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Archive for the ‘Perspective’ Category

How two women took to trolling – their offensives, their defences, rewards and recognition. Sonia Sarkar reports

  • For whom the belles troll: (From top) Priti Gandhi with Smriti Irani; one of Gandhi’s tweets; Vidyut

They live in Mumbai. Both are mommies. They are politically aware and aggressive social media enthusiasts. They are both big-time trolls on Twitter.

That is where all similarities end.

Priti Gandhi tweets @Mrs Gandhi and Vidyut tweets @Vidyut. The former, according to the Twitteratti, is a ” bhakt” and the latter an “anti-national”. “We are very different from each other,” stresses 40-year-old Vidyut, who has over 35,900 followers.

Indeed, Gandhi is a Narendra Modi fan, while Vidyut is quite the fierce Modi critic. Gandhi advocates the ban on cow-slaughter, Vidyut questions it fearlessly. Gandhi is a darling of ultra-nationalists, Vidyut is often called a “libtard” on Twitter by the same lot.

Both women got active on Twitter when as new mothers they found themselves confined to their homes. The year was 2010. “Those days, I was reading newspapers a lot and felt it was important to put forth my opinion on certain issues. So I hooked onto Twitter,” says Gandhi, 39, who has over 2,14,920 followers.

Within a year, national politics underwent a transition. Anna Hazare’s fight against corruption started and Arvind Kejriwal emerged as a third force to take on both the BJP and Congress before going on to form the Aam Aadmi Party. Modi was projected as a mass leader soon after he became the Gujarat chief minister for the third time in 2012.

Initially, Gandhi tweeted only about mundane things @pritirules. But even then the message was loud and clear. “Don’t get misled by my last name; I support the BJP,” she roared on Twitter.

Her anti-Congress tweets started getting retweeted by BJP leaders; and then one day, she changed her handle to @MrsGandhi. “One of my friends used to jokingly say, ‘There are two Mrs Gandhis in India – one is Sonia Gandhi and the other is you.’ I realised, this name has a lot of potential, as there would be one Gandhi questioning the other. So I changed my handle,” she says.

Vidyut invited the ire of the saffron brigade on Twitter because she was supporting AAP and criticising BJP. She was trolled relentlessly. But she knows that verbally abusing women who go against the tide is a norm on social media. She doesn’t get flustered because every time people troll her, her followers multiply. Says Vidyut, who is incidentally no longer a Kejriwal supporter, “Women have to roll up their sleeves and defend themselves. Ignoring or blocking the abusive handle isn’t really the solution.”

For once the two agree. “If you can-not bear the heat, get out of the kitchen. Playing the victim card doesn’t help,” says Gandhi.

Just because they have learnt the art of negotiating insults doesn’t mean they don’t troll anyone. “But I am not abusive,” explains Vidyut. “I am sarcastic and yes, my sarcasm is far more brutal than any abuse.”

Gandhi does not like to call herself a “troll”. “I put forth my opinion aggressively,” she says. It was her aggression that caught the attention of Narendra Modi, who started following her on Twitter in 2012. “He was one of my first 75 followers,” says Gandhi. Thereafter, her followers increased manifold.

That very year, she was invited to Gandhinagar. “He [Modi] liked that I, as an independent person, defend him on social media,” says Gandhi, whose Twitter page has three different shots of her with the Prime Minister. ” Bhakts” do get their due. Gandhi too was inducted into the communication cell first, and later into the BJP’s women’s wing.

In fact, such was Gandhi’s devotion that she once tweeted a fake endorsement of Modi by editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks Julian Assange without checking – only because it seemed to compliment Modi. This was before the 2014 general elections. The link had an image of Assange and a quote that read – “America fears Narendra Modi because they know he is incorruptible”. “Somebody had sent it to me. I tweeted it. It was a non-issue that was blown out of proportion by the media,” she explains.

But Vidyut is not going to let this Gandhi gaffe slip into oblivion anytime soon. “Whenever Gandhi trolls people by pointing at concocted facts and figures, I troll her back to remind her how she propagated a false endorsement of Modi by Assange,” she says. Then adds, “But she is a paid troll of BJP, I can never compete with her.”

For the rest of the catfight, please log in to Twitter.

A marriage bureau in Gujarat is facilitating gay marriages. What does this trend say about the future lives of homosexuals in India? Sonia Sarkar reports

  •  PIC: THINKSTOCK

  • AN EQUAL MUSIC: (Top)The Ahmedabad bureau has gay prince Manvendra Singh Gohil (below) as a counsellor

After years of dilly-dallying, Vishal, a marketing manager with a pharmaceutical company, decided to get married. The news far from pleased his parents. First, they threw a fit, then dragged him to a tantric. Next, his father brought home a female prostitute – for him.

“All this because I said I wanted to get married to a man,” says Vishal, who is from Mumbai but is currently settled in Ahmedabad.

When he couldn’t convince his parents, Vishal approached Arranged Gay Marriage (AGM), India’s first gay marriage bureau. A couple of interactions later the matchmakers there managed to get through to his parents. “They saw several videos on gay relationships on the Internet; they read about gay marriage on various websites; they sat through several counselling sessions to know how gay relationships work,” says Vishal. Once they were convinced, they started looking for a partner for him.

