May 01, 2016

Behind killings in Bangladesh lies a brutal power struggle (Praveen Swami)

The Indian Express - 29 April 2016

Behind killings in Bangladesh lies a brutal power struggle
Understanding the context, reasons for wave of violence against liberal and secular voices

by Praveen Swami

Who is behind the killing of liberal and secular bloggers, writers in Bangladesh?

Ansar-ul-Islam, or Sword of Islam, the Bangladesh chapter of Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent, has claimed responsibility for much of the killing campaign against Bangladeshi secularists, which has claimed more than a dozen lives since 2013. The latest killings — those of gay rights activist Xulhaz Mannan and his friend Samir Mahbub Tonoy on Monday — were carried out because of the men’s role in the non-governmental organisation Roopaban, described by Ansar-ul-Islam as “a cult comprised of the lesbians and the gays”. In a statement released earlier this month, Ansar-ul-Islam set out eight criteria for further killings, ranging from those who insulted Allah or the Prophet to those “who oppose the Islamic Shariah [law] by their talks or writings or show insolence towards it or insult it”. In May 2015, the Uttar Pradesh-born head of Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent, Sami-ul-Haq — who uses the alias Asim Umar — claimed responsibility for four other murders in Bangladesh: blogger Rajib Haider, scholar Shafiul Islam, writer Avijit Roy, blogger Washiqur Rahman.

Groups affiliated to the Islamic State, too, have sought to take credit for some of the killings. Following the recent killing of university professor Rezaul Karim Siddique, the Islamic State-linked Amaq News Agency said he was killed for “calling to atheism in the city of Rajshahi in Bangladesh”.

The Bangladeshi police, however, insist that the killings are not linked to the Islamic State or Al-Qaeda. They blame them, instead, on members of the Islami Chhatra Shibir — student wing of Bangladesh’s main Islamist political party, the Jamaat-e-Islami. The Islami Chhatra Shibir has a long history of serving as an incubator for jihadist groups, notably the Harkat-ul-Jihad-e-Islami Bangladesh.

Experts are divided on whether Bangladeshi authorities prefer to blame the Islami Chhatra Shibir to discredit the government’s Islamist opponents, or because they genuinely believe the transnational links of the local killing squads are irrelevant. However, there is a growing mass of evidence that Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State have gained large numbers of Bangladeshi recruits, notably in the form of propaganda videos.

Does the targeting of Bangladeshi liberals fall into any pattern of Islamist extremism seen elsewhere or among other terror groups?

The killing campaign in Bangladesh is characteristic of similar programmes carried out by terrorists elsewhere, to subjugate anti-Islamist voices. Islamism, from its earliest years, was resolutely anti-communist — something which led the Central Intelligence Agency, in the early decades of the Cold War, to back the Muslim Brotherhood in West Asia, as well as Central Asian jihadists. In essence, Islamists argue that the Enlightenment materialism represented by progressives is irreconcilable with the order of God they seek to build on earth. In countries like Algeria, thousands of progressives — among them, atheists, feminists, and religious reformers — were killed in largescale Islamist campaigns intended to terrorise civil society. Bangladesh’s Jamaat-e-Islami itself, with backing from the Pakistan Army, killed thousands of intellectuals in the build-up to the 1971 Liberation War.

Given the attacks in recent years on LGBTs, Shia/Ahmadi mosques, Christians and Hindus, is Bangladesh witnessing a Pakistan-like targeting of minority communities?

Bangladesh has seen significant levels of violence against religious minorities in recent years, particularly Hindus: attacks on temples and priests, in particular, have been a common feature of an Islamist campaign intended to create strife, and discredit Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government. Largescale violence has, however, not been seen since the 2014 elections, when workers of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party and the Jamaat-e-Islami — both of which boycotted the polls — attacked Hindus, carrying out rapes, arson and killings in several districts. In 2013, the Jamaat-e-Islami carried out similar violence after its vice-president, Delwar Hossain Sayeedi, was sentenced to death for war crimes committed during the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War.

