Thursday, June 26, 2008

Islam and the Indian Muslims: by Geetesh Sharma

To: omar ali

Dear Omar Bhai,
I am thankful and at the same time grateful to you for enlisting me in Asiapeace. I get good articles on current issues from all over the world focusing mostly on India subcontinent from welknown writers.
I would be thankful, if you cerculate my article on Indian Muslims which is attached here with. Your comments and others are welcome.
With regards,

Geetesh Sharma.

In our country it is a most risky job to write about the Muslim society and Islam and the risk cumulates if some non-Muslim dares to do so. Both the fundamentalists and the progressives would say how much the non-muslims know about the Muslims or their religion that they could comment on it, What right do they have? Ironically, the progressive writers and thinkers have been saying all these years that in India the Hindus and the Muslims have been living like brothers in harmony for centuries. If this observation of theirs be true then why a Muslim should not write or comment about the Hindu society and a Hindu about the Muslim society? In reply they to it may argue that the religion is an internal matter of a community and it may not be proper for somebody to interfere in it. Although it is claimed that religion is universal and for entire humanity, not restricted to any sect or community.
In fact, religion cannot be the internal matter of any community. Every religion has its own code of conduct which differs from the another to an extent that it may lead to clashes. It is the religion that determines to what extent outside the society in politics there should be relation between various religious communities and whether they should at all mix with each other or not. Even the commensal and matrimonial ties are determined by the religion. How can then it be an internal matter? So it is very necessary that one may have the freedom to write or comment about any community. May be in the initial stages there would be certain misunderstandings and ill feelings but in the long run this process would lead one to breathe in an open air outside the blind dark tunnel, and in the present circumstances it is all the more needed. It may be over courageous to write rational, factual and frank accounts but it is in the interest of the as a whole besides the community about which it is written.
My native village, where I was brought up and where I spent nearly sixteen-seventeen years of my early life, had a Muslim population of about thirty per cent and I believe the demographic figure has yet not changed. My close friends included both the Hindus and the Muslims. Often we used to discuss about each other’s religion and that too most openly without any reservation. At times we used to ridicule certain aspects of it also. I had several Muslim friends, some of whom are still alive and who were religious without even believing in the religion. They celebrated their festivals, offered Namaz (prayers) on the occasions of Id-Ul-Fitra and Id-Ul-Zuha, observed fast during the holy month of Ramzan just for show and enjoyed their food at my place. They used to listen to criticisms and even passed their own comments about Quran and Prophet Mohammed. They also laughed at certain useless rituals of the Hindu religion and passed aspersions about Hindu gods and goddesses. What a wonderful openness it was during these days without any ill feeling towards anybody.
Today, however, when I visit my native village I badly miss that old atmosphere. People do not only try to avoid discussion about religion but are extremely cautious on this issue. I only wonder where the old openness and the kinship has vanished.
I may clarify here that my relation with the Muslims was not confined to my village. I have hundreds of Muslims friends in India and abroad, some of whom are religious to the extreme while some are even non-believers. Besides, I have exhaustively studied religions which include Islam and I have also read various translations of Quran on numerous occasions. I also have some study about Hadith and Shariat. It is for these reasons that I could dare to write about the Muslim society and Islam.
Obviously the breach between the relations caused by religion is constantly widening since the last five, or may be six decades. Particularly the Muslim society has become sensitive to the extent of fanaticism or bigotry or should we say, has been made so. It has been confined in its religious cell. There are, of course, a good number of people in this community who wish to come out of this cell but do not dare to.
It may not be true to say that the fanaticism has not increased among the Hindu. It has, but despite this a majority among them are tolerant of bitter criticism of their religion.
Intolerance and fanaticism are not the monopoly of only the Indian Muslims. Sikh communities, for instance, are equally beleaguered by their Granthis and Jathedars. Recent episodes in Punjab have fully exposed their intolerance and rigidity which in the long run will harm the very interests and image of the communities, like Hindutva has damaged the interests and image of the Hindu.
There are hundreds of books available criticising Hindu gods and goddesses and religion. Same is, however, not true about Islam or the Muslims. On the contrary if someone criticises Islam or Prophet Mohammed even in far off Denmark or the USA, the Indian Muslims react violently.
This type of religious intolerance among the Muslim is India is alienating them from the mainstream and the chasm among them and the Hindus is widening, which further strengthens the religious bigotry among the Hindus.
The thinkers and intellectuals of the country on the other hand either keep criminally silent or adopt a stance of appeasement towards the Muslims, as far as religious sentiments are concerned.
Obviously it has harmed the Muslim community which is becoming the victim of an infirm mentality that leads it into a blind alley in search of emancipation.
Without properly knowing or following Islam the Muslim community is becoming too sensitive to tolerate even a bit of its criticism or comment. It has become so sensitive about its religion that it refuses to even face reality or the truth. Unfortunately, the political leaders, and even the Leftists of our country who should have been the torchbearers of secularism, to ensure their votes, helped them maintain such a mind-set.
The condition, of late, has acquired a very dangerous and explosive proportion, and it is impossible to deal with it without facing the hard and bare realities.
What is this reality that has to be faced ?
The first reality concerns the religion. It is an age old belief that the religion unites the humanity while the reality is contrary to it. Let us take Islam, for instance. Has it ever been able to unite its own followers, what to talk about whole of the humanity? Obviously not. Divided among various sects, the Muslims have indulged in violent and bloody clashes among each other for centuries. Shia, Sunni, Wahabi, Ahmadia, Ismaili, Deobandi, Barelwi etc. numerous sects of the Muslims do not even share commensal and matrimonial ties. Most of the time they are engaged in bloody conflicts and hundreds of thousands have been killed in those conflicts.
It is said that Islam means peace, dedication but then is it not true that since its origin Islam has a history of violent struggles.
Immediately after the death of Prophet Mohammed there was a big controversy on the issue of Khilafat. The Shias allege that certain people conspired and appointed Abu Bakr as the caliph while Ali was busy arranging for the last rites of the Prophet. The Shias consider Ali as the first caliph while the Sunnis consider him to be the fourth caliph. The Second caliph Omar was murdered in some conspiracy and Osman, the third caliph was also murdered while he was reciting Quran. Even Ali met with similar fate. On the 19th day of Ramzan, he was attacked with sword while he was in prostration and he died two days thereafter, on the 21st day of Ramzan. Muaviya, the son-in-law of the third caliph Osman acquired the Khilafat on his strength and is said to have manipulated the murder of Hasan, Son of Ali. Muaviya’s son Yezid subsequently captured Khilafat and arranged for the most cruel assassination of Hussain, the second son of Ali, the members of his family and his friends.
In the meantime Bani Abbasi claimed that since they hailed from the family line of Rasul they were the righteous claimant of the Khilafat. He defeated their rival in war and captured Khilafat. Hasan Ibne Sabah, who created for the first time the terrorists and suicidal squads that were called Assassins, Challenged their authority.
One may, therefore, say that since its inception various sects of Islam were engaged in violent clashes either among themselves or with the jews, christians, non believers and infidels, and these clashes are still continuing.
In Quran, there is not one but several verses, that specify most severe punishments for the atheists, infidels and the Kafirs (nonbelievers) who do not believe in one God theory of the Quran, who do not consider Quran to be the last book revealed by God and who do not consider Prophet Mohammed as the last prophet. Their place is in hell after the day of judgement where they would have to undergo the torments of Jahannum, the hell. (Surah: Al-Touba - 29.)
Do the Kafirs not have any right to challenge all these? And if they do, their arguments need to be patiently heard at least. One may agree or differ but what is the point in indulging in violence?
The incoherence of Islam as described in this essay is not the incoherence of Islam only. Almost every religion is full of such incoherences. An open discussion on all this would do a lot of good to the mankind, that includes the Muslims as well.
The religious bigots of any denomination believe in myths not in facts, and this is the root cause of clashes. They tend to forget that myths are myths while facts remain facts.
It is true that Islam did not spread everywhere with the help of sword. It did spread through peaceful means also beside the strength of sword and the history is witness to it. Where then does peace stand?
Even today the terrorists spread world over are causing death to the innocent people and that too in the name of religion.
A terrorist, must have been receiving some sort of inspiration from the religion that provokes him to sacrifice his life. There must have been something (and there is) in the Quran that citing its verses people are engaged in a warfare against humanity for centuries. The Islamic terrorists are not struggling with the U.S. as an imperialist force but as an enemy of Islam.
Any community that considers religion as its priority, must be a backward one. In fact, the priority should have been science, education, medical facility, employment and a better standard of life rather than the religion. Had it been so, the religion night have united the people.
In fact, it is the priority of religion that divides the people. It is because of clinging to the religion with complete dedication and blind faith in it that the Muslim community is lagging far behind other communities in almost every sphere, particularly that of science and education.
Science and religion have nothing in common. While Science lays stress on rationalism and reasoning, the religion negates it. Science is centred on human activities and thoughts while religion leaves everything to God and cripples the man mentally. All the discoveries of science that are enormously benefitting the mankind and human society, could be possible due to the laboratories rather than to any religious place of worship. One has got to accept this fact.
Often it is said that Islam has provided women rights equal to those of men. This observation is a blatant lie. A man, whatever may be the conditions or circumstances specified, is permitted to have four wives (Surah: Al-NISA- 3) but women do not have this permission. Witness of two women is equal to that of one man and more share in property is granted to men than women under Islam; can this be termed equality? Even for adultery the provision of punishment in Islam is more severe for woman as compared to men. For this crime Islam directs that the women concerned may be locked up in a room till she dies. (Surah: Al - NISA - 16). For disobedience or for going against the tenets, women must be chastised and if they do not follow the prescribed path, they may be beaten. (Surah: Al - BAKR, 223).
Is it equality? Why the God, the Prophet, the Caliphs are all men and not a woman? Even the procedure of divorce is easier for men than women.
According to Quran, after the final day of judgement, there is provision of beautiful Houris and Ghilmans for men but no such provision for women. There may be several other instances. According to Quran, woman is considered to be the field of man and the man may till it in the manner he deems fit. (Surah : Al-BAKR - 223).
Prophet Mohammed was illiterate and the God revealed Quran to him. In the year 665, about 33 years after the death of Prophet Mohammed (632) the third Caliph Osman compiled the verses of Quran and edited the Madina edition of it and gave it an official book form. About two hundred years thereafter Bukhari compiled the incidents related to the Prophet and gave an official shape to Hadith. Who can say for sure, how many of the verses were revealed and how many of those were later added. There should be an open discussion on it.
One more thing. There is not one but various interpretations of the verses of Quran. The Sunnis, the Shias, the Ahmadias, all have their own interpretations. The terrorists of today interpret it in their own way and talk of spreading the message of Islam world over. Who would then decide, who is right and who is wrong?
The Muslim, who is ever ready to kill or be killed on the issue of even slightest criticism of Quran, should be asked as to what extent does he know and follow the directives of Quran or whether he can do so even if he wishes to? If not, then why so much of hue and cry on its criticism?
Yes, it is true that the problem is not confined to the Muslims alone. The ever increasing intolerance on the issue of religion among the Hindus and the Sikhs is also creating a gulf of differences among the communities. If the temples, the mosques, the gurudwaras and the churches would determine the politics of the communities, naturally it would lead to clash.
Fortunately, those who indulge in temple centred politics have in India so far been unsuccessful despite their every effort. May be, at times they got momentary success in inciting excitement and communal tensions or riots but the Hindu society, in general, is free from the temple centred politics to a great extent, if not completely. The same, however, may not be true of the Muslims and to some extent the sikhs who are, by and large, easily swayed and affected by the edicts and Khutbas issued by the clerics at the Friday prayers or by the Madrasas run by various mosques or edicts from gurudwaras. On the basis of these edicts and Khutbas a common Muslim forms his own opinion. In presence of such institutions, therefore, it would be futile to expect secularism. Exceptions are of course there but exceptions are exceptions, after all.
Howsoever bitter it might be but the truth remains that as long as the Muslim society does not free itself from the cobweb of the Quran, Hadith, Shariat, Khutbas and edicts, the mosques and the madrasas, it may not be able to align itself with the mainstream of globalisation under the present modern a conditions.
The world has left the Arabian age of fourteen hundred years ago far behind. All these might have been relevant at that time for that particular region but these are not relevant any more. Therefore, to keep on clinging to the past and react violently on these issues is nothing short of promoting conflicts and sectarianism. It is a tragedy that the Muslims today do not follow the Quranic code of conduct, rather behave contrary to it, yet they believe that the writings of the Quran are the ultimate truth, that Quran has solution to all the problems of the world and that Quran is full of science, which is nothing but a deception.
If everything mentioned in Quran is the only truth why then it is not completely practised in life? It is so because it is impossible to do so. Roza, Namaz and Haj are only superfluous religious rituals that they observe and abstain from following other directives of Quran. Yes, they do take the help of the Quran and Hadith to maintain their domination over the women folk, since its serves their (men’s) vested interest.
The day the Muslims would try to practise the teachings of Quran in their lives, neither themselves would live in peace nor would allow the world to.
The liberal Muslims may refer certain verses of Quran that speak of living in harmony and practicing Jihad against the evil but there are also verses in Quran that speak of Jihad against the non-believers and their massacre, discrimination against the women, Dozakh (hell) for the non-believers and Jannat (heaven) for the Jihadis and believers where they may have plenty of honey, wine, dates, grapes and will have the Houries and Ghilman in their service. (Surrah: Al - Waqia, 11 to 26). The Quran also says that Allah has covered the eyes and ears of the non-believers with a veil and has fixed punishment for them.
(Surah: Al - Waqia 51 to 56). Nobody can save them from being astray. (Surah: Al Bakr , 6-7, 190-193 and 217: Surah : Al - Nisa, 74-84.) Clashes under such conditions are inevitable. Then where is the place for living in peace and harmony and had a man can be reformed and put to the path of Islam.
The liberals and the so called secularists always advocate that the basic tenets, teachings and preachings of almost every religion is the same and so the unity among various sects is possible only through religion.
