never said a word when India brought to its notice how terrorists trained, armed and sponsored by a neighbouring country infiltrated into Indian part of Kashmir and unleashed the mayhem against its religious minority. We wish the Iranian leadership had known from its own sources how these Pandits had, over the centuries, served Iranian culture, language and literature without asking for any favour, and had at least said a word of humanism and sympathy to assuage the wounds inflicted on them by the external as well as internal armed jihadists.

We understand that these countries are critical essentially for political reasons and far less for any love of faith. Iran is sore why India has reduced oil imports after the renewed economic sanctions imposed by the US on Iran. India has always opposed imposition of sanctions. However, India is not a small country that can please its friends by risking relations with wider implications. Turkey wants to grab the leadership of the Islamic world and is in conflict with the Saudi monarchy but in tandem with Iran. It is an internal matter of the Muslim ummah. India has good relations with the littoral states and many more Islamic countries essentially because hundreds of thousands of Indian labour force has found work in these Gulf countries and few of these have flourishing trade relations with them.

In final analysis, we would like that Muslim countries do not bring in religion while international community runs its relationship on the basis of suave diplomacy, just and equitable trade and commerce and hunch for good neighborly relationship. Hatred and animus are not the way international diplomacy is run.

Sauvé diplomacy, not harsh words

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By K.N. Pandita

Iran has joined three other Islamic countries to express anguish on what they call “killing of Muslims” in recent communal riots in north-eastern Delhi. Turkey and Malaysia lost no time to react adversely on the incident. The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) has also given vent to a similar outburst. Continue Reading…

Iran’s foreign policy: A bundle of complexities

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By K.N. Pandita

Iran is different from other Middle East countries. Iranians are descended from the Aryan and not Semitic stock. The Shia-Sunni sectarian divide is an important factor in assessing Iran-Arab relations. Though Shia Islam is Iran’s state religion and she has made a valuable contribution to the enrichment of Islamic civilization, yet ethnic divide obstructed harmonizing of relations. Iran never forgave the Sunni Arabs for denying Ali (Prophet Muhammad’s son-in-law) and his progeny the right of succession to the Islamic caliphate after the demise of the Prophet of Islam. Continue Reading…

US-Taliban sign a peace deal

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By K.N. Pandita

Stakeholders in the 19-year old US-Taliban war in Afghanistan exude happiness over the signing of the peace deal on Saturday in Doha, the capital of Qatar. It is more than a year that the sides were pursuing the deal but hurdles cropped up unexpectedly only to defer the clenching of the peace. The last time peace talks were suspended by President Trump when, in retaliation to the killing of an American soldier by the Taliban in Afghanistan, he had broken negotiations unilaterally. However, it took a great deal of effort on the part of peaceniks on both sides to put things back on the rails and resume talks. Continue Reading…