PAKISTAN: “An unforgiveable sin”

LAHORE, 3 January 2012 (IRIN) – The murder of infants, particularly girls, by poverty-stricken parents in Pakistan appears to be on the rise.

Late at night two months ago in a village in Pakistan’s Punjab Province, the parents of a two-day-old infant girl smothered the child, and then buried her tiny body in a distant field, carefully patting down the soil to hide any signs of digging. The mother cries often and says she still has nightmares about the event.

“I cried myself; I had delivered the baby and she was perfectly healthy. But her parents had two daughters already, and felt they couldn’t afford another. The father, a labourer, earned only 4,000 rupees (US$46.50) a month, and I know those people ate just once a day,” Suriya Bibi, a `dai’ or traditional midwife from the village, told IRIN.

According to Anwar Kazmi, a spokesperson for the charitable Edhi Foundation, more and more bodies of infants are being collected from the streets. “I would say there has been a 100 percent increase over the past decade in the number of bodies of infants we find. Nine out of 10 are girls,” he told IRIN.

Girls are traditionally considered a `burden’ on families, with large sums frequently spent on their marriages. “People feel girls make no economic contribution to families,” Gulnar Tabassum, a women’s rights activist, told IRIN.

Kazmi said 1,210 bodies of dead infants were found last year – compared to 999 in 2009.

“The reasons are linked to mindset and to poverty,” he said. While the Edhi Foundation places cradles outside the orphanages it runs, and urges people to leave babies in them rather than kill them, only a few choose to do so.

According to the Foundation, about 200 babies are left each year in the 400 cradles it puts out nationwide with signs urging parents to use them.

Since children born out of wedlock in this conservative society are at greater risk of infanticide, the Foundation encourages the placing of such children with responsible surrogate parents.

“These children are innocent,” said Kazmi.

No accurate statistics

The Foundation also collects its data mainly from larger cities. It is unknown how many other deaths may be taking place in rural areas, or regions in the tribal areas and Balochistan and Sindh provinces where official figures show poverty is highest.

The mothers themselves wish to save the children but they also see the economic struggle of their families in a time of growing inflation. “The number of tiny babies we bury is increasing. In some cases the neck or wrists have been slashed open,” said Muhammad Taufiq, a gravedigger in Lahore.

“I have had women who are pregnant come to me crying, because their husbands or in-laws say any baby born must be killed since they cannot raise it. I can do little to help, since abortion is illegal in the country, and for various cultural reasons the use of birth control is far too low, though many woman want to use it,” said gynaecologist Faiqa Siddiq who works at a charitable clinic for women.

According to data from the Federal Bureau of Statistics reported in the media, non-perishable food items saw price rises of 11.83 percent in the year to November 2011. Other percentage increases during the year were: tomatoes (42.02), spices (36.37), fresh fruit (29.62), betel leaves and nuts (24.56), condiments (23.50), milk (21.11), milk products (20.47), beverages (19.79), cooking oil (19.56), and meat (19.35).

“Times are becoming harder and harder. I have just given birth to my fourth child. We will do all we can to raise the children, and murder of course is an unforgivable sin, but sometimes I understand the despair of parents who do so,” said Safia Bibi, a washerwoman whose husband is an odd-job man.

The family earns a monthly income of Rs. 6,000 ($70). “The children go barefoot because just feeding them is next to impossible. We survive mainly on `roti’ [bread] and pickles,” she said.

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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Pakistan’s Christian Sanitation Workers

Pakistan’s Christian Sanitation Workers Swept into Societal Gutter‏
By Asif Aqeel

Summary
LAHORE, Pakistan, July 7 (Compass Direct News) – While one Christian sanitation worker here has been suspended and criminal charges filed against him for objecting to discrimination against fellow workers, another was killed the same month for not tending to a shopkeeper’s command fast enough. Anayat Masih Sahotra, who has worked as a street sweeper for Lahore’s Solid Waste Management (SWM) department for 24 years, said he is facing baseless charges of forgery and fraud from his employers because of his work as a labor leader for area sweepers, who are nearly all Christians. He was suspended and accused of the crimes on May 14 after he asked SWM Managing Director Wasim Ajmal Chaudhry to fulfill a promise to make 400 Christian workers regular employees with full benefits, he said.

The deep, culturally-rooted disparagement Christian sanitation workers suffer was apparent in another incident in May. Abbas Masih, 36, was cleaning the streets on May 21 when he was murdered for not picking up trash quickly enough, human rights advocates said. Contempt for sweepers is rooted deeply in cultural history, the result of a merging of Brahmanic Hinduism’s ritual impurity with Islamic ceremonial uncleanness in regard to sweepers – almost all of whom were Hindu “untouchables” who converted to Christianity in the late 19th century. Pakistani officials appear to want to keep Christians in this degrading occupation. Several job advertisements from government departments clearly state that sweeper candidates must be non-Muslim; some even specify that they must be Christians.

Article
LAHORE, Pakistan, July 7 (Compass Direct News) – The often unseen or unrecognized abuses suffered by Christians at Pakistan’s lowest level of society – street sweepers – have come into sharp focus this year.

While one Christian sanitation worker in Lahore has been suspended and criminal charges filed against him for objecting to discrimination against fellow workers, another was killed the same month for not tending to a shopkeeper’s command fast enough.

Anayat Masih Sahotra, who has worked as a street sweeper for Lahore’s Solid Waste Management (SWM) department for 24 years, said he is facing baseless charges of forgery and fraud from his employers because of his work as a labor leader for area sweepers, who are nearly all Christians. He was suspended and accused of the crimes on May 14 after he asked SWM Managing Director Wasim Ajmal Chaudhry to fulfill a promise to make 400 Christian workers regular employees with full benefits, he said.

Sahotra said when Chaudhry refused his request to make the Christian sweepers regular employees according to the requirements of Pakistani law, he told the managing director that he could expect protests. Protest against injustice was their civil right, he said, and plans for a demonstration were underway when he received the suspension order alleging forgery and fraud.

When he went to Chaudhry’s office again on May 26 to object to the injustice of the suspension order, he said Chaudhry referred to him and other Christian workers as Chuhras, an offensive term of contempt for street sweepers, an occupation assigned only to those of such low “untouchable” social standing that they are below the remnant caste system predating Pakistan’s predominantly Islamic society.

“I know you low-born Christian Chuhras, and I know how to deal with you,” Sahotra said Chaudhry told him.

Sahotra left Chaudhry’s office, he said, only to receive a phone call a few minutes later from SWM Assistant District Officer Faiz Ahmed Afridi telling him to come to his office. Sahotra went to Afridi’s office in the evening, where he was offered to sit and have a cup of tea, he said.

“While I was taking tea, police entered the office and arrested me,” Sahotra said. “I was shocked how cunning Faiz had been to me.”

Charges were filed the same day at Islampura police station, accusing Sahotra of criminally intimidating Afridi, though Sahotra said he was calmly taking tea when police arrested him.

The next day Sahotra was granted bail, but a few days later Anarkali police called him, saying the superintendent of police wanted to talk to him.

“The police of Anarkali are tricking me into meeting them,” he said. “They want to arrest me on any other charge in order to mount pressure on me to withdraw my support to the Christian employees who are not being made regular despite having worked there for several years.”

As temporary or “work charge” employees, the sanitation workers’ contracts expire every 88 days, and they are hired every third month. This goes on for decades, with the employees working until they are too feeble to do so without any benefits or pension. They get no days off – no weekends, no holiday, no sick leave.

Their morning shift begins at 6 a.m., but the general public does not want them working when they are awake, so the sweepers prefer to clean streets beforehand. Starting at 4 a.m., they work until 7 p.m. for US$100 per month, leaving them no opportunity to work any other part-time job. Thus they are kept poor, with no opportunity to provide quality education to their children, who
perpetuate the cycle as they too become sweepers.

Murdered Sweeper
The deep, culturally-rooted disparagement Christian sanitation workers suffer was apparent in another incident in May. Abbas Masih, 36, was cleaning the streets when he was murdered for not picking up trash quickly enough, human rights advocates said.

Eyewitnesses said Masih was cleaning streets in the Pir Maki area of Lahore on May 21 when Muhammad Imran, an Arain or agricultural caste member who worked at a flower shop, told Masih to pick up dried leaves and flowers from in front of the shop. Masih told him that he would gather them up when he came back from the end of the street.

“How can a Chuhra argue with me?” Imran said, and he took out a knife used at the flower shop and shoved it into Masih’s heart, according to the witnesses. Masih fell. He was taken to a hospital, where he died.

Two brothers who own the shop, Muhammad Tariq and Muhammad Shehzad, told Compass that Imran had opened the store that morning. Imran asked Masih to pick up a small pile of dried leaves and flowers and take them away with the garbage, they said.

As witnesses also noted, they said Masih told him that he would pick up the trash upon his return from the end of the street. Imran insisted that he pick up the pile immediately.

“Imran called him names and then took out the knife and stabbed the heart of Masih,” Shehzad said, adding that he was at home at the time but heard about it from another who came home from the scene of the incident. “I rushed to the spot, picked Masih up, put him in a rickshaw and rushed him to the Mayo Hospital. I also phoned the emergency police, Rescue 15, and informed the shop that Muhammad Imran must not be allowed to go, as Masih had passed away in the hospital.”

