Wednesday, January 26, 2011

NGOs in Haiti: "The Handmaidens of Imperial Domination"

NGOs in Haiti: "The Handmaidens of Imperial Domination"

An Interview With Ashley Smith

By Mike Whitney

January 26, 2010 "Information Clearing House" -- MW--In your article in CounterPunch titled "Haiti and the Aid Racket", you said that "The catastrophe in Haiti has revealed the worst aspects of the U.S. government and the NGO aid industry". Can you explain what you mean?

Ashley Smith---After the earthquake, the imperial powers and international NGOs collected billions of dollars with the promise that they would provide relief for Haiti's quake victims and then rebuild the country. Today, even mainstream figures are profoundly critical of what the U.S. and the NGOs have done. For example, Ricardo Seitenfus, the special representative from the Organization of American States (OAS) to Haiti, told the Swiss daily Le Temps, "If there is failure of international aid, it is Haiti."

For that moment of honesty, the OAS fired Seitenfus. But he was right. Today, there are still over 810,000 people, essentially quake refugees, trapped in 1,150 tent camps in and around Port-au-Prince. Only 15 percent of the promised transitional housing has been built. Astonishingly only 5 percent of the rubble has been removed. And there has been next to no reconstruction.

The U.S. is principally to blame for this failure. Initially the Obama Administration used the cover of humanitarianism to deploy 20,000 troops and 17 naval ships to bolster the UN occupation in policing desperate people and preventing an exodus of refugees. This military response, as Doctors without Borders complained at the time, actually interfered with the distribution of humanitarian aid. Once it did turn to relief and reconstruction, it set up the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission (IHRC) under its control, which garnered promises of $10 billion in donations from the imperial powers. The IHRC, however, has only collected 10 percent of the promised sums. When and if they do collect the donations, the U.S. aims to implement a neoliberal plan of to exploit Haiti's cheap labor in sweatshops, export-oriented plantations, and tourist resorts. So what they claim to be an effort, in IHRC co-chair Bill Clinton's words, an "effort to build back better" is actually a ruse for the exploitation of Haiti.

The international NGOs' record is almost as abysmal. To be clear, some have done invaluable work, especially Partners in Health. But on the whole, the NGOs have failed the Haitian people. The NGOs have not spent the enormous sums of money they collected. The Red Cross, for instance, garnered $479 million in donations for Haiti, but has only spent or committed $245 million to projects. The NGOs do not coordinate their relief efforts. They are engaged in capitalist competition with one another for funds and are pre-occupied with branding their separate efforts so that they can advertise their "successes" to their donors. As a result, the NGOs provide at best provide a chaotic jumble of services to quake victims. At worst, they are sitting on piles of cash.

In truth, the U.S., its allies, and NGO surrogates have overseen and in many cases caused worsening conditions in Haiti worse over the last year. The failure of reconstruction left hundreds of thousands trapped in camps, vulnerable to storms, disease, and violence brought on by desperate conditions. On top of that, the UN occupation forces, specifically a contingent of Nepalese soldiers, most likely introduced cholera that has now become a countrywide epidemic, killing thousands and infecting hundreds of thousands more. The U.S. then precipitated a political crisis by pushing for parliamentary election to give a democratic veneer to American neocolonial rule. The election was a sham; it excluded the country's most popular political party, Fanmi Lavalas, and was marred by massive fraud and a contested outcome. Finally, like a nightmare, the former dictator, "Baby Doc" Duvalier, has returned to the country from exile, throwing the country into political chaos.

MW---Professor David Harvey says that NGOs act as "Trojan horses for neoliberal globalization." Do you agree with Harvey and, if so, would you elaborate?

Ashley Smith---Let's be clear first that NGOs form a big range of groups, from reformist organizations to large international humanitarians ones and others that are essentially appendages of various state powers, both major and minor. Some reformist NGOs have played a significant role in the World Social Forum and others are clearly on the side of neoliberal globalization. Harvey is absolutely correct about the role of the international NGOs. There is an insidious relationship between them, U.S. imperialism and neoliberal globalization.

