Tuesday, 30 April 2013

The story of ... Sarabjit Singh...


                                                    The story of ... Sarabjit Singh...

Sarabjit Singh is an Indian national imprisoned in Kot Lakhpat jail, Pakistan since 1990. He was convicted by the Pakistani authorities for his involvement in 1990 serial bomb blasts in Lahore and Faisalabad that killed 14 people. Sarabjit claimed that he was a farmer and a victim of mistaken identity, who strayed into Pakistan from his village located on the border, three months after the bombings when drunk.
He was sentenced to death in 1991, but his hanging has been repeatedly postponed. So far five mercy petitions have been filed on his behalf, in which Sarabjit maintains that he has served twenty two years of prison term for a crime he is not guilty of. On 26 June 2012, it was reported that Pakistan's President had ordered his release after the petition was filed on 28 May 2012.  Five hours later this pardon was revoked and it was claimed that another prisoner Surjeet Singh was released not Sarabjit.

On the night of 28 August 1990, Sarabjit was arrested by Pakistani border guards in an inebriated state on the Indo-Pakistani border near Kasur. Sarabjit and his supporters maintain that the arrest was a case of mistaken identity, and that he was only a poor farmer who was drunk and had strayed off the border. His wife Sukhpreet Kaur claims that he left to plough his fields near theWagah Border on August 28, 1990, but never returned

He was arrested on the charges of illegally crossing the India-Pakistan border. But after eight days, the Pakistani police charged him with being involved in the 1990 terror blasts at Faislabad andLahore. The authorities alleged that he was Manjit Singh and had been responsible for the 4 blasts which killed 14 people, and had been arrested while returning to India after carrying out the bombings. He was accused of working for the Indian intelligence and was viewed as a terrorist in Pakistan. He was convicted of spying and carrying the bomb blasts and was handed the death penalty.

In 1991 Sarabjit was given the death sentence under the Pakistan's Army Act.] His sentence was upheld by the High Court and later by the Pakistan Supreme Court. The Supreme Court dismissed his petition to review his death sentence in March 2006 as Sarabjit's lawyers failed to appear for the hearing. Sarabjit said that his appeal had been dismissed by the Pakistan Supreme Court for non-prosecution only because of lack of interest by his former lawyer. On 3 March 2008, the erstwhile President Pervez Musharraf rejected his mercy petition.

On June 26,  2012, the President of Pakistan decided to release Sarabjit but a few hours later, amidst condemnation by the Jamaat-e-Islami and the Jamaat-ud-Da’wah clarified that the prisoner to be released was Surjeet Singh and not Sarabjit.

On 26 April 2008, the key witness Shaukat Salim .. retracted his statement. Salim's father and other relatives had been killed in the attack. In court Salim had provided testimony that Sarabjit was the one who had planted the bomb but later on accepted that he had done so under pressure from the Pakistani police.  However Sarabjit's lawyer Abdul Rana Hamid has said that Salim's statements have no legal standing as they were never recorded in court.

Pakistani human rights activist Ansar Burney has claimed that none of the four FIRs  lodged with regard to the bombings contained Sarabjit’s name or his description, and that Sarabjit had been arrested on the night of 30 August 1990, from the Kasur border for illegally crossing the Indo-Pakistani border. But after eight days, the police implicated him in the terrorist bombings. He had not been arrested red handed. Burney also pointed out that the same magistrate had recorded the statements of the witnesses in all the four terror blast cases, out of which one had taken place at Faisalabad  and the remaining three at Lahore, although the police cases had been lodged in four different police stations and two different districts. He said four different magistrates should have recorded the statements. None of the statements recorded in front of the magistrate were taken under oath. Sarabjit had been paraded before the witnessed in the absence of the magistrate, and the police had informed the witnesses that he was the culprit. This was also confirmed by Shaukat Salim, a key prosecution witness in the case.

A British lawyer Jas Uppal campaigning for his release pointed to several loopholes in the trial. According to her
His identity was never verified or proved in court and no forensic evidence was provided at his trial to link him to the bomb attacks.
The trial was conducted in English, whereas Sarabjit does not speak or understand English, and an interpreter was not provided.
There were other serious questions over the fairness of his trial, including allegations that he was tortured in custody and forced to confess"
The trial was fast-tracked and the main witness repeatedly changed his version of events.

