Posts Tagged ‘ India ’

The Opposite of American

By E.J.Graff for The American Prospect

The Sikh temple shooting, which left seven dead including the shooter, has left me feeling more shaky than the shooting in Colorado, which seemed more random.

I write that even though the skeleton of these stories is roughly the same. One man with a grudge takes semi-automatic weapons and opens fire at a public or semi-public event where people are gathered for some socially acknowledged purpose—education, work, politics, entertainment, worship. Some people die. Others are wounded. The gunman may or may not have the presence of mind to execute himself. Or he may choose to be martyred, putting himself in line for police to kill him.

The gunman’s race and age vary, anywhere from 12 to 50. In the U.S., the majority of such gunmen are white, disproportionately (although just slightly) to their numbers in the population. They are overwhelmingly male. Sometimes the gunman has a personal motive for making others suffer: He lost his job, or girlfriend. Sometimes his motive is putatively political: Liberals are ruining Norway, or abortion clinics are killing babies. Sometimes he’s just crazy—psychotic, or with a deeply disturbing character disorder—but sane enough to follow the cultural script.

Even knowing that the story has a plot that I can strip down to familiar elements, this particular shooting upsets me more than most—because Wade Michael Page shot up a gathering of a religious minority, darker than white, in the bucolic Midwest, in what police are calling an act of domestic terrorism. The FBI has been called in. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Page was, as many of us suspected, a “frustrated neo-Nazi who had been the leader of a racist white-power band.” (Okay, I didn’t guess the band part.) Dave Weigel goes into the background documents and offers up the relevant nuggets in an excellent post at Slate, including a link to one of Page’s hate songs.

Sikhs have been targeted and attacked in hate crimes since 9/11; CNN has a summary of some of the publicly reported attacks here. Many of the news reports quoting Sikhs about this attack emphasize that they’re mistaken for Muslims, as if attacking Muslims would be more understandable. But post-9/11 hatred focused on the “other” hasn’t been that specific; Sikhs are visibly south Asian and, with those turbans, non-Christian. That’s enough for a neo-Nazi or any xenophobe who nurses an irrational resentment.

Here’s why this one leaves me particularly shaky. I grew up in the only Jewish family in my southern Ohio township, and probably the county; for nearly a decade, as far as I knew, I was the only Jewish kid in my jam-packed grade school, junior high, and high school. (My graduating class had 675 people.) The area was so German-American white that my medium-brown hair (see picture to the right) counted as dark, and left me irrationally unwilling to date anyone blond, although I’ve known consciously that that’s ridiculous. Somehow, I never had the presence of mind to connect my feeling of exclusion to what my dear friends the Conchas, the township’s Hispanic family, might be feeling, much less how the handful of black kids might have felt; as a child, my focus was on trying to shut off that sense of exclusion. Not until adulthood did I learn, instead, to expand it into empathy.

It’s hard to express how or why this incised me with vulnerable outsiderness so profoundly. Was it the time my friend Patti chased me around at recess, telling me that the Jews killed Jesus, and the teacher made me sit in the corner for crying? Was it having to stand every day in fourth grade as everyone said the Lord’s Prayer, which I knew wasn’t mine? (Yes, that came after the Supreme Court ruling banning prayer in schools, but I wasn’t yet well-versed enough in the law to object.) Was it getting those little choose-Christ-or-go-to-hell pamphlets in our Halloween bags, which probably went into everyone’s bags but which I interpreted as specifically meant for my Jewish family? Or having my sixth-grade teacher call me into the hall at school, asking whether the class could have a Christmas tree?

Another child might not have felt all this so keenly, of course, but I did. And my friends who grew up in urban or suburban Jewish clusters—Los Angeles, Cleveland Heights, Long Island—had a vastly different experience as American Jews. After I left for college, a Hindu temple moved in, and I was happy that my little brother and sister would have some fellow outsiders to befriend. For me, being the Jewish kid in Beavercreek, Ohio, was a lot harder than coming out later as gay. Which is probably why I never write about this subject, and why it’s so easy, comparatively, for me to write about sexuality and gender.

