Ready To Be Raped—The question of womanhood in the subcontinent

A caricature of the Delhi rape case

With the ongoing protest that has spread all over India like wildfire, the issue of the ubiquity of rape in the subcontinent has once again come under the spotlight. The victim this time was a 23-year old paramedic student who was gang-raped by a group of men in a bus; and then brutally disposed off naked along with her boyfriend, who was also badly injured, on the side of a road.

The incident triggered off mass-protests all over India and occupied the headlines of international news-channels for days. Leaving the world shocked at how such brutal animals in the form of human beings could exist, the girl eventually succumbed to a fatal death after days of fighting for her life. However, what is truly different about the event is the importance with which it was perceived by the world.

I am sure that if the victim was not a student with a middle-class background and a powerful education to boot, the case would have disappeared from the people’s minds within a few days. Had the girl been from among the lower or pariah classes in the Indian society, the local news channels would have hardly bothered to report it . At best, the newspapers would have provided a small account of the incident in the most unread section of the paper and the issue would have gone largely unnoticed by the world.

A few years back in the Guwahati region of India, at a mass-demonstration of adivasi(indigenous tribes) students under the banner “All Assam Adivasi Students’ Association”, a local Assamese businessman named Ratul Burman stripped a young female Adivasi student naked in front of the entire world and molested her and several other women in the protest. Although the television news channel CNN-IBN reported the incident and photos of the event were published in most of the major Indian newspapers, the public rage against the man remained selective and short-lived. The indigenous tribes, after all, are still treated as the untouchables of India. And even in a nation which is scheduled to soon become the world’s largest and most powerful democracy, the rights of the people on the other side of the equation of the Indian success remain undermined at the expense of a booming middle income economy.

National outrage all over Delhi following the Delhi rape

Like all other similar incidents, the then Chief Minister of Assam cried the cry of a politician and pledged to make sure that the attacker received a strong judicial punishment so that a signal could be sent off to any potential offenders. But needless to say, like all other cases of violence against women in the sub-continental judicial systems, this one also has yet to see any light.

In Bangladesh and the other parts of the subcontinent, rapes remain a common occurrence. Hardly a day goes by when we don’t have to read on the newspapers about “eve-teasing”, a subcontinental phenomena of sexually discriminating or taunting a young female, or about wives in the rural areas being killed by husbands for dowry. Many families in the lower class backgrounds and in the remote villages see young females as a burden, and often stop their schooling in order to prevent their girls from being subjected to eve-teasing.

In fact around a week after the Delhi outrage, another gang-rape case was discovered in the Tangail region of Bangladesh. This time it was a school girl who was lured into a solitary house in a forest by a woman. The girl was then raped incessantly for three days by four men and was later found unconscious beside the railway in a part known as Madhupur.

In another recent horrifying incident, on December 21, five days after the Delhi rape case, three Bengali settlers in Rangamati gang-raped a fourteen year old Marma(an indigenous tribe of Bangladesh mostly found in hilly areas such as Rangamati) girl and killed her subsequently. This is a case that has largely escaped the Bangladeshi media and was actually brought into light by the blogging world. But there is virtually no difference between this case and the one in Delhi.

DHAKA, The Guardian: Mass demonstrations against rape by local women’s rights groups

Although the aforementioned three rape events hardly generated the outrage that they should have in the subcontinent, they were no different from the one in Delhi. But the difference is the fact that all these rape victims did not have the privilege of being in a happening city like Delhi or Dhaka, and neither did they belong to the educated society where they would have befriended and socialized with people who would have fought for them. Rather they were non-existent except to their own worlds—- they were ‘nobodies’, ‘untouchables’ and ‘adivasis’ who had little say even in their own fates. And since these minorites did not make much difference in the political or economic world, their cases went ignored.

Ironically several Bangladeshi Islamist facebook pages run by the Talibanesque factions such as Shibir and Jamaat are calling for the people to force the government to make laws that mandate all women to veil themselves up completely in order to prevent themselves from being raped. Even several other Indian secular groups, in a malicious attempt at gouging public opinion towards their favor, have asked women to firmly practise the art of modesty of clothing in order to prevent cases like these. But all these leftists and right-wingers ignore the reality that to reach a permanent, democratic solution that appeases the majority of the people and keeps the international standards of human rights intact, it is not what a person wears that can change things to the other side of the table. It is rather about the mentality, and also to a very large extent dependent on the laws extant in a country.

