Quarantine by Rajinder Singh Bedi

translated by C. Christine Fair


Rajinder Singh Bedi’s story written in 1939, is a timeless story of one ordinary man who selflessly worked to save people during the Plague.

Although he was Punjabi, he opted to write his stories in Urdu and later in Hindi because his mother tongue, Punjabi, was not regarded as a literary language. This bias towards Punjabi, unfortunately, endures in much of South Asia even though Punjabi literature dates back to the twelfth century and even though Punjabi culture dominates much of South Asian popular culture. This story, “Quarantine,” was published as a part of Bedi’s first volume of short stories, Daanaa o Daam (Baited Trap), which was published in 1939. It was subsequently published in Hindi decades later as well as Punjabi. The Urdu version has been used as the basis for this translation. Both the Hindi and Punjabi versions significantly differ from the Urdu original.

The story takes on an uncanny resemblance during the current pandemic situation the world faced and from which we as a human race, are just emerging. People’s stories, the problems of middle-class lives, love and pain, inherently remain the same through the ages.

In this wonderfully translated story, we understand this more than ever.


Like the fog that spreads out and obscures everything across the plains lying at the feet of the Himalayas, the fear of plague stretched out in four directions. Every child in the city would shudder upon hearing its name. 

While the plague, in fact, was dangerous, the quarantine was even more deadly than the illness. People were not as immiserated by the plague as they were by the quarantine. To save the citizens from the rats, the Health and Safety Department printed up life-sized banners and put them on doors, roads, and avenues emblazoned with the caption “No Rat. No Plague. No Quarantine,” expanding upon the earlier slogan, “No Rat. No Plague.”  

The people were frightened of the quarantine. Given that I am a doctor, you can believe me when I claim that more people in the city died from the quarantine than from the plague.  The quarantine is not a disease; but rather the name of an area where, during the days when the epidemic was spreading through the air, sick people were separated from healthy people by force of law to prevent the disease from further proliferating. Even though there were reasonable numbers of doctors and nurses in the quarantine, it wasn’t enough because patients kept coming in ever-increasing numbers. Patients were not given—and indeed could not be given—personalized care. Because patients’ family members were by their side, I saw many patients lose their mettle. Having watched so many others die, one by one, all around them, many patients died well before death. On many occasions, a person would come in with a minor illness but would die from the pathogens pervasive in quarantine. Because the death toll kept climbing, last rites could only be performed per the special procedures of the quarantine, which is to say, hundreds of corpses were strung out like the carcasses of dead dogs atop a mounting heap. Then, without any religious formalities, petrol would be tossed on the pile and set ablaze. Seeing the flames climbing up towards the evening sky, the remaining patients felt that the entire world was aflame.

The quarantine was the reason for the swelling deaths because, upon seeing the symptoms of the disease, family members of the afflicted began hiding them so that they would not be remanded to the quarantine forcibly. Doctors were instructed to report every person who had been infected to the department. Consequently, people did not seek treatment from doctors. One would come to know that a family had come into the clutches of the epidemic only when corpses were pulled from the house amidst heart-rendering shrieks.

In those days, I was working as a doctor in the quarantine. Fear of the plague consumed my heart and mind too. In the evening, upon reaching home, I would wash my hands with carbolic soap for a long time; or gargle with an antiseptic potion, or drink hot coffee that would give me indigestion or drink brandy. Because of this, I suffered from sleep deprivation and blinding light in my eyes. On several occasions, I would take emetics to induce vomiting to cleanse my body. Whenever I would get indigestion from drinking very hot coffee or brandy, which caused bouts of hot gas to rise and steam my brain, I would fall prey to all sorts of superstitions just like someone who had lost their wits. If there was the slightest pain in my throat, I’d think, “Oh God! I must have caught the murderous disease… Plague! And then… Quarantine!”

In those days, there was a newly converted Christian named William Bhagu. He was the sweeper who cleaned my street. One day, he came up to me and said, “Sir, it’s strange. Today, about twenty-one have been taken from this area in an ambu.”

“Twenty-one? In an ambulance…?” I asked in shock.

“Yes, sir… Fully twenty and one. They have been taken to the kontine. Will those hapless people ever be able to come back?”

