It was very nice to attend the Diwali event organized by the BAPS and several Hindu Diaspora organizations at the Russell building of the US Senate Monday.
According to the premier advocacy Hindu American Foundation (HAF) there are several stories about the origin of Diwali. According to one story, “Over a thousand years ago, there was a kind, humble, and much beloved Prince named Rama who was soon to be named King. Instead, his jealous stepmother found a way to have Rama banished to the forest for 14 years. His wife, Sita, and brother, Lakshman, went with him because they did not want to leave his side. One day, a demon king named Ravana saw Sita and fell in love with her beauty. He hatched a plan and eventually kidnapped her. Rama went in pursuit of Ravana and fought a great war to win his beloved Sita back. After their reunion and completing their 14 year exile, Rama, Sita, and Lakshman returned home to Ayodhya where the people rejoiced and lit lamps all over the kingdom to welcome them back. Shortly after, Rama was crowned King of Ayodhya.”
Another story for Diwali is about the victory of Krishna thousands of years ago over the demon Narakasura, whose evil doings grew greater by each passing day — just like the black deeds of Pakistan army and ISI. According to HAF, one day Narakasura decided to kidnap all the beautiful young damsels of the kingdom named Svargaloka. “The inhabitants of Svargaloka could take it no longer. They called upon Lord Krishna to save them from Narkasura’s terror. Lord Krishna came as soon as he heard and fought the demon in a fierce battle. Lord Krishna defeated Narakasura….”
The HAF web site says Sikhs also recognize Diwali to celebrate the release of the Sixth Guru, Hargobind, one of their spiritual leaders, from captivity by the Mughal Emperor Jehangir. For Jains, Diwali is the day Lord Mahavira, the last of the Jain Tirthankaras (Ford-maker or Savior), achieved enlightenment or nirvana/moksha. Lastly, Buddhists, especially Newar Buddhists, commemorate Diwali as Ashok Vijayadashami, the day the great Emperor Ashoka embraced Buddhism as his faith.
But when will the real Diwali be celebrated in Balochistan? When will the innocent and hapless people of Balochistan be delivered from the clutches of the Pakistan army or Ravana and the ISI or Narakasura? When will their human dignity be restored? When will Baloch women and children come out of the fear of being abducted? When will the youth breathe the fresh air of freedom without being tortured, killed and their bodies dumped by the Pakistani security services? When will Pakistan troops stop looting and burning Baloch homes and villages and killing livestock? When will deadly helicopters stop hovering over Baloch villages, firing on the civilians on the ground or throwing the bodies of freedom fighters to instill fear? When will the Pakistani forces stop tying the bodies of freedom activists behind their trucks to drag in the remote Baloch areas to create terror in the brave tribesmen hearts? In short when will the dark, dreary and cold night of Pakistan’s colonial rule in Balochistan end?
These were some of the questions in our mind when I and my friend Krishna Gudipati, director of the premier American Friends of Balochistan (@AFB_USA), braved the cold and wet weather, to attend the Diwali with the aim to do what is called in Hinduism puniya karma or good in the world (To be honest, I have personally reached the breaking point). Gudipati approached Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, who in my humble view– mark my words– is destined to become the first woman and first Hindu president of the United States, either in 2020 or in 2024. Gabbard has all the qualities and ingredients that go into making a great president. “Gabbard was shocked to hear about the Pakistan army atrocities, including abduction of Baloch women and children,” Gudipati told me.
I had a chance to talk with Congressman Anthony G. Brown, (D) 4th District of Maryland. I told him about the unconscionable crimes against humanity being carried out by the Pakistan army and spy service ISI in France-sized Balochistan, which forms more than 40 percent of the land mass of Pakistan but has less than 10 percent of the population. He wanted to know more and pulled out the single visiting card he was left with and asked me to meet to get a better understanding.
Congressman Pete Olson, (R) 22nd District of Texas, also attentively heard about the scorched earth policies of Pakistan security forces in Balochistan. Olson shook his head in dismay and sympathy for the Baloch people of Balochistan when I told him about the killings, torture and abductions of women and children. He and his legislative director Richard England appeared to be willing to lend an ear to Baloch woes and help get justice for them. Quite a few congressmen from Texas, notably Louis Gohmert, are already sick and tired of Pakistan’s double games and want to support a free Balochistan.