They may be forwarded with a simple question — why do we need so many of religion instead of one? Even the history of all religions negate this concept of unity through religions. We have witnessed clashes among religions since its inception.
To establish the liberalism in the Quran the liberal section of the Muslims may quote certain verses from quran and certain incidents from the Hadith but the clerics and religious bigots have far more to quote from the quran and the Hadith to drive home their point of subjugation of the women, slaughter of the non-believers, spread of Islam by any means world over.
The propagators of Islam on the one hand claim Islam to be the most simple to comprehend religion but on the other hand they are too sensitive to allow anybody to comment on it saying that it will take ages to fully comprehend it. As such the interpretation of Islam is monopolised by clerics and the critics are forbidden to write or speak anything other then praise.
The theory of clash of civilization is not the discovery of American writer Huntington. This conflict is there since the rise of civilizaitons, particularly since the conception of religions. The conflict between the Muslims, Jews and Christians in the Middle East was also not due to the American imperialism. Jerusalem, the centre of three religions. Judaism, Christianity and Islam — had been and still is the centre of violent clashes for centuries. The American imperialists have only added fuel to the fire to serve their vested interests and they succeeded too in their design.
The same may be true about the conflict among religions, that have symbolised culture and civilization. The followers of various religions have been indulging in violent conflicts with each other to assert their domination on the human society. Even the various sub-sects of the same religion having been divided among themselves, entered into violent conflicts from time to time. This is true almost of every religion.
During the Vedic period there had been bloody conflicts among the Surs and Asurs and then among the Shaivas and Vaishnavas, the Hindus and the Buddhists, the Hindus and the Jains. The history of these incidents is known to all.
Similarly, in Christianity we find that the followers of Catholic, Protestant, Church of England and Orthodox Church are indulging in large scale massacre involving millions of people. Have there been less incidents of massacre in the name of Crusade and Jihad by the followers of Christianity and Islam?
Islam has a history of clashes and wars since its inception and its various sects viz Shia, Sunni, Ahmadia, Ismailis, Wahabi etc. have clashed, and they still do, with each other since centuries.
The Indian Muslims, by nature and character, are Indians first and then anything else. They have made unique contribution in various forms of art, literature and culture that are forbidden in Islam. Their contribution in Indian economy is many times more in comparison to their population. It may not be an exaggeration to Say that they form the back bone of Indian economy. More than half of the skilled labour and artisans in India are the Muslims. Whatever they earn through their tool in the Middle East, they deposit and spend in India rather than depositing it in some foreign bank.
Although there is no caste system in Islam but it exists among the Indian Muslims, who have lower castes and upper castes. Different communities have even the mosques of their own. This is one aspect of the picture. The other aspect being their mental block in respect of religion that prevents then from being a part of the mainstream and for which this readership and in totality the political leadership of our country should be blamed for it is they who maintain the status quo to serve their vested interests.
The backwardness among the Indian Muslims, to certain extent is due to the discrimination that was meted out to them but the principal reason for it is their blind faith in religion. Why the Muslims of Islamic countries, be it Bangladesh or Pakistan or the Saudi Arabia are back ward as compared to other countries. In Europe, and America they enjoy equal opportunities for development besides security for life and various other facilities provided by the state without any discrimination, why even there they are backward in comparison to other communities? The only answer is their blind faith towards religion and that too to the extreme.
The privileges, openness and the opportunities for development that the Muslim community enjoy in secular India is not at all possible in any Islamic country. In fact, the Indian Muslims could have provided leadership to the Muslim community as a whole but how can one guide others who himself is in dark.
The most powerful aspect of the Muslim community is that there is hardly any stream of art and culture to which they have not made a substantial contribution or which they don’t master in. They enjoy their prime position since centuries in dance, music, painting, sculpture, acting, direction, classical music, qawwalis, poetry and fiction writing etc. In fact they had contributed a lot, and they still do, in fortifying and enriching the Indian culture. It would be a statement of fact to say that the number of Indian Muslim stalwarts in the field of art and culture far outnumber those produced by the Muslim community world over.
Music, dance, Painting, even poetry etc. in not permitted is Islam despite which the Indian Muslims mastered these fine arts and strengthened the Indian culture. A Muslim of Saudi Arabia would not even dream of it.
Like any other community the Indian Muslims drink wine, trade in wine, earn interest, lend money on interest, dance and accept dowry in marriages, bring out processions on Muharram and have distinction of low caste and higher caste among them. Is all this not contrary to Islam? If it is, why then he hesitates in accepting that he is an Indian first and then a Muslim?
Indian Muslims have made most valuable contribution in the development of Indian art and Culture. There would hardly be any stream of fine arts that does not have their contribution. Indian culture would be a lame duck if their contribution in culture is taken out.
It is interesting to note that all these art forms are prohibited in Islam. In fact, Islam is a dry religion devoid of savour of life. Saudi Arabia, where Islam originated and which is considered to be the centre of pure Islam, is its glaring example.
In fact, Islam embraced various cultural streams outside Arabian territory when it reached Iran and subsequently flourished when it reached India.
Had the Muslim community of India got a proper leadership it could have emerged as an ideal secular society and could have set an example not only before the Muslim community world over but before the Hindus, the Sikhs and the other communities of India to emulate. Needless to say that it would have served their own cause besides that of the humanity as a whole, but it was not to be.
The Indian Muslim Community today is under the clutches of fanatic and regressive clerics and priests, and the opportunist political leadership, who for their vested interests do not wish them to get rid of their parochial cells and join the mainstream.
It may be partly true that in India the Muslims are discriminated against, despite which the fact remains that the liberties enjoyed by the Muslims in India far exceed those that are available to them in the Islamic countries. In spite of its various drawbacks the Indian Democratic Republic grants equal rights to every citizen irrespective of any caste, creed or religion. The principal reason for the backwardness of the Muslim society in India is its religious mind-set rather than any discrimination.
Let us presume for the time being that the Indian Muslims are backward in comparison to other communities due to discrimination, but then why they, particularly the Muslim women are backward even is Islamic countries like Pakistan and Bangladesh. Muslims of Pakistan and Bangladesh are no better than the Indian Muslims in the field of education.
Howsoever positive interpretations to various verses of the Quran may be forwarded by the liberal Muslim scholars, the fact remains that the Muslim clerics and priests have always dominated the society and their interpretations are considered to be authentic.
There are few verses in Quran that preach of living in harmony with the Jews and Christians while more verses are there that prevent the Muslims to believe in or make friends with the Jews and the Christians. (Surah: Al- maida - 51).
Although blind faith had been the basis of every religion but other religions changed according to the time and the credit for which goes to he continuous movement launched by the reformists and the atheists. Most of the Western countries, therefore, could establish a secular society and the benefit of which was shared by all the citizens of those countries without any discrimination. On the basis of establishing a secular society the Hindu Community underwent revolutionary changes but the ultimate goal is still to be achieved. The Hindu society not only accepted the changes but to certain extent practised it in life. Earlier there was polygamy permitted by religion in the Hindu society but it was prohibited by the Hindu Code Bill and now, by and large it is no more there. Earlier it was a common practice among the Hindus to sacrifice millions of animals on been religious festivals and rituals which has now reduced to minimal.
There has also been notable decline in having Choti, the topknots and Janeo, the sacred thread. These are some of the examples of change in the Hindu society.
The Muslim society on the other hand only had certain superfluous changes without budging an inch from the religion. It failed to wriggle out of the grip of Quran, the mosques and the Madrasas. On the contrary, since last few years this grip has tightened even more. Obviously, therefore, not only in India but through out the world the Muslim community is alienating itself.
For tolerance and for respect to all religious it is necessary to negate the violent and bigoted aspect of the religion rather than justifying it.
There are numerous countries that have accomplished achievements having marginalised religion and naturally it benefited the people of those countries beside the humanity as a whole. The rights and privileges that the Muslims enjoy in secular countries are beyond imagination in the Islamic countries. It is a suicidal mentality to cover the eyes from reality, which ultimately leads to disturbance.
It would, however, be wrong to assume that all the Muslims are fundamentalists or terrorists. A sizable section of the Muslims is although a bit liberal but is so sensitive on the issue of religion that it is cut off from the modern thoughts and ideas. They look for solution of every problem in the Quran and for them every word of Quran is eternal and the ultimate truth, beyond which they refuse to think.
Most of the countries of Europe have marginalised religion and this is one of the reasons for their miraculous development and the welfare system that benefits every citizen without any racial or religious discrimination, while the religious countries, particularly the Islamic countries are lagging far behind despite many of them having enormous oil reserve. In the name of religion the Islamic countries treat non-Muslims with discrimination and it is a crime to even imagine of a secular society there.
The Hindu-Muslim divide in India is neither due to the British nor due to the opportunist politicians who have only added to the age old breach to serve their vested interests.
The Hindus always treated the Muslims as Mlechchha (non-Aryan or sinful) and what to talk of commensal and matrimonial ties they even abstained from jointly sharing a dining table. The Muslims on the other hand considered Islam to be a superior religion in comparison to Hinduism. They always thought themselves to be the rulers and the Hindus as the ruled. Their religious rituals also enhanced their differences.
The Hindus, for instance, worship the cow while the Muslims consider it auspicious to sacrifice it and due to which there have been violent clashes between both the communities from time to time. The Hindus are idol worshippers while the Muslims are iconoclast. How can there be a unity? Of course there always had been a section among the Muslim who were not only influenced by the Hindu culture but who accepted it to a certain extent and contributed a lot more for its development.
The Muslims, particularly the skilled artisans also made a significant contribution to the Indian economy but in spite of all these important contributions they maintained an equidistance on the issue of religion, which still exists. It was this difference based on religion that led to the partition of India.
Whatever is happening in Jammu & Kashmir today in the name of the so called ‘freedom’ is also backed by religious bigotry and this so called struggle is receiving support of Pakistan only because the people of Kashmir are mostly Muslims. In fact, Pakistan is not supporting the cause of the Kashmiris.
Bihar is far more backward than Kashmir and is a victim of oppression at the hands of official and non-official Mafias. There were far more massive rigging during general elections in Bihar and U.P. than in Kashmir but none ever raised sectarian slogans. Such voices where heard in Nagaland and Mizoram but on a different issue and for which the Government of India was more responsible. Kashmir did not have to bear more oppression and injustice than the other states of India. Sectarianism and terrorism started under the shelter of Islam and the Kashmiri Pandits and the Government of India only added fuel to the fire and the sectarians exploited the conditions completely.
Ultimately we reach the same conclusion that as long as religion is a dominant factor that receives priority in our day to day life, as long as the politics is dictated by the temples and the mosques, Gurudwaras Secularism and communal harmony would be a far cry.
There are incoherences in the books of almost all the religions and Quran is no exception to it. In Quran while struggle against own vices is termed as Jihad it also speaks of Jihad against those who do not believe in the God, Quran or the Prophet. It directs one not to befriend such element and to kill them when they happen to meet. Today, having been inspired by these verses of Quran the terrorists have not only let loose violence world over but are killing the innocent people and at the same time justifying it in the name of religion. According to Quran such people will go to Jannat (heaven) after the day of judgement, where the Houries and Ghilmans (young boys) would be in their service.
Yes, Quran also says — you follow your own religion and I mine. Let us both follow our respective religions (Surah: Al - KABROON, 109) but at the same time it also says that the non-believers are the misled people and for whom the God has fixed the torments of hell as punishment. It is also said that the God has closed the eyes and ears of the misled people and He is not going to save them from being misled. (Surah: Al - BAKR - 7).
There should be open discussion about all these incoherences. People should have the liberty to speak for or against. People should listen intently and peacefully rather than drawing their daggers on least provocation or somebody’s comments.
Despite its various drawbacks and shortcomings one may learn a lot from the West in this context. It is a historical fact that at one time the western society was under the clutches of the church. Today, however, it is free from it. One can bitterly criticise Christianity and Jesus. Plays like ‘Jesus, the Bastard’ are staged and films on the controversial book ‘Da Vinci Code’ are made and exhibited wherein the Catholics and their religious head, the Pope is ridiculed but such incidences do not lead to massive violence, arson or massacre of innocent people; no edicts are issued.
These are the glaring examples of tolerance. The Muslim society, and to certain extent the Hindu and Sikh communities also, should learn a lesson from it. Open discussion and criticism lead one to distinguish between the right and the wrong. One may or may not accept but should be tolerant enough to listen to others’ points of view.
Often it is argued that the one who does not believe in the God or the religion has no right to comment on it. It is an irony that one is free to express one’s views on various issues over the earth but is prohibited to comment on religion and God.
If some religion or its God summons the non-believers to bear the torments of the hell or asks His followers to massacre the non-believers, why then the non-believers do not have the right to critisise such a God ?
So, either the religion should be treated as an individual affair and should be separated from politics or it should be parted with for ever. If any of these two choices is adopted only then it may help in maintaining unity and communal harmony. This applies not only to the Muslims but to all.
I have never been a follower of Hinduism. For me humanism is the only religion that is free from any discrimination of race, caste, nationality and religion. I love Hindus as much as the Muslims. Whatever I have written is a statement of facts. My object is not to hurt anybody’s feeling but to make people face the reality so that they may live in peace, harmony, mutual co-operation and understanding.
I believe, we have only one life and so we should make full use of it by living in peace and harmony. This can only be possible if we unitedly fight against illiteracy, hunger, acute economic disparity and for equality and social justice, which are the fundamental rights of each and every person irrespective of caste, religion and ethnicity. Let the people of universe unite on this issue and fight together to achieve the goal of dignified life.
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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Telegraph Frontpage | Hanged Bengali icon’s great-niece bags MBE