He said that Masih was “a very good person.”

The Lower Mall police station registered a First Information Report (FIR) only after several Christian leaders protested.

Although Masih had worked with SWM for 16 years, he remained a work-charge employee, so his family was not eligible for financial assistance upon his death. Several Christian leaders protested to the Chief Minister of Punjab Province, whose office in turn wrote to the SWM.

Based on feedback from the chief minister’s secretariat, in a June 9 letter the SWM responded to the Christian leaders: “It is the policy of the government to grant financial assistance to the family of deceased civil servants, and work charge employees do not fall under the definition of civil servants. However, on the death of work charge employees during their engagement, it is the practice to pay financial assistance after getting the approval of the Chief Minister as a special case.”

The chief minister has not responded to the request, and Christians said there is little possibility that he will consider it.

Though Christians account for 90 percent of sewage workers and an even high percentage of sweepers, they make up only 2.45 percent of Pakistan’s population, which is more than 95 percent Muslim, according to Operation World. Masih’s widow, Rukhsana Masih, said that she and her family members had feared filing a police report about the case – Pakistani police are notorious for falsely charging or otherwise harassing marginalized minorities like Christians – and that they were too poor to retain a lawyer. The Community Development Initiative, an affiliate of European Centre for Law and Justice, has since allayed her fears about the legal process and offered to assist her, and she has agreed to pursue justice.

Overlapping Religions
When the Indian subcontinent was divided in 1947 and Pakistan was carved out in the name of Islam, ultimately there was a merging of Brahmanic Hinduism’s ritual impurity with Islamic ceremonial uncleanness in regard to sweepers – almost all of whom were Hindu “untouchables” who converted to Christianity in the late 19th century.

This synthesis, however, came about over time. Initially the founding father of Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, had no notion of bringing religion into the sphere of political life. He was also an advocate of ending caste-based discrimination. With Jinnah’s early death and the use of Islam for political gain by migrating, Urdu-speaking leaders who previously had no political bases here – in particular the first prime minister, Liaquat Ali Khan – over six decades Islam permeated every aspect of life: social, political, economic and legal.

After Pakistan became fundamentally Islamic, Muslims confused the notion of ceremonial uncleanness – considered temporary in nature in Islamic jurisprudence – with the Brahmanic notion of ritual impurity, considered innate and permanent. Islam forbids eating and drinking with a kafir or infidel, but it allows it with the “people of the Book.” But as caste-based “untouchability” became confused with the Islamic notion of ceremonial uncleanness, Christians also came to be seen as ritually polluting a person or a thing.

Thus contempt toward Christians is deeply rooted, and there is no legislation to arrest this hatred. Rather, the state appears to want to keep Christians in this degrading occupation. Several job advertisements from government departments clearly state that sweeper candidates must be non-Muslim; some even specify that they must be Christians.

The Pakistani government hasn’t evolved any modern system of maintaining hygiene in metropolitan areas, so Christian sweepers are forced to collect and discard garbage under filthy conditions. Rotten and stinking garbage is a source of several contagious diseases, and most of the sweepers have respiratory and skin problems. A large number of them suffer from tuberculosis and hepatitis B.

One reason Sahotra is struggling to get these workers full employee status is that as temporary workers they are not entitled to any Social Security Hospital. They are not considered government employees and hence are not entitled to treatment in hospitals for government employees.

The same situation prevails at the Water and Sanitation Agency (WASA), which maintains the sewage system, where about 90 percent of workers are Christians. They face extremely dangerous work conditions. When sewer lines clog because they are too small, these workers are not provided any protective gear as they sometimes dive 30 to 50 feet below ground into manholes filled with dirty and toxic water. When a sewer line gets unclogged, the strong flow sometimes carries away the worker.

Several sanitation workers have lost their lives due to toxic gasses in manholes. Overall, hundreds of people have lost their lives working for WASA, but their families do not receive the benefits that other government employees get because the workers do not have regular status despite working decades for the department.

Caste-Based Blasphemy
One reason missionaries had such success in converting area Hindus to Christianity in the late 19th century was that conversion offered the community a way to socioeconomic as well as religious emancipation.

Although a large number of Christians managed to escape the bondage by attaining education, still an overwhelming number of Christians were caught in an occupation that society rendered humiliating and degrading.

Several cases of Christians falsely charged under Pakistan’s “blasphemy” laws have been rooted in such caste-based discrimination.

Asia Noreen (also known as Asia Bibi), sentenced to death in November 2010 for allegedly insulting the prophet of Islam, was working in the fields picking fruit when she took water from a bucket for all workers. Her co-workers argued that she had polluted the water by touching it, and that the water would be drinkable only if she converted to Islam. When she answered, they ensnared her in a blasphemy case.

Remnant Hindu Brahmanic notions of untouchability combined with Islamic fervor for conversion in Pakistan also figured in accusations of blasphemy against Rubina Bibi in Alipur Chatta, Punjab Province. She had bought ghee, an Indian oil used for cooking, but when she felt it was adulterated, she told the shopkeeper to return it and give her money back. The shopkeeper argued that the oil had been polluted for having been poured into the bowl of a Christian, so it could never be returned. The ensuing argument veered into religious issues that ultimately invoked Pakistan’s blasphemy laws.

The hierarchical sense of superiority that marked Imran’s alleged murder of Abbas Masih was also present in the ransacking of Christians’ homes in Bahmaniwala, Kasur, in June 2009. Trolley driver Sardar Masih asked Muhammad Hussain to remove the motorbike that he had parked in the middle of the road. Hussain refused, asking how a “Chuhra” could give him an order.

The argument grew into a brawl between two families, with the inevitable accusation from the Muslims that the Christians had committed blasphemy. The entire Christian population of the village fled, and Muslims ransacked their houses.

www.compassdirect.org

The above news analysis was written by Asif Aqeel, director of the Community Development Initiative, a human rights group affiliated with the European Centre for Law and Justice.

Contact Asif Aqeel
Director Community Development Initiative
83-S Block, Model Town Extension
Cell: +92-0300-400-1650
Office: +92-042-583-2641
Fax: 92-042-583-2642
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ASIA: Unabated violence against women impedes social change

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
AHRC-STM-037-2011
March 8, 2011

A Statement from the Asian Human Rights Commission on the occasion of the International Women’s Day

ASIA: Unabated violence against women impedes social change

For 100 years now, a strong struggle for equal rights between genders has been taking place in the world. International women’s day is the opportunity to celebrate women’s economic, political and social achievements. It is the day to acknowledge the enormous potential of women in service of the prosperity of their communities and the core societal role they have to play for peace and political and economic development in their countries. Having educated and empowered women actively participating in every sphere of the public life of their country has for long been acknowledged as the key to development and prosperity in all the countries of the world. Discrimination against women has been formally recognized as a violation of human dignity and as riding roughshod over the concept that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and in rights. Nevertheless, in numerous corners of the Asian region, direct and indirect violence and discrimination, under various forms continue to oppress women and prevent them from fully achieving their potential for change. Through 2010 and since the beginning of 2011, the Asian Human Rights Commission has been aware of numerous cases of such oppression. The diversity of Asia clearly illustrates that the formal recognition of equal rights without discrimination based on gender and criminalization of gender-based violence has failed to materialize in practice. Violence against women is sometimes justified through the evocation of tradition and religion and is exploiting the weak rule of law framework of numerous Asian countries to the advantage of the male-dominated society. It is used to control the behaviour of women, prevent them from freely taking part in public debate and continuously undermines the expression of women’s potential for change in Asia.

The Global Gender Gap Index of 2010 offered a clear overview of the disparities which exists in the Asian region with regard to the country level of advancement in terms of equality of rights and opportunities between genders. The Philippines and Sri Lanka rank respectively as 9th and 16th out of 134 countries in terms of gender equality, mostly due to the achievements of those two countries in reducing the gender-gap in education and health while Pakistan ranks the third worst country in the world in terms of gender equality. Thailand ranks 57th globally but ranks among the best countries in terms of maternal health and 36th in terms of economic opportunity for the women, with women representing the majority (51%) of the non-agricultural labour force, a rarity in the Asian context. The gender situation in Bangladesh and Indonesia is less optimistic: ranking respectively as 82th and 87th. The scores of both countries are increased only by the fact that they have women as their head of State, but their scores in terms of economic empowerment, access to education and health are very low. Closing this ranking are India (112th), Nepal (114th) and Pakistan (132th) with extremely important discrepancies between genders in all spheres of life.

In a number of Asian countries patriarchal cultural and religious traditions are invoked to systematically control women’s lives, their free will and even their bodies and hamper the full realization of their potential. In India, discrimination rooted in gender prejudices that foster stereotypical roles for the girl child and women is one of the reasons for the poor state of affairs of women. The concept of purity and submission superimposed upon women by cultural and religious practices, restrict their access to education and limits their freedom to choose the employment of their choice. The continuing practice of demanding and paying dowry, though prohibited by the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 limits the parents’ interest to educate a girl child.

Another example is the common practice in some communities in Pakistan that at the time of birth of a girl, she is declared engaged to be married to a boy which will prevent the ‘engaged’ girl from freely choosing her future as her fate is sealed from the day of her birth.

