About: the world this week, 13 March to 19 March 2022, the ‘Z’ of war, a basketball heroine, return from jail, scarfs of a religion, and Kashmir.
The wholly unnecessary, irrational Russia-Ukraine war grinds on with no end in sight, but the Russians and Ukrainians are still talking, and that is something to hang on to. The enormity of destruction unfolding on our screens everyday, is beyond imagination in these advanced times. Does the ‘Z’ marking on the invading Russian armoury signify the end, ‘of something’?
Russians are slowly finding their voices. Marina Ovsyannikova, a Russian State Television Channel-1 employee interrupted a live news broadcast with a placard carrying an anti-war message: and all the time, the news-reader continued unperturbed with that unflappable, unmistakable, cold, robot like Russian look. She was promptly arrested, presented in court, and fined 30,000 Russian Roubles for breaking protest laws. The ‘lean punishment’, by Russian Standards, was awfully surprising. Later, Ovsyannikova said that Russians are zombified by State media propaganda. However, she could face other charges-someone must be working overtime to find them. But, in a way, Ovsyannikova has already won a great battle against propaganda in Russia and, maybe, galvanised the like-minded to find their charge.
The best part is that the media in Russia is behaving as if nothing happened, as if Ovsyannikova never existed. Of course, this follows the Russian Standard Operating Procedure of, ’It’s not me”-denying everything. And ‘lying’ is becoming the spinal cord of the present unhinged Russian Regime.
In another development, a leading Bolshoi prima ballerina, who denounced Russia’s invasion of Ukraine left Russia to join the Dutch National Ballet. Olga Smirnova, 30, an exceptional dancer, said last week she was, “against this war with every fibre of my soul”, and was supported by other Russian ballerinas. Smirnova has a Ukrainian grandfather and has described herself as one-quarter Ukrainian. Earlier this month, Smirnova said: “In a modern and enlightened world, I expect civilised societies to resolve political matters only through peaceful negotiations”.
That’s very well said. She needs to be listened to!
Over the week, it was heart-warming to see Leaders from the Czech Republic, Poland, and Slovenia bravely board a train and visit Kyiv, to meet Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky and show support for Ukraine. We need more of this kind. Wish all world leaders would catch their own trains to Ukraine!
The International Court of Justice also entered the battle-field and ordered Russia to immediately halt its invasion of Ukraine, in a 13-2 decision. Out of the 15 Judges, India’s Justice Dalveer Bhandari too voted against Russia, joining with the majority. The court said, ‘It is profoundly concerned about the use of force by the Russian Federation, which raises very serious issues in international law’. That’s some distance!
The Russian hostilities continued unabated and this week they bombed the Mariupol Drama Theatre where hundreds of civilians were sheltering underneath the Theatre’s bomb shelter. People were trapped inside and the extent of damage is being assessed.
Meanwhile, President Zelensky carried on addressing Parliaments of various countries to highlight Ukraine’s plight. This week it was Canada and the US.
Late this week, in a phone call between Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and the Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Russian leader set out his demands to end the War. At last, perhaps some light?
The world has to find a way to stop this senseless war. The United Nations (UN) should work harder. Else it might become another ‘League of Nations’.
A Star Disappears
She’s arguably the greatest female basketball player of all time: American Professional Basketball player Brittney Griner been detained in Moscow amid a war. The 6 feet 9 inch tall Brittney, 31, entered Russia on 17 February, landing at the Sheremetyevo Airport, outside Moscow, to play another season with a Russian league team, UMMC Ekaterinburg, during the Women’s National Basketball Association’s (WNBA) offseason.
While going through Airport security, a sniffer dog led Russian authorities to search Brittney’s carry-on luggage and they found vape cartridges containing hashish oil. She is believed to have been arrested on drug charges. Since then, her whereabouts are unknown and Russia has so far blocked consular access to the US embassy. She could face up to 10 years in prison if convicted.
Few have accomplished what Brittney Griner has. A native of Houston, Texas, she won the college championship, WNBA and Euro-League titles, and an Olympic gold medal. And, famously, her ability to dunk (score by shooting the ball down through the basket with the hands above the rim) is unmatched. She is one of the WNBA’s most dominant players in history, widely considered the best offensive player in the League.