The Telegraph - Calcutta (Kolkata) | Frontpage | Hanged Bengali icon’s great-niece bags MBE
Hanged Bengali icon’s great-niece bags MBE
Tanika Gupta

London, June 14: The descendant of a young Bengali revolutionary hanged by the British in Alipore Central Jail nearly eight decades ago received recognition today from the queen in her Birthday Honours’ List.

Tanika Gupta, 44, a playwright, has been given an MBE — Member of The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire — “for services to drama”, the citation said.

“I did struggle with the decision whether or not to accept because of the word, ‘empire,’” Tanika admitted to The Telegraph. “I think it should be changed.”

Dinesh Chandra Gupta, the youngest brother of Tanika’s paternal grandfather, Dr Pritish Gupta, was only 19 when he went to the gallows at Alipore Central Jail on July 7, 1931, for the assassination of Colonel N.S. Simpson, the inspector-general of prisons, inside the Writers’ Building in Calcutta.

In fact, Tanika’s first play, Voices in the Wind, written for radio in the early 1990s, was about her great-uncle’s sacrifice.

She said it was his example which “inspired me to become a playwright”.

What persuaded Tanika to accept the MBE was encouragement from her mother, Gairika Gupta, who with her late husband, Tapan, set up the Tagoreans, a society aimed at spreading the best of Bengali culture, after the couple arrived in London from Calcutta in 1961.

“My mum said, ‘Dinesh would be happy,’” explained Tanika. “She is going to cook ilish maach to celebrate.”

She added her father, who passed away in 1991 — her parents had dragged her to meetings of the Tagoreans, giving her a love of the arts — “would have been thrilled”.

“They were into Bengali literature and Rabindranath Tagore,” recalled Tanika. “They met and fell in love at Santiniketan. The artistic side of things was just bred into me — I didn’t even notice it.”

Tanika, who was born in Chiswick, west London, in 1963, read modern history at Oxford — her current commission is to write a historical play about non-white people in Victorian England for the Royal Shakespeare Company — and eventually became a playwright.
Dinesh Chandra Gupta

One of her plays, The Waiting Room, was performed at the Royal National Theatre on the South Bank in May, 2000, and included Shabana Azmi in the cast.

