Bulletin (10 March 2010)



India: Crescent Over Hyderabad

Violent protest led to arrest of three rationalists in controversy over a book with Rushdie and Taslima texts

Matcha Laxmaiah, a poet, rationalist and civil rights activist in Andhra Pradesh, who is well known under the pen-name Kratikar, has been arrested in the last week of February for compiling and publishing a book with the title ‘Crescent over the World – Boon or Silent Holocaust’. The book, allegedly hurting the religious sentiments of Muslims, contains articles written by Salman Rushdie, Taslima Nasrin, Aayan Hirshi Ali, Ibn Warrack and other scholars criticising Islam. Following Krantikar’s arrest in Khammam (AP), the police also arrested Dr N. Innaiah from Hyderabad, chairman of CFI India, and Andhra Pradesh rationalist leader Subba Rao, whose names were printed as distributors in the book. Dr Innaiah, who himself has translated and published books of some of the authors concerned in Telugu earlier, denied any connection to Krantikar’s publication in a press conference, after he was released on bail on 4th March.

Krantikar did not obtain bail and is still in jail. The charge sheets against him and the two alleged distributors are expected on 11 March 2010 in Khammam.

Meantime, in Khammam, the police seized some thousand copies of the two volume book from different places. The police commissioner announced, they would try to get hold of those copies already despatched to other districts also.

The arrests followed massive and violent protests by fundamentalists in Khammam and in Hyderabad. It is alleged that the book contains excerpts from Rushdie’s Satanic Verses and Taslima Nasris’s Lajja as well as some of the controversial Danish “Mohammed-Cartoons”. The Satanic Verses are banned in India, Lajja (though claimed to be banned) is not. The issue was raised in the AP state assembly by the fundamentalist All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM, 'Council of United Muslims'). Congress Chief Minister K. Rosaiah – with an eye on the Muslim electorate – submitted to their demands and gave green light for “stern action”. Though the radical AIMIM is small in the national scale, it is wielding considerable power in Hyderabad. Base for the single seat in the Indian Parliament that they are holding since twenty five years, is their stronghold in the Charminar area of the Muslim old city of Hyderabad. Here, they have absolute majority, commanding around 75 per cent of the votes.

The AIMIM has recently made Hyderabad a dangerous place. In August 2007, three MLAs of the AIMIM led a physical attack on Taslima Nasrin with bouquets, flower pots and chairs during a book launch at the Hyderabad Press Club, organized by Dr. Innaiah.

To prevent fresh outbrakes of violence, the police sounded an alert on Hyderabad and Khammam and deployed additional forces in Hyderabad’s old city, where ‘imams’ or clerics, during their Friday sermons, condemned the author and those who supported him.

Turkey: Buried Alive for Her Family’s Honor

Medine Memi was 16 years when a family council convicted her to death in November 2009. They dug a two meter deep hole under the chicken coop at their house and forced Medine, her hands tied on her back, to sit in it. Then they buried her alive, throwing one spadeful of earth after the other down on her, till she was completely covered and the hole filled. Medine was not drugged, she died in full consciousness. She tried to scream and struggled for air. Soil filled her mouth, entered her windpipe, her gullet, her lungs and her stomach. She died a slow and gruesome death.

There is nothing left in memory of Medine’s short life, not even a photograph of hers existence. It is as if she never lived. One of ten children, she was born in Kahata in the province Adiyaman in south east Turkey and never left this place. She was not allowed to go to school. Her father and grandfather used to brutally beat her up when they suspected her to talk to village boys of her age. During her last weeks, Medine feared for her life. She sought help in the police station. She tried to lodge a complaint against father and grandfather. She begged for protection and asylum. But she was forced to go back to her tormentors. This repeated three times; after that she was not seen again. In December, a neighbor got suspicious. The authorities opened the newly cemented place under the chicken coop and found Medine’s body. They arrested her father and grandfather, but did not charge them so far.

The gruesome murder of Medine is no single case. 'Honor killings' have reached record levels in Turkey. Official government figures confirm more than 200 cases every year, half of all murders committed in the country. The estimates of human rights groups are far higher. Investigations are generally difficult; many of these murders remain family secrets. In the Kurdish dominated south east of Turkey, the region of Medine’s home province Adiyaman, the concentration of ‘honor killings’ is the highest. Decades back, Adiyaman has been a stronghold of the Islamic fundamentalist Naksibendi sect that was banned in 1925 by the founder of modern Turkey, Ataturk, but seems to gain new ground in recent years.

In 2005, with the reform of the Turkish Penal Code, life sentences for ‘honor killers’ have become mandatory. Earlier they often escaped with reduced sentences, if any, claiming they have been “provoked”. Even now, many ‘honor killers’ benefit from improper investigations and leniency of the authorities, as many police officers, prosecutors and even judges share their views. Even in prison, they still use to enjoy high respect and privileges. As a strategy, many family councils order the youngest male member to commit the murder, taking advantage of juvenile law. The government’s recent efforts to take harder legal action have resulted in a new twist: while the number of ‘honor killings’ seems to go down, a wave of ‘honor suicides’ can be observed. To escape legal prosecution, families force their victims to kill themselves.

‘Honor killings’ are committed in many countries around the world. According to UN estimates, there are more than 5000 cases every year. But that may be only the tip of the iceberg. While the majority of them seems to have a fundamentalist Islamic background, similar barbaric traditions are active among Hindus, Sikhs and Christians (for example in Sicily).

Italy: Recession Gloom sparks Astrology Boom

As Italy is struggling to cope with its worst recession since the Second World War, a new study by the European Consumers Association reveals that Italians are increasingly relying on astrologers and fortune tellers rather than bankers to get advice in financial matters. With unemployment and worry about the state of the economy on the rise, the annual budget for magical remedies is touching 6 billion euros, says the study that has been carried out in cooperation with Telefono Antiplagio, a voluntary service that collects reports from victims of con artists.

It’s roaring business for the estimated 20,000 wizards in the country, who make their living out of the widespread superstition and gullibility of their fellow citizens. According to the study, each day more than 30,000 Italians – 53 per cent of them women - shed away money for occult services. The usual fees being some 50 euros, prices are going up to about 600 euros. The poor and under-developed south is the most superstitious part of the country, but the wealthy northern and central regions are spending most generously on occultist financial advice. The Lombardy including Italy’s financial capital Milan tops the list with 90 million euro per year, closely followed by Lazio, the region around Rome.

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