Dawn Editorial 10 November 2019

Babri Masjid verdict

FEW events in the history of modern India have been as polarising as the 1992 destruction of the Babri Masjid in the Hindu holy city of Ayodhya.
In an episode of unabashed ugliness, a frenzied mob of thousands of Hindu extremists — including some of the leading lights of the BJP, which now rules India — stormed the 16th-century mosque and reduced it to rubble, guided by the belief that the spot where the masjid was built was Ram Janmabhoomi, the place where Hindus believe the deity was born.
Communal riots followed the desecration of the mosque in many parts of India, while the demolition was condemned by major Muslim states.
This event has poisoned Hindu-Muslim relations in India since, and has served as a battle cry for the Hindu hard right, that has now captured state power in New Delhi.
On Saturday, the Indian Supreme Court ruled that a temple would be built on the site of the razed mosque. While the apex court did say that the demolition was illegal, by allowing the building of the temple, it has, through this verdict, indirectly supported the vandalism by the mobs. It is also a tad ironic that the decision came on the day when the Kartarpur Corridor was opened for Sikh pilgrims, indicating Pakistan’s intentions to facilitate other religious communities.
Perhaps it would have been better had the court given the site to neither side, considering the sensitivity of the matter and its impact on communal relations in India. Moreover, on matters of faith and devotion, it is best if state institutions maintain a non-sectarian outlook to ensure justice for all citizens. Looking back at the events since 1992, it can be argued that the destruction of the mosque marked the beginning of the end of the Nehruvian ideal of a secular India, and the triumphal, raucous arrival of the Sangh Parivar on the national stage. Some of the most fanatical fringes of the Hindu hard right participated in the orgy of violence in Ayodhya on that December day; today, many of these elements are in positions of great power in India.
Undoubtedly, the verdict will embolden the foot soldiers of Hindutva and send a message to India’s minorities — particularly its Muslims — that religious triumphalism and violence tactics by the majority are condoned in modern India. The Indian establishment never ceases to boast about the claim that it is the world’s ‘largest democracy’. However, the post-Babri Masjid trajectory of the country has been anything but democratic, and especially with the election of Narendra Modi, it is clear that the national narrative is being shaped by Savarkar and Golwalkar rather than Nehru and Gandhi. Now, it is for the Indian people to decide whether they wish to adopt a democratic course, or build a Hindu rashtra where minorities are either hounded out, or forced to live as second-class citizens.


Start-up potential

TWO recent events have once again brought into discussion the performance of internet-enabled start-ups: the launch by the SECP of a start-up portal to encourage innovation and the 021Disrupt conference in Karachi that offered technology entrepreneurs a rare opportunity to raise funds for their ventures from local and foreign investors. Some major investors and entrepreneurs at the conference said that this year marked a ‘watershed moment’ for Pakistani start-ups, especially in terms of funding — a claim many will vehemently contest. Sadly, when we look at the entrepreneurial ecosystem here, there is not too much to celebrate. Indeed, the number of digital start-ups has been growing for the last five years, especially since the launch of 3G/4G mobile technology. This shows that we have the ‘building blocks’, such as increasing digital penetration through smartphones, incubators, accelerators, etc. to promote the entrepreneurial ecosystem in the country. Yet we remain in the early stages — in spite of the progress made over the last several years — due to poor access to funds, as well as regulatory and financial barriers, which continue to restrain start-up growth and bar venture capitalists from entering this market.
One study shows that the majority of digital start-ups die young because of lack of access to funds they need to survive and expand. Only one out 10 firms is able to secure funding from friends, family or investors. Those that are successful in raising the money are unable to sustain their efforts for long owing to poor business and management skills and the absence of an entrepreneurial mindset, or because their ventures are replicas of successful digital business models from other countries, without factoring in local conditions. It is not only the lack of funding and unicorn ideas that are to blame. The regulatory environment isn’t favourable either. For instance, the restrictions on the flow of funds into and out of Pakistan force many to set up companies in other countries and discourage foreign venture capitalists from financing or acquiring local firms. SECP regulations are a major hurdle in actual valuation and stock allocation of start-ups and their listing on the stock exchange to secure capital. On top of that, the present unfavourable tax policies neither benefit the investors nor the start-ups. Matters will not improve and the watershed moment will not arrive unless the government makes concerted efforts to revamp the poor business environment that is debilitating for both start-ups and investors.


Torture legislation

AT a recent event in the capital, speakers from civil society, the legislature and law enforcement regretted the absence of domestic anti-torture laws. Despite endorsing the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and despite the presence of (the albeit limited) Article 14 (2) of the Constitution, which states that “no person shall be subjected to torture for the purpose of extracting evidence”, Pakistan is yet to create effective laws to put the spirit of the convention and Constitution into effect. It was only recently that the Torture and Custodial Death (Prevention and Punishment) Act, 2019, was submitted to the Senate Secretariat. If passed, the bill will criminalise torture in police custody. Unfortunately, brutality and abuse continue to be endemic in policing in this country, and are only strengthened by the lack of accountability. This was recently brought to our attention by the tragic and highly publicised death of young Salahuddin Ayubi, who was accused of theft and then tortured to death at the hands of the Punjab police. “Where did you learn to hit like that?” a bewildered Ayubi asked the official behind the camera phone that recorded his last moments. However, instead of investigating what was clear abuse of power, officials announced a ban on the use of smartphones inside police stations across the province.
In 2016, a Human Rights Watch report documented the use of torture by police officials in Pakistan and found a serious need for reform. Amongst other issues, it pointed to flaws in the colonial-era laws that govern policing and deficiencies in the training of law enforcers. Officials confessed to not knowing any way of extracting ‘confessions’ from suspects other than the use of brute force. Torture is also widespread inside prisons and is employed to subdue or punish inmates, many of whom are still awaiting trial. There is an urgent need for reform and rethinking the old ways of enforcing the law.


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