Friday, October 1, 2010


The Ayodhya verdict that was delivered yesterday showcased considerable maturity on the part of the Indian judiciary. I won't get into the specifics of how justice could be achieved on the issue of Babri Mosque, simply because that requires a discourse on Indian domestic politics from the 1980s onwards. Politically speaking, however, the decision to divide the land, and the manner of division, made absolute sense. Had the courts made a decision in favour of either side, there would have been violence and rioting, to say the least. A pro-Muslim decision would have been like gift wrapping more votes for the BJP, while a pro-Hindu decision would have spoiled the Congress' supposedly left-of-centre image and caused riots across the subcontinent.

My only objection to the verdict is the some of the issues on which it was based. The first question the court considered was whether Ayodhya was truly the birthplace of Ram. What business is it of the judiciary to be making statements about whether or not someplace was the birthplace of a god? It firstly assumes a belief in the divine, which strictly speaking, a secular state can not do. Secondly, it presupposes that such a divine figure had a physical birth place. Even if the court was making this decision based on theological advice from religious authorities, there is still no absolute way to prove where anybody was born, least of all for a court of law.

Secondly, it asked whether the Babri Masjid was built according to the tenets of Islam. Islam forbids the building of mosques on desecrated religious sites, which the spot in Ayodhya may indeed have been in the fifteenth century. On that count, the mosque might have been un-Islamic. However, the motivations of the Sangh Parivar in wanting to tear it down were certainly not the preservation of the true Islamic character of the mosque, so the issue should not have been treated as such. Also, it plunges the present Indian judiciary into the murky territory of litigating issues that arose literally centuries before the birth of the modern Indian state. How far back can one possibly litigate? Does this mean crimes committed in the colonial era are also for the Indian and Pakistani courts to decide on today?

The issue of Babri Masjid was deeply symbolic, and the judges in Lucknow did a good job of providing a reasonable verdict keeping mind the charged nature of the problem. However, if it had been treated like a case of disputed territory from the very beginning, rather than the ideologically-based struggle the RSS had hoped it would become, a great deal of communal tension might have been defused years ago.


I am so sick of the Dr Aafia case. I refuse to read a single more so-called news item about yet another politician jumping on the shewasinnocentUSAhatesmuslims bandwagon. She probably was innocent of the crime of which she was convicted-shooting a soldier. She probably was guilty of the crime of which she wasn't convicted-supporting Al-Qaeda. I doubt it matters one way or another whether her story is fabricated or not, since the courts have refused to try her for the terrorism allegations. The only thing worth mentioning in the entire case is that the United States ignored due process.

The fact that she was tried in a court of law although her arrest and detention were illegal and overseas shouldn't have been overlooked-by U.S. residents. For Pakistanis to be screaming themselves hoarse about a miscarriage of justice is ludicrous on several levels. For one thing, no amount of screaming in this country will make any difference to the American judiciary. For another thing, if due process for our citizens is really what anyone cares about, they should probably begin by standing up in defense of Pakistanis who have been languishing in prisons around the world since 9/11. They should probably demand that America return all the other people from this country who have suffered in the war on terror and been kidnapped or tortured by intelligence agencies without trial. They should probably make a hue and cry about all those who have lost everything at the hands of justice systems but haven't been lucky enough to be afforded the title of qaum ki beti.

Really, is this the only beti our qaum could find? Notwithstanding that Aafia Siddiqui might be innocent, this country has thousands of "daughters" who deserve justice a great deal more, by simple virtue of being Pakistani citizens and residents. However heartening it is to see our backward leadership supposedly making a stand for women's rights, it would be far more heartening to see them carry the fight to prisons where so many women are awaiting justice in our own obscenely sluggish courts. It's convenient how governments in both the East and the West decide to care about women's emancipation when it suits them; even more convenient when they find a single figurehead who will symbolize their good intentions. Not so convenient for us ordinary citizens is how quickly we are all forgotten. Do all women and illegally detained prisoners in this country need to be on the CIA radar to get attention?
The Pakistan government had a right to demand that Aafia Siddiqui be tried in court as a U.S. citizen (which she was) and be sentenced accordingly (which she was, whether anyone likes the verdict or not). The angry protestors on the streets, led by opportunistic politicians, however, have an obligation to be true to their supposed values and fight the good fight in the name of all torture, all sexism, all miscarriages of justice, all illegal detainment. We are tired of hearing the same old nonsense, and selective campaigning just won't do anymore.


I don't know anybody my age who has ever had faith in Pakistani democracy. It's a sad but true fact that those of us born post-Zia, having grown up watching the Benazir-Nawaz Sharif-Musharraf merry go round, can place little faith in concrete change. At any rate, things to seem to be getting progressively worse. It is rare to find a country where children are born to parents who remember a more liberal and tolerant society, but we are living in one of them and are used to our elders' reminisces about What Used To Be. Why do I find myself looking forward to the 2013 elections then-if they ever happen?

For someone who came out of the womb feeling cynical about our leaders, I am excited at the thought that I might be able to exercise my vote to throw a government out. Whether or not this happens remains to be seen, but the prospect is exciting. The last time the country held elections and made the tragic mistake of bringing the current regime into power, I couldn't have cared less. I was newly eligible to vote and couldn't find a single contender I wanted to see in office. This might be the case again. I'm just curious to see whether anything new comes up in the next three years. I'm curious to see whether our collective national frustration will be exercised in the voting booth rather than on the streets with bombs strapped to chests. I wonder if this is what people in real democracies feel like-do they look forward to exercising their right to try and kick someone out, rather than bringing someone in?

Sure, it might not work. Sure, the next guy might be worse, who knows. Something tells me though that Pakistanis have had enough, and no matter how hard we try, we can't ever as a nation seem to give up our obsession with politics. Bring on the elections; I think more of us might want to vote this time. We might actually have Zardari to thank for something after all-he's inspiring us to have hope in democracy long enough to see his sorry ass leave.