After the economic crisis of the 1970s, the U.S. abandoned Keynesianism, whose emphasis on state-led development had failed, and adopted market fundamentalism, aka neoliberalism, at home and abroad to restore profits and growth in the system. In the U.S. the ruling class busted unions, cut the welfare state, and deregulated the economy. Internationally, as Walden Bello documents in Dark Victory, the U.S. used the debt crisis to compel third world countries to open up their markets, abolish regulations on foreign and domestic capital, privatize state industry, and shred state-run social programs.

Neoliberalism worked for the capitalist class, restoring profit and growth—however uneven—in the world system. But neoliberalism exacted an enormous social price everywhere. In the third world, it dislocated peasants, impoverished workers, and created enormous slums in many parts of the world. On top of that, the hollowing out of the states left many countries unable to provide services, regulate capital, or respond to natural and social crises.

The imperial powers, International Financial Institutions, and corporate foundations diverted their money from third world states to NGOs to fill the vacuum. In this way, the NGOs have actually accelerated the opening up of third world economies. In an apt phrase, David Harvey calls the process "privatization by NGO."

MW---Do the big NGOs see natural disasters as a "growth industry" or is their interest strictly humanitarian?

Ashley Smith---In reality the answer is both. They are part and parcel of what Naomi Klein has called disaster capitalism. International NGOs are really businesses and big ones at that. There are about 50,000 international NGOs that compete for about $10 billion in funding from the International Financial Institutions, the imperial powers, and local governments. Just like corporations, they have chief executive officers, boards made up of mainly capitalists, a middle class professional staff, and then down at the bottom poorly paid laborers in their countries of operation.

These NGOs raise their funds by highlighting problems in the third world especially catastrophes like the earthquake in Haiti, branding their relief projects, and then advertising their efforts to imperial, corporate, and individual donors to raise more money. They are in the business of poverty and disaster management. A couple of people in the international NGOs actually told me that when the earthquake struck in Haiti some NGO bureaucrats, excited with the new prospects of fundraising, celebrated the disaster as if they had struck oil.

As capitalist entities they affirm and exacerbate the class division in the societies in which they operate. Anthropologist Mark Schuller describes their impact in Haiti. He writes: "In addition to higher salaries, NGO employees have access to many privileges: clean drinking water, electricity to charge cell phones, e-mail and the ever-prized U.S. visa. These privileges in turn plug individuals into the global economy. People's first visits to the U.S. solidified neoliberal ideologies. This artificial, dependent middle class--the "NGO class"--thus directly support a form of economic globalization, accomplishes ideological work and further stratifies the Haitian population, selecting a chosen few for privileges denied Haiti's poor majority."

For all their professed humanitarianism, these NGOs in no way solve the ongoing crisis and at best mitigate the disaster in societies where they operate. Since they are inter-twined with neoliberal capitalism, they cannot and will not challenge the systemic roots of third world poverty that turn natural disasters into social catastrophes. They are in fact complicit with the problem. Thus, they do a booming business putting band-aids on the mortal wounds their neoliberal donors inflict. Haiti is the paradigmatic example. As Haiti spirals into greater poverty NGOs have exploded to over 10,000 across the country. The worse the conditions have gotten, the more NGOs have sprouted up, in a cycle of growing needs ever more inadequately met.

MW---Why has it been so hard to make progress in addressing the basic needs of the Haitian people? Is it a question of funding, logistics, access to heavy equipment, politics or something else?

Ashley Smith----It is really not a technical or logistics problem at all. Nor is it a problem with the Haitian people, as racists often argue. As Alex Dupuy documents in his brilliant book, Haiti and the World Economy, the fault of the Haitian underdevelopment lies with the Haitian ruling class and imperialism. After the Haitian Revolution in 1804—the first successful slave revolution in history—the new Haitian ruling class tried to maintain plantation farming for export to the world market. But the freed slaves fled the plantations to become peasants farming for subsistence and small-scale export. Unable to sustain their capitalist plantations let alone industrialize the society, the ruling class split into two parts—urban merchants and rural land barons, both parasitic on the domestic peasant majority and dependent on international capitalism.

