In J.K.Rowling’s Harry Potter Series, there is a whole world of magic created by the author, and frankly due to the movie franchise quite believable. The non-magic world (the Muggles) are depicted as a typical society of our times and the magic world of those books suffers from the evil ambitions of Voldemort, a sinister magician who is Harry Potter’s nemesis. In the first part of the series, in the first 4 books, Voldemort is not named but referred to as 'He Who Must Not Be Named'.
Maajid Nawaaz, a British activist, author, columnist and politician, in his Daily Beast column first referred to the Voldemort Effect – “refusing to name a problem and failing to recognize it”. The wizards and witches in J. K. Rowling’s fictional world are so terrified, so petrified of this evil that they do two things: They refuse to call him by name, instead referring to him as 'He Who Must Not Be Named' and while refusing to name him, they also deny that he even exists at all. In Maajid’s own words, “…that only increases the fear and worsens the panic and public hysteria, thus perpetuating Voldemorte’s all-powerful myth even more.”
I studied this ‘Voldemorte Effect’ due to my interest in English Literature and researched the atmosphere created in the world of Harry Potter by Rowling - dark, ominously silent, afraid, constantly threatened, fear and injustice, yet nothing being done about it, in a constant state of denial. A world very familiar to me. South Asia has this peculiarity specifically in Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Bangladesh to not address the travails of their society. They can see what ails them, they are increasingly victims of those ailments, yet they never reach the ‘tipping point’ to do something about it.
Lately, the fear seems to be receding but it took countless innocent lives, a lot of blood and tears, much grief and shame to reach even this 'hiccupy' start of entire communities, civil societies, writers, artists, dissenting voices and common people starting to question, debate, reason, demand and downright protest for answers as to why the state is not doing enough. The demand for accountability, for introspection, for answer is reaching a crescendo.
In Afganistan, Lynne O’Donnell along with writer Humayun Babar in Kabul, of the Associated Press reported that Afghan Women are demanding a greater role in the peace process. I call this the stirring of Farkhunda’s spirit. Farkhunda was a 27 year-old Afghan woman who was publicly slain by a mob in Kabul on March 19, 2015 amid false allegations of burning the Quran. Her brutal murder and subsequent protests drew attention to women’s rights in Afghanistan.
"Afghanistan has limited representation of women in their largely male-dominated top positions in government and security forces", says the AP article. The various peace talks spanning more than a decade, according to New York based Human Rights Watch, has noticed "the absence of Afghan women in their 20 rounds so far. Except for two unsanctioned meetings by with Taliban representatives in Oslo and Doha, in 2015, women have not been in attendance for talks held this year with representatives of Afghanistan, Pakistan, United States and China". How can a peace process be effective if the women are absent from its proceedings?
According to data and U.N. studies:
"peace efforts are more likely to succeed when women are involved in the peace negotiations. The study shows that the benefits of including women are more. The deals negotiated can last for at least two years; the peace lasted longer; presence of women broadened the debate; sped up the process; and increased the involvement of different sectors of society. The report’s findings suggest that when women are placed at the center of security, justice, economic recovery and good governance, they will be more direct recipients of a range of peace dividends including job creation and public services. This means that the pay-offs of peace will be delivered more rapidly to communities".
So though, "President Ashraf Ghani has been explicit in his intention to preserve the rights and achievements of Afghan women", notes Lynne O’Donnell and "a woman’s rights to education, work, the vote and protection from violence inside and outside the home has been enshrined in the Afghan constitution", as per inputs by Humayun Babur, it has not been sufficiently able to convince the Afghan women understandably that their best interests are at heart. So the clamour has started; it remains to be seen how Voldemort is tackled. Observing Afghan women and their resilience through the past painful and violent decades, I am sure they will not back down considering they defied social customs and norms to carry her body for burial. Farkhunda’s spirit needs to be laid to rest.
Next is the tragedy at Bacha Khan University in Charsadda, Khyber Pakhtunawala, northwest Pakistan just 40 kms where the December 2014 Army Public School tragedy occurred. The Bacha Khan University attack exposed the Pakistan Army’s claims that they had dismantled the militant infrastructure. The Voldemorte Effect can be seen here in full. From blaming India for the attacks, to elements in the Afghan government to ‘bravado’ statements and releasing of media ads and songs depicting the Pak Army’s intentions, the Voldemorte Effect has "not been able to fool the Pashtun nationalists who believe the fault lies with the selective nature of Pakistan’s own action against militants". M Ilyas Khan, of the BBC News, Islamabad reports in his article Charsadda attack: Why can’t Pakistan stop militants?, that "the NAP or National Action Plan, drawn up in the aftermath of the APS attack has failed to be implemented".
This 20-point NAP, ‘… claimed that “no armed militants (would be) allowed to function” in the country, and that the government would “ensure” against the re-emergence of proscribed organizations (under new names)”. But the continued presence of groups like the Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad and their continuous use of Pakistani cities for their deadly operations shows the infeasibility of the NAP and its ‘questionable’ intention. That the word is around and questions are being asked proves the people have had enough of the violence and want to end the bloodshed and are at least naming the ‘dark forces’ involved in this. How many more children are the Pakistani people willing to sacrifice before the pain is unbearable remains to be seen in the coming days.
