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Peshawar school attack ‘Martyrs’: Failures pawned for legitimacy

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By Rajesh Ghosh

Last year, speaking at the sad occasion of the Peshawar attack Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan’s Prime Minister, vowed justice for the Shaheeds (martyrs) of the attack. It was a dastardly act, no doubt, that compelled Pakistan to fight terrorism with renewed seriousness. But were the school-going victims martyrs?

hoax-claimed-that-image-bloodied-shoe-little-girl-was-taken-peshawar-attack

Ordinarily, a martyr is one who chooses (in full consciousness) to sacrifice his or her life, fighting for a higher purpose. The children, who were remorselessly gunned down, were neither fighting for a higher purpose nor were they knowingly in the line of fire. Rather, the students were pursuing their duty of learning when they were struck. They were not in a battlefield for they were not supposed to be in one.

But for the victims to be labeled as martyrs purports to an acceptance by Pakistan that the entire country is a virtual battlefield. The government and the all-powerful military are incapable of providing security to its own citizens and, therefore, all must be prepared to fight the scourge of terrorism. Consequently, any life lost as a result of terrorism is not a failure of the government or the security forces but only a minor loss in a larger war.

The government has very skillfully changed the narrative of growing concerns, from national and international quarters, of its capability and willingness to fight terrorism to one where it portrays itself as being in the front line of an otherwise protracted battle. It is unwilling to acknowledge its own failures and erroneous policies of breeding and nurturing so-called ‘non-state actors’.

Following the attack, the government renewed its support for the ongoing Zarb-e-Azb, a military mission in the restive region of North Waziristan where the TTP has a stronghold. Immediate claims of success were made by the military, with the Peshawar attack still fresh in the minds of the people. The government and the military succeeded in creating a superficial sense of security in the minds of its people.

It was superficial because terrorism is deeply embedded in Pakistan and in many sections institutionalized. Generations of Pakistanis have been radicalized and the nature of extremism has only hardened over time. They cannot be expunged from society in a short period of time. Moreover, they should not only wage war against terrorists but also against terrorism.

For terrorism is an ideology borne out of the complex interplay of many facets, not the least of which is state patronage. Pakistan has for long followed a policy of breeding so-called good terrorists to use them against India and Afghanistan. This policy has had unintended consequences as, like Frankenstein’s monster, it has lost its effectiveness in control.

Therefore, the Peshawar attack was an unaccepted failure of a doomed military policy. Those, innocent children who lost their lives were not heroes but victims. They should not have had to lose their lives to acquire that honorific. They should have been alive and been heroes. (image courtesy: ibtimes, thedailystar.net)

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Threatened, Thrashed And Raped : Afghanistan’s Invisible Taliban Child Brides and Widows are Trapped in Sex Slavery

Child and forced marriage are outlawed but remain common in Afghanistan, particularly among poor families eager for dowries

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Taliban
Child and forced marriages are a common practice among the Islamist Taliban. VOA
  • Child and forced marriage remain a common practice in Afghanistan, particularly among poor families in lure of dowries.
  • Young child brides of Islamist Taliban are denied educated and are often treated as sex slaves
  • After the death of their militant husbands, Taliban widows are shunned by their family and society alike and remain beyond the reach of government aids

London, August 24, 2017: Fatima’s Taliban husband was so controlling that he refused to allow her to bathe and threatened to burn her face if she dared wear makeup, suspicious that his 12-year-old Afghan wife was trying to make herself attractive to other men.

He would not let her step outside their home in Afghanistan’s western Farah Province, even when she fell sick, and beat her for burning her hand baking bread, complaining that her mother had taught her nothing to justify the dowry he paid.

“My father sold me to a man at a time when I didn’t know anything about the responsibilities of marriage,” she told Reuters in a phone interview from the capital, Kabul, where she and her young daughter are hiding.

“He became my lawful husband and began to rape me and beat me every single day for not consenting [to sex],” said the 18-year-old, who would not give her full name.

Child and forced marriage are outlawed but remain common in Afghanistan, particularly among poor families eager for dowries.