And it’s why, after 9/11, I was so grateful to march with members of the tiny Cambridge, Massachusetts mosque, which sits one street over from the tiny Cambridge synagogue, as befits religions that are such close cousins. However much the 9/11 bombers resembled, say, Timothy McVeigh or Eric Rudolph (who bombed a lesbian club, an abortion clinic, and the Atlanta Olympic games, in that order) in their message of politically targeted hatred, I knew that after 9/11 all Muslims would be slandered as responsible in a way that all white Christians had not been. In fact, the one thing I thought George W. Bush got absolutely right was insisting that Americans should not blame a religion for its most extreme members’ unhinged actions.

Police may not have definitively determined Wade Michael Page’s motive. But I see a group of brown people gunned down in their temple, almost certainly for their religious outsiderness, out there in the hyperwhite Midwest. I grieve for every Sikh in the country, and for every Muslim and Hindu and South Asian and Middle Eastern American who knows the message was aimed at them as well.

Page may have been a shooter like all other shooters: just another grudge-holding male who decided to feel powerful by becoming the lord of death. And yet his bullets nevertheless delivered a specifically white message of “patriotic” hatred: You don’t belong here. You are not us. Go directly to hell.

Will someone—everyone, really—please stand up and say that what Page represents is the opposite of American?

Mango Mania

By Huma Yusuf for The International Herald Tribune

KARACHI — Summers in the city — and across much of Pakistan — are relentless. Temperatures typically hit 100 degrees, power outages drag on for hours, heatstroke is common, and while monsoon rains bring some relief, they bring great ruin through widespread flooding. But there is one thing that makes Pakistanis anticipate the torpid summer months — mangoes.

With their golden yellow, blushing pink and pale green hues coloring markets by the cart-full, Pakistani mangoes are a source of national joy and pride. But bad luck — and poor logistics — are now threatening Pakistan’s king of fruits.

The country is the fifth-largest producer and third-largest exporter of mangoes in the world. For as long as I can remember, mangoes have turned oppressive summers into seasons of celebration and amity. Friends and families share crates of the finest mangoes. Rival tribes exchange baskets to resolve arguments. Hotels and restaurants host mango festivals featuring mango puppets or 4-foot-high, mango-shaped cardboard cutouts strung with streamers.

Pakistan’s love affair with the mango is culturally ingrained. Mirza Ghalib, the foremost Urdu-language poet of the Mughal era, was an avid mango eater who measured his health and joie de vivre by the number of mangoes he was able to consume.

Nothing (except perhaps cricket) will stir Pakistani nationalism more than the suggestion that another country’s mangoes could taste half as good as Pakistan’s. The only point of contention is which of the country’s hundreds of mango varieties is the most delicious: chaunsa, langara, sindhri, anwar ratol? (My vote goes to the subtle and aromatic anwar ratol.)

Last summer, Pakistani growers were thrilled at the prospect of countries beyond Asia finally enjoying their mangoes. Not only did the British retailer Asda start stocking Pakistani mangoes, but the first-ever shipment of Pakistani mangoes arrived in the United States in July 2011 after USAID helped Pakistan to meet U.S. standards of pest control and post-harvest management. New exports to Western markets were expected to be a boon to local farmers.

But this summer’s crop has not met expectations — some mango varieties ripened too late in the season, others are too small or are lacking in taste or texture. Pakistan is now likely to fail to meet its mango export target of 150,000 tons by September, instead managing to export only 100,000 tons.

This is partly because of last year’s monsoon and subsequent flooding, which reduced mango productivity by 30 percent. According to some estimates, up to a quarter of all mango farms in the southern province of Sindh were completely washed out.

But a big part of the shortfall is due to poor logistical planning: containers needed to ship mangoes are in short supply; Pakistan International Airlines does not appear to have the proper infrastructure to make shipments; international shipping companies have transported mangoes to the wrong destination or failed to secure the fruit against damage or theft en route; a cumbersome distribution system has caused Pakistan to lose out in the Asian mango market to China and India. Meanwhile, U.N. sanctions against trade with Iran have also caused a loss of $10 million to Pakistan’s mango growers, who previously exported up to 40 percent of their crop to the neighboring country.