I gathered that Bhagu would get up at three in the morning. After quaffing a small bottle of alcohol, he would spread lime powder in the streets and drains under the committee’s jurisdiction, as instructed, to prevent the microbes from spreading. Bhagu told me that he got up every day at three in the morning to collect the corpses strewn about the bazaar.  He also does small chores for those people in the neighborhood where he worked who don’t leave their homes for fear of the disease. Bhagu was not at all afraid of getting the disease. The way he saw it, if death was coming for him, there was nothing he could do to save himself no matter where he was.

In those days, when no one could go near anyone, Bhagu would cover his face and head with his turban cloth and, with great devotion, busy himself helping people. Even though his knowledge was very limited, he could expertly explain to people how to save themselves from the ailment. He instructed them to practice basic hygiene, toss lime powder, and remain inside their homes. One day I saw him counseling people to drink a lot of alcohol. On that day, when he approached me, I asked, “Bhagu, aren’t you afraid of getting the plague?”

“No, sir. Until death comes for me, not even a hair will be askew. You are such a prominent doctor. Thousands have been cured by your hands. But when my time comes, even your medicines will not save me…Sir, I hope you are not offended. I am just saying the plain truth.” Then, to change the subject he asked, “Sir, explain to me what a kontine is… tell me about this kontine.”

“Over there in the quarantine, there are thousands of patients. We treat them to the extent that we can. But how much can we do? The people who work with me are themselves afraid of staying with the patients for a long period of time. Their lips and throats are dry with fear. Unlike you, no one will get close to a patient. Nor will anyone try as hard as you, Bhagu. May God bless you for selfless service to humanity.”

Bhagu bowed his head. Lifting the corner of his scarf and showing me his face, flushed red from drunkenness, he said: “Sir! Of what use am I? I am fortunate if any good comes from my useless body. Sir, L’abe (Reverend Monit L’abe), an important Father who usually comes to my neighborhood to preach, says that the Lord Jesus Christ teaches us to do everything to help the ill… I understand….”

I wanted to appreciate Bhagu’s bravery, but I stopped because I was overwhelmed with emotions. I began to feel jealous upon seeing his faith and practical life. That day, I decided then and there that I would make every effort in the quarantine to keep alive as many patients as possible. I would risk my own life to provide them comfort. But there is a huge gap between saying something and doing it. Upon reaching the quarantine and seeing the patients’ perilous condition, I became overwhelmed by the stench emanating from their mouths. My very soul began to quake, and I was unable to summon the courage to serve them as Bhagu did.  

Nonetheless, on that day, I took Bhagu with me and got a lot done in the quarantine. I delegated to Bhagu the varied tasks which required someone to be near a patient; he performed the role without complaint. I remained quite distant from the patients because I was petrified by the thought of death and even more so of the quarantine.

But how is that Bhagu is above both death and the quarantine?

That day, four hundred patients came to the quarantine, and about 250 succumbed to the jaws of death.

I was able to save so many because of Bhagu’s willingness to gamble his own life. There was a graph hanging on the wall of the chief medical officer’s room, which depicted the latest data on patient survival outcomes. It showed that those patients who fared best were those under my care. Every day, I made one excuse or another to take a peek at the chart. It was exhilarating to see that line on its way towards one hundred percent.  

One day, I had drunk more brandy than was necessary. My heart began to pound. My pulse started racing like a horse. I began to run around here and there like a madman. I began to worry that perhaps the plague pathogens had finally grabbed hold of me and that soon the lymph nodes in my neck and thighs would begin to swell. I immediately panicked. That day, I wanted to run away from the quarantine. I was shaking the entire time I was there. On that day, I was able to meet Bhagu just twice.

In the afternoon, I saw him embracing some patient. He was patting him lovingly on the hand. The patient mustered as much strength as required to say “Brother, Allah is the king. God would not even bring an enemy to this place. I have two daughters…”

Bhagu interrupted him to say, “Brother, thanks to the Lord Jesus Christ, you look just fine.”

“Yes, brother, by god’s grace… I am much better than I was before. If I could… this quarantine….”

And with that word still on his tongue, his veins bulged. He began frothing at the mouth. His eyes became stones. His body jerked several times, and the patient, who just a moment ago before appeared to everyone –even to himself—to be fine, fell quiet forevermore. Bhagu’s tears seemed as if they were tears of blood.  Who else would cry for the dead man? Had any relative been there, they would’ve rendered asunder the earth with their mourning. He only had Bhagu—the relative to everyone. He had pain in his heart for everyone. He cried for everyone and seethed on everyone’s behalf. One day, he humbly offered himself to Lord Jesus Christ in recompense for the sins of mankind.