Similarly, honour killings remain a strong issue in South Asia. The women being seen as carrying the honour of the family can be murdered if a family or the community considers that she is following a path different to what was expected of her. The United Nations Population Fund estimates that 5,000 women die each year in honour killings worldwide. However, the actual number is likely to be much higher as the cases largely go unreported.

Another example of religion or tradition being invoked by the community to control the lives of the women was seen in a case reported in August 2010 from Sri Lanka. A husband was forced by community members of the local mosque to sign a document agreeing to the punishment of his 17-year-old wife for having given birth to a child as a result of an extra-marital relationship. The woman, who was sick, was then beaten 100 times with the hard centre stem of a coconut frond.

Similarly, in Bangladesh, the Committee on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women expressed its concern in February 2011 that “despite the High Court’s decision that the extra-judicial punishments, fatwas, are illegal, there are reports of illegal penalties being enforced through shalish rulings to punish “anti-social and immoral behaviour”. In January 2011, a 14-year-old girl was “lashed to death” following a punishment given by a village court consisting of elders and clerics under the Shari’ah law, after being accused of having an affair with a married man.

In some countries the “traditions” invoked to maintain the women in a state of oppression benefit from the support of the authorities, like in Pakistan, or are even reflected in the legal framework like in Aceh where some of the criminal laws are based on the misinterpretation of the Shari’ah. A 2010 report by Human Rights Watch “Policing morality” on the law related to “seclusion” which makes association with a unmarried member of the opposite sex a criminal offense punishable by caning and a fine and to public dress requirement, two of the five Shari’ah laws in Aceh, revealed that these laws are abusively implemented by the authorities and document cases of aggressive interrogation, including beating of the suspects, forcing the suspects to marry and forcing women and girls to submit to virginity examinations as part of the investigation.

The Jirga courts in Pakistan oppress women’s rights and, though illegal, are tolerated or even supported by the authorities. Jirgas deny the equality between women and men, apply corporal or capital punishments upon women whose behaviour is seen as deviating from traditional standards and lack standards of fair trial. In July 2010, a woman was condemned to stoning to death by a Jirga merely for having been seen as walking alone with a man. In May 2010, a young couple was marked for death by a Jirga that included police officers because the woman had denied a suitor selected by her family in favour of her husband, who came from outside of the tribe. Despite an eventual Sindh High Court ruling in favour of the couple, community members and police continued to persecute the couple and the groom’s family. Legal and social complicity results in near impunity for those who continue to abide by the Jirga rather than law and perpetrates honour killings. The government has not been seen to take any sort of action to pronounce the Jirgas’ ruling as illegal and to dismantle them by taking action against the individuals engaged in running them.

Those cultural and religious representations remain strong obstacles in the way of women who want to take an active part in the future of their communities. Even in countries which are trying to achieve a 33% representation of women in the Parliament, such target remains very hard to reach; Nepal being the only Asian country to have achieved that goal so far. Women seeking emancipation are the target of those who want to maintain the patriarchal order of the society and see female emancipation as a direct threat to their own power and social status.

Acid attacks in Bangladesh and Pakistan against women who dare to say “no” to a marriage or a relationship are a case in point. Threats and harassment against women human rights defenders in Nepal further show the society resistance to those seen as challenging the established social order.

In some countries, women are considered as simple chattel that can be exchanged to maintain the relationship between families; to settle conflicts or a commodity that can, more simply, be sold. In February 2011, the AHRC documented a case of marriage which was opposed by the 70-year-old father of the bride in Pakistan. As “compensation” for the marriage and the loss of his daughter, the father demanded the barter of a girl from the groom’s family.

In South Asia, cases of dowry disputes and dowry deaths also reveal the value placed upon a woman’s life. These are cases where the groom’s family claims that they had not received enough material benefits to accept the woman into the family. Those claims may result in assault, mental and physical harassment of the bride, and ultimately, in her killing.

Further, Asia continues to suffer from a massive phenomenon of trafficking in women. In many cases the authorities cooperate with trafficking rings and brothels were women are kept, effectively imprisoned for sex work. Due to the irregular immigration of trafficked women, the victims often have no legal status in the country where they are trafficked to and risk detention should they try to escape or lodge a complaint with the local authorities. In Thailand, sex workers are particularly at risk of exploitation and stigmatisation with cases of arrest and humiliation commonly reported, while rape cases of women sex workers are not properly dealt with.

All the cases mentioned above clearly show a pattern that, although the attitude of state actors is primordial in dealing with cases of violence against women, the functioning of law enforcement agencies in practice reflects the patriarchal values of the society and further contribute to oppress the women. The systematic failures of the criminal justice systems have been exploited by perpetrators to deny justice and protection to the victims of gender-based violence and to maintain the women in a situation of vulnerability. For instance, in almost all the countries in Asia, authorities at all levels of the judicial system have denied assistance and justice to rape victims and protected the perpetrators, resulting in a de facto “decriminalisation of rape”. Victims of rape and gender-based violence seeking legal redress face harassment, threats from the authorities and community members and often the courage required to confront such obstacles to get justice is only rewarded with impunity for the perpetrators. This starts from the moment the victim makes the complaint of rape. In almost all of Asia there are incidents of police officers refusing to accept the complaint, forcing the victim to negotiate a settlement with the perpetrators or in specific countries even to marry the perpetrators.

Collusion between the perpetrators of rape and police officers is common. Further, the social stigma surrounding rape and women filing cases in the police station and economic dependency of women are the most important of all obstacles hampering the women’s access to redress.

In a case in Nepal last July, the police took the rape victim in custody twice at the demand of the perpetrators which resulted in having all the physical traces of rape disappear. In Sri Lanka, in January 2011, the family of a 23-year-old physically and mentally disabled rape victim was forced by the police to accept monetary compensation from the perpetrator as a settlement for the case. In Pakistan, in December 2010, a woman was raped by a local gangster with the help of two police informers and was forced by the police to withdraw her complaint. In India, women face additional risks at the hands of law enforcement officers than their male counterparts due to the risk of sexual harassment and even custodial rape. In a case reported on 1 February this year, once again from Assam state, the police officers assaulted and sexually abused a woman and her mother when the officers came to their house in search of a male suspect. In this case too, the police have refused to register a case against the accused despite written complaints.

These cases, from different corners of Asia, illustrate that protecting the right of women is intrinsically linked to the state of rule of law in the country, in particular to a sensitisation of the police and to the introduction of accountability within the ranks of law enforcement agencies.

All over Asia, the situation of women belonging to communities which are traditionally marginalized and discriminated against deserves a special mention as those women will be exploited at several levels with even less access to judiciary and state institutions than women belonging to the dominant majority in the country.

In India and Nepal for instance, women belonging to the Dalit or tribal communities are more vulnerable to rape as their lives and dignity are seen as less valuable and they have less access to judicial institutions. Nepal has also recently seen an increase in cases of isolated women, often widows and often from the Dalit community, being trashed, violently beaten, tortured and forced to eat human excreta after being accused of “witchcraft” by villagers. The Women’s Rehabilitation Center (WOREC) has documented 82 such cases within two years. In Pakistan, women from religious minorities are targeted, abducted and forcibly married to convert them to Islam. It is estimated that 20 to 25 Hindu girls are abducted each month and forcibly converted to Islam. In March 2010, the family of a 17-year-old Hindu girl who was kidnapped by three influential Muslim brothers and raped by one of them, was pressured into accepting her wedding to her rapist and her conversion to Islam by a jirga. Judicial and police inaction went as far as arresting the victim’s father under a fake case and intense pressure from ruling party members and local landlords prevented the family from seeking further assistance.

The targeting of women from marginalized castes or classes or religious and ethnic minorities is not an aimless and insignificant act; on the contrary it has calculated implications and impact. Raping or abusing the women aims at not only destroying the victim but also, through her, the community. Rape and violence against women has become an instrument of power in the hands of the dominant majority. The victimization of women from marginalized castes or classes contributes to the maintenance of power and the domination of “upper” classes or castes while the victimization of women from minorities, religious or ethnic, aims at destroying the whole structure of that community, integrating them into the “mainstream” majority through the destruction of their identity. This aspect is particularly evident in the case of Burma, where women from ethnic minorities are the target of systematic, state-induced campaigns of rape and other forms of sexual abuses by soldiers in order to “spread the blood” of the ethnic majority and to humiliate and oppress. “Licence to Rape”, a June 2002 report by the Shan Women’s Action Network documented 173 cases of rape and other forms of sexual violence, with 625 Shan girls and women victimized by Burmese soldiers from 1996 to 2001 and showed that rape was condoned as a weapon of war from the Burmese state in order to subjugate and control ethnic minorities. Documentation by women’s groups shows that such cases of rape; torture and killings of women continue unabated in other areas of ethnic conflict.

More generally speaking, women in areas of conflict suffer from specific abuses and often find themselves deprived of any legal remedy; in the South of Thailand, women are facing unrest and loss but have not been provided any kind of remedies. The Victim Protection Scheme is inappropriately implemented, which deprives the victims seeking justice with any kind of remedy. In Nepal, during the decade-long conflict, the women faced gender-based violence and sexual violence but such victims have remained invisible and absent of the government relief programmes and compensation schemes for conflict victims, a joint report by Advocacy Forum and the International Center for Transitional Justice found.