All this bodes poorly for the future. Meagre profits — or in some cases, losses — from exports, coupled with last year’s widespread damage to mango farms, could compromise future yields. This would be nothing less than tragic, especially given that a worsening economic and security situation means that there are ever fewer things for Pakistanis to enjoy.

I, for one, am not taking any chances. This summer, I’m scarfing down mangoes at every opportunity. But my real hope is that the Pakistani mango’s reign endures for many years to come.

Huma Yusuf is a columnist for the Pakistani newspaper Dawn and was the 2010-11 Pakistan Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington.

Pakistan Should Open Itself Up to India

By Aakar Patel for Firstpost

India and Pakistan have a reciprocal relationship. If one does something to the other, send back a spying diplomat for instance, the other imitates this and also sends one back. One country’s visa regime mirrors the other’s. We would rather harm ourselves by an act that is imitative than let the other side get away.

The world sees this behaviour as childish, perhaps rightly.

India acted maturely in opening up trade unilaterally a few years ago. This is why the shelves of Thom’s Cafe and Bakery, where I shop for groceries in Bangalore, are filled with Shan Masala boxes.

Now an opportunity exists for Pakistan to take the lead.

Islamabad should open up its borders and give Indian tourists visas on arrival. The same conditions under which Indians are allowed into Sri Lanka and Nepal and Bhutan. A quick stamp on the passport and that’s it.

Vast crowds of Indians will come to Pakistan.

Sikhs on pilgrimage to Nankana Sahib and to see Ranjit Singh’s masoleum (totally empty when I went there 10 years ago) next to Lahore fort.

Hindus who want to see the Indus, after which their country is named, and their faith. Muslims and Hindus who want to visit Pak Pattan, Data Saheb, and the shrines of Rukn-e-Alam and Bahauddin Zakariya.

Pakistanis will be amazed by how many Hindus worship at Muslim shrines. Punjabis will come and see the cities of Lahore and Pindi, of which they have only heard about from their grandparents. India’s wealthy Sindhi community will come to Sukkur, Hyderabad and Karachi.

Three Muslim communities – Memons, Bohras and Khojas – have their headquarters in India. They have family ties to Karachi and also business interests that will benefit from regular visits.

Deoband and Nadwa scholars can exchange views with Pakistan’s ulema.

The package tour business, which is big in India, will bring in large numbers who might see a Pakistan different from the one in their imagination. College and school excursions, which are also big in India, will find new venues to take their students to.

Bollywood will be interested in new settings to shoot, and access to the cities will open up plot-lines.

As an intelligent piece in The Friday Times a few years ago noted, Indian tourists will blend in, dress modestly, not expect too much, be at home with the food and do shopping on a healthy scale.

The exchange rate of the Pakistani Rupee, whose value is a little over half that of the Indian Rupee, will give them a bigger budget than they have at home.

The Hindu middle class, especially Bengali and Gujarati, are adventurous travellers and will not be easily put off by a couple of bomb blasts as westerners will. Because Indian women are not secluded, whole families will come, especially if non-airplane routes such as road and rail are opened. Pakistanis will not be threatened by middle aged Indian men and women with squealing kids about them.

It will not be possible, given the mischief in Mumbai and in Parliament, for India to freely let Pakistanis enter. So reciprocality must not be expected immediately. But that shouldn’t be seen as a problem.

Pakistan has already accepted a break in the tit-for-tat relationship. Pakistan’s cricket team is likely to play in India while there’s no chance that India’s players will come to Pakistan. No other cricketing nation is willing either and so it’s not about Indian obstinacy in this case. Just the circumstances, which can be altered by a little wisdom.

It’s a profitable opportunity for Pakistan to benefit economically, improve its image as a safe place and normalise relations with India. Three things gained while nothing is lost.

Pakistan should open itself up to Indians without waiting for reciprocity. And it should do this in self interest.

Pakistan and India to Resume Cricket Matches

By Michele Langevine Leiby for The Washington Post

Whatever their differences, Pakistanis and Indians love their cricket. Their armies might fight wars and their governments may deeply mistrust each other, but sports fans and politicians in both countries see a diplomatic bright spot: a series of matches this year between the historical rivals.