The search ended with Kartikey, a professor in a Mumbai college. “We are getting married in December,” says Vishal. Maitree Basu, who works for an IT firm in Bangalore, also met her partner Tanushree through the bureau. The two tied the knot last year.

Like Vishal and Maitree, over 23 other homosexuals – gays and lesbians – have found their partners through this Ahmedabad-based marriage bureau since it was founded a little over a year ago. To date, the bureau has facilitated four such marriages in India and 20 abroad. And its Facebook page is perennially flooded with queries.

Unlike Australia, Belgium, Norway, Spain, Canada, South Africa, the Netherlands and some states in the US, gay marriage is not legally recognised in India. In fact, Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code prohibits it.

But legalities don’t seem to deter Urvi Shah, the 23-year-old owner of the bureau. “Gays and lesbians also have the right to live a normal life just as any heterosexual,” she says. “Everyone needs a life partner. Moreover, marriage reflects traditional Indian values.” Having said that, she is well aware that in India “coming out” is no easy task, forget deciding to get married. She feels strongly about the social exclusion and psychological distress homosexuals are subjected to and through the bureau offers counselling support to those who want to come out of the closet.

For homosexuals opting or wanting to get married, the idea is to publicly claim their societal space as a married person just as any married heterosexual person. Only last month, Manjit Kaur, a 30-year-old Punjab Police woman sub-inspector married another woman at Pucca Baugh, in Jalandhar, complete with Hindu rituals. Mumbai-based Gaurav Salve, a chartered accountant, married Jake, an American, last year. He says, “I am a religious person and I wanted to get married. For a man in India, getting married to a man was impossible.”

Manvendra Singh Gohil, the celebrity gay prince of Rajpipla in Gujarat, often counsels the clients of AGM. He asks, “When heterosexuals have the liberty to marry, why should gays be deprived of the same right?”

No reason, except that among other things it isn’t easy for homosexuals to find partners keen on a long-term relationship and commitment.

“Homosexual men do have a tendency to have multi-partner sex as their stable relationships are not recognised by society,” says gay rights activist Ashok Row Kavi. “Our first baseline survey in Mumbai in 2000 showed that gay men had an average of 11 casual partners in a month. This figure has now come down to four and even this is reducing,” says Ashok who is chairman of the gay rights organisation, Humsafar Trust. He stresses that as society is getting used to same-sex couples, the chances of stable gay relationships are increasing.

In the meantime, however, the going continues to be tough for Urvi who runs the bureau out of Gujarat, the BJP-run state that supports criminalisation of gay sex. She will tell you it is considered “unethical for a Hindu girl to support homosexuals” and she is used to receiving random threats. Recently, an anonymous caller threatened her with acid attack.

On the home front, too, niggling worries abound. Her parents seem to have got past the initial worry about what people will make of such an initiative. But they cannot stop worrying about how it will impact Urvi’s own marital prospects. Perhaps they worry that no one will believe that she is herself of heterosexual orientation.

Urvi, however, is unbudging. Her steadfastness holds out hope to the homosexual community. Gaurav is thinking of adopting a child.

From counselling and facilitating same-sex marriages will AGM diversify into helping homosexual couples raise a family? It well might, once the trend they’ve floated settles in.

 

 

 

https://www.telegraphindia.com/1170604/jsp/7days/story_154978.jsp

It was meant to celebrate diversity, create a blueprint for a more unified South Asia. Instead, Delhi’s South Asian University has turned into a miniature Saarc summit with Indo-Pak rivalry occupying centrestage and every other country jostling for attention. Sonia Sarkar has the story

  • INTERNATIONAL DIS-COURSE: A bulletin of events at SAU. Picture credit: Sonia Sarkar

Bharat Kumar Kolhi was looking forward to his two-year stay in Delhi when he signed up for the Sociology programme at the South Asian University (SAU). The resident of Pakistan’s Umarkot imagined that in India, he would finally get to be Bharat – the name given to him at birth – instead of Bhrat, the tweaked moniker he had had to acquire to suit the political climate of his birthplace.

It was not very long before Bharat realised his mistake.

Just as the mere whiff of India in his name would set the Pakistanis bristling, here too everyone kept thrusting his Pakistani nationality in his face. Nothing else seemed to matter – neither his name nor his Hindu identity.

“The first thing some Indian students at SAU asked me was – ‘Pakistani ho, haath mein bomb leke aaye ho?’ (You are a Pakistani; have you brought along a bomb?) I realised I would have to live with this kind of stereotyping the next two years,” says Bharat, now in the final year of his postgraduate programme.

SAU was set up in 2010 with the aim to bring together students from the Saarc (South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation) nations – Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, the Maldives, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and, of course, India. While the physical bringing together has happened, it will take some doing before one gets to the “unity in diversity” part, at least going by what students have to say.

In recent times, the SAU campus, like many others across the country, has come under the grip of ultra-nationalism. Pakistani students claim they find themselves at the receiving end of slurs such as “terrorists” and “ISI agents” here, whenever there is tension brewing along the Line of Control.

Hira Hashmi, who is from Karachi, is studying International Relations at SAU. She talks about how last year, when 18 Indian soldiers were killed by militants allegedly “harboured” by Pakistan, a group of Indian students abused the Pakistanis on campus openly. “They put up posters saying ‘dushmano ki buzdili‘ and ‘Pakistanis are cowards’. When we protested, they removed them,” says Hira. “The campus was divided into two groups. It became an Us vs Them debate. We thought we may have to go back to our country halfway through the course.”

