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Plight of Pakistani Minorities: Abdul Shakoor serves 5-year Jail term for selling banned books in Punjab Province of Pakistan
CHANAB NAGAR, PAKISTAN, Sept 08, 2016: Her hands trembled— a sign of Ageing — as she held her thin, long dupatta scarf in front of her face and turned slightly away. After covering her face in front of men for several years had made her shy.
For the first time after 53 years of age, she has been alone. On charges of selling banned books her 50-year-old spouse, Abdul Shakoor has been convicted and is serving a five-year jail term. The books, which Nayeema claims he removed from the shop after a government notice, were comprised of religious literature intended for their own sect.
According to human rights activists, Nayeema and Abdul Shakoor belong to Pakistan’s Ahmadiyya community, one of the most persecuted religious minorities in the country .
Shakoor’s small shop, which sold books and spectacles, was in the main bazaar of Chanab Nagar, a town of 60,000 — 95 percent of them Ahmadiyyas. The town, in the heartland of Pakistan’s most populous Punjab province, is the de facto headquarters for the million or so Ahmadiyyas living across Pakistan.
Community representatives claim that while they have faced decades of government-sanctioned discrimination, it has recently increased under the country’s new National Action Plan (NAP), a comprehensive strategy introduced to counter years of religious terrorism and growing violence in the country.
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The plan calls for banning all materials, books, CDs, DVDs, even pamphlets that could be labeled hate speech, or that were deemed to incite violence against any group.
— The Voice of America (@VOANews) September 7, 2016
Ahmadiyyas complain that the government of Punjab, the country’s most populous province, has used this as a pretext to ban most of their religious literature, including all the books written by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, a man they consider their messiah and the founder of their religious sect. The banned material also includes community newspapers and periodicals, including those catering to children.
Copies of legal notices provided to VOA state that the books are “treasonable and seditious” and intend to “promote feelings of enmity and hatred between different classes of citizens.”
“We wrote to the government and asked the chief minister to at least pin point what part of our literature was hate speech? Why were they banning it all?” said Syed Qamar Suleiman Ahmed, a senior member of the community who heads the press coordination committee. “But they did not respond. They usually don’t bother responding to us.”
Ahmed added that while various official notifications had been issued to ban some of these books before the NAP, no one took action on them until after the plan was introduced in late December 2014.
Starting in 2015, the community claims they noticed a renewed vigor to go after their literature, with reminders and new notices in the newspapers. Shakoor was arrested in December 2015.
— FreeAsiaBiBi (@FreeAsiaBiBi) September 7, 2016
As a result of such actions, members of the community can no longer purchase these books from their bookshops and can no longer keep them in their community library. Even websites carrying this literature have been blocked.
“I cannot obtain these books for my children. How am I supposed to teach them about our founder?” asked Amir Mahmood, who is in charge of the press section for the community.
Muhammad Nasir, the librarian for the main Ahmadiyya library in Chanab Nagar, said he had to get rid of almost 75,000 books out of the 200,000 previously displayed.
Unlike the country’s other religious minorities, the Ahmadiyyas insist they are followers of Islam and its Prophet Muhammad. However, they also consider their founder Mirza Ghulam Ahmad a metaphorical second coming of Jesus as well as Imam Mehdi, a messiah whose advent was foretold by Muhammad. That irks many mainstream Muslims who believe Muhammad was the last prophet and the Ahmadiyyas are muddying their religion.
Posters, pamphlets, and booklets by certain far-right religious groups openly declare that Ahmadiyyas should be killed.
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Islamist political movements against the Ahmadiyyas resulted in a change in the country’s constitution in 1974 to declare them non-Muslims, followed by a 1984 law that barred them from “posing as a Muslim.” They are not allowed to use the Muslim call to prayer “azaan” or call their houses of worship mosques. Such actions could result in a jail term of up to three years.
Over the years, various Ahmadiyya places of worship have been torn down, sometimes under court orders, because their structures included domes and minarets, which are associated with mosques.