The Board of Control for Cricket in India announced last week that the country would resume matches with Pakistan for the first time in five years. They will be the first bilateral games between the countries since the 2008 Mumbai attacks, which India says were launched by Pakistani terrorists who have been protected from prosecution by Pakistan’s government.

Although dates and the venue are still being worked out, the prospect of a renewed sporting rivalry has stirred optimism for rapprochement in both capitals.

“I think this will be further cementing the bilateral relationship, which is improving by the day,” Indian Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna said. Krishna is planning a visit to Islamabad in September.

Pakistan’s president, Asif Ali Zardari, wrote a letter to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh expressing hope that reviving cricket matches would improve trust between the two nations, the newspaper Dawn reported.

Pakistani cricket-star-turned-politician Imran Khan also weighed in. “Anything which can bring both the countries to negotiations and normalcy is very good, and we must appreciate that,” he said.

Khan, who is running for prime minister, captained the Pakistan cricket team to its 1992 World Cup championship.

Young Pakistanis and Indians — aided by social media and unhampered by the long and contentious history — have found other ways to interact. Facebook pages such as “Romancing the Border” offer a forum for college students from both sides to learn about each other.

But online messaging and cricket diplomacy may not have much impact on a fundamentally hostile relationship; India and Pakistan fought three wars and remain locked in conflict over control of Kashmir. Their militaries are faced off on the disputed Siachen Glacier, described as the world’s highest battleground, where more men are lost due to the brutal conditions than to actual combat. In April, an avalanche at the entry to the glacier buried dozens of Pakistanis, most of them soldiers.

Religion Journal: For Ramadan, India Goes it Alone

By Joanna Sugden for The Wall Street Journal

Muslims start the month-long daytime fast of Ramadan Friday. But not in India.

While most of the world’s Muslims look to Saudi Arabia or follow astronomical calculations to determine when the new moon of the ninth lunar month has arrived – marking the start of Ramadan – India follows the declaration of its own Central Moon Sighting Committee.

“Geographical differences mean we are a day behind Saudi Arabia in terms of lunar months, so we are expecting to start on Saturday,” says Syed Tariq Bukhari, a member of the committee and general secretary of the advisory council at Old Delhi’s Jama Masjid, one of the country’s most important mosques.

At sunset Friday, the 29th day of the eighth lunar month, 21 senior leaders from Delhi’s mosques will meet to decide whether the new moon has been sighted. In the Muslim calendar, months are either 29 or 30 days long.

“It is very difficult to spot a new moon, particularly on the 29th day of the month because it appears for a very short time and is a very thin sliver,” Mr. Bukhari said, adding that the best time to spot a new moon is half an hour before sunset.

“If naturally we are not able to see it because it’s cloudy then we coordinate with the other committees of other cities who have similar geographic circumstances,” Mr. Bukhari said.

The committee then waits for a Shahadah or Islamic witness who has seen the new moon. “The appearance of the witness should be according to Sharia law, which means having a beard and his neighbors should know him as a dependable person as far as being a witness is concerned,” Mr. Bukhari added.

If no credible Islamic witness comes forward, the committee waits until between 80 and 90 other witness statements on sightings are collected by moon sighting committees across the country. Then it declares the start of Ramadan.

If the moon isn’t sighted at all in the last days of the lunar month, the committee waits until the first day of the ninth lunar month – which this year is on Sunday – to declare that Ramadan has begun. It announces the start of the fast via the media, to the government and over loud speakers from mosques.

Zasarul Islam Khan, president of the All India Muslim Majlis-e-Mushawarat, an umbrella body for Muslim organizations, says the timing of Ramadan should always be based on local sightings of the moon.

“Outside the Subcontinent they are following Saudi Arabia, which is technically wrong. The scholars say that you should wait to see the new moon physically before starting Ramadan,” he told India Real Time.

Mosques in the southern Indian state of Kerala go by Saudi Arabian timings because they have close links with the Middle East, according to Mr. Bukhari. Those in the northern state of Jammu and Kashmir go by Pakistan’s declaration as they are more geographically in line with the country, he adds.