Students claim a warning was issued to the mischief-makers after a complaint was lodged with the university disciplinary committee. University officials, however, deny this. “These things happen between students and get resolved by them. We don’t get involved,” says SAU president Kavita A. Sharma.

While the Pakistani students claim they could do with less attention of a certain kind, students of other Saarc countries say they feel left out and their ethnic sensibilities ignored. Sounds familiar? Think Saarc meetings.

Even celebrations are centred around India and Pakistan, students of other nationalities complain. For instance, initially, Indian and Pakistani students celebrated their Independence Day on the midnight of August 14-15. Mahamadul Hasan Rana, a Bangladeshi PhD student at SAU says, “Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was killed on August 15. No one bothered to understand our sentiments.” He adds, “The event has been mellowed down the past two years after we complained.”

 

 


SAU Facts

Established in 2010
Programmes offered: PG, MPhil and PhD
Number of students by country*
♦ India: 350**  ♦ Pakistan: 19
♦ Bangladesh: 67  ♦ Sri Lanka: 8
♦ Nepal: 52  ♦ Afghanistan: 55
♦ Bhutan: 9  ♦ Maldives: 1

US $300 million (Rs 1,996 crore)
is the estimated capital cost
The operational budget for 2016 is
US $10.71 million (Rs 71 crore)
Capital budget for 2016 is
US $36.37 million (Rs 242 crore)

*Number currently enrolled at SAU
**50 per cent seats reserved for Indians


Some others allege that India’s “big brother” attitude in the Saarc region is reflected in the conduct of the Indian students. “Indians try to emphasise that Bangladesh exists only because Indians helped us in our Liberation War,” says Sariful Islam, a Bangladeshi student, who is doing his postgraduate in International Relations.

The imbalance, apparently, is also reflected in the curriculum. Afghanistan is under-represented in courses such as International Relations and Sociology, points out Omar Sadr, a PhD student from Afghanistan. “The multi-cultural and multi-national theme of the university is defeated because there is an overdose of India and Pakistan in the curriculum.” And yet, the SAU is overflowing with applications from Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Nepal.

In fact, it is the number of Pakistani students that has been dwindling – their 10 per cent quota remains underutilised in most courses. And while the ongoing political tension has most definitely contributed to the reduced numbers, there are quite a few niggling issues that they face.

Hira talks about how Pakistanis have to literally go to lengths just to be able to pay the fee for the aptitude test. Payment via debit card, credit card and netbanking from Pakistan is not possible. “One of my cousins who lives in India made the payment on my behalf,” she says.

It is the same story when Pakistani students have to block seats by making an advance payment after they have cleared the test. A senior university official who does not want to be identified confirms that Pakistani students have indeed been complaining about payment-related problems.

The other stumbling block is visa. According to SAU rules, students along with faculty members and university staffers from other countries were supposed to get the SAU visa. It is valid for the course duration and allows visa holders to move freely across India. But the reality is different for some, especially if they are from Pakistan. “We need to renew our visa every year. Besides, only six entries are allowed and the movement is restricted to four places – Delhi, Agra, Gurgaon and Amritsar,” Hira complains.

But a lot hinges on the political dynamics between the two countries. Last year, an additional visa granted to Hira for travelling to Patna was withdrawn, and apparently no valid reason was cited.

Then again, every time Pakistani students re-enter India, they have to report to the foreigners regional registration officer within 24 hours of arrival. Students of other Saarc countries have to do so within 14 days of arrival.

  •    The first thing that some Indian students at the university asked me was — ‘Pakistani ho, haath mein bomb leke aaye ho?’
    Bharat Kumar Kolhi
    Sociology

  •     We need to renew our visa every year… Only six entries are allowed and movement is restricted to Delhi, Agra, Gurgaon and Amritsar
    Hira Hashmi
    International Relations
    Picture credit: Sonia Sarkar

University officials are inundated with complaints. “We have written to the ministry of external affairs (MEA) several times about these issues,” says president Sharma. “That’s all we can do.” The Telegraph tried to contact the MEA spokesperson to understand the visa issues but did not get any response.

All said and done, two years is a decent period. Despite irritants, one picks up survival tips, makes friends, learns to laugh at the situation. Hira points out that a lot of the campus humour also revolves around Indo-Pakistan relations. “One of my Indian friends taught me this dialogue from a Sunny Deol blockbuster where he apparently tells Pakistanis – ‘Doodh mangoge toh kheer denge, Kashmir mangoge toh cheer denge (If you want milk, we’ll give you kheer. But if you seek Kashmir, we will rip you apart),” she says with a laugh.

Hira has learnt to cope with the biases too. Tips from her Indian cousins have helped. “They told me that whenever someone asks where I am from, I should say Ranchi since it sounds like Karachi.” She also takes care not to speak in Urdu in public places.

Both Hira and Bharat are scheduled to leave India next month after the convocation. They leave with bittersweet memories. “Perhaps, I will come back when the ties between the two countries are better,” says Bharat.

But with ultra-nationalism taking centrestage here, this might take a while.