Where do the politics of Sheikh Hasina and the Awami League fit in with this rising tide of religious extremism?

The killing campaign in Bangladesh is fuelled by the bitter war between Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s Awami League, and her opponents on the Right — former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia’s BNP, and its sometime ally, the Jamaat. Headed into the 2014 elections, the BNP had paralysed the country with weeks of protests, demanding that power be handed over to a neutral caretaker government. The Awami League government, though, held fast, leading the opposition to boycott the elections. In 2013, meanwhile, the now-iconic Shahbag protests broke out, with young people demanding the death penalty for Jamaat-e-Islami leaders held guilty of 1971 war crimes. In essence, these twin crises pushed the organised right wing out of the political arena, creating a political vacuum. Though the Bangladeshi police and security services have proved effective at containing terrorism, crushing the once-feared Harkat-ul-Jihad-e-Islami, the fear now is that the political vacuum could be capitalised on by jihadists. The best way of preventing that would be to revive competitive political life in Bangladesh, but the political system remains logjammed, with no end in sight to the Awami League-BNP stand-off.

India: Juggling with facts about Muslims in Assam (Parbina Rashid)

The Tribune 1 May 2016 May 1, 2016

Juggling with facts about Muslims in Assam
Parbina Rashid

The illegal migration theory has become the ready ammunition for anyone who wants to talk about the growth rate among Muslims. But they overlook the subsidiary theory of state reorganisations! In 1971, Assam had a much larger area.

IF there is an election, can politics of religion be far behind? Especially where Muslims constitute 34.2 per cent of the population and they are in a majority in nine of the state's 34 districts?

During the Assam Assembly Elections 2016, this kind of politics did take the centre-stage. The last few months saw parties playing politics of polarisation like never before. The elections also saw psephologists and scholars commenting alike on the astronomical growth rate in Muslim population. One such comment was by Prof Nonigopal Mahanta. He said the rise in the number of Muslim-majority districts in the state from two in 1971 to nine in 2011 was a glaring proof of the increasing infiltration of foreigners (read Bangladeshis) into Assam.

Incidentally, I once had the privilege of working with Prof Mahanta when I joined the Women Studies Research Centre, Gauhati University, as a project fellow for a brief period.

The illegal migration theory has become the ready ammunition for anyone who wants to talk about the growth rate among Muslims. But they overlook the subsidiary theory of state reorganisations! In 1971, Assam had a much larger area. It lost the landmass and a major chunk of its population in the form of Meghalaya, Manipur and Tripura, the three states carved out of Assam in January 1972. The phenomenon was repeated in February 1987 when Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh were granted statehood. Needless to say, the population Assam lost to these newly formed states was non-Muslim. Assam alone was left with the Muslim concentration.

While no one denies illegal migrations from neighbouring Bangladesh, is it not the time to look at the issue not just through the political prism but also from a socio-cultural point of view?

The settlement of Muslims in Assam can be traced as far back as the eighth century when the Turks from Turkistan reached Assam crossing the Himalayas. They settled in Darrang district.

In 1874, the Muslim population of Assam was 1,104,601 and its percentage to the total population was 28.8 per cent. It increased to 3,441,554 in 1941. This was during the Raj when the migration of Bengali Hindus and Muslims to Assam was totally legal.

However, sentiments have flared up from time to time. During 1952-’71, over two lakh Muslims were expelled from Assam as “East Pakistanis.” After the creation of Bangladesh till 2002, at least one lakh Muslims were deported.”

The indigenous Muslims of the state would, in fact, want to be more at par with their Bangladeshi counterparts when it comes to grave issues like Mothers Mortality Rate which is 300 per 100,000 births as against Bangladesh's 176, a far better scenario than most states in India. Or, for that matter, Infant Mortality Rate which is 43.19 per 1000 births in India and 54 in Assam, which are much higher than Bangladesh's 32.

[. . .].

India: Interpreting that religious component within (Prof Apoorvanand)

The Tribune - 1 May 2016

Interpreting that religious component within
Prof Apoorvanand
I suppose I would always be considered a Hindu by name, notwithstanding any of my reasoned denials to the contrary.

