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.
In Episode 45 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg notes with alarm the rapid consolidation of a global detention state, extending across borders and rival power blocs. In the United States, Trump moves toward indefinite detention of undocumented migrants, with horrific rights abuses widespread in the fast-expanding camp system. In China, up to a million Uighurs have been detained in "re-education camps," and are facing such abuses as forced sterilization. As India hypocritically protests China's treatment of the Uighurs, it is also preparing mass detention of its own Muslim population. Russia's Vladimir Putin is similarly preparing mass detention of the Crimean Tatars. In Syria, the Bashar Assad regime has detained hundreds of thousands, and is carrying out a mass extermination of prisoners, almost certainly amounting to genocide. In Libya, countless thousands of desperate migrants have been detained, often by completely unaccountable militias, and an actual slave trade in captured Black African migrants has emerged. Yet Trump exploits the mass internment of the Uighurs to score propaganda points against imperial rival China—and some "leftists" (sic) in the US are so confused as to actually defend China's detention state. International solidarity is urgently needed at this desperate moment to repudiate such divide-and-rule stratagems. 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.
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.
Well, this is grimly hilarious. Genocide Watch has issued two "warning alerts" for India—one for Kashmir and the other for Assam, with Muslims held to be at grave imminent risk of persecution and mass detention in both. Pakistan's semi-official media, e.g. Dawn newspaper, are jumping all over this news, which is hardly surprising. But Pakistan is closely aligned with China due to their mutual rivalry with India, so it is also hardly surprising that Pakistani media have failed to similarly jump on the Genocide Watch report on the Uighurs of Xinjiang—despite the fact that the group categorizes the situation there as "preparation" for genocide, a more urgent level than "warning." Even more cynically, China itself has issued a protest to India over the situation in Kashmir. South China Morning Post reports that Delhi shot back that Kashmir is an internal matter "that has no impact on China at all." Beijing has been similarly dismissive of India's protests over the mass detention of the Uighurs in Xinjiang. Most perversely of all, an editorial in the officialist Pakistan Today, protesting the abuses in Kashmir and Assam, absolves China of running "illegal detention centres in Xinjiang."
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 National Investigation Agency (NIA) on Sept. 3 announced a Rs 7 lakh (approx. $10,500) bounty on Naga insurgent leader SS Khaplang in connection with an attack on an army convoy in Manipur three months ago that killed 18 soldiers. The 75-year-old rebel heads the National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Khaplang (NSCN-K), that has long waged an armed struggle for an independent Naga homeland uniting parts of Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and Assam states along with areas of Burma. In early August, India's central government signed a peace agreement with the rival NSCN-IM (Isak-Muivah, named for leaders Isak Chisi Swu and Thuingaleng Muivah). But the Khaplang faction is not yet recognizing the accord, and the bounty appears to signal Delhi's impatience—or a strategy to keep the Naga struggle divided.
National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) militants shot dead at least 50 adivasis, or tribal people, at five different places in India's northeast state of Assam Dec. 23. Many women and children are among the dead. The attacks took place at remote rural villages, where residents were pulled out of their huts and summarily shot. The death toll is expected to rise. The coordinated attacks followed the killing of two Bodo rebels in a skirmish with Assam police troops earlier in the week. Authorities blamed the Songbijit faction of the NDFB, which is seeking statehood for the Bodoland region of Assam. (Times of India, Al Jazeera, BBC World Service, Dec. 24)