Gender bias is also visible in larger issues like poverty and malnutrition. For instance, in South Asia and South-East Asia, in both urban and rural poverty, often the direct victim of poverty and malnutrition is the women and/or the girl child. In most cases reported by the AHRC, the pattern shows that it is the mother and the girl child which face the worst brunt of poverty.

Women therefore suffer from multi-layered, multi-facetted discrimination and forms of violence in Asia. The malfunctioning of the rule of law framework is exploited by those who want to prevent women from playing a major role in the public sphere.

Nevertheless, throughout Asia, women continue to gather, organise and defend their rights and the rights of their community. The fight of those thousands of anonymous women not only contributes to the promotion of the “rights of women” but also to the advancement of democracy in their community as a whole.

In countries where reservations were made to ensure the representation of women in elected bodies, especially at the local level, women have been able to make use of such arenas to raise concrete issues of tremendous importance for the community, such as access to water.

In Nepal, women have played a tremendously important role in the popular uprising of 2006 which lead to the end of the conflict and the establishment of democracy in the country. Similarly in India, it is a woman, Ms. Iron Chanu Sharmila of Manipur, who has today become the beacon of hope and peace. Sharmila has undergone a ten-year-long fast in protest against the ongoing violence and impunity in India, committed both by the state and non-state actors. The state attempted to stifle her protest by keeping Sharmila in arbitrary and solitary detention in a hospital room for the past ten years in which she is force fed through a nasal tube. In Burma, it is also the fight of a woman, Aung San Suu Kyi that has become the incarnation of the hopes for peace, human rights and democracy of the people. In Sri Lanka, women activists and lawyers are taking a great role in the fight against torture and support to the victims. In Pakistan, it is a woman parliamentarian who had the courage to deposit a law in the Parliament seeking to amend the Blasphemy law under which religious minorities face persecutions.

On Women International Day, the AHRC calls for comprehensive action, from all forces of the society, to create the conditions for women to fully express their potential for better change.

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About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation that monitors human rights in Asia, documents violations and advocates for justice and institutional reform to ensure the protection and promotion of these rights. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.

PAKISTAN: A woman health worker raped and forced by police to withdraw her complaint‏

ASIAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION – URGENT APPEALS PROGRAMME
Urgent Appeal Update: AHRC-UAC-048-2011
28 February 2011

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ISSUES: Rape; violence against women; impunity; rule of law

Dear friends,

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received information that a lady health worker, a government employee, was raped by a notorious gangster with the help of two police informers. The First Information Report (FIR), a criminal case for legal proceedings was lodged by the police intentionally after five days of the attack in order to destroy the evidence. The police, instead of filing a rape case, filed a case of attempted rape so that perpetrators could not be tried for committing the heinous crime. The high raking police officers of the concerned district are coercing the victim to settle the case with perpetrators.

The alleged rapist was arrested for attempted rape but the police informers, who restrained the woman and who had beaten her during the rape, are enjoying the protection of the police.

CASE NARRATIVE:
Rehana Malik, 30, a lady health worker at Civil Hospital, Digri town, Mirpurkhas district, Sindh province, also an employee of the health department of the government of Sindh, was raped in her house while her husband was out for his daily job. On December 9, 2010 at 8 pm three police informers and gangsters entered her house, locked her children in a room and one gangster, Gulzar Arain, who is known to run a drug den, overpowered and raped the victim with the help of two police informers, Shahid Jat and Shoukat Jat. The attackers also injured her during the rape and stole Rs. 85,000. (USD 1000) and jewelry of the same amount. The perpetrator, Arian raped her while the two accomplices held her hands and legs for the rape. After the rape the attackers threatened her that if she went to the police she would be raped in an open place.

However, after the incident she went to Digri police station at 9.30 pm where she was told by the station house officer (SHO), Mr. Zulfiqar Khoso that as it was night nobody could record her statement and to come back the next day. She returned and spent the whole next day trying to file her report but in the evening was told that she should go back to home and the police station would send someone to see her. In the meanwhile news of the rape was reported in the media. The police telephoned her to come to the house of Haji, an influential person of the town. There she found that police officials were also present. Haji and police officials pressured her to accept Rs. 10,000 (USD117) as compensation which she refused. One of the police officials, Munawar, the assistant sub inspector (ASI) took her signature on a plain paper forcefully saying he would make an application on her behalf. She asked the police officials to file a case of rape so that she could have a medical report.

It was only after five days of her rape, on December 13, that the FIR was filed. However, the FIR only mentioned that it had been an attempted rape. The report that Rehana had made mentioned that the accused person, Arain, actually raped her but this version was rejected by the SHO. The police cleverly deleted the names of the two other police informers from the FIR. She was given permission to have her medical checkup but as per their intention, any evidence of the assault had then been lost. On December 14, the SHO of Digri police station visited her house and pressured her to withdraw the case of rape against the perpetrators otherwise she would face problems for her family. On January 21, 2011, a human right activist, Hasrat Leghari, had written an application on behalf her to the Chief Justice of Pakistan, the president, the prime minister and other authorities. On February 22, she was asked to come to police station and record her statement. But once again the police refused to take her statement and created their own. In the meantime the accused person, Arain, was arrested on the charges of attempt to rape her but the two police informers were not arrested. An application from the victim was moved to the Session Court of Mirpurkhas district that the police were providing protection to the perpetrators. On receiving her application the session judge rejected the bail application of the accused person.

On February 26, Mr. Zulfiqar Mehar, the district police officer (DPO), the highest police officer of the district, also tried to coerce her to withdraw the case and said she would not get any positive response in the case. He further told her that the perpetrators would take revenge against her in the future.

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ADDITIONAL INFORMATION:
Mrs. Rehana was working as health officer in Digri town at civil hospital since 2006 and has become popular in the neighbourhood for her work. Gulzar Arain, the gangster and police informer had been stalking her since 2009 whenever she went out for field work. He demanded that she have sex with him otherwise she would face dire consequences. On November 22 the accused person came to her house in the absence of her husband along with the two police informers, Shoukat and Shahid, and threatened that if she did not agree to have sex with him he would come and rape her so that she could not be able to show her face to the people. She reported this to the police but in typical fashion the police told her to come back if and when the crime was committed as before that they could not go against him.

Her husband is a labourer and has to go to another town for his job.

SUGGESTED ACTION:
Please write letter to the authorities to take action against the police officials of Digri town and the district police officer (DPO) of Mirpurkhas district for providing protection to the perpetrators of the rape. Also urge them to provide protection to the victim and her family and prosecute the perpetrators.

The AHRC is writing a separate letter to the UN Special Rapporteur on the Question of violence against women calling for his intervention into this matter.

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SAMPLE LETTER:

Dear ___________,

PAKISTAN: A lady health worker raped and forced by police to withdraw her complaint

Name of victim: Mrs. Rehana Malik, wife of Gulhassan, a lady health worker, resident of Digri town, district Mirpurkhas, Sindh province

Names of alleged perpetrators:
1. Mr. Gulzar Arain, police informer and gangster, resident of Goth Ganga Ram (goth Bagan wali), Digri, Sindh province
2. Mr. Shaukat Jat, police informer, Resident of Goth Ganga Ram (goth Bagan wali), Digri, Sindh province
3. Mr. Shahid Jat, police informer, Resident of Goth Ganga Ram (goth Bagan wali), Digri, Sindh province
4. Assistant Sub Inspector, Munawar, Digri police station, Digri town, Sindh province
5. Sub-Inspector Zulfiqar Khoso, Station Headquarter Officer (SHO), Digri police station, Digri town, Sindh province
6. Mr. Zulfiqar Mehar, District Police Officer (DPO), Mirpurkhas, Sindh province

Date of incident: 9 December 2010
Place of incident: Digri town, Mirpurkhas district, Sindh province

I am writing to voice my deep concern regarding the rape of a lady health worker by a police informer and his accomplices and the support that the police are providing to the perpetrators.

I am appalled to know that a lady health worker of government of Sindh was raped by the police informer and gangsters but police have taken no action and not a single man was arrested on the rape charges. The two accomplices of the accused person are free and threatening the victim. The high police officials including DPO are using their official positions to influence the victim to withdraw her case against the perpetrators. This is very shameful act by the police whose duty is to protect the citizens from crime.

Rehana Malik, 30, a lady health worker at Civil Hospital, Digri town, Mirpurkhas district, Sindh province, also an employee of the health department of the government of Sindh, was raped in her house while her husband was out for his daily job. On December 9, 2010 at 8 pm three police informers and gangsters entered her house, locked her children in a room and one gangster, Gulzar Arain, who is known to run a drug den, overpowered and raped the victim with the help of two police informers, Shahid Jat and Shoukat Jat. The attackers also injured her during the rape and stole Rs. 85,000. (USD 1000) and jewelry of the same amount. The perpetrator, Arian raped her while the two accomplices held her hands and legs for the rape. After the rape the attackers threatened her that if she went to the police she would be raped in an open place.