WHY do you not write anything against Muslims" is an oft-heard question that confronts not only this writer but also others of his ilk. Behind this question lie an accusation and a firm belief that we write exclusively against Hindus. How can the query be answered? It happens to be true that in the articles, you would find a preponderance of writings that express concern or anguish at the majoritarianism prevalent in this country. Hence, a vast number of those articles would seem critical of the representatives and spokespersons for these majoritarian groups. In India, the majority can only mean the Hindu. There are quite a few people who do not find it necessary to even the scales of the majoritarian debate by mentioning "Muslim communalism" in the same breath.

I suppose I would always be considered a Hindu by name, notwithstanding any of my reasoned denials to the contrary. My friend, Farah Naqvi, once told me that if I were ever caught in a communal riot, my name alone would be decisive. On such an occasion, no one shall debate whether you are a practising Hindu, whether you are an atheist or an agnostic.

I do not deny Farah's argument. The dire conditions that she describes here preclude any kind of rational debate or reasoned thinking. If that were not the case, why would communal riots even exist! But in calmer times, we can debate such an existentialist question. Could it be said that my circumstance of being a Hindu itself probably decides the bent and direction of my writings? Or perhaps, in spite of it? Or, as a transgression towards it?

A lot of reasons could be possibly attributed to the "Hindu-ness" in me. A mother who would eat only after her daily rituals, who maintained so many fasts, could be one such reason - she, whom we used to call "Ammi", inspired by our elder brother who addressed her as such. Or, it could be childhood trips to my paternal and maternal ancestral homes in Deoghar where visiting the Shiva temple or collecting the leaves of the bel tree for the worship was de rigueur, or even listening to the daily evening 'kirtans' or watching the adornments of Shiva prepared and sent by the inmates of the Deoghar prison. It could anything from the Pran Pratishtha to the blood-spattered sacrifices to the Bhagavati during Navmi, or even participating in the processions leading to the ritual immersion of the deity during Dashami or listening to the mantras intoned by my paternal grandfather during his early morning ablutions on a daily basis.

I do not recollect whether I have ever confronted or debated this subconscious, or even half-conscious Hindu-ness in me.

There may be innumerable people like me who bear this Hindu-ness within themselves. But does the weight of this consciousness ever burden us? Those who do not sense or bear this burden of religion within themselves, can they be then rightfully called True Hindus or True Muslims or True Sikhs? Or are they, therefore, irresponsible followers of those religions that played such an important role in forming their very identities -- they who never formed any consciousness towards the religion nor were obliged to carry a concern or responsibility towards it?

There came a time when it began to seem logical that true Hinduism did not reside in its idol worship and rituals since those were superstitions or blind faith. Later, it was realised that this was merely an effort to interpret and legitimise religion in the language. Religion, like science, must remain disembodied, formless and paramount and must remain unbiased under all circumstances. Could we then possibly find a method based on first principles to help us discern the True or Pure Hindu religion that is now subdued under myriad belief systems? Does it have a fundamental source, a Gangotri so to speak, where an absolute and infinite source of its pure waters may be found?

Along with this came the question whether such an investigation would end up in futility. Should we spend our efforts in discovering this 'pure' religion or should we, instead, imbibe as dharma the recognition and the sublimity of the sum of all those experiences and perceptions that we come across in daily life, as has been experienced by innumerable people, generation after generation, since times immemorial? Indeed, these experiences or perceptions may be infinitesimally small, or limited to even one person amongst all, and maybe bound within a village or a social group.

For many, the worship of their family deity or their Kul Devi may be enough, and for many others, offering water in worship to the peepal tree or the sun may be enough, in order to sense that which we call a religious conscious or a spiritual experience. Of those, there may be very few who would insist that the rest of the people follow their beliefs, that the rest do what they do.

