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November 28, 2014

The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh never had it so good in the BJP

It’s RSS all the way in BJP

JATIN GANDHI


http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/rss-growing-within-the-bjp-brass/article6640000.ece?homepage=true

The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh never had it so good in the BJP. After the appointment of Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar, who is a direct import from the RSS, party president Amit Shah’s residual team of general secretaries (after the Narendra Modi-led Union Cabinet was expanded on November 9) has mostly Sangh deputationists and former pracharaks running party affairs.

As the political arm of the Sangh, the BJP has always had prominent leaders with RSS background including both NDA Prime Ministers. But the Sangh’s influence on managing day-to-day affairs of the party has never been so pronounced, insiders admit.

The party currently has five general secretaries, of whom Ram Madhav, Ram Lal and P. Murlidhar Rao were sent directly from the RSS into the BJP. The remaining two, Bhupendra Yadav and Saroj Pandey, have close links with the RSS. Mr. Yadav, in fact, was sent from the RSS to the Akhil Bharatiya Adivakta Parishad, the Sangh’s lawyers collective, before he was brought into the BJP and given Rajya Sabha ticket in April 2012.

Mr. Madhav joined the party in July. He was the RSS spokesperson before that. Mr. Rao was sent to the BJP in 2009 as an attaché to the then party president Rajnath Singh. Mr. Ram Lal came in 2006 as general secretary (organisation), a post created especially for RSS pracharaks who act as a bridge between the Sangh and the BJP. There are several such bridges now. Mr. Shah is the first president to appoint four joint general secretaries (organisation). All four — V. Satish, Saudan Singh, Shiv Prakash and B.L. Santosh — are swayamsevaks. Mr. Prakash, who joined the party in August, was RSS kshetra pracharak in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand before that. Sources said he is likely to be elevated to the post of general secretary when Mr. Shah expands his team while Mr. Madhav could find a slot in the party’s apex decision-making body, the Parliamentary Board. While Mr. Yadav is in charge of the Jharkhand elections and Bihar, Mr. Rao has been asked to look after Tamil Nadu along with his primary responsibility of Karnataka.

Despite several office-bearers becoming ministers, Mr. Shah is not in a hurry to replace them. “We are focussing on the membership drive and the State elections. New appointments are not likely at least till December 23,” a party leader said.

From the time Mr. Shah was brought in from Gujarat State politics and appointed general secretary of Uttar Pradesh and later elevated to the position of party president, he has constantly relied on Sangh men for managing elections and party affairs. During the Lok Sabha elections, he brought in Sunil Bansal from the RSS to manage the war room in Lucknow.

Mr. Bansal is now general secretary in the State which sent one-fourth of BJP’s MPs to the Lok Sabha. After the BJP’s win in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, believed to have been catalysed by the vast network of RSS cadres, the Sangh’s influence within the party has only increased.

November 27, 2014

India: on 14 August 2014 Palitana was declared by the Gujarat government as "meat-free zone"


In India, The World's First Vegetarian City
After monks went on a hunger strike to push for a citywide ban on animal slaughter, the local government declared Palitana a meat-free zone. But the city's Muslims are not happy.
Shuriah Niazi (2014-10-05)

PALITANA — Jainism is one of the oldest religions in the world and preaches a path of non-violence towards all living beings. In India, about 5 million people practice it.

"Everyone in this world — whether animal or human being or a very small creature — has all been given the right to live by God," says Virat Sagar Maharaj, a Jain monk. "So who are we to take away that right from them? This has been written in the holy books of every religion, particularly in Jainism."

The mountainous town of Palitana in the state of Gujarat is home to one of Jain's holiest sites, and many residents don't want any kind of killing happening here. Recently, 200 Jain monks began a hunger strike, threatening to fast until death until the town was declared an entirely vegetarian zone.

The Jain monks on hunger strike — Photo: Shuriah Niazi

"Meat has always been easily available in this city, but it's against the teaching of our religion," says Sadhar Sagar, a Jain believer. "We always wanted a complete ban on non-vegetarian food in this holy site."

They have gotten their wish. On Aug. 14, the Gujarat government declared Palitana a "meat-free zone." They instituted a complete ban on the sale of meat and eggs and have also outlawed the slaughter of animals within the town's limits.

It's a victory for vegetarians, but bad for business for others. Fishermen such as Nishit Mehru have had to stop working entirely. "We have been stopped from selling anything in Palitana," he says. "They shouldn't have taken this one-sided decision. How will we survive if we are not allowed to sell fish? The government should not make decisions under pressure."

