They worked as I stared at the mutilated corpses in their blood-soaked clothes. Their entrails were exposed, their faces, unrecognisable. That evening, I could not eat. I couldn't sleep for days; the corpses haunted my dreams.
At the time, I didn't realise that this was a prelude to an unending tryst with death and mayhem. But as the months passed, and the deadly game between security forces and militant groups continued, the violence began to seem mundane to me, almost normal, a part of my daily reporting routine. There were exceptions of course, days when death was anything but routine.
October 12, 1996, comes to mind: I'm half asleep, sipping my morning tea. The phone rings. It's my police contact. My mind is racing as I begin to scribble notes. How many? Where? When? I call my photographer and then I'm out of my house, riding my bike like a madman. We arrive to find wailing women and unshaven, huddled men. The dead bodies lie scattered, like rag dolls discarded by careless children. I feel my legs growing heavy. I feel incredibly tired. I want to throw down my notebook and sit silently with the mourners. Then I hear the photographer's shutter clicking. The noise forces me to remember that I have a story to do. I examine the bodies. I take out my notebook and start asking my questions. Who? What time? Any witnesses?
For years, there has been nothing to write or think about in the valley except the violence. If I manage to avoid doing a news story on that day's gory details, I inevitably end up writing a feature about orphans or widows of the conflict. When violence rules the day, there is nothing but tears to jerk from the reader's soul.
Nietzsche once compared journalists to crows alighting from a wire one by one to swoop down on a hapless victim. If this is what we are, waiting with our notebooks and cameras for death to strike again, then the killing fields of Kashmir offer a feast, even for the most gluttonous birds of prey. In the evening, no journalist here can think of leaving the office without scanning the police bulletin on the day's toll of army bunkers assaulted, houses destroyed by fire, militant gunned down. If we missed something, our edit would be most unhappy.
As I became more proficient at chronicling this unending cycle of death, I felt more satisfaction at the end of the day, rather than revulsion and sleeplessness. Killings meant bylines, headlines, good play. Every day my colleagues and I would gather, like vultures on a wire, to await the next tragedy, hoping we would make Page 1.
Finally, the time came when I lost a close school friend in the violence —and felt nothing. I wanted to cry, but the tears had dried up. My friend's was one of perhaps 20 routine deaths I saw that day in the police bulletin. Because I was unmoved, I felt ashamed and afraid of myself.
What has happened to me? Have I sacrificed normal human feelings to the thrill of reporting such violence? I am immune to death. I have lost the ability to mourn. I am numb.
And I watch with horror my own excitement as I launch into the next story: Ten killed, 14 wounded…that is my tragedy as a reporter in Kashmir.
Muzamil Jaleel in "Dry Eyes in India's Valley of
Death" from The Washington Post.
Fair is unfair
For the native elite, only innate superiority could explain how a handful of whites from a tiny, distant island could rule over millions of subjects. Clearly, their pale skins put them in the ruler category: had they been dark, I am sure resistance to their presence would have been far fiercer than it actually was.
Our ancestors accepted them because their ancestors in turn had seen invasions by pale-skinned soldiers before and had been governed by a succession of such foreign armies. Once British rule was firmly established, our colonial masters were widely imitated by the native elite. Their dress, manners, speech and customs were aped with varying degrees of accuracy. But above all, a pale colouring was seen as the key to success. Fair coloured brides became much in demand, and skin bleaches and creams were applied assiduously.
As a result of these attitudes, the lives of hundreds of thousands are blighted today because they are dark, and reminded of this fact every day of their lives. Opportunities for a 'good' marriage decline in inverse proportion to the skin colour. Curiously, this is a more important matrimonial consideration for girls than it is for young men. Girls are not permitted to play outdoors for fear of a tan. Our beaches are full of women huddled together fully dressed under any shade they can find lest the sun darkens their skins.