Imperialism, however, was and is the central cause of Haiti's underdevelopment. The imperial powers—all slaveholders at the time—were terrified by the threat of the Haitian Revolution. They initially imposed an economic embargo on the fledgling society and then trapped Haiti in debt. In return for recognition of the country in 1825, France forced Haiti to pay 150 million francs, the equivalent today of $21 billion, in compensation for the loss of its slaves. Thus France structurally adjusted Haiti at its birth. As the rising imperial power in the region, the U.S. developed a predatory relationship to Haiti, invading and occupying several times at the end of the 19th century to ensure debt repayments. It occupied the country from 1915 to 1934, repressing the population and setting up the dreaded Haitian Armed Forces. Later it backed the Duvalier family dictatorship as an anticommunist ally against Castro in Cuba.

At the end of the 1970s, the U.S. convinced Baby Doc to implement a neoliberal plan to open up Haiti to American agribusiness, build sweatshops for the multinational textile industry, and set up swank tourist resorts for yuppies. Impoverished and fed up, the Haitian peasants, workers and urban poor rose up in the mass movement, Lavalas, that drove Baby Doc from power and then elected Jean-Bertrand Aristide President in 1990 on a program of social reform. The U.S. responded by backing the Haitian ruling class in two coups, one in 1991 and another in 2004. Their aim was to repress the mass movement and block the attempt to use the Haitian state to improve conditions for the country's masses. Since 2004, it has maintained a UN occupation in the country to police resistance, while it has tried to impose the same old economic plan.

MW---Author Mike Davis says that NGOs are a form of "soft imperialism." If he's right, then the work of the thousands of NGOs in Haiti could be seen as a form of occupation? Your thoughts?

Ashley Smith---He's absolutely right about the international NGOs. In the past, imperialism used religious institutions as a means to justify conquest, colonization and plunder as a civilizing mission—they were bringing the light of Christianity to the heathen masses. Today while the imperial powers plunder the third world, they funnel money into NGOs to make it seem like they are interested in aiding the very people they are robbing and exploiting. Haiti is perhaps the worst example of this process. While the U.S. imposed neoliberal plans that impoverished the people, it poured money into NGOs, cultivating the self-congratulatory illusion that it is helping Haiti.

Just like the religious institutions of the past, the NGOs are part and parcel of imperial domination of third world countries. In Haiti, for example, 70 percent of the NGO funding comes from the U.S. state. As a result, they become vehicles for control through provision of the societies in which they operate. As Peter Hallward argues, "the bulk of USAID money that goes to Haiti and to other countries in the region is explicitly designed to pursue interests--the promotion of a secure investment climate, the nurturing of links with local business elites, the preservation of a docile and low-wage labor force, and so on."

Perhaps one of the worst impacts of the NGOs is how they have become a vehicle for the cooptation of the indigenous resistance. As Mike Davis puts it in Planet of Slums, "Third World NGOs have proven brilliant at co-opting local leadership as well as hegemonizing the social space traditionally occupied by the Left. Even if there are some celebrated exceptions—such as the militant NGOs so instrumental in creating the World Social Forums—the broad impact of the NGO/'civil society revolution"…has been to bureaucratize and de-radicalize urban social movements."

MW---To what extent are NGOs being used to usurp the power of the state? Do they pose a direct threat to Haiti's sovereignty?

Ashley Smith---This is the most insidious face of the imperial use of NGOs in Haiti. As I noted earlier, even before the earthquake, imperial and corporate donors were bypassing the Haitian state to give money directly to international NGOs. They thus exacerbated the gutting of the Haitian state so much so that Haitians now refer to their own country as ruled not by their own government but by a "Republic of NGOs."

That phrase captures how Haiti has lost its sovereignty. But the reality is even worse than the phrase implies. The NGOs are not part of any republic; they are not democratically accountable to the Haitian people or even its government, but to international donors. And they are not truly non-governmental. They are in fact so dependent on imperial powers for their donations that they are better thought of as subsidiaries of those governments.

