South Asia Theater
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.
Rights groups say there's a "climate of intense fear" in the Bangladesh refugee camps for Rohingya who have fled Burma, following the killings of six refugees by police officers. Police officials say the men were involved in the murder of a local Bangladeshi man and killed in "crossfires"; critics say such language is often used to cover up extrajudicial killings. Tensions with the host community in southern Bangladesh have risen over the last two years as the refugee emergency evolves into a long-term crisis. This week, six UN rights watchdogs warned of escalating restrictions in the refugee camps following the Bangladeshi man's murder, a failed attempt to kickstart refugee returns to Burma, and a large protest marking two years since more than 700,000 Rohingya were forced out of Burma. What the watchdogs call a "sudden crackdown" includes a ban on mobile phone services, suspensions of some NGOs working in the camps, and renewed discussions on surrounding the massive camps with barbed-wire fences. Most Rohingya say they want to return to Burma if their safety and citizenship are guaranteed. But a UN rights probe released this week noted that little has changed in the Rohingya homeland of Rakhine State: "If anything, the situation of the Rohingya in Myanmar [Burma] is worse," investigators reported.
In the coming days, up to four million Muslims in India's northeastern state of Assam could find themselves officially stateless, and facing detention or expulsion from the country. Last year, the Assam state government published a draft National Registry of Citizens. supposedly lisiting all those who legally reside in the territory. Four million people, mostly Muslims who have been living in India for decades, were excluded from the list. Those people have until Aug. 31 to prove their residence in India before a 1971 cut-off point, or they will be deemed illegal. State authorities are rapidly expanding tribunals to determine citizenship status, and planning huge new detention camps for those deemed aliens. Many of those whose citizenship is now being questioned were born in India and have exercized full citizenship rights, such as voting. Rights groups are warning of a "Rohingya-like refugee crisis" in the making. Like the Rohingya of Burma, many Assamese Muslims are considered by authorities to be Bangladeshi citizens—yet this citizenship is not recognized by Bangladesh. (Gzero, SBS News, Indian Muslim Observer)
India's government has flooded the northern state of Jammu & Kashmir with troops and cut off internet access upon announcing Aug. 5 the revocation of its constitutionally protected autonomy, and plans to divide the disputed territory into two new political entities with reduced power. Section 144 of India's criminal code, imposing emergency measures, has been instated in the capital Srinagar, and two leading opposition politicians in the territory's legislature, Omar Abdullah of the National Conference and Mehbooba Mufti of the Peoples Democratic Party, have been placed under house arrest.
Four people were killed and three others injured in three explosions in Kathmandu on May 26, a grim reminder of the Maoist insurgency the shook Nepal for a decade before a 2006 peace agreement. Three were killed at a hairdressing salon; another improvised explosive device went off in a private home, and a third in a brickyard, possibly in transit toward the intended target. A dissident Maoist faction that has remained in arms since the peace agreement claimed credit for the blasts. The Netra Bikram Chand-led "Communist Party of Nepal" had declared a nationwide general strike for the following day. And in fact many businesses and transportation services were shut down, seemingly more due to fear of attack than support for the strike. (Kathmandu Post, Asia News, ANI)
As Sri Lanka marks the 10-year anniversary of the end of its long internal war this week, human rights groups are demanding accountability in the mass atrocities that marked the final stages of the conflict, in which many thousands were displaced or "disappeared." The International Committee of the Red Cross says 16,000 people are still missing. (The New Humanitarian, Amnesty International) Ominously, the commemoration comes amid a new wave of communal violence following last month's terror attacks that targeted Christians on Easter Sunday. In days of anti-Muslim riots that started May 12, mobs moved through towns in the northwest, ransacking mosques and attacking shops with petrol bombs. The riots came amid the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The Buddhist militant group Bodu Bala Sena (BBS), which has been repeatedly linked to such pogroms since its founding in 2012, is named as having instigated much of the violence. (Sri Lanka Campaign, Al Jazeera)
At least 10 people were killed and 25 others injured in a suicide blast that targeted security forces guarding a famous Sufi shrine in the Pakistani city of Lahore May 8. The attack, which came during the holy month of Ramadan, was apparently aimed at a police vehicle, and five officers are among the dead. The Data Darbar shrine, where Sufi saint Ali Hajveri is buried, was the target of a 2010 suicide attack that killed more than 40 worshipers, and has since been under heavy security. The new attack was claimed by Hizbul Ahrar, a splinter group of the Pakistani Taliban. (RFE/RL, Pakistan Today) Hizbul Ahrar appears to itself be an offshoot of the Jamaat-ul-Ahrar faction, which has particularly targeted Sufis. (TRT World)