That day, around evening time, Bhagu ran to see me. He was out of breath. He said in a painful voice, “Sir, this quarantine is hell. Just hell. Father L’abe drew a map of this kind of hell.”

I told him, “Yes, brother, this is even worse than hell. I myself was thinking about making an escape from here. I am feeling very unwell today.”

“Sir, how can hell be worse than this? Today, a patient fainted from fear of the illness. Someone mistaking him for dead tossed him onto a pile of corpses. After dousing the heap with petrol and setting it ablaze, the flames began to consume the corpses. I saw him in the fire, moving his hands and feet. I leapt in and pulled him out. He was so badly burned that my right arm was completely burned while rescuing him.”

I looked at Bhagu’s arm.  The yellow fat tissue of his arm was exposed. I was stunned to see him like this. I asked, “In the end, was that man saved?”

“Sir, he was such a noble man. This world could never appreciate his virtuousness and honesty. Even in that state of sheer agony, he lifted up his scorched face, gazed into my eyes with great frailty and thanked me.”

“And sir,” Bhagu said, continuing his story, “then, after so much agony—so much more agony than I have ever witnessed in a dying patient—he passed. It would’ve been so much better had I not saved him from that inferno. By saving him, I kept him alive to bear yet more misery. Even then, he could not be spared. And then I picked him up with my burnt arms and tossed him on the pile.” 

After this, Bhagu could say no more. With pangs of pain, he said haltingly, “Do you know… from which disease he died? Not from the plague… From the kontine. From the kontine.”

Even though the idea of hell brought some modicum of solace from the brutality, the sky-rendering shrieks of the terrified patients relentlessly echoed in one’s ears throughout the night. Even though the owls hesitated to hoot, the lamentations of mothers, the screams of sisters, the grieving of wives, and the cries of children could be heard across the neighborhood. If this was a heavy burden upon the chests of those who were safe and sound, how did it demoralize those who were ill in their homes who could see only yellow despair dripping from the doors and windows like a jaundiced person. Then there were those patients of the quarantine who, after crossing all limits of despair, were staring down the king of death. Yet they gripped life as if they were clinging to the top of a tree during a great storm. And as the powerful waves of water kept coming at them, they wanted to take the top of that tree with them when they went under.

That day, I didn’t go to the quarantine either due to my fear of the illness. I made an excuse to do some urgent work. Actually, I was experiencing severe psychological distress…Although it was possible that I could help some patients, the fear which seized my heart and mind also shackled my feet. Late that evening, I received news that some five hundred patients had arrived in the quarantine.  

I was about to fall asleep after drinking the scalding coffee, which was still burning in my stomach, when I heard Bhagu’s voice at the door. The servant opened the door, and Bhagu entered panting. He said, “Sir, my wife has fallen ill… her tonsils are swollen… For the love of god, save her… The one and half-year-old child is still nursing. He will die too.”

Instead of mustering even an iota of genuine sympathy, I said angrily “Why didn’t you come sooner? Did the illness begin just now?”

“In the morning, a minor fever… when I went to the kontine…” 

“Okay. So, she was sick at home, and yet you still went to the quarantine?”

“Yes, sir. Yes.”  Bhagu said, trembling. “It was an ordinary illness. I assumed that perhaps her breasts could not express milk. Apart from this, she had no other problems. And both of my brothers were at home. And there were hundreds of helpless patients in the kontine…”

“You, with your excessive generosity and sacrifice, you brought those germs into your own home. I told you that you should not get so close to the patients… Look, this is the very reason I did not go there today. This is all your fault. Now, what can I do? Heroes like you need to suffer a taste of your own heroism. Wherever there are hundreds of patients piled up in the city…”

Bhagu said beseechingly “But for the sake of Jesus Christ…”

“Go. Leave. Who do you think you are? You deliberately put your hand in the fire. Should I pay the price for your imprudence?  Does anything good come from such sacrifices? I can’t help you at all at this hour….”

“But Father L’abe….”

“Leave. Go and see your Father L’abe…”

Bhagu bowed his head and left. Half an hour later, my anger had dissipated, and I regretted my behavior. At least I had enough sense to feel terrible about it afterwards. Without a doubt, my most severe punishment would be trampling upon my pride, begging Bhagu for his forgiveness, and making every conceivable effort to save his wife. I changed my clothes as quickly as possible and ran to Bhagu’s home. Upon arrival, I saw that Bhagu’s younger brothers had laid their sister-in-law on a charpai and were taking her outside….