Protests in Delhi during the New Year’s Eve

I am definitely not a great fan of the laws of the Islamic Republic of Iran or those of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, but one of the few reasons these two countries have some of the lowest cases of rape is the fact that all rapists are promptly executed by their law. Although this might cause significant headache to the human rights groups which advocate the abolition of capital punishment, maybe the sub-continent should learn from these countries and promulgate a death sentence for rapists. The way to prevent crimes and violence like these from happening everyday is no longer to make people aware; after all, to educate men who think of women as sexual objects to appease their lust is a very pointless thing indeed. Rather, it is through the adoption of a principle code of conduct, through the advancement of new laws like completing the trial within a definite period of time and imposing capital sentences like death by means of which all potential criminals can be warded off and an example of justice created.

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WHY BANGLADESH WON’T ACCEPT ANY MORE ROHINGYAS

Although the issue has come into a new limelight with President Obama’s visit to Myanmar, no one really needs any introduction to the topic. Pictures of Rohingya men and women have been flooding the international newspapers since the sectarian clashes began in the Rakhine state of Myanmar. And fingers have not only been pointed at the Myanmar government for its failure in protecting its minorities, but also at Myanmar’s neighbor Bangladesh.

The Bangladesh government has firmly refused to allow any more Rohingya influx into the country. And has, instead, followed a neutral diplomatic stance by refusing to condemn either of the two sides. International condemnation, particularly in Pakistan of which Bangladesh was once a part, have on the other hand been tremendous. Everyone has criticized the already impoverished state for its silence and refusal to accommodate people in dire need.

Indonesians protest against Myanmar

But the local public opinion on the issue have been divided.

Although the official count of Rohingyas who are housed in UN refugee camps in the border city of Cox’s Bazaar is around 30,000, the real count is at least 200,000. Most of these Rohingyas work in Cox’s Bazaar, Bangladesh’s most economically-important tourist city. A good many of them marry among the Bengali communities and become settled. The luckiest ones even succeed in getting a Bangladeshi passport, which acts as their gateway to the oil-wealthy economies of the Middle-East where the country sends millions of workers every year.

But all these refugees have to be clothed, fed and educated by the state. In a country where people struggle to meet their daily needs, the government has a very good reason not to take any more burdens. And so to preempt any more influx of Rohingyas in search of hope in Bangladesh, the government has even reduced access to Rohingya refugee-camps for international and local NGOs; making sure that all humanitarian aid were delivered by the army and border guards only. Recently, in an extremely embarrassing feat, a Turkish lawmaker, while on holiday in Cox’s Bazaar during the eve of Eid-ul-Azha, was arrested by the police for trying to distribute meat of the sacrifice among the Rohingya refugees.

But the most important reality of the problem was generated in a spat of sectarian attacks by Muslim mobs on Buddhist communities in Cox’s Bazaar.

A Rohingya refugee, who has fled the sectarian tensions in Myanmar, pleading with the Bangladesh Border Guards to grant him into the gates of Bangladesh

After a Buddhist teenager of Cox’s Bazaar tagged a controversial Islamophobic photo on facebook right after the mayhem of Innocence of Muslims, mobs of Islamists, within a few hours, gathered with bamboos and sticks, and attacked Buddhist temples and homes in Ramu, Ukhia and several other regions of Cox’s Bazaar. Speculators have confirmed that the attack was more planned than anyone could have imagined. People were brought in through trucks and buses from all over the district, where diverse religions have never had a problem, and within a span of a few hours the Buddhists were rendered homeless.

Everything was done in a planned, coordinated manner. Several centuries-old Buddhist statues have been destroyed for good and the police’s role have been called into question. Many have accused the local politicians of being a part of the blasphemy. Fingers have been pointed at DGFI and NSI—-Bangladesh’s two most notorious intelligence agencies——since it was impossible to carry out such an attack on minorities without their foreknowledge.

It all ended with the Awami League, the liberal, secular, left-wing ruling party, and the BNP, the centre-right, conservative, Islamist-secular, opposition party throwing accusations at each other.

But one thing was clear: Rohingyas were involved in vast numbers. Whoever planned the attack, carried out the arson by recruiting them from the UN refugee camps.

Jamaat-i-Islami, Bangladesh’s most problematic Islamic fundamentalist party, has firmly denied any accusations of having a role in the attack on minorities. Although there is a pervasive belief that the conservative, pro-Pakistani Islamist group was involved in the assault, its members have refused all charges of using any stateless Rohingyas to advance their political agendas.

Meanwhile, the atmosphere in the capital city has been untouched by the Rohingya issue. The centre of all political activism, art, culture and policy-making, Dhaka has gone on as if nothing has happened. One of the most liberal cities of South Asia, Dhaka and its economic ambitions have embraced its stance on the Rohingyas more positively than outsiders can think.

