Taleban threaten to blow up girls’ schools if they refuse to close

December 27, 2008

From the Times:

girlsThe Taleban have ordered the closure of all girls’ schools in the war-ravaged Swat district and warned parents and teachers of dire consequences if the ban is flouted.

In an announcement made in mosques and broadcast on radio, the militant group set a deadline of January 15 for its order to be obeyed or it would blow up school buildings and attack schoolgirls. It also told women not to set foot outside their homes without being fully covered.

“Female education is against Islamic teachings and spreads vulgarity in society,” Shah Dauran, leader of a group that has established control over a large part of Swat district in the North West Frontier Province, declared this week.

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Against odds, a school in Kashmir offers hope

November 4, 2008

Krishnamurthy Ramasubbu in Mint:

DPS Srinagar principal K.K. Sharma with students. Mint

DPS Srinagar principal K.K. Sharma with students. Mint

The Srinagar DPS is equipped with modern facilities, including language labs to teach phonetics, art studios, computing facilities and libraries. And it has managed to get its share of unwelcome attention. “We do get threat calls, asking us to shut down. Their (separatists) main problem is that we are a CBSE institution. They think we are propagating Central ideas through this school,” says the school’s principal, K.K. Sharma.

“During these protests (separatist leader Syed Ali Shah) Geelani called for the school to be shut down, calling it an imperialist design of India,” says Dhar referring to a recent spate of separatist protests. “The parents asked me to talk to Geelani but I refused …(but) the parents have to be appreciated for their solid support, which kept the school open.”

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Pakistan’s westward drift

September 5, 2008

Pervez Hoodbhoy in Himal:

For three decades, deep tectonic forces have been silently tearing Pakistan away from the Subcontinent and driving it towards the Arabian Peninsula. This continental drift is not geophysical but cultural, driven by a belief that Pakistan must exchange its Southasian identity for an Arab-Muslim one. Grain by grain, the desert sands of Saudi Arabia are replacing the alluvium that had nurtured Muslim culture in the Indian Subcontinent for over a thousand years. A stern, unyielding version of Islam – Wahhabism – is replacing the kinder, gentler Islam of the Sufis and saints.

This drift is by design. Twenty-five years ago, the Pakistani state pushed Islam onto its people. Prayers in government departments were deemed compulsory; floggings were carried out publicly; punishments were meted out to those who did not fast during Ramadan; selection for academic posts required that the candidates demonstrate knowledge of Islamic teachings, and the jihad was emphasised as essential for every Muslim. Today, such government intervention is no longer needed due to the spontaneous groundswell of Islamic zeal. The notion of an Islamic state – as yet in some amorphous and diffused form – is more popular than ever before, as people look desperately for miracles to rescue a failing state. Across the country, there has been a spectacular increase in the power and prestige of the clerics, attendance in mosques, home prayer meetings (dars and zikr), observance of special religious festivals, and fasting during Ramadan.

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At a retreat in India, lessons on yoga and life

August 21, 2008

In the International Herald Tribune, Kyle Jarrard visits Puducherry (earlier known as Pondicherry) in India:

In the old French quarter of Puducherry.
In the old French quarter of Puducherry.

The first sound in the morning is crows, right at 5. Then we hear waves off the Bay of Bengal slapping the shore. In the garden, a man meditates while walking quickly over the lawn of the ashram guest house in the dark. Along the shore, other men pace the beach in the silver jetty light. Fishing boat lanterns like stars ride the black sea south to north.

My wife and I have come to this old French comptoir (formerly Pondichéry) in southeast India mostly for the yoga. The classes used to be held in one of the many parcels of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram scattered across the colonial city. But for this retreat, there’s a new venue and to get there you have to be on Ajit Sarkar’s bus by 5:45. There are 20 or so of us, nearly all from France.

Ajit, in his 70s now, grew up in this famous ashram with his parents, who went into the retreat founded and inspired by the yogi and guru Sri Aurobindo and his vision of universal consciousness and peace. In this idyllic world, Ajit learned everything from ballet to track to gymnastics, but especially yoga, a skill he has taught with acclaim for decades both in India and in France.

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Not enough students for new IIT’s quota seats

July 24, 2008

Of the 54 seats reserved for students in the scheduled tribes category in the six new IITs, only seven (that’s 12 per cent) have been filled, writes Pallavi Singh in Mint

With barely a month to go before they begin their new academic session, the six new Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), launched by the government this year, are struggling to fill their incoming classes.

Against the backdrop of the government wanting to implement 27% quota for other backward classes (OBCs) in higher educational institutions, the new IITs have been unable to fill seats reserved for tribal students, who, along with scheduled castes (SCs) and OBCs, now add up to more than 50% of caste-based reservations of all available seats.
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Turkish schools offer Pakistan a gentler Islam

May 4, 2008

Turkish educators are offering an alternative approach to religious schools that could reduce extremists’ influence. Sabrina Tavernise reports from Karachi in The New York Times:

Praying in Pakistan has not been easy for Mesut Kacmaz, a Muslim teacher from Turkey.

He tried the mosque near his house, but it had Israeli and Danish flags painted on the floor for people to step on. The mosque near where he works warned him never to return wearing a tie. Pakistanis everywhere assume he is not Muslim because he has no beard.

“Kill, fight, shoot,” Mr. Kacmaz said. “This is a misinterpretation of Islam.”

But that view is common in Pakistan, a frontier land for the future of Islam, where schools, nourished by Saudi and American money dating back to the 1980s, have spread Islamic radicalism through the poorest parts of society. With a literacy rate of just 50 percent and a public school system near collapse, the country is particularly vulnerable.

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China launches ‘education drive’ in Lhasa

April 21, 2008

In a bid to reinforce control in Lhasa, Chinese officials have launched an education drive, reports Chris Buckley for Reuters

China’s Communist Party has launched a political education drive in Tibet’s restive capital, Lhasa, vowing a long campaign to attack pro-independence sentiment and support for the Dalai Lama.

China has blamed recent unrest in Tibetan areas on a “clique” of the Dalai’s followers pressing for independence and seeking to upset Beijing’s preparations for the August Olympics. Over a month has passed since monk-led protests against government control gave way to deadly anti-Chinese rioting in Lhasa on March 14, but security forces have wrestled with continued unrest there and across other Tibetan areas. 

In a bid to reinforce control in Lhasa, Party authorities have launched an education drive focused on officials and Party members, the official Tibet Daily reported on Monday.

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