Delhi University professor Nandini Sundar has been taken by controversy again. This time a surrendered Bastar “Maoist”, Podiyami Panda, has alleged that he facilitated meetings between her, rights activist Bela Bhatia and top Maoists, a claim she denies. Last year, Sundar, author of The Burning Forest – India’s War in Bastar, was charged with murder of a tribal in Sukma district. Far away from the Maoist hinterland, sitting at her office in Delhi School of Economics, Sundar faults both the government and the Maoists and pleads for peace talks. Where she herself is concerned, she sees a “witch-hunt” by state agencies. Sundar, 49, an awarded academic – recipient of the Ester Boserup Prize (2016) and Infosys Prize ( 2010) – also tells SONIA SARKAR that she suspects directives against her are coming from the very top in the political establishment – the Prime Minister’s Office and national security advisor Ajit Doval.

Excerpts:

Q. What’s your response to Podiyami Panda’s statement that he was the link between you and Maoist leaders in Bastar?

A. I have never met any Maoist leader through Panda. It’s a false statement.

It seems that he has been tortured in police custody. His family members have filed a habeas corpus plea in the Chhattisgarh High Court. In the affidavit, his brother has stated that he met Panda in the presence of police; he was not able to walk properly, and seemed to have injuries on his feet. It is clear that he has been saying whatever the police want him to say. The police have been trying to frame us for a long time; they make us the target whenever they get an opportunity.

Q. Have you ever met Panda?

A. I know him for the past 15 years. He was a member of the Communist Party of India (CPI) and sarpanch of Chintagufa in Sukma. I met him because he was strongly opposing the Salwa Judum (civil militia) movement in 2005. It was in April 2015 that I met him for the last time.

Q. Did you ever meet any Maoist leader?

A. In May 2006, as part of the Independent Citizens’ Initiative, I met Gudsa Usendi – the name taken on by a succession of Maoist spokespersons. I object to this question on principle because it is insulting to researchers. If journalists feel entitled not to reveal their sources and meet all sides, why shouldn’t researchers? For the record, I have written on my chance meeting with lower cadres in my book. I criticised their violence, so they accused me of equating their violence with state violence. For my research, I would have wanted to meet more Maoist leaders but they never offered any guided tour or any interview because I asked them too many difficult questions.

Q. Why do you think Bela Bhatia and you are often drawn into controversies? Why is there so much questioning of your role in Bastar?

A. It is because Bela and I have been consistently insisting on peace talks. The state wants to discredit us. It doesn’t want any middle ground – it wants a black-and-white situation where there is nothing but the presence of military force.

Q. You have been working in Bastar since the 1990s. Is this sort of harassment new to you?

A. The state started harassing me ever since I filed a petition in the Supreme Court opposing Salwa Judum. In 2007, the police photo-shopped my image. I was shown with my arms around Maoist women cadres. They wanted to say that I filed the case on behalf of the Maoists. When I protested, the police replied saying it was one “Ms Jeet”. Nothing has ever been heard of this Ms Jeet before or after. In 2010, when I visited Bastar along with a friend, after being asked by the additional solicitor-general, we were picked up by 50 armed special police officers. They even followed us to the airport to make sure we left. Then last year, there was a murder charge against me but I have got a reprieve from the Supreme Court. But now, there is harassment by the Centre, which is putting pressure on Delhi University. If I apply for leave, I am asked, “What’s happening to your murder case?”

Q. Do you think the former IG (Bastar range) S.R.P. Kalluri made things worse for you? He filed murder charges against you.

A. I don’t think Kalluri was the sole issue. Yes, his language was defamatory. But I was harassed even when Vishwaranjan was the director-general of police (from 2007 to 2011). The main issue is that chief minister Raman Singh is condoning all of this.

Q. Do you think the Centre, too, has a role in all of this?

A. Yes. Either the Prime Minister’s Office or the national security advisor, Ajit Doval – it’s the political establishment that should be held accountable, not just the police.

Q. What changes have you noticed with BJP coming to power?

A. I think, Salwa Judum has spread all over the country in the form of gau rakshaks and vigilante mobs. The atmosphere now has become vitiated and violent.

Q. Are you a tribal rights activist or has your role changed into that of a mediator between the Maoist and the mainstream?

A. I don’t call myself a rights activist or a mediator. I am a sociologist whose work is to research and teach. In the course of that, I have been drawn into this because it’s an area I have done research on.

Q. What’s your understanding of the Maoists issue? Where are they going wrong?

A. The surrendered Maoists I interviewed have revealed that there is corruption in the ranks. Also, they carry out horrible punishments – like they kill people if they are suspected of being police informers. This is a perversion of their policy. The top leadership should realise that this strategy is going nowhere.

Q. What should be the approach of the government towards Maoists?

A. There should be peace talks. There should be a set of independent people who could be trusted by both sides such as former Supreme Court judges, retired administrators, policemen and others to mediate.

Sonia Sarkar listens in to the rage and disenchantment feeding the violent student upsurge across the Valley

  • NOT BOUGHT OVER: Those who read Kafka and Shaw too feel the need to protest, say students
    Photographs by Abid Bhat

Girls dressed in white salwar-kameez and black cardigans march fearlessly on the streets of Lal Chowk in central Srinagar. Faces covered with white dupattas, colourful bunny bags slung tight on their backs, they chase uniformed men with stones in their hands.

Among these girls is Asma Firdaus, a second-year student of English Literature at Srinagar Women’s College. “I read Franz Kafka and George Bernard Shaw, yet I go out to raise azadi slogans and pelt stones,” she says.