Although there have been mass-demonstrations by intellectuals, freedom fighters and human rights organizations after the attack on Buddhists, the people here are more busy with calling for a permanent end to child marriage and for scraping the new bill on Hindu laws that discriminate against Hindu widows. In a city where religion is becoming less important everyday; where feminists are chanting slogans of rescinding the use of Sharia in property inheritance; and where an ever-increasing proportion of the people are echoing calls for a removal of the phrase “Complete faith and trust in the Almighty Allah” used in the country’s constitution; the Rohingyas aren’t a topic that people want to think about.

Bangladesh’s economic ties with Myanmar have also been an issue. As the neighbor embraces a liberal economy after its democratic transition, Bangladeshi capitalists and businessmen have targeted Burma as a new potential market for enormous growth. Talks are already underway to set up Bangladeshi power-stations in Myanmar so that the energy-starved nation can meet its huge power demand in the rapidly boosting up industrial sector. Any disruption of the diplomatic and trade ties between the two countries would ultimately harm Bangladesh’s expanding business prospects in the region, and would rather benefit its mightier neighbor India.

So questions on all social networks by Bangladeshis have been similar. Don’t people lose lives on a daily basis in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and Palestine? No one cares about them, so why all this targeting Bangladesh for something it played no part in? Why suddenly this we-muslims-need-to-save-our-brothers-and-sisters-in-Myanmar-from-Aung-Sun-Suu-Kyi type of thing? Aren’t our tax money low enough already for a huge population like ours?

The Nobel Laureate Suu Kyi’s silence on the issue has also been condemned all over the globe

However, many have raised a voice for the Rohingyas as well. Editorial columns and opinion on leading media outlets have condemned the violence and criticized the Bangladeshi government for its lack of an international response over the issue. Some have reminded the country that during the liberation war of 1971, when the Pakistani army and Jamaat-i-Islami were persecuting and raping as much as possible to create ‘a breed of better Muslims’, the neighboring India, seeing a positive political opportunity of a divided-Pakistan, granted refugee status to 2 million people who fled the violence into West Bengal.

But the situation in this case is different. If more Rohingyas are allowed refugee status in Bangladesh, it is quite unlikely that they will ever return to Myanmar again when the Burmese government accepts them back; thus further burdening the Bangladesh economy.

In an age of high economic ambitions, capitalism and materialism in South Asia’s one of the most populous and rapidly-developing countries, this is how the pervasive belief about Rohingyas is prevalent. Any government in power would have closed off its borders in a situation such as this. In fact many analysts now think that the Bangladeshi government made the perfect decision during the conflict. Not only did it stop violence from escalating within its own borders, but also kept international pressure and awareness abuzz on the Myanmar government, which has followed a system of ethnic cleansing and persecution of the Rohingyas since the early 1970s.

Right after the liberation war devastated Bangladesh and pushed it back by at least five decades, the nascent country, despite all its hurdles, gave refugee status to the thousands of Rohingyas who fled the Burmese military’s sectarian war against the Muslim communities. But after three decades, there is a popular feeling that it’s now time for Suu Kyi and her men-in-uniform to take back the people whom they have wronged in their own lands just because they were Muslims and not from the same faith as the majority of the people. As much as there is a call for Pakistan to take back its huge number of refugees in Bangladesh who have been rendered stateless during the 1971 war, there is also a call for the Myanmar government to stop further burdening the economic potentials of a country desperately in search of social prosperity and interfaith harmony.

Innocence of Muslims—what the world refuses to see

In 1953 when the United States, realizing the modern Persian nation’s enormous geopolitical and natural wealth, overthrew the democratic government of Iran in a coup’d’etat to install the more favorable Shah as the autocrat of the ancient nation, the phenomenon gave rise to a new form of Islamic society that is largely founded on the principles of anti-American sentiments. While the despotic Shah of Iran ruled with an iron-fist and mutilated, tortured and killed all his opposition in countless concentration cells all over Iran, it was America towards whom countries of the Islamic World lay the blame on.

As the previously democratic Iran became increasingly hostile to the Americans under the Shah rule it was this belligerence, this failure of the American foreign policy that culminated in the rise of Ayatollah Khomeini, the religious leader who, after he was banished by the Shah due to his more radical

Ayatollah Khomeini, founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran

views, led the popular uprising in Iran in the year 1979. While the Islamic Revolution ousted the Shah, forcing him to flee to Cairo and then to his patron—-the United States—–following the uprising, Khomeini took the helm and turned Iran into an Islamic Republic alienated from both its neighbors and the West.