Critics say the Ahmadiyyas invite the ire of mainstream Muslim clerics because they propagate their beliefs as the true version of Islam.
However, Ahmed said there was no way for people in his community to clarify their position. “Whatever the mullah (Muslim religious cleric) claims we believe is not true. But we’re not even allowed to defend ourselves as per law.”
The ban on their books, Ahmadiyyas say, is the latest in a long list of government actions designed to ostracize them.
An advertisement for a low-income government housing scheme near Chanab Nagar placed in local newspapers earlier this year by the Punjab government’s Housing and Town Planning Agency clearly specified that anyone participating would have to take an oath that he or she was not Ahmadiyya.
Constitutional law expert Salman Akram Raja was surprised to hear about it.
“I’ve not seen this but I’m shocked and this is completely unconstitutional,” he said.
However, Muhammad Khurram Agha, the secretary of Housing, Urban Development & Public Health and Engineering Department of the Punjab government said the ad in the newspaper was placed erroneously and as soon as it appeared, the relevant authorities took immediate action and the auction was called off.
“Whenever this auction happens again, it will be open to all. The housing department does not discriminate against anyone,” he said.
In other instances, the community complains the local authorities have, over the years, used a perceived danger to law and order as an excuse to stop them from holding open-air rallies, conferences, or even sports events, in a city where 95 percent of the population belongs to their sect. Meanwhile, their critics have been allowed to hold what they said were “anti-Ahmadiyya” rallies in their city.
They provided VOA with copies of several legal notices dating as far back as 1994, ordering planned sports events to be cancelled due to what the notices claimed was a “danger to peace.”
Various officials of the Punjab government did not respond to VOA’s repeated requests for a comment. Political leaders from the ruling PML-N party, including some who are usually happy to defend their government on other issues, excused themselves once they found out the questions were about the Ahmadiyya community.
Human rights activists contacted for this story were not surprised. Political leaders, they said, either agreed with the discrimination, or feared speaking up.
According to activist Tahira Abdullah, certain Pakistani groups that were closely affiliated with the Saudi-style, ultraconservative version of Islam “killed without compunction.”
“Thus, most politicians and political parties are too scared and afraid of a violent reaction if they voice any sympathy or solidarity with the plight of the Pakistani Ahmadiyyas,” she said. “Only a few human rights defenders and a handful of journalists are willing to speak on the record now.”
Supporting the persecuted community was also perceived to be politically damaging.
Imran Khan, the leader of Pakistan Tehreek e Insaaf, one of Pakistan’s main opposition parties, who had made various statements earlier in his career in favor of Ahmadiyyas and against “any laws that discriminate among human beings” made a reversal before the parliamentary elections in 2013 and declared that he considered Ahmadiyyas non-Muslims and that his party would not repeal laws declaring them so.
Members of the community faced a dilemma. On one hand, they wanted to raise awareness about the persecution they faced. On the other hand, they were so fearful of a violent backlash that they wanted to keep a low profile.
"In India, to be born as a man is a crime, to question a woman is an atrocious crime, and this all because of those women who keep suppressing men in the name of feminism."
Feminism, a worldwide movement that started to establish, define and defend equal rights for women in all sections- economically, politically, and socially. India, being a patriarchal society gives a gender advantage to the men in the society thus, Indian feminists sought to fight against the culture-specific issue for women in India. Feminism itself is nothing but a simple movement that pursues equal rights for women (including transwomen) and against misogyny both external and internal. It states nowhere that women should get more wages than men, that women deserve more respect than men, that's pseudo-feminism.
Pseudo feminists state that women deserve more respect and rights, any other gender deserves no respect. They feel that women should be the ones ruling the world and at higher positions. When feminism takes a turn for extremities it becomes pseudo-feminism and people who label themselves as feminists will bash anyone who speaks against even the wrongdoings of a woman. They'll bash women who're wife and sisters for not speaking up and support any women criticizing political leaders even if it's completely irrational. This is where hypocrisy and pseudo-feminism merge with each other.