On behalf of other fishermen, Valjibhai Mithapura took the issue to the state's high court, which has called on the state government to explain the ban put in place locally. It will then make a decision about whether this regulation is legal. Gujarat is ruled by the Hindu nationalist BJP party, whose leader is Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The population of Palitana is 65,000 and about 25% of them are Muslim. Local Muslim religious scholar Syed Jehangir Miyan disagrees with the ban. "There are so many people living in this city, and the majority of them are non-vegetarian," he says. "Stopping them from eating a non-vegetarian diet is a violation of their rights. We have been living in this city for decades. It is wrong to suddenly put a ban on the whole city now."

source: http://www.worldcrunch.com/culture-society/in-india-the-world-039-s-first-vegetarian-city/india-palitana-food-meat-fish-gujarat/c3s17132/

Onwards to establishing an International Front for Secularism


http://freethoughtblogs.com/maryamnamazie/2014/11/21/onwards-to-establishing-an-international-front-for-secularism/


“Secular conference created a sense of imminent and momentous change – and women will be the driving force” - Terry Sanderson, President of the National Secular Society

The two-day International Conference on the Religious Right, Secularism and Civil Rights held in London during 11-12 October 2014 was a rousing success, promoting a much-needed global secular alternative in the ISIS era and conquering fear with hope.
Conference videos and photos are now available online: www.secularconference.com/.

250 secularists, including believers, free-thinkers, agnostics and atheists from the Middle East, North Africa, South Asia and the Diaspora assembled at the unprecedented and historic gathering to discuss resistance against the repression and violence of various manifestations of the religious-Right.

They highlighted the voices of the many persecuted and exiled and the strength of the demand for secularism despite grave risks.

The delegates made an unequivocal stand with the brave women and men of Kobane, adopted a Manifesto for Secularism and set the stage for the development of a broad international front for secularism to challenge the religious-Right.

The conference, which was convened by Algerian sociologist Marieme Helie Lucas and Iranian-born Campaigner Maryam Namazie, called on people everywhere to sign the Manifesto for Secularism and join in this historical task.

The conference was not an end but a beginning of great things to come.

Join in one of the most important fights of our century. Please donate today.

Secularism. Today. Now.

NOTES:

1. See extensive press coverage of the conference: http://www.secularconference.com/press.

2. Speakers at the conference were philosopher AC Grayling; Aliyah Saleem who spent 6 years in an Islamic school in Britain; Tunisian University of Manouba Professor Amel Grami; social and political analyst and commentator Bahram Soroush; French writer Caroline Fourest; secular student activist Chris Moos; Senior Researcher at the International Center for Ethnic Studies in Sri Lanka Chulani Kodikara; Indian labour historian Dilip Simeon; Yemeni writer and activist Elham Manea; Co-Founder of Muslim Women Research and Action Front from Sri Lanka Faizun Zackariya; founder of the Iranian Secular Society Fariborz Pooya; Senegalese International Director of Women Living Under Muslim Laws Fatou Sow; Director of Centre for Secular Space Gita Sahgal; Leader of the Worker-Communist Party of Iran Hamid Taqvaee; One Secular School System in Ontario Campaigner Homa Arjomand; Director of the Afghanistan Human Rights Research and Advocacy Consortium Horia Mosadiq; FEMEN leader Inna Shevchenko; co-founder of Justice for Women Julie Bindel; author Karima Bennoune; writer Kenan Malik; Pakistani-born human rights activist Kiran Opal; Iranian writer-journalist and documentary filmmaker Lila Ghobady; Ex-Muslim Maha Kamal; Libyan president of Hakki Magdulien Abaida; Tunisian filmmaker Nadia El Fani; Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain Spokesperson Nahla Mahmoud; Vice President of the Atheist Coalition in Poland Nina Sankari; Founder member of Women Against Fundamentalism Nira Davis-Yuval; Pakistani nuclear physicist and social activist Pervez Hoodbhoy; Human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell; Southall Black Sisters Director Pragna Patel; founder of the Ex-Muslims of Scotland Ramin Forghani; author Rumy Hassan; Turkish MP Safak Pavey; journalist Salil Tripathi; Iranian/German writer Siba Shakib; Founder of Association pour la mixité, l’égalité et la laïcité Soad Baba Aïssa; co-founder of Survivors Voice Europe Sue Cox; Executive Director of Ain o Salish Kendra in Bangladesh Sultana Kamal; Director of Muslim Educational Centre of Oxford Taj Hargey; Bangladeshi-born writer Taslima Nasrin; President of the National Secular Society Terry Sanderson and women’s rights campaigner Yasmin Rehman. Acclaimed pianist and composer Anne Lovett; comedians Daphna Baram, AKA MissD, Kate Smurthwaite and Sameena Zehra as well as LCP dance company and singer/songwriter Shelley Segal provided entertainment.