After today’s MBE, Tanika joked: “I am now a member of the Establishment. It should be good for an upgrade (on flights) and a booking at the Ivy.”

The Ivy is a London restaurant frequented by the who’s who of show business, collectively referred to as the “luvvies” (because of their proclivity for air kissing and calling each other, “Darling”.)

While some will find it ironic that the British have bestowed the great-niece of an Indian they hanged with an MBE, more mature minds will recognise this is evidence of the revolution that has taken place in society. Not only do the young British carry little baggage from the empire but Indians, too, have become more confident and are at ease dealing with their former colonial masters on equal terms.

Tanika and her husband, David Archer, an Englishman whom she met at university, have “teen kanya” — Nandini, 17, who is a keen painter, Niharika, 15, and Malini, eight.

And what would Dinesh Chandra Gupta make of Tanika Gupta, MBE?

“He’d be rolling in the Ganges,” quipped his great-niece, adapting the expression, “turning in his grave”.

Dinesh was born on December 6, 1911, in the village of Josholong in Munshiganj district, now in Bangladesh. While he was studying in Dhaka College, Dinesh joined the Bengal Volunteers, a group set up by Subhas Chandra Bose in 1928 at the Calcutta session of the Indian National Congress.

Soon the Bengal Volunteers transformed itself to a more active revolutionary association and planned to liquidate British officers known to have tortured Indian prisoners.

High on the hit list, said Tanika, was a man called “Tegart, who was the chief commissioner of police”.

On December 8, 1930, Dinesh, accompanied by two associates, Benoy Basu and Badal Gupta, slipped into the Writers’ Building dressed in European clothes.

But the man they shot was Colonel Simpson.

“It was the wrong man — he was a reformer,” said Tanika. “It was a botched job.”

Cornered by British police, the three determined not to be taken alive.

Badal swallowed potassium cyanide, while Benoy and Dinesh shot themselves with their own revolvers. Benoy was taken to the hospital and died five days later.

Dinesh, however, survived, was put on trial and sentenced to death for anti-government activities and murder. Following independence, Dalhousie Square in Calcutta was eventually renamed BBD Bagh after the Benoy-Badal-Dinesh trio.

While awaiting execution, Dinesh wrote a number of letters from his prison cell on the heroism of the revolutionaries and his belief in the greatness of self-sacrifice.

Tanika confirmed: “In prison he wrote all these beautifully eloquent letters to his family, which I was given and used as the basis of Voices on the Wind. My family is very proud of him.”

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Telegraph -A grand old man - Abbas Tyabji

The Telegraph - Calcutta (Kolkata) | Opinion | A grand old man

- How a fun-loving barrister became a devout Gandhian
Malavika Karlekar

By the 1870s, the camera entered the lives of the Indian landed elite and the growing middle class; it was invaluable in the depiction of family life and newly-acquired professional roles where it became de rigueur for men with or without their families to be framed for posterity. Elaborate formal attire, the pose and the positioning of persons, were of vital importance; in the case of a married couple, how each spouse was seated or standing individually and in relation to one another often indicated relative status within the marital bond. Individuals or families in groups stood or sat elaborately dressed, framed against the backdrop of phantasmic studio sets — distant lakes, castles, tropical forests — that looked beyond everyday realities. This juxtaposition of the mundane with the imagined can be viewed as an image of the colonial encounter, where both ruler and ruled were involved in the intricate practice of redefining themselves; make-believe too had a role in this complex process.

In time, better-placed families preferred to ask photographic studios for a home shoot. Today, in the digital age of instant production, the performative function of such an event that involved the movement and setting up of equipment, handlers and, of course, the photographer, can hardly be comprehended. Apart from the sheer convenience of not having to make a trip to the studio when large numbers were to be photographed, to afford the luxury of being photographed at home was an affirmation of status.

Some families, more than others, have been conscientious in the preservation of family photographs, diaries, memoirs and other random writings, a case in point being that of the Sulemaini Bohra Tyabjis of Gujarat. Family archivist Salima Tyabji has painstakingly organized, arranged and curated the many photographs of this amazing family (most of which are in the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library); it is almost possible to reconstruct a family history and indicate social change on the basis of these visuals alone. For instance, several document Abbas Tyabji’s metamorphosis from a Western-educated fun-loving professional to a devout Gandhian, the camera zeroing in infallibly on changed dress codes, demeanour and pose. The recently published biography by the historian, Aparna Basu, brought out by the National Book Trust, tells us about this metamorphosis of the by-then-elderly Abbas. This informative little text recounts how he came to be referred to as the ‘chhota Gandhi’ — an ironic epithet, as Tyabji was 17 years older than the Mahatma.

Basu has relied on his diaries and public papers held by the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library as well as published and unpublished biographies, and “an unending stream of letters” between him and M.K. Gandhi. The present photograph that Basu uses in her book clearly belongs to Abbas’s pre-Gandhian phase (picture). In this family photograph taken at Abbas Tyabji’s Bombay home, the photographic establishment has almost re-created a theatrical set, the central characters being Abbas (seated in the middle without head gear), and wife Ameena who is next to him. As the photograph was being taken at home, the photographer was able to devote more time to its composition, very likely with inputs from the family.

What is particularly interesting is that nobody engages with the camera: not one of the 17 people looks straight at it — and yet there is a certain dynamism in the visual. The photograph forces the viewer to give it more than a passing glance. Abbas’s head is almost at right angles while Ameena looks askance, with somewhat downcast eyes. A close examination of each person’s pose indicates that there is nothing accidental about any of them. Generations and genders are mixed, clothes, postures, demeanours composed — if not dictated — and arranged to give it a certain dramatic quality. There is movement in stasis and several sub-groups within the larger assemblage in this conversation piece, that is like many group portraits by the 18th-century British painter, William Hogarth, with all the “atmospherics of a domestic drama”. Clearly considerable thought — if not debate — ensued before the shot was taken. And as it is likely to have been taken in the 1880s, if not the 1870s, the entire event would have taken quite some time, perhaps even half a day.

The Tyabji family had known great wealth, penury and then a steady ascent into professional recognition and stability. In 1803, after a fire devastated their home, shop and belongings, Bhai Miyan and his wife, Hurmat Ali, moved to Baroda. Their son, Tyab Ali, started life as a hawker and peddler in Bombay, and when his peregrinations took him to the elite Malabar Hill area, he was fortunate enough to meet a Parsi who loaned him enough money to set up a shop. He soon became a wealthy man, now known as Tyabji, a name that has remained that of the family. One of his sons, Badruddin, became a president of the Indian National Congress and a leading barrister of his time.

Born in 1854, Abbas was Tyab’s eldest grandson and, his father, Shamsuddin, having joined the family business, continued to live in Bombay like “a merchant prince”. Abbas was initially educated by private tutors at home, and as he kept indifferent health, was sent to England with his uncle, Badruddin, who was going to eat his dinners at the Inns of Court. His nephew too went on to study law and became a barrister in 1875. He “left for India a very loyal subject of Queen Victoria, impressed by British institutions, Western life and thought and joined the Bombay bar”, moving on to Baroda at the invitation of the Maharaja’s dewan. After the death of his first wife, he married his cousin, Ameena, and the couple was quickly integrated into the social scene in Baroda, the food at their table much the delight of the city. With the active encouragement of Maharaja Siyajirao and his wife, Maharani Chimnabai, Ameena gave up purdah and adapted fast to the hybridized life of the Indian elite: her daughter, Raihana, recalled how “Parsi and Hindu friends would request mother to teach their daughters how to eat with knives and forks and spoons. Other friends would ask her to teach their daughters to speak and converse in English”.

Abbas had become a member of the INC in 1885 and, interestingly, in the same year became a judge of the Baroda high court. He retired in 1913 and, by 1920 (when he was almost 70), had re-invented himself. Jallianwala Bagh had greatly disillusioned him about the British whom he had so long admired, and the turning point came when he was introduced to Gujarat politics at the invitation of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. Soon, the Mahatma took note of the man whose impassioned speeches he felt influenced Gujarat’s early acceptance of non-cooperation. He became an active campaigner and wrote to Gandhi that “the khaddar adopted at Bezwada has simply made me twenty years younger”.

It did not take him long to set fire to the expensive clothes belonging to his earlier life, persuading many others to do the same. Abbas Tyabji became a frequent visitor to Sabarmati Ashram and, as a 76-year-old, joined the historic Salt March to Dandi in 1930 — the oldest member of the group and the one who took over leadership of the movement after Gandhi was arrested. Soon, together with 58 others, he too was charged under Section 143 of the Indian Penal Code with unlawful assembly and breaking the provisions of the Salt Law.

On his release from six months’ rigorous imprisonment, he continued to work for khadi, and both he and Ameena sold Rs 1,500 worth of material in 1933. Not long before his death in 1936, in the heat of the Gujarat summer, the couple had gone around in a bullock cart propagating the homespun cause. When he died, Gandhi publicly mourned the “Grand Old Man of Gujarat”. In private, he must surely have grieved for his good friend, Bhurr: Basu quotes Tyabji’s daughter, Sohela, as saying that the two men called each other “Bhurr” in memory of a cold night they had spent together in the now infamous Godhra station, bhurring and chatting to keep the cold at bay.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Supreme Court to Bush: You Are Not Above the Law, Gitmo Detainees Have Right to Habeas Corpus | Rights and Liberties | AlterNet

Supreme Court to Bush: You Are Not Above the Law, Gitmo Detainees Have Right to Habeas Corpus | Rights and Liberties | AlterNet

Rights and Liberties

Supreme Court to Bush: You Are Not Above the Law, Gitmo Detainees Have Right to Habeas Corpus

By Liliana Segura, AlterNet. Posted June 13, 2008.

