Wednesday, September 30, 2020

US Presidential Elections: Effect of Modi-Trump Relationship on Voters

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Vanshita Banuana

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US Presidential Elections: Effect of Modi-Trump Relationship on Voters


Global Views 360

Publication Date

September 30, 2020


President Trump and Prime Minister Modi in India-US bilateral meeting

President Trump and Prime Minister Modi in India-US bilateral meeting | Source: Twitter

With the US Presidential Elections scheduled to happen in just over a month, an important voter pool is emerging into the limelight for both contesting parties. The Indian American diaspora, one of the largest Asian American populations and a large pool of potential voters, currently stands at a crossroads. They face a choice that has been brought about by their unique connection to two men: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and American President Donald Trump.

President Trump in India during Namaste Trump | Source: Twitter

Both have a lot in common, and both have definitely tried to capitalise on that. Trump and Modi have held rallies in each other’s country, which has influenced voters in both countries and drawn out massive crowds. An estimated 50,000 Indians gathered in Houston in September 2019 to attend Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “Howdy Modi” rally, reportedly the largest-ever gathering of a foreign political leader in the USA. Trump received the gift of a crowd over twice as large as that at Modi’s Namaste Trump rally in Gujarat in February 2020.

Indian American voters have historically tended to vote for the Democratic Party: as recently as the 2016 elections, a large majority voted for Hillary Clinton. While that may remain true for the younger voters, the older generation seems to be leaning more to the right, as events in the homeland have led to majoritarian and communal support for the authoritarian PM Modi.  Al Mason, who works with the Trump Victory Indian American Finance Committee, claimed to have conducted an analysis of voter sentiments in the states of Michigan, Texas, Virginia and Pennsylvania. According to him, a “mass exodus” can be expected: hundreds of thousands of Indian American potential voters switching sides to favour Trump.

The worsening and brutal situation in Kashmir, increasingly polarised religious tensions between Hindus and Muslims, as well as increase in lynchings against Dalits and other oppressed castes is becoming an important driving force for Indian diaspora in deciding who to vote for. Trump’s Islamophobic and anti-China sentiments may be striking a cord with the Indian American diaspora, since most of them are uppercaste, affluent Hindus— mirroring the political majority in India. Additionally, at least some Indian Americans are surely misconstruing Democrats’ criticism of Modi’s policies as a criticism of India— especially when it comes from Indian American members of the House of Representatives— leading them to feel defensive towards both.

Indian American Trump supporters are rallying strongly behind him, with organisations such as The Texas India Forum and Hindus4Trump claim to possess a large pool of funds and members geared towards making Trump 2020 a reality.

On the other hand, concerns regarding visas and green cards seem to be diminishing among the Indian diaspora already settled in America, despite the mounting pressure from Trump’s largely white and Christian base to keep cracking down on immigration. Indian origin supporters of Trump, in India as well as the USA, seem convinced that the visa reforms will eventually work out in their favour. It isn’t hard to see that given the massive amount of support Trump receives from (and provides to) white supremacists, it would actually be in the best interests of Indian Americans to not vote for him.

Biden’s recent decision to choose Kamala Harris as his running mate for Vice President could prove to be an important aspect for Indian American voters. Harris is of South Indian ancestry from her mother’s side, and being one of the first South Asian women to be on the ticket for a position of major power has the potential to influence voters who want to see more representation on the political stage. You can read more in our deep dive on Kamala Harris, including her views and policies regarding India, here at Kamala Harris: A Look At Joe Biden’s Running Mate.

In response to Harris becoming running mate and the praise it received from Indians, Trump released a commercial showing him and Modi together, and applauding the support Trump receives from Indian Americans. Democrats are also ramping up their efforts and releasing targeted advertisements in multiple languages. Biden and his senior advisors addressed the community on August 15, Indian Independence Day; a month before that the Democratic National Committee Chairman addressed a virtual gathering of 800 Indian American prospective voters along with a former ambassador to India.

While there are quite a few who support one but denounce the other, the similarities between Modi and Trump lead to a general trend of supporting one invariably leading to support for the other, and vice-versa. Both Democrats and Republicans recognise the precarious position that Indians all over the world, including in the United States, are in right now; opinions are shifting and solidifying, and performance of this particular demographic in the upcoming election could very well surprise the community itself.