In reality, the NGOs are part of how U.S. imperialism rules Haiti today as a neocolony. It uses the UN occupation force as its repressive arm. And it uses NGOs to oversee social services. The combination of the UN and the NGOs undercut any notion that the Haitian state let alone its people control their own country.

MW---What is the relationship between the Pentagon and the NGOs?

Ashley Smith----Historically, NGOs had an established doctrine of neutrality in conflicts and refused to endorse imperial intervention. However, as Conor Foley documents in The Thin Blue Line: How Humanitarianism Went to War, many of the big NGOs like Doctors Without Borders have abandoned that stance and call for imperial intervention. They are thus handmaidens of imperial domination.

In Haiti, the U.S. deliberately used willing NGOs as allies in their destabilization and eventual overthrow of the Aristide government. The U.S. imposed an aid embargo to prevent Aristide from implementing any social reforms. They then channeled money through USAID into NGOs. Many of these NGOs would line up with the ruling class opposition, the Group of 184, some even backed the U.S.-backed death squads, and others supported the U.S. coup.

Today, Haiti is a neocolony of the United States. The U.S. has effective state power through the UN occupation. It controls its economy through IHRC. It dominates almost every aspect of civil society through its NGO raj. For all these reasons former OAS representative Ricardo Seitenfus said the UN was "transforming the Haitians into prisoners on their own island."

Ashley Smith writes for the Socialist Worker. He can be reached at:

Mike Whitney lives in Washington state and can be reached at

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Sindh's Stolen Brides

On the other side of the Thar, Hindus, especially girls, are forced into Islam

Mariana Baabar

January 23, 2006

Pakistan's minorities record is truly appalling. Sadly, Musharraf is doing nothing to right it.
Amir Mir

Hindus In Pakistan
  • Hindus constitute about 2.5 per cent, or 26 lakh, of Pakistan's population.
  • Though sprinkled all over Pakistan, 95 per cent of Hindus are in Sindh.
  • Only Tharparkar district in Sindh has Hindus in majority: 51 per cent.
  • Other districts with sizeable population: Mirpur Khas (41 per cent), Sanghar (35 per cent), Umerkot (43 per cent)
  • Nearly 82 per cent of Pakistani Hindus are lower caste, most of them farm labourers
  • Cities with some Hindu population: Karachi, Hyderabad, Jacobabad, Lahore, Peshawar and Quetta.
  • In Tharparkar, Hindus own land. Krishen Bheel, Gyan Chand and Ramesh Lal are the Hindus in the Pakistan National Assembly.
Let me confess at the outset: I'm travelling in interior Sindh to verify specifically the reported widespread menace of abduction of Hindu girls, their forcible conversion to Islam and betrothal to Muslim men. My first port of call is the district court of Mirpur Khas. I promptly mingle among the crowd waiting for the court's decision on a kidnap-and-conversion case. Different voices narrate contradictory stories. I am befuddled for the moment.

Soon, a frisson of excitement sweeps through the throng, as a police van drives through the gate. Inside it is Mariam. She's 13 years old—and married! Mariam was Mashu, and Hindu, till the night of December 22, 2005. I pick my way through the jostling crowd. Mariam is in a red burqa, her gold nose ring sparkles. She tells me, "I'm happy. I don't want to return to my parents or brother." What's the fuss about, I wonder.

It's quite another story under the pipal tree of the court compound. Huddled under it are the villagers of Jhaluree, 20 km from Mirpur Khas. Among them is Mashu's father, Malo Sanafravo. He says that at 11 pm, December 22, four armed men barged into their room. One of them was Malo's neighbour, Akbar. They picked up Mashu, bundled her into the waiting car. "She was taken to Pir Ayub Jan Sarhandi's village in Somarho tehsil." There Mashu became Mariam and was married to Akbar.

