Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Burma (Myanmar): 'Covert Drug Genocide'

By Elizabeth Kendal

This posting provides information to accompany Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB) 347 (9 March 2016) written for Global Day of Prayer for Burma (13 March 2016), focusing on what appears to be an ominous new strategy of the Burmese military to divide and destroy the ethnic nations—quietly.

In Burma, all land belongs to the central government, and though the government grants farmers tillage rights, it also grabs land back illegally when it wants to. Consequently, land is central to Burma’s civil conflicts. Struggles rage between a central government which is desperate for resources and foreign investment, and ethnic nations which would rather fight to the death than surrender their ancestral lands.

Burma’s military-drafted 2008 Constitution mandates that all armed forces in the country be placed under central military command. To that end, the government has insisted that the armies of the ethnic nations disarm and be incorporated in a Border Guard Force (BGF) under the direction of the Tatmadaw (Burmese military). Unsurprisingly, ethnic nations that have known nothing but land theft and violent military persecution are unwilling to disarm; they simply do not trust the government.

After the November 2010 elections the government claimed it had a mandate to fight “separatists” (i.e. the armies of the long-persecuted ethnic nations as yet unwilling to disarm and join the BGF). By mid 2011, war was raging. It was around that time that ethnic minority leaders began to observe unprecedented quantities drugs flooding into their towns and villages.

-------------------------------------------------------
BURMA: ‘COVERT DRUG GENOCIDE’
-------------------------------------------------------

In 1999, Burma launched a 15-year plan to stamp out poppy cultivation—a deadline that has since been extended to 2019. However, instead of eradicating poppies, Burma has witness the growth of a commercial industry, fuelled by military involvement and by demand in China, Australia and beyond. Producing 25 percent of the world’s opium, Burma is now the second largest producer, surpassed only by Afghanistan.

ETHNIC MINORITY REGIONS BEING INUNDATED WITH DRUGS.

As noted in the report, Third Myanmar Opium Farmers’ Forum Pyin Oo Lwin, 11–12 September  2015, “Many opium growing regions are located in conflict affected areas.”  Participants in the Opium Farmer’s Forum report many links between drugs and conflict, noting that most ethnic armed opposition groups striving for self-determination and more autonomy have an anti-drug policy, while a large number of militia groups and Border Guard Forces (BGFs) backed by the Burma/Myanmar army, are stimulating and taxing opium cultivation while also maintaining active involvement in heroin and amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS) production. (See report, pages 8-10, “Drugs and Conflict”).

According to the opium farmers, the Burmese military collect a poppy-tax, or bribe, to allow poppy cultivation. Then they might slash one field and extort money to protect the remaining fields. Military personnel also confiscate drugs from dealers, before selling the drugs back to locals, without arresting the dealers.

According to a 27 February 2016 opinion piece by Pangmu Shayi, published in Kachinland News: Ethnic armed groups willing to convert to border guard forces are given free rein to operate massive poppy cultivation and drug trafficking in their areas. Kachin State Special Region No. 1, encompassing the Pangwa, Kanbaiti area on the borderlands with China, fits this description perfectly.”

At the time of the Nov 2010 elections, only two armed groups had signed up to disarm and join the junta’s Border Guard Force: the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) and the New Democratic Army-Kachin (NDAK).

And as Pangmu Shayi (Kachinland News) notes: “Special Region No.1 is the fiefdom of notorious drug lord Zahkung Ting Ying, leader of New Democratic Army-Kachin (NDA-K) turned border guard force. He was reelected to the Upper House in November [2015] after banning the NLD from campaigning in his territory. And it is this region, with its thousands of acres of poppy fields, that the Pat Jasan has targeted for its poppy clearing mission.”

PAT JASAN

Two years ago in Kachin State, with the drug problem reaching catastrophic proportions, the Kachin Baptist Convention (KBC) formed a group called Pat Jasan (lit. Prohibit Clear): a Kachin community-based drug-abuse eradication network.

Before they can be harvested, Pat Jasan units go in and slash poppy fields, often beating poppy farmers and dragging them off to faith-based drug rehabilitation centres. Though excesses have been reported, Baptist and Catholic leaders are working together to create a more disciplined and compassionate force. Boasting some 100,000 members, the Pat Jasan operates with full government support.

As might well be imagined, this is risky business, and exceedingly dangerous work. Pat Jasan members face opposition not only from poppy farmers whose livelihoods are risk, and from the militias and Border Guard Forces who protect them, but also from police and military personnel accustomed to taking bribes and receiving kickbacks.

