The Toll of the Emergency in Pakistan

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We’ve been receiving tips about the alarming (deteriorating) condition of mutinous Munir A. Malik, who was detained by Mushie’s henchman and held incommunicado for far too long. I scanned a few blogs which are dedicated to Pakistan’s struggle and have information for you, below:

Former president Supreme Court Bar Association of Pakistan Mr Munir A. Malik has suffered renal failure. He has been shifted to ICU in PIMS where he is undergoing kidney dialysis. In panic, Musharraf has lifted the detention orders on Munir A. Malik.
For the last 2 weeks leading lawyers’ and HR organizations worldwide have been calling upon Musharraf to release Munir A. Malik from detention. Asma Jahangir had written in her letter ( to HR organizations worldwide) that Munir A. Malik has been tortured by intelligence agencies.
The News is also reporting that Munir Malik has told doctors that he was served juice in Attock jail. Upon drinking the juice his condition start deteriorating. Since then his kidneys have failed and doctors are also concerned about liver function.
An immediate inquiry needs to be held to determine if Munir Malik was poisoned. For torturing Munir (as indicated by Asma Jahangir) and for keeping him incarcerated in a critical condition for two weeks Pervez Musharraf should be tried for attempted murder.
Finally we ask all concerned people to pray for Munir’s well-being. [Democracy and Freedom]

Ameen. As for others who are paying for their involvement in the struggle: Continue reading

“This is an uncivilized act.”

Tipster Scherezade alerts us to a disturbing story out of Guwahati, about a protest gone horribly awry: beaten.jpg

Assam was rocked by violence during Saturday’s protests by tribals backed by the All Assam Adivasi Students’ Association (AAASA) students when locals brutally beat them up resulting in at least one death and over 250 people getting injured.
But not only were the Adivasi students beaten up but the women protesters were stripped and molested by the residents of Guwahati.
A local Assamese businessman Ratul Burman was seen attacking a woman after she was stripped during clashes on Saturday. Burman and two others have been arrested. Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi has announced a Rs 1 lakh compensation to the woman.

The Chief Minister has indicated that he wants Burman to receive the “maximum punishment” for his role in this assault. More than 250 people were injured in Saturday’s protests.

In more incidents of violence in Assam two more people have been killed, one of them shot in firing by the army.
Army was called in to stage flag marches in Guwahati on Saturday evening after Adivasi students went on the rampage, looting shops and burning vehicles in Assam’s capital city.

The cause of the protest? A desire for Scheduled Tribe status.

In her tip, Scherezade says:

Residents beat up women who were a part of the All Assam Adivasi Students’ Association (AAASA). Local media has been circulating videos of a businessman constantly hitting a naked woman in the genitals with his boots and beating her with a wooden plank. Heart-breaking stuff. Stories like these almost never catch the eye of the larger(read: western) media. People I know of, who were witness to this horrendous atrocity lie injured in a hospital. It’s tragic.

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Review: “Queens Boulevard — the Musical”

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(Debargo Sanyal and Amir Arison)

Over the weekend we caught a matinee of Queens Boulevard (the musical) at a small, off-broadway theater in New York. The play has already been covered at both SAJAForum and Ultrabrown; this is my version.

The cast of Queens Boulevard has three people of South Asian descent in it, and Charles Mee, the playwright, mentions in the script that “Queens Boulevard (the musical) was inspired by the Katha-Kali play The Flower of Good Fortune by Kottayan Tampuran.” The central plot of the story is partly a reworking of the Shakuntala myth, and partly a version of Homer’s The Odyssey — and sometimes both at once.

I had a number of problems with the play, but I want to start with the positives.

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The Men Who Make the Manhole Covers

There’s a story in the New York Times today about a foundry in Haora, West Bengal that makes New York City’s manhole covers. It’s written largely from a photographer’s point of view, and there’s a great audio + images slideshow accompanying the piece here. Adam Huggins’ photos are indeed pretty intense:

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When you see pictures like this, it’s hard not to think of the issue of worker safety, which might be somewhat predictable (i.e., from our discussions of child labor): isn’t it possible that manholes can be produced so cheaply in India precisely because there aren’t high worker safety standards? Shouldn’t Con Edison insist on certain minimal worker safety protections when it signs contracts with Indian companies?