Coming to India, Hyderabad became the centre of a fast growing protest and agitation by the Dalits, the self-chosen political name of castes in the SAARC region which the varna system in India considers “untouchable”, after a doctorate scholar committed suicide amidst campus politics. The economist, reformer and champion of Dalits (himself one) Dr. B. R. Ambedkar popularized the term. While “scheduled castes” (SC) is the legal name for those who were formerly considered “untouchable”, the term Dalit also encompasses scheduled tribes (ST) and other historically disadvantaged communities who were traditionally excluded from society. According to the Wikipedia entry, Dalits are a mixed population, consisting of groups across South Asia. They speak a variety of languages and practice various religions. The 2011 census shows they make up 25% of India’s population and are also, found throughout South Asia like Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. There are Dalit immigrants to the United States, United Kingdom, Singapore, Malaysia, South Africa, Canada and the Caribbean too.
Dalits face discrimination in India, 67 years after its independence and despite the 1989 Prevention of Atrocities Act (POA) which was created for the purpose of curbing and punishing violence against Dalits. This Act permits Special Courts to try POA cases and calls upon states with high levels of caste violence to appoint qualified officers to monitor and maintain law and order. The Act suffers a near-complete implementation failure because of state apathy (only two states created such courts); unwillingness of policemen to register offences under the act due to ignorance and peer pressure and also due to unawareness of the Act’s existence.
While discrimination has declined in urban areas and in the public sphere, it continues in rural areas and in the private sphere or so it was thought. Rohith Vemula’s suicide brought everything to the fore and exposed that universities were not free from this ancient practice of discrimination. He was a PhD student at the Hyderabad Central University and his suicide on 17 January this month sparked protests and outrage across India and gained widespread media attention (questionable) as an alleged case of discrimination against Dalits and low status caste classes in India, in which elite educational institutions have been purportedly seen as an enduring vestige of caste-based discrimination against students belonging to ‘lower castes’. Rohith’s suicide has been called an “institutional murder” by many writers and politicians adding that it’s a continuation of discrimination against Dalits which continues today, including institutions of higher learning.
Security personnel, police and media have converged around the Ambedkar Students’ Association (ASA)-erected Dalit ghetto, where students are on hunger strike demanding the sacking of the vice chancellor, resignations and arrests of Union labour minister, Bandaru Dattatreya and human resources development (HRD) minister Smriti Irani. Mona Ranawat in her Daily O article, Rohith Vemula suicide: How protests at HCU expose darkness of our conscience says that amidst the many different colours of protests, the Dalit identity is an unchanging leitmotif. Now to add to the pain they have been charged as anti-national. It was exactly this charge of “anti-national” which led Rohith Vemula and his fellow research scholars at the Hyderabad Central University (HCA) to be suspended, virtually thrown out from the campus and be denied access to its facilities. Rajdeep Sardesai, an Indian news anchor and author, currently consulting editor at the India Today group, in his piece for the above mentioned news outlet says, "...whether it also led to his suicide is still open to question, but it certainly has exposed the rather troubling links between caste identity and student politics". He further writes, "…as a member of the Ambedkar Students Association (ASA), Rohith and his collegues poured scorn on Hindutva ideology, were dismissive of Vivekananda’s teachings, accused the left leaders of double standards, saw the BJP and Congress (political parties of India) as “upper caste” Brahminical oppressors. That they also chose to protest the hanging of Mumbai blast accused Yakub Memon ties in with a worldview (visible on the deceased Facebook posts) that appeared to see the death penalty as promoting the supremacy of the ruling elite".
The protests are getting bigger with student bodies planning to escalate the agitation across India’s campuses and nationwide hunger strikes and bandhs called out. In this case Voldemorte has been named and is visible like the elephant in the room or ‘mokita’ in the Kilivila language spoken on Kiriwina, Papua New Guninea which means “truth we all know but agree not to talk about.” As can be inferred from the above, the laws and constitutions are all in place, but either not implemented, or tap danced with, or simply ignored. I'll go over to the only country where the laws, Constitution and the will of the State and people has actually taken the Voldemort Effect head on and done something about it.
I am referring to Bangladesh, which started a crackdown in 2014 against outlawed militant groups, including their women's wing. From plotting to kill PM Sheikh Hasina as well as the opposition leader Khaleda Zia (that they are both women and have stood up to the Islamist threat is remarkable) to their machete-murders of bloggers and writers including the American Avijit Roy, the outlawed Jamaat-ul-Mujhahideen have issued threats openly to "kill personalities of the state and free their own leaders from jail".
Bangladesh hasn't shied away from putting the 1971 war criminals on trial and executing them. A nation that underwent horrendous brutalities under the hands of the surrendered and defeated Pakistan Army in the war for liberation of Bangladesh, tackling outlawed outfits is a daily business. The Islamic State seems to be vying for a place in the country but has been unsuccessful so far despite its online bravado and statements taking responsibility for the killings.
As Bangladesh and India work together to keep the extremists at bay, Bangladeshis are the ones to look up to when realising the Voldemorte Effect. It's high time South Asia geared up and started laying Farkhunda's spirit to rest, which was defiled by educated and literate men in a capital city, metres from the Presidential palace.