Tag Archives: Punjab

No, not the first Amritsar massacre; Brits apparently played a role in the 1984 massacre as well — from the Guardian

29 Oct

British government ‘covered up’ its role in Amritsar massacre in India

A Sikh group is demanding an inquiry into the SAS’s involvement in the storming of the Golden Temple in 1984

Sikh militants surrender to the Indian army in 1984 in Amritsar.
Sikh militants surrender to the Indian army in 1984 in Amritsar. Photograph: The India Today Group/India Today Group/Getty Images

The government has been accused of covering up the full extent of the UK’s support for India’s bloody crackdown on Sikhs in 1984.

A new report calls for a full inquiry into the role played by Margaret Thatcher’s government in the events leading up to a massacre in which hundreds, possibly thousands, of Sikhs and Indian soldiers died.

In 2014 David Cameron ordered a review after the accidental release of secret documents revealed that a British SAS officer had been drafted in to advise the Indian authorities on removing armed Sikh militants from the Golden Temple at Amritsar, Sikhism’s holiest shrine.

The documents said the plan, known as Operation Blue Star, was carried out with the full knowledge of the Thatcher government.

A report, Sacrificing Sikhs, published by the Sikh Federation UK, described Cameron’s review, conducted by Sir Jeremy Heywood, as a “whitewash”.

It claims that attempts to expose the full facts have been thwarted by government secrecy rules and conflicts of interest. More than half of the Foreign Office’s files on India from 1984 have been censored in whole or in part.

Some documents suggest the Foreign Office was aware of what was at stake when the Indian authorities approached the UK for help.

A week before the Golden Temple assault, Bruce Cleghorn, a diplomat, wrote that “it would be dangerous” for the UK government “to be identified” with “any attempt to storm the Golden Temple in Amritsar”. He was also named in correspondence discussing possible SAS assistance to India immediately after the massacre.

In 2015, Cleghorn became a Foreign Office “sensitivity reviewer” whose job involved censoring documents about the Amritsar massacre before they were released to the National Archives.

Sir John Ramsden, a member of the Advisory Council on National Records and Archives, which adjudicates on government censorship applications, was a member of the Foreign Office’s south Asia department in 1984. Ramsden wrote a letter advocating further SAS assistance for India immediately after Operation Blue Star and also argued in favour of equipping India’s paramilitary forces.

The role of the SAS officer in the days before Operation Blue Star are shrouded in secrecy as are the full extent of the fatalities. The Indian government puts the figure at about 400. Sikh groups say it was in the thousands.

According to the Sikh Federation’s report, immediately after the SAS officer carried out his reconnaissance with an Indian special forces unit, the Sikhs pulled out of peace talks believing they had seen a commando unit move into the city. The negotiations never recovered and eventually the Indian army stormed the temple in June 1984. Four months later, India’s prime minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated by one of her Sikh bodyguards, prompting reprisals that led to the deaths of more than 3,000 Sikhs.

The report suggests the UK was keen to help India because the country was one of its biggest purchasers of military equipment between 1981 and 1990. It also claims that repressive measures against Sikhs were carried out in the UK to appease the Indian government and secure arms deals.

“The government needs to finally come clean about Thatcher’s role in the Amritsar massacre and India’s crackdown on Sikhs,” said the report’s author, Phil Miller. “Whitehall censorship of historical files is like an old boys’ club that prevents the public from ever knowing how taxpayers’ money was spent. This culture of secrecy around Britain’s special forces and intelligence agencies is undemocratic and unsustainable.”

Bhai Amrik Singh, chair of the Sikh Federation (UK) said: “This report casts serious doubts on the adequacy and integrity of the inhouse Heywood review commissioned by Cameron. There has been a massive cover-up and parliament and the public have been disturbingly misled. An independent public inquiry to get to the truth is the only way forward.”

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See: Jallianwala Bagh massacre and Operation Blue Star.

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

Lebanese food: September 14th and the Feast of the Holy Cross in Ein Zebde, Shouf

15 Sep

Ein-Zebde-Peach-FieldsEin Zebde peach orchards

This is one of those photos that shore up all literary descriptions you’ve ever read of Lebanon as the land of milk and honey.

Because only that sort of blessed (but unfortunately cursed too) land could produce Lebanese food.  More than the landscape, the mountains, my personal emotional response to a still functioning society of Arab Christians, the post-nightmare joy that even a partly-Resurrected Beirut must offer, and more, even, than the boys — it’s the food that makes Lebanon one of the top entries on my list of must-visits.  The boldness of the Lebanese culinary imagination reflects such care for both the sensuality and sanctity of food that I can’t helped being moved by just reading descriptions of it.  China, India and France (mmm…yeah, ok, Iran too) are the only places that can compete, I think, with this tiny little corner of the Mediterranean in sheer kitchen creativity.

Mansoufe (below), for example: made of pumpkin-and-bulgur balls, cooked with caramelized onions and flavored with sour grape juice.  Where else would people even think of this?  (Though I think “dumplings” or something might have been a better word; “balls” makes it sound like pumpkins have testicles.)