On the other hand, it could be argued that raising this issue potentially hurts the workers as much as it helps them, as it increases the chance that they’ll lose their jobs if American contracts are canceled. And while I’m not aware of statistics relating to worker injuries at this or other plants, it’s at least possible that the factory owner isn’t lying when he says that the system that’s been worked out is safe enough — as long as the workers remain completely focused on what they’re doing. (Interestingly, the photographer doesn’t seem outraged by the conditions he sees; if anything, his tone reflects admiration for the strength and fearlessness of the workers at the foundry.) Continue reading

Walking a Mile in Someone Else’s Chappals

I’m waiting in line at the “secret” coffee place I mentioned in a post once, on the phone with one of my closest friends.

“How are you? How’s the ankle?”, he asks.

“Blue and mediocre.”

“Wait, WHAT?”

“Well, I’m wearing a blue dress and it still hurts. Actually, I officially sound like an Ammachi/Naniji now, because my hip hurts constantly. Apparently, three months of limping will do that to you!”

“Smartypants, here I was worried you were ‘blue’ as in sad.”

“Tiny bit. Always am around the holidays.”

“Are you going home for Thanksgiving?”

“No. Mom’s traveling, no one’s there.”

“What timing for a trip!”

“Well…we never really celebrated the holiday. My parents had that typical snarky comeback, you know, ‘only Americans would need a special day to be thankful for everything. Hmmph! We’re thankful daily!’…like that. So it was just a regular day at our house…with slightly different TV programs.”

“So you have not had this…tofurkey you sent me, on Facebook?”

“No. I don’t eat tofu.”

“You sound sad.”

“I guess I am, a little bit. Everyone’s rushing off with a suitcase and while I don’t really want to travel THIS week, it reminds me that they’re going to be with their family, and that does make me miss home. This is my first Thanksgiving when I’m not going anywhere. It’s a little depressing.”

“Well, now you know what a FOB feels like.” Continue reading

"Islamophobia has provided a unifying force…"

There has recently been a number of articles in the press about the growing influence of the Indian-American lobby among Washington politicians. With the U.S.-India Nuclear deal taking center stage, the press began to focus more on the dynamics of this relationship. A number of parallels were drawn to the increasing similarity some of these groups share (or would like to share) with some Jewish lobby groups. A month old article in the NYTimes featured the Hindu American Foundation:

When the Hindu American Foundation began, it looked to groups like the Anti-Defamation League and the Simon Wiesenthal Center for guidance with its advocacy and lobbying efforts.

Indian-Americans, who now number 2.4 million in this country, are turning to American Jews as role models and partners in areas like establishing community centers, advocating on civil rights issues and lobbying Congress.

Indians often say they see a version of themselves and what they hope to be in the experience of Jews in American politics: a small minority that has succeeded in combating prejudice and building political clout. [Link]

As long time readers know, I have often (1,2,3) railed against some of the lobbying groups that purport to represent “Indian Americans” (USINPAC chief among those that receive my disdain). I do not feel that USINPAC represents my interests whatsoever and I wish the press would stop assuming they speak for all Indian Americans. Indolink points us to a new paper in the South Asia Multidisciplinary Academic Journal (SAMAJ) which examines a number of “Indian-American” lobby groups and how closely they really represent “Indian-American” interests (as opposed to “Hindustani” interests):

The article addresses the issue of the growing influence of the Indian-American lobbies and even more importantly their internal divisions, giving way to the constant formation of new groups. In the face of these divisions, the author shows how Islamophobia has provided a unifying force, whose roots can be found in the articulation between local and transnational factors: especially in the context of the (American) war against terrorism and the furthering of the India-Israel-US strategic partnership. No wonder a spokesperson for USINPAC was reported as saying: “The terrorism directed against India is the same as that directed against the United States and Israel.”

Therwath reveals that fieldwork conducted in New York and in Washington “revealed virulent streaks of Islamophobia and hostility towards Pakistan amongst professional Indian American lobbyists.” The author adds: “While not absolutely systematic, this anti-Muslim sentiment has been prominent in most of the interviews that I conducted…” [Link]
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Loins / Meetup Wrapup

SF mutineers, together with writer / director Manish Acharya imbibed the Loins of Punjab last night as part of the SF South Asian film festival. Two word summary – it rocked.