However, after the incident she went to Digri police station at 9.30 pm where she was told by the station house officer (SHO), Mr. Zulfiqar Khoso that as it was night nobody could record her statement and to come back the next day. She returned and spent the whole next day trying to file her report but in the evening was told that she should go back to home and the police station would send someone to see her. In the meanwhile news of the rape was reported in the media. The police telephoned her to come the house of Haji, an influential person of the town. There she found that police officials were also present. Haji and police officials pressured her to accept Rs. 10,000 (USD117) as compensation which she refused. One of the police officials, Munawar, the assistant sub inspector (ASI) took her signature on a plain paper forcefully saying he would make an application on her behalf. She asked the police officials to file a case of rape so that she could have a medical report.

It was only after five days of her rape, on December 13, that the FIR was filed. However, the FIR only mentioned that it had been an attempted rape. The report that Rehana had made mentioned that the accused person, Arain, actually raped her but this version was rejected by the SHO. The police cleverly deleted the names of the two other police informers from the FIR. She was given permission to have her medical checkup but as per their intention, any evidence of the assault had then been lost. On December 14, the SHO of Digri police station visited her house and pressured her to withdraw the case of rape against the perpetrators otherwise she would face problems for her family. On January 21, 2011, a human right activist, Hasrat Leghari, had written an application on behalf her to the Chief Justice of Pakistan, the president, the prime minister and other authorities. On February 22, she was asked to come to police station and record her statement. But once again the police refused to take her statement and created their own. In the meantime the accused person, Arain, was arrested on the charges of attempt to rape her but the two police informers were not arrested. An application from the victim was moved to the Session Court of Mirpurkhas district that the police were providing protection to the perpetrators. On receiving her application the session judge rejected the bail application of the accused person.

On February 26, Mr. Zulfiqar Mehar, the district police officer (DPO), the highest police officer of the district, also tried to coerce her to withdraw the case and said she would not get any positive response in the case. He further told her that the perpetrators would take revenge against her in the future.

I am shocked to know that police are turning the case into attempt to rape just to save the police informer and drug peddlers. These types of crimes are happening daily in Pakistan because there is no effort from the government to make reforms in the policing system and make it accountable in the law. The police find it easy to manipulate the cases in their own favour to save perpetrators.

I urge you to prosecute all the police officials who are turning the case of rape in to attempt to murder and threatening victim to take back her case. Please also provide security and protection to the victim and her family and also register a case of rape against the perpetrators.

Yours sincerely,

—————-
PLEASE SEND YOUR LETTERS TO:

1. Mr. Asif Ali Zardari
President of Pakistan
President’s Secretariat
Islamabad
PAKISTAN
Tel: +92 51 9204801/9214171
Fax: +92 51 9207458
Email: publicmail@president.gov.pk

2. Mr. Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani
Prime Minister of Pakistan
Prime Minister House
Islamabad
PAKISTAN
Fax: + 92 51 9221596
E-mail: secretary@cabinet.gov.pk

3. Syed Qaim Ali Shah
Chief Minister
Karachi, Sindh Province
PAKISTAN
Fax: +92 21 920 2000
E-mail: pppsindh@yahoo.com

4. Mr. Syed Mumtaz Alam Gillani
Federal Minister for Human Rights
Ministry of Human Rights
Old US Aid building
Ata Turk Avenue
G-5, Islamabad
PAKISTAN
Fax: +9251-9204108
Email: sarfaraz_yousuf@yahoo.com

5. Mr. Muhammad Ayaz Soomro
Minister for Law, Parliamentary Affairs & Criminal Prosecution Service
Sindh Assembly Building,
Court road, Karachi, Sindh province
PAKISTAN
Fax: +92 21 9211982
E-mail: secy.law@sindh.gov.pk

6. Chief Justice of Sindh High Court
High Court Building
Saddar, Karachi
Sindh Province
PAKISTAN
Fax: +92 21 9213220
E-mail: info@sindhhighcourt.gov.pk

7. Ms. Nadia Gabol
Minister for Human Rights
Government of Sindh,
Pakistan secretariat, Barrack 92,
Karachi, Sindh Province
PAKISTAN
Fax: +92 21 9207044
Tel: +92 21 9207043 +92 21 9207043 +92 21 9207043 +92 21 9207043 +92 21 9207043 +92 21 9207043 +92 21 9207043 +92 21 9207043
E-mail: lukshmil@yahoo.com

8. Dr. Faqir Hussain
Registrar
Supreme Court of Pakistan
Constitution Avenue, Islamabad
PAKISTAN
Fax: + 92 51 9213452
E-mail: mail@supremecourt.gov.pk

9. Inspector General of Police
Police Head office, I. I. Chundrigar road
Karachi, Sindh Province
PAKISTAN
Fax: +92 21 9212051
E-mail: ppo.sindh@sindhpolice.gov.pk

Thank you.

Urgent Appeals Programme
Asian Human Rights Commission (ua@ahrc.asia)

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US, Coalition Directly Killed Over 11,000 Civilians in Iraq in Five Years

by Jason Ditz
February 15, 2011

King’s College London has released a study related to the Iraq Body Count (IBC) collection of data on civilian deaths, cross referencing it with information from hospitals, NGOs, and official figures to provide an overall picture of the source of “violent civilian deaths” over the first five years of the US-led occupation.

The IBC count puts the toll for that period at 92,614, with the vast majority related to gangs and sectarian violence. But the study also found 12 percent of the violent deaths of innocent civilians were caused by “coalition forces,” which virtually exclusively means US and British forces in the context of Iraq.

This means that the US and its allies, excluding the Iraqi government forces themselves, directly killed over 11,000 innocent civilians over that period. This means the occupation forces, on an average day, killed six innocent civilians.

That’s an unfathomable amount, indeed neither the Taliban nor the occupation forces in Afghanistan could lay claim to such a grim number of innocent victims. The 11,000 US-led killings were bolstered by another 10,000 or so slain directly by the Iraqi government forces.

Of course, when one discusses the IBC it must be pointed out that the toll provided by them is extremely conservative, covering only direct violent killings, and that other other studies have put the “excess deaths” in the period in the high hundred thousands or more. That includes those who died by virtue of the disastrousness of life post occupation Iraq.

The 11,000+ civilians directly killed would have been an unthinkable claim to make a couple of years ago, even if the study’s data surely backed it up. Since the release of WikiLeaks’ Iraq War documents, however, the evidence of wholesale civilian slaughter seems all the more plausable, as killing innocent people seemed to be an all-too-common occurance.

Posted: 15 Feb 2011 05:49 PM PST
antiwar.com

The Crimson Earth

By Noreen Haider

December 22, 2010, Gujranwala
Shumila, a newly wed bride, murdered by the bridegroom, who staged a dacoity-cum-murder drama to mislead the police after killing his bride over the demand of a car in dowry which the parents of the girl could not afford. Shumaila was offering prayers when Sajid opened fire on her temple and later wounded himself by shooting on his one leg. He later confessed to the killing.
January 16, 2011, Multan
Hina, nine years old, subjected to sexual assault before being murdered in Multan according to the postmortem report. The unfortunate child, left her home to buy some food items from a nearby shop, but she never returned. Her body was later recovered from Basti Khudadad.
January 19, Lahore
Allah Rakhi, forty, killed by her husband on the allegation of illicit relations in Ghaziabad Lahore. Police arrested the accused who confessed his crime and also admitted to killing his 17-year-old daughter Surriya Bibi by strangling her five months ago. Allah Rakhi was hit by hammer repeatedly on her head, which resulted in her instant death. The body of Surriya Bibi was recovered from an empty plot by the police.
January 19, Dera Ghazi Khan
Khursheed twenty one and Nadra twenty three were ambushed by their father and uncles and showered with bullets while returning to their home town of Mozah Marhaata in Pir Adil Village of Dera Ghazi Khan. The two women were allegedly trying to escape a forced marriage. They left their home nearly 18 days ago. The family members were trying to bury their bodies when a SHO, managed to recover the bodies of the victims.
January 20, Khanewal
Asma, eight months pregnant, beaten by iron rods to death by her husband abetted by his family. Asma was tortured in front of her mother, who was held in place by some men, at Kot Abdullah village in Khanewal. The postmortem report confirms torture and death by poison. The police have arrested her husband who has confessed to the killing.
January 20, Vehari
Shaista, seven months pregnant, killed by her husband allegedly over suspicions of having an illicit relationship. She was choked to death by stuffing a piece of cloth in her mouth. Her husband Yousaf and his father, Hafeez, were arrested by the police where they admitted to killing Shazia.
January 21, Multan
Zainab Bibi, wife of a laborer was gang raped after her husband Arshad Muhammad asked a local landlord Ameen to pay his wages. The landlord owed him thirty thousand rupees. On the demand of payment, Arshad was verbally abused and brutally beaten with sticks by the hit men of the landlord. Later, Zainab was abducted by Ameen and his accomplices and was taken to Ameen’s farmhouse where she was gang raped. A few hours later she was thrown near her house badly injured. Local police officials refused to file the FIR against the criminals. The case was registered only after Khanewal district session judge Ijaz Ahmed Butt took notice of the case. Ameen and his accomplice fled the district and are now at large.
22 January, Lahore
Shazia, 26, was brutally beaten by her husband along with his brothers and other members of his family and then thrown from the roof critically injuring her and breaking her legs, arms, jaw and head. Police initially refused to file a case against the culprits. She, the mother of four children, is still hanging between life and death. Her family is constantly receiving death threats from her in-laws in case they pursue the case. The main culprit is still at large.
January 22, Burewala
Najma Bibi is reported missing for days after her in-laws disgraced her in the name of honor in Mochiwala, Bherowala. In line with the decision of the panchayat, the in-laws of Najma Bibi, 24, cut her hair, blackened her face and paraded her in the streets on the allegation of having illicit relations with a man of the same village. Najma and her children were later evicted from the village on the orders of the Panchayat which ruled that an example should be made of her before she was turned out of the village.
January 23, Bahawalpur
Saima, 17, electrocuted to death in Bahawalpur district on the orders of a Panchayat that comprised of her father and three uncles. Her crime was that she had eloped with a man in the neighborhood and married him. According to eye witnesses there were signs of severe torture and burn injuries on her body.