Not true, insists husband Akbar. "Mariam has been always in my heart," he gushes, saying, at 11 pm, December 22, it was she who had come over to his house. But it's true that the Pir converted her and married them—it was his idea that they issue statements in the court. "Mariam was sent to Darul Aman in Hyderabad, in judicial custody," Akbar declares.

A 13-year-old choosing to convert and marry? A 13-year-old testifying in the court, without her family by her side? Suspicious, I walk over to the SHO, caught in the middle of a heated exchange between two groups. Someone suggests he should allow the girl to meet her relatives. Before the conversion yes, not now. She has now become Muslim, says the SHO. He argues, "There's a huge crowd here. If Mariam breaks down after seeing her father, there will be a communal riot here in the compound."

A little later, there are celebrations as the word spreads: the court has allowed the couple to live together. Standing next to me is Kanjee Rano Bheel. He works for an NGO in the education sector; volunteers for the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) as well.

"In just two hours Mashu was converted and married," Kanjee says incredulously. Disappointment and helpless rage fleet across his face. "In Darul Aman the girls are kept away from parents and pressured into issuing statements favourable to the abductors. They tame stubborn girls through death threats."

So, was Mashu abducted and forcibly converted?

In Mirpur Khas, truth resembles the mirage of the surrounding Thar desert, teasing and tormenting me as I drive from Karachi into interior Sindh. It tests your credulity, it challenges your journalistic skills. Wherever I go, and whoever I meet, in disconsolate voices the Hindus talk about 'missing girls'; their stories resemble Mashu's—the theme of abduction, conversion, often followed by marriage, is common to most narrations. The girls then appear in courts to issue statements declaring their conversion was voluntary. All links to the natal family and the community are severed; they are lost to the family forever. On January 4, 2005, Marvi, 18, and Hemi, 16, were kidnapped from Kunri village in Umerkot district; three months later, on March 3, 14-year-old Raji was abducted from Aslam Town Jhuddo, Mirpur Khas. The script in their cases was similar to Mashu's. "Only 10 per cent of all conversions involving girls are voluntary; because of romance," says Kanjee.

Ten per cent of what? No official figures are available. The DIG in Mirpur Khas, Saleemullah, says, "If there's need I'll collect these figures. Minorities are the safest in Pakistan."

Members of the Hindu Bheel community show photos of girls who they say have been kidnapped and converted

Saleemullah, perhaps, should tap the HRCP for statistics. Its director in Lahore, I.A. Rehman, is an honourable man. Rehman told Outlook that the HRCP has, between Jan 2000 to Dec 2005, documented 50 cases involving conversion of Hindu girls to Islam. Its investigations too endorse what I had found in interior Sindh. In many cases where it was claimed the girls had eloped with their Muslim partners, the HRCP found that most were, in fact, abducted, forcibly married to Muslim men or sold to them. There have been cases of Hindu girls, usually from economically better off families, eloping with their Muslim boyfriends. Rehman says in most cases such marriages didn't last long. With links to their families cut off, the girls were subsequently forced to marry another Muslim or sucked into marriage rackets.

Nuzzhat Shirin, who works for the Lahore-based ngp Aurat Foundation, understands why the girls don't reveal their plight at the time they are presented in court. "When a Hindu is forced to become Muslim, such a ruckus is made that if the young kidnapped girl appears in court, the fanatics yell, scream, throw rose petals in the air and follow the youth into the building so that she's intimidated and can't speak," Shirin explains.

Social stigma arising from the loss of virginity, and the consequent difficulty of finding a groom, prompt these women to accept their misfortune—and hope for the best.

Fifty incidents in five years represents just a percentage of the total number of cases, says Kanjee, pointing out that a majority of such crimes go unreported. "There have been 50 such incidents last year," insists Krishen Bheel, who is a Hindu member of the National Assembly (MNA), the Pakistani equivalent of the Lok Sabha. He begins to rattle out the cases he remembers: two months back Sapna was kidnapped and converted in upper Sindh; seven months earlier it was 17-year-old Lakshmi in Nawkot, and then.... "The trend is increasing," he says. "If these conversions are voluntary, then how come boys rarely ever convert?"