Pat Jasan in Waingmaw town
On 3 February, a teenage member of Pat Jasan was shot dead and three others injured by sniper-fire while clearing poppy fields, causing the government to call a halt to the program. Undeterred, Pat Jasan members swelled to some 2,400 in Waingmaw township, keen to continue with the poppy eradication program. A stand-off ensued.

After several rounds of negotiation, the Kachin anti-drug campaigners and authorities agreed, on 23 February, that poppy clearance would go ahead in Sadon and Kan Pai Tee sub-townships of Waingmaw, under the protection of a 200-strong security team.

“Police, firemen and military troops will go together with the group,” said Kachin State Police Colonel Chit Oo . “Around 200 troops will go. We will not block them again and we will protect them from danger, especially from armed groups.”

Kachin Baptist Convention general secretary Reverend Samson Hkalam welcomed the agreement and said the authorities should be collaborating with the vigilante group instead of blocking its activities.
“I think that the authorities realise the importance of poppy destruction and they understand they need to cooperate with the anti-poppy activists for the good of our country,” he said.

“The military and police will accompany us and provide security,”  Pat Jasan's Daung Hkaung told UCA News. “We are going to six areas of opium poppy fields in Kambaiti township, Kachin State.”

According to UCA News, though the distance to the opium areas was around four hours by car, most of the group were walking.

“We are eradicating drugs because it destroys our younger generations,” Ying Kyang told UCA. “In Kachin state almost every family has drug users.”

On 24 February, as Pat Jasan volunteers started clearing some 20,000 acres of poppy in Sadon and Kan Pai Tee, an ethnic Kachin National League for Democracy (NLD) lower house MP for Waingmaw, U Lagan Zal Jone, submitted an urgent motion calling on the union government to support the fight against drugs, and assist and protect volunteers from possible attacks.

On 25 February, as more than 20 lawmakers discussed the urgent motion, unarmed Pat Jasan volunteers came under attack from militants armed with automatic weapons, grenades and improvised explosive devices. Locals who came to help the Pat Jasan activists were also attacked; cars and tents were set on fire. Eventually Pat Jasan retreated back to Waingmaw township. The security team did not intervene in any way. “We don’t understand why security forces avoided helping us,” said U Tan Gong. “We are suspicious of them.”

Twenty-seven Pat Jasan members were seriously injured, requiring transportation back to Myitkyina General Hospital; two later died of their injuries.

Myanmar Times reports: “Pa Ja San members suspect their attackers came from two groups, a militia connected with the Tatmadaw [Burmese military] that no one was willing to name, and the former New Democratic Army-Kachin, a splinter faction of the Kachin Independence Army that became a border guard force. The NDAK was led by U Zahkung Ting Ying, now of the border guard, and an elected Amyotha representative.”

Meanwhile, also on 25 February, the motion before the parliament, to support the anti-drug movement and protect its volunteers, was approved with a majority of votes.

Since then however, nine of Pat Jasan’s leaders have been questioned by the police. “The way they questioned us was like they were interrogating criminals,” said Zung Ding, a Christian pastor and leader within Pat Jasan.

“Since we have heard that the poppy farmers are planning to sue, it is very possible that the police have accepted the case. If not, we would not be questioned like this,” said Zung Ding. “When we asked the police if the poppy farmers of Wai Moe village had filed a lawsuit against us, they gave no comment.”

He told The Irrawaddi, “If they file a case, we have to face it.’

ETHNIC GROUPS SUSPECT ULTERIOR MOTIVES

Many ethnic minority leaders are convinced that the military is directing poppy cultivation and funnelling opium into ethnic regions with the ulterior motive of dividing and destroying the ethnic nations.

‘They want to kill [us] indirectly,’ says a Karen leader, L.t General Nerdah Bo Mya, in a YOUTUBE appeal. ‘They are putting a lot of drugs into our territory, [so as to ] make the up-coming generation so stupid that they cannot really think about politics . . . or their motherland.’

This fits exactly with Pangmu Shayi's 27 Feb piece in Kachinland News:

Pat Jasan. Kachinland News
“There are those who condemn the vigilante tactics of Pat Jasan, the community-based Kachin drug abuse eradication network. The criticism would be justified, if under normal circumstances. But the times, they are not a-normal, to channel Bob Dylan. These are desperate times, and desperate times call for desperate measures. How desperate are the times? Let me count the ways:

“An overwhelming number of Kachins – young and old, male and female, rural and urban – are drug addicted. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reports that Kachin State has the highest HIV rate among drug users in South East Asia. The AIDS epidemic has now reached such crisis levels that it is endangering even lower-risk groups like girls and women.

