Independence Day – P.A.K.iS.tan

August 14

We are convinced there can be no peace and progress in India if we, the Muslims are duped into a Hindu dominated federation in which we cannot be the masters of our own destiny and captains of our own souls.

Choudhary Rahmat Ali

Choudhary Rahmat Ali was not the leader of a nation, a war hero, a politician, or a prince’s son. But his contribution to the world over 60 years ago can be seen clearly on any map of the world.

He was born in Punjab in 1897 in what was then British India. He was a graduate student at Cambridge University in England during the 1930s, a turbulent decade in his homeland. Muslims in British India saw the winds of change approaching as Indian leaders of both religions pushed for independence from the British Empire. Muslims were concerned about being a minority in a Hindu nation.

In January 1933, Rahmat Ali wrote a booklet, “Now or Never,” in which he laid out the concerns of 30 million Muslims and non-Hindus in the region. He described India not as a country, but as a continent, too diverse to be simplified and categorized as a Hindu nation.

He proposed that the Muslim territories of Punjab, Afghan (Northwest Frontier Province), Kashmir, Sind and Baluchistan be accorded “national status, as distinct from the other inhabitants of India” and be granted “a separate Federal Constitution on religious, social, and historical grounds.”

His proposal was not a new one. But he did suggest a name for the separate nation. Taking the first initials of four provinces–Punjab, Afghan, Kashmir, and Sind–and the end of Baluchistan, he created the name “PAKiStan.” The name also had another meaning: in Urdu pak means “pure” and stan means land.

Rahmat Ali provided an all-encompassing name for a diverse, amorphous group of 30 million people previously known to the outside world as ‘Indians’; the name Pakistan resonated both with the Muslims of India and the non-Urdu speaking world. The name and the idea of a separate Pakistan stuck.

India-Pakistan partition (red = conflict areas)
India-Pakistan partition (red = conflict areas)

On August 14, 1947 the British Indian Empire was partitioned into two separate nations: the Union of India and the Dominion of Pakistan.

In terms of speed and sheer numbers, the mass migration that followed the partition has no equal in human history.

In a matter of months, over 7 million Muslims living in the newly-independent nation of India moved to the new nation of Pakistan, located in two separate parts, east and west of India. (East Pakistan is now Bangladesh). Meanwhile, another 7 million, Hindus and Sikhs, moved from those areas into the new nation of India. Violence between Muslims and Hindus escalated. There are no precise statistics, but it is believed about half a million people died during the migration, from bloody conflicts and from the dire living conditions that neither nation was prepared to combat.

Today is Independence Day in Pakistan, a time of celebration, but also of remembrance.

Pakistan itself became the subject of partition in 1971. The Bengali-dominated eastern-half of the country, known as East Pakistan, broke away to become what is now Bangladesh.

Even without Bangladesh, by population Pakistan is the 6th largest nation in the world.

Raksha Bandhan

August 13, 2011

All across India sisters tie special colored bracelets of thread around their brothers’ wrists, as a symbol of protection. Likewise, the thread reminds the brother of his pledge and duty to protect his sister.

The threaded bracelet is called a rakhi and the holiday is Raksha Bandhan, a Hindu and Sikh celebration of brothers and sisters. It falls on the full moon (Shravan Poornima) in August. (August 16, 2008. August 5, 2009.)

There are two main stories of how the tradition came about.

One is that the goddess Draupadi tore a strip from her sari and wrapped it around Krishna’s wounded finger after battle. Later, Krishna returned the favor. When Draupadi’s malevolent brother-in-law attempted to dishonor her by removing her sari, Krishna continuously elongated her sari so she could not be disrobed.

Another is that Shashikala blessed a silken talisman and tied it around Lord Indra’s right wrist to protect him from harm during the battle of gods and demons. The rakhi gave him the strength to defeat them.

The tradition was further popularized during India’s Moghul period in the 16th century. Facing attack from the sultan of Gujarat, Queen Karnavati of Rajasthan sent a sacred Rakhi thread to the Mughal emperor Humayan, to remind him of their special connection and in the hopes of receiving assistance against the enemy.

This year in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, about 700 young men and women at H.K. Arts College reversed the tradition. Boys bestowed Rakhi on the girls as a symbol of determination to stop female foeticide, a crime that is largely responsible for lopsided male:female ratio in India, especially in states like Gujarat where that ratio is 100 to 83.