The Fiqh Council of North America, which rules on matters of Islamic jurisprudence, says Muslims should follow precise astrological calculations to decide the start of the fast.

In sunlight hours during Ramadan, Muslims refrain from food, water, sex, smoking and oral medicine in order to bring desire under self-control and to focus on prayer and Allah.

This year, the fast coincides with the London Olympics, so Muslim athletes will have to decide whether to observe it and risk a dent in their performance or exempt themselves and carry out the fast once they finish the competition.

Maher Abu Rmeileh, a Palestinian Judo champion who is competing at the Games, told the BBC that he would not be observing Ramadan this year. “Scholars recommended me not to fast and said that I represented my nation not just myself, so once I return from the games I will have to make up for it,” he said.

Such a clash only happens once every 44 years and the International Olympic Committee has said it will look into the possibility of avoiding such a conflict in future, once London 2012 is over.

People exempt from fasting include pregnant women, children who haven’t reached puberty, menstruating women, breast-feeding women, the elderly, travelers and the chronically ill.

Mr. Khan said those who are sick or elderly are allowed to give to charity instead of fasting. If they are determined to observe Ramadan, they should consult their doctor, he added.

Joanna Sugden is freelance journalist living in Delhi. Before coming to India in 2011 she spent four-and-a-half years as a reporter at The Times of London, covering religion and education. You can follow her on Twitter @jhsugden.

For Surjeet Singh, Life Unfolds a Guessing Game

As Reported by The Hindustan Times

“Pehchanon ji ye kaun hai” (guess who this is), is what Surjeet Singh often hears, as he relaxes on a cot in the sweltering summer heat on a farm in this Punjab village. Surjeet, 69, now plays this ‘guessing game’ several times a day, ever since he arrived in his native village last week, after more than 30 years of incarceration in Pakistan.
“There are several people from villages and other places coming to meet me despite the heat. Sometimes, my family members ask me to guess who a particular person is. Most of them look so different and older, just like me. It is hard to guess every time and then I try to identify them by their names. I can re-collect some names though,” Surjeet Singh told IANS with several people sitting around him.

“Ye budhi kaun hai (who is this old woman)?” was a question Surjeet popped in Punjabi to his relatives as an elderly woman came to meet him. He was told that she was a relative and he gave her a warm hug.

Surjeet wears a pair of white kurta-payjama and slippers as he wanders through his daily life and receives scores of visitors or meets them around his village. He returned home Thursday to a tumultuous and teary welcome from family and friends.

Among the visitors Saturday was Gurbaksh Ram, a fellow prisoner in Pakistan who returned to India in June 2006.

“I was with Bapuji in the Lahore jail for several years. I was released in June 2006 after, spending over 20 years in Pakistani jails. When I read about his return, I wanted to meet him,” Gurbaksh told IANS.

Among the visitors were two Sikh gentlemen who asked if he could recognise them.

“I am Bhai Singh and he is Vikar Singh,” one of them said. Surjeet had a hearty laugh as he hugged the taller Vikar Singh and remarked: “Ehh taan baba baneya phirda hai (he has become an old man).”

Besides the people who knew him from over three decades back, there are others who come to him with hope to hear about their own missing ones.

“Some people get their files and photographs of missing family members who are believed to be in Pakistani jails. They show him (Surjeet) the photos to know if he has met that person in Lahore jail,” one of his relatives said.

“He is very happy to be back in his country and among his family members and friends. Even though we were forced to sell our old house (where Surjeet lived) and land, this new house is lucky for us as it has brought him back,” Surjeet’s wife Harbans Kaur said.

“In the (Pakistani) jail, he had some facilities like regular power supply which is not available here. He is back now and my tension is over. I will put the entire responsibility on him. He will take charge of things,” Harbans Kaur, who supported her children in adversity after Surjeet went missing in 1982, said with a smile.

Surjeet languished in Pakistani jails for over 30 years after being arrested on charges of spying there. He was sentenced to death but the sentence was later commuted to life imprisonment.

Surjeet was released from Lahore’s Kot Lakhpat jail early Thursday and made the road journey in a prison van to Wagah, on the Pakistan side of the border, before walking into India at the famous checkpost.

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