Mansoufe

But just like there’s not really any French food without the produce of France itself, and like I’ve come to believe what most South Asian friends think: that there’s no good regional Indian food outside of India, just Punjabi versions of dumb-downed Doabi-Mughlai food cooked by Sylhetis (though I know two good Bengali places in New York, one in Sunnyside, where you have to convince them you want the real stuff, and one in the Bronx, and an even better secret, a great Sindhi vegetarian place in Jackson Heights…Indian vegetarian is the only vegetarian food I’ll eat, actually the only vegetarian food I’ll honor by calling “food”), so, it seems, that if you want something other than stale felafel or inedible tabbouleh made by a dude who had too many lemons he needed to get rid of and who needs to be told that parsley isn’t a vegetable, then you need to go to Lebanon.

In steps the Food Heritage Foundation to help you get your bearings food-wise once you’ve gotten yourself to Lebanon: a great resource for anything you might want to know about Lebanese cuisine.  Yesterday they posted photos of the Ein Zebde (the Shouf village with the peach orchards at top) celebration of the Feast of the Holy Cross, and the annual potato-kibbe-making event the women there have held for the past twenty-four years.  Check out the page for captions on the pics below:

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Yesterday I tweeted my kudos to the Food Heritage Foundation (above).  But actually it would have been impossible to hide the fact this is a Maronite community even had they wanted to.  Even if they felt they didn’t have to explain why the women were doing this, the women’s hair and bare arms would have been a giveaway.

Still, I’m just saying this because if certain people like Mlle I___m de M_____i had their way both the entire staff of the Food Heritage Foundation and I would’ve been thrown in jail for fomenting sectarianism, publicly shamed for being Islamophobic and made to wear a Green “I”, and the Ein Zebde post would have had to be mysteriously cleansed of its Christianess.

The feast of the Holy Cross — I doubt any Catholics remember or even know — commemorates the discovery by the Empress Mother Helen of the Holy Cross on which Christ was crucified, of which Mark Twain famously said there were so many splinters of everywhere that it was apparently a Holy Forest.  She was the mother of Constantine, the emperor who moved the capital of the Roman Empire from Rome to the city on the Bosporus called Byzantion, renamed Constantinople (that’s İstanbul for those that don’t know), and who, like a good mother-ridden Greek boy (though he was really from what’s now Niš in in what’s now southern Serbia), unfortunately made what-a-monotheist-drag Christianity the official religion of the Empire to make her happy; though also like a good Greek boy he passive-aggressively wasn’t himself baptized till he was on his death-bed.  The discovery of the Cross and the feast of Sts. Constantine and Helen, “the Equal-to-the-Apostles”, on May 21st, when Athens is paralyzed by traffic for three days because a quarter of the city is named Kosta or Helene and another half is going to visit them for their name-day, is usually commemorated in the Orthodox Church by the same image:

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But for more fun, more lyrical descriptions of Lebanese food, mixed up with some serious butch conflict-zone reporting and a hilarious Middle Eastern mother-daughter-in-law relationship, see Annia Ciezadlo’s beautiful Day of Honey: A Memoir of Food, Love and War.

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Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

 

“It’s not even a country; it’s a fuckin’ acronym!”

6 Oct

Maybe the best line from last night’s season four opening of SHOWTIME’s Homeland…and maybe a nomination for best “nuff-said” comment ever on the Land of the Pure.

political-map-of-Pakistan(click)

Led to me to look up exactly what the acronym was and came across the brilliant Hitchens’ attack on the Pakistani elite and political/military establishment and the U.S.’s dysfunctional relationship to it: From Abbottabad to Worse which appeared in Vanity Fair’s July 2011 issue, following the assassination of Osama bin Laden.  Harsh, perhaps exaggerated, but probably not far off the mark:

“Again to quote myself from 2001, if Pakistan were a person, he (and it would have to be a he) would have to be completely humorless, paranoid, insecure, eager to take offense, and suffering from self-righteousness, self-pity, and self-hatred. That last triptych of vices is intimately connected. The self-righteousness comes from the claim to represent a religion: the very name “Pakistan” is an acronym of Punjab, Afghanistan, Kashmir, and so forth, the resulting word in the Urdu language meaning “Land of the Pure.” The self-pity derives from the sad fact that the country has almost nothing else to be proud of: virtually barren of achievements and historically based on the amputation and mutilation of India in 1947 and its own self-mutilation in Bangladesh. The self-hatred is the consequence of being pathetically, permanently mendicant: an abject begging-bowl country that is nonetheless run by a super-rich and hyper-corrupt Punjabi elite. As for paranoia: This not so hypothetical Pakistani would also be a hardened anti-Semite, moaning with pleasure at the butchery of Daniel Pearl and addicted to blaming his self-inflicted woes on the all-powerful Jews.

“This dreary story actually does have some bearing on the “sovereignty” issue. In the beginning, all that the Muslim League demanded from the British was “a state for Muslims.” Pakistan’s founder and first president, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, was a relatively secular man whose younger sister went around unveiled and whose second wife did not practice Islam at all. But there’s a world of difference between a state for Muslims and a full-on Muslim state. Under the rule of General Zia there began to be imposition of Shari’a and increased persecution of non-Muslims as well as of Muslim minorities such as the Shiites, Ismailis, and Ahmadis. In recent years these theocratic tendencies have intensified with appalling speed, to the point where the state contains not one but two secret statelets within itself: the first an impenetrable enclave of covert nuclear command and control and the second a private nexus of power at the disposal of the military intelligence services and—until recently—Osama bin Laden himself.”

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

On the other hand, this is some vegetarian food that is also a real cuisine

12 Apr

A Culinary Pilgrimage to Punjab

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