Off the basketball court, she has been a trailblazer, coming out as gay at age 22, just about the time of her entry into professional sport. She then became the first overall draft pick in the WNBA that year and, soon after, the first openly gay athlete to be endorsed by Nike in its advertisement campaigns.
An Iranian-British Woman Appears: ‘Is that Mummy?’
On 17 March 2016, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, 37, who holds dual British and Iranian citizenship, along with her nearly two years old daughter Gabriella, travelled to Iran to visit her parents to celebrate the Iranian New Year. She lives in Hampstead, London, with her husband Richard Ratcliffe and Gabriella, and was visiting Iran on holiday. She was born in Tehran.
On 3 April 2016 Nazanin was arrested by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards at Imam Khomeini Airport when she and her daughter were about to board a flight back to the United Kingdom (UK). She was then held in solitary confinement.
At the time of her arrest, she was employed by Thomson Reuters Foundation – a charity. She had previously worked for the BBC as an administrator, and for multiple charity organisations, including the Japanese International Co-operation Agency, International Federation of Red Cross, Red Crescent Societies, and the World Health Organization (WHO) before coming to the UK on scholarship to study Communication Management at London Metropolitan University.
The reason for her arrest was not made public, but she was later accused of spying. Iran’s Revolutionary Guards said she was leading a ‘foreign-linked hostile network’ when she visited. And also alleged Nazanin was plotting to topple the government in Tehran, though no official charges were made. On 9 Sept 2016 Nazanin was jailed for five years following a conviction on charges that remained secret. She spent four years in the Evin Prison in Tehran and one under house arrest at her parents’ house in Iran.
In April 2021, after she completed her five-year term, Nazanin was sentenced to another year in jail and was banned from leaving Iran on charges of spreading propaganda against the country’s government. She was also charged for taking part in a protest 12 years ago in London and talking to the BBC Service during that time.
The UN had on several occasions called for Nazanin’s release. The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention had also formally called for her immediate release in its Opinion adopted in August 2016. Further, calls for Nazanin’s release have been made by the US Congress, the Canadian Parliament, and the European Parliament.
In June 2019, both Richard and Nazanin went on hunger strike, in protest of Nazanin’s imprisonment, with Richard Ratcliffe camping outside the Iranian Embassy in London, and she in jail. They both ended the hunger strike on 29 June 2019, after 15 days.
On 24 October 2021, Richard Ratcliffe went on a second hunger strike to persuade the British government to expand the efforts in calling for his wife’s release from Iran’s detention. His hunger strike took place outside the Foreign Office in London. On 13 November 2021, with mounting concerns on his health, Richard Ratcliffe ended his hunger strike after 21 days, stating that their daughter ‘needs two parents’.
Finally this week on 16 March 2022 Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and another British-Iranian detainee, Anoosheh Ashoori were released from detention and returned to the UK. On landing, the first question that a waiting Gabriella asked was, “is that Mummy?”
Anoosheh Ashoori is a British-Iranian businessman. He spent 10 years in the UK from 1972, while he studied mechanical and aeronautical engineering, before returning to Iran to take care of his ailing father. He returned to the UK in 2005 to expand his business abroad. In Ashoori’s case, he was arrested in August 2017, when he visited his mother. He was awarded 12 years in prison-10 years for ‘spying for Israel’s Mossad’ and another two years for ‘acquiring illegitimate wealth’. Ashoori was subjected to torture, repeatedly interrogated without a lawyer present, and forced to sign confessions while sleep-deprived.
What could be the reason for this torture by Iran? In 2018, Iran was accused of holding British Nationals because of a multi million GBP debt owed by the UK to Iran.
Iran has stated that the UK government owes the Iranian government 400 million pounds for the sale of some defence equipment in the 1970s—before the Iranian Revolution when both the countries used to be allies. Iran claims that Britain promised 1,750 Chieftain Tanks and other vehicles for which Farah Diba, the widow of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, who was ousted by the 1979 Islamic Revolution, paid for but none were delivered.
In the end it is said that Britain agreed to pay Iran GBP 393.8 million, which can only be used for humanitarian purposes – details of the arrangement are not known.