It may seem that these cases are taken out of the plot of some horror movie or are stories from the land of barbarians who have never seen the light of modern day world but in reality these are but a few of the reported cases of violent crimes against women, in the very first month of the new year. Every day women are being killed in excruciatingly painful ways and there is no apparent end to it. All the above cited cases have occurred in the Punjab where the rulers have tall claims of “good governance”

It is preposterous that Panchayat (the informal local councils) are still continuing in Pakistan and handing out verdicts including death sentences against women. These courts have no legal or constitutional authority and they have no business running a parallel system of vigilante justice.

It is the complete failure of the provincial governments, district administrations and the law enforcement agencies that the Panchayats are handing out death sentences to helpless women.

The Chief Minister Punjab, Home Department, IG Police and the Law Minister are directly responsible for the horrendous situation in Punjab regarding violent crimes against women.

The regular occurrence of these cases has exposed the crumbling administrative system in Punjab and the even poorer intelligence system. The Central Intelligence Department is doing a poor job of gathering intelligence about developing situations which precipitate into such violent crimes. The police are lagging behind most of the time, and actually do nothing to prevent crimes against women. Even after the occurrence of such crimes, the inertia continues. The family members of rape victims have to virtually get raped themselves in order to get the police to come out of their slumber and register the case.

But the real cause of alarm is not just the brutal killings, rape and maiming of women by their own family members, but the effortless ease and fearless ways these horrific crimes are now being carried out right under the noses of the district administration, in broad daylight. The killers and abettors have neither any fear of the law nor of any social condemnation. In fact in many cases the killing of the “allegedly tainted women” by the family is taken as a sign of honour and he-man-ship.

Although the response of the police and the law enforcing agencies is pitiable and they have a dismal record in handling the cases of violence against women but how the communities and society reacts towards it is much more significant. The reaction of the neighbors, larger family, religious leaders, prayer leaders, local mystics, influentials and elders, whose words hold importance, all constitute the overall society that matters to an individual and if there is no condemnation there and no adverse reaction then it is, in fact a tacit approval for the act. In this scenario the state and its organs can not work effectively in the prevention or control of the crime.

The shocking rapidity with which these crimes are occurring is a commentary on the overall deteriorating psyche of the regressive society in Pakistan generally and in Punjab particularly as majority of the crimes against women are being reported in Punjab. It is also a reflection on how the weak segments of the community are becoming more and more vulnerable with the traditional social protection networks deteriorating fast and the state being a total failure in providing protection to any of its citizens.

The society which does not show any abhorrence for horrendous crimes against humanity is a morally dead society. We are now living in a country of dead men walking. Oblivious to the blood and gore stories around them and in a state of self imposed trance. If there was any life left in them they would have protested for young Hina, for the seventeen year old Saima, for Najma. They would have protested for someone. But the silence is deafening. There is no one willing to take a stand for any of these women.

As for the ruling elite they are busy playing the fiddle like Nero and enjoying their super luxury lifestyles comparable to any oil rich Shiekh in the Middle East.

I want to ask all the leaders of the religious groups and parties the reason for this strange silence against the brutality of men slaughtering their wives, daughters, sisters and mothers. Why such abhorrence for women? What is preventing them from coming out in public and declaring “Fatwas” against the perpetrators and abettors of the crimes against women in the name of honour? How can a man justify his act by taking refuge in religious decrees against immoralities when he himself is committing murders?

As the sanctions for these crimes are inferred through the morality derived through religion, I beseech the Islamic scholars “The Ulemas” to come out of their inertia and play a positive role to save women from the blood bath going on. I beg them to pass their declarations, “Fatwas” now about men butchering women and clearly state where they stand in the scheme of things. Why can’t the Ulema use the power they have to pressurize the governments and mobilize public to rally the around this issue? Is it not also blasphemous that men are butchering women in a country where the love for the Prophet (SW) is sworn by all? What would the Prophet (SW) think of His faithful being silent spectators in the face of such brutality?

It is the obligation of the religious scholars to come out and declare the right of women with regard to their own marriage. Regarding a woman’s right to marry a person of her choice, a point that is relevant in Saima’s case, is a right granted to women by Islam and the constitution of Pakistan and upheld by numerous court judgments. All consensual marriages are perfectly legal and “Islamic”.

The blood of Shumaila, Hina, Allah Rakhi, Saima and Najma and all the slain women is calling every conscientious human being left in this country. Their blood will not run dry but will continue to seep in the earth staining every inch of this land until it becomes the Crimson Earth.

January 29, 2011
From SPN Newsletter.
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Accounting for Muslim Backwardness in India: Going Beyond Sachar

Accounting for Muslim Backwardness: Going Beyond Sachar
By Yoginder Sikand

Introduction
As numerous studies, most prominently and recently the Sachar Committee Report, have pointed out, Muslims are among the most economically, educationally and socially backward sections of Indian society. Undoubtedly, the Report is immensely useful for understanding the magnitude of this problem, as are many of the suggestions that it provides for ameliorating it.

Critics of the Report are, however, not found wanting. One of the problematic aspects of the Report, as I see it, is that it has paid insufficient attention to the role of individuals and organizations that claim to represent the Indian Muslims in perpetuating the overall marginalization of the community, or large sections thereof, and of doing precious little by way of working to address it. The Report thus places the onus for addressing the problem largely, though not entirely, on the state.

While, admittedly, the state and its agencies do have a central role in both perpetuating as well as addressing Muslim marginalization, the responsibility and role of Muslim organizations that claim to represent the Muslims of India, and to be spokesmen of Islam, in this regard cannot be ignored. Unfortunately, the Report does not seem to give this issue the attention and importance that it deserves.

Muslim Marginalisation and the Role of Muslim ‘Leaders’
In the wake of the Partition of India, a large section of the then Indian Muslim leadership, consisting mainly of the landed aristocracy as well as the middle class intelligentsia, particularly in north India, where the bulk of the Muslim population was concentrated, migrated to Pakistan. The Muslims who remained behind were largely poor and illiterate, the vast majority of who belonged to the so-called ajlaf, descendants of ‘low’ caste converts, whose economic, social and educational conditions had not changed appreciably despite their conversion to Islam.

With their political influence, financial resources and access to new forms of knowledge, the landed aristocracy and, especially, the modern-educated intelligentsia could otherwise have been expected to play a key role in promoting internal social reform among the Muslims, as some of them indeed had in the years before Partition. But with their migration to Pakistan, this was rendered impossible.

The leadership vacuum created by their departure was soon filled by a different class of men—mullahs, representing a variety of rival Muslim sects, educated in traditionalist madrasas. Many of them, particularly of the Deobandi variety, had been close allies of the Congress Party.

Today, the vast majority of Muslim organizations that claim to speak for Islam and for the entire Muslim community are led and dominated by mullahs belonging to various sectarian groups—the All-India Muslim Personal Law Board, the All-India Milli Council, the two or more factions of the Jamiat ul-Ulema-e Hind, the Jamaat-e Islami, the Jamiat-e Ahl-e Hadith and so on.

Many of these mullah-led groups enjoy a symbiotic relationship with the state, despite the contradictions that sometimes emerge in their relationship. The state regards them as the authoritative spokesmen of Islam and of the Muslims, in return for which these organizations pledge loyalty to the state.

Ruling parties patronize some of these groups (in some cases, providing ministerial berths and positions in Parliament to their members, as in the case of the Jamiat ul-Ulema-e Hind-Congress alliance), in return for which these groups seek to mobilize Muslim electoral support for these parties. The relationship thus works both ways, to the benefit of both.

These groups make minimal demands, in terms of resource allocation, on the state, and this the state finds convenient. Often, their demands concern symbolic issues related to what they regard as Muslim identity: the protection of the sternly patriarchal Muslim Personal Law, permission for Muslim government employees to grow beards or for school-going Muslim girls to wear headscarves, permission to pray in mosques now under the control of the Archaeological Survey of India, demands for state patronage to Urdu, the protection of the Babri Masjid, and so on.

The state is very willing to concede, or appear to concede, at least some of these demands. After all, it costs parties in power little, if at all, in terms of resource allocation for Muslims, while by conceding some of these demands they are able to win Muslim votes.