However, since Balochistan is still not on the State Department radar, many people in the US don’t know Balochistan is the world capital of enforced disappearances. At least 8,000 Baloch are victims of enforced disappearances but the abductions after which the victims disappear continue unabated. Monday, as many as 40 civilians who were not combatants, were forcibly abducted from the Awaran area in Balochistan, said former Balochistan fisheries minister Kachkol Ali Advocate, who lives in exile in Oslo, Norway.
In this context, it was heartening the Amnesty International Monday called upon Pakistan to end enforced disappearances. Amnesty said it “is alarmed by reports it has received of a wave of enforced disappearances that have taken place over recent days, particularly of activists in the southwestern province of Balochistan, and calls upon the Pakistani authorities to immediately carry out independent and effective investigations with a view to determining the fate and whereabouts of all missing people.
“Enforced disappearances are a blight on Pakistan’s human rights record, with hundreds and possibly thousands of cases reported across the country over the past several years. Victims of enforced disappearances are at considerable risk of torture and other ill-treatment and even death. To date, not a single perpetrator of the crime has been brought to justice,” Amnesty decried, adding, “The Commission on Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances received nearly 300 cases of alleged enforced disappearances from August to October 2017, by far the largest number in a three month period in recent years.”
The key international human rights body said after its last visit to Pakistan, in 2012, the UN Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances, noted that there is “a climate of impunity in Pakistan with regard to enforced disappearances, and the authorities are not sufficiently dedicated to investigate cases of enforced disappearance and hold the perpetrators accountable.” Amnesty International notes that this situation has not improved over the past five years.
Amnesty International demanded of the Pakistan’s authorities to publicly condemn enforced disappearances, recognize enforced disappearances as a distinct and autonomous offence, and call for an end to this cruel and inhumane practice. “Pakistan has thus far failed to ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance – a glaring omission that casts an unflattering light on the country’s claims to be committed to the highest human rights standards.”
Amnesty International pointed out the UN Human Rights Committee – the treaty-monitory body that oversees how States implement and comply with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights – took note of Pakistan’s record on enforced disappearances and recommended that the country: “Criminalize enforced disappearance and put an end to the practice of enforced disappearance and secret detention.”
As if a cruel joke, the UN general assembly on October 16 elected Pakistan as a member of the UN Human Rights Council– a move that was widely condemned by Baloch Diaspora activists. “It is like a monkey being asked to guard the bananas,” said Inayatullah Baloch, who now lives in Iowa and is member of the American Friends of Balochistan (AFB). Bhawal Mengal of the World Baloch Organization, London, in a tweet likened Pakistan’s election to the rights council as a fox being made the in-charge of a poultry farm.
Amnesty said In its election pledge as member of the UN Human Rights Council, Pakistan said that it is “firmly resolved to uphold, promote and safeguard universal human rights and fundamental freedoms for all.”
For that claim to be taken seriously, and for Pakistan to fulfil “the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights” expected of all Council members, it must make ending enforced disappearances a priority and hold all suspected perpetrators – including military and intelligence personnel – to account, through fair trials without recourse to the death penalty.
Once confined to the restive territories of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and Baluchistan, enforced disappearances have spread to other parts of the country, including urban centres and major cities. In early January 2017, five human rights defenders were abducted from the capital Islamabad and parts of Punjab province. Four of the defenders returned to their homes between 27 and 29 January. Two of the defenders have since said that they were threatened, intimidated and tortured by people they believed to belong to military intelligence.
After the last Universal Periodic Review in 2012, Pakistan’s government made a commitment to take “effective measures against enforced disappearances” and to “combat impunity for all those who attack human rights defenders”. Later this month, when Pakistan’s human rights record is subject to scrutiny again, the government must finally take urgent steps to turn those commitments into reality.
Raj Shah, 32, Deputy Assistant to President Donald J. Trump and Principal Deputy Press Secretary, also attentively listened to the story of crimes against humanity, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and near genocidal situation in Balochistan.