“The Kachins therefore consider opium and related drugs to be their ‘principal and most destructive enemy’. They firmly believe that if not addressed effectively and in time, the Kachin, a minority ethnic group in Burma with an estimated population of just over 1.5 million, could soon become an ‘endangered species’.

“Furthermore, the ease with which drugs are being flooded into Kachin towns and villages, especially targeting Kachin youth, gives rise to the widespread perception that a covert drug genocide is being waged against the Kachin.”

Led by the Kachin Baptist Convention, Kachin citizens are risking much to save their children, their families, and their nation from an insidious silent slaughter.

Shayi concludes: “Assessing Pat Jasan gains at this juncture, regardless of whether their poppy eradication efforts can continue or not, the campaign’s ability to expose long held suspicions that government itself is the major contributor to the drug abuse problem – from pervasive official corruption, to the impunity with which border guard drug lords and their Chinese compatriots have been allowed to engage in the drug trade – is no small feat.”

International support from states that value life and liberty would ensure their efforts will not have been in vain. Christian too must support their threatened brothers and sisters through advocacy, aid and prayer. Prayer for Burma: Psalm 56.

------------------------------------------------------------

Elizabeth Kendal is the author of
Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks toChristians Today
(Deror Books, Dec 2012).

This book offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

INDIA: Hindutva, Conversions and Violence


This post is an expanded version of Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin 334, India: Violence escalates as Hindutva takes hold, by Elizabeth Kendal, 4 Nov 2015.

ANTI-CONVERSION BILL LOOMS

The winter sitting of the Indian parliament is expected to commence on 20 November. Two MPs from India’s ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are set to introduce private members bills proposing the banning conversions.  BJP MP Tarun Vijay will introduce the bill in the Upper House (the Rajya Sabha), and BJP MP Yogi Adityanath will introduce the bill in the Lower House (the Lok Sabha). The bill -- ironically called the "Religious Freedom Bill" -- will "prohibit conversion from one religion to another by the use of force or allurement or by fraudulent means." The bill will also propose that a person found to be engaged in conversions be subject to a non-bailable warrant and liable to a ten-year prison term. 
The beauty of Christian baptism
source

Like all anti-conversion activists the BJP MPs will insist that conversion is an abuse of freedom of religion and the right to free speech. They will argue that freedom of religion does not include freedom to convert another person. Of course this is totally contrary to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which guarantees people the freedom to speak and hearers the freedom to accept or reject what they have heard.

A nation-wide ban on religious conversions has always been a central element of the Hindutva (Hindu Nationalist) agenda.

HINDUTVA

In 1899, with resistance to British colonial rule simmering, V.D. Savarkar dedicated his life to driving the British out of India. Though only 16-years-old at the time, Savarkar would come to be known as the Father of Hindutva (Hindu Nationalism).

In 1905, the Viceroy of India, Lord Curzon, unilaterally partitioned Bengal against the wishes of Hindus who had no desire to live under Muslim rule. The act fanned the flames of revolution, sparking a political crisis. Though Bengal was reunified with India in 1911, the fire had been lit: anti-British sentiment soared, as did sectarian tension and the Muslim aspiration for independence.

It was during those years that Indian independence activists Mahatma Gandhi and V.D. Savarkar -- both of whom were in London at the time -- became ideological enemies, with Ghandi preaching non-violence and Savarkar agitating for revolution and preparing for war.

In 1910, after one successful and one attempted assassination of English officials in India, Savarkar was jailed in London before being extradited to India and transported to the Andaman Islands where he spent 12 years, much of it in solitary confinement, before being transferred to a prison in India. To keep prisoners (most of whom were Hindus) in check, the authorities appointed Muslims as warders. Savarkar noticed that Hindus were converting to Islam in prison as the result of what he regarded as predatory missionary work. Subsequently he began to see all religious conversion as predatory, the ploy of hostile powers out to divide and rule Hindus. Henceforth Savarkar set about formulating an ideology to organise and unite Hindus as one organic whole so they might resist the divide and rule tactics of colonialists and Islamists. This would of necessity include a ban on conversions, while facilitating re-conversions to Hinduism.