The politics of Muslim cultural symbolism suits the mullah-led groups eminently, too, enabling them to present themselves among the Muslim populace as ardent defenders of Islam. It is on this claim that their popularity and the careers of their leaders rest. Furthermore, as in the case of Hindutva chauvinists, mullah-groups thrive on raking up issues that involve communal conflict, as the Babri Masjid controversy so tragically illustrates.

These issues are made to occupy the minds and energies of the Muslim masses in such a way as they come to believe that they literally involve the survival of Islam itself in India, in front of which bread-and-butter issues pale into complete insignificance. Playing on such issues and controversies, the mullah-led groups (like their Hindutva counterparts) are able to further stress and reinforce their claims of being the sole representatives of Islam and the Muslims, and in doing so to promote their vested interests that are linked to such untenable claims. By and large, their politics can be described as ‘the politics of agitation’. To be fair, though, to an extent, this politics is deliberately thrust on the Muslims by anti-Muslim Hindutva forces that thrive on raking up issues that pit Hindus against Muslims. This leaves Muslims and their leaders with little breathing space to tackle the massive internal problems of the community, being constantly forced on the defensive.

A survey of the demands that mullah-led groups consistently put forward and make on the state reveals that the pathetic economic and educational conditions of the Muslim masses hardly occupy their concern. Minor exceptions in this regard only prove a general rule. Instead, symbolic issues and those that involve contestation with other communities seem to be their principal concern, and in this, of course, they are a mirror image of Hindutva groups.

To be fair, this has to do not just with an innate conservatism of the mullahs, but also to the tremendous insecurity that Muslims in parts of India suffer from, at the hands of the dominant Hindus and agencies of the state that are perceived as biased against Muslims, which has only been further strengthened by certain global developments that are perceived as targeting Islam and Muslims.

Conservatism flourishes when a group feels that its way of life and its culture are under threat, and in such a situation, voices for reform take a back seat. Issues related to community identity, in this case based on religion, are then regarded as of overwhelming significance, while other issues are swept into the background.

In terms of their practical activities, too, the work of these organizations, by and large, is limited largely to religious instruction and preaching. The bulk of their resources are spent on building and running maktabs and madrasas and producing religious literature. Literally thousands of maktabs and madrasas function throughout the country, consuming the lion’s share of zakat, sadqa and other money given away in charity by members of the community.

The madrasas might serve a certain limited economic function, in that most madrasas provide free education, boarding and lodging to students, most of who come from poor families. They also offer them the prospect of a job as low-paid religious functionaries once they graduate. However, from an overall simple cost-benefit economic point of view, the enormous investment in the madrasas does not produce commensurate results. Madrasa students are trained in such a way as to render them (with notable exceptions) quite incapable of helping to address the manifold social, economic and educational problems of the Muslim masses. They are generally kept quite ignorant of real-world issues. In fact, although I will not elaborate on this here, by and large they tend to reinforce existing problems and even create new ones. As numerous critics have rightly argued, the education that they receive shapes their mind in such a way that in the future, as trained, professional mullahs, many of them actively work to hinder the development of the community, making it even more incapable of functioning in a plural, modern society.

Critics argue that the madrasas and their mullahs are, in large part, to blame for the backwardness of the Muslim community. Although the proportion of Muslim children who study in full-time madrasas and go on to become mullahs is relatively small compared to those who study in regular schools or do not study at all, as would-be mullahs they will go on to exercise an inordinate influence on the wider Muslim community, through the religious institutions they will man, the mosques in which they will preach, and so on.

The backwardness of the Muslim community cannot, therefore, be fully understood without critically examining the backwardness of the madrasa system that produces community leaders, whose influence is far greater than what their relative numbers might suggest.

The madrasas and other Muslim religious institutions that receive the bulk of community resources (and, in some cases, from patrons abroad, such as in the Gulf) generally promote extremely ritualistic and narrow versions of Islam. The Quran stresses active social engagement and exhorts people to help the needy and so on, but this socially-engaged understanding of religion that involves practical effort to address the real-world problems of the poor (as opposed to simply preaching about them) is quite in contrast to what many Muslim organizations propagate. Their work is limited largely to preaching, and rarely does it take the form of putting the social ethics of Islam (as they diversely understand them) into practical form in the form of projects for the needy and the poor. Preaching and publishing endless amounts of literature extolling (their sectarian versions of) Islam as ‘the solution to all the problems of the world’ thus substitutes for active effort to solve such problems.

Few, if any, of the mullah-led organizations run quality modern educational institutions or NGOs working among the Muslim poor. There are, of course, some such institutions and organizations, but, generally speaking, and notable exceptions notwithstanding, they suffer from lack of professionalism and internal democracy, and often just exist on paper. Like many other NGOs, many of them are little more than money-making rackets, and are generally rife with nepotism and corruption. They continue to operate in the charity mode, and thus their impact is even more limited. Typically, they shun collaborating with government agencies or with non-Muslim NGOs.

In part, this owes to deeply-rooted prejudicial views about non-Muslims and often unfounded suspicions about the intentions of agencies of the state. This naturally has a seriously deleterious impact on their efficiency.

The fact of the matter remains that the enormous, indeed overwhelming, focus of these organizations on religion- and identity-related issues (narrowly defined), to the relative neglect of the pathetic economic and educational problems of the Muslim masses, is definitely linked to their leaders’ worldly interests. This is because their authority rests on their claim of being spokesmen of Islam, a claim that, needless to say, is deeply contested by others. Constantly raising and playing on these issues, and diverting the scarce resources of the community largely to setting up religious institutions helps shore up their authority.

Critics are not wanting who argue that such leaders have a vested interest in keeping Muslims economically and educationally backward, and that in this, an obsessive concern with religious identity plays a key role, because it is on that basis alone that they can thrive.

More can be said about the priorities of Muslim religious leaders (with some notable exceptions) that reflect the privileging of cultural, symbolic and what are regarded as religious concerns over the material, real-world problems of the Muslim masses, but I shall stop here. I think by now it should be clear that the Muslim religious leadership (with some significant exceptions) has done precious little to address the manifold social and educational problems of the Muslim masses.

In the discourse of some of these ideologues, Muslim backwardness is routinely projected as primarily the result of state neglect or discrimination. Hence, the onus of addressing Muslim backwardness is placed mainly on the shoulders of the state. Some even go to the extent of claiming that Muslim backwardness is the result of what they allege to be a global conspiracy of non-Muslims to dis-empower Muslims.

It is true, of course, that anti-Muslim discrimination does exist, including among sections of the agencies of the state. It is also true that some non-Muslims, including and especially those who share the Hindutva view of the world, might well want to reduce Muslims to the status of the new ‘untouchables’. But to claim that Muslim backwardness is entirely, or even mostly, a result of the evil machinations of the state and non-Muslims, as is sometimes alleged, is completely unfair.

Besides, it completely and very conveniently absolves Muslims, particularly their self-styled leaders, of their own responsibility in addressing and doing something practical about addressing the issue of Muslim backwardness.

Somewhat the same can be said about Muslim political leaders (with notable exceptions) as what I have said about religious leaders. Almost all Muslim politicians are handpicked by various political parties, and many of them have absolutely no connection or involvement with the grass-roots. Often, their sole function is simply to garner Muslim votes for their parties, which are non-Muslim-, mostly ‘upper’ caste-Hindu-, dominated. They are answerable to their parties rather than to their Muslim voters. Elected from constituencies that have non-Muslims as well, naturally there is a limit on what they can do, even if they so wanted, for their Muslim voters.

Appearing ‘too concerned’ about their Muslim voters could well cost them dear, rousing the opposition of non-Muslims in their constituency or in their party, who might be quick to brand such concern as ‘Muslim communalism’. Like many mullahs, many Muslim politicians, their Muslim critics argue, have a vested interest in keeping Muslims backward and in the politics of symbolism and agitation, for it is in this way that they can project and reinforce their claims of being ‘leaders’ of the community.

In the years leading up to the Partition of India, a significant middle-class intelligentsia had emerged, which played a central role in promoting internal social reforms. The migration of a sizeable section of this class to Pakistan proved to be a major set back to this effort.

The overall backwardness of Muslims, especially in north India, owes also to the relative absence of a forward-looking, liberal middle-class which could otherwise have taken the lead in promoting social change and establishing institutions and organizations for this purpose.

In recent years, a small Muslim middle-class has emerged in pockets in the north, but, owing to various factors that I will not go into here, it has not played a significant role in this regard. It would be instructive to make a comparative study of the role of the Muslim middle-class in the north with its counterpart in the south, in states like Tamil Nadu and Kerala, where the situation is quite different. Although important centres for modern learning that cater mainly to Muslims exist in the north, such as the Aligarh Muslim University and the Jamia Millia Islamia, they have done little to address the pathetic social and economic conditions of the Muslim masses. Why this has been the case I leave it to you to think about.

Likewise, the Muslim press (with some exceptions) has performed dismally in articulating the social, economic and educational problems of the Muslim masses. Muslim-owned papers often go along with Muslim religious and political leaders in thriving on the politics of agitation and communal symbolism. This, too, is a subject that calls for detailed analysis. The same is true for the many Muslim publishing houses that exist. Most of them specialize in producing religious literature of the preachy sort, and hardly any of them have produced any serious empirically-based studies on the manifold social, economic and educational problems of the Muslim masses.