I asked Bhagu, “Where are they taking her?”

Bhagu said softly, “To the kontine…”

“But don’t you still think the quarantine is a hell, Bhagu?”

“Sir, when you refused to come, what other option was there? I was thinking that we would get the hakeem’s help there, and I could care for her along with the other patients.”

“Put the charpai here… Even now, your brain is still fixated upon other patients…? Fool…”

The bed was taken inside, and I administered to his wife whatever effective medicines I had, and then I began to struggle with my invisible opponent. Bhagu’s wife opened her eyes.

Bhagu said in a trembling voice, “I will never forget your kindness for the rest of my life, sir.”

I said, “Bhagu, I can’t tell you how much I regret how I behaved before… May god repay your service by making your wife healthy.”

In that moment, I saw my invisible foe deploy his last weapon. Bhagu’s wife’s lips began to tremble. Her pulse, which had slowed in my hand, continued to weaken. My invisible enemy, who is regularly victorious, knocked me down on all fours as usual.  I lowered my head remorsefully and said, “Bhagu, ill-fated Bhagu! This is a peculiar reward for all of your sacrifices.”

Bhagu burst into tears. It was difficult to watch as he removed his crying child from his mother and humbly asked me to leave. I had thought that Bhagu, having accepted the darkness of his own life, would no longer care for others…. But the very next day, I saw him helping even more patients than before. He saved the lights of hundreds of homes… And he paid absolutely no heed to his own life. Even I followed Bhagu’s example and began working with enthusiasm. In my spare time—when I was free from my work in the quarantine and hospital—I turned my attention to the homes of the city’s poor, which are epicenters due to their proximity to sewers or filth.  

Now, the atmosphere is completely free of the pathogen that caused the illness. The entire city has been cleansed. There are no signs of rats. In the entire city, there are but a few cases of the disease which, after getting immediate attention, do not spread further.

Throughout the city, business returned to normal. Schools, colleges, and offices began to reopen.

One thing I felt for certain was that people were pointing at me from every direction as I passed through the bazaar. People looked upon me with grateful eyes. My picture was published in the newspaper along with flattering words. I began to feel pretty arrogant after receiving so much praise and compliments wherever I went.

Ultimately, there was a large ceremony to which all of the city’s well-heeled citizens and doctors were invited. The Minister of the Municipality presided over it. I was seated next to the minister because this program had, in fact, been organized in my honor. My neck strained under the weight of the garlands. Feeling honored and looking about, the committee was giving me a token sum of one thousand rupees as recompense for my diligent work on behalf of humanity.

All of the people who were there praised my colleagues generally and me, in particular, and exclaimed that the number of lives that were saved during the plague due to my diligence and dedication were innumerable.  I couldn’t tell you whether it was day or night. I believed that my life was tantamount to the life of the nation and my wealth to be the treasure of society. I entered the homes of the ill and gave the dying patients the elixir of health!

The Minister of the Municipality stood on the left side and picked up a walking stick. Addressing the audience, he used his stick to draw their attention to a black line on the chart, which was hanging on the wall. The line depicted how, throughout the course of the epidemic, the health of the public continuously improved at every moment during the crisis. He concluded by referencing the chart, which also indicated the day when fifty-four patients were remanded to my care, all of whom recovered. In other words, my success rate was one hundred per cent, and the black line reached its zenith.

After this, the minister acknowledged my courage in his speech and said that the people would be pleased to know that Bakhshi was being promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in acknowledgment of his service. The hall was filled with the thunderous sound of loud applause.

During the ovation, I raised my head in pride. I thanked the dignitaries and distinguished audience in a lengthy oration. In addition, I also explained that doctors did not just devote their attention to the hospitals and quarantines but also to the homes of the impoverished. Those people had no one to help them, and they generally succumbed to this fatal disease. My colleagues and I searched for—and found—the epicenter of the illness and focused our attention upon eradicating the disease at its source. After finishing up our work in the hospital and quarantine, we would spend the night in those dreadful houses.

That same day, after the ceremony, with my rank of lieutenant colonel, I held my head high with pride, laden with garlands and one thousand rupees—a token gift from the people–stuffed in my pocket. Upon reaching home, I heard a soft voice off to the side.

“Babu Ji… So many congratulations to you!”