Hindu women in Somarho who have been converted to Islam by Pir Ayub Jan Sirhandi

Only once did the popular resentment against abduction spill out in the streets of Mirpur Khas. It was in the '80s: a girl named Sita had been kidnapped. Some 70,000 Hindus turned up to protest the kidnapping. The police opened fire, killing several. "Sita was never returned," Krishen laments. "She had even told Justice Dhorab Patel, who later joined the HRCP, that she had been forcibly converted. We have now stopped agitating."

Instead, the Hindus take the support of civil rights groups and the media to publicise abduction cases, hoping public scrutiny would goad the state into action.

On Dec 30, the day after the Mariam case was disposed, the Supreme Court took cognisance of the complaint Qosheela's parents from Ghotki, Sindh, had filed. They claimed their 13-year-old girl had been kidnapped, converted, given the name of Hajra and married to a Muslim man. The girl, as in most other cases, had said she had converted of her own free will. A three-member bench, headed by Chief Justice Iftiqar Muhammad Chaudhry, ordered the medical examination of the girl to determine whether she had attained puberty (Islam permits marriage at that age). Should it be proved otherwise, the husband could be tried for rape.

Even cities are not immune to the menace. Last year, Sammo Amra and Champa in Karachi received a letter from their three missing daughters—Reena (21), Reema (17) and Usha (19)—informing that they had converted to Islam and were ordained under the dictates of their new religion not to live with infidels, including their Hindu parents. The letter bore the address of Madrassa Taleemul Islam, Karachi. It prompted Supreme Court Bar Association president Malik Mohammad Qayyum to petition the Supreme Court in the first week of December. He accused the religious seminary's administrator of using coercive methods to convert the three girls. On December 16, the court ordered the police to shift the girls to the Edhi Welfare Centre and provide protection to them until the time it was ascertained they had been indeed compelled to convert to Islam.

Sensitive Muslim citizens feel the way to counter the menace is to reinterpret and widen the scope of law.

Major (retd) Kamran Shafi, an absentee landlord from Sindh, cites the case of 17-year-old Kochlia, who was kidnapped and gangraped in Jacobabad, Sindh, in Sept 2005. Four men were arrested for the crime. They were subsequently released because Kochlia stated in the court she had converted and was married to one of them. Shafi asks, "Isn't something very, very wrong here? Suppose the poor girl was forced into changing her religion and marrying one of the assailants so that they get off the hook? Can't the state prosecute the four on its own, for their original crime of rape?"

The three Hindu MNAs—Krishen Bheel, Gyan Chand and Ramesh Lal—raised the Kochlia case in the National Assembly. They claimed Kochlia's statement was not tenable as under the local Hindu custom and law a girl can't marry of her own will until the age of 20. Since Kochlia is a minor, her abductors should be tried for rape. Such an interpretation of existing laws could provide ample relief to Hindus.

Till then, though, the fear of kidnap stalks the Hindus of Pakistan. Krishen Bheel says Hindu girls are scared to go out; he has enrolled his own children into a Christian school. He points to Mirpur Khas' strange predicament: there's freedom to worship, there are 10 temples which bustle through the day with devotees; and yet Hindu girls here are kidnapped and converted—and the community humiliated.

Perhaps these abductions are part of the general scenario of crime against women in rural Pakistan (see box). Perhaps they are converted and married to criminals to enable the latter to escape the dragnet of the law. Yet, such arguments don't comfort the Hindus. Sat Ram, of Shadi Bali village near Mirpur Khas, says Hindu girls are deprived of education because their parents are apprehensive of sending them to schools located at a distance. "They receive education only till the primary level. It isn't safe to send them to school after that."

But the plight of Hindu women can't be seen just through the prism of gender discrimination rampant in rural Sindh. Reena Gul, of Sattar Nagar village, Mirpur Khas, says the boys too are converted but their numbers are very few. The community here feels it is the Islamist's agenda to drive out non-Muslims from Pakistan. In fact, Krishen told the National Assembly that even Hindu businessmen are being kidnapped in Sindh for ransom. He said on the floor of the House, "Several religious parties are reportedly behind the move to convince the people that it is their responsibility to get rid of infidels from Pakistan, (that) taking ransom from non-Muslims is not a sin."