Since his conviction in 1991, several mercy petitions have been filed by Sarabjit's legal representatives.
The fifth petition was filed on 28 May 2012, along with 100,000 signatures collected from India. It urges Pakistan to reciprocate the Indian decision to release Pakistani octogenarian virologist Khaleel Chishty on humanitarian grounds.  But so far the mercy pettion has not been approved by Pakistan.
In March 2008, Sarabjit's family went to Pakistan when his hanging was to be carried out. They met several prominent Pakistani politicians including the former prime minister Nawaz Sharif to appeal for his release.  Sharif said,"After seeing the plight of the members of Sarabjit's family who have come to Pakistan, any person can feel the pain they are going through."
On 23 August 2005, the Sarabjit's case was taken up in both the houses of the Indian Parliament, where the government was asked to take necessary action for his release.
Indian External Affairs Minister K. Natwar Singh took up Sarabjit Singh’s case with the Pakistan High Commissioner Aziz Ahmed Khan and urged him to convey Delhi’s hope that Islamabad would treat the matter as a humanitarian issue.
In June 2012, the Bollywood actor Salman Khan came forward to seek the support from people and the media for the release of Sarabjit.[13] He started an online petition from his NGO Being Human in support of Sarabjit's release.[

In 2009, the British lawyer Jas Uppal started an online campaign "freesarabjitsingh.com" ]to highlight his case and request human rights group to intervene on his behalf. Awaish Sheikh, Sarabjit's present lawyer from Pakistan, has been supporting the campaign and has provided his services free of charge to Sarabjit.
The Bollywood actor and activist Raza Murad has also been campaigning for his release. Until June 2012 he had collected 138,226 signatures to support Sarabjit's release. After a flip-flop by the Pakistani government regarding his release in June 2012, he intensified his 'Free Sarabjit' campaign .
In April 2008, a group of Pakistani students organized a march, seeking withdrawal of all official moves to pardon Sarabjit.  In December 2012, an aggressive protest against  Sarabjit Singh was observed in front of the Lahore Press Club, in which Indian flags were burnt by Islamists radicals.

On 26 June 2012, both Pakistani and International media reported President  Asif Ali Zardari  signed a document sent by the interior ministry of Pakistan commuting Sarabjit's death sentence to life in prison. A life sentence in Pakistan is generally for 14 years, and Sarabjit, having spent 22 years in jail was to be shortly released. The news of his pardon and imminent release initiated celebrations in his hometown. The Indian foreign minister also issued a statement of appreciation to Islamabad for the gesture.
Five hours later, however, the Pakistani Government agencies issued a statement denying the reports and holding the media responsible for the confusion. They announced that the release order had in fact been for another prisoner, Surjeet Singh, who was pardoned in 1989. Sarabjit's family condemned the incident as a deliberate and cruel joke.
Sarabjit Singh has filed a fresh mercy appeal to the President of Pakistan on the 65th independence day of that country.

On 26 April 2013 at about 4:30 pm, he was attacked in the Central Jail Lahore (Kot Lakhpat jail). allegedly by six prisoners with bricks, sharp metal sheets, iron rods and blades. He was admitted to the Jinnah hospital with severe head injuries in a critical condition. Pakistani doctors on Tuesday refuted reports that Indian death row prisoner Sarabjit Singh may be brain dead, while maintaining that he continues to remain critical in a Lahore hospital.

Confirming the development, the head of the medical board constituted by Pakistan to monitor Sarabjit Singh’s health said, “His condition continues to be serious but he has not been declared brain dead.”

The clarification from the Pakistan medical board came in the wake of reports that Sarabjit Singh may be brain dead and he is being sustained by life support system.....

Text of CBI Director’s affidavit in Supreme Court - The Hindu

Text of CBI Director’s affidavit in Supreme Court - The Hindu

The pot is a God By Basava ....

I love this poem. I found it in A. K. Ramanujan's Speaking of Siva. It's one of those simple, yet powerful poems that rings in the back of my mind.

