South Asians for Human Rights

Promoting Democracy, Upholding Human Rights

By Jawed Naqvi

NEW DELHI: A popular cartoon strip in the Times of India on Thursday equated Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy laws with India’s statute against sedition. The widely loved children’s doctor Binayak Sen was recently given a life sentence under the law.

Writer Arundhati Roy is among others being investigated for sedition after they spoke up for Azadi for Kashmir.

The cartoon strip, crafted by the nationally applauded humorist Jug Suraiya, shows two women. The first says: “Salman Taseer has been shot dead because of Pakistan’s blasphemy law.” Her friend replies: “Binayak Sen has been jailed for life because of India’s blasphemy law.” “I didn’t know India had a blasphemy law,” says the first woman. “Sure, we do — it’s called sedition,” replies the second.

A few in the Indian media have found in the murder of Salman Taseer an opportunity to prescribe ways to Pakistan to fight religious terrorism, but a small news item in the Times of India on Thursday offered a clue to New Delhi’s own nervousness with home-grown terror.

The single-paragraph report did not have a dateline, but appeared to refer to a police advisory in Mumbai. It said: “Police have instructed private security agencies to check background details of guards they recruit, especially youths from Kashmir, as intelligence agencies suspect the Indian Mujahideen (IM) plans to use such people for terror strikes in the city.”

The IM, which some say has links with Lashkar-e-Taiba, has been blamed for a clutch of attacks across the country.

In an editorial titled ‘The slippery slope’, The Indian Express said Tuesday’s murder of Salman Taseer by one of his guards underlined the deepening structural crisis in the nation.

“The first major political assassination since the killing of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto a little over three years ago has brought into sharp relief the growing militant infiltration of the security forces, a weak civilian government that is unable to govern, an economy in shambles, and an all-powerful army leadership that appears to have lost the plot,” The Express said.

“The assassin has reportedly said his motivation was to avenge the governor’s support to changes in Pakistan’s notorious law against blasphemy that has victimised not only religious minorities but also mainstream Muslims,” the paper pointed out.

It said Pakistan’s leaders must comprehensively reject Ziaul Haq’s vision and turn back to a more moderate and democratic ideal of Pakistan, taking on extremist elements.

“Otherwise cracks in the polity will only deepen, and the worst losers will be the people of Pakistan.”

The Kolkata-based Telegraph said Taseer’s murder makes clear that Pakistan remains on the edge of the abyss.

“Thousands of lives, and billions of pounds, have been lost in an effort to defeat the insurgents who threaten to seize control of the nuclear-armed state. And it is becoming clear that the Pakistani state either isn’t willing, or isn’t able, to confront the Islamist movement that it has nurtured for decades — and which now threatens to turn the country into a burnt-out dystopia.”

Last month Ashok Singhal, leader of the neo-fascist Vishwa Hindu Parishad, had warned that Congress president Sonia Gandhi would meet the fate of her assassinated mother-in-law, former prime minister Indira Gandhi, if she persisted with an investigation into the alleged involvement of rightwing Hindu activists in sabotage and bomb attacks, including the fire-bombing of the Samjhota Express. Most Indian newspapers didn’t find the comments newsworthy.

Source: Dawn – 07.01.2011