South Asia Theater
Sri Lanka's Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa announced Feb. 19 that his government will withdraw from co-sponsorship of a 2015 UN Human Rights Council resolution calling for an investigation into war crimes committed on the island during the internal conflict with Tamil rebels. UNHRC Resolution 30/1 was actually a compromise measure, after the Sri Lanka government rejected calls for creation an international tribunal. Withdrawal from the resolution is seen a response to the US imposing a travel ban on Sri Lanka's army commander Shavendra Silva and his family over complicity in human rights violations during the conflict, which ended in 2009 after 26 years. (Jurist, NYT, Feb. 19)
In Episode 47 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg speaks with Punnag Tej Hazarika of the Brooklyn-based small-press imprint Coolgrove and affiliated BorderTalk blog, which explores questions of cultural intersection. Among Coolgrove's recent titles is Winged Horse: 76 Assamese Songs, a collection of translated lyrics by Tej's father, Bhupen Hazarika, the "Bard of Brahmaputra," who campaigned through his music for a dignified place in India for the peoples of Assam and other minority ethnicities. Last year, Tej traveled to New Delhi to receive the Bharat Ratna, India's highest civilian award, on behalf of his late father. But the honor came with India—and especially Assam and the restive Northeast—on the cusp of exploding into protest over the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act. The politics of the situation, and the dilemmas of interculturality from Assam to New York, are discussed in a wide-ranging interview. Listen on SoundCloud, and support our podcast via Patreon.
India's northeastern state of Assam has exploded into protest over the Dec. 11 passage of a new national citizenship law. The army has been deployed, a curfew imposed in state capital Guwahati, and internet access cut off. At least five people have been killed as security forces fired on demonstrators. The new law allows religious minorities from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan to apply for Indian citizenship. This means it effectively excludes Muslims, and mostly apples to Hindus and Sikhs. Critics of the ruling Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) say it therefore violates India's founding secular principles. But while secularists and Muslims are protesting the Citizenship Amendment Act on this basis elsewhere in India, the biggest protests have been in Assam—motivated by fear that the state will be overrun by an influx from Bangladesh, threatening its cultural and linguistic identity.
Nepal over the past weeks has repeatedly seen both anti-India and anti-China protests, concerning charges that both of the country's giant neighbors are claiming pieces of its territory. On Nov. 19, President Xi Jinping was burned in effigy at one protest. Confusingly, nearly all accounts (seemingly drawing from one report by Asian News International in Hindustan Times) placed the protest in "Saptari, Bardiya, Kapilvastu district," but these are actually three different districts, not even bordering each other, and all along the border with India rather than China. (See Wikipedia entries for Saptari, Bardiya and Kapilvastu districts.) This may loan credence to claims that the anti-China protests were fomented by India. A week earlier, protesters in Kathmandu burned a map of India, Al Jazeera reports.
The Supreme Court of India issued a unanimous ruling Nov. 9 in the decades-long Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid land case, finding for the Hindus. A small plot of land, of about 1,500 square yards, in the city of Ayodhya in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh has traditionally been believed by Hindus to be the birthplace of the god Ram. The location is also venerated by Muslims because it was the site of the Babri Masjid, a mosque built in the sixteenth century by the first Mughal emperor Babur. Both religious communities have fought over ownership of the site since the beginning of the British Raj in 1857. The current case came out of appeals of four different suits filed from 1950 to 1989.
Police in south India's Tamil Nadu state have detained nine Tibetan activists, apparently in a move to pre-empt protests ahead of the upcoming visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping for bilateral talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Among those arrested was Tibetan writer and poet Tenzin Tsundue, who was detained Oct. 13 in the town of Kottakuppam, within 100 kilometers of Mamallapuram, the city where the three-day summit is to be held. Tenzin had been arrested twice previously during visits by Chinese leaders. In 2002, Tsundue unfurled a banner reading "Free Tibet" at a hotel in Mumbai where Chinese premier Zhu Rongji was speaking. He was again arrested in Bangalore in 2005 for protesting then Chinese premier Wen Jiabao. Police in Tamil Nadu said he was planning a similar action during Xi's visit.
Thousands of university students have held protests in Bangladesh, blocking roads in Dhaka and other cities, since the Oct. 6 killing of an undergraduate student, Abrar Fahad, who was beaten to death at the prestigious Bangladesh University of Engineering Technology (BUET). Several campus militants of the Chhatra League, youth wing of the ruling Awami League, have been arrested in the slaying. BUET administrators initially said Fahad died while being "interrogated" on suspicion of belonging to the Islami Chhatra Shibir, youth wing of the Jamaat-e-Islami, an oficially banned opposition group. But protesters say what was really at issue was Fahad's recent Facebook post critical of a water-sharing agreement just signed between Bangladesh and India during Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's visit to New Delhi. Under the agreement, signed one day before the murder, India is granted the right to withdraw 1.82 cusec (185,532 liters per hour) of water from Feni River.
Amid moves toward mass detention of Muslims in Kashmir and Assam, a growing atmosphere of terror, and persecution of government critics, India's arch-reactionary Prime Minister Narendra Modi cynically places an op-ed in the New York Times extolling Mohandas Gandhi on his 150th birthday. In Episode 40 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg calls this out as Orwellian propaganda, and documents the historical reality: Modi is not the inheritor of the tradition of Gandhi, but that of his assassin. Those who assert that Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party has fascist roots are factually correct. Progressives in recent years have been rethinking the sanctification of Gandhi, and that is one thing. But Modi should not be allowed to get away with wrapping himself in the legacy of a man who was the antithesis of everything he represents. And US political figures like Tulsi Gabbard who pretend to be progressive while embracing the fascistic Modi must be exposed and repudiated. Listen on SoundCloud, and support our podcast via Patreon.