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July 19, 2021 12:00 PM

The Blasphemy Law of Pakistan and its Implications

In Pakistan, Blasphemy results in a capital punishment in majority of cases. It is perhaps considered a crime worse than terrorism. A crucial case in point is the fact that the Pakistan’s Anti-Terrorism Court gave around 15 years jail term to two close aides of Hafiz Saeed—chief of the terrorist organization—Lashkar-e-Taiba—and mastermind behind 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks—where at least 150 innocent people lost their lives.

Similarly, Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi—Lashkar-e-Taiba’s operation commander and another important figure involved in the 2008 Mumbai attack—was sentenced to 15 years in jail period. Not to mention—this happened amidst the international pressure on Pakistan for letting terrorists to function and roam freely within their country.

While something as violent as terrorism is dealt with lenient punishments, there are draconian laws for blasphemy in the country. Moreover, one can be accused of committing blasphemy—doesn’t matter if they did it or not—and might not even face a fair trial.

This article discusses what are the blasphemy laws and what are their implications while looking at some specific cases.

What are Pakistan’s Blasphemy laws?

What's called Blasphemy law today has its origins in the colonial era. The “offences relating to religion” were introduced by British in 1860, and were later expanded in 1927. These were sections 295 and 295-A from the Indian Penal Code. The laws were made to avoid religious disturbances, insult religious beliefs, or intentionally destroy or desecrate a place or an object of worship. Under the 295 and 295-A, the convicted were to be given a jail term from one year to ten years—with or without a fine.

Pakistan ended up inheriting these laws after the partition of India in 1947.

The laws were amended in 1982 and another clause was added which prescribed life imprisonment for desecration of the Quran intentionally. Another clause was added in 1986 to punish blasphemy against the Prophet Muhammad through imprisonment for life or death. These clauses, were added under General Zia-ul-Haq’s military regime, in an order to make the laws more “pro-Islam.”

Since then, this law has often been used to persecute people from minority communities—such as the Ahmadiyas, Shias, Christians, and Hindus—they have been accused of blasphemy without much evidence.

Infamous cases and implications of blasphemy in Pakistan

One of the famous cases was of Asia Bibi, which grabbed international attention as well. Asia Noreen—known as Asia Bibi—was a Pakistani Christan and a farm laborer in Punjab province. Her husband, Ashiq Masih, was a brick laborer. A dispute with her Muslim neighbours turned into an accusation of blasphemy—leading to her arrest and imprisoned. There were a lot of protests in Pakistan, demanding death penalty for Asia Bibi.

Two politicians—Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti—who supported and tried to help Asia Bibi, were murdered. Taseer was shot by his own bodyguard named Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri in broad daylight. Qadri was tried and sentenced to death. He was executed in 2016. Mumtaz Qadri became a hero for millions and hardliners praised him as a martyr. He is regarded as a saint and a mausoleum has been built over his grave in his village near Islamabad, where even devotees come to offer prayers.

Asia Bibi was first sentenced to death by a trial court in 2010, however was later acquitted by the Supreme Court in a historic judgement of 2018. In 2019, Pakistan’s Supreme Court ruled that she was free to leave Pakistan and was given asylum in Canada where she moved along with her family.

Although after a long struggle, Asia Bibi still got justice and was able to start a new life—unfortunately many others didn’t. Many met with Mob Justice.

In 2017, a journalism student at a Pakistani University was lynched to death by fellow students in Mardan—in the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The student—Mashal Khan—was a Shia Muslim and was falsely accused of blasphemy. The mob was enraged by a rumour according to which he had promoted the Ahmadi faith on Facebook. In a similar instance, a man named Tahrir Ahmad Naseem was killed by vigilantes in July last year for blasphemy. He was a former Ahmadi, and was in Peshawar Central Jail since 2018 for claiming to be a prophet. He was shot dead inside the courtroom during trial in the Peshawar Judicial Complex.