This week, in a landmark Indian Court ruling, The High Court of Karnataka upheld a government ban on the headscarf in schools and colleges on the grounds that wearing it was ‘not essential’ to Islam. And that it has ‘something to do with culture but certainly not with religion’.
The verdict came in the wake of a polarising row over the hijab, which flared up early this year in the State of Karnataka. The Government stepped-in to ban hijab-wearing in schools and colleges and the students who stoked the controversy took the issue to the courts-for their judgement.
Quoting passages from the Koran, the Court ruled that: “It is not that if the practice of wearing hijab is not adhered to, those not wearing hijab become the sinners, Islam loses its glory and it ceases to be a religion.” Therefore, it added, the state has the right to prescribe a uniform without the hijab – it dismissed the students’ objections, saying the rule was a ‘reasonable restriction’ on their constitutional rights.
First, a brief history.
According to legend, an ascetic called Kashyapa reclaimed the land now comprising Kashmir, from a vast lake, which came to known as Kashyapamar and, later Kashmir – the land desiccated from water. King Ashoka The Great introduced Buddhism in the 3rd century BCE and the region gradually grew into a centre of Hindu culture. A succession of Hindu dynasties ruled until 1346 after which it came under Muslim rule that lasted almost five centuries. Then in 1819, Kashmir was annexed to the Sikh Kingdom of Punjab by Ranjit Singh and then to the Dogra Kingdom of Jammu in 1846. After the Anglo-Sikh war the British sold Kashmir to the Ghulab Singh of the Dogras for INR 7.5 million. Maharaja Hari Singh was the last Dogra King to ascend the throne in 1925. He signed the Instrument of Accession Act to India in October 1947 making it an integral part of India, when Pakistani Tribals invaded the North Western part and ‘illegally’ occupied it.
Kashmir is historically a plural land where all religions peacefully coexisted for centuries. Islam became a majority religion only in the 13th century. Kashmir’s Sufi-Islamic way of life complimented the rishi tradition of the Kashmiri Pandits who worshipped Lord Siva and Goddess Sakthi, in what is known as ‘Kashmiri Shaivism’.
It is a historical fact that in the end of the 1980’s and early 1990’s, close to half a million Hindus were ethnically cleansed from the Kashmir Valley by marauding Islamic gangs instigated and supported from within and across the Border-primarily Pakistan. Brutal murders and rapes followed. A Judge of the Srinagar High Court, Neelkanth Ganjoo, was shot in broad daylight in November 1989, by Jammu & Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) cadres when he had sentenced the JKLF founder Maqbool Bhat to death for the murder of a Police Inspector, Amar Chand.
This happened under the rule of the then J&K Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah who was seen as completely abdicating his responsibility in controlling the gangs. About 500,000 Kashmiri Hindus had no option but to leave or stay back and die. Many died in squalid camps and most moved on with their lives with pitiable scant support from the Indian Government; picking up their lives and hoping one day to get back to their homes where their ancestors survived many earlier genocides.
The Kashmir Files an Indian film directed by Vivek Agnihotri and produced by Zee Studios released late last week. It is a film based on exodus of Kashmiri Hindu Pandits during the Kashmir insurgency and tells the true story of brutal sufferings endured by the Kashmir Pandits living in India’s State of Jammu & Kashmir, in the year 1990 when they were forced to leave their homes.
It is the untold story of Islamic militants storming the houses of Kashmiri Pandits in the Valley with the chant, ‘Either convert to Islam, leave the land, or die’. The Kashmir Files has become the most contentious film of the year with its ruthlessly bold presentation of the inhuman sufferings of the minority Kashmiri Pandits due to intolerance of the majority Islamic community, in J&K.
The film revolves around the fictional story of a university student who discovers his Kashmiri parents were killed by Islamist militants- and not in an accident as his grandfather had told him, and goes on to discover the chilling genocide of Kashmir Pandits.
The Kashmir Files has since scorched the box-office and generated heat and dust, and strong feelings on the sufferings of a people rendered refugees in their own land.
I am looking forward to watching the film and will come back with a full story.
More real and fiction coming up in the weeks ahead. Read World Inthavaaram.