In transforming the infinitesimal to the universal, the sectarian to the majoritarian, it is possible that those who may wish to do so would also be loathe to lose something they consider personal and as a symbol of their identity. In a similar way, if my Ram and my Krishna are the same for everybody, then what happens to my "special relation" with each? It would then be useful to remember the scorn the Gopis showered on Uddhav.

This temptation to clarify the unclear, to shed light on every single topic, to dig up every single secret and mystery, to speak the unutterable or indescribable - should we surrender ourselves before it or should we learn to control it and subdue it?

What could be the meaning or import of the acceptance of religion then? If human being is indeed human being, then he cannot escape the responsibility to ponder his existence and his actions, while also being aware of and being perceived as intelligible to the others like himself. Therefore, it is not enough to escape by saying that I am religious but I am not willing to define what that religiousness signifies and I shall not bother to explain it either. Hence, it becomes incumbent upon each one of us to understand and interpret that religious component within ourselves.

To understand Gandhi's self-confidence in his Hindu-ness, to understand why he was immune to feeling a sense of inferiority or the arrogance of superiority in spite of his varied contacts with Islam, Christianity, Sikhism or Judaism, took us an inordinate amount of time. He did not take upon himself the responsibility of religious reform, either, as Swami Dayanand did. He was not interested in giving it a status of majoritarianism, nor universality. Neither have we discussed Gandhi's belief that all religions lead to the Truth, but they are not infallible. It also means that each succeeding generation could add to the understanding of its own religion as well as be influenced and transformed by its contacts and discourses with other religions.

We often remember Vivekanand as the first modern Hindu, but it is also true that he himself was not unanimously acceptable to the Hindus of his time. What kind of a Hindu was his own guru, Ramakrishna Paramahansa? But, Ramakrishna himself had no qualms about worshipping in a mosque or a church. Neither of them was prey to either a superiority complex or an inferiority complex.

Do I, or others like me for whom religion was acquired effortlessly or unconsciously, feel disturbed by the majoritarianism of this aspirational, militant Hinduism and does it, thus, trigger the desire within us to keep the memory of our subconscious Hindu-ness alive? I cannot say decisively that this is a complete answer, but it could certainly be one of the answers. It is their responsibility towards this memory, the de facto memory that pays homage to and empathises with those from whom we inherited these experiences - that people like me are forced to write what is perhaps perceived as being against Hindus.

The writer is Professor of Hindi Department, University of Delhi. The article is translated from Hindi by Kishore Tejaswi. Published in Hindi by Satyagrah.

India: The vacuity and deceit of “Bharat Mata ki jai” (Hartosh Singh Bal)

The Caravan 1 May 2016

Poisonous Roots
The vacuity and deceit of “Bharat Mata ki jai”


At the core of the RSS’s beliefs is its definition of a Hindu Rashtra, which stems from its definition of a Hindu—both of which exclude particular minorities from its idea of India.

Across the country, it seems, among people with a small-minded definition of the Indian republic, the readiness to chant “Bharat Mata ki jai”—Victory to Mother India—is the new test of patriotism. In early February, the host of a panel show on the television channel India News shouted down two of his invitees—Kanhaiya Kumar, the head of the Jawaharlal Nehru University Students Union, and Dinesh Varshney, a leader of the Communist Party of India-—demanding that they recite the slogan. On 16 March, Waris Yusuf Pathan, an elected MLA from the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen, was suspended from the Maharashtra state assembly for refusing to parrot the words. In the weeks afterwards, the entrepreneur and yoga teacher Baba Ramdev called for a law that would force everyone in India to say “Bharat Mata ki jai,” and also declared that, were it not illegal, he would gladly decapitate those who didn’t.

This is a subterfuge—an attempt to smuggle in a particular notion of patriotism and make it common currency. No one is being asked to chant “Bharat ki jai”—Victory to India. The crux of the issue is the term “Bharat Mata,” or Mother India, which suggests a certain kind of deification of the nation—one that many Indians are uncomfortable with, and many Muslims and Christians believe clashes with the tenets of their faiths. It is precisely this deification which has rallied the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and its associates behind it. But even some others who would not identify themselves with the Sangh Parivar have, wittingly or unwittingly, jumped onboard. For instance, even MLAs of the avowedly secular Congress demanded Pathan’s suspension from the assembly. As a caution to them, and as a reminder for the rest of us watching the sophistry unfold, a lesson on the deep inanity and prejudice at the root of the notion of Bharat Mata seems in order.

