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Prejudice, Persecution and Violence

24 June 2016 01:23 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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Violence against ‘abnormal’, ‘indecent’ and ‘alien’ norms follows an established, even respectable, pattern in many parts of the world

All over the world, minorities are under attack. One would expect mass scale migration, wider travel and work opportunities and cultural dissemination via the internet to dilute old ethnic, professional, cultural and sexual prejudices. But exactly the opposite seems to be happening. The worst part is that in some cases, the prejudice, persecution and violence are state-sponsored.   

In Bangladesh, over 50 people – atheist bloggers, members of religious minorities, foreign aid workers and a professor of English literature -- have been killed over since 2013 by religious fanatics. In the Middle East, Isis is the most visible prosecutor of minorities, but hardly the only one. Regimes such as Syria and Turkey do it routinely, if by minorities we include individuals and groups holding liberal or dissenting views on politics, culture and the arts in a list headed by race, religion and ethnicity.   
Two Hindus were recently killed in Bangladesh while in India, people are routinely killed by Hindu extremists due to religious and caste prejudices. Inter-religious marriages are a prime target. The same happens in neighbouring Pakistan. The attackers are often not terrorists but family members or neighbours.   

 In Myanmar, the newly-elected democratic government of Aung Sang Syu Kii faces the monumental task of keeping Buddhist extremists and a hard line military at bay against Muslim, Christian and other minorities. In Sri Lanka, the situation might look better at a glance, but this country has suffered several catastrophic anti-Tamil riots in the past and three rebellions suppressed at an appalling cost in human lives. If the Rajapakse regime had won recent elections, state-sanctioned actual physical attacks against Muslims and Christians as well as liberals and those with ‘unpatriotic’ views, and not just attacks on buildings, would have been a fact within a short time.   

Sexual prejudices and gender-based violence are another major area of concern worldwide, as the June 11 killing of at least 50 people at a gay event in Florida, USA, demonstrated. Despite claims that the killer was linked to Isis, it is likely that this mentally ill individual, An American Muslim born in the US, acted alone.   



While there is no conceivable way to fully protect people of whatever denomination from attacks by those mentally ill, sexual and gender based violence by organised groups of ‘sane’ people are endemic in many parts of the world, and official views are often negative. India’s Supreme Court recently upheld an ancient colonial era law which made  homosexuality a criminal offence, and Uganda (another close ally of ex-president Mahinda Rajapaksa) has made it punishable by death. In Russia, too, gay people often come under attack by hard liners.   

In the West, laws concerning gays are generally liberal, but antiquated laws still exist. It was discovered after the Florida mass killing that gay individuals could not donate blood to help the survivors.   

India has become internationally notorious because of violence against women. They cannot be classified as a minority, but it all depends on the context as they are a very vulnerable group and attacks on women are justified by perpetrators on the basis of clothes and style. After one brutal rape and murder two years ago, the police chief of New Delhi as well as an Indian minister said that women ask for trouble with ‘improper’ dress.   

This official view of women as provocateurs rather than victims prevails in many parts of the world. While the Gulf States may not want to be labelled third world due to oil money, their human rights record is abysmal, especially where women and foreign workers are concerned. Stories of abuse (sexual and otherwise) of Sri Lankan women working in the Gulf are legion. It’s very hard to file rape charges with any hope of success because the prevailing official view is that women are usually the sinners.   

Recently, a Danish woman who claimed she was drugged and raped was accused of adultery after she filed for rape. She was fined, spent three months in custody and deported. The accused, a Syrian, was given 120 lashes but that was for illicit sex and having liquor, not rape. A British woman who filed rape charges against her employer had to spend 15 months in jail. When the official view is so hard line, many cases of rape go unreported.   

Whether It’s a group of Isis or the official executioners of Iran hanging a gay man or a blogger with liberal views, or the government of Uganda threatening to hang anyone legally termed gay, or a group of villagers in India, Pakistan or Afghanistan killing a couple for adultery, the wrong caste of religion, violence against ‘abnormal’ or ‘indecent’ and ‘alien’ norms follow an established, even respectable, pattern in many parts of the world, whether the killing is done by terrorists, family members or people on the state’s pay roll. The authorities often sympathise with the persecutors. The main reason why Sri Lanka’s gays don’t come under attack is that they are invisible. Those who are visible, such as the transgender individuals, often travel in groups to avoid public ridicule and physical attack.   

A Sri Lankan policeman turned down a complaint by a university rag victim because the latter wore an ear ring. He said the raggers were justified because their victim looked like a social outcast. This may seem like a mild case by comparison but reveals a deep-seated prejudice against anything unconventional.   

Rezaul Karim Siddiquee, a Bangladeshi professor of English literature, was killed by one of his students who thought that what the professor taught at university was immoral. He was a pious Muslim who supported his village mosque with cash. His sin was to teach English literature, and the brutal murder has left the academic world numb with fear and shock, and some universities are curtailing classes which might offend the extremists.   

Only Bangladesh’s atheist bloggers were targeted first, but now foreign aid workers, non Muslims and secular thinkers are on the hit list. The government says it’s working hard to contain the extremists, but it is adopting a politically astute line – as a junior minister put it in a press interview: “These attacks are not acceptable, but at the same time we expect people to stop criticizing the Prophet Muhammad.”   

In Sri Lanka, if the power of state-sanctioned extremist groups such as Bodu Bala Sena had not been clipped, it would have been a matter of time before they too, began to unleash their fury on those ‘criticising the Buddha’s teaching.’ Whether they are offended by songs, books, ideas, sexuality, gender, caste or religion, extremists increasingly believe that minorities and dissenting individuals are fair game. The police are often prejudiced against people with unconventional appearance or views. It’s not the mentally ill Florida gunman who poses the greatest threat to vulnerable individuals and communities, horrendous as the damage he inflicted single-handedly was. It’s those citizens’ groups, or village councils, or fringe ‘political parties,’ often with the tacit approval of powerful political lobbies and governments, who attack the defenceless with impunity which pose the greatest threat. And when governments themselves legally sanction the persecution, playing judge and executioner, the prospects are frightening indeed.   

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