And Bhagu, while congratulating me, placed that same old broom on the lid of a filthy, nearby cistern and, with both hands, removed the cloth he had tied around his face. I was startled.

“Is that you?… Bhagu brother!” I barely managed to say… “The world doesn’t know you, Bhagu, and even if it never does, I know you. And I know your Jesus.…L’abe’s great disciple… May god bless you.” At that time, my throat became dry. The image of Bhagu’s dying wife and child flashed before my eyes. My neck felt as if it was snapping from the heft of the garlands, and my pocket was bursting at the seams from the weight of my wallet and. Despite receiving all of these honors, I began to mourn this world that had so much appreciation for a worthless man.


About the Translator:

C. Christine Fair is a professor in Georgetown University’s Security Studies Program within the School of Foreign Service.  She studies political and military events of South Asia and travels extensively throughout Asia and the Middle East. Her books include In Their Own Words: Understanding the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (OUP 2019); Fighting to the End: The Pakistan Army’s Way of War (OUP, 2014); and Cuisines of the Axis of Evil and Other Irritating States (Globe Pequot, 2008). Her forthcoming book is Lines of Control: Lashkar-e-Tayyaba’s Militant Piety, with Safina Ustad (Oxford University Press, 2021).  She has published creative pieces in The Bark, The Dime Show Review, Furious Gazelle, Hyptertext, Lunch Ticket, Clementine Unbound, Fifty Word Stories, The Drabble, Sandy River Review, Barzakh Magazine, Bluntly Magazine, Badlands Literary Journal, among others. Her visual work has appeared in Vox Populi, pulpMAG, The Indianapolis Review, Typehouse Literary Magazine, The New Southern Fugitives, Glassworks and Existere Journal of Arts. Her translations have appeared in the Bombay Literary Magazine and Bombay Review. She causes trouble in multiple languages.


Rajinder Singh Bedi

Rajinder Singh Bedi (1915-1984) was a famed Urdu story writer associated with the Progressive Writers’ Movement in India. He is most renowned for writing short stories that dilated upon the lives of India’s lower middle-class. He was born in the Sialkot district of pre-partition Punjab, which is now in Pakistan. He spent his formative years in Lahore (currently in Pakistan) where he was educated in Urdu.ALL POSTS

This was published in the Bangalore Review in September 2022.

Retraction Statement

C. Christine Fair

  1. Based upon facts revealed during discovery in litigation, I am compelled to believe that I publicized unverified allegations about Professor Rochona Majumdar.  I, Christine Fair, retract them fully and apologize.
  2. I hereby retract any and all statements I [Christine Fair] have made stating or suggesting that Rochona Majumdar offensively touched, sexually assaulted, or sexually harassed Zain Jamshaid because they are unfounded and false.
  3. I hereby retract any and all statements I [Christine Fair] have made stating or suggesting that Rochona Majumdar is a sexual predator because they are unfounded and false.
  4. I hereby retract any and all statements I [Christine Fair] have made stating or suggesting that Rochona Majumdar plagiarized Zain Jamshaid, or any other person because they are unfounded and false.
  5. I hereby retract any and all statements I [Christine Fair] have made stating or suggesting that Rochona Majumdar discriminated against any student on the basis of sexual orientation, national origin, caste status, religion, or any other basis because they are unfounded and false based on the information I have received. 
  6. I hereby retract any and all statements I [Christine Fair] have made stating or suggesting that Rochona Majumdar abused, harassed, or victimized any student because they are unfounded and false based on the information I have received.
  7. I hereby retract any and all statements I [Christine Fair] have made stating or suggesting that Rochona Majumdar was hired or granted tenure by the University of Chicago because her husband influenced or interfered with the process because I had no basis to make the statements.
  8. I learned during discovery that I should have been less ready to believe the statements that had been made to me. I apologize for the lasting damage I have done to Rochona Majumdar’s reputation and the unnecessary pain I have caused thereby.

Short Story: The Rat Vs. Me by Harishankar Parsai -Translated from Hindi (Chua aur Main) by Christine Fair

6 min read


(As the editor’s pick for this week, this article will be available for free reading for a week)

This story has nothing to do with Steinbeck’s novel “Of Men and Mice.”

I wanted to give this story the title of “Me Versus the Rat” but the rat has devastated my self-esteem. This rat in my house has already accomplished what I could never manage. This rat has accomplished what no ordinary man could and then, he talked about it.