In the same year, a group of Islamic fundamentalist students stormed into the US embassy of Tehran and gave rise to the event the entire world knows as the Iranian hostage crisis, where the students held 52 US officials hostage for a total of 444 days, although females and African-Americans were all released within the first month. Having only a taciturn approval from Khomeini, the reasoning of the students behind the attack was that the embassy was conspiring again to overthrow the new regime. Jimmy Carter, the then president of the United States, later on received a Nobel Prize for Peace for the rescue mission, where he successfully rescued the Americans without having the US army invade Iran. Ever since that event, the US have had no diplomatic ties with Iran whatsoever, and have sheltered all political prisoners of the Shah’s regime whom the nascent Islamic Republic had tried to prosecute.

It was this incident that the events unfolding in the Islamic world in recent days brought to my mind over the amateur youtube clip ‘Innocence of Muslims’. While the media outlets are busy showing the world a few thousand Middle-Easterners, North Africans, South-East Asians and South Asians chanting renowned slogans like ‘Death to America’ and burning US and Israeli flags, what the world does not see about the incident are the reasons behind the hostility the people of Islamic nations feel towards the US.

These protests against the United States are definitely not just over the film ‘Innocence of Muslims’, as the media outlets have been doing their best to portray. Rather, they are the result of years of injustice and oppression caused by the rulers of the most powerful nation on earth. For decades, the US have supported the dictatorial and monarchal regimes of almost all of these countries. They have counted on all these autocratic rulers starting from the Saudi King to the pharaoh of Egypt, Hosni Mubarak, to suppress all forms of dissent and crush down anything that interferes with American or Israeli interests in the region. Even seeking reconciliations with the anti-American Libyan dictator Gaddafi before his fall, America provided all forms of military and intelligence support to the dictators while in return the rulers successfully stepped down on all forms of dissent and demonstrations.

But it was with the Arab Spring that America was forced to realize that people in all these countries cannot be suppressed any more. As American allies fell down in one uprising after another, people simply needed a trigger to protest and demonstrate against the ‘bully of the earth’. And it was this trigger of the gun that the ‘Innocence of Muslims’ provided.

While questions as to who funded the $100 000 for the making of the amateur film by the Egyptian-American film-maker remained largely enigmatic, with several fingers being pointed at both the state of Israel—-which is renowned for spreading anti-Islamic and anti-Arab propaganda all over the world—— and Christian fundamentalist groups in the US, last Friday after the end of the regular noon prayers the Muslim World erupted in a blaze of fire and revolt as people engaged in violent protestations in front of the US embassies in the region. Most of these protesters, make no mistake, have hardly watched the 13-minute long youtube trailer but with the US invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, and the ongoing rhetoric going on about an invasion of Iran, people do not need to think twice about how malicious Americans are when it comes to the Muslim World. While the vast resources of the oil-rich Islamic countries are maintained and consumed largely by countries like America, the rulers and politicians of these states sit on their oil-money and make people believe anything about Israel and the United States. But what amazed most of these people is America’s disregard for removing the film from youtube under the pretext of  ‘freedom and liberty of expression’ guaranteed by the United States constitution to every single American citizen. If America really wanted to ensure freedom of speech and thought, it could start out by stopping its witch-hunt against Wikileaks and Julian Assange.

Rumor has it, however, that the film-producer is a rogue Coptic Egyptian-American, named Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, who had powerful backers from Israel and Christian fundamentalist groups in California, including the famed American pastor Terry Jones who received worldwide recognition after beginning the rite of burning copies of Qur’an to commemorate 9/11 every year. Coptic Christians in Egypt have always been among the most discriminated minority groups during the dictatorial era. But during the Arab Spring, both Coptic members and Muslims showed their love for Egypt by uniting under one banner in Tahrir Square, where Christians and Muslims guarded each other against sniper attacks by the regime during each other’s prayer times. The actors and other film-crew of the movie however claim that they were duped. The director had allegedly fooled them into thinking that this was a movie about an ancient Egyptian hero and all their dialogues had been dubbed in his studio in English and Arabic to its current form.

Bangladeshi Islamist parties burn US and Israeli flags over the anti-Islam film released in the US. The country’s Prime Minister violently condemned the film’s release on Sunday, and vowed not to allow it to propagate within Bangladeshi territories.

There is no denying that what ensued in Benghazi, Khartoum, Sana’a and Cairo after news of the film reached the mainstream media is as reprehensible as the film itself. But the big question is, what sort of bigotry and intolerance inspires people to make films like these? And by allowing these films to propagate while American drones assassinate countless civilians and alleged militants in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and Afghanistan in the name of ‘War on Terror’ and ‘establishing peace’, what better reaction do the Americans expect than crazies invading their embassies and killing their diplomats?