After a six-year battle that cut to the Constitution's core, a look at how advocates for Gitmo prisoners won a major victory against Bush.
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In perhaps its most significant ruling in the so-called War on Terror, the Supreme Court resurrected the ancient writ of habeas corpus on Thursday, ruling that the prisoners being held at Guantánamo Bay have the right to challenge their imprisonment in U.S. courts.

"The laws and Constitution are designed to survive, and remain in force, in extraordinary times," Justice Anthony Kennedy said, writing for the majority in Boumediene v. Bush. "Liberty and security can be reconciled; and in our system they are reconciled within the framework of the law. The Framers decided that habeas corpus, a right of first importance, must be a part of that framework, a part of that law."

Center for Constitutional Rights President Michael Ratner, who has spearheaded the legal defense of the prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, called the decision a "vindication," telling reporters in a conference call hours after the ruling that he was "incredibly thrilled and moved" by the 5-4 decision, which, for CCR, marked the culmination of over half a decade of fighting for the legal rights of the men at Guantánamo, some 270 of who have still not been charged.

"It's been a long struggle," Ratner said, "We were out there alone in the beginning." Indeed, the CCR filed the first lawsuit on behalf of a Guantánamo prisoner in February 2002, in the case Rasul v. Bush, on behalf of prisoners David Hicks, Shafiq Rasul and Asif Iqbal. It was an act of moral and professional courage at a time when the country found itself paralyzed by the terrorist attacks of September 11th. Today, six and a half years after the first hooded "detainees" were brought to Gitmo's Camp X Ray, there are hundreds of lawyers representing the prisoners in Cuba. Many of them will likely be filing habeas petitions in the name of their clients in a matter of days.

"I suspect that things are going to move quite rapidly," Ratner said, in large part because of the Court's concern, expressed repeatedly throughout the ruling, that Guantánamo's prisoners have been in legal limbo for far too long.

"In some of these cases, six years have elapsed without the judicial oversight that habeas corpus or an adequate substitute demands," wrote Justice Kennedy. "... While some delay in fashioning new procedures is unavoidable, the costs of delay can no longer be borne by those who are held in custody. The detainees in these cases are entitled to a prompt habeas corpus hearing."

"A Six-Year Nightmare"

From the beginning, the fight over Guantánamo has been one of law versus politics. Thursday's ruling was the third time the Supreme Court ruled against the Bush administration's handling of suspects at Guantánamo Bay. But the story of Guantánamo reaches back further than the Court's 2004 ruling in Rasul. The history goes back, of course, to 9/11.

One week after the terrorist attacks against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Congress passed the Authorization to Use Military Force Against Terrorists, which declared that the president "is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks ... or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States." The resolution passed 420 to 1 in the House (with 10 not voting) and 98-0 in the Senate (with two no-votes). (The "AUMF" would later be used to try to justify not only the Bush administration's controversial military commissions, but the White House's warrantless wiretaps as well.)

On November 13, 2001, President Bush took this mandate and issued a military order titled "Detention, Treatment, and Trial of Certain Non-Citizens in the War Against Terrorism," which laid out the need for military commission trials for any such suspects. In January of 2002, Bush officially declared these suspects "enemy combatants."

"The U.S. government refuses to classify the detainees officially as POWs," CNN reported on January 23, 2002, noting that the identities of those held was being kept secret. "Officials suggest the Taliban and al Qaeda members don't deserve that designation." The designation, after all, would mean that the anonymous prisoners had rights under the Geneva Conventions -- a claim denied by then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

"These people are committed terrorists," Rumsfeld said. "We are keeping them off the street and out of the airlines and out of nuclear power plants and out of ports ... and it seems to me a perfectly reasonable thing to do." Days later, Vice President Cheney called the men held at Guantánamo "the worst of a very bad lot. They are very dangerous. They are devoted to killing millions of Americans." The next month, on February 18, 2002, the Center for Constitutional Rights filed a lawsuit against the Bush administration.

Rasul v. Bush

The first ruling by the Supreme Court over the prisoners at Guantánamo Bay was decided in June 2004, in the case Rasul v. Bush. The ruling threw a wrench in Bush's proclamation that, as commander-in-chief, he had the power to determine who was and who was not an "enemy combatant." Indefatigable Guantánamo lawyer Clive Stafford Smith, head of the UK-based legal non-profit, Reprieve, and one of the attorneys who brought forth the lawsuit, described the development in his book, The Eight O'Clock Ferry to the Windward Side (Nation Books):

Prior to June 28, 2004, assessing guilt had been easy. President Bush had conclusively determined that all the prisoners were "bad people" and designated them enemy combatants. The military did not give them any opportunities to contest their status. They had, we were told, been "through multiple layers of review" before they reached Guantánamo and everyone had been captured on the battlefield. What more did anyone want?

What the Court wanted was something more than executive reassurance that the process being undertaken at Guantánamo was legally sound. As it turns out, it wasn't. The justices' 6-3 ruling in Rasul held that U.S. courts had the jurisdiction to decide whether non-U.S. citizens were being rightfully held, granting prisoners the right to bring forth habeas challenges despite the fact that they were "aliens in a territory over which the United States exercises plenary and exclusive jurisdiction, but not 'ultimate sovereignty.'"

The Bush administration's creative response to this legal defeat was the creation of the Combatant Status Review Tribunal (CSRT), which Stafford Smith described as "the diminutive cousin of the (military) commission." (The commissions, it bears noting, were themselves unaffected by the Court's ruling on Thursday.)

"[T]here are no formal charges; [the prisoner] is presumed 'guilty' of being an enemy combatant, even though there is no clear definition of what that means; a panel of three military officers serves as judge and jury; the prisoner is allowed no lawyer, only a 'Personal Representative' from the military who reports everything the prisoner says back to his superiors; the prisoner is not allowed to know what the classified evidence is against him and so forth."

The ultimate point of the CSRT was to grant legal cover to the Bush administration's designation of suspects "enemy combatants" (Supreme Court ruling be damned). What's more, in the unlikely event that a prisoner was found not to be an enemy combatant, a second CSRT could be brought forth.

The CSRTs were officially established on July 7, 2004. That day, a senior defense official told reporters at a Pentagon press briefing that the CSRTs would "consist of three neutral military officers." "And by neutral, I mean military officers who have not previously been involved with the detainee either in his capture or in any either battlefield determination or subsequent review of his status as a detainee, or any interrogation, for example." The explanation ignored the fact that a military officer participating in a "war on terror" was, by definition, not a "neutral" party.

"It's a streamlined process," the senior defense official went on. When a reporter asked whether "lawyers will have access to people down at GTMO for purpose of habeas challenges," the defense official responded, that was "subject to security arrangements and other arrangements that need to be worked out." "I mean, all the precise details of that would have to be worked out in the future," added a Department of Justice official, standing alongside his Pentagon colleague.

The CSRTs started later that summer. In August 2004, Gita Gutierrez of the Center for Constitutional Rights became the first civilian lawyer to visit Guantánamo Bay.

Torture and the Detainee Treatment Act

As legal wrangling continued over the rights of the prisoners at Guantánamo, rumors of torture became louder and, eventually, substantiated claims. In July of 2004, a Red Cross report (leaked to the New York Times in November 2004) described "humiliating acts, solitary confinement, temperature extremes, (and) use of forced positions" against prisoners. Gutierrez, defending Mohammed al-Qahtani, known as the "20th hijacker," would later describe the torture inflicted upon her client in a sworn declaration:

"Mr. al-Qahtani was subjected to a regime of aggressive interrogation techniques, known as the 'First Special Interrogation Plan.' Those techniques were implemented under the supervision and guidance of [former Defense] Secretary [Donald] Rumsfeld and the commander of Guantánamo, Major General Geoffrey Miller.

"These methods included, but were not limited to, 48 days of severe sleep deprivation and 20-hour interrogations, forced nudity, sexual humiliation, religious humiliation, physical force, prolonged stress positions and prolonged sensory over-stimulation, and threats with military dogs."

Compounded by revelations in the spring of 2004 of the sadistic torture at Abu Ghraib, the Bush administration found itself barraged with accusations of torture by critics inside and outside government. Meanwhile, hunger strikes began among the prisoners at Guantánamo, followed by forced feeding (itself a form of torture).

Ostensibly meant to address concerns over torture, in 2005, the Detainee Treatment Act passed the House and Senate by overwhelming margin. It was signed in as part of the 2006 Defense Authorization Act, and Sen. John McCain (before he made his peace with torturing suspects), was praised for his effort to codify humane treatment of the men held at Guantánamo, which was laid out as such: "No individual in the custody or under the physical control of the United States Government, regardless of nationality or physical location, shall be subject to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment." Such treatment was defined as anything prohibited under the "Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution."

Crucially, however, the Detainee Treatment Act (DTA) also included a clause stating that prisoners held at Guantánamo did not have the right to bring forth habeas appeals in U.S. courts, critically undermining the Supreme Court's ruling in Rasul. "In short, the amendment is aimed at limiting detainees' access to courts," Yale Law professor Judith Resnik concluded. Indeed, "within days of the passage of the DTA, the federal government relied on the law to seek dismissals of some 160 lower-court cases involving detainees at Guantánamo." In addition, based on the DTA, the Bush administration tried to get another case thrown out: Hamdan v. Rumsfeld.

Hamdan v. Rumsfeld

On June 29, 2006, the Supreme Court ruled in the landmark case Hamdan v. Rumsfeld that the Bush administration's system of military tribunals was unconstitutional, going back and revisiting their original foundation in the fall of 2001. "Brushing aside administration pleas not to second-guess the commander in chief during wartime," the Washington Post reported, "a five-justice majority ruled that the commissions, which were outlined by Bush in a military order on Nov. 13, 2001, were neither authorized by federal law nor required by military necessity, and ran afoul of the Geneva Conventions."