A few kilometres away, a middle school boy, wearing an olive green pullover and a pair of white trousers, takes the lead as hundreds of boys and girls follow him. He chants, ” Hum zulm ke khilaf hain, khilaf hain” and “College-o mein ghusna band karo.” Others join him in chorus – ” band karo, band karo“.

These are the new images emerging from Kashmir – compelling and powerful. In uniforms, these school and college students have been facing water cannons, tear gas and pellets fired by the forces. These protests send a strong message to Delhi, students assert. “It is a stern reply to the narrative promoted by Delhi that only the uneducated youth of Kashmir, who could be bought over by separatists, come out on the streets to protest,” says Aala Fazili, a research student at Kashmir University.

Fazili is referring to former defence minister Manohar Parrikar’s statement that stone pelters could be bought over by separatists for as little as Rs 500. Clearly, his argument has fallen flat as school and college students come out openly to pelt stones at the forces now.

The immediate provocation was the incident that took place at Pulwama Degree College on April 12. On that day, an army vehicle entered the campus to organise a painting exhibition under its ambitious “Sadbhavna Mission”. Students held massive protests and some even pelted stones at the vehicle forcing the men in uniform to leave the premises. Three days later, on April 15, students staged another protest against a checkpost of Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) troopers, barely a few metres outside the college gate. Police came into the scene to control the agitating crowd; 55 students were injured in the subsequent tear-gassing.

Students narrate their tale of ordeal from that day. “Some of us fell unconscious after being tear-gassed,” says a first-year student of the college. “When we were struggling to come out of the campus, police officials told us that if we ask the boys hiding in classrooms to come out they will not touch anyone. We trusted the police and did as they requested. But the moment the boys came out, police started beating them up ruthlessly,” she adds.

The enquiry commission set up by the government too reveals police atrocities against students. “Police trespassed into the campus,” state education minister Altaf Bukhari says. “And they also beat up students – both boys and girls.”

But the police denies such allegations. “We went to evacuate the campus on the request of the college principal. No force was used against the students,” Syed Javaid Mujtaba Gillani, inspector-general of police of Jammu and Kashmir, tells The Telegraph.

However, the student uproar continued. On April 17, the Kashmir University Students Union (Kusu), a banned organisation, called an all-students’ protest across the Valley. Looking at the mass mobilisation of students, the government shut down the higher secondary schools and colleges from April 18 to 21. But sporadic protests continued across districts – Pulwama, Sopore, Anantnag, Bandipora and Srinagar.

In an Anantnag college, sources tell us, the principal too protested with students. Students from various schools and colleges blocked the arterial Srinagar-Jammu National Highway, crying: ” Awaz do, hum ek hain!

“We cannot allow the forces to damage the sanctity of educational institutions,” says Riddah Qazi, a student of journalism at the Islamic University of Science and Technology in Pulwama’s Awantipora. She wrote her exams before participating in the protest.

Like successive Kashmiri protests, even this one is being seen a result of pent-up anger of the youth against agencies of the state. The current generation of school and college students have grown up witnessing frisking, crackdowns, disappearances, summons to police stations and unprovoked killings, political scientists point out. The recent image of a man tied to an army jeep, used as a human shield, only aggravated the anger of the young Kashmiris. People across the Valley – politicians, separatists and political scientists – call these protests “unprecedented”.

“The biggest significance of this protest is that it’s led by students; it’s not a response to any call by separatists. Yet, the scale of mobilisation is huge,” says Gul Mohammad Wani, professor of Political Science at Kashmir University. He adds, “Plus, the women students are in the forefront. Last but not the least, these students have come out in their uniforms, defying any fear of being identified.”

Even separatists are surprised to see such large-scale protests by students. “Delhi must understand that these students have a mind of their own; their rage is uncontrollable now,” says separatist leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, chairman of the Awami Action Committee.

Students have come out in large numbers in south Kashmir, the stronghold of the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP). Clearly, its ambitious personality development programmes for the youth failed. “There is a sense of defeat and alienation among them,” concedes Waheed-ur-Rehman Para, president of the PDP’s youth wing.

Wani says that the anger of students has spilled out onto the streets because there is no other channel to vent their resentment. In 2010, the Kashmir University banned Kusu and demolished its office; the students’ long-standing demand to conduct a free and fair union election was never addressed.

Mainstream political parties such as the PDP, National Conference and People’s Conference had floated their youth or students’ wings in Kashmir University. The separatist Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front too started a more hardline Islamic Students League in 1985. Prior to this, Islami Jamiat-ul Talba was started in 1977 by the religio-political organisation, Jamaat-e-Islami Kashmir. But only the banned Kusu is popular among the students.

“Only Kusu has the credibility among the masses. It has been able to garner huge support among students only because the state doesn’t want it to function,” says Fazili.

In the past too, students’ movements in Kashmir, primarily led by university students, have played an important role. In the 1920s, Muslims Students and Youngman Association raised its voice against the denial of religious and political freedom by the Dogra rulers. In the 1931 mass uprising too, students came out in large numbers to protest against Maharaja Hari Singh. In 1964, students participated in the Holy Relic ( moe-e-muqaddas) movement. Many students joined the radicalised Al-Fatah in 1965. In 1973, Kashmiri students resisted attempts of authorities to change the name of the Government Women’s College Srinagar to Kamala Nehru College. Again in 1974, students took to the streets when the Indira-Sheikh Accord was signed.