The neglect that these issues continue to suffer at the hands of the Muslim leadership is evident from the fact that there is not single Muslim-run research centre in the whole of India devoted to serious empirically-grounded social science research on Muslim issues. In contrast, there are literally thousands of what are called ‘Islamic research centres’ devoted to studies on Islamic texts, which bring out enormous amounts of literature on the subject. This is a sign of a certain socially disengaged vision of religion, which I had mentioned earlier, seems to be dominant, although it is rightly critiqued by many as ritualistic, polemical and sectarian.

The vast majority of the Indian Muslims belong to the so-called low castes. At least half the Indian Muslim population are women. Yet, the religious and political leadership of the Indian Muslims continues to be almost wholly male, and these ‘leaders’ are also greatly disproportionately from the so-called ashraf castes that claim foreign descent.

The manifold problems specific to the ‘low’ caste Muslims have, in part, to do with ashraf Muslim domination; and the continued marginalization of Muslim women, with Muslim patriarchy. Typically, ashraf male leaders have remained indifferent and insensitive to the empowerment of these two sections, who together form the vast majority of the Indian Muslim population. It is not difficult to understand why. Seriously addressing their concerns and promoting efforts to empower these most vulnerable sections of the Muslims would naturally threaten to undermine the vested interests of the ashraf male ‘leaders’.

In this presentation, I have sought to outline some crucial internal factors for the overall marginalization of the Indian Muslims that the Sachar Committee Report has, in my mind, either overlooked or not paid sufficient attention to. I have identified some aspects of the Indian Muslim leadership that are clearly responsible, in part, for the continued backwardness of the Muslims of India as a whole. By identifying some salient aspects of the Indian Muslim leadership that must be taken into account in order to understand the causes of continued Muslim backwardness, I am not unmindful of other causes for this predicament: the discriminatory role of the state, for instance, or Hindutva chauvinism, and so on.

Naturally, I have made broad generalizations in my analysis that may not be applicable in every case. Not all Muslim religious leaders are obscurantist; not all Muslim politicians are indifferent to their constituencies; not all Muslim-run organizations are inefficient; and not all ashraf Muslim male leaders are wholly opposed to women’s education or to the empowerment of ‘low’ caste Muslims. Certainly, there are Muslim religious and political that are indeed engaged in addressing the enormous social, economic and educational problems of the Muslim masses, but, the fact remains, these are more the exception than the rule.

Further, the situation varies across region and ethnicity. The situation in parts of southern and western India is quite different and far less discouraging than in much of the north and east, where the bulk of the Muslims are concentrated. The situation in the non-Hindi/Urdu belt might be, in some cases, more promising than in the north. But, I think, the tendencies I have tried to identify here are sufficiently prominent to justify these generalizations. Each of the issues I have raised could be the subject of a detailed book-length study, and I do hope other researchers would be sufficiently enthused to take up this task.

ysikand@yahoo.com

From SPN Newsletter

People’s SAARC Seminar Report: Prosperous and Secular South Asia

Press Release, Dhaka, 18 January 2011

People’s SAARC Seminar
Leadership urged to shun traditional politics to curb out a new South Asia

Human right activists and civil society leaders from all eight SAARC countries at a seminar in the city today held soul searching discussions on how to expedite regional integration breaking apart the shackle of elite run traditional politics.

The civil society leaders also laid emphasis on evolving a new growth strategy and alternative models for development over the neo-liberal models having the globalization and economic exploitation of the poor nations by industrialized nations and of the poor by the rich within a nation, especially in South Asian region.

They spoke critically of the ongoing globalization process saying trade liberalization is only destroying local capacity and job market. It has taken the form of commercial hegemony instead of fostering prosperity to the poor.

They also spoke of creating a secular South Asia through building democratic institutions in respective nations. The two-day seminar taking place at BRAC Center will end tomorrow with adoption of a declaration. This is part of a process titled “Envisioning New South Asia from the People’s Perspectives” organized by a regional civil society network called “People’s SAARC’.

About 30 civil society leaders from seven SAARC countries are taking part in it, in addition to large number of civil society leaders from host Bangladesh. They include a senator from Pakistan, a retired navy chief from India and such other high profile personalities from the member states.

The inaugural session of this seminar was moderated by noted Indian human rights activist Kamala Bhasin. Among the panelists in this session were Prof Anisuzzaman, trade union leader representing Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research, Karamat Ali, and former Human Rights Commissioner of Nepal, Kapil Shrestha. All of them emphasized that the sub-continent can only deliver the full potentials of prosperity within the framework of a People’s Union of South Asian.

There is no alternative to it and sooner or later it will come true. Karamat Ali said, the region had in fact lost an opportunity of making the union in 1970-71 and had it been done, the genocide in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka would not have taken place. He begged apology of his country’s role in Bangladesh in 1971 reiterating the demand that he favoured the trial of Pakistani war criminals and their associates that Bangladesh is now holding for its own perpetrators of war criminals. He said he would continue the demand for trial of his country’s war criminals until they are brought to justice.

Prof Anisuzzaman said people have lost confidence in the SAARC process of integration because it is basically based on promoting the interest of the elite and corporate business. He laid emphasis on promoting people’s regionalism to facilitate people to people contact and bring the benefit of economic prosperity to common people.

Kamala Bhasin said there should be alternative approach to expedite regional integration apart from official platforms. She said people should be encouraged to ignore narrow national identity, border and such other obstacles which are used now as divider to the much sought unity of the region.

Kapil Shrestha laid emphasis on greater involvement of common people in rights movement and protests actions to get the people’s voice heard.

Sender
Rezaul Karim Chowdhury
Mobile: +88 01711529792

From SPN Newsletter
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10,000 Ship breaking workers come together at Gaddani!!

Press Release, 5th July, 2010.

In a historic display of strength and unity, 10,000 ship breaking workers came together in Gadani today to protest deplorable working conditions and demand the fulfillment of repeatedly broken promises.

Even before the rally began, the massive congregation faced systematic harassment from the police and Anti Terrorism Task Force, who had arrived four hours in advance of the scheduled protest time of 10:30am. Not only did they attempt to physically force the protesters back to work, but led a baton charge on 150 workers, which resulted in several casualties. After wounding numerous protesters, security forces detained Edhi ambulances for a full 2 hours and prevented paramedics from tending to the injured.

Then in an attempt to intimidate the organizers and disperse the rally, the heavily armed police arrested, without just cause, the General Secretary of the Gadani Ship Breaking Democratic Workers Union (GDSBDWU), Tarhir Yusufzai and threatened to arrest the Deputy General Secretary of the National Trade Union Federation (NTUF), Nasir Mansoor. However, the sheer presence of thousands of workers forced the S.H.O. Amir Abdullah to back down from his confrontational stance and release Tahir Yusufzai.

A convention was held noting the long struggle of the workers. Nasir Manzoor from the NTUF, Tahir Yusufzai from GDSBDWU, Ghulam Mustafa from BNP all spoke at the convention.

The workers then commenced their 8km march along the Gadani shoreline at 10:45am and were joined by over 10,000 workers. Despite the squalid living conditions forced upon the workers for years past, they found joy in solidarity with their fellow workers and were in high spirits throughout the protest.

The ship breaking owners had previously agreed to meet the workers’ demands by 30th June in return for them calling off the strike scheduled from 16th to 30th June. The owners’ refusal to abide by the agreement and their underhand attempts to demoralize the union through physical threats and intimidation has only served to strengthen the resolve of the workers. Taking into account the owners’ lack of good faith and their deceitful efforts to deny basic rights to the workers, it was unanimously decided by all present that an indefinite strike be called from the 5th of July till the following demands were met:

100% increase in wages
Registration with Social Security and Old age Benefits Institutes
Medical Dispensary and Ambulance at each ship breaking yard
Clean drinking water and canteen at each yard
Appointment letter for every worker
End of contract (JAMADARY) system
Workers residential colony
Recognition of representative character of GSBDW Union
Occupational safety measures at work place
End of police harassment against workers

For more information, please call: Nasir Manzoor, Deputy General Secretary National Trade Union Federation at 0300-2449970

138 suicides in one month: HRCP

Press release, February 10, 2009

LAHORE: At least 138 people committed suicide in the country in one month ending January 25, 2009, according to statistics available with the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and published in its monthly journal.

Of those committing suicide between 26th December 2008 and 25th January 2009, 98 individuals were male and 40 female. Twenty-nine people committed suicide over their failure to find employment or on account of poverty. Thirty-two people shot themselves, indicating the access to firearms. Fifty-four people took their own lives by consuming poison, insecticide or various chemicals.

The youngest person to commit suicide was 13-year-old and the oldest was 65. The age of the victims could not be ascertained in many cases of suicide.

Between 26th December 2008 and 25th January 2009, there were also 78 incidents of attempted suicide. The registration of a First Information Report (FIR) by the police for attempted suicides could only be confirmed in six cases.

In the previous month – from 26th November to 25th December 2008 – at least 117 people had committed suicide and 80 others had attempted to take their own lives.

I. A. Rehman
Secretary General