They take advantage of the rights given to women to protect themselves to threaten other genders. The rights given to women are supposed to make them feel reassured that they can reach out to the judiciary if their rights are being hampered not to threaten to make the victim sound like the culprit.
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Indian Feminist Movement has made significant progress however, even in the modern world women are still unsafe and are discriminated against when it comes to getting a job, land ownership, and access to education. While filling the official papers it is still asked "Wife of /Daughter of:….."
People in India still continue the practice of sex-selective abortion, abandoning the girl child, not letting girl child study instead they should learn household chores, they are seen as a burden to the family. Such injustices make feminism such an important movement, gender equality is worth fighting for to create a safe environment for women. Feminists over the years have been criticized for focusing on the rights of privileged women and not giving equal representation to poorer and lower caste women, which has led to separate caste-specific feminist organizations and movements.
Some notable milestones in the Feminist Movement
- Raja Ram Mohan Roy campaigned against Sati Pratha (practice in which a widow sacrificed herself by sitting atop her deceased husband's funeral pyre) and child marriage
- Savitribai Phule started the first school for girls at Bhidewada in Pune city in 1848.
- In 1972, SEWA, the biggest trade union for women was set up by Ela Bhatt for women working in the informal sector.
- The Chipko Movement was launched and led by women in 1973.
- #MeToo movement against sexual harassment and abuse was started in 2006 and revived in the year 2015.
People in India still continue the practice of sex-selective abortion, abandoning the girl child, not letting girl child study instead they should learn household chores, they are seen as a burden to the family.Unsplash
Feminism is often misunderstood as pseudo-feminism and hence, becomes the target for public hatred and is accused of wronging other genders under the façade of feminism. It is misunderstood by Indians as female domination instead of gender equality. Indian society and Indian feminists believe that only men are perpetrators of a heinous crime like rape and they refuse to even recognize the men who say they were raped and it's the toxic masculinity in the society that believes how can a woman rape a man? Reality is different from what we believe, women can be the perpetrator too, women threaten to file a case of domestic violence, or sexual assault against innocent people just to fulfill their ego.
Thankfully feminism and pseudo feminism are two separate concepts and feminism is just about equality and not judgment. Indian society and feminists actually need to understand the difference between the two and stop tarnishing the Feminist Movement as a whole.
Keywords: Feminism, World, India, Pseudo-Feminism, Gender
Kerala is a land of many good things. It has an abundance of nature, culture, art, and food. It is also a place of legend and myth, and is known for its popular folklore, the legend of Yakshi. This is not a popular tale outside the state, but it is common knowledge for travellers, especially those who fare through forests at night.
The legend of the yakshi is believed to be India's equivalent of the Romanian Dracula, except of course, the Yakshi is a female. Many Malayalis believe that the Yakshi wears a white saree and had long hair. She has a particular fragrance, which is believed to be the fragrance of the Indian devil-tree flowers. She seduces travellers with her beauty, and kills them brutally.
Yakshi idol in Veroor, Sri Dharamashastha temple Image source: wikimedia commons
The Yakshi is believed to live in a palm tree which can appear like a palace. Victims are taken here before they are killed. Travellers on highways are often advised not to stop near heavily forested areas, or speak to anyone who closely resembles a Yakshi. Some believe she can change form, while other hold to the belief that she doesn't. after securing her victim, the only trace left behind is body parts like hair, nails, and teeth.
They say, like other ghosts, a Yakshi's feet will not touch the ground. This is something to look out for. Mysterious deaths have been reported across the rural areas in Kerala, and all these have been attributed to the legend.
Keywords: Legends, Yakshi, Urban legend, Ghost, Kerala, Myth, Vampire
The LGBTQ+ acronym stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and others. In India LGBTQ+ community also include a specific social group, part religious cult, and part caste: the Hijras. They are culturally defined either as "neither men nor women" or as men who become women by adopting women's dress and behavior. Section 377 of the India Penal code that criminalized all sexual acts "against the order of nature" i.e. engaging in oral sex or anal sex along with other homosexual activities were against the law, ripping homosexual people off of their basic human rights. Thus, the Indian Supreme Court ruled a portion of Section 377 unconstitutional on 6th September 2018.
