Monday, July 26, 2010

Barbarians who preach religion

Barbarians who preach religion
Daily Pioneer
Kanchan Gupta

Hala Jaber, who reports on West Asian affairs for The Sunday Times, recently brought us the shocking story of a teenaged Iranian girl on death row. “She was only 14 years old when she was forced into a loveless marriage with an older man,” writes Hala Jaber, “Yet within a year of her wedding Azar Bagheri had been charged with adultery and sentenced to be stoned to death.” That’s only the beginning of a tragic tale which most of us who abhor the cruel practices legitimised by sharia’h — flogging, decapitation, chopping off of limbs — would find terrifying, the stuff nightmares that make you wake up in a cold sweat are made of. Hala Jaber’s bland prose captures the tragedy best: “The sentence could not be carried out until she reached 18. So for the past four years she has been languishing on death row while courts waited for her to reach maturity.” So, here’s this teenaged girl waiting to come of age not to live her dreams but to be stoned to death.

The plight of Azar Bagheri has been brought to light by Iranian human rights activist Mina Ahadi, who says the girl — she was by no means either an adult or a woman when forced into marriage — “was denounced by her own husband, who accused her of committing adultery with two men”. Hala Jaber, quoting Ms Ahadi, says, “The teenager had been subjected to two mock stonings. On each occasion she was taken out of her cell and buried up to her shoulders in the yard of Tabriz prison, in north-west Iran, as if being prepared to be pelted to death with stones.” The girl’s lawyers haven’t given up hope: They now plan to petition the courts to show mercy on Azar Bagheri by reducing the death sentence to 99 lashes. That, then, is the quality of mercy expected from sharia’h courts in the Islamic Republic of Iran with which, ironically, we claim civilisational and cultural affinity. Any affinity that may have existed ages ago has evaporated ever since the Islamic Revolution led by Ayatollah Ruhollah Komeini; fanatical mullahs cannot be secular India’s natural allies.

Nor should we be impressed by Iran’s decision to ‘put off’ the execution of another woman, accused and not surprisingly held guilty of ‘adultery’, by stoning. Following the global condemnation of Iran’s sharia’h courts sentencing a 43-year-old mother of two children, Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, to death by stoning, the Iranian Embassy in London announced that “according to information from the relevant judicial authorities, the stoning would not go ahead”. This does not mean she will not be executed by other means: Last year, three Iranians sentenced to death by stoning were hanged instead.

Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani’s story needs to be retold if only to expose the mullahs who hold Iranians in thraldom. She has been held guilty of ‘adultery’ by a sharia’h court on the basis of a forced confession extracted under duress (which she has since retracted), punished with 90 lashes and sentenced to death by stoning. The judge has taken great care to specify that she will be buried up to her shoulders and then stones shall be hurled at her. The stones, by law, will be big enough to inflict excruciating pain but small enough not to kill her instantly. Ironically, Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani’s son and daughter have been in the forefront of the campaign against the death sentence given to her and have issued several appeals for international intervention to save their mother.

Such practices as sanctioned by sharia’h are no doubt barbaric and deserve to be condemned unequivocally. What is heartening is that an increasing number of Muslims, no doubt still in a minority within the ummah, are beginning to lend their voice to the condemnation of barbaric punishments for ‘offences’ that are often no more than mere accusations or are acts committed under duress or in certain mitigating circumstances. When Somalian sharia’h courts order the arms of young boys to be chopped off because they were caught stealing, grave injustice is done because they were hungry and stole loaves of bread or money to buy food. A faith-driven regime that cannot feed the starving masses has no right to be sanctimonious and sit in judgement.

But aren’t we who flaunt the secular credentials of the Republic of India headed the same way? Look at the atrocities being committed by khap panchayats in western Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Punjab and even in the national capital, Delhi, in the name of caste and gotra. Young men and women are being murdered in cold blood and the crimes are being glorified by the perpetrators as ‘honour killings’. What honour? Whose honour? How can bestiality have anything to do with honour?

And that’s not all. With the political class and the Government loath to act against illegal sharia’h ‘courts’ that have sprung up like so many poison mushrooms in various parts of the country lest mullahs feel upset, punishment is being meted out to ‘offenders’ in gross violating of established law of the land. It was one such ‘court’ in Kerala that ordered that the right hand of Prof TD Joseph, a professor of Malayalam at Newman’s College, Thodupuzha, be chopped off after holding him guilty of “insulting” Mohammed through “derogatory references” in a question paper he had set. The sentence was dutifully carried out by members of the Islamist organisation, Popular Front, on July 4 when Prof Joseph was waylaid while returning home from church along with his sister and mother.

Lest you think what happened in Kerala is an aberration, here’s another story from another part of the country, Katihar in Bihar, that went largely unreported by our ‘secular media’: A 35-year-old woman was stripped and whipped after she refused to oblige a similar sharia’h ‘court’ that ordered her to remarry her second husband. The illegal ‘court’ summoned the woman on July 8 and directed her to to remarry her second husband from whom she had divorced earlier. A PTI report said the woman’s first husband died four years after their marriage and later she married a man named Mohammed Islam and the couple had a son. But the marriage did not work and the couple divorced.

Recently, when her five-year-old son was down with fever, “she had to call her divorced husband as she was living in penury”. After the boy recovered, Islam left. The police say Islam and his brother Shamsuddin then went to the ‘court’, headed by a former mukhiya, Akalu. The ‘court’ ordered her to either re-marry her divorced husband or “pay money equivalent to that required for construction of a house, besides wheat and rice for the former mukhiya”. When she refused to follow the order, she was dragged to a mango grove on the outskirts of the village where she was stripped and whipped. Are we really living in a secular democracy where the law of the land prevails?

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