It is futile for America to hope to build bridges with these extremely volatile, pivotal parts of the world simply by sending donations and interest-free loans of worth billions of dollars; NATO air-strikes to kill off murderous dictators like Gaddafi; or by sending its Secretary of State or the President himself to deliver pompous speeches at schools and universities. While American funded Israeli air-strikes murder innocent Palestinians in their beds and their drones kill peace-loving Muslims continuously in eight different Islamic nations, the United States should do best to ensconce and inure themselves to more of such violent demonstrations in the foreseeable future if more triggers like that of Innocence of Muslims are pulled.

Bangladeshis demonstrate and chant anti-American slogans in front of the National Mosque of Dhaka after the Friday prayers

As an ending note I should add a recent quote I heard on the Al-Jazeera documentary Permission to Engage, which traced the rehabilitation of an Iraq war veteran of the United States army who tried to commit suicide after his unit slaughtered cars full of innocent civilians, including two children whom the personnel rescued alive from the remnants of the dead bodies left behind from the attack. It is simply one tiny example of how American foreign policy has affected the countries of the Muslim world, thus alienating and antagonizing America in this region.

“I went to Iraq to free the good Iraqis from the bad Iraqis. I wanted to kill as many terrorists as possible. But when I went there I found that there were no real terrorists. We were the ones terrorizing the people there continuously. Every single day. Every week. In every weather.”

———Permission to Engage. Watch the entire documentary here.

The English Language & Cultural Imperialism

A rare photo of the end of British Colonialism of India in 1947

They call it cultural imperialism.

When the British colonialists finally managed to take control of the entire subcontinent back in 1757, they soon realized that it was never going to be easy for them here. They were forced to confront to a nation that was united, regardless of religious and ethnic differences, and knew that somehow this unity had to be destroyed. By creating a division they speculated that the huge nation could be transcended to a high level of mistrust and jealousy. One religion had to be turned against another. One tribal group and its leaders had to be forced to fight against another. Alliances had to be broken and discrimination introduced.

And so the first thing they decided to do was take away the people’s most important tool of unity: language.

Before the British colonization, the main language of the subcontinent under Mughal rule was Farsi—the language brought to the region by the Persian Sufis and saints, Mughal and Afghan rulers. Both Hindi and Urdu are renditions of Farsi, while Bengali is an evolved form of Sanskreet, another prominent language of the highly diverse Indian culture. During the pre-British era, Farsi was the main language of instruction. Although all other languages were equally appreciated and encouraged by the many communities of the diverse sub-continental culture, it was Farsi that was spoken in courts and offices; it was Farsi that the books in schools and colleges were written in; and it was Farsi in which art and literature achieved a modern dimension in Asia and the Muslim world in particular. The British realized this premonition of unity, and thus decided that the subcontinent must produce a new breed of intellectuals and thinkers. And all these educated people had to be learned in English. They foretold that the only way British imperialism will be indelible in this region is by making the people ‘pukka brown sahibs’— brown South Asians talking and thinking in English and trying to sport both an Anglicized accent and behavior.

And so they abolished all the educational offices and reformed them. Built them all anew with new institutions based on English imperialist policies and designs.

This was precisely the way the Native Americans had lost their languages to European colonial settlers. The way the Aborigines and other native tribes like Maoris of the Australian continent had had their languages stolen, eradicated, wiped out and robbed out of them by the English settlers.

Years later, almost 70 years after the British left the subcontinent, robbing it off of all its riches and creating enormous sectarian divide and ethnic discrimination, their imperialist policies are still omnipresent in the region. English is treated as the language of the middle and upper class. While Bengali, Urdu, Hindi and other native languages have been pushed backwards to make them second languages. English no longer belongs to the British imperialists only anymore. From America to India to Australia—all these countries have been Anglicized from head to toe.

Thus posing a cultural theft. A robbery. A treacherous malice. A new means of imperialism.

While one might argue that in this increasingly globalized world, Anglicization was necessary—-and if it was with the loss of the native tongue then so be it—it must be worth mentioning, that native tongue is what creates an identity; a culture dating back to thousands of years. English has to be taught in schools and colleges, but not with the expense of the native tongue.

The fact that the British imperialist policies are still ubiquitous in Asia under cover was realized by none other than the Chinese government. In 2010, according to Olinda Hassan, a Bangladeshi-American blogger, the General Administration of Press and Publication in China banned the use of English in Chinese media such as books, papers and on the web. The government explained this move by saying that the use of English and the English-Chinese combination was rapidly deteriorating the ‘purity’ of the Chinese language and violently upsetting the nation’s traditional cultural values. However it must also be noted that the Chinese government also lowered the age for compulsory English from 11 to 9 in 2001 and has left that policy unchanged as increasing numbers of Chinese students go abroad for educational degrees. English to them is regarded as a means of personal achievement and the language of necessity; to be used in offices and global markets and to profit out as responsible global citizens.