After a lull of nearly a decade, young Kashmiris took to the streets at the peak of militancy in the late 1980s and early 1990s. In the recent past, whenever the Valley was on the boil – 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2016 – youth have been in the forefront of protests but they seldom came out in their school or college uniforms.

“For us this time it’s a uniform (forces) vs uniform (students) fight,” says Zabirah Fazili, an English graduate from Srinagar Women’s College.

These protests have proved another setback to studies as classes resumed only in March after a six-month closure of schools and colleges in 2016 due to protests following the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani.

Some teachers, however, feel that students are using the prolonged conflict as an “excuse” to stay away from classes and exams. “Some students want everything on a platter without any hard work. They have started liking this phase of inertia,” says Syeda Afshana, senior assistant professor at the Media and Education Research Centre in Kashmir University.

The other worry of teachers is the growing Islamisation of the students’ movement. The youth, they say, are increasingly showing readiness to embrace radical forms of Islam. During the latest protests too, students have been shouting “Allaha-o-Akbar” and ” hume kya chahiye – Nizam-e-Mustafa (What do we want? The rule of the Prophet in Kashmir)”.

“Very few students even know the history of Kashmir. They need proper understanding of the issue,” Wani cautions. But the separatist Umar Farooq asserts that the “cat is out of the bag” and nothing can stop the students now.


India is home to 4.5 lakh refugees from 12 different countries. Why then is the home ministry being particularly tough on Myanmar’s Rohingyas? Sonia Sarkar finds out

  • NOBODY’S PEOPLE: (Above) Raheema Khatoon with her children; the Delhi slum (below), home to Rohingyas refugees; (last) Mohammed Haroon in his shop. Pictures by Sonia Sarkar

They don’t speak their mother tongue – Rohingya – anymore, but Hindi. The men have exchanged their longyis for trousers and the women their thains for the salwar-kameez. What is more, these traditional rice-eaters are now learning to enjoy their rotis.

“We have learnt many new things here because we want to be one of the locals,” says Fayaz Ahmed, a daily wager. Ahmed is one of the 220 Rohingyas who set up home in south Delhi’s Madanpur Khadar slum five years ago, after fleeing their homeland fearing persecution by the Myanmarese Army and radical Buddhists.

Since 1992, Rohingyas – Muslims in Buddhist-majority Myanmar – have been routinely ostracised by Myanmarese forces. The attacks intensified in 2012, and even after Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy came to power in 2015, not much changed. Fearing persecution, Rohingyas continue to migrate to India, Bangladesh, Malaysia and Indonesia.

All very well, except that the Indian government has suddenly decided to wind back the hospitable neighbour act. And that notwithstanding the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants it swore by last September, the same that vowed commitment to “combating xenophobia, racism and discrimination” against refugees and migrants.

Apart from those living in Delhi, there is a sizeable Rohingya population – around 6,000 – in Jammu. According to an estimate, there are over 40,000 Rohingyas living across the country.

Rohingyas have always been regarded with a little suspicion. Intelligence agencies claim they are involved in drug trafficking in the Northeast and also raise funds for terror activities. Lashkar-e-Toiba chief Hafiz Saeed’s exhibition of empathy and offer to radicalise more people from the community hasn’t helped their case.

Lately, hate campaigns and demonstrations against the Jammu Rohingyas have intensified. The Jammu Chamber of Commerce and Industry, in fact, declared that they would be “identified and killed”. There was not a word from the government against such a diktat. In fact, a fortnight ago, the union home ministry said Rohingyas in India would be identified and deported, an exercise that will begin with Jammu and cover the rest of India eventually.

Taslima Khatoon is one of those facing the wrath of the locals in Jammu. She sounds distraught while speaking to The Telegraph over phone. “Unknown people come and threaten us, ask us to leave. I don’t know where to go,” she says.

Her sister, Raheema, who lives in Delhi, is in similar panic. Both sisters have their respective refugee cards issued to 14,000 Rohingyas in India by the UN refugee agency, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and stay visas issued by the home ministry’s Bureau of Immigration. But these won’t be of any help, it seems. “We don’t recognise the refugee cards issued by UNHCR,” says a senior home ministry official who does not want to be identified. “We will not issue or renew stay visas to the Rohingyas anymore.”

But why this sudden anti-Rohingya sentiment? There is a theory that they are mistaken for Bangladeshi Muslims – both speak similar sounding Bengali dialects. “In India, there is a great fear of mass Bangladeshi Muslim immigration and this appears to have become linked with Rohingya refugees in a problematic way,” says Kirsten McConnachie, who is a Rohingya specialist and an assistant professor at the University of Warwick’s School of Law.

Rohingyas understand this. “We do not speak in our language because locals think we are Bangladeshis. We don’t want to do anything that will make us look like them,” says Mohammed Haroon, a shopkeeper.

They are doing their best to integrate with their adoptive country. A group of boys in Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh have started their own football team, Rohingya Shining Stars. Over 65 Rohingya children of Madanpur Khadar are going to a nearby private English medium school. “We want to be one of you. We want to be equal,” says Ameena Khatoon, whose children started going to school only after they came to India.

