Archive for August, 2011|Monthly archive page

Official Statement From Defense Of Human Rights, Pakistan And The Continuing Struggle For Justice For Pakistan’s Missing

In Our Wars, The Daily Discussion on August 30, 2011 at 10:41 am

Amina Masood Junjua forward me the following this morning and I am posting it here as an act of support. For those of you unfamiliar with the work of this amazing woman, and the campaign for justice for those Pakistani’s who have become victims of the irrational, unjust and unquestioned tentacles of the ‘war against terror’ and have disappeared into Pakistani and American detention, torture and elimination. Her’s is a campaign inspired by the disappearance of her husband Masood in 2005. She has been instrumental in helping me meet families of those who have been picked up by the Pakistani military, intelligence and police, as part of my larger work on the impact of the ‘war against terror’ on the lives of ordinary Pakistani citizens.

From left to right: Reema Hayat, 3 yrs, Arshi Hayat, 6 years, Khoshair Osama Hayat, 10 years, Ali Sufiyan Hayat, 12 years, Abubakar Hayat, 14 years. Children of Shokat Hayat who disappeared into police and intelligence custody on 15th March 2009 and has not been heard of since. Copyright Asim Rafiqui from the series ‘Not Interesting If It Is Not Madness’

The writer and journalist Malcolm Garcia wrote an extensive piece about her, her campaign and the issue of the missing in Pakistan in a piece called “The Missing” which appeared in the October 2010 issue of Guernica Magazine.

Today, on the auspicious day of Eid being celebrated across the Muslim community, Amina sent out yet another plea. I am reposting it here in support for her campaign, and as another voice demanding justice and due process, the rights promised to all Pakistani citizens, regardless of their crimes or background, by the nation’s much tattered constitution.

Below is an excerpt, and you can read the original statement EidStatement2011:

Year 2011 has turned into a doubly sorrowful symbol for the families of Missing persons of Pakistan as International day of the victims of enforced disappearance and Eid fall on consecutive days. This year has an another significance because from today United Nations has also officially marked it as the International day of the victims of enforced disappearance.

For some of us it is the first Eid without one of our family member, for some it is fifth and for some of us it is tenth. But we are not talking about deceased family members whom one bury with their hands instead these are the missing loved ones subjected to enforced disappearance. Here one must remember that “Enforced Disappearance” is a legal term of international law coined by United Nation’s legal instruments. It denotes a disappeared or missing person who has been kidnapped and detained illegally by state run institutions, placing them outside the protection of law; the very institutions which are created and constituted to prevent citizens from all atrocities including kidnapping. It is like being robbed by your own watchman.

There are abundant and over whelming evidences, affidavits and eye witnesses which have already confirmed the presence of loved ones in the custody of local agencies, many of whom have been handed over to foreign agencies. The irony of the situation is that ex president Gen Perwaiz Musharraf and ex minister of interior Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao have authenticated, with a criminal pride, in their books and media statements that they have been enforce disappearing Pakistani citizens in exchange for American dollars. Even more distressing is the fact that the crime of enforced disappearance has accelerated in the present democratic government. We assert that if Gillani government denies this fact than it means that they have no control on agencies who are still in pursuit of American money.

The perpetrators of this crime not only kidnap people but harass their families so much that most of them don’t dare to launch a complaint. More than 1200 families have contacted and registered their cases with Defence of Human Rights. Due to different hurdles and lack of enough funds Defence of Human Rights is representing only 322 cases in Supreme Court. Punjab stands at number one with 174 cases whereas KPK , Balochistan, Sindh, Azad Jammu Kashmir, Islamabad Capital Territory follow with 96, 19, 25, 7, 11 cases respectively.

In a Statement by the United Nations Working Group on Enforced or involuntary Disappearances to mark the first UN International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances it asserts, “Unfortunately, enforced disappearances continue to be used by some States as a tool to deal with situations of conflict or internal unrest. We have also witnessed the use of the so-called ‘short term disappearances,’ where victims are placed in secret detention or unknown locations, outside the protection of the law, before being released weeks or months later, sometimes after having been tortured and without having been brought in front of a judge or other civil authority.

This very worrisome practice, whether it is used to counter terrorism, to fight organized crime or suppress legitimate civil strife demanding democracy, freedom of expression or religion, should be considered as an enforced disappearance and as such adequately investigated, prosecuted and punished.”

On this day Defence of Human Rights Pakistan wants to draw your attention to the thousands of Pakistani families which are aggrieved for years whose loved ones, brothers, fathers, husbands, sons, daughters and even children are abducted by local and foreign intelligence agencies.

From official Eid Statement of the Defense of Human Rights, Pakistan

The procedures and tactics used by the Pakistani military, intelligence, political and police establishment against its own citizens are largely in violation of its own laws. These procedures have been utilized against domestic dissidents e.g. those from Baluchistan, and others who dared speak out against our American ally.

Justice in Pakistan is often a conundrum, frequently a miscarriage and almost always a luxury. However, we have in the need to serve the interests of this war of choice, dispensed with even these pretensions. People are simply being abducted and lost into the darkness of a domestic and international detention and torture machinery that may today be one of the largest multi-national businesses in the world.

For some of us the question is not of guilt, of criminality, of an inappropriate fundamentalism, or the crime of seeking truth and ideas of justice on the wrong side of the master narratives being dictated from Washington D.C. They are questions of due process, rights, representation and constitutionality. This may shock some, but I believe that event the worst of Al Qaeda deserves his / her day in court. As the Norwegians are demonstrating with their arrest and prosecution of the mass murderer Breivik, due process of law and protection of the humanity of a citizen is perhaps the best means of curtailing further acts of violence and criminality.