I now set out to meet Pir Ayub Jan Sarhandi, whose name surfaces repeatedly in conversion stories. The drive from Mirpur Khas to Sarhandi village, Somarho tehsil, is through a picturesque landscape. Peacocks dance in the field and gypsies pitch their tents for the night. Even the Pir appears tranquil, his white flowing beard and winsome disposition camouflaging his mission.

Yet, when he begins to talk, he conceals nothing. Yes, the Pir declares, he has been converting the Hindus for the last 30 years. Perhaps his claims of converting a 1,000 families a year is a boast. "There's a surah in the Quran which speaks specifically about conversion, especially about conversion of women," he says to justify his mission. "Recently, three Hindu girls were brought to me. I named them Benazir, Sanam and Nusrat," he reveals, with the righteous air of someone who had bestowed a favour. "These Hindu women are mistreated by their husbands who do nothing but watch TV."

The Pir rubbishes the allegation that he converts abducted Hindu girls. The unwilling are sent back. Yet, he adds in the same breath, "In many cases Hindu girls are kidnapped and kept as keeps. But these keeps are not converted. But believe me, they are very happy."

I express the desire to meet the women whom he had converted and found sanctuary with him. The Pir agrees, even allows us to photograph them, contrary to the local tradition. Into the room, the women walk. Rehana, 50, was earlier Nabee; she converted three years ago, after the death of her husband. "I had no one to turn to. If we do not convert we would not be helped by this family." It was the same reason for 35-year-old Mariam, who came here seven years back. "Under the Pir's protection, I earn at least Rs 200 a month." Ruksana was earlier Chotee, and hails from Umerkot. Extreme poverty and a drug-addict husband persuaded her to take the extreme step. "I brought my four kids as well," she declares.

As I talk to these women, I realise most of them are widows or wallowing in poverty. I mention this to the Pir. He says, "The government is responsible for all Hindus and non-Hindus. When the government doesn't help them, they come to us."

Forced or economically enticed, the Hindu converts do not symbolise Islam's appeal. Rather they represent the state's failure to provide succour to the poor and protect their religious rights. Perhaps it's also symptomatic of the sickness afflicting the Pakistani state. As they say, the condition of the minorities is an indicator of a nation's health.

By Mariana Baabar in interior Sindh with Amir Mir in Lahore

Kidnapping and Forceful Conversion of Hindu Young Men During the Muslim Rule in India

Dr Radhasyam Brahmachari

A Muslim lady, called Nusrat Jahan Ayesha Siddiqa, has written a book in Bengali and titled “Islamic Peace and Massacring the Infidels”, and she has given a nice description of the events, in the preface of that book – how the Muslim kings and nobles used to hijack best Hindu young men, convert them to Islam and give their daughters in marriage to them. The book has been published by another Muslim lady called Laila Anjumand Ara Banu. The paragraphs below present a translation of Preface of the book by the authoress (as quoted by R N Datta in his book “The Silent Terror”).

“Many Hindus of Bengal are aware of the Hindu kingdom and the Hindu kings of Ektakia, in the district of Rajshahi, now in Bangladesh. Saptadurga or Satgarah was their capital. When Syed Hussain Shah was the Badshah of Bengal, having capital at Gaur, now situated in the district of Maldah in West Bengal, Raja Madan Narayan, a Brahmin, was the king of Ektakia. These Hindu kingdoms like Ektakia were not independent but tributaries to the Badshah of Bengal and had to pay annual tax or revenue to the Badshah of Gaur. In one occasion, King Madan Narayan took his two sons Kandarpa Narayan and Kamdeb Narayan with him during his annual visit to Gaur for paying his tribute.