There was a fat rat in this house. When the wife of my little brother was around, food was prepared in this house. Since then, due to some family tragedies—such as the death of my brother-in-law among others—we had been residing elsewhere.

This rat came to understand that it was his right that I should bring food into the house for him. To date, even men have not managed to understand their rights as this rat did.

For some 45 days, the house was locked up. When I returned alone and opened up the house, I saw that the rat had knocked down and smashed up quite a bit of crockery. He must have been trashing the place looking for food. He must have been looking inside the crockery and containers for something to eat. He would not have found anything and must have gone to the neighbors to find something to eat to stay alive. But he did not leave the house. He understood this house to be his own.

When I burst in on him, the light was on, but I could see that he was happily squeaking and running here and there. Maybe he thought that now, food will be made in this house, that he’ll open up the containers and get one of the rations.

All-day he happily roamed the house. I watched him and I enjoyed his joy.

But food production in the house did not resume. I was alone. In the afternoon, I would have lunch at my sister’s place nearby.  I eat late at night so my sister would send a tiffin over for me. Having eaten, I would close the tiffin and store it. Rat lord must have felt despair. He must have been thinking, “What kind of house is this? The human has returned. There’s even electricity. But no one is making food. If food was prepared, I would at least get some scattered grains or pieces of bread.”

Then I had an altogether new experience. At night, time and again, the rat would fidget with the mosquito net up by my head.  Throughout the night he’d disrupt my sleep. I would chase him off. But a bit later, he would come right back and begin making a racket near my head.

He was starving. But how did he come to figure out the difference between my head and my feet? He hadn’t been mucking about near my feet. One time, he came right into the mosquito net.

I was very worried. What should I do? If I hit him and he scurried underneath an armoire and died, then he’d start to rot, and the entire house would be filled with stench. Then I’d have to move the heavy armoire and remove him.

The rat would make a ruckus in the house all day long and would irritate me at night. I’d fall asleep, but Rat Lord would begin making a nuisance of himself near my head.  

Finally, one day, I finally figured out the problem: the rat needed to eat. He believes this house is his. He is quite aware of a rat’s rights. At night maybe he would come to my pillow and say this, “Brother! What’s going on with you! You eat until your belly is full. But I am starving. I am a member of this household. I have my rights. I am going to wreck your sleep.” Then I hatched a plan to fulfill his demands.

At night, I left the tiffin open and put a few pieces of papadum here and there. The rat came out from wherever, picked up a piece, sat under the armoire, and began to eat. After finishing my meal, I scattered some pieces of bread on the floor for him. In the morning I saw that he had eaten it all.

One day, my sister sent over rice papadums. I left three or four pieces for him. The rat came, sniffed, and went away. He did not like rice papadums. I was astonished by the rat’s preference. I gave him some pieces of bread. He would come and take each piece one by one.

This became routine. I would leave the tiffin open, and the rat would come out and begin looking it over. I’d put a few pieces down for him on the floor. At night, he’d eat it and go to sleep.

For my part, I too slept peacefully. The rat wasn’t getting up to nonsense by my head.

Then one day he showed up with one of his brothers. He must have said something like, “Dude, come over to this house with me. I irritated this guy with bread, terrorized him, and made him give me food. Come, both of us will eat. He damned well better feed us if he knows what’s good for him. Otherwise, we will fuck up his sleep good and proper. It’s our right.”

Now both Rat Lords were eating at the table.

But I got to thinking. Has a human become less worthy than a rat? This rat is all up in my face asserting his right to eat. He wrecks my sleep for it!

When will the men of this country begin acting up like this rat?

About the Author

Harishankar Parsai (1924-1995) was a modern Indian Hindi writer best known for his satirical and humorous writings delivered in a simple and direct style. His body of work includes novels and short stories. He was awarded the prestigious Sahitya Academy Award in 1982 for his satirical essay Viklang Shraddha Ka Daur.

Parsai is renowned for raising challenging questions about society and the daily social and political challenges faced by the middle class. While this story is marketed as “children’s literature,” the themes presented are adult and salient for contemporary audiences.

About the Translator

Christine Fair is a professor in Georgetown University’s Security Studies Program within the School of Foreign Service where she studies political and military events of South Asia. Her books include In Their Own Words: Understanding the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (OUP 2019); Fighting to the End: The Pakistan Army’s Way of War (OUP, 2014); and Cuisines of the Axis of Evil and Other Irritating States (Globe Pequot, 2008).