But their problems might yet remain; the status of refugees is governed by political discretion and not by any codified model of conduct. So you have acres of agricultural land earmarked for Tibetans in Himachal Pradesh’s Dharamshala; designated camps set up in Tamil Nadu for Sri Lankan refugees; and even Bhutanese and Nepalese immigrants live in India under friendship treaties with valid work permits. Not just that, for the past three decades, India has been welcoming Buddhist refugees from Myanmar. But suddenly there is no space for the Rohingyas.

Experts attribute this hardening of stance to the ruling BJP’s anti-Muslim sentiment. “It seems, the Indian government is not so concerned about the influx of refugees; it is more against the religion of these refugees,” says Harsh Mander, general secretary of the Delhi-based Centre for Equity Studies.

India, which is home to 4.5 lakh refugees from 12 different countries, doesn’t have any refugee law. It is not even signatory to the UN Refugee Convention, 1951, which was later amended to form the 1967 Refugee Protocol. According to the UNHCR, even so, India cannot send the Rohingyas back as the principle of non-refoulement is considered part of customary international law and binding on all states whether they have signed the Refugee Convention or not. Non-refoulement refers to the practice of not forcing refugees or asylum seekers to return to a country in which they are liable to be subjected to persecution.

This looks like an assurance for Shamsheeda Begum, who considers India as her home now. “Throw us into the sea or put us into jail but we will not go back to Myanmar,” she stresses.

She lives in the Delhi slum in a 7ft by 6ft makeshift wooden house – there are 45 of them – supported by bamboo frames and covered with tarpaulin sheets. These houses stand next to each other on a 9,900 square-feet plot provided by the NGO, Zakat Foundation of India, which also sponsors the education of 65 Rohingya children.

“Life is so much better here. Only after coming to India have we understood what it is to live freely. In Myanmar, we always feared for our lives,” says Shamsheeda, who claims images of mutilated bodies and burnt houses from her past Myanmar life still haunt her.

Haroon, too, is taken aback with India’s sudden stepmotherly turn. “I thought India is a peace-loving country. It gives space to all. Why is India being so harsh on us?” he asks.

Perhaps Haroon has not heard one of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s popular punchlines – “Mera desh badal raha hai (My country is changing).”

Enough said.


The exiled former President of the Maldives, Mohamed Nasheed, gets online with Sonia Sarkar to spell out why India is critical to his dream of returning as boss of the archipelago

  • Illustration: Suman Choudhury

He was known as the first rockstar President of the Maldives – Western educated, suave, crisply-turned out, espousing liberal values in an Islamic state, a visage that sometimes reminded some of a likeness to Barack Obama. Mohamed Nasheed caught attention easily. But not always where he wanted it most. He has the ears of the West thousands of miles away but has failed to cast a spell on his immediate neighbour, India. Former British Prime Minister David Cameron calls him “best friend”; Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has so far ignored him. But Nasheed hasn’t given up; he wants Modi to listen to him.

“I would try to tell Prime Minister Modi that the people of the Maldives are suffering under an autocratic government run by President Abdulla Yameen. We would like him to understand the fears of the people of Maldives,” Nasheed, 49, chief of the Maldivian Democratic Party, tells The Telegraph from Colombo over Skype.

So far, his plea has gone unheard in Delhi. Modi seems to be moving closer to Nasheed’s rival, Yameen. Last year, Modi signed a defence pact with the Maldives when Yameen visited Delhi. Indian diplomats say the deal was a bid to stem a growing Chinese influence in the Maldives. A major contract for the construction of Male’s international airport, which was earlier given to Indian infrastructure company, GMR, got revoked and went to a Chinese company.

But Nasheed cautions India. “I don’t think pandering to Yameen would make him averse to signing more contracts with China,” he warns. “Yameen has given around nine islands to China and some of those islands are very crucial for India because of their geopolitical positioning.”

Nasheed is frank enough to admit that these contracts to China will be tough to revoke even if he comes to power. Earlier, India suspected Nasheed of being receptive to China when a Chinese embassy was opened in Male in 2011 during his presidentship. “If we come to power, it’s going to be very difficult to undo any sovereign contract that Yameen will engage in with any other country,” Nasheed says. “We don’t want to bargain between India and China. I don’t want to blackmail a country into a negotiation or an action.”

Nasheed was thrown out of power in a coup in 2012 by the former Vice-President, Mohammed Waheed Hassan. Hassan is known to be a crony of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who Nasheed defeated in 2008. A year after the 2012 coup, Nasheed had taken refuge for 10 days at the Indian High Commission in Male fearing arrest. That was the only time that an Indian government (the UPA at that time) has responded to his call for help.

Nasheed has been trying to drag India’s attention to alleged cases of corruption, media repression and human rights violations by Yameen but to little avail. India’s diplomatic outlook appears clear: it will not engage with any individual, it would engage with the country’s official representative.

But Nasheed isn’t giving up. He routinely briefs officials of the Indian High Commission in London, where he has been living in political asylum since last year. His party colleagues have been meeting experts at Indian security think tanks in New Delhi too. They are making all possible efforts to pursue the Indian government to create pressure on Yameen to allow Nasheed to fight elections next year.

Nasheed fears being arrested the moment he lands in Male because he has been sentenced to 13 years’ imprisonment on charges of terrorism in 2015. Of the 13 years, he has spent only a few months in jail. Also, he is barred from fighting the polls on grounds of criminal conviction.