Two word summary – it rocked.A crowd numbering several hundred packed the Castro theater in San Francisco for the laugh out loud ride and presented Acharya with a standing ovation and even a little bit of spontaneous singing (“Bole chudiyan… bole kangana…“) for his work. Although, as expected, Desi’s dominated the audience, the movie really resonated with the surprising gora / gori representation and the hispanic lesbian couple I was seated next to laughed most of the time as well. Still, much of the appeal of the genre comes from being in on the joke and the real magic is best experienced if you’re ABCD and perhaps even moreso if you’ve spent time in New Jersey.

Nevertheless, Loins is, by a wide margin, my new title holder for “Best ABCD Comedy.” My previous candidate was the (panned by many) Where’s the Party, Yaar about a group of desi college students in Houston. Both movies transcend the usual “cultural idenity” story line and instead solidly demonstrate a new, hybrid culture that’s neither here nor there but nevertheless confident about where it is and where it’s going. American and desi stereotypes blend fluidly and we’re far from feeling sorry for the folks with one foot on either side.


A Universe of Patels

Probably owing to the respective backgrounds of the film makers, WTPY is a bit more “American” in its character portrayals while Loins was far more Desi. Although both Manish Acharya and Benny Mathews of WTPY are 1.5 gen, Benny undoubtedly got most of his material from the Music Masala parties aimed at Houston’s desi young adults – hence, a more overt “hormones gone wild” and, unfortunately a generally less flattering FOB portrayal. By contrast, Loins of Punjab brings in a much broader audience of heroes and heroines sporting both ABD and DBD colors.

Loins, however, is yards ahead of Where’s the Party in the quality of its writing, execution, fit, and finish. Some critics weren’t impressed by the “gimmicky” humor but, as an audience commentor noted, Manish does a fantastic job of making old punchlines fresh and unexpected. I know we’ve seen the hero’s significant other defect and return a million times before… But, in Loins it’s so well executed that even a sophisticated, and sometimes cynical audience in a place like SF was still taken by surprise.

WTPY: ABCDs, FOBs, Boys, Girls, and a Party

The casting was superb and, as Acharya emphasized in Q&A after the flick, character development is the backbone of the movie. Their quirks and interactions had me solidly entertained for its hour and a half duration and I can honestly say that I wish the movie overall was longer. The title leads one to expect more story / character development around the Loin King, for example – a promising angle but one which is unexplored. Jameel Khan’s sleazy event producer made the most of his on-screen time and yet, I still wanted more. Ajay Naidu’s Turbantorious BDG was so well done I had a hard time believing it was really him dancing, rapping and shooting off angrier-than-thou lines. Still, going further down all these avenues while keeping within acceptable bounds for movie length would probably have been impossible and I’m forced to credit Acharya for his restraint.

It is critical to note that while poking fun at character and ethnic quirks (the individual Guju family members captured the panoply of stereotypes so well it’s scary), the comedy was ultimately good natured and uplifting. Yes, we’re often laughing at them but we also all recognize that the world would be a worse place without them. Acharya firmly believes & demonstrates that there are many paths to being a movie hero. And when the foundation for your story is a diaspora as diverse as India and America, it’s a fitting moral.

Straight Outta Da Pindh

Good news for mutineers in other cities – Acharya says that Loins is aiming for limited release in the US in March 2008.

After the movie, a dozen mutineers & I tried to converge on Samovar Tea Lounge for a mini-meetup…. However, the venue turned out to be far more of a restaurant than an alternative to Starbucks and menu’s + white-linen table service tends to be pretty antithetical to the flow of a meetup. So, we ended up rerouting ourselves across the street to Urban Bread for coffee and pastries. Consensus at the table was strongly positive and with many surprised by the negative reaction other mutineers seemed to have to the flick. To each his own, I suppose.

[related - Manish Vij's Loins of Punjab review & link compendium]

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Toys for young mutineers (or you)

Kids these days just have it so much better (note: use of this phrase indicates Abhi’s advanced age an increasing irrelevance to our youngest readers). When I was young we didn’t have that many ethnocentric toys to choose from around the holidays. All I really wanted for Christmas was a Destro. I mean, a grenade necklace is just cool (not that I believe that children should be exposed to toys that glorify terrorist networks such as COBRA, which sought to undermine U.S. military policy around the world).