Female Foeticide in India

Azerbaijan – and other names I have gone by

May 28

Azerbaijanis have been celebrating May 28 as Independence Day for the past 90 years–with a brief intermission during that whole 70-year Soviet occupation thing.

After the collapse of the Russian Empire in 1917 Azerbaijan joined ranks with Armenia and Georgia to form the Transcaucasian Democratic Federative Republic. Faced with the reality that no one could remember their quindeci-syllabic name, the trio split the following year, and Azerbaijan became the independent nation we know today.

For two years.

Then in 1920 the Bolshevik Red Army overthrew the Islamic world’s first democratic republic. Vaporizing the autonomy of the newborn Azerbaijani Parliament, the Bolsheviks also sadistically cursed Azerbaijan (together with Georgia and Armenia) with the name “the Transcaucasian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic”. Even the Soviets had to admit the cruelty of this name, and shortened it (slightly) to the Azerbaijan SSR (Soviet Socialist Republic) in the 1930s.

During the 23 months Azerbaijan had been an independent democratic republic, it granted women’s suffrage–preceding the U.S. and U.K.–and gave women equal political rights as men.

In January 1990 Soviet troops killed 132 demonstrators in the Azerbaijani capital of Baku. The following year during the turmoil of the Soviet Union’s collapse, Azerbaijan formerly declared its re-independence. One of its first acts as was to chose to celebrate the May 28–the date of its 1918 proclamation of independence–as its Republic Day.

The first years of the country’s independence were marred by the ongoing Nogorno-Karabakh War, a territorial war with neighboring Armenia. Atrocities ran deep on both sides; in 1992 the Armenian army allegedly killed over 600 Azerbaijanis in the town of Khojaly. All told, approximately 10,000 Azerbaijanis were killed in the war between 1988 and 1994, and nearly 30,000 were wounded.

93% of Azerbaijan’s 8 million people are Muslim. Freedom of religion is written into the Constitution.

Farakka Long March Day – Bangladesh

May 16

Today is the anniversary of the Farakka Long March in 1976. The march protested the construction of the Farakka dam, aka the Farakka Barrage. The dam is located just 11 miles from the border of Bangladesh, and it diverts up to 200,000 gallons of water per second from the Ganges River that would have flowed to Bangladesh.

“If ever there was a lesson in the unintended effects of damming rivers, the Farakka Barrage is probably it…

“Although the barrage, the longest in the world, was originally intended to divert water from the Ganges into the Hooghly River during the dry season and rescue the Kolkata port 257 km downstream, the government in Dhaka has accused India of using it to turn parts of Bangladesh into a desert, raising salinity, affecting navigation and adversely influencing the environment, agriculture and fisheries. ”

— India: Farakka Barrage – An Environmental Mistake. Muhammad Javed Iqbal

In India, the dam has not only contributed to the problem it was intended to fix (the silt build-up in Kolkata harbor), it may even cause bigger problems, such as the merging of two of the Ganges’ major tributaries.

“Critics say this is a product of the so-called “engineers’ racket,” a term coined by the Indian geographer Sunil K Munshi, to describe corruption resulting from greedy civil contractors working together with irresponsible state and federal governments. And it appears that now India will seek to undo the damage with a mammoth US120 billion plan to interlink its rivers, which originate in the Himalaya Mountains, with 30 interlinked canal systems that would deliver water to so-called Peninsular India.” (Iqbal)

Back in 1976, to protest the construction of the dam, populist leader Moulana Bhasani led a mass demonstration and march of thousands of Bangladeshis across approximately 100 kilometers. Since the 1970s, the two countries have engaged in talks attempting to come to a solution regarding the sharing of water.

Like the Ganges, the observance of Farakka Long March Day each year on May 16 tends to ebb and flow with the passing of time. On the anniversary of the march in 2005, a half million people gathered to protest the Farakka Barrage and the proposed Indian River Interlink Project.

The damage caused by the dam is just one more problem Bangladesh has to worry about.

With over 160 million people in a space the size of Iowa (Iowa’s population by the way is 3 million), Bangladesh is one of the most densely populated countries in the world.

Contrary to news reports, Bangladesh is not an environmental disaster waiting to happen… It’s already happening. Bangladesh, the canary in a coal mine for the rest of the world, is “set to disappear under the waves by the end of the century” —

However, according to Professor Ainun Nishat…

“Although everyone says that 17% of the country will be under water, it is not sea level rise that we fear but the increase of salinity.”