These customs would have been hilarious had it not been for the pain they cause. Educated mothers can be heard scolding little girls across the country to stay out of the sun; they are all too aware of the hard realities of the marriage market. Interestingly, this is a largely middle-class, urban phenomenon as farmers' daughters, wives and sisters help out under the blazing sun when required. While this is a rich field of study for social scientists, I am not aware of any research done in this area. It is ironic that when the Western world is gradually shedding at least the overt expression of racial prejudice, we have not even begun to acknowledge the presence of an unspoken apartheid in our midst.
Irfan Husain in "The Colour Prejudice"
in Dawn, Karachi.
UN in Lanka
Kofi Annan, UN secretary-general, in a major policy statement declared clearly that human rights must outweigh the notion of sovereignty. He spoke about "the rights beyond borders" and called for forging of "unity behind the principle that massive and systematic violations of human rights wherever they occur should not be allowed to stand"…
Almost all peace efforts in the past have been concentrating on bringing the parties to the conflict, the Sri Lankan government and LITE, into the negotiating table. This is artificial and unrealistic. The history of this effort has amply demonstrated it. It is naive to expect any change in this situation. To follow this path is to give more time to greater destruction and gross abuses of human rights.
Like some situations in Africa, in Sri Lanka, both the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE must be regarded as perpetrators of gross human rights abuses. They have both come under repeated international condemnation. Such condemnation must now be linked to a planned course of action.
A comprehensive plan of action must include all parties in Sri Lanka, political parties as well as the people. It must include a very strong UN component. Without a UN involvement the peace in Sri Lanka will only be plain talk, while the brutal war goes on. There is no other third party than UN that can play this role. Hardly any one took seriously the earlier discussions on the intervention of other third parties.
However, a UN involvement needs to overcome some problems, among which are: there is a section of the people suffering from the Cold War mentality who might be apprehensive of UN's role as being impartial. It will be necessary to address these fears and provide genuine assurances that can be monitored. On the other hand there are some countries, which present the warfare in Sri Lanka only as an internal problem, requiring no action on the part of the international community. This attitude contributes to the continuation of this war in a very strong way. Those who spread such views too must take the responsibility for the continuing carnage by both sides. UN Secretary-General's policy perspectives mentioned earlier must lead to some re-thinking on the part of those who promote this perspective of non-involvement.
What the UN secretary-general can now do is to appoint a competent group to study the relevant issues and to begin a process of negotiations. Other relevant UN agencies such as the UNHCR can be invited to contribute to such an effort. If they so wish, countries like India can play a positive contributory role in such an initiative…
Local expressions of concern are very much restricted by the deeper fears of assassination by one side or the other. The fears are well founded. The carnage, taking place daily confirms these fears. Today in no other Asian country is there such heightened fear. Such fears themselves are a proof of the level of human rights abuse taking place in the country. It is not possible to boost the morale of the people without a strong backing from outside. Though there is greater reluctance to deal with specific issues due to fear, people nevertheless do express themselves at a more general level. The writings, which came out last year on the occasion of 50th anniversary of Independence, showed the great bitterness of the people and the near total loss of confidence in the political establishment. With encouragement emanating from the international community, people are more likely to discharge their responsibilities to fellow citizens of all communities with greater commitment. The absence of such encouragement can lead to further brain drain and the loss of skilled labour thereby aggravating the present situation of poverty in the country.
In short, the focus of any genuine peace strategy must be the UN involvement. Needless to say that the rest is mere bluff. We would like to be challenged, if any other realistic solution can be put forward by any one.
Press statement by the Asian Human Rights
Commission, Hong Kong.
A bomb for a bomb
India is feverishly trying to establish, within the next two decades, total military hegemony in South Asia and beyond, control the sea lanes, from the oil-rich Gulf in the West to the Straits of Malacca in the East, and compete for influence on the global stage with the major powers.
The militaristic dreams of the current Hindu funda mentalist leadership are a reflection of India's aggressive mythology to which I have already referred. The leadership in New Delhi seem to be living in a time warp. They equate greatness with military prowess. They forget that in today's integrated world, greatness comes primarily from economic and technological advancement and not from military capability.
These Indian dreams of grandeur constitute a threat to this region, to the world, and indeed to the poor and deprived people of India itself.
India's planned military programme will be extremely expensive. Estimates of the cost vary widely from 20 billion dollars up to hundreds of billions of dollars.