Gods, gods, there are so many
there's no place left
for a foot.

Makes you want to take every step carefully.

The pot is a God
By Basava
(1134 - 1196)
English version by A. K. Ramanujan

The pot is a God. The winnowing
fan is a God. The stone in the
street is a God. The comb is a
God. The bowstring is also a
God. The bushel is a God and the
spouted cup is a God.

Gods, gods, there are so many
there's no place left
for a foot.
          There is only
one God. He is our Lord
of the Meeting Rivers.

We can read the meaning of this in several ways. The perspective that comes to me first is that the Divine is everywhere, in every object and every encounter.

Another way to read these lines is that the foot is specific to the individual, and an expression of the ego. With gods, gods everywhere, there is no place left for the ego to stand.

And how about one more take on this? Basava might also be teasingly critical of the vast multiplicity of gods worshipped throughout the land, when all he sees is the supreme unity of Shiva as "our Lord of the Meeting Rivers." It could be that he is reminding us not to project the multiplicity and endless separations of the manifest creation onto the unity of the Divine.

However we choose to read these lines, they are a reminder that each footfall contacts the eternal, there is no place else. Each step is union.

Basava, sometimes referred to reverently as Basavanna or Basaveshwara, was a twelfth century devotee of Shiva and early organizer of the Virasaiva Lingayata sect in the Kannada-speaking regions of southern India.

The Virasaivas were a Shiva bhakti movement that rejected the elaborate ritualism and strict caste system of orthodox Hinduism which favored the wealthy, and instead emphasized direct mystical experience available to all through deep devotion to God. In this sense, the Virasaiva movement was a mystical protestant movement that also asserted social equality and justice for the poor. As Lingayatas they worship Shiva in the form of a linga, the stone symbol that represents God as creative generator of the universe or, more deeply, as a representation of the Formless taking form.

Basavanna was orphaned at a young age but adopted by a wealthy family with political connections. He received a good education but rejected a life of comfort and prestige to become a wandering ascetic dedicated to Shiva.

He received enlightenment at a sacred meeting of rivers. This is why all of Basavanna's poems include a reference to Shiva as "the lord of the meeting rivers." This also has a deeper, esoteric meaning relating to the subtle energies awakened in the yogi's awareness.

However, he soon was given a divine command to return to worldly life. Basavanna initially resisted, but eventually yielded and returned to his adopted family. Before long he attained high political office while, simultaneously, forming the new populist mystical movement of Virasaivas into a coherent, egalitarian community. This community fostered many other great poet-saints, including Akka Mahadevi and Allama Prabhu.

This utopian community began to be seen as a threat to the orthodox religious and political forces, however, and they used the marriage between an outcaste man and a brahmin woman within the community as an excuse to kill several of its members. Basavanna urged a non-violent response, but the reflex for revenge was too strong among some of the community's members. In the tense aftermath, the community couldn't safely hold together and its members went in different directions.

Basavanna once again left politics and returned to his focus on the inner spiritual life.

Kohima, and the Japanese-Bose combine had won? by Anshul Chaturvedi

नेता जी सुभाष चन्द्र बोस और आज़ाद हिन्द फौज ने ब्रिटिश गुलामी से मुक्ति का एक अलग ही मार्ग चुना था . दुनिया दूसरे महायुद्ध में उलझी थी . एक तरफ इंग्लॅण्ड , फ़्रांस , रूस , अमेरिका जैसे मित्र देश थे , और दूसरी तरफ जापान , इटली और जर्मनी , जिसे धुरी राष्ट्र कहा गया था . सुभाष बाबू धुरी राष्ट्रों विशेषकर जापान के साथ मिल कर इंग्लॅण्ड को हराना और देश को आज़ाद कराना चाहते थे वर्ष 1944 में कोहिमा पर हमला हुआ , और उस हमले को  , एक अध्ययन के अनुसार वाटर लू युद्ध जिस में कभी  नैपोलियन की पराजय हुयी थी के बराबर माना गया था . जापानी फौज के साथ साथ नेता जी के नेत्रित्व में साधनहीन पर दुर्लंघ्य इच्छा शक्ति से भरपूर आज़ाद हिन्द फौज ने इतिहास ही बदल दिया होता . ....
टाइम्स ऑफ़ इंडिया में छपे अंशुल चतुर्वेदी के इस लेख को पढ़ें ..... 