Bangladesh is Ready With a Climate Change Strategy

Rising sea levels means deep wells in low-lying communities will become effected with salt water, effecting both agriculture and drinkability.

Many researchers believe that climate change may also increase the frequency of tropical cyclones, which routinely strike the Bangladesh coast. The deadliest of these—in fact the deadliest cyclone in recorded history—was the Bhola Cyclone of November 1970, which killed over half a million people.

Farakka Day Today

Farakka, a Lost Battle for Bangladesh?

Farakka Barrage: Cause for Concern

Armenian Genocide

April 24


“If a man is killed in Paris, it is a murder; fifty thousand throats are cut in the East and it is a question.” –Victor Hugo

Hugo died 30 years before the Armenian Genocide of 1915, but his quote could be applied to it—just multiply by thirty.

The Armenian Genocide has been called the first genocide of the twentieth century.

In November 1914, the Ottoman Empire entered World War I, and immediately met crushing defeats against the Russians to the north. Blaming the losses on Armenian traitors, the government conscripted mass numbers of Armenian men, removed them of their weapons, and forced them into labor camps.

The reason April 24 is chosen to memorialize the dead, is because on April 24 over 200 of the most prominent Armenian leaders and intellectuals were rounded up and arrested. Up until then Armenian arrests and executions had not been widely reported.

The following month the government announced the Temporary Deportation Law which allowed for the temporary relocation of anyone deemed a threat to national security. In September the Temporary Law of Expropriation and Confiscation expanded their authority: land, livestock, homes, and belongings of Armenians was to become government property.

The Armenians were taken to deserts, concentration camps, and other remote locations by the hundreds of thousands. Men, women, and children were either left to starve or executed.

The Turkish government today disputes the numbers of those killed, and the extent of government involvement, claiming for example, that many of the deaths were the result of poor farming weather that coincided with the relocation.

News of the atrocities were reported in the West at the time, and even the Ottoman’s allies during WWI, Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, expressed concern over the mass deportations and executions of the Ottoman Empire’s Christians.

Years later a German statesman would ask, “Who after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?”

But he didn’t say it out of pity. It was Adolf Hitler, speaking to his generals, using it as a justification for the future invasion of Poland and the Jewish Holocaust.

April 24

Armenians Are Sent to Perish in Desert – Turks Accused of Plan to Exterminate Whole Population – People of Karahissar Massacred – NY Times – Aug. 18, 1915

Nothing Personal / Among the Deniers

Obama Avoids G-word, Brands Armenian Killings a “Great Atrocity”– 2009

Mahavira Jayanti

April 16, 2011
March 28, 2010
April 11, 2009

I say with conviction that the doctrine for which the name of Lord Mahavir is glorified nowadays is the doctrine of Ahimsa. If anyone has practiced to the fullest extent and has propagated most the doctrine of Ahimsa, it was Lord Mahavira.

Mahatma Gandhi

Today is Mahavira Jayanti, in honor of the birthday of Lord Mahavira, who spread the Jainism religion and philosophy in India in the 6th century B.C. The holy day falls on the 13th day of Chaitra. The date varies in the Gregorian Calendar.

Mahavira was the last of the 24 Tirthankars, or “ford makers,” whose teachings form the basis of Jain Dharma, and he is one of only two for which we have concrete records of their lives.

Jainism is one of the oldest religions in the world, influencing both Hindusim and Buddhism. Jainism stresses self-control, non-violence, ascetic living, and the the divine potential in every soul. Jainists are noted for their high level of literacy throughout history. They are also known for their vast libraries going back to antiquity.

Jainism does not revolve around any one prophet or God but around the central tenant that God is an amalgamation of the qualities within each and every soul that are pure and divine.

Mahavira was a title meaning “Great Hero.” Maharvira was born to King Siddhartha and Queen Trishala in the kingdom of ancient Vaishali, in what is now Northeast India. His name, Prince Varhaman (Varhaman meant “increasing”) is believed to refer to how all good things in nature flourished prior to his birth. Of course, if he was born in April, that’s no real shocker.

What was surprising was that at age 30 the wealthy, priveleged Prince suddenly renounced his family, his inheritance, and all his worldly possessions to live an ascetic life and to devote his life to the spiritual and achieving enlightenment, or Keval Gyan.

Throughout the remainder of his life he traveled across India, with no possessions, often without even footwear or clothing, and preached the principles of Jainism to the people of India.

At one point he was said to have amassed nearly half a million followers. His teaching solidified the shape of Jainism that would persist for over 2500 years. He died at the old age of 72, the last of the Jain prophets.