But the question is, "was India always against homosexuality"? Has the concept of homosexuality being unnatural existed forever? No, in Indian history and Hinduism homosexuality has never been an offense, in fact in several instances it has been depicted how people embraced their identity, be it sexual identity or gender identity. Section 377 was brought to India by the British in 1862, while India was colonized. Even after the Independence, it was only in 2018 that the Supreme Court ruled it as irrational and illogical.
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Homosexuality in Ancient India
When Supreme Court decriminalized homosexuality in India, there was an uproar about it being a western ideology and liberalism. But in reality, homosexuality has existed since the time of the Vedas. The Gay and Lesbian Vaishnava Association (GALVA) researched and discovered that it was around 3102 B.C. (during the Vedic Age) that homosexuality or non-normative sexual identity was recognized as "Tritiya Prakriti", or the third nature. Ancient India not only made mentions of homosexuality but accepted it as well.
Hinduism is the most vastly followed religion in India. Hinduism does not explicitly mention homosexuality however it does contain a homosexual theme and characters in its text. There have been various instances in our scriptures and texts that have introduced us to LGBT+ characters such as the androgynous form of Shiva and Parvati Ardhanariswara meaning "the half-female lord". One of the most popular and ancient texts on sexuality, eroticism, and emotional fulfillment of life, "Kamasutra" has a complete chapter dedicated to homosexuality and homosexual sex. Numerous Hindu sculptures and temples have statues depicting homosexual activities.
Numerous Hindu sculptures and temples have statues depicting homosexual activities. Facebook
Our Mughals were Queer
Mughals are often seen under the light of cruelty, rigid ethics, nobility, and polygamy. Simultaneously, Mughals are also the ones credited for the emergence of Sufism, abolished jizya tax, love beyond religion, classes, and gender.
In the Baburnama written in memoirs of our very first Mughal ruler Muhammad Babur, several instances documented Babur's infatuation and affection towards a teenage boy named Baburi. We also have multiple Persian couplets as evidence of Babur's affection for Baburi. Mughals engaged in homosexuality and pederasty, and they believed that later was a form of "pure love".
But as time passed homosexuality was suppressed more and more though people practiced it in secret if revealed they were punished. According to the Fatwa-e-Alamgiri Sharia-based text of the Mughal Empire, there is a common set of punishments for homosexuality, which could include 50 lashes for a slave, 100 for a free infidel, or death by stoning for a Muslim.
British Raj and Independence of India
In 1862, Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code that criminalized homosexual sex came into force. Even after Independence in 1947, the section remained a part of the Indian Constitution. There were protests all over the country to give people of the LGBT+ community basic human rights but it was not until 2018 that The Supreme Court of India ruled the portion of Section 377 has unconstitutional and struck it off. One judge said the landmark decision would "pave the way for a better future.". With Section 377 gone are LGBT+ people allowed to fall in love freely? No, people are still afraid to love because of the stigma in our society when it comes to homosexuality; they are seen as lesser humans.
ALSO READ: Significant Support for Rights for LGBTQ+
Although the Supreme Court has decriminalized homosexual activities, same-sex marriage remains illegal in the country. Homophobia is still prevalent in India, and homosexual children would rather commit suicide than come out to society with their true identity, that's how harsh of a world we live in. Lacking support from family, society, or police, many gay rape victims do not report the crimes. In 1977, writer and Indian mathematician Shakuntla Devi published "The World of Homosexuals". It was the first study in the Indian context; the book contains interviews with homosexual men set in the years of Emergency. She wrote, "rather than pretending that homosexuals don't exist it is time we face the facts squarely in the eye and find room for homosexual people." We've had small victories in our fight against homophobia and getting LGBT+ community the rights they deserve as humans, but we still have a long and exhausting fight ahead of us.