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Indo-Pak tamasha: A well timed patriotism harms no one

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India and Pakistan seem to have broken the ice in Bangkok after months of belligerence and a war of words between the top officials and politicians on both sides of the border. The ‘secret’ meeting between the National Security Advisers (NSAs) of the two countries accompanied by the foreign secretaries in Thailand’s capital on Sunday helped in the thawing the frozen Indo-Pak ties.

This comes days before External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj’s scheduled visit to Pakistan for ‘Heart of Asia’ regional conference on Afghanistan where she’s expected to call upon Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and meet his Adviser on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz.

One wonders what has changed between India and Pakistan in the past one month that prompted PM Modi to restart the dialogue with Islamabad. As I write this piece, reports pour in from Jammu & Kashmir where at least six CRPF jawans were injured when unidentified militants opened fired on their convoy on Srinagar-Jammu national highway in Anantnag district.

Terrorism continues unabated and Pakistan has not budged from its position to continue talking to Hurriyat leaders, a contentious issue over which the NSA-level talks in Delhi were cancelled.

Prime Minister Modi, however, seems a changed person after his party’s rout in Bihar elections when anti-Pakistan rhetoric was again touched upon. BJP president Amit Shah, during an election rally, even suggested that ‘crackers would burst in the Islamic Republic if his party lost in Bihar‘. They did lose Bihar, managing to secure only 55 seats out of total 243 in the state Assembly; a terrible performance indeed.

So this is what it’s all about, elections (duh).

Come polls, anti-Pakistan rhetoric reaches a crescendo, LoC heats up and war drums are beaten in a bid to arouse the ‘patriotic’ spirit of one and all. Patriotism, despite being the ‘last refuge of the scoundrel’, can be a useful tool to mobilize the masses, educated and illiterate alike, during elections. For a nation at war would usually be at the same page forgetting all the differences, brushing all others issues under the carpet.

The common man is taken for a ride when he is swayed by this rhetoric during polls, but light dawns upon him when the governments of two countries hold ‘secret’ meetings, like they just did in Bangkok, once the election dust settles in. He realizes that all that tough talk by ‘the man of 56-inch chest’ was but just that, an eyewash and subterfuge meant to achieve a political end.

Throughout the history, patriotism and religion have been used around the world to mobilize the masses against one particular enemy. When Hitler mobilized Germans against Jews he only paved the way for the World War II, but he was not the first person in the world to use nationalism as a political tool. Millions died defending their flags during the World Wars in the early and mid 20th century; however, we seem to have learnt almost no lessons from those historical mistakes. For petty political gains, we are sabotaging and playing with the future of the coming generations.

When I think of the Indo-Pak tamasha that has lasted for about 70 years, my mind dwells upon Russian philosopher Leo Tolstoy whose book ‘The Kingdom of God Is Within You’ that preached non-violence and humanity had a profound influence on Mahatma Gandhi. In the book, Tolstoy talks about Wilhelm II who ruled the pre-World War I Germany.

In 1892, Wilhelm addressed some soldiers:

“Conscripts, you have sworn fidelity to me before the altar and the minister of God! You are still too young to understand all the importance of what has been said here; let your care before all things be to obey the orders and instructions given to you. You have sworn fidelity to me; that means you are now my soldiers, that you have given yourselves to me body and soul. For you there is now but one enemy, my enemy. In these days of socialistic sedition, it may come to pass that I command you to fire on your own kindred, your brothers, even your own fathers and mothers, which God forbid, even then you are bound to obey my orders without hesitation.”

Wilhelm wanted the Germans, blinded by the blinkers of patriotism and loyalty to the former, to fire on his enemies even if they happened to be their own kindred.

Pray tell me, how are our rulers any different from Wilhelm?

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  • P G Kutty Nair

    The author’s colored vision becomes evident when he links the renewed effort to conduct Indo-Pak talks to the Bihar election results. He asserts that Modi has softened after the defeat. That’s a very poor understanding of Modi’s character. He could not be softened by his detractors among the political parties, the media and the intellectuals after more than a decade of spreading canards to vilify him! As for the Indo-Pak talk, in the present circumstances that appears to be the only sensible option and, besides, we are talking to them at our own terms.
    Incidentally, while the defeat in Bihar elections is a cause for concern for the BJP, the winning side doesn’t look covered in glory because the so-called grand alliance was motivated not by any high principle, but by an opportunistic mathematical calculation of numbers.

  • whodunit

    Tensions on the borders have nothing to do with elections in India. Some journalists think that everyone is just a rogue like they themselves are and does everything for roguish reasons. Tensions on borders began long before Bihar elections.

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  • P G Kutty Nair

    The author’s colored vision becomes evident when he links the renewed effort to conduct Indo-Pak talks to the Bihar election results. He asserts that Modi has softened after the defeat. That’s a very poor understanding of Modi’s character. He could not be softened by his detractors among the political parties, the media and the intellectuals after more than a decade of spreading canards to vilify him! As for the Indo-Pak talk, in the present circumstances that appears to be the only sensible option and, besides, we are talking to them at our own terms.
    Incidentally, while the defeat in Bihar elections is a cause for concern for the BJP, the winning side doesn’t look covered in glory because the so-called grand alliance was motivated not by any high principle, but by an opportunistic mathematical calculation of numbers.