That notion connects directly to the RSS’s vision of India as a Hindu Rashtra—a sacred motherland of the Hindus—and has very little to do with the Republic of India as it is envisaged in the constitution. Every meeting of the RSS involves the singing of a prayer, “Namaste Sada Vatsale,” whose text is in Sanskrit except for a closing line in Hindi: “Bharat Mata ki jai.” The text makes it clear that Bharat Mata is synonymous with the term “Hindubhumi,” or the land of the Hindus, and states that members of the RSS bow before the motherland. “Bharat Mata ki jai,” then, is an invocation of the RSS’s fundamental beliefs. At the core of these is the organisation’s definition of a Hindu Rashtra, which stems from its definition of a Hindu—both of which exclude particular minorities from its idea of India.

In 1922, VD Savarkar completed Essentials of Hindutva, the work that largely defined the philosophy of the Hindu right as we know it today. Savarkar appropriated the idea of nationalism, prevalent in Europe for over a century by then, and attempted to define a community in keeping with it. Like European nationalism, Hindutva was steeped in blood and geography. The constituent of the community it defined was the Hindu, who, according to Savarkar, was

he who feels attachment to the land that extends from Sindhu to Sindhu as the land of his forefathers—as his Fatherland; who inherits the blood of the great race whose first and discernible source could be traced from the Himalayan altitudes of the Vedic Saptasindhus and which assimilating all that was incorporated and ennobling all that was assimilated has grown into and come to be known as the Hindu people; and who, as a consequence of the foregoing attributes, has inherited and claims as his own the Hindu Sanskriti, the Hindu civilization, as represented in a common history, common heroes, a common literature, common art, a common law and a common jurisprudence, common fairs and festivals, rites and rituals, ceremonies and sacraments.

As a definition, this one commits the cardinal sin of being circular, invoking the very term—“Hindu”—that it seeks to define. Today, this definition is commonly expressed in shorthand, to say that a Hindu is someone who thinks of Bharat as his fatherland and holy land. (Savarkar’s emphasis on “the blood of the great race” is often omitted from this compression. This is easy to understand, as today the existence of the “great race” he refers to—that is, the Aryan race—is questionable.) But that shorthand conceals that defining a holy land just geographically is not enough, since religious believers of myriad persuasions could view the same land as sacred in their own ways. It is also necessary to specify the belief system under which the land must be considered holy—in this case Hinduism, “the system of religious beliefs found common amongst the Hindu people.” So the shorthand definition, when completed, reads: a Hindu is someone for whom Bharat is rendered holy through the system of religious beliefs found common among the Hindu people. Again, the circularity is evident. Quite clearly, Savarkar faced many of the same problems that have often bedevilled anyone trying to make sense of just who is a Hindu and who is not. His answer amounts to no more than saying that a Hindu is a Hindu.

Later commentators on Hindutva have largely overlooked the failings of Savarkar’s definition of a Hindu. One who did not was MS Golwalkar—the second sarsanghchalak, or supreme leader, of the RSS, who shaped much of what the organisation is today, and the man Narendra Modi has described as his guru.

In his book Bunch of Thoughts, first published in 1966, Golwalkar describes the difficulty of defining a Hindu. “All the sects, the various castes in the Hindu fold, can be defined,” he writes, “but the term ‘Hindu’ cannot be defined because it comprises all.” Upon greater reflection, Golwalkar comes to the conclusion that a Hindu recognises that the “innate Spark of Divinity, the Reality in him—which alone takes man to the state of everlasting supreme bliss, is the one great aim before him.” But the Hindu, Golwalkar continues, recognises that he cannot reach this “supreme stage” within just one lifetime. Therefore, it is “the Hindu alone, in the vast mass of humanity,” who accepts that “the theory of rebirth for the realisation of our oneness with that Ultimate Reality is the one great hope for the human soul.”