It was a major victory for the rule of law, and a huge setback for the Bush administration. Not that the prisoners held at Guantánamo would be closer to release. ("The American people need to know that this ruling, as I understand it, won't cause killers to be put out on the street," President Bush said.) But with the November mid-term elections approaching, the Bush administration responded with typical hubris: It decided to change the law.

The Military Commissions Act

On September 6, 2006, Bush gave a speech in which he announced his intention to send Congress a bill to revive the military commissions system. "We're now approaching the five-year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks," he said. "And the families of those murdered that day have waited patiently for justice. ...They should have to wait no longer."

He announced that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Abu Zubaydah, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, "and eleven other terrorists" suspected in the 9/11 attacks had been transferred to Guantánamo Bay. "As soon as Congress acts to authorize the military commissions I have proposed, the men our intelligence officials believe orchestrated the deaths of nearly 3,000 Americans on September 11, 2001 can face justice." The bill was called the Military Commissions Act, and over the protests of many, it passed Congress, in a politically-charged atmosphere, and was signed into law on October 17th. The law broadly defined an "unlawful enemy combatant" as anyone "engaged in hostilities or who has purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States," and dramatically rolled back the legal gains represented by Hamdan, most crucially, suspending the writ of habeas corpus.

A week after Congress passed the Military Commissions Act, on October 4 Michael Ratner published an article in The Nation addressing the full implications of Congress' playing politics with the Constitution. "Our loss in Congress last week has consequences for citizens, as well as for legal permanent residents (green card holders) and noncitizens anywhere -- and consequences for the rule of law in this country," he wrote.

Habeas corpus, which has its origins in the Magna Carta of 1215, is the 'Great Writ' protecting people from arbitrary detention, disappearance and indefinite detention without charges. The cornerstone of Western justice, it is essential to the idea that laws -- not individuals, be they kings or Presidents -- govern a land.

The Center for Constitutional Rights, along with lawyers of all political backgrounds from some of the country's largest law firms, has filed habeas corpus petitions for nearly 500 detainees at Guantánamo -- none of whom have yet had their day in court. Twice in the past five years the Supreme Court has insisted that habeas corpus applies to these prisoners and ruled that the Bush Administration must apply the law. Yet last week Congress buckled in the face of election-year rhetoric about "terrorism" from the White House and passed new legislation denying our clients the right to challenge their detentions, or even to see the evidence against them. While I'm convinced that this law will not stand in court, we are still facing at least a year of challenges before it is declared unconstitutional.

"The Administration's fear-mongering and electioneering may have prevailed in the short term," he concluded, "but a growing number of people are unwilling to accept the destruction of our democracy."

"A Historic Victory for the Rule of Law"

Thanks to those people, a year and eight months later, yesterday's ruling in Boumediene v. Bush, which defines the right to habeas corpus as a constitutional right to be applied to foreign nationals -- no matter what their "enemy combatant" designation, marked the end of "a six-year nightmare" -- a "final vindication," according to Ratner, who recalled the extraordinary challenge of taking on the Guantánamo cases back in the fall of 2001. "We made a decision ... in very difficult times," he said. "The Supreme Court has acknowledged what we've been saying all along," said CCR executive director Vince Warren, who called the decision "the first step ... in reversing a dangerous and overzealous set of policies by the Bush administration."

"Today, unambiguously the rule of law prevailed," said Gita Gutierrez. The Bush administration, she said, can no longer treat Guantánamo as a "no-law zone." Indeed, as Justice Kennedy wrote in the decision, "the Constitution grants Congress and the President the power to acquire, dispose of, and govern territory, not the power to decide when and where its terms apply." What's more, "the political branches," he said do not "have the power to switch the Constitution on or off at will."

There were dissenters, of course, on and off the bench, who, with wild-eyed fervor, took the now-familiar Bush administration line. "America is at war with radical Islamists," declared Justice Antonin Scalia, who went so far as to say that the ruling "will almost certainly cause more Americans to be killed."

Presidential nominee John McCain, when asked what he thought of the Supreme Court ruling, told reporters that he had not yet had a chance to read the opinion. "It obviously concerns me," he said. "These are unlawful combatants, they are not American citizens." He said it was important to "pay attention to Justice Roberts" who also dissented. But he maintained that he believes Guantánamo should be closed. Obama, once a vocal critic of the Military Commissions Act who has since been largely silent on his intentions when it comes to Guantánamo, labeled the decision a rejection of "yet another failed policy supported by John McCain" and described it as "an important step toward reestablishing our credibility as a nation committed to the rule of law."

Meanwhile, President Bush, on his "farewell" tour of Europe, said that, although this was a Supreme Court ruling, "that doesn't mean I have to agree with it." "I strongly agree with those who dissented," he said. "... The dissent was based upon their serious concerns about U.S. national security." He also hinted that, as he has done for six years, he would consider his legislative options.

But as far as the CCR is concerned, Bush cannot change the law this time. This is a constitutional ruling, not a statutory one. The legislative options are virtually nonexistent. "The decision," according to Gutierrez, represents "finality that we have not had in the last six years."

While this ruling grants the handful of prisoners who have already been charged and are being tried under military commissions little immediate assistance, the vast majority of prisoners at Gitmo -- some 270 men -- now have the right to have their attorneys bring forth habeas appeals to Washington. The burden of proof will be on the government to establish that there is a legal and factual basis for the suspects' detention. Although the implications vary for each defendant, depending on the state of his case, Ratner said, "My deeper belief is that a lot of these cases are just going to be gone."

"I've never said this before," he said, but this could mean "a death knell for Guantánamo."

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Pleasantly Surprised, In Islamabad By Yoginder Sikand

Islamabad is surely the most well-organised, picturesque and endearing city in all of South Asia. Few Indians would, however, know this, or, if they did, would admit it. After all, the Indian media never highlights anything positive about Pakistan, because for it only “bad” news about the country appears to be considered “newsworthy” That realization hit me as a rude shock the moment I stepped out of the plane and entered Islamabads plush International Airport, easily far more efficient, modern and better maintained than any of its counterparts in India. And right through my week-long stay in the city, I could not help comparing Islamabad favourably with every other South Asian city that I have visited.

That week in Islamabad consisted essentially of a long string of pleasant surprises, for I had expected Islamabad to be everything that the Indian media so uncharitably and erroneously depicts Pakistan as. The immigration counter was staffed by a smart young woman, whose endearing cheerfulness was a refreshing contrast to the grave, somber and unwelcoming looks that one is generally met with at immigration counters across the world that make visitors to a new country feel instantly unwelcome. Outside the airport, Nadeem, a driver sent to pick me up, gave me a warm handshake, and when, shortly after, he learnt that my grandfather was born in his own native Abbotabad, a town not far from the Afghan frontier, he pressed on me a hearty, sweaty hug.

“Bhai Sahib, This is the land of your ancestors!, Nadeem beamed. He insisted that I travel with him to Abbotabad and stay with him in his home and try and search for the house where my grandfather had lived before the Partition. I seriously wished I could, I told him, but the vexing visa regime between India and Pakistan strictly forbids citizens of both countries from stepping out of the cities for which they have been granted permission to visit.

No sooner has the visitor stepped off the plane in Islamabad and drives into the city than he is forced to realize that whatever the Indian media says about Pakistan and its people is basically bogus. No, Pakistan is not a “fundamentalist” country, teetering on the verge of a take-over by “religious radicals. No, Pakistan is not a “prison-house of Muslim women, who are allegedly forced into wearing tent-like burkhas. No, Pakistan is not a “failed state” that produces nothing. Flowing beards and skull-caps are conspicuous by their rarity in Islamabad as are burkhas. Women drive and shop and work in government and private offices. Most basic consumer items are produced within the country. And, as in India, despite government ineptitude and convoluted elite politics, the country survives and is not on the verge of total collapse, contrary to what Indians are made to believe.

The Islamabad Club, where the organizers of the conference I had come to attend had put me up, seems like a relic from colonial times, only that it was built much after the British departed. It is the favourite haunt of Islamabad-based bureaucrats, army officers and landlords, heavily subsidized for their benefit, as in the case of similarly stuffy elite watering holes in India. I would have actually preferred to stay in much more austere surroundings”after all our conference was all about democracy and social justice in South Asia, but I comforted myself with the thought that a bit of luxury for just a few days would not do me major harm.

Islamabad, in some senses, is like Chandigarh: a new, planned, modern city, set up on decidedly Western lines. It was founded in the 1960s when the capital of Pakistan was shifted from Karachi. It straddles the foothills of the Margalla range, which leads on to Kashmir in the north-east and the North-West Frontier Province, near Afghanistan, in the west. It is divided into numerous zones, each having its own markets, schools and other such institutions. The citys roads are fantastically smooth and wide and enclosed by broad grassy banks. Carefully manicured gardens and thickly wooded parks stretch for miles. Cobbled paths lead up to trekking trails in the nearby mountains and enormous bungalows enclosed in private gardens line the streets. The air is remarkably clean and crisp, traffic jams are rare, and one can reach one end of the city from the other within just half an hour.

Since Islamabad is a new city, it boasts no historical monuments worth seeing. Yet, the city has its own share of attractions for the visitor. The massive Pakistan National Monument atop a hill that commands a majestic view of Islamabad is an architectural marvel, and so is the massive Faisal Mosque, one of the largest mosques in Asia, so expansive that it accommodates an entire university in its basement. Equally bold and striking are the Pakistan National Assembly, the Presidents House, the Prime Ministers Secretariat, the Supreme Court and a host of other swank buildings housing government offices that line the main Constitution Avenue. The Rawal lake on the outskirts of the town extends far into the distance till it meets the horizon, and, like the rest of Islamabad, it is clean to the point of appearing thoroughly sanitized, at least to the Indian eye. On the banks of the lake are a number of welcoming restaurants, and a small, whitewashed temple, a testimony to the times when, before the Partition, there was a sizeable Hindu community in the area. Nestled on the other side of the lake is the glamorous Daman-e Koh or “The Lap of the Mountains, a thickly forested valley, and the best way to spend an evening in Islamabad is to drive up there for the icy breeze, a dinner of biryani and an assortment of kababs, a live band singing melancholic Hindi film numbers from the 1960s and a panoramic view of the city below.

