From: "Ishtiaq Ahmed"
To: "'Mukto-mona Moderator'" 
Subject: SV: For Dr. Ishtiaq Ahmed
Date: Tue, 29 Jul 2003 00:36:28 +0200

Dear Mr Roy,

I returned only today from the UK after a stay of several weeks and therefore could not reply earlier. If it is not too late, please do publish my article on your list.

Best regards,  

Ishtiaq Ahmed

Associate Professor

Department of Political Science

Stockholm University

106 91 Stockholm



Minorities in South Asia

Ishtiaq Ahmed

Democratic-minded political leaders and enlightened intellectuals have to come out and speak openly against the homogenisation mania that is being fostered

Exploitation, oppression and persecution of minorities are the salient features of all South Asian states. In India, Christians and Muslims face verbal terrorism as well as recurring physical assaults by extremist Hindu political and cultural organisations. The carnage of Muslims in Gujarat last year is an ugly reminder of the grave dangers in which minorities are placed. The distribution of trishuls (tridents) by the Hindu extremists to their cadres is the latest attempt to terrify the minorities.

In Pakistan, Muslim fundamentalist groups have been responsible for attacking Christians, Hindus and Ahmadis. Shias have also been the targets of vicious criminal attacks. The blasphemy law has played no role in making Pakistan a humane Muslim society. Indeed, procedural lacunae in the law have been used to persecute minorities and even Muslims. In Bangladesh, minorities continue to face persecution, harassment and terror by Islamic fundamentalist groups and indeed politically motivated criminal elements.

The situation for the Muslims in Nepal has become bad after Kashmiri and Pakistani extremists hijacked an Indian aircraft (December 24-31, 1999) from Kathmandu . Muslims in the Tamil strongholds in the northeast of Sri Lanka have been victims of terror and ethnic cleansing. There were also some attacks on Muslims in the Sinhalese areas of Sri Lanka in the wake of the Taliban’s destruction of the Buddha statutes in Afghanistan.

Threats and assaults on their lives and lack of economic opportunities are forcing members of minorities to migrate illegally. They risk their lives in the thousands while crossing international borders. It has been reported that individuals caught by border guards are subjected to cruel treatment irrespective of whether they are apprehended at the point of entry or exit. The treatment of women is most deplorable because they are subjected to rape and other indignities.

Minorities are not only small in numbers, they are usually also economically and socially weak, and lack political clout. On the other hand, states can, most of the time, ignore international criticism of their treatment of minorities. It is only when massive human rights violations take place that the international community feels morally compelled to respond. Mostly, protests are confined to diplomatic censure and petitioning campaigns by human rights and minority rights civil society actors. International law does not permit intervention in the internal affairs of states. Some states interpret their sovereignty as a licence to do what they want within their domestic sphere.

The problem becomes compounded when we remember that there is no objective definition of a minority. Religion, sect, language, ethnicity, caste — all such features have been used as the basis for describing a minority in South Asian politics. Aggression against all such minorities can be found in South Asia.

Persecution of minorities originates in a belief that the nation-state should be homogeneous. All deviations from the ideal homogenous nation are considered impurities that have to be removed by all means. The Nazis epitomised this thinking in extremis. However, they were not content with simply creating a pure German race-nation. They wanted to rule the world by liquidating inferior races or driving them into slavery.

Similar, if not identical, reasons and motivations can be found in the worldviews of South Asian fascists. Whether they justify their weird claims to purity on the basis of race or religion or something else, given a chance they are ready to conquer and expand their power beyond their own states. If that requires pulling the trigger and blowing up their enemies and themselves to smithereens they seem willing to pay the price.

If nothing is done to stem this rising tide of irrational nationalism, South Asia will sooner or later explode into unimaginable scenes of genocide. At least since the eighties, illicit weapons, acquired from the Afghan war and later from elsewhere, have been bought and sold within states and even across borders with the connivance of corrupt border officials. Armed militias and criminal gangs can be found all over South Asia.

Under the circumstances, if large-scale killing of minorities and minor sects were to take place there is bound to be a chain reaction of revenge killings all over South Asia. This would mean the end of the only admirable historical fact about the region — it has been more successful than other parts of the world in accommodating a mixture of cultures, religions, sects, languages and ethnic and racial elements and so on; not in terms of egalitarianism, but a traditional pluralism through syncretism and synthesis disseminated by Sufis, Sants and Gurus. Indeed their teachings made possible the tolerance of difference and non-conformity, but the champions of homogeneous nations want to eradicate all vestiges of such a tradition.

If, now, through mass murder all deviant minorities are exterminated and the surviving group of people speaks the same language or prostrate to the same deity or possesses the same skin colour or facial structure, would that be a laudable achievement? Worse, if that means one surviving nation-state, should that be celebrated as an outstanding achievement of the new millennium?

I do not wish to dramatise the absurdity and moral bankruptcy of such thinking. But it is important that socially committed and enlightened members of the majority community act immediately and decisively to uproot this disease which is slowly but surely metastasising. Minorities have to act responsibly as well. They should manifestly identify with the legitimate national interests of their states and act as patriotic citizens.

More importantly, democratic-minded political leaders and enlightened intellectuals have to come out and speak openly against the homogenisation mania that is being fostered through rightwing ideologues, journalists, politicians and political and cultural organisations. It is time to do something to save South Asia from the curse of fascism.

The author is an associate professor of Political Science at Stockholm University. He is the author of two books


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