For Golwalkar, a Hindu is anyone who believes in rebirth. This has the great disadvantage of leaving out many groups, such as the Charvakas, as well as almost anyone who is a rigorous student of modern science. Savarkar was an atheist, and hence unlikely to qualify as a Hindu under Golwalkar’s definition, which is perhaps why he kept away from any prescriptive definition of Hindutva.

As Essentials of Hindutva makes clear, Savarkar’s definition was motivated less by logic than by the need to arrive at certain conclusions. Like many colonised people, he wanted to prove that he belonged to a group superior to his colonisers. He writes,

The ideal conditions, therefore, under which a nation can attain perfect solidarity and cohesion would, other things being equal, be found in the case of those people who inhabit the land they adore, the land of whose forefathers is also the land of their Gods and Angels, of Seers and Prophets; the scenes of whose history are also the scenes of their mythology. The Hindus are about the only people who are blessed with these ideal conditions that are at the same time incentive to national solidarity, cohesion and greatness.

But it was not enough to feel superior to those who colonised his people. Savarkar also needed to distance himself from those who were responsible for the degradation of his mythic nation of Hindus in the first place.

That is why in the case of some of our Mohammedan or Christian countrymen who had originally been forcibly converted to a non-Hindu religion and who consequently have inherited along with Hindus, a common Fatherland and a greater part of the wealth of a common culture—language, law, customs, folklore and history—are not and cannot be recognised as Hindus. For though Hindusthan to them is Fatherland as to any other Hindu yet it is not to them a Holyland too. Their holyland is far off in Arabia or Palestine. Their mythology and Godmen, ideas and heroes are not the children of this soil. Consequently their names and their outlook smack of a foreign origin. Their love is divided. Nay, if some of them be really believing what they profess to do, then there can be no choice—they must, to a man, set their Holy-land above their Fatherland in their love and allegiance. That is but natural. We are not condemning nor are we lamenting. We are simply telling facts as they stand.

The recurrent need to target Muslims and Christians, directly through violence or indirectly through the rhetoric of exclusion, is located here. Despite the RSS’s prevarications since then, from the very time the Hindu Rashtra was envisaged it was clear that Muslims and Christians were not equal citizens of it.

By the time we move from Savarkar to Golwalkar, there is very little attempt to conceal the prejudices that were already part of the original formulation. “In practically every place,” Golwalkar writes in Bunch of Thoughts, “there are Muslims who are in constant touch with Pakistan over the transmitter enjoying not only the rights of an average citizen but also some extra privileges and extra favour because they are ‘minorities’!”

It is against this background that we have to assess the present emphasis on “Bharat Mata ki jai.”

The slogan is being used today, as it has always been, in the service of an ideology whose essential aim is to exclude all religious minorities.

Hartosh Singh Bal is the political editor at The Caravan, and is the author of Waters Close Over Us: A Journey Along the Narmada. He was formerly the political editor at Open magazine.

April 30, 2016

India: Dalit cop stopped from entering temple in Uttarakhand state

The Times of India

Dalit cop stopped from entering temple
Shivani Azad | TNN | Apr 30, 2016, 03.51 PM IST
DEHRADUN: In Chakrata, a Dalit constable had the gates of the local Mahasu, Vikar and Silgur temples shut on his face when he went there with his newly wedded wife to seek blessings. The local Dalits have complained about a ban on their entry into these temples to the governor who has assured them of a fair inquiry into the matter.

On April 27, constable Geetaram, 25, and his family members started the wedding rituals with a visit to the local temple in Bisoi whose gates were allegedly shut upon him. "Since it was an auspicious moment, we preferred to remain quiet, rather than picking up a fight with the upper caste men, on this subject, but we got really devastated when the gates of even Mahasu, Vikar and Silgur temples in Rangoi village were also locked for us. We were very disheartened," said Jagdishram, Geetaram's elder brother and a schoolteacher.