Half of all girls are married by the age of 15.

ALSO READ: Ghana Chooses Girls Over Brides, Launches ‘End Child Marriage’ Campaign

Among the most invisible victims are the wives of Islamist Taliban hardliners who, when in power, barred women from education and most work and ordered them to wear burqas outside the home, before being overthrown in 2001 by U.S.-led forces.

“Being family members of the most dangerous and ruthless fighters who have plenty of enemies among the people makes it difficult for these women,” said Shukria Barakzai, a parliamentarian and women’s rights campaigner. “They are treated as sex slaves and left completely helpless.”

Taliban child brides
Taliban women are denied access to education or work and are ordered to wear burqas and stay inside houses. VOA

Agonized, emboldened

When their militant husbands die, life often gets worse for young Taliban brides. Their families are too scared to take them in, society treats them as pariahs, and they risk further violent abuse as unprotected single women.

About a year into their marriage, Fatima’s 25-year-old husband — she calls him a “veteran criminal” with stockpiles of ammunition in their home — blew up a police officer and was jailed for 18 years.

He was released in late 2016, after serving just four years — a common phenomenon in Afghanistan, where the Taliban often hold influence over the government.

But he never came home.

His brothers told Fatima they believed he had sacrificed himself in a suicide attack and become a martyr.

A Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, estimates that several hundred women become Taliban widows each year.

“My brother-in-law was planning to force me to marry him and sell my four-year-old daughter to a Taliban commander,” she said, referring to the dowry that would be paid for her child.

“This evil plan agonized me and at the same time emboldened me to run away, regardless of the consequences.”

Under the pretext of attending a village wedding with her mother-in-law, Fatima ran away with her child.

Her father would not take her in, but her cousins helped her get to Kabul.

“Every one of my in-laws is a Taliban member and they vowed to slay my whole family to bring justice,” she said.

To the Taliban, justice means killing Fatima and her family for the shame she brought by running away from home.

Taliban widows and child brides
Tliban widows continue to remain outside the reach of government and rights groups to seek support. VOA

Jihadis in training

Zari, another Taliban widow, who was forcibly married at the age of 14, was not so lucky.

Three years after her husband died in a suicide attack, she remains trapped in southern Afghanistan’s Helmand Province, tormented by his cousins who rape her repeatedly and are raising her sons, aged nine and 11, to become jihadis.

The men, who are members of the Taliban, come to the house where she lives with her elderly mother-in-law a couple of times a week to rape her, threatening to kill her if she tells anyone.

“I urge the government to rescue me and my sons as their future is in grave danger,” the 26-year-old, who declined to give her real name, said in a phone interview.

“They plan to send both of my sons to Pakistan to participate in jihad. … They take my elder son for religious indoctrination and training to become a militant like his father.”

Neither the government nor rights groups can access Taliban widows living with their in-laws in remote, rebel-controlled territory. Conflict makes it impossible for them to provide for themselves, forcing them to live with their in-laws.

Neither boy goes to school because Zari cannot afford books or uniforms with the money she earns weaving or from her cows.

“I want to escape with my sons, but my family is not ready to accept me and jeopardize themselves,” she said, adding that her family did not know they were marrying her into the Taliban.

ALSO READ: Taliban Terrorist Group behead 30-year-old Afghan Woman for Divorcing Husband and living with another Man

Afghanistan has about 5 million widows, said a spokeswoman for the women’s affairs ministry, Kobra Rezai. It can only afford to provide about 100,000 of them with about $100 a month in financial support and skills training, she said.

None are Taliban widows.

The government does not want to be seen to be supporting them, Rezai said, a position condemned by Barakzai, the parliamentarian.