Though far more people practice Buddhism and Hinduism, Jainism is still one of the most populous religions of the world, with over 4 million followers.


April 13 or 14

In the month of Vaisaakh, how can the bride be patient?  — Guru Granth Sahib p133, Sikh holy book

Vaisakhi has long been celebrated as the New Year by the cultures of Punjab in northwest India and eastern Pakistan. But for Sikhs, Vaisakhi is one of the most important holidays of the year.

Celebrated every year on April 13 or 14, for Sikhs Vaisakhi (also Baisakhi) commemorates the founding of the Khalsa Pantha (Order of the Pure) by Guru Gobind Singh in 1699.

Guru Gobind Singh, as you may recall, is the last of the ten mortal gurus. He’s worshiped for, among other things, upon his death handing over the title Guru not to a person, but to the Sikh holy book itself, Guru Granth Sahib, a collection of divinely inspired writings by the first ten Gurus.

But he is also known for transforming Sikhs into a family of holy warriors, or soldier saints, known as the Khalsa Pantha.

On this day in 1699, at the Vaisakhi Festival in Anandpur Sahib, Gobind Singh called together some of his most devoted followers outside his tent. In front of a crowd of thousands, he asked who was willing to give their life to Sikh cause. A man volunteered. Gobind Singh took him into the tent and reappeared moments later alone, blood dripping from his sword.

To the crowd’s astonishment Gobind Singh asked again who was willing to give their life. Another man volunteered. Gobind Singh led the man to his tent and again came out alone with his bloody sword. This happened three more times.

Gobind Singh founds the Khalsa, Vaisakhi 1699
Gobind Singh founds the Khalsa, Vaisakhi 1699

After the fifth time Gobind Singh returned to his tent and brought out the five men unharmed, with turbans around their heads. He baptized them with a sacred nectar of immortality called amrit and declared them the Panh Piara, the Five Beloved Ones. These were the first five of the Khalsa, the elite group of holy warriors who would ensure the survival of the Sikh religion over the next three centuries.

Even today, though Sikhs are a minority in India, they still traditionally hold a disproportional number of military posts as commanders and officers.

Vaisakh is the first month in the Nanakshahi calendar. It coincides with April and May. The Vaisakhi festival is celebrated with processions and parades throughout Punjab as well as in Sikh communities throughout the world. The largest Vaisakhi parade outside India is in Vancouver, British Columbia.

“The month of Vaisaakh is beautiful and pleasant, when the Saint causes me to meet the Lord.” — Guru Granth Sahib p134

Sizdah Bedar – Nature Day

April 2

It’s time to celebrate the 13th!

April 2 is Sizdah Bedar, the last day of the Norooz celebrations.

Sizdah means 13, and Sizdah Bedar is celebrated on the 13th day of the Persian new year, which begins on the spring equinox, March 20 or 21.

The first twelve days of the New Year are spent visiting the homes of family and friends. Grandparents and older relatives come first. Then other family members. Then families visit with friends during the later days.

All this leads to the last day of the Norooz season, the 13th.

It’s not because 13 is particularly lucky in Iran or anything. In fact, Sizdah Bedar translates roughly to “getting rid of the 13th.” Persians spend the unlucky 13th day mitigating its potential bad influence on the year by creating good luck of their own. They do this with big communal picnics and outings to parks or the Great Outdoors, and by being surrounded by nature in general. For this reason, Sizdah Bedar is also referred to as Picnic Day or Nature Day.

Some telltale signs it’s 13 Bedar and not just a really big picnic:

  • A lot of red, white, and green
  • Persian music and dancing
  • Noodle soup and lettuce in sekanjebin — a homemade syrup with sugar and vinegar
  • And you might see plates of what looks like grass growing in a patch of soil. This is sabzeh. These sprouts of wheat or lentils, are planted in early March so as to be short blades by the equinox, symbolizing rebirth. Sizdah Bedar is the traditional date to dispose of the sabzeh, which is often done by young a woman, who ties the ends of sprouts together before dropping them in running water. The tradition stems from fertility rites said to bring good luck in finding a mate in the coming year.
Sabzeh © Michele Roohani

Sizdah Bedar is a cultural holiday, not a religious one. But by coincidence, Sizdah Bedar comes one day after Republic Day in Iran. Republic Day marks the creation of the Islamic Republic of Iran on April 1, 1979. Yesterday was the 30th anniversary.