Kohima, and the Japanese-Bose combine had won?
The Battle for Imphal / Kohima in 1944 was earlier this week voted 'Britain's greatest battle' over infinitely more celebrated British battles, such as those of D-Day and Waterloo, in a contest organised by the National Army Museum at London. As someone who reads obsessively on whatever he can find on WW II as well on Bose – and by extension the INA – I was much intrigued.

Historian Robert Lyman, making the case for Kohima in a debate at the museum, asserted, without exaggeration, that “Great things were at stake in a war with the toughest enemy any British army has had to fight,” and ranked it with Midway, El Alamein and Stalingrad as the main turning point battles of WW II. The overall battle saw approximately 12,600 Commonwealth casualties and 58,800 Japanese ones, in what writer Compton Mackenzie has described as “fighting as desperate as any in recorded history”.

For the British, the battle was critical since Kohima was the key to Imphal, Imphal to Dimapur, and Dimapur – which had a massive supply dump which the Japanese would need to sustain further war effort this far from their supply lines – as the key to British India itself. Capturing that dump would enable the Japanese to consolidate and replenish their starving troops and kick off a campaign into India's interior, much like they had sliced through Burma. In reverse, when the Japanese were forced to retreat, it was seen as 'the biggest defeat the Japanese had known in their entire history' till then. Till that point, advancing Japanese ground forces were largely assumed to be invincible, carrying all before them. After this battle, that myth was shattered and the momentum swung the other way.

For India, the battle had intriguing implications. If you transport yourself back in time, you are at a sort of cusp in the way India's destiny was headed. Indian troops fought in large numbers as part of the Allied forces, as they did elsewhere. But here, they found on the opposing side, along with the Japanese, soldiers of Subhash Bose's INA. Though the INA's role could never have been militarily decisive, given its numbers and equipment, it would have been a romantic ideal for the INA to have been at the very tip of the Japanese advance, as Bose had wanted, and to have dislodged the British from Indian soil as part of a Japanese victory. However, that was not to be. Some look upon with nostalgia at what may have been had it happened, envisaging the INA's military success sparking a revolt within the Indian Army. As Peter Ward Fay writes in his book on the INA, The Forgotten Army, 'the magnificent confidence trick that made possible the Indian Army, indeed the Raj itself, turned on the unthinking reliability of the sepoy. And without the sepoy, (the officer leading the counteroffensive, British Maj-Gen William) Slim was nothing.'

If the Japanese had won – and they very nearly did during the initial offensive – would an INA hoisting an Indian flag as part of a victorious anti-British force have shaken the 'unthinking reliability of the sepoy'? I do not quite agree with Lyman when he says that the Indian troops “weren't fighting for the British or the Raj but for a newly emerging and independent India and against the totalitarianism of Japan.” It could equally be argued that the INA troops were not fighting for the Japanese empire but for Bose's vision of an emerging and soon-to-be-independent India. This claim is an overly romanticised view of the British who were hardly reluctant in enforcing totalitarianism in circumstances where their national interest dictated it.

A Japanese-INA victory could also have had another implication: an Axis tie-up on Indian soil. Andrew Roberts, in his The Storm Of War, writes that “If Japan's attack on eastern India and Ceylon had been co-ordinated with a German advance through Egypt, Iran and Iraq – prior to Operation Barbarossa – the British Empire could have been severely threatened in northern India”. Rommel marching through the lightly defended Khyber pass on India's West and Japanese troops pouring in after victories at Kohima / Imphal on the East would have thrown up many possibilities, fascinating, frightening, or both.

An Axis victory in this part of the world would have changed global power equations in many ways. The idea of a Bose possibly establishing a new structure over the subcontinent with German and Japanese troops makes for a very interesting mental rewind – I can't think of anyone else who would have commanded the subcontinent with the consent of both Axis powers. Also, given that in a fluid situation, he was able to convince large numbers of soldiers to switch loyalties to his cause and pick up arms against their erstwhile masters, he may well have been able to repeat the exercise with the Indian soldiers serving the British empire if the British were seen to be beaten – and thereby reduce the absolute dependence on the powers that supported his endeavours, to whatever degree, since those who studied Bose's temperament would safely hazard a guess that he would be an inconvenient and not adequately obedient representative. If the Axis forces expected him to be a nominal figurehead and build something like what the Vichy regime was in occupied France, a standoff between them and him would be a question of when, not if.