But in the subcontinent, English is deemed as the language that makes everyone an aristocrat. Being able to speak fluent or broken English in public means that you are an educated, literate and important citizen. No further qualification is required to attract stares and points, and the public will be enthralled by what you have to say. Unfortunately, this sort of behavior is exactly what the British rulers wanted and predicted.

It must be noted that in the increasingly multicultural, largely globalized society that we dwell in, English is a very important tool for success. According to many scientists, being multilingual actually enhances the capabilities of your brain by opening up more synapses and thus increasing the proportion of workable brain. But it should be impressed upon the fact that English must not be used as another tool of cultural imperialism the British colonialists imposed upon the subcontinent. The English newspapers, periodicals and publication for teenagers should not be filled with reviews of British and American music, movies and books every single day while the local produce is left for only the lower and underprivileged classes to explore. Foreign productions should be treated as international produce, and no matter how much we try, foreign art and culture can never be ours.

I am sure the British colonialists are laughing from their graves. The once highly patronized subcontinental languages have now largely been replaced with English as the language of the upper and middle classes. The traditional languages have been dumped for the poor working classes and all English-speakers have been made superior. And all this has been achieved through cultural imperialism!

The Stoning Of Soraya M.—a review of a modern classical movie

Don’t act like the hypocrite
Who thinks he can conceal his wiles
While loudly quoting the Qur’an
                       ————-Hafez, a 14th century Iranian poet.

A Scene from the Movie

Once a decade, there comes a film that truly redefines the cinematic experience of any non-connoisseur movie-lover. A film that symbolizes art, pain and truth. A film that is able to draw wonders from absolute nothingness.

Persian film-makers are masters at creating such ground-breaking movies. With Separation, Children of Heaven and many other glistening jewels in the world’s film industry, Iran has always been a focal point for extraordinary culture, art and literature. The depth involved in the movies from the land of Omar Khayyam, Maulana Rumi and Hafez really are different from all the other successful movie-industries.

And the Stoning of Soraya M., based on a true incident and a book of the same name, is another work of masterful art and extraordinary depth. Although having an Iranian-American lead actress, an Iranian-American director and a cast ensemble of local Iranians, the film is shot completely in Farsi as per the author and director’s wish. It was filmed within six weeks in a mountainous village of Jordan far from the cities. Based on the true story of Soraya Manutchehri of the Kuhpayeh village in Iran, the film revolves around one scene only—-the final scene of the act of stoning wrongfully—towards which the events in the film go on to designate and portray.

The film starts with an old woman chasing away a dog picking up at bones beside a stream at the break of dawn while simultaneously a car breaks down in her village. The car belongs to a French-Iranian journalist who was passing by the area to get into the borders of a neighboring country. The old woman successfully grabs the attention of the journalist and tells him a story that terrifies each and every one who continues to follow her narration.

Although it is absolutely irrefutable that the film is another modern classic, there are major goofs and errors in the movie. The demonization of Muslims is a characteristic that every form of Western media outlet thrives on, and this film does in fact stereotype Islam negatively to various extents. For example, adultery is an extremely tough crime to punish in accordance with Islamic jurisprudence and Sha’ria Law unless and until the adulterer and adulteress self-proclaims their offence. A minimum of four direct witnesses are required to confirm the act making it an almost near to impossible task to provide full-proof evidence. After all, I am sure no one will commit adultery with open doors in a house full of acquaintances.

It is also mandated that the adulterer,along with the adulteress herself has to be stoned accordingly. The film only shows the female sex stereotyped—-maybe in the real incident only the woman was stoned in accordance with the local, corrupt mullah’s wishes— while the accused adulterer was granted immunity by confessing to the crime and claiming that he was lured into it. It was similar to the case of Aisho Ibrahim Dhuhulow, a 13 year old Somali girl who was stoned to death by Al-Shabab for confessing that she was gang-raped by three Al-Shabab (a notorious Somali terrorist group) militants.

But the theme of the story is that it all happens under the veil of falsehood. Under the patriarchal society that the mullahs are so keen on building up. Under a tyrannous, delinquent husband who is keen to remarry a younger bride but not willing to pay back his wife’s dowry or provide for her and their daughters. Under the veiled society where justice is the most easiest to manipulate and humanity takes a back fold. Under an impression that everything can be justified by saying ‘God is Great’ while in fact God is surely weeping after seeing what his creations are doing in His name. The façade of thought enters the viewer’s mind as soon as he or she starts following the movie and after the violently graphic and extraordinarily filmed stoning scene ends, only the hardest of the hearts could fail to be moved to tears.

