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The Express Tribune Editorial 29 February 2020

State-sanctioned pogrom


New Delhi is still reeling after four days of the worst sectarian violence the city has seen since the anti-Sikh riots of 1984. At least 38 people are dead, and over 200 have been injured in religious rioting, dozens of whom were shot by Hindutva mobs supporting Narendra Modi’s CAA. While opponents of the law had peacefully protested for weeks, quoting the revolutionary poetry of Faiz Ahmad Faiz, Habib Jalib, and others, the law’s supporters have a simpler mantra — “goli maro [expletive] ko (shoot the [expletive]”. Not quite as poetic, but certainly much more effective at drawing the world’s attention, especially when ‘recited’ by sitting ministers.
Despite assurances from government and police officials on Wednesday that the situation was under control, new clashes are still being reported, and the death toll continues to rise. Residents in the hardest-hit areas are afraid to live their homes. Many countries have begun issuing advisories to their citizens, urging them to “exercise caution”, “keep a low profile” and “avoid all areas with demonstrations”. But India’s media is claiming that this is all foreign propaganda. Everything is fine, they say, and in all honesty, if we were to ignore the wanton murder of Delhiites by forces aligned with the government, everything else is probably fine.
The official and unofficial defences have often been outrageous. When the US government’s Commission on International Religious Freedom condemned the “brutal and unchecked violence” in Delhi and urged the Indian government to “take serious efforts to protect Muslims and others targeted by mob violence”, India’s External Affairs Ministry dismissed the comments as “factually inaccurate and misleading” and claimed the commission “aimed at politicising the issue”. Perhaps the ministry is unaware of the fact that bloody riots are going on in India’s capital because of an overtly political decision taken by its bigoted ruling party. Even the judiciary is not safe. A Delhi judge who accused the police of failing to cite politicians for hate speech was transferred to a different court the same night. His much more compliant replacement gave the government one month to tell the court what measures it has taken to address the issue. Meanwhile, the killing continues.


Garbage burning


According to the World Air Quality Report, Pakistan was the second-most polluted country in 2018. Karachi and Lahore are among the 10 cities in the world to have the most polluted air, with Lahore’s air quality index at 188 and Karachi’s at 182. These are dangerous levels. A report in this paper says at a garbage transfer station (GST) in Defence View residential area of Karachi more than 1,200 tonnes of waste are burned round the clock, making life miserable for those living in and around the locality. Defence View is next to the Defence Housing Authority, one of the upscale residential areas in Karachi. The GST is located in the Malir river bed.
According to area residents, the practice of garbage burning has been going on unabated for the past few years, and all their complaints against it have gone unheeded. Government officials supervising the unloading of garbage at the dumping site said they did not put the garbage on fire, and it was scavengers that did it. The area is under the jurisdiction of District Municipal Corporation-East. The DMC chairman says, “We have nothing to do with the dumping. The Sindh Solid Waste Management Board is creating the problem. We have written to higher authorities in the Sindh government, but no one has given us any tangible response.”
Experts say burning garbage is a criminal offence, and the relevant bodies must act to stop this harmful practice. Government officials are reportedly resorting to buck passing. One official explained that the fire might have been caused by rotting garbage, and in the process he made a startling disclosure that rotting garbage released methane gas. This gas even causes death. Garbage burning in river bed might also be aimed at land grabbing. Despite knowing full well that garbage burning produces carbon monoxide and other harmful gases, the authorities are turning a blind eye to the monstrous practice. The show goes on.


Preserving history


As the climate grows warmer in the low-altitude areas, thoughts turn to how this spring can bring with it the promise of a springboard to launch the country into a prosperous future. With traditional economic activity unable to fully shake off the jitters of slow growth and grey listings, Islamabad has one option to fall back on for generating money: tourism. Along with tech entrepreneurship, tourism formed a cornerstone of the PTI government’s strategy to stimulate the country’s economy, particularly at the grassroots. The idea seemed simple enough and much groundwork had been done by the PTI from its time at the helm of affairs in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) over the past five years. Enjoying power at the Centre and in Punjab, the country’s largest province by population, the PTI government has moved to increase tourism-related activities by holding festivals and events at tourist destinations. This year has already seen the most snow festivals being held in the valleys of K-P, including Malam Jabba, a tourist jewel of the country which had to be rebuilt after it had been ravaged by the militants.
But spring reminds one of the opportunities that other forms of tourism have to offer — religious and historical tourism. The K-P government has worked hard to position itself in this regard since it is host to two significant Buddhist sites — Takht-i-Bahi and the recently-discovered Bhamala. But there are other significant religious sites in the country as well, including for other faiths such as Hinduism and Sikhism that are scattered across the country. One site which could be significant for religious tourism in the country could be the stupa located near Mirpurkhas in Sindh, called Khao Jo Daro. The site, however, appears to have been forgotten by the authorities with scant attention paid to its preservation and excavation. Tourism can indeed help boost the country’s economy, but we must do our part to preserve and develop the sites holding tourism potential.
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