The suave and gracious Kamran Lashari, head of the Capital Development Authority (CDA), the body entrusted with developing Islamabad, was our host one night, having invited us to a sumptuous dinner at the fabulous Lake View Park, a large expanse of green located on the banks of a placid lake at the edge of town. I tell him, and I hope he knows I am serious, that Islamabad is the best city I have ever seen in South Asia and remark on how well-managed it is. And so do the other Indians who have also been invited that evening, fellow participants in the conference.

Lashari tells us, and he has every right to beam with pride at this, that till he took over his present position some four years ago, the annual budget of the CDA was a billion rupees, with some eight-tenths of this being funded by the Government and the remainder being self-generated. Today, the CDAs budget has increased twenty-five fold, and the ratios for government and self-generated funds have been reversed. He talks excitedly of his future plans, of the many new architects, designers and construction companies that have come up in Pakistan in recent years and about how he hopes to work with some of them for projects that he has conceived.

For fellow Punjabis like myself, Islamabad feels just like home. Most of the citys inhabitants, as indeed most Pakistanis, are Punjabis, and are essentially no different from fellow Punjabis across the border in India, although, I personally feel, perhaps a shade better looking! And, as an employee of the Indian High Commission in Pakistan, who travelled in the same plane as myself on my return, also a fellow Punjabi, quite rightly remarked, “If you want to learn etiquette, learn it from the Islamabadis.

But then, Islamabad is as representative or otherwise of Pakistan as posh South Delhi or any other similar elite-inhabited part of any other Indian city is of India as a whole. Islamabad is decidedly elitist, the poor, mainly people who work in the homes of the rich and for the CDA, being confined to a few anonymous working class localities in the city or commuting everyday from neighbouring Rawalpindi. As Zaman Khan, a burly, friendly worker in a posh restaurant quipped when we got down to talking about mounting inflation and rapidly expanding socio-economic inequalities in India and Pakistan, “Theres hardly any difference between our two countries. I am sure you have fancy quarters in cities in India that are reserved just for the rich, just as Islamabad has. What difference does it make if the houses and localities of the rich are so beautiful and comfortable? The rich here and in India as well must be equally indifferent to poor people like us.

True enough, and yet another thing of the many things that India and Pakistan have in common. But notwithstanding Zaman Khans astute observation, Islamabad, I must admit, excited me in a special way, and I long to return soon.

Sukhia Sab Sansar Khaye Aur Soye
Dukhia Das Kabir Jagey Aur Roye

The world is 'happy', eating and sleeping
The forlorn Kabir Das is awake and weeping

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Dan Rather Slams Corporate News at National Conference for Media Reform | Free Press

Dan Rather Slams Corporate News at National Conference for Media Reform | Free Press

Dan Rather Slams Corporate News at National Conference for Media Reform

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Free Press, June 7, 2008
By Dan Rather

Former CBS News anchor Dan Rather delivered a blistering critique of corporate news on Saturday night at the National Conference for Media Reform hosted by Free Press.

The following are Dan Rather's prepared remarks:

I am grateful to be here and I am, most of all, gratified by the energy I have seen tonight and at this conference. It will take this kind of energy — and more — to sustain what is good in our news media... to improve what is deficient... and to push back against the forces and the trends that imperil journalism and that — by immediate extension — imperil democracy itself.

The Framers of our Constitution enshrined freedom of the press in the very first Amendment, up at the top of the Bill of Rights, not because they were great fans of journalists — like many politicians, then and now, they were not — but rather because they knew, as Thomas Jefferson put it, that, "If a nation expects to be ignorant and free... it expects what never was and never will be."

And it is because of this Constitutionally-protected role that I still prefer to use the word "press" over the word "media." If nothing else, it serves as a subtle reminder that — along with newspapers — radio, television, and, now, the Internet, carry the same Constitutional rights, mandates, and responsibilities that the founders guaranteed for those who plied their trade solely in print.

So when you hear me talk about the press, please know that I am talking about all the ways that news can be transmitted. And when you hear me criticize and critique the press, please know that I do not exempt myself from these criticisms.

In our efforts to take back the American press for the American people, we are blessed this weekend with the gift of good timing. For anyone who may have been inclined to ask if there really is a problem with the news media, or wonder if the task of media reform is, indeed, an urgent one... recent days have brought an inescapable answer, from a most unlikely source.

A source who decided to tell everyone, quote, "what happened."

I know I can't be the first person this weekend to reference the recent book by former White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan, but, having interviewed him this past week, I think there are some very important points to be made from the things he says in his book, and the questions his statements raise.

I'm sure all of you took special notice of what he had to say about the role of the press corps, in the run-up to the war in Iraq. In the government's selling of the war, he said they were — or, I should say, we were "complicit enablers" and "overly deferential."

These are interesting statements, especially considering their source. As one tries to wrap one's mind around them, the phrase "cognitive dissonance" comes to mind.

The first reaction, a visceral one, is: Whatever his motives for saying these things, he's right — and we didn't need Scott McClellan to tell us so.

But the second reaction is: Wait a minute... I do remember at least some reporters, and some news organizations, asking tough questions — asking them of the president, of those in his administration, of White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer and — oh yes — of Scott McClellan himself, once he took over for Mr. Fleischer a few months after the invasion.

So how do we reconcile these competing reactions? Well, we need to pull back for what we in television call the wide shot.

If we look at the wide shot, we can see, in one corner of our screen, the White House briefing room filled with the White House press corps... and, filling the rest of the screen, the finite but disproportionately powerful universe that has become known as "mainstream media" — the newspapers and news programs, real and alleged, that employ these White House correspondents — the news organizations that are, in turn, owned by a shockingly few, much larger corporations, for which news is but a miniscule part of their overall business interests.

In the wake of 9/11 and in the run-up to Iraq, these news organizations made a decision — consciously or unconsciously, but unquestionably in a climate of fear — to accept the overall narrative frame given them by the White House, a narrative that went like this: Saddam Hussein, brutal dictator, harbored weapons of mass destruction and, because of his supposed links to al Qaeda, this could not be tolerated in a post-9/11 world.

In the news and on the news, one could, to be sure, find persons and views that did not agree with all or parts of this official narrative. Hans Blix, the former U.N. chief weapons inspector, comes to mind as an example. But the burden of proof, implicitly or explicitly, was put on these dissenting views and persons... the burden of proof was not put on an administration that was demonstrably moving towards a large-scale military action that would represent a break with American precedent and stated policy of how, when, and under what circumstances this nation goes to war.

So with this in mind, we look back to the corner of our screen where the White House Press Corps is asking their questions. I have been a White House correspondent myself, and I have worked with some of the best in the business. You have an incentive, when you are in that briefing room, to ask the good, tough questions: If nothing else, that is how you get in the paper, or on the air. There is more to it than that, and things have changed since I was a White House correspondent — something I want to talk about in a minute. But the correspondents — the really good ones — these correspondents ask their tough questions.

And these questions are met with what is now called, euphemistically and much too kindly, what is now called "message discipline."

Well, we used to have a better and more accurate term for "message discipline." We called it "stonewalling."

Now, cut back to your evening news, or your daily newspaper... where that White House Correspondent dutifully repeats the question he asked of the president or his press secretary, and dutifully relates the answer he was given — the same non-answer we've already heard dozens of times, which amounts to a pitch for the administration's point of view, whether or NOT the answer had anything to do with the actual question that was asked.

And then: "Thank you Jack. In other news today... ."

And we're off on a whole new story.

In our news media, in our press, those who wield power were, in the lead-up to Iraq, given the opportunity to present their views as a coherent whole, to connect the dots, as they saw the dots and the connections... no matter how much these views may have flown in the face of precedent, established practice — or, indeed, the facts (as we are reminded, yet again, by the just-released Senate report on the administration's use of pre-war intelligence). The powerful are given this opportunity still, in ways big and small, despite what you may hear about the "post-Katrina" press.

But when a tough question is asked and not answered, when reputable people come before the public and say, "wait a minute, something's not right here," the press has treated them like voices crying in the wilderness. These views, though they might be given air time, become lone dots — dots that journalists don't dare connect, even if the connections are obvious, even if people on the Internet and in the independent press are making these very same connections. The mainstream press doesn't connect these dots because someone might then accuse them of editorializing, or of being the, quote, "liberal media."

But connecting these dots — making disparate facts make sense — is a big part of the real work of journalism.

So how does this happen? Why does this happen?

Let me say, by way of answering, that quality news of integrity starts with an owner who has guts.

In a news organization with an owner who has guts, there is an incentive to ask the tough questions, and there is an incentive to pull together the facts — to connect the dots — in a way that makes coherent sense to the news audience.

I mentioned a moment ago that things have changed since I was a White House correspondent. Yes, presidential administrations have become more adept at holding "access" over the heads of reporters — ask too tough a question, or too many of them, so the implicit threat goes, and you're not going to get any more interviews with high-ranking members of the administration, let alone the president. But I was covering Presidents Johnson and Nixon — men not exactly known as pushovers. No, what has changed, even more than the nature of the presidency, is the character of news ownership. I only found out years after the fact, for example, about the pressure that the Nixon White House put on my then-bosses, during Watergate — pressure to cut down my pieces, to call me off the story, and so on... because, back then, my bosses took the heat, so I didn't have to. They did this so the story could get told, and so the public could be informed.

But it is rare, now, to find a major news organization owned by an individual, someone who can say, in effect, "The buck stops here." The more likely motto now is: "The news stops... with making bucks."

America's biggest, most important news organizations have, over the past 25 years, fallen prey to merger after merger, acquisition after acquisition... to the point where they are, now, tiny parts of immeasurably larger corporate entities — entities whose primary business often has nothing to do with news. Entities that may, at any given time, have literally hundreds of regulatory issues before multiple arms of the government concerning a vast array of business interests.

