South Asia Theater
As of October 14, a total of 41 novelists, essayists, playwrights and poets have returned the awards they received from India's prestigious National Academy of Letters, or Sahitya Akademi, in protest what they call a growing climate of intolerance under the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Salman Rushdie condemned the wave of "thuggish violence," while fellow acclaimed novelist Nayantara Sahgal explicitly called out Modi's reigning political ideology. "The prime minister remains silent about this reign of terror. We must assume he dare not alienate evil-doers who support his ideology," she said. "Rationalists who question superstition, anyone who questions any aspect of the ugly and dangerous distortion of Hinduism known as Hindutva—whether in the intellectual or artistic sphere, or whether in terms of food habits and lifestyle—are being marginalied, persecuted, or murdered." The government has dismissed the writers' protests, accusing them of being politically motivated. “If they say they are unable to write, let them stop writing,” Culture Minister Mahesh Sharma told reporters. (Pakistan Express-Tribune, NYT, Oct. 16; BBC News, Oct. 7)
Pakistan's Supreme Court on Oct. 6 upheld the death sentence of Mumtaz Qadri, a former police guard respected within Pakistan for killing politician Salmaan Taseer over his support for a woman convicted of blasphemy. Taseer, governor of Punjar at the time of his death, was leaving a restaurant in January 2011 when he was shot and killed. Taseer had drawn ire from religious conservative groups when he took up the cause of a Christian woman sentenced to death for insulting the Prophet Muhammed. The next possible step for Qadri will be an appeal for a presidential pardon, which is unlikely to be granted.
Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on Sept. 22 rejected a UN recommendation for international involvement in its investigation into alleged war crimes. The UN released a report earlier this month finding that war crimes may have been committed during the Sri Lankan civil war, encouraging creation of a hybrid special court to handle the matter. Wickremesinghe stated there was nothing to be gained by international involvement, rejecting the idea that the inquiry would be hybrid. Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena has vowed to bring war criminals to justice, with his government announcing plans to set up a truth commission, war reparations office and commission on missing people. Despite this, members of the Tamil minority have expressed distrust in a purely domestic inquiry.
Demonstrators in Nepal gathered Sept. 21 to protest the country's new constitution, which was officially promulgated the previous day. The constitution was signed and announced by President Ram Baran Yadav, who was applauded by members of the Constituent Assembly of Nepal in Kathmandu. It was approved by the Constituent Assembly last week, following years of debate. The charter's passage has caused tensions both within Nepal and with India. It was opposed by minority groups in the southern plains, as their home provinces will be divided under its terms. India has called for the charter to be more inclusive of ethnic groups near its borders and expressed concern about continuing violence in those regions. India's Ministry of External Affairs called Ambassador Ranjit Rae to return to Delhi for consultations in light of Nepal's continuing violence.
An Indian anti-terror court on Sept. 11 convicted 12 men of various charges, including murder, in connection with the near-simultaneous bombings of seven trains in Mumbai in 2006. The men, ranging in age from late 20s to early 40s, are thought to have been members of the Students Islamic Movement of India. Prosecutors say the student organization joined with Pakistan-backed militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba (National Counter-Terrorism Center profile) to carry out the attacks, allegations the Pakistani government denies. The two groups allegedly placed eight homemade bombs on the first-class cars of several trains and in one train station, and detonated the explosives within 15 minutes of one another, resulting in 189 deaths and more than 800 injuries. Although charges were filed against the men only four months after the attack, the case took several years to resolve due to difficulties in collecting evidence. Sentencing is expected this week, with prosecutors seeking the death penalty.
India's National Investigation Agency (NIA) on Sept. 3 announced a Rs 7 lakh (approx. $10,500) bounty on Naga insurgent leader SS Khaplang in connection with an attack on an army convoy in Manipur three months ago that killed 18 soldiers. The 75-year-old rebel heads the National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Khaplang (NSCN-K), that has long waged an armed struggle for an independent Naga homeland uniting parts of Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and Assam states along with areas of Burma. In early August, India's central government signed a peace agreement with the rival NSCN-IM (Isak-Muivah, named for leaders Isak Chisi Swu and Thuingaleng Muivah). But the Khaplang faction is not yet recognizing the accord, and the bounty appears to signal Delhi's impatience—or a strategy to keep the Naga struggle divided.
The Supreme Court of Bangladesh on June 16 upheld the death sentence of Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mojaheed for war crimes committed during the 1971 War of Liberation against Pakistan. Mojaheed, the Secretary-General of Jamaat-e-Islami Party (JI) was originally sentenced by the International Crimes Tribunal Bangladesh (ICTB) on charges of kidnapping and murder during the war. Mojaheed could be hanged within months if he does not get presidential clemency or another court review.
Bangladesh on May 25 banned an Islamist militant group suspected of involvement in the murders of atheist bloggers that sparked protests in Dhaka earlier this year. The Home Ministry's move to outlaw the Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT) comes after police asked the government to ban the group. Police have also charged ABT followers with the 2013 murder of blogger Ahmed Rajib Haider. ABT is the sixth Islamist militant group to be banned in the country, which has seen a rise in militant attacks in recent years. The msot recent slaying of a blogger, which took place two weeks ago in Sylhet city, was claimed on Twitter in the name of al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS). AQIS previously claimed responsibility for the February slaying of blogger Avijit Roy in Dhaka. An Islamist has been arrested in connection with his murder but not formally charged. (Channel NewsAsia, May 25)