Furthermore, in a case similar to that of Asia Bibi, a Christian couple—Shahzad and Shama Maseeh—were accused of blasphemy as well. They were then beaten and burned alive by a mob in 2014. Shama was four months pregnant. The mob, which also included a local cleric, believed that the couple had burned some pages of the Quran along with some rubbish, although the couple’s family still denies this. Five people including the cleric were sentenced to death, while the eight others were given two years imprisonment.

Last year, former Foreign and Defense Minister Khawaja Asif as well was accused of blasphemy for merely stating that “all religions are equal.”

Why is this happening?

According to data by Pakistan’s Centre for Social Justice, there have been 1549 known cases of serious blasphemy in the years 1987-2017, out of which 720 were Muslims, 516 Ahmadis, 238 Christians, 31 Hindus, and the rest 44 are unknown. 75 out of the total cases ended in the person being murdered before their trial.

There are 13 countries in the world which punish blasphemy by death penalty and Pakistan happens to be one of them. But unlike countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia where they are executed judicially—as mentioned earlier—accused in Pakistan are often killed in mob violence or assassination. While Saudi Arabia and Iran continue to top in terms of the highest number of executions, most of them for sacrilege or crimes against Islam, Pakistan’s total ‘judiciary’ killings stand at zero.

The problem of this mob mentality in Pakistan, especially when it comes to religion, is actually deeply rooted in its constitution. The country’s aspiration to become a democracy as well as an Islamic state is in itself contradictory. The people want the right to freedom and expression and the hanging of a person committing blasphemy at the same time. The constitution denies criticism of Islam while claiming to allow freedom of speech and religion. The elevation of one religion over others in itself is principally undemocratic.

Another interesting point is the fact that the people supporting these ideas haven’t been aware of how things can backfire. Muhammad Din Taseer—father of Salman Taseer—supported Ilam Din, who murdered a Hindu publisher over blasphemy in 1929. An ancestor’s support for radicalism ended up in his own offspring being assassinated in the name of blasphemy.

Mental illness and blasphemy

In Pakistan, often some mentally ill people are punished to death by mobs for unknowingly ‘committing’ blasphemy. In 2012, a man widely reported by the media and police as ‘mentally unstable’ was arrested for blasphemy in Bahawalpur district, Punjab province. A mob gathered outside the police station, dragged him outside, and burned him to death. There have also been cases of misuse where such vulnerable individuals were subjected to sexual abuse and later accused of blasphemy by the abusers to cover up their crimes.

Such abuses towards mentally unsound people would have been a criminal case and the abusers would have been punished—unless they use the blasphemy law—as the mentally unstable victim cannot defend themselves.

Role of Anti-Terrorism courts

Pakistan’s Anti-Terrorism courts were set up to ensure quick justice in cases such as terrorism, sectarian violence, targeted political killings, hijacking, kidnapping, extortion and even arms trafficking. Earlier gang rape was also included in it—but removed later.

They are also key to controlling mob attacks on blasphemy accused as such trials are held here.

Yet, these courts have been facing several problems due to lack of basic resources and understaffing. The posts of judges often remain vacant for months, and the state prosecutors complain of poor working conditions—with no offices, stationery, clerical staff or legal resources. These problems may have risen due to the fact that there are not sufficient funds allotted for the ATC infrastructure, one of the major challenges in Pakistan’s legal system. Due to this, these courts are not able to fulfill their primary objective—to provide ‘quick’ justice.

Moreover, these courts lack independence and are vulnerable to political influence—the judges are held accountable to the executive. Sometimes the witnesses often refuse to testify against the accused, as they fear assassination by terrorist groups the accused belongs to. The judges, state prosecutors and others also have personal security concerns which also lead to delays in trials.

Also, these courts deny terrorism suspects the right to equality before the law. They are not even tried in a public place with full defense and are not presumed innocent. Peshawar High Court advocate Ghulam Nabi even challenged the Anti-Terrorism (Amendment) Ordinance 2009 under Article 199 of the constitution in December 2009, saying that it violated basic human rights.

The blasphemy laws of Pakistan need to be repealed in today's Global civic society. People are fighting for equality everywhere around the globe. And now it is up to Pakistan to choose—whether to become a democracy or continue with a pseudo-democratic authoritarian regime which is based on extremist interpretation of religion.

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