What also needs to be emphasised is that these huge outlays will be in addition to massive military expenditures which India is to incur under the defence supply agreements, for example, with Russia and France and its ongoing indigenous build-up of conventional forces. The manufacture of hundreds of warheads and missiles, the acquisition of satellite early-warning capabilities, the development of sea-based and submarine-based nuclear systems, will all entail huge additional costs.
The development of such a nuclear arsenal by India will oblige Pakistan to take appropriate action to preserve the credibility of its nuclear deterrence posture and the capability for conventional self-defence. One recourse is for Pakistan to engage in a nuclear and conventional arms race with India. It will require Pakistan to expend even larger resources for defence, further eroding its economic and development goals.
A prevalent theory is that, by pushing Pakistan into a huge military build up, India intends to destroy Pakistan's economy. An analogy is drawn with that of the Soviet economy which crumbled as a consequence of the Cold War arms race against the United States. The error in this theory is the assumption that we will, like lemmings, follow India's militaristic example.
Let me state clearly and unequivocally that Pakistan can and will find ways and means to maintain credible nuclear deterrence against India without the need to match it — bomb for bomb, missile for missile.
From the statement made by Pakistani Foreigen
Secretary Shamshad Ahmad at the Institute of Strategic
Studies, Islamabad, on 7 September 1999.
Are you a true South Asian?
- 19a You sleep on their floor.
- If you can relate to most of these statements, we're sorry, but you're South Asian.
- If you can relate to some of these statements, you're probably a second generation South Asian in a Western society.
- If you can only relate to a few of these statements,
- you're probably not South Asian.
a South Asian e-mail list from the US.
Let them be
We have had the misfortune of hearing and watching the ado in 1989 about the so-called rehabilitation of the sex workers around Narayanganj area. We know, the eviction took place but not the rehabilitation. Same thing happened near Kandupatti also. Once again, now, a massive attempt is going on to face the matter and I am quite confident that it will end up in a fiasco.
One due to his stupidity may obdurately remain insensitive to realities but science will continue working relentlessly according to its laws which are inscrutable and rather overpowering. The existence of female flesh trade has been going on since time immemorial. Mainly it is due to the male's animal vitality and the way they have been created by Nature or Almighty. I am feeling no sense of shame or discomfort in quoting Western medical science that "a healthy human female will never be sexually aroused by herself" whereas a particular sex act is "inevitable for the human male". Accept it or not, this will happen and has been happening. Now following this, it can be safely surmised that the act starts as an advance from the males who are not culturally bound to any ideals or with their spouses. On the other hand, it is poverty with the women, mostly, causing their entry into the trade but with the men it is certainly carnal appetite.
Only culture (ethical and moral control of one's animal vitality) can keep a male away from fornication. If a forcible eviction takes place (no rehabilitation is ever possible) they will be everywhere on the one hand and on the other, former customers will make lives of innumerable ladies a hell by making sexual assaults even inside respectable homesteads. It is a suppressed society where there is no legitimate way of having sex like in the permissive society of the West. Even there, the trade has not been possible to be stopped. It will remain there and everywhere because customers will always be available.
In the very pages of Daily Star about a year ago, a brave writer was complaining about the lack of rights for sodomites in British-made laws in Bangladesh. But alas, a late prostitute near Mashdair was refused burial rights and no person of eminence came out with protestations. What kind of pluralism is this? Offering sex is so vile but not enjoying it? How come? I strongly suggest, let the inmates stay where they are and let society have the tranquillity (which is a pretension, of course) with the clients enjoying, letting the civil and respectable portion of the populace go by honorably. While we can't manage far easier tasks like keeping the sewage system clean or boarding buses through a queue or even supplying water to all citizens let us not make caricatures with an inevitable scientific fact. I am not sorry or shy for this opinion of mine. We have seen caricatures before like "slum eradication" or "flood control". Then reality dawned and we had been advised by pundits to live with this. Likewise the fiction of "population-wealth" will then also thin away but it will be too late.
Dhaka resident Iftekhar Hamid's letter to
The Daily Star.