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Are Pakistan And Iran Ignoring The Plight Of China’s Muslims?

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Fareed Zakaria says in “The Post-American World”, “…foreign policy is a matter of costs and benefits, not theology.

Home to 1.3 billion people, China, the world’s second-largest economy, has been facing a series of internal political schisms and jarring dissidence for decades. To count – Taiwan, Tibet, the Xinjiang conflict, though undermined, are giving tough times to the absolutist one-party communist government of China.

The world is aware of the conflicts of China with Taiwan and Tibet, whereas Xinjiang remains an undiscussed and unheard-of conflict in world politics.

Xinjiang province falls in the western part of the Republic of China, where the ethnic Uighur community shares a long history of discord with the Chinese authorities. Uighurs are predominantly Muslims and they see themselves as culturally and ethnically close to Central Asian nations. Back in the early 20th century, Uighurs declared independence in the form of an East Turkestan state. However, it only lasted for a while and the area was subsequently brought back under the control of communist China in 1949.

Similar to other conflict-ridden parts of the world, the indigenous population of Xinjiang province is ruthlessly suppressed and denied basic human rights.

Image Credit: by Guang Niu/Getty Images

The oppressive tactics of the Chinese government include exploiting the abundant natural resources from the Xinjiang area. Despite being a reservoir of resources like natural gas, oil, coal, gold and other minerals, the living standard of Uighurs is one of the lowest in entire China. Massive migration has taken place, with the Han Chinese population in the region counterbalancing the ratio of the population of the ethnic Uighur community.

In 1949, the Uighur population in the Xinjiang area was around 90%, which has been reduced to 45% at this time. Meanwhile, the Chinese population in the area grew from 6% in 1953 to 40% today.

Forty-five nuclear devices were tested by the Chinese government in the Xinjiang province, between 1964 to 1966. It polluted the water, air, land and is a continuous threat to the local human population and livestock.

The Uighur community finds it hard to openly practice their religious obligations and beliefs. At times, the working class Uighurs are banned from observing fast during Ramadan. The health of government employees is often cited as an official reason. There is a lack of freedom of religion to such an extent that it amounts to a ‘cultural genocide’.

This grievous list of human rights violations by China should have been enough to bang the deaf ears of the world community, especially those who claim to be the defenders and protectors of Muslims.

Why is that nobody is crying and beating their chests when everything is strikingly noticeable about the livelihood of Uighurs before the world? Why is no one passing resolutions against this enforced rule of China over Xinjiang province? Do the countries, who every now and then extend their sympathies to the poor condition of Muslims around the world, know about the miserable plight of Uighurs or do they just choose to remain silent as their national interests could be at stake?

Pertinently, it is essential to discuss the role of two nations which are actively involved in defending the rights of Muslims, elsewhere. The leaders of Iran and Pakistan have repeatedly voiced their concern over the deplorable condition of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, Palestinians in Israel, and Kashmiri Muslims in India, whereas there is no reaction as far as the Xinjiang conflict is concerned. On the contrary, they sometimes support the human rights violations perpetrated by China against Uighur Muslims.

In 2009, when hundreds of Uighurs Muslims were brutally shot dead by Chinese military and Han mobs, there was no backlash and criticism from Iranian and Pakistani officials. This hypocritical approach was not received well by some senior clerics in Iran. They lambasted the Iranian authorities and highlighted their conflictual stance. The stature of ‘guardians of Muslims’ advertised by Iran was questioned by these theologians.

One of the clerics, Ayatollah Youssef Sanei, a reformist, said, “How could China suppress the Muslims so violently and seek good relations with Muslim countries, and sometimes dominate their markets?He also questioned why Iran, which considered itself to be the worldwide defender of Muslims, could not criticise China when it was oppressing Muslims and said that Iran’s silence was because of its commercial, military and political connections with China.

Additionally, Uighur residents questioned the double standards and the silence on the part of the Pakistani government towards Uighur Muslims.

Explaining the deep relations between Islamabad and Beijing which prevent Pakistan from taking up the issue of the Uighurs, Dolkun Isa, an exiled leader of the Uighur freedom movement, said, “The Uighurs of Xinjiang… are being denied the right to observe Ramzan. But we know that Pakistan which is vocal for the rights of Muslims elsewhere is wary of commenting on condition of the Uighurs in China.” 

The deep relations of Pakistan and Iran with China is seemingly a single reason that these two countries are not mounting pressure on China with respect to the Xinjiang conflict. Iran, already destabilised by international sanctions, has developed strong ties with China in the fields of economy, military, political links, trade, oil and gas. And who could forget the importance of the Silk Road in connecting both the nations? China is in favour of restraining Iran’s nuclear capacity but criticises the sanctions placed on them, thereby indicating its soft stance towards the Iranian republic. Conclusively, China and Iran have entered into a ‘holy alliance’ where no one is ready to look at their darker sides.

Similarly, Pakistan, which has indefinitely tried to pass resolutions against India in the United Nations for the liberation of Kashmir and is materially supporting the struggle, and has recently released financial aid for the Rohingya Muslims, has never condemned the deprivation and oppression of Uighur Muslims. Why would they? Why would they bother China when they have constructed the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) for them. Why would they revolt against the country which sides with them to counter Indian aggression?

The bottom line is that if Pakistan and Iran were really concerned about the deplorable conditions of Muslims worldwide, then they would have outrightly denounced the reprehensible acts of China against Uighur Muslims. Unfortunately, they remain mute spectators when it comes to the Xinjiang conflict as national interest seems to take greater priority over religious affiliations. They pounce upon oppressive governments when there is no threat to their foreign policy. There is no challenging threat from India to these two countries, neither from Israel, nor from Mynanmar. That is why they behave like lions there while dragons beat them into silence.

 

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Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

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The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
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Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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