These are entities that, as publicly-held and traded corporations, have as their overall, reigning mandate: Provide a return on shareholder value. Increase profits. And not over time, not over the long haul, but quarterly.

One might ask just where the news fits into this model. And if you really need an answer, you can turn on your television, where you will see the following:

Political analysis reduced to in-studio shouting matches between partisans armed with little more than the day's talking points.

Precious time and resources wasted on so-called human-interest stories, celebrity fluff, sensationalist trials, and gossip.

A proliferation of "news you can use" that amounts to thinly-disguised press releases for the latest consumer products.

And, though this doesn't get said enough, local news, which is where most Americans get their news, that seems not to change no matter what town or what city you're in... so slavish is its adherence to the "happy talk" formula and the dictum that, "If it bleeds, it leads."

I could continue for hours, cataloging journalistic sins of which I know you are all too aware. But, as the time grows late, let me say that almost all of these failings come down to this: In the current model of corporate news ownership, the incentive to produce good and valuable news is simply not there.

Good news, quality news of integrity, requires resources and it requires talent. These things are expensive, these things eat away at the bottom line.

Years ago, in the eighties and the nineties, when the implications of these cost-trimming measures were becoming impossible to ignore, and the quality of the news was clearly threatened, I spoke out against this cutting of news operations to the bone and beyond. Even then, though, I couldn't have imagined that the cost-cutting imperatives would go as far as they have today — deep into the marrow of what was once considered a public trust.

But since the financial resources always seem to be available for entertainment, promotion, and — last but not least — for lobbying... perhaps there is an even more important reason why the incentive to produce quality news is absent, and that is: quality news of integrity, by its very nature, is sure to rock the boat now and then. Good, responsible news worthy of its Constitutional protections will, in that famous phrase, afflict the powerful and comfort the afflicted.

And that, when one feels the need to deliver shareholder value above all, means that good news... may not always mean good business — or so goes the fear, a fear that filters down into just about every big newsroom in this country.

Now, I have spent my entire life in for-profit news, and I happen to think that it does not have to be this way. I have worked for news owners who, while they may have regarded their news divisions as an occasional irritant, chose to turn that irritant into a pearl of public trust. But today, sadly, it seems that the conglomerates that have control over some of the biggest pieces of this public trust would just as soon spit that irritant out.

So what does this mean for us tonight, and what is to be done?

It means that we need to be on the alert for where, when, and how our news media bows to undue government influence. And you need to let news organizations know, in no uncertain terms, that you won't stand for it... that you, as news consumers, are capable of exerting pressure of your own.

It means that we need to continue to let our government know that, when it comes to media consolidation, enough is enough. Too few voices are dominating, homogenizing, and marginalizing the news. We need to demand that the American people get something in exchange for the use of airwaves that belong, after all, to the people.

It means that we need to ensure that the Internet, where free speech reigns and where journalism does not have to pass through a corporate filter... remains free.

We need to say, loud and clear, that we don't want big corporations enjoying preferred access to — or government acting as the gatekeeper for — this unique platform for independent journalism.

And it means that we need to hold the government to its mandate to protect the freedom of the press, including independent and non-commercial news media.

The stakes could not possibly be higher. Scott McClellan's book serves as a reminder, and the current election season, not to mention the gathering clouds of conflict with Iran, will both serve as tests of whether lessons have truly been learned from past experience. Ensuring that a free press remains free will require vigilance, and it will require work.

Please, take tonight's energy and inspiration home with you. Take it back to your desks and your workplaces, to your colleagues and your fellow citizens. magnify it, multiply it, and spread it. Make it viral. Make it something that cannot be ignored — not by the powers in Washington, not by the owners and executives of media companies. Write these people. Call them. Send them the message that you know your rights, you know that you are entitled to news media as diverse and varied as the American people... and that you deserve a press that provides the raw material of democracy, the good information that Americans need to be full participants in our government of, by, and for the people.

There is energy here, that can be equal to that task, but this energy must be maintained... if the press — if democracy — is to be preserved.

Thank you very much, and good night.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

The World - Royal Care for Some of India’s Patients, Neglect for Others -

The World - Royal Care for Some of India’s Patients, Neglect for Others -

Royal Care for Some of India’s Patients, Neglect for Others

Ruth Fremson/The New York Times

WHAT MONEY BUYS Robin Steeles of Alabama was pampered during his 10 days at the private hospital in Bangalore, where he underwent heart surgery.

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Published: June 1, 2008

BANGALORE, India — “To get the best care,” Robin Steeles said gamely, “you gotta pay for it.”

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Ruth Fremson/The New York Times

WHAT BEING POOR MEANS A government hospital in Banglaore that treated poisoning victims lacked equipment that might have saved lives.

Mr. Steeles, 60, a car dealer from Daphne, Ala., had flown halfway around the world last month to save his heart, at a price he could pay. He had a mitral valve repaired at a state-of-the-art private hospital here, called Wockhardt, and for 10 days, he was recuperating in a carpeted, wood-paneled room, with a view of a leafy green courtyard.

A dietician helped select his meals. A dermatologist came as soon as he complained of an itch. His Royal Suite had cable TV, a computer, a minirefrigerator, where an attendant that afternoon stashed some ice cream, for when he felt hungry later. Three days after surgery, he was sitting in a chair, smiling, chattering, thrilled to be alive.

On his bed lay the morning’s paper. Dominating its front page was the story of other men, many of them day laborers who laid bricks and mixed cement for Bangalore’s construction boom, who had fallen gravely ill after drinking illegally brewed liquor. All told, more than 150 died that week, here and in neighboring Tamil Nadu State.

Not for them the care of India’s best private hospitals. They had been wheeled in by wives and brothers to the overstretched government-run Bowring Hospital, on the other side of town. Bowring had no intensive care unit, no ventilators, no dialysis machine. Dinner was a stack of white bread, on which a healthy cockroach crawled while a patient, named Yelappa, slept.

Wockhardt has 30 ventilators, including some that are noninvasive, so the patient does not have to have a tube rammed down his throat. At any one time, a half-dozen are in use. An elderly woman had been in its intensive care unit for a week, on dialysis; her family wanted to do whatever possible to keep her alive, no matter the cost.

At Bowring, one of the young doctors, named Harish, said a ventilator and a dialysis machine would have allowed him to keep half of his patients alive. The most severe case, Mohammed Amin, was breathing with the aid of a hand pump that his wife squeezed silently. Dr. Harish sent the relative of one man to get blood tests done at the nearest private hospital; there was no equipment to do the test here. Then the doctor rushed to the triage section in Bowring’s lobby, where the newest patient, writhing, resisting, disoriented from the poison in his gut, had to be tied down with bedsheets.

Where you stand on the Indian social ladder shapes to a large degree what kind of health you’re in, and what kind of health care you receive. The beds in Bowring were taken up by small skinny men. One of Wockhardt’s most popular offerings is a weight loss program, and the majority of walk-ins at its outpatient clinic suffer from diabetes, closely linked to obesity.

This is no anomaly. A government-sponsored National Family Health Survey released last fall says a woman born in the poorest 20 percent of the population is more than twice as likely to be underweight than one in the richest quintile, and 50 percent more likely to be anemic.

For children, the gap is equally stark. The poorest quintile is more than twice as likely to be stunted, a function of chronic malnutrition, and nearly three times less likely to be fully immunized.

It is not as if the poor do not seek treatment, Jishnu Das, an economist who studies health and poverty for the World Bank, points out. They do, and sometimes more often than the rich. It is just that they are more likely, Mr. Das says, to land at the doorstep of a caregiver who is incompetent, ill-trained or indifferent to their needs.

“The poor are not dying and sick because they do not go to seek medical care,” he said. “In fact, the poor are going to doctors in droves. There are no good options for the poor. The private hospitals and care they are able to access is of very low quality, and when they try and access government care, they receive no attention whatsoever.”

The survey found that two-thirds of Indian households rely on private medical care when sick, a preference that cuts across class. Asked why they don’t use public facilities, the most common answer was poor care.

India has a countrywide network of government-funded primary health centers and hospitals, but staffing, medicines and resources vary widely. Some, especially in rural India, are notorious for having staff doctors on paper at best. This is only beginning to change. The government has increased health spending in recent years, and this year began a health insurance program that would allow people in poverty access to a hospital of their choice.

The Planning Commission of India this year found that in government-run health centers, 45 percent of gynecologist posts and 53 percent of pediatric posts went unfilled, and that salaries for government doctors are a fraction of those at new private hospitals like Wockhardt.

Wockhardt struggles to fill its slots, too, but its facilities allow it to aggressively recruit, including from among Indian doctors who have worked abroad for years.

The morning papers did not let Mr. Steeles forget the vast gulf between his predicament and that of the hooch drinkers fighting for life at Bowring. Yet as far apart as they were, their tales followed a somewhat parallel plot. The American health care system could no more care for Mr. Steeles than the Indian system could for Mr. Amin.

Mr. Steeles came here because he is uninsured, and could not afford heart surgery in the United States, he said, without liquidating most of his assets. After five months of research and e-mail messages to doctors worldwide, he chose a heart surgeon here in Bangalore. “I’m over here for a fraction of what I would have paid in the United States,” he said. “In my personal situation, I’m just delighted I took the road that I did.”

Mr. Steele’s Royal Suite, incidentally, is available to anyone, Indian or foreigner, who can pay for it. After his stay here, he would move to a room at a private club for 16 days of further recovery, before flying home. All told, he said it cost him about $20,000, a tenth of what he would have paid at a private American hospital.

Across town, among the hooch drinkers, a few of the worst cases had been transferred to private hospitals that had agreed to take them, at the government’s expense.

Mr. Amin was too frail to be transferred. He died at Bowring, leaving behind a wife and two young children.

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Arise Awake Stop not till the goal is reached. - Swami Vivekananda Swami ji is my inspiration, not as a monk but as a social reformer and for his universal-ism.