The hysteria that has been used to simply eliminate Pakistani citizens, and the many so-called humane, left leaning, liberal voices who have offered justifications for summary executions (and they say the tribal areas are wild!), rampant war and mass killings, is dismaying and frankly abhorrent. They speak often about a ‘war against pakistan’ or a ‘war on pakistan’, and yet had nothing to say as our and American bombs began to rain down on our citizens in the frontier regions. Apparently for such left liberals the idea of Pakistani citizenship and its associated rights does not extend too far from the cushioned elegance of their drawing rooms in Islamabad or Karachi.

We celebrate Eid with a heavy heart, as we have for many years.

Eid Mubarak to everyone.

The Idea Of India Project Update: Continuing The Search For The Female Sufi Saints And Finding The Business Of The Blessing

In The Idea Of India Project on August 3, 2011 at 3:48 pm

The evidence of new money from the Gulf is vividly evident at the shrine of the female warrior saind Beema Biwi. It is evident in the large, ostentatious and garishly pink structure that now surrounds what was once a small shrine. Donations have helped transform this remote shrine located near the ocean front and directly in the parth of jet aircrafts landing a Trivandrum airport into perhaps one of the most well known and powerful shrines in the state of Kerala. The influence is also evident in the large market filled with smuggled and contraband consumer goods from the Gulf states. WIth stores sporting signs such as Al-Haj cosmetics, Dubai Electronics, and Medina Traders the market is a uniquely modern version of the markets that traditionally welcome devotees to shrine. Where one would expect to numerous small stalls selling garlands of roses, prayer mats, devotional chadors (sheets), sweet meats, music videos and CDs celebrating the life of the saint, here one can find cheap, Chinese copies of the essentials of ‘the good life’ – washing machines, CD players, mobile phones, microwave ovens, flat screen televisions and much else. I could not find a flower seller but a number of touts offered to sell me pirated copies of the latest Hollywood blockbusters.

The Shrine of Beema Biwi, Kerala

The reasons for the absence of such vendors of devotional goods became evident to me once I stepped into the shrine and realized that devotees are no longer able to approach the tomb of the saint, and neither would the caretakees entertain the draping of the coffin with a devotional chador or garlands of flowers. The tomb itself today lies hidden behind a curtain which is only pulled apart when a devotee steps up to receive a blessing. Otherwise the curtains are pulled closed. A huge hall, complete with lotus topped pillars, surrounds the sanctum of the shrine, and devotees can be seeing resting, prayer, sleeping and generally milling about inside. There is an austere atmosphere here, and one of the least welcoming that I have experienced in a shrine. The imposing architecture, the surly caretakers and the perfunctory nature with which the blessings and rituals seem to be performed leaves one feeling uncomfortable hanging about.

There are two tombs inside this shrine – one to Beema Biwi and alongside it another to her son, Abu Bakr. The two were martyred in a battlesome 500 years ago it seems, but few seem to know what the battle was about and against whom. I suspect that the dates of their arrival in India and martyrdom are also not accurate. This seems quite typical of the legend of the saints in the area: their stories are largely forgotten and their past seems to hold no real importance for both the families that maintain and care for the shrines and the devotees who come here seeking solace, salvation and blessings. Just outside the main shrine is another mausoleum – this one to a saint called Mastan Baba. Built sometime in the 1980s the shrine is to a wandering mystic whose history and real name are unknown.

Dominique Sila-Khan, in her work Sacred Kerala: A Spiritual Pilgrimage describes how many of the rituals performed at the Beema Biwi complex echo rituals typically associated with worshop and devotion at Hindu temples. The viewing of the sacred sanctum containing the tombs of Beema Biwi and her son Abu Bakr is called didar a persian word for ‘the blessed glimpse’ and whose equivalent may be the Hindi word darshan. During the annual Chandanakuda mahotsavam festival devotees bring clay and earthen pots, also known as kudans, which have been smeared with chandanam, sandalwood paste, and filled with coins. These can often be seen lying close to the tombs themselves. The tombs are frequently washed and the blessed water offered to devotees – an act quite similar to amrit a ritual typically associated with practices in Sikh temples.

The female saints of Kerala are a powerful influence here for people of all faiths. I had earlier written about the shrine of Manubam Bibi located on the shores close to the Keralan town of Ponnani. Just as there at the ocean front shrine of Manubam Bibi, people of all faiths congregate here in this imposing shrine of Beema Biwi. The shrine today is overtly Islamic but it is clear that the influence, and power of these saints transcends the borders of orthodox faith and sectarian divisions. It was difficult not to see the grandiose architecture of the shrine as an attempt to take control of the Biwi and bring her into the fold of an acceptable and palatable Islamic heritage. As if sheer scale would be enough to claim the right to her power, her meaning, her heritage and her power. The thousands who come here however seem oblivious to these material designs, and quietly go about in their many religious ways and methods of sitting at her feet and asking for her blessings. The remnants of her original, simpler shrine can still be seen under the dome of the new structure. Someone its humble appearance seemed more in keeping with the idea of a woman who traveled here from Arabia and died in the path of faith. The new, garish, and frankly tacky structure seems to want to veil the materialism that now pervades this entire complex and impress upon the faithful that piety is best expressed through power and privilege of wealth. The cold, dismissive attitude of the caretakers, the thriving consumer goods markets, the rather touristy atmosphere, distract from the meaning of the pilgrimage to this shrine. Here, much as I have felt at some other important shrines in India, blessings have become a business.