Interestingly, for all the Aryan ethos and the Swastika, Hitler was clearly more enamoured of the ruling British than the ruled Indians. He wrote in Mein Kampf, 'I, as a man of Germanic blood, would, in spite of everything, rather see India under British rule than any other.' That, of course, was before WW II broke out.  Would his 'any other' have included the non-Aryan Japanese, if that choice had to be made? Given the uneven tenor of German-Japanese ties, it's a question to vex historians  and analysts alike.

Robert Lyman thinks that “In protecting the Indian sub-continent from the ravages of Japanese rule, whose vicious cruelties had been apparent in Manchuria and China since 1931... the British Empire performed its greatest service to the people of India”.  Much as the British contributed to modern India, I think this particular claim is making a virtue of necessity, that too in hindsight. I read a piece in TOI on how soldiers who fought in the British Army during the battle feel forgotten and neglected after hearing of the battle's recently elevated status. Perhaps the Museum in London does need to give them their due to a greater degree, since it rates the battle to which they contributed significantly as its most significant ever, but I'm fine with them being neglected in India. While they may have been excellent fighting men, I am not sure if there's much ground for any sentimental appreciation here. They joined up to draw a salary and served the British as their foremost instrument of ruling India – and if they didn't realise that, they had serious comprehension problems. They would have fought for the British Empire at Timbuktu or Ulan Bator if deputed; that they fought at Kohima was a factor of geographical allocation of resources, not from any great wish to defend the motherland. They did not fight or die for 'defending India'; they did so for the loyalty to their paymasters and for the izzat of their regiments. They merit respect as any fighting soldier does – but not India's sentimental gratitude, sorry.

The INA, in reverse, was not as strong or mean a fighting force, but it was clearly not available for use by the Japanese to occupy the Philippines or fight against Chinese troops – it was in its very concept meant as an instrument only of Indians attempting to fight their way onto Indian soil for a cause, howsoever romantically distant from execution as it proved subsequently. Bose's followers may see the Kohima defeat as a tragic 'if-only' moment which denied him his place in history, even if on the Axis's shoulders. He was not a man to give up easily and would certainly not have been content to see one empire replace another in India. Who knows what India's geographical and political essentials would be today if he were to have been the driver of the first decade of a non-British India?

So while it's the British who see it as their greatest battle, it's probably a battle worth as much recall for us, a people who pay little attention to military history, as it is for them.

Monday, 29 April 2013

मेरी जुबां पर न जा ,...

मेरी जुबां पर जा ,

मेरी जुबां पर जा ,
आँखों की गहराई देख ,
सब कुछ बयाँ  कर देती है  !
जुबां तो शायद हिचक भी जाय ,
कभी !!

अनंत के विस्तार से 
ढूंढ कर लाता हूँ ,
ख़याल अपने .
कितनी हिम्मत बटोरता हूँ ,
शब्दों में ढालने के लिए ,
जज्बातों को !

थम जाते हैं शब्द ,
पर ,
रिसते रहते हैं ख़याल ,
आकर ढांक लेती है
तब ,
अनजानी सी एक चुप्पी .

खो जाते हैं शब्द ,
वहीं ,
जहां से ख्यालों ने गढ़ा था उन्हें ,
कह नहीं पाता कुछ ,
हो जाता हूँ मौन .
ओढ़ लेता हूँ एक चादर , ख़ामोशी की .
तब ,
बरबस , बोल पड़ती हैं 
मेरी आँखें !

, देख , मेरी आँखों में ,
दूर दिगंत में देखती हुयी ,
शांत , समुन्दर की सी गहरी ,
विविध रंगों के इन्द्र धनुष लिए ,
यहाँ जो है ,
निःशब्द , निष्पाप और सत्य है ....
-vss .