It is impossible to deny the claims that stoning in the Islamic world is misused and considered a loophole of the very theocratic justice system that was planned by an Upper Body of Existence. But apparently, the issue of stoning, despite the Western media’s continued portrayal as a barbaric act of a ‘terrorist religion’, is not a part of Islamic heritage only. According to the Torah, Judaism also asks for stoning to death for various offenses such as adultery, cursing God, engaging in idolatry, practicing sorcery and rebellion against parents although it is not practiced by the Jews anymore.
Overall, The Stoning of Soraya M. is one of the best movies from the last decade. Although it is questionable how true the incident upon which the film is based is—since no one actually knows whether the 35 year old Soraya Manutchehri was actually guilty or not and Western reporters who name unnamed sources and continue to demonize Muslims all over the world can hardly be trusted—-the film itself is a pleasure to watch. Although yours truly only managed to have glistening sparks in his eyes, most of the viewers of the movie actually ended up crying after watching it. It really is a powerhouse of a cinema, and even with fully covered woman, little or no background score (no, a serious film like this does not deserve Bollywood-style singing and dancing shots) and an extraordinarily simple story to tell, it gives one more reason to claim that cinema can still be one of the most wonderful forms of art even without the glitz or body-building action figures and sultry heroines.
For those of you who want to check out the movie, here is a torrent link.

The Plight of the Stateless: The Rohingya Diaspora

This article was written in collaboration with Eshpelin Mishtak for umnotablogger.com, a Bangladesh-based e-magazine, to address the recent Rohingya refugee crisis of Bangladesh.

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Photo courtesy: The Daily Star

The photo shows a Rohingya man pleading to officers of the Bangladesh Border Guards to let him and the children and women of the boat to land ashore on Bangladeshi land. The military officers then gave them food, water and fuel, and mandated them to return back to their home from where they had escaped to flee a murderous sectarian violence between the Muslim Rohingyas and the Buddhist Rakhines in the state of Arakan.

Heart-breaking as the photo looks, it clearly symbolizes what the Rohingyas have been going through in Myanmar for decades.

Rohingyas are a particular ethnic tribal group of Myanmar who speak a local dialect of Bengali and are all Muslims. These two reasons make the Myanmar government claim that the Rohingya are actually Bangladeshi immigrants who have settled there when in fact the tribes have existed there for centuries at a time. During the partition of India in 1947 when the British packed all their belongings to leave, the Rohingyas asked Jinnah, the leader of the Muslim League, to include Arakan in Pakistan (which was formed as a separate state for the Muslims) because of the huge Muslim population prevalent there.

While the Myanmar government persistently claims that Rohingyas are actually Bangladeshis, the Bangladesh government in turn says that they are all

Photos from the conflict

Burmese(people from Myanmar). As a result of this, the government of Myanmar has denied citizenship to the Rohingyas, keeping them widely segregated outside the wider Buddhist communities. They are severely repressed and no family is allowed to have more than two children. Access to their basic human rights such as food, shelter and education are all controlled by the central government. They are not allowed to get posts in the government or in the private sector, and no Muslim minority is allowed to be employed in the police or army.

However despite all these problems the Rohingyas have coexisted peacefully with the Rakhines in Arakan. Most of the youth have crossed the seas and traveled into Malaysia and Thailand, where they work as illegal laborers with no security as the law enforcers there can arrest them off as illegal immigrants. But the majority have moved into the neighboring Muslim-majority state Bangladesh.

Now in Bangladesh, which is already brimming with a huge population of its own with a severe competition for resources, most of these stateless Rohingyas get captured by the Border Guards Bangladesh and are then dumped into the UN refugee camps found in the Bangladesh-Myanmar border. An estimated 30000 Rohingyas live in these camps while the number of Rohingyas present in Bangladesh is actually around 300000. The ones who survive abuse and arrest from the Bangladesh border forces escape into the nearest villages. A significant portion marry off among the Bengali Muslim communities, get a Bangladeshi passport and a national id card and become Bangladeshis for life. A good number use the Bangladeshi passports to go off to the Middle-Eastern countries, especially the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, where they work as laborers and foreign expatriates.

But recently the plight of the stateless Rohingyas have escalated all of a sudden. When a group of three Rohingya men raped a Buddhist woman, the Buddhist communities fired assaults on the Muslim minorities. A bus carrying Rohingyas was burned down in response to the rape and eventually this fueled into a huge sectarian conflict between the Muslim Rohingyas and the Buddhists. Far from being rational, the state media and the political leaders of the newly-democratic Myanmar launched countless assaults on the Muslims and thus brought about a huge anti-Muslim fever among the apparently peace-loving Buddhists. Houses, shops and businesses were vandalized and openly Muslims were persecuted under the heat of the day by the locals and also the law enforcers. The people dubbed the Muslims as terrorists and compared the violence to that of 9/11 and the Mumbai attacks without having absolutely no knowledge of the events that led to the aforementioned attacks.