3. Indonesian band SIMPONI was announced as the winner of One Law for All’s Sounds of Freedom award with their entry “Sister in Danger”, a tribute to Indonesian victims of sexual violence.

4. The conference was endorsed by Atheist Alliance International; Atheist Union of Greece; Bread and Roses TV; Children First Now; Center for Inquiry; Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain; Equal Rights Now – Organisation against Women’s Discrimination in Iran; Fitnah – Movement for Women’s Liberation; International Committee against Stoning; International Committee against Execution; International Federation of Iranian Refugees; Iran Solidarity; National Secular Society; One Law for All; Pink Triangle Trust; Secularism is a Women’s Issue; Southall Black Sisters; The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science UK; and Women Living Under Muslim Laws amongst others.

5. Special thanks to The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science UK, the National Secular Society, donors who supported theIndiegogo fundraising campaign to bring secularists from the South to the conference, including @GodlessRobin, Andy Croy, Karima Bennoune, Kim Revill, Leif Cid, Muriel Seltman, Oliver Zimmerman, Penny Jaques, Rustom Cardinal, Sue Cox and Thomas Oliver, amongst other funders.

6. For more information, contact:
Maryam Namazie
maryamnamazie@gmail.com
www.secularconference.com

Something rotten in the state of India? Hamlet remake provokes outcry (Jason Burke in The Guardian)

Something rotten in the state of India? Hamlet remake provokes outcry
A cinematic remake of the Shakespeare play is the focus point for tension over religious intolerance from Hindu groups claiming to represent the 80% of citizens who follow the faith

by Jason Burke
Jason Burke in Mumbai
The Guardian, Thursday 27 November 2014

Shahid Kapoor stars in Haider Hamlet film Shahid Kapoor stars in Haider the controversial film remake of Shakespeare's Hamlet

The tone is uncompromising. The language is harsh. The sovereignty and integrity of India has been attacked with impunity, the court documents claim. The unity of the nation has been undermined.

But the source of the alleged threat to the world’s largest democracy is a somewhat surprising one: a cinematic remake of Hamlet.

Shakespeare’s great tragedy has always provoked strong emotion but it is rare that anyone seeks to ban productions of it on the grounds of national security.

On Friday, a court in northern Indian will hear that a recently released film of the play in a contemporary local setting should be banned to preserve the emerging economic powerhouse and its 1.25 billion inhabitants from further harm. The lawyers bringing the case are from a group calling itself “Hindus for Justice” and claim to be acting on behalf of the 80% of citizens who follow the faith.

The film has now finished its run, so the move to ban it is largely symbolic. But the case in Uttar Pradesh is being closely watched, seen as yet another skirmish in a long-running cultural war pitting conservatives who say they are defending India’s culture, security and identity against creative artists who argue that they should be free to express themselves.

The film – called Haider – is set in Kashmir, the former Himalayan princedom where separatist insurgents have fought Indian security forces for 25 years. Scenes showing the Indian army committing human rights abuses and the use of a temple for the “play within a play” sequence by dancers wearing shoes, are “anti-Indian … divisive [and] hurt the sentiments of Hindus”, the legal petition says.
Official trailer for Haider, the remake of Hamlet

“Every artist has the right to express whatever they want but … without hurting the sentiments of any community,” said Ranjana Agnihotri, the secretary-general of the group bringing the case. “We definitely represent the Hindu community and we feel confident and strong.”

Some commentators say the new Indian government, in power since May and led by a prime minister, Narendra Modi, whose political origins lie in a hardline Hindu revivalist organisation, has inadvertently encouraged an intolerant atmosphere. Others argue the new administration is simply caught in the middle.

“It wouldn’t surprise me if certain elements misappropriated the [new government’s] mandate … for their virulent ways of living and thinking … but they will be disappointed,” said Samir Saran, of the Observer Research Foundation, a Delhi-based thinktank.

Liberal commentators and writers were targeted through social media during the heated atmosphere of the election campaign and some say they have detected a new edge in recent months.

Sonia Faleiro, a prize-winning Indian journalist, said that abuse was becoming more direct and more overt.

“It is the most startling thing. Some are not even trying to hide their identity. I think there is a sense of empowerment. It is as if there is no reason to pretend any more,” Faleiro said.

Ramachandra Guha, a liberal commentator and historian who is himself regularly the target of abuse, said most was aimed at people who were seen as both influential and a threat.