Though Savarkar despised the Islam of the Kilafat (Caliphate) Movement – many member of which were imprisoned with him – it may have influenced his Hindutva. In his treatise on Hindutva (published 1923), Savarkar maintains that ‘Hindustan’ (Greater India) is both ‘the fatherland and holy land of the Hindus’ (by which he means the Hindu race), and that loyalty and devotion to India as both fatherland and holy land are critical to Indian security.  Hindutva thus defines all Indians as naturally born Hindus, while maintaining that the only reason some Indians are Muslim, Christian, Buddhist or animist is because at some point in history, their ancestors were tricked, lured or forcibly converted by hostile elements seeking to divide and weaken the Hindu nation. All non-Hindus are thus exhorted to ‘return’ to Hinduism for the sake of the nation. To refuse to do so is essentially an act of betrayal akin to treason. Though Hindutva rejects caste (racial apartheid – which is actually deeply ingrained in India) it enshrines religious apartheid, treating non-Hindus as second-class citizens while demonising them as disloyal, and as the ‘weak link’ -- a threat not only to social cohesion, but to national security. They must be repressed so as to prevent them causing strife. Anyone who has studied Islam will see the parallels.

PM Modi honours Savarkar
May 2014
Though India has been independent since 1947, and partition is now a done deal, ambitious politicians foster Hindutva for personal and political gain. No longer needed to unify Indians against colonial rule, Hindutva today is used to unify Indians behind high caste Hindu elites. Nearly a century after Hindutva activists began their long march through India's institutions, high caste Hindutva protagonists have come to dominate politics, academia, education, media and security. And despite the fact that multitudes of Indians are secular and peaceable, Hindu nationalism has captured the imagination.

VIOLENCE

Hindutva has turned India a tinderbox of sectarian tension. Violent persecution is on the rise. The Evangelical Fellowship of India’s (EFI’s) monthly reports make sobering reading, covering incidents raging from destruction of Christian property right through to mob violence (pogroms), serious assault and murder. What follows are just a few samples from EFI’s October report (all fully verified and acknowledged as the tip of the iceberg).

On 8 Sept, a mob of over 50 Hindu radicals attacked a church in Bastar, Chhattisgarh, beating the believers with clubs, sticks and fists after a village council banned all non-Hindu worship. Two Christian women were beaten unconscious. The Christians are being shunned and boycotted, making living in the village close to intolerable. On 22 Sept, Hindus in Kongud, Chhattisgarh, summonsed two Christian siblings to the local temple and demanded they renounce Christ. When they refused, the Hindus beat them, accused them of forceful conversions, vandalised their home and drove them from the village. The brothers complained to police, who refused to register a case. Despite this, the Hindus are threatening further violence if the brothers do not withdraw their compliant.

Pastor Arvinder Singh
(EFI)
During the first week of October, Hindu leaders in Chattarpur, Madhya Pradesh, ordered Hindus to boycott Chattarpur’s 26 Christian families, depriving them of water and other basic services. The Christians are also receiving death threats. On 8 Oct, Pastor Arvinder Singh and his family, were beaten almost to death in Phagwara city, Punjab, by a Hindu mob that included their own neighbours. Pastor Arvinder (pictured) was beaten unconscious with a metal bar; his pregnant wife was seriously bashed; and their 11-month-old baby boy was thrown at pile of bricks, causing him serious internal injuries. Nearly a month later, no police report has been registered. On 12 Oct, the mother of a pastor in Dahod, Gujarat, was stoned by a Hindu mob. Her injuries required hospitalisation.

Family of Pastor Chamu Hasda Purty
(EFI)
On 13 Oct, suspected Hindu nationalists broke into the home of Pastor Chamu Hasda Purty of the Pentecostal Church in Sandih, Jharkhand, and shot him dead. On 17 Oct, Hindu nationalist youths attacked a 50-strong prayer meeting in Rajnandgaon, Chhattisgarh, and beat up the pastor. Police arrived and detained the Christians, who were only released after local Christian leaders intervened. On 25 Oct, Pastor Thomas, his wife and two children, John and Kezia, were among ten Christians arrested in Junardeo, Madhya Pradesh, on false charges of forced conversions. The children were separated from their parents and from each other. While all the adults have since been bailed, the children remain in detention – John (14) in 174 km away in Narsinghpur, and Kezia (12) in 471 km away in Shahdol.

Aiming to terrorise

Responding to the news of the killing of Pastor Chamu Hasda Purty, Subhash Kongari, a lawyer and district president of Rashtriya Isai Mahasangh, the national Christian forum said that the killings and violence  “are all part of an agenda to terrorise people [so that they] disassociate with Christianity.”

Hindutva activists doubtless hope that the introduction of anti-conversion legislation into parliament will trigger debate, inflame sentiments and ultimately legitimise Christian persecution.

The situation in India could be about to get a whole lot worse.

Elizabeth Kendal

------------------------

Elizabeth Kendal is the author of
Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks toChristians Today
(Deror Books, Dec 2012).