"In other states, women are struggling to enter temples, but in Uttarakhand, even men struggle to enter temples. Such incidents lower people's self-esteem. I am a cop who fights for the people. How can my own people discriminate us on the basis of my caste?" Geetaram told TOI.

Agitated by such discriminatory incidents in Garhwal's Jaunsar Bawar region, Dalit activist Saraswati Kunwar has decided to start a movement on the issue. "Caste-based discrimination prevalent in this era is not only a subject of shame, but it also puts a bad light on India's global image. It is a humiliation to the humanity. We will start a revolution in Uttarakhand to protest such discrimination against Dalits. It will begin from the Jaunsar Bawar region," Kuamr said.

In Januray this year, Dalits and women were allowed in the famous Parsuram temple in the region after 400 years. The management of the temple decided to discontinue the centuries-old "tradition" by announcing that "everyone will in future be welcome". However, Dalit leaders and activists, who said they had been fighting a bitter battle to end this discrimination, added a greater war was yet to be won as 339 other temples in the region still have the ban.
From around the web

Bangladesh: 2 Hindu teachers Jailed for hurting religious sentiments

Bangladesh jails 2 Hindu teachers for insulting Islam
By Associated Press April 27

DHAKA, Bangladesh — A court has jailed two teachers in southern Bangladesh for making derogatory comments about Islam and the Prophet Muhammad, invoking a rare law from the British colonial era that makes insulting any religion a crime.

The case began when students at Hijla High School in Bagerhat district complained that the assistant teacher of a science class Sunday dismissed the Quran as the word of Allah and said there was no heaven, Magistrate Anwar Parvez told the Associated Press late Tuesday.

The students, aged 17 to 18, along with others from a nearby, Islamic school became incensed when the high school’s head teacher backed up his colleague. A mob including students, parents and villagers attacked the teachers with sticks, forcing them to lock themselves in a room until police intervened, Parvez said.

“The situation went out of control,” Parvez said, adding the mob “wanted to take law in their hands.”

The magistrate of the quick-ruling court said the assistant teacher pleaded guilty to publicly insulting religion, and the two were sentenced to six months behind bars.

The law against insulting religion, imposed when Britain ruled the Indian Subcontinent, is rarely used and aimed at preventing communal clashes and inciting violence.

The Muslim-majority country — politically fractured between secularists and those wanting Islamic rule — has been roiled by an ongoing wave of deadly attacks on atheist writers, religious minorities and activists over the last two years.

On Monday night, a gang of young men stabbed two men to death in Dhaka, including the editor of a gay rights magazine who also worked for the U.S. Agency for International Development.

It was the fifth such killing this year, after nine were cut down in 2015. International governments including the United States and aid groups have implored the Bangladeshi government to do more to safeguard free speech and protect members of civil society.

Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

source: https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/bangladesh-jails-2-hindu-teachers-for-insulting-islam/2016/04/27/ecb6a2e0-0c3a-11e6-bc53-db634ca94a2a_story.html

India: Delhi University drops 'India’s Struggle for Independence', the book under criticism by the Hindu Right

The Hindu

Delhi University drops controversial book
Updated: April 30, 2016 07:45 IST | Staff Reporter

Delhi University has decided to stop the sale and distribution of a Hindi translation of the book titled “India’s Struggle for Independence”, which has been part of DU’s History curriculum for over two decades.

The book has been in the limelight for its reference to Bhagat Singh as a “revolutionary terrorist”.

Chapter 20 of the book has called Bhagat Singh, Chandra Shekhar Azad, Surya Sen and others “revolutionary terrorists”. The book also calls the Chittagong movement a “terrorist act”, and the killing of British police officer John Sanders an “act of terrorism.

Bhagat Singh’s family had raised objections to the reference and written to Union Minister Smriti Irani, who, on April 27, asked Delhi University vice-chancellor Yogesh Tyagi to “reconsider” the use of the book.

The book has been criticised for calling Bhagat Singh a “revolutionary terrorist”