“Circumstances push [Taliban widows] into a precarious position and compel them to continue their lives as sex slaves in the hands of Taliban,” she said. “Even their children have no way out of this vicious trap.” (VOA)

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Seven Decades after Partition: Sikhs in Pakistan Struggle amid Bombings and Violence

Sikhs in Pakistan have been looking to leave Pakistan as their homeland has begun to turn toward radical Islam

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Types of 51st Sikhs (Frontier Force), now 3 Frontier Force, Pakistan Army. ca. 1905. Wikimedia Commons
  • In today’s period, Sikhs in Pakistan are among the smallest minorities
  • Pakistan today uses blasphemy as a weapon against minorities and fellow Muslims alike, which is a crime that carries an involuntary death penalty
  • Mr. Singh heads a council representing the Sikhs in Pakistan

Aug 15, 2017: At the age of 11, Radesh Singh’s grandfather left his village in India’s Punjab province to move to Peshawar, which is bordered by Afghanistan in the far northwest of the country.

Pakistan wasn’t even a glint in the eye of its founder, Mohammad Ali Jinnah in the year 1901 when the British ruled the Indian subcontinent and Peshawar held the promise of work and adventure.

It has been 70 years since the partition of India, which divided the subcontinent into majority Hindu India and Muslim Pakistan and led to one of the largest migrations in modern history.

Singh’s family have been waging a secessionist uprising in India ever since, demanding unmitigated sovereignty for India’s Punjab state where they command. Singh’s family is neither Hindu nor Muslim but Sikh, a religious minority in both countries. Feeling increasingly less at home on either side of the border, they have been victims of local Taliban violence in the recent years in Muslim Pakistan.

Singh’s grandfather would never return to his village, not even in 1947. Singh stated that poverty kept his grandfather in Peshawar, which was controlled by fiercely independent ethnic Pashtun tribesmen. He said, “It’s not easy to start over at zero when you have very little,” mentioned BBG Direct.

ALSO READ: 10,000 members of Sikh community in Pakistan lack Education and Health: Sikh Leader 

According to Singh, the enmity in the immediate aftermath of 1947 was slightly lower in the northwest. It was followed by decades of peace. The decision to stay in Pakistan appeared like a reliable option at the time.

The Sikhs had lived harmoniously for centuries alongside their Pashtun Muslim countrymen. Singh explains, Sikhs had a glorious history in the northwest. In the 18th century, they oversaw a dynasty headed by a Sikh ruler Ranjit Singh, whose capital was Pakistan’s eastern city of Lahore. He rebuilt Peshawar’s infamous Bala Hisar Fort, an imposing walled fortress that some historians assume is as old as the city itself.

In today’s period, easily identifiable because of the colorful turbans and the surname Singh, Sikhs in Pakistan are among the smallest minorities. As indicated by the CIA Factbook, 3.6 percent of Pakistan’s 180 million people are non-Muslims which include Sikhs, Christians, and Hindus.

Singh asserted until 1984 Pakistan’s Hindus and Sikhs lived unitedly in northwest Pakistan. Their children married and worshipped together. But after the tragic assassination of India’s Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards, the entire scene changed consequently.

“They (Hindus) cut all relations with us. They said Pakistani Sikhs are like all Sikhs everywhere. No difference. They said, ‘From now on, we will be separate from you”, Singh recalled.

Today Sikhs in Pakistan are contending with the government for possession of dozens of Sikh temples (Gurdwaras); however, they have succeeded to restore some of the buildings. The Pakistan government took over the buildings after 1947 and allowed the squatters to remain.

Once a vibrant Gurdwara attended by hundreds of Sikhs, it no longer resembled a house of worship but rather a sweeping courtyard. However, it was until now that two families called it the home, said Singh.

Singh who heads a council representing the Sikhs in Pakistan, said young Sikhs have been looking to leave as the homeland has begun to turn toward radical Islam.

“They want to go to another country, not to India or Pakistan. But every country eyes them with suspicion.,” he said.

He adds, “Even Indians see his Pakistani passport and question his intentions, suggesting he wants to agitate for Sikh secessionism, the battle that resulted in Indira Gandhi’s death and a dream still held by many Sikhs on both sides of the border.”

According to Singh, Pakistan’s slide into intolerance began when Pakistan’s military dictator Zia-ul Haq set the country on the course of Islamic radicalization in the late 1970s with the former Soviet Union’s invasion of neighboring Afghanistan. Jihad became a rallying cry to defeat the communists in Afghanistan.

