South Asia Theater
Celebrations of Muharram, the Shi'ite holy month highlighted by the Ashura festival, saw sectarian violence that left several dead across Pakistan. The government has imposed a curfew and blocked mobile phone services in the capital and nearby Rawalpindi after a Shi'ite procession in the garrison city exploded into clashes with gangs of Sunni militants Nov. 15, leaving seven dead. Three days later, a mob set shops on fire in a Shi'ite district in the northwestern town of Kohat in clashes that left a civilian and a paramilitary officer dead. The northwestern city of Hangu is also under curfew following clashes. In Karachi, a bomb attack injured two as Shi'ites were gathering at a shrine Nov. 13; a second bomb went off as rescue workers arrived, injuring six more. (Reuters, Nov. 18; Geo TV, Nov. 15; AFP, Nov. 14)
At least three are dead in clashes as opposition parties attempt to enforce a three-day general strike in Bangladesh, aimed at bringing down the government. All public gatherings have been banned in the main cities of Dhaka and Chittagong, but protesters have repeatedly defied the decree, leading to street-fighting with police and government supporters. The opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and Jamaat-e-Islam are demanding Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina install a caretaker administration to oversee the January general election. Hasina, who heads the ruling Awami League, rejects the demand. Tensions have been growing for months between the secular but increasingly authoritarian Awami League and a radicalizing Islamist opposition. (BBC News, Times of Oman, Oct. 27; Bangladesh News, Oct. 24)
The International Crimes Tribunal Bangladesh (ICTB) on Oct. 1 sentenced Salahuddin Quader Chowdhury, a member of parliament for the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), to death for war crimes committed during the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War. Chowdhury is the first member of the BNP to stand trial for war crimes under the tribunal set up by the Awami League-led government in 2010. He was found guilty on nine of 23 charges stemming from accusations regarding his role in war crimes committed by pro-Pakistan militias. Chowdhury is expected to appeal his conviction in the Supreme Court.
India's Dongria Kondh tribe have overwhelmingly rejected plans by British mining giant Vedanta Resources for an open-pit bauxite mine on their sacred lands, in an unprecedented triumph for indigenous rights on the subcontinent. Twelve Dongria villages unanimously voted against Vedanta's mine during consultations ordered by India's Supreme Court in April. The court based its ruling on the Dongria people's religious, cultural and social rights. The mine would destroy the forests and disrupt the rivers in the Niyamgiri Hills of Orissa state, which are central to the livelihood and identity of the 8,000-strong tribe. Advocates charged the mine would spell the end of the Dongria as a self-sufficient people.
A 48-hour bandh, or civil strike, called by the United Naga Council (UNC) has shut down the ethnic Naga areas of India's northeastern Manipur state, with roads blocked and most businesses closed. The UNC called the bandh to press demands for a "separate administrative set-up" for Manipur's Nagas. Amid the strike, the Kuki State Demand Committee (KSDC) announced it would launch its own 48-hour bandh in the ethnic Kuki areas of Manipur to press demands for creation of a new "Kukiland" state, to be carved out of Manipur. (PTI, Aug. 12) Meanwhile, the All Assam Adivasi Students Association (AAASA) is blocking the road linking Assam and Nagaland states to demand autonomy for the tribal peoples or adivasis whose lands straddle the border. The decision to launch the blockade came after an advasi man was killed in an armed confrontation with Nagas in June. (NNN, June 6)
An indefinite general strike in India's West Bengal state has brought production of the world-famous Darjeeling tea to a halt, threatening to send global prices soaring. The strike was called Aug. 3 by the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha (GJM) to demand independent statehood for the region's Nepali-speaking Gorkha people in the Darjeeling hill district, to be called Gorkhaland. The strike has reportedly cost the industry £1.5m already, and state authorities have flooded Darjeeling region with paramilitary troops. "Our demand for Gorkhaland is an old one, and generations of our people have fought for it," said GJM General Secretary Roshan Giri. "Now we want it because we see no future for us in West Bengal."
The recent devastating floods in the northern India state of Uttarakhand are being called a "Himalayan tsunami"—and an ominous portent for the future of the millions of people living downstream from the world's highest mountain range. The June floods may have killed as many as 6,000 people, although the majority of these are still officially considered "missing." The deluge wiped out the Hindu pilgrimage town of Kedarnath, causing damage to the 1,200-year-old temple to Shiva there. A smaller temple, built after an ancient one on the site was destroyed in a 1991 earthquake, was entirely swept away by the rain-swollen waters of the Bhagirathi River. "The Kedarnath floods may be only a small precursor to never-seen-before mega-floods," Maharaj K. Pandit, director of Delhi University's Center for Inter-disciplinary Studies of Mountain & Hill Environments, told India Today.
A counterintuitive juxtaposition of news stories. First, in ostensibly democratic India, the country's newest and largest nuclear power plant has just gone on line—despite years of angry protests by local peasants in Tamil Nadu state. The first unit at the Russian-built Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project (KNPP) and India's 21st reactor, went critical July 14, the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL) announced. Earlier this year India's Supreme Court ruled against a challenge to the opening of the plat, saying the project was for the "people's welfare." Both the Communist Party of India-Marxist-Leninist (CPI-ML) and the Tamil nationalist Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK) have pledged a new round of protests to demand it be immediately shut down.