So he has joined hands with all opposition parties, including his long-time foe, Gayoom, the leader of the Progressive Party of Maldives and half-brother of President Yameen, to come back to power. When Gayoom ruled the Maldives with an iron fist for 30 years, he had had Nasheed arrested more than 20 times for his demand for democratic elections in the country. But now Nasheed appears to have dissolved his difference with Gayoom.

Together, with two other parties, Nasheed and Gayoom have created the United Opposition, which enjoys a majority in the Maldivian Parliament. They plan to move legislation for “free and fair” elections in which Nasheed can also participate.

Many believe Nasheed’s alliance with Gayoom shows his desperation to come to power. But Nasheed, who signed the deal with the opposition parties in Colombo, begs to differ. “It’s not my desperation. People are desperate to find solutions to problems of the Maldives and the onus is on us,” he stresses.

But Nasheed has a problem: he isn’t known as someone who can take everyone on board. In the past, when he was in power, he was accused of alienating the judiciary, the police, even parliamentarians. Key members of his government also resigned in sheer frustration.

Nasheed admits to learning lessons from the past. “This time, we cannot consolidate power within our own party. We must be ready to share powers with our allies,” he asserts. During the two-and-a-half years he was in power, Nasheed’s notion of “liberalising” the outlook of the country didn’t go down well with his newfound allies; at the time, many saw him as a threat to “traditional Islamic values” in the Maldives.

Over the past five years, Islamic extremism has risen across the thousand-island nation 1,350 miles southwest of India with a population of 3,50,000. Some reports suggest the Maldives is the biggest per capita contributor to terror outfit ISIS. But if he comes back as president, Nasheed says he is determined to tackle extremism: “I must continue to show leadership in liberal acceptance.”

Nasheed’s concept of liberalism is largely borrowed from the West, where he grew up. He read at the UK’s Dauntsey’s School in posh Wiltshire, and later enrolled for maritime studies at Liverpool’s John Moores University. His connections with the UK are deep. He has met Queen Elizabeth II and stayed at the Windsor Castle. But his Western ties don’t stop at Britain’s royals. Amal Clooney, celebrity international lawyer and wife to George Clooney, carries his brief. Nasheed’s fight for democracy in Maldives also finds itself gloried in a documentary titled The Island President; it was made by Hollywood’s Jon Shenk, one of the directors on the iconic Star Wars space saga.

As president, Nasheed’s policies were largely influenced by the West. His economic policies were based on the International Monetary Fund model of capitalism. He was also hailed by the West when he conducted an underwater Cabinet in 2009 to highlight the threat of global warming to the low-lying Indian Ocean nation.

Despite receiving accolades from the West, his love for India hasn’t diminished. His fascination for Indian cinema is deep. “I have been a fan of all the stars of the 80s – Amitabh Bachchan, the Kapoors and Mithun. I seem to keep going back to Abhimaan, Silsila and Kabhie Kabhie over and over again,” he laughs, adding, “I can never forget Zeenat Aman and Poonam Dhillon.” His exposure to Bollywood happened during his various trips to India as a teenager. On his first visit as a teenager, he travelled across India by train for four months. Later, as a politician too, he travelled to New Delhi and Bangalore several times; his last trip to India was in 2015. “I like living in India,” he says.

A history enthusiast, Nasheed has authored three books on Maldivian history. A former journalist and an avid reader, Nasheed is currently reading Shashi Tharoor’s An Era of Darkness: The British Empire in India.

Nasheed is a fitness freak too. He wakes up early and his 40-minute run is regimented. He is extremely careful about his lunch and dinner timings. A family man, Nasheed loves spending time with his wife, Laila, and two daughters, Mira and Zaaya, who study in a boarding school in England.

But then his life in UK is only transitory. He aims to be back home. “Soon,” he insists. He compares his state of homelessness to what Salman Rushdie has mentioned in his book, Imaginary Homelands. “I am always imagining home and the condition itself is not easy. And I don’t want to remain like this.” For things to change faster for him, he has been trying to shore up support back home through social media, especially Twitter. He claims a large number of his 85.1K followers on Twitter are young men and women in their early 20s: “Successful politics in the 21st century is instant – on Twitter.”

That’s where he “met” Modi too. “Recently, Modi retweeted one of my tweets on democracy. I would consider that as our meeting,” he says.

But perhaps he’d like to take a break from that virtual meeting and make it real.


tetevitae

Son of a businessman, the 1967-born Nasheed is educated in his own country, as well as Sri Lanka and Britain

He is in his 20s when he comes to be known as an outspoken critic of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s regime

1991: Arrested for the first time for writing a magazine piece alleging that the government had rigged the 1989 general elections. Named Amnesty International prisoner of conscience thereafter

It is said that in the next 17 years, Anni – as he is popularly known – was arrested 20 times

2001: Tries to register the Maldivian Democratic Party but fails. Finally, he succeeds in 2005

2008: Elected president in the Maldives’ first free polls, thus ending the 30-year rule of Gayoom

His presidency is not entirely smooth. And in 2012, he resigns

In 2015, he is awarded a 13-year prison sentence on terrorism charges. Shortly after, he asks to be allowed to travel to the UK for medical treatment. The UK has been his home since.

 

April 16, 2017