Extremism aggravated after the 2001 intrusion of Afghanistan by a U.S.-led coalition, he proclaimed.

The tribal areas were steadily caught by Taliban and in 2013 several Sikhs were killed, their limbs cut. Singh said the brutality of the killings and the threats sent thousands abandoning Pakistan.

Pakistan today uses blasphemy as a weapon against minorities and fellow Muslims alike, which is a crime that carries an involuntary death penalty.

“That is why we have a fear in our hearts, that this law can be used against us,” he told.

“In the last nearly 40 years we have been facing the boom, boom (mimicking the sound of explosions) in every city of Pakistan,” said Singh. “In a long time we have not heard any sweet sounds in our Peshawar, but still we love our city.”


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Tarkulha Devi Temple in UP is the host of Animal Sacrifice Ritual connected with a Martyr

Devotees from far-flung areas, including Bihar and Nepal, visit the temple and propose animal sacrifice to appease the deity.

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Goats, Wikimedia

Gorakhpur, April 12, 2017: Tarkulha Devi, a temple in Gorakhpur has been following an uncanny ritual which involves animal sacrifice, Bali as it is called among the local folklore. The practice has its roots in the lore of a martyr who was hanged by the British 160 years ago.

Tarkulha is one of the many manifestations of Goddess Durga. The goddess derives the name Tarkulha Devi from the tarkul (palm) tree.

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The temple witnesses devotees coming from all over to sacrifice goats almost daily either as thanksgiving for the fulfillment of their wishes or to ward off the evil eye. The sacrifices heave on Navami and Dashami during the Navratri. It is known that over 500 goats are sacrificed each on Navami and Dashami alone, mentioned HT report.

“The entire year, people visit the temple to offer a sacrifice when their wishes are fulfilled. But the number increases during Navratri,” stated Dinesh Tiwari, a priest at the Tarkulha Devi temple. And those who don’t wish to sacrifice animals offer coconuts to the goddess, he further added.

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Ordinarily, Navratra is a period throughout which Hindus abstain consuming non-vegetarian food.

Devotees from far-flung areas, including Bihar and Nepal, visit the temple and propose animal sacrifice to appease the deity. Most adherents bring the goats with them while the others buy from shops outside the temple for Rs 2,500 or more. The animal is then bathed and offered sweets, a butcher beheads the sacrificial goat consequently.

“It is a long-standing tradition. The devotees, whose wishes are fulfilled, sacrifice the goats and distribute its meat as prasad,” told Manohar Tripathi, a devotee associated with the temple.

The meat is distributed as ‘prasad’ (consecrated food) to the faithful who cook it in earthen pots and enjoy a feast on the temple premises. The animal waste is buried.

The history of the temple is connected with Bandhu Singh, a devotee of Tarkhula Devi. Singh was hanged by the British who found him guilty of killing their soldiers.

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Bandha Singh, skilled in guerilla, used to worship Goddess Tarkhula under a tarkul (tree along with Gurra river which used to flow through dense forest), said Dr. PK Lahiri, member of Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural heritage (Intach).

“Bandhu Singh used to sacrifice animals and offer heads of the British at the feet of Devi,” said Dinesh Tiwari.

Bandhu Singh beheaded the British when they traversed the forest. As the news proliferated and reached to a British official, the court sentenced him to death. However, the rope broke thrice at the time of the crucifixion.

The fourth time, he implored the goddess for mercy, declaring he was in extreme pain, and his prayer was answered. Finally, he was publicly executed at Alinagar crossing on August 12, 1857.

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“Every time, the noose was placed around his neck and the lever was pulled, the rope broke and he escaped miraculously till he was finally executed. It is said that at the time of Bandhu Singh’s execution, a thunderstorm hit the area. The branch of a Tarkul tree, where he used to worship the goddess, broke and blood started oozing out of it,” Lahiri told HT.

Ever since then, people commenced idolizing Tarkulha Devi. They started offering sacrifices the same way Bandhu Singh did when he was alive.

– Prepared by Naina Mishra of Newsgram, Twitter: Nainamishr94