Today, companies like Kridana.com are selling bad-ass Hanuman action figures like the one above. This isn’t your father’s Hanuman. This one looks like a professional triathlete/MMA Fighter. There are two types of parents that would buy a toy like this for their child. The first is the young, second-generation couple that is worried that they aren’t doing enough to familiarize their child with their religious Hindu roots. It would be bad if Hinduism became irrelevant to the next generation so Hanuman, and similar action figures, can serve as a good stop-gap measure. The other kind of parent (the kind that I one day hope to be) would buy this for themselves. Check it out, here is the scenario. You could buy the Hanuman above and also a barrel of monkeys. Then you could pretend that Hanuman was a great general and that under his leadership the barrel of monkeys were able to sweep forth and stem the tide of evil monkey attacks currently taking place in Indian cities like Delhi. The people of India would be grateful and a beautiful woman would fall for him (not just because of his muscles but because of his virtue, good soul, and leadership abilities). Speaking of which, I have to hit up the gym.

Does anyone else think that Hanuman looks a bit like a brown Panthro?

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How to map Muslims and find the best falafels

A couple of diabolically ingenious (or phenomenally stupid) plans have been recently reported on in the media, both plans intended to ascertain where American Muslims be hanging out (so as to keep tabs on the potential terrorists hiding among them). The first was Los Angeles’ Muslim Mapping Project. At first I assumed that the LAPD intended to map the spread of Islam in the world since the birth of Muhammad…but then I realized that the department probably doesn’t employ many history or religion PhDs. “Muslim Mapping” must mean something else. Here is an excerpt from the LAPD officer who briefed the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs (headed by Joe Lieberman):

“In order to give our officers increased awareness of our local Muslim communities, the LAPD recently launched an initiative with an academic institution to conduct an extensive “community mapping” project. We are also soliciting input of local Muslim groups, so the process can be transparent and inclusive. While this project will lay out the geographic locations of the many different Muslim population groups around Los Angeles, we also intend to take a deeper look at their history, demographics, language, culture, ethnic breakdown, socio-economic status, and social interactions. It is our hope to identify communities, within the larger Muslim community, which may be susceptible to violent ideologically-based extremism and then use a full-spectrum approach guided by an intelligence-led strategy…” [Link]

“We want to know where the Pakistanis, Iranians and Chechens are so we can reach out to those communities,” LAPD Deputy Chief Michael P. Downing was quoted by CBS news as saying Thursday. [Link]

This plan actually makes a lot of sense to me (and doesn’t Downing seem downright neighborly?). It would be much too difficult to move all the Muslims into ghettos with well-defined boundaries. I don’t think Homeland Security has that kind of budget (yet). Why not use GIS data and other high tech strategies to simply make a virtual map of Muslims? I mean, Google Map already has overlays for satellite imagery, traffic, and street view. It wouldn’t be hard for Google to simply add a “Muslim neighborhoods” overlay to their GoogleMaps would it?

We have learned that Muslim communities in the U.S. are mistrustful of the mainstream media. Therefore, they may turn to other sources of information for news and socialization, such as the Internet. Unfortunately, despite all of the positive aspects of the Internet, it allows those individuals and groups with ideological agendas to easily make contact with like-minded individuals and access potentially destructive information. [Link]

Holy crap. I know that Muslims read our site and socialize here with like-minded individuals through comments. Despite the fact that I like this plan I hope we aren’t getting mapped as well.

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Language-Based States (Guha Chapter 9)

[Part of an ongoing series on Ramachandra Guha's India After Gandhi. Last week's entry can be found here. Next week, we will look at Chapter 10, "The Conquest of Nature," on India's approach to development and the modernization of agriculture.]

Guha’s Chapter 9, “Redrawing the Map,” is about the early phase in the movement to establish language-based states, with particular emphasis on the south (the creation of Andhra Pradesh out of what was formerly the state of Madras), the status of Bombay vis a vis Maharashtra, and the delineation of Punjab.

As Guha points out, though reorganizing states according to language was part of the Congress plank from the 1930s, after Independence/Partition, both Nehru and Sardar Patel were strongly opposed to rushing into any reorganization of states, especially if there was a danger that such reorganizations could lead to the destabilization of the union. The logic behind this hesitation was understandable and quite sound: if the idea of “India” could be broken along the lines of religion, why not also language?

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