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What India could learn from Israel

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Vijeta Uniyal 

  • To become a successful nation, India realizes that we have to emulate the Jewish quest for spiritual and worldly learning. We need a nation of empowered men and women, free and fearless to develop social, technological, entrepreneurial and humanitarian creativity, even while under constant attack.
  • When we see the restoration of Jewish State and revival of Judaism in its ancient lands, we Hindus see ourselves. If Judaism is incomplete without the Jewish homeland, the essence of Hinduism is indivisible with the geography of India. Just as Jews were forced out and in exile for millennia, Hindus too suffered a millennium of Islamic and later European subjugation in their own homeland.
  • Recent terrorist attacks in Brussels, Mumbai, Paris, Istanbul and Ankara are simply what Israel has been living with for decades — and India, France, Belgium and Turkey do not have “settlements.” The conflict is not about “settlements”. It is about one group of people trying imposing its will, culture, religion and way of life on another group. With Israel, the “settlements” are only the pretext. If you look at any map of “Palestine,” it has the exact outlines of Israel.

For most Indians, it is hard not to feel a deep sense of historic gratitude towards Israel and the Jewish people. The State of Israel came to our military aid in just about every war India fought as an independent nation since 1947. Our elected leaders, in their vanity, polished their statesmanlike credentials denouncing Israel at every possible international gathering, even as they kept on turning to the Jewish State for help in times of dire need, whether civilian or military. From Golda Meir to Ariel Sharon, Israel never turned down any request.

Getting nothing in return, the tiny and beleaguered nation paid a price for its support for India. At times, adversely affecting its relations with China or annoying its most vital ally, the United States, by extending support to a “socialist” country at the height of the Cold War.

If there ever was a true sign of goodwill extended from one nation to another, Israel had shown it toward India and so many other nations, from Zaire to Haiti and elsewhere.

Despite this, it took India more than four decades just to treat Israel as an equal partner on the world stage — when India established full diplomatic relations with Israel in January 1991.

India, however, had one redeeming quality. Although our political leaders hitched their wagon to the Soviet Union and the Pan-Arab nationalism in the early days of the Cold War, the Hindus of India, who constitute an 80% majority of the country’s population, have been steadfast and consistent in their support for the State of Israel and the Jewish people. An international survey conducted by Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 2009 found Indians having the most favorable opinion of Israel, even ahead of U.S. respondents by a small margin. In August 2014, at the height of Gaza conflict, the city of Calcutta staged a 20,000-strong rally in support of the Jewish State, making it probably the largest pro-Israel rally that Asia ever witnessed.

Finally, with the election of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in May 2014, the India’s official policies have begun to reflect the desires and aspirations of the majority Hindu population of the nation.

The homecoming of the Jews and restoration of the Jewish State in its historic land has been a source of great hope for us Hindus. When we see the restoration of Jewish State and revival of Judaism in its ancient land, we Hindus see ourselves.To become a successful nation, we realize that we have to emulate the Jewish quest for spiritual and worldly learning. We need a nation of empowered men and women, free and fearless to develop social, technological, entrepreneurial and humanitarian creativity, even while under constant attack.

If Judaism is incomplete without the Jewish homeland, the essence of Hinduism is indivisible with the geography of India. Just as Jews were forced out and in exile for millennia, Hindus too suffered a millennium of Islamic and later European subjugation in their own homeland.

After surviving the most vicious genocide in human history — a brutal and systematic attempt by Nazi Germany to annihilate the entire Jewish population of Europe, claiming six million Jewish lives, the Jewish people worked to create a nation based on democracy, freedom, equality for people of all religions and ethnicities — the only democracy in the Middle East.

Today, over a million Arabs enjoy equal citizenship rights in Israel, and a level of religious liberty and the rule of law never seen before in the Middle East. Arab Israelis are present in all walks of Israeli life; holding top positions in business, academia, media, government as well as military leadership.

The tiny nation of Israel absorbed wave after wave of immigration, including a million Jews driven out of the Arab lands soon after the creation of Jewish State in 1948, Ethiopian Jews, and Russians escaping communism. Today, Israel is home to over 80,000 Jews of Indian origin. They have been fully integrated and have excelled in all areas of society. They serve gallantly in the Israel Defense Force and bring glory to the country in sports. An IDF soldier of Indian origin, Barak Refael Degorker, was killed by Hamas during the Gaza conflict of 2014. Mumbai-born Sarah Avraham became Israel’s 2012 women’s Thai boxing champion.

As the nation-states of Europe drive toward an impending disaster in failing to assert their spiritual and national identity in the face of the massive influx of Muslim migrants, only the example of Israel offers us hope.

We must admit the failures, based on European liberalism, in our nation-building project. Western-style “affirmative-action” has failed to rid the country of caste-based discrimination, and all that the European style of hypersensitivity towards “Muslim sentiments” has done is stifle cultural freedoms in the country. India became the first nation to ban Salman Rushdie’s novel The Satanic Verses, before even Iran, Saudi Arabia, and other theocratic Islamic regimes announced their fatwas and bans. For decades, India shied away from technological and academic cooperation with Israel. India seemed to have been trying to act even more Arab than the Arabs themselves.

Only an enlightened nation, built on a strong bedrock of Hindu unity, can ensure a secure and prosperous future for India. We cannot build a nation on foundations of an unjust and immoral caste system.

Just as the resurgence of Judaism in its historic and ancestral homeland means no threat to the Muslim faith, Hindu resurgence and unity should cause no harm to religious minorities of other faiths. Countries that would like to succeed and thrive would do well to follow the example of Israel.

The terrorism originating from neighboring Muslim lands must not only be countered militarily, but also with a renewed assertion of our on spiritual and national identity.

Arabs and Muslims might surely realize that they themselves have been the biggest losers of the wars of fanaticism they have waged, and turn their attention to rebuilding their societies and facing the real issues of violence, bigotry, ignorance and poverty — to name just a few.

Until then, we all have a nation to build and a home to defend.

Recent terrorist attacks in Brussels, Mumbai, Paris, Istanbul and Ankara are simply what Israel has been living with for decades — and India, France, Belgium and Turkey do not have “settlements.” The conflict is not about “settlements”. It is about one group of people trying imposing its will, culture, religion and way of life on another group. With Israel, the “settlements” are only the pretext. If you look at any map of “Palestine,” it has the exact outlines of Israel.

It is beyond our scope, as Indians, to heal the pathologies of the Muslim world. We can only limit the damage by defending our home and securing our national borders.

Until that day comes, we would all do well to stand with Israel.

Vijeta Uniyal is an Indian current affairs analyst based in Europe.

This article was first published at www.gatestoneinstitute.org/

 

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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)