Syed Hussain Shah had many daughters out of his four wives. Being a Sayed, the Badshah used to look down upon the other Muslims who were converted to Islam from Hinduism or Buddhism. So, several of his daughters, though grown up, were remained unwed for want of suitable grooms. But the two charming, educated, intelligent, young and chaste sons of Madan Narayan instantly attracted the attention of Hussain Shah, who decided to marry his two eldest daughters to them. When the Badshah disclosed his mind to Madan Narayan, he told the Badshah with folded hands, said, “O King! You are my Lord and hence you should not play a tyrant to me as it does not look nice and befitting for you.” But the Badshah very cleverly replied, “O dear King, you should not misunderstand me. I personally have much respect and love for the kings of Ektakia. I, being a Syed, is the guru of the Muslims, as you, a Brahmin, is to the Hindus. As your daughters cannot marry anyone except he is a Brahmin, similarly my daughters cannot marry ordinary Muslims. I want to give the hands of my daughters to your sons in marriage, not as a tyrant, but as respect and deep regards for your illustrious family. I do not say that, your sons will have to embrace Islam. It is a natural and common social rule that the wife must follow the religion of her husband and hence you are at liberty to convert my daughters to Hinduism before marriage. If you do not agree, then I should say that your sons have to be converted to Islam. And we shall be glad to include them into our community. Out of these two proposals, I shall follow which you will consider best, but I shall never apply force in any circumstances.”

King Madan Narayan could smell that, the Badshah would show his real face if he disagreed both the proposal. Secondly, being a devout Brahmin, it would not be possible for him to bring a girl from a Muslim family, though after a possible conversion to Hinduism. So, he gave up the hope of his sons and consequently they were converted to Islam and married to the daughters of Hussain Shah. Later on, he kidnapped 11 more young men of the family of Madan Narayan, including his sons and nephews, converted them to Islam and married them with 11 princesses of his family. Only one boy, Ratikanta, the fourth son of Madan Narayan was spared because of his poor eye sight. “Let the fellow with bad eye sight remain a Hindu and for the others with good eye sight, it has been better for them to convert to Islam”, said the Badshah ironically to Madan Narayan in on one occasion. In this way, 20 Hindu princes were hijacked from the Royal family of Ektakia.

This process of hijacking Hindu young men and giving them Muslim Royal princesses in marriage, of course after converting to Islam, was not confined to the Badshah of Bengal only. Even Mughal Emperors, in several occasions, adopted this policy to find suitable grooms for their princesses. Emperor Akbar married two of her daughters using this policy; one to the Music maestro, who was called Tansen after conversion to Islam, and the other daughter to Chandra Narayan, a Prince of the Royal family pf Ektakia. Aurangzeb married his eldest daughter to a Kashmiri Pundit called Krishna Narayan, after kidnapping and converting to Islam. When Sayesta Khan was the subedar of Bengal, Aurangzeb wrote him a letter asking him to kidnap suitable princes of the Royal family of Ektakia and convert to Islam and send them to Delhi under strong protection of the security staff. The above order also carried a strict instruction that said that, no such converted Hindu prince should be sent to Delhi; until he turns into a devout Muslim because the Emperor disliked meeting a converted Muslim who still possessed the hateful habits of the Hindu kafirs.

We used to listen to these stories from my grandmother. She also told us that we were the descendants of Prince Kandarpa Narayan. Though Prince Kamdeb could have been able to accept his conversion to Islam as his destiny, but Kandarpa Narayan could not. He could never become a Muslim by his heart. As there was no other alternative but to accept it as his fate, he ordered his descendants to carry the remembrance of their Hindu root from generation after generation. I belong to the 23rd generation of Prince Kandarpa Narayan and my blood begins to boil when I remember the Humiliation, coercion and torture that compelled my fore-fathers to convert to Islam.”

Remembering Vimal Patak

This Bangladeshi Hindu was caught in the street. He was brought to the mosque and was beaten to death. His pleads for mercy had no effect on the stone-hard hearts of the Muslim Satan worshippers. They chanted, "kill the kafir, kill the kafir" and shouted Allah u Akbar while Vimal Patak met his agonizing death.