The widespread persecution have prompted a diaspora of the Rohingya populace into Bangladesh in boats and fishing trawlers. Now for Bangladesh, this has become much more than a problem. It is quite evident that the government of Myanmar will never accept these Rohingyas back into their land, and there is no way that the government of Bangladesh will be able to accede more people into the already impoverished country. Therefore the best thing that the government decided to do was to strengthen the Bangladesh-Myanmar borders and coerce the incoming Rohingyas back into their land, where they are almost sure to be persecuted by the wider Buddhist communities. This not only violated several international UN laws for refugees—-through which international human rights groups have asked Bangladesh to open up its borders—–but also brought about an ubiquitous dilemma for the Bangladeshis living inside the country. On the one hand, denying the Rohingyas into the land automatically increases the likelihood that they will be persecuted and discriminated against in their own homelands. While on the other hand, Bangladesh happens to be both one of the most populace and poverty-stricken country at the same time.

The decision sparked massive outrage among the public in Dhaka and the rest of the cities. A poll carried out by the Daily Star shows that most of the people want the borders to be opened for the Rohingyas to come in. But the majority of the intellectuals think that Myanmar should solve its own problems. The Rohingya massacre should be stopped no doubt, but Dhaka is unwilling to comply with mounting international pressure to allow the Rohingyas into Bangladesh because of the obnoxious, racially-prejudiced Myanmar government which continues to call the Rohingyas Bengali immigrants.

According to international journalist and Myanmar specialist Francis Wade, more Muslims are being persecuted than reported by the media. This is what he had to say:

“The role of security forces in the violence has also been underreported, which contributes to statements like this one yesterday from an EU spokesperson: “We believe that the security forces are handling this difficult intercommunal violence in an appropriate way.” That does not marry with reports from locals on the ground.
At least four people have told me that police are acting alongside Arakanese in torching homes of Muslims, while several reports have emerged of police opening fire on crowds of Muslims (NB: Muslims are forbidden from entering Burma’s police force or army – this does carry significance when violence is of this nature). An NGO worker said last night that her family friend, a former politician from Sittwe, has been killed after being arrested over the weekend, while AFP reports that a Rohingya shot by Burmese police has died in Bangladesh.
The UN is unlikely to act unless there is clear complicity in the violence by state agents. The trouble is however that with few journalists or observers on the ground, those responsible for the deaths (which could well be in the hundreds by now) are hard to pinpoint. The UN has withdrawn staff from the region, but Human Rights Watch has urged the government to allow observers in.
There also seems to be something of a PR campaign to cast Muslims as those behind the killings (to make clear, Muslim groups are not innocent bystanders, but have also been involved in arson attacks across the state). One such example is the shaving of the heads of dead victims, often Muslims, and dressing them in monks robes – “and they (media) will take photos of this fake monk corpse to show to the world that these dead bodies were murdered by Muslim [sic]”, one source wrote.”

On the other hand, Rohingyas captured by BGB, Bangladeshi Border Guards, tell horrific tales of persecution and abuse by the Buddhists, who are normally perceived as peace loving and gentle. One family reportedly lost a daughter en route to Bangladesh, and were forced to bury her at sea since they could neither go to Myanmar to bury her, nor reach Bangladesh without being pushed back. Reports of robbers/pirates attacking refugee boats are also prevalent, with one boat captured by BGB with no-one but a malnourished new-born inside; supposedly, the elder members could not take him when they jumped out of board in order to save themselves from pirates.

Amidst all of these, the Bangladeshi Government is maintaining a strict policy of not calling them refugees, and nor allowing them entry. The newly formed democratic government of Myanmar agreed on principle, to take back 30,000 registered “non-refugees”, but the project has seen no light since the talks, and it appears that the Bangladeshi government is scared about taking in more of them because of the categorical denial of citizenship of the Rohingyas as Burmese.

In this situation, many Bangladeshis, who are in favor of allowing the Rohingyas to enter Bangladesh, have started publicly supporting the view. Facebook groups have opened up, and many are blogging in support of them. Some categorically suggest invading Myanmar, an improbable idea, while others opt for allowing entry on humanitarian grounds. Bloggers have even asked the widely popular Bangladeshi premiere, Shiekh Hasina, to intervene directly into the matter and not forget that the prime minister herself was given asylum by Germany when her life was in danger back in 1975.

While all decisions rest on the government, the enraged public is patiently waiting to see an end to this massacre. Because this is not only a crisis and a violence that disrupts interfaith and interracial harmony, but also prompts a huge humanitarian crisis for the world. After all, each drop of human blood, regardless of religion, castes and creeds is equally important.