Her forthcoming book is Lines of Control: Lashkar-e-Tayyaba’s Militant Piety, with Safina Ustad (Oxford University Press, 2021). She has published creative pieces in The Bark, The Dime Show Review, Furious Gazelle, Hypertext, Lunch Ticket, Clementine Unbound, Fifty Word Stories, The Drabble, Sandy River Review, Barzakh Magazine, Bluntly Magazine, Badlands Literary Journal, among others. Her visual work has appeared in Vox Populi, The Indianapolis Review, Typehouse Literary Magazine, The New Southern Fugitives, Glassworks and Existere Journal of Arts. Her translations have appeared in the Bombay Literary Magazine, Bombay Review, Muse India and Punch The Magazine. She causes trouble in multiple languages.

This was originally published by Kitaab on July 2, 2022.

How Imran Khan has become the Donald Trump of Pakistan

With so many Pakistanis believing Imran Khan’s ‘Great Steal’, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif will have little peace in office.

President Donald Trump began to delegitimise the 2020 presidential poll months before the first vote was cast, just as he did the 2016 election. He told his supporters that in 2016, fraudulent votes snatched from him the popular vote he claimed he won. We now know that there was foreign interference in the 2016 presidential elections; however, it was to help — not hinder — Trump’s electoral victory. Going into the 2020 elections, a majority of Americans (60 per cent) did not have confidence in the honesty of elections. Trump began building his “Big Lie” about the theft of his victory before, during and after America went to the polls.

On 23 September, Trump said of mail-in ballots that they were “out of control.” That American armed service personnel and diplomats have been voting through mail-in ballots without problem did not deter the then president. That Americans every year safely mail their tax payments did not deter him. For Trump, they would contribute to election theft. He raised questions about the voting machines being used and accused the democrats of using the electronic voting machines to steal his election. After the ballots were cast and counted, he demanded recount after recount. Where he was winning, he wanted the count to end. Where he was losing, he demanded recounts. The end result of his painstaking erection of the “Big Lie”? Only one in five Republicans believe Joe Biden is the legitimate president. It seems Imran Khan has taken a page out of Trump’s playbook and created a fictive Big Steal of his own.

As is well-known, former prime minister Imran Khan, was the favoured boy in the real capital of Pakistan: Rawalpindi. The army secured his prime ministership before the election and through massive rigging and they did so by forging a coalition of the billing which Khan would lead. Like the prime ministers before him, he too came to believe that he was too beloved by the people and Pakistan’s allies alike to be ousted. Like all prime ministers before him, he too learned that he is as expendable as the army wants.

Imran’s mistakes were numerous. First and foremost was that he failed in even the limited remit that the army grants the prime minister. Pakistan’s shambolic economy and flailing governance began to reflect poorly on the army because everyone understood he served as the pleasure of Pindi. Consequently, Pakistan’s all-powerful Army Chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, began to have concerns about his acolyte. Khan also committed the deadly sin of interfering in the army’s internal affairs when Bajwa wanted to replace General Faiz Hameed as the head of the ISI. Khan baulked because it was Hameed who emplaced Khan through the electoral shenanigans the ISI had perfected. But Khan also publicly disagreed with Bajwa on a range of foreign policy matters as well whether it was Pakistan’s policy towards the United States, India or Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

As Islamabad was rife with rumours that Khan had lost the army’s support, Khan’s foes smelled blood in the water. While the ragtag band of disgruntled opponents that formed the Opposition began to organise for a no-confidence vote, Khan was busy preparing the fundament of his own big lie. Khan claimed that the United States had threatened him. He told his followers that America wants him out of power because he alone has the gonadal fortitude to oppose the imperial hubris of the Greatest Satan. The army notably rubbished this conspiracy. His paltan of social media soldiers took to the interwebs to declare the assault on Imran Khan and Pakistan’s sovereignty itself.

This was originally published in Firstpost on 1 June 2022.

The Problems of Panoptic Invigilation Programs as Evidence of Cheating

Abstract: During the pandemic, many faculty have turned to online programs to invigilate online exams. The consequences of finding a student in violation of honor code strictures can have devastating impacts on a student’s career. Therefore, it is urgent that honor councils in universities that have adopted these panoptic surveillance programs understand not only the limitations of these programs but the dangerous biases that are built into them and their usage. In this essay, I briefly review the german literature on this subject in hopes of advancing this debate. In this essay, I argue that gaze aversion cannot be the sole basis upon which to decide an honor council violation has been made.