“I’m seen as an apostate, a Hindu who should know better. But the most debased and vulgar abuse is directed at women, particularly liberal and secular women, and especially women who are not Hindu,” Guha said.

The abuse – and attempts to ban the Hamlet film – appear part of an upsurge of efforts to protect what a hardline fringe deem to be “Indian values”.
Indian Bollywood actors Shahid Kapoor, left, and Shraddha Kapoor at a promotoional event for Haider in July 2014. Indian Bollywood actors Shahid Kapoor, left, and Shraddha Kapoor at a promotoional event for Haider in July 2014. Photograph: STRDEL/AFP/Getty Images

Pramod Muthalik, leader of a group based in the southern state of Karnataka calling itself the Shri Ram Sena, the Army of (the deity) Ram, said the film “encourages terrorism”.

The organisation also mounts expeditions against what Muthalik and other extremists call “love jihad”, the alleged systematic seduction of Hindu women by Muslim men.

“It is a serious problem. There are 30,000 cases in Karnataka alone,” Muthalik said. His members regularly launch “operations” in parks, one of the few spaces in conservative India where unmarried couples can spend time together, usually sitting chastely together on a bench or walking holding hands.

“Sexual activities in public places may be all right in America or Germany or UK but this is [India],” Muthalik said.

Though lacking broad popular support, such groups are a challenge for the government. The BJP has its origins in the nationalist and religious revivalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (National Volunteer Association) but has tried to distance itself from the more hardline elements in recent months. Rajnath Singh, the home minister, has said allegations of love jihad are baseless. Modi himself said last week that terrorism has no religion.

“That many ministers are from the RSS is reality, but that does not mean [the organisation] has an undue influence on policy … We are simply following up on our electoral pledges to bring development, prosperity to all Indians and to fulfil all Indians’ aspirations,” said Nalin Kohli, a spokesman for the BJP.

Singh last week described the relationship rather differently, explaining that because so many members of the government were from the RSS, there was no need for the organisation to interfere. “When we ourselves are from the RSS, then what influence will it have to wield? One could have understood the argument of any organisation influencing the government if it had a different identity, a different ideology,” the home minister said.

Observers point to evidence of a careful balancing act as Modi, who spent decades as an RSS organiser, looks to convince hardliners within the Hindu nationalist movement that he is protecting local industries and agriculture and taking a strong stand against neighbouring powers.

“It’s yet to settle. There’s an ambivalence. Modi wants to present himself as a reconciler and a moderniser but has to give his pound of flesh to the RSS because they won him the election. He’s made clear that on economics and foreign policy he will not listen to the Hindu right but has been less clear on cultural issues,” said Guha, the historian.

In recent elections in the state of Maharashtra, which includes Mumbai, Modi campaigned on the same platform of governance and economic development that won him the national polls in May while a longstanding alliance with the local hardline rightwing Shiv Sena party was broken.

Saran said Modi, 64, was “steering towards a centre-right position”.

“He is not an agnostic prime minister. He is a Hindu prime minister and will follow his belief system … But he knows that if he wants to be a 10-year prime minister he needs to reach out,” Saran said.
Culture clashes

Clashes over culture have long been part of India’s raucous democracy. In February, conservatives forced a book on Hinduism by well-known US academic Wendy Doniger off the shelves, claiming it was insulting to the faith. An editorial in the Times of India at the time condemned “the growing power of bullying self-appointed censors” displaying “a Victorian hangover with a Taliban temperament”.

In the same month, a press conference held in Mumbai by a band from Pakistan which plays rock influenced by traditional Islamic devotional music was disrupted by Shiv Sena members. A spokesman for the group last week said their protest was justified. “We’ve plenty of bands here in India. Why bring one from Pakistan when they are cutting off the heads of our [soldiers],” he told the Guardian.

Other faith communities have also sought to limit freedom of expression. Sale of the Salman Rushdie’s 1988 novel The Satanic Verses, remains proscribed and its author was unable to appear at the Jaipur literary festival in 2012 after Muslim organisations protested.

Politicians too have sought to ban or restrict the sale or production of books. In 2010, MPs loyal to Sonia Gandhi threatened legal action to stop the sale of a “fictionalised biography” of the Congress party leader.

Last year, the government of the southern state of Tamil Nadu blocked the release of a film after complaints that it portrayed the Tamil Tigers, the violent Sri Lankan separatist group, as “terrorists”.

Many of the recent efforts of the Hindu groups appear prompted by rapidly-evolving social behaviour in a fast-changing nation. Some of the conservatives’ objections to Haider, the Hamlet remake, might have been familiar to contemporaries of the author of the original. In the play, one of the hero’s principal grievances is his mother’s hasty marriage to his recently deceased father’s brother.