  • whodunit

    Tensions on the borders have nothing to do with elections in India. Some journalists think that everyone is just a rogue like they themselves are and does everything for roguish reasons. Tensions on borders began long before Bihar elections.

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Across Asia’s Borders, Survivors Of Human Trafficking, Dial in for Justice

The trial has been ongoing since 2013

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Tara Khokon Miya is seen in her village home in Shipur, Bangladesh, Feb. 26, 2018. She is helping to prepare her 27-year-old daughter to testify via videoconferencing technology against the men who trafficked her to India.
Tara Khokon Miya is seen in her village home in Shipur, Bangladesh, Feb. 26, 2018. She is helping to prepare her 27-year-old daughter to testify via videoconferencing technology against the men who trafficked her to India. VOA

When Neha Maldar testified against the traffickers who enslaved her as a sex worker in India, she spoke from the safety of her own country, Bangladesh, via videoconferencing, a technology that could revolutionize the pursuit of justice in such cases.

The men in the western city of Mumbai appeared via video link more than 2,000 km (1,243 miles) west of Maldar as she sat in a government office in Jessore, a major regional hub for sex trafficking, 50 km from Bangladesh’s border with India.

“I saw the people who had trafficked me on the screen and I wasn’t scared to identify them,” Maldar, who now runs a beauty parlor from her home near Jessore, told Reuters. “I was determined to see them behind bars.”

“I told them how I was beaten for refusing to work in the brothel in the beginning and how the money I made was taken away,” she said, adding that she had lied to Indian authorities about her situation after being rescued, out of fear.

Thousands of people from Bangladesh and Nepal — mainly poor, rural women

and children — are lured to India each year by traffickers who promise good jobs but sell them into prostitution or domestic servitude, anti-slavery activists say.

Activists hope the safe, convenient technology could boost convictions. A Bangladeshi sex trafficker was jailed for the first time in 2016 on the strength of a victim’s testimony to a court in Mumbai via video link from Dhaka, Bangladesh’s capital.

Convictions for cross-border trafficking in the region are rare as most victims choose not to pursue cases that have traditionally required them to testify in Indian courts, which meant staying in a shelter for the duration of the trial.

“They have always wanted to go back home, to their families,” said Shiny Padiyara, a legal counsel at the Indian charity Rescue Foundation that has facilitated videoconferencing cases and runs shelters for trafficking victims. “And most never return to testify.”

But videoconferencing is making it easier to pursue justice. Survivors have given statements, identified their traffickers, and been cross examined in at least 10 other ongoing international cases in Bangladesh, advocates said.

“Enabling victims to testify via video conference will lead to a possible decrease in acquittal rates for want of prime witnesses,” said Adrian Phillips of Justice and Care, a charity that supports the use of video testimony to help secure justice.

Even then, it is tough. During Maldar’s three-hour deposition, she withstood a tough cross-examination, showed identity documents to prove her age and countered allegations by the defense lawyer that she was lying about her identity.

Students Combat Human Trafficking
Students Combat Human Trafficking, flickr

‘Unpardonable’

Tara Khokon Miya is preparing her 27-year-old daughter to testify against the men who trafficked her to India from Dhaka, where she had been working in a garment factory.

“I almost lost my daughter forever,” she said, sitting in her home in Magura, less than 50 km from Jessore, describing how she disappeared after work and was taken to a brothel in India, and raped and beaten for almost a year before being rescued.

“What the traffickers did to my daughter was unpardonable,” Miya said, wiping her tears. “We seek justice. I nurtured her in my womb and can’t describe what it felt like to not know about her whereabouts.”

The trial has been ongoing since 2013 when the young woman, who declined to be named, was repatriated. The charity Rights Jessore is helping the family through the process, by providing counseling and rehearsing cross-examination.

“The best thing is her father will be by her side when she talks in court,” Miya said, finally breaking into a smile.

India signed a bilateral agreement with Bangladesh in 2015 to ensure faster trafficking investigations and prosecutions, and with Nepal in 2017, and laid down basic procedures to encourage the use of videoconferencing in court proceedings.

“The procedure is very transparent,” said judge K M Mamun Uzzaman at Jessore courthouse, which often converts its conference hall into a courtroom for videoconferencing cases to protect survivors’ privacy.

“I’m usually present and victims are able to testify confidently … it is easy and cost effective for us,” he said. “But the biggest beneficiaries are the survivors.”

Silencing Victims
Silencing Victims, pixabay

The future

Videoconferencing in Bangladesh has been plagued by technical glitches such as power cuts and poor connections.

“Sometimes the internet connection is weak or it gets disconnected during the testimony,” said Binoy Krishna Mallick head of Rights Jessore, a pioneer in using this technology to encourage trafficking survivors to pursue justice. “But these are just teething troubles.”

The bigger challenge, activists say, is to ensure survivors remain committed to the trial despite delays caused by a backlog of cases and witnesses’ failure to appear to testify.

Swati Chauhan, one of the first judges to experiment with video testimony in 2010, is convinced that technology can eliminate many of these hurdles.

Also read: Imagining Panun Kashmir: Dissent And Detente in South Asia

“Victims go through a lot of trauma, so it is natural that they don’t want to confront their trafficker in a court — but that doesn’t mean they don’t want the trafficker to be punished,” she said. “A videoconference requires meticulous planning and it is not easy coordinating between departments and countries. But it is the future for many seeking justice.” (VOA)