Ranjani Agnihotri, of Hindus for Justice, said the film gave a bad impression of local women, portraying them as lacking modesty. “That a widow should remarry so quickly is really very shocking,” she said.

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/nov/27/hamlet-remake-provokes-outcry-india-something-rotten-in-state?CMP=twt_gu

Veena Malik and the modern witch-hunt of Pakistani blasphemy laws (Padraig Reidy in The Telegraph, 27 Nov 2014)


Veena Malik and the modern witch-hunt of Pakistani blasphemy laws
Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are a menace to everyone in the country; even speaking out against them now constitutes blasphemy itself

By Padraig Reidy

27 Nov 2014

It’s hard to read about the blasphemy convictions handed down to Pakistani actress Veena Malik and her husband Asad Bashir, media owner Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman, and television presenter host Shaista Wahidi without a sense of frustration and confusion over the arbitrary application of the country’s blasphemy laws.

Malik and Bashir took part in a restaging of their wedding on a programme on Geo TV, owned by Shakil-ur-Rahman. Playing in the background was a song about the marriage of one of Mohammad’s daughters. That, apparently, was enough to trigger a prosecution.

Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are notoriously easy to invoke, and as such are often used as part of broader agendas and vendettas against individuals. Even mentioning Mohammed can become dangerous, as politician Sherry Rehman found when she invoked his memory to suggest that he would not approve of the death sentence for blasphemy.

Rahman’s friend Salmaan Taseer was killed by his own security guard for his campaign to reform the blasphemy law – suggesting that the country was now in a situation where even to speak out against the blasphemy law constitutes blasphemy in itself.

The case of Malik and her co-accused would appear to be about who they are as much as about what they did. Malik is a popular but controversial star, who posed for the cover of Indian FHM, seemingly nude, in 2011. Amid condemnation, she was forced to admit that was a “mistake”. Shakil-ur-Rahman is the owner of a powerful TV station that often finds itself at odds with the government.

None of this should matter in the courts, obviously. But the problem with blasphemy charges is that once the process begins, it is unstoppable. Look at the wording of section 295c of the Pakistan penal code: “Whoever by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representation or by any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly, defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine.”

Once an accusation has been made under those terms, how does one fight it? How does one refute that “by any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly”? It’s impossible, made more so by the fact that no one is in a position to argue against the idea of the blasphemy law itself, lest they find themselves accused of sacrilege themselves. Much like the witch-hunts of old England, blasphemy accusations are used against minorities, women, and anyone who seems like trouble. And much like those times, a blasphemy accusation can built its own self-perpetuating hysteria.

But these laws do not spring from ancient taboos. While the criminal code dates back to the Raj, it was rarely invoked. It was only during the rule of General Zia, who beefed up the law significantly (including provisions preventing Ahmadis from even calling themselves Muslims) that prosecutions took off.

It’s possible that Malik and co will never actually serve their sentence, due to the complicated status of the Kashmir anti-terror court which convicted them. But that’s scant reason to celebrate. Malik and her husband have fled Pakistan along with their newborn baby. They have been subject to death threats, and may never return to the country.

Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are a menace to everyone in the country. As Pakistan repeatedly tries to introduce “religious defamation” as an internationally recognised transgression at the United Nations (with language copied, embarrassingly, from Ireland’s new blasphemy legislation), the menace is not confined.

It is no good to simply suggest, as some will, that this is the way things are in Pakistan. It hasn’t always been, and it needn’t always be. Those who suffer under Pakistan’s blasphemy law, and those who are brave enough to fight it, deserve our support.


Trust: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/pakistan/11257655/Veena-Malik-and-the-modern-witch-hunt-of-Pakistani-blasphemy-laws.html

India: Big environmental awareness rally by the Hindu Right [report from a Hindi Newpaper)

VHP और RSS के हजारों कार्यकर्ताओं ने पर्यावरण जागरूकता रैली निकाली

http://www.bhaskar.com/news/UP-KAN-vhp-and-rss-activists-environmental-awareness-rally-kanpur-latest-hindi-news-4793702-PHO.html

India: Government in Kerala following ‘soft Hindutva’ policy says Opposition

Economic Times

Oommen Chandy government in Kerala following ‘soft Hindutva’ policy: Opposition
By ET Bureau | 27 Nov, 2014, 04.00AM IST
http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/oommen-chandy-government-in-kerala-following-soft-hindutva-policy-opposition/articleshow/45290425.cms