Gaze Aversion: What Is It Good For?

The demand for online exam supervision technologies was already expanding concomitant with the burgeoning demand for online courses in higher education prior to the pandemic. However, this surge in global demand further ballooned with the sudden emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic and the swift movement of universities to online education. It seems that for the foreseeable future, online education and online invigilation programs are here to stay (Flaherty, 2020; Ginder et al. 2019; Goghlan et al. 2021).

Given the perduring nature of this demand, it is imperative that those who are availing of these programs understand the foundational problems with the algorithms they use and biases that inhere in these algorithms as well as the biases that undergird faculty assumptions about what constitutes cheating. One of the key elements flagged by these programs as “suspicious” is gaze aversion. In other words, if the program detects that a student’s gaze is not persistently aimed at the screen, the program assumes that the averted gaze is searching for material that may permit the student to cheat. Gaze aversion is then produced as evidence of malfeasance to academic integrity programs.

This fundamental assumption about the correlation of gaze aversion and academic impropriety is fundamentally flawed and cannot be taken as dispositive evidence of cheating because there is a large literature on the use of “gaze aversion” during problem-solving and information recall. In fact, gaze aversion is a natural brain function during problem-solving, especially when one doesn’t know the answers immediately. Depending upon the kind of problem being solved and the kind of information being retrieved, one may avert their gaze in one direction or the other depending upon the hemispheric allocation of that information in the brain. Salvi and Boden (2015) note that “More frequent movements of the eyes are found when people are engaged in tasks that require a search of long-term memory than when they are engaged in tasks that do not require long-term memory search, even when the tasks do not seem to have any visual component” (Salvi and Boden, 2015: 2). In other words, gaze aversion is more frequent when we are struggling to recall the answer. Similarly, Bergstrom and Hiscock (1988), report that gaze perseverance is correlated with the memory demands of different kinds of questions while Glenberg et al. (1998) report that individuals avert their gaze when they are trying to respond to different questions. Ehrlichman and Weinberger (1978) found that participants were more likely to have gaze persistence (or stare) when they were answering visuospatial questions rather than verbal questions.

Kocel et al. (1972) found that the direction of lateral eye movements was strongly correlated with the type of question, with verbal and arithmetical questions eliciting more rightward eye movements than did spatial and musical questions.” Other scholars (inter alia Ellis et al.) actually use eye movements exhibited while a person is solving a problem (anagrams) to understand how they solve problems. Susac et al. (2014) monitor eye movements during mathematical problem solving to derive insights into the cognitive processes and contend that such eye movement “may be used for exploring problem difficulty, student expertise, and metacognitive processes.” Benedek et al (2017) observe of eye movement and cognition that “Gaze aversion refers to the aversion of one’s eyes (or even brief eye closure) during demanding processes requiring internal attention. There is strong evidence that gaze aversion serves the function of reducing cognitive load during demanding cognitive activities (e.g., mental arithmetic) by avoiding the processing of potentially distracting external stimuli in order to shield internal processes” (Benedek et al, 2017: p. 2. See also Doherty-Sheddon and Phelps, 2005; Markson and Paterson, 2009). Benedek et al. also note that gaze aversion enhances visual imagination (Vredeveldt et al., 2011; Buchanan et al., 2014) as well as information retrieval (Glenberg et al., 1998), particularly during face-to-face interactions (Benedek et al, 2017). They also cite an eye-tracking study according to which “insight solutions are preceded by longer blink durations and gazing away from the stimulus, which was interpreted as a shutting out or interruption of visual input in moments of insight” (Benedek et al, 2017: 2. See also Salvi et al., 2015; Salvi and Bowden, 2016). Benedek et al, 2017 conclude from these varied studies that indicate that ocular motion supports internally directed recall by diminishing distracting sensory stimulation. These observations are all germane to cases in which gaze aversion detected by online invigilation programs is presented as evidence of academic dishonesty because they demonstrate that gaze aversion is a fundamental element of information recall.

Not only is gaze aversion a natural activity associated with cognitive recall, but there are also biological bases for the observed variation in gaze aversion. Notably, Alexander and Son (2007) attribute gender differences in eye movements during problem-solving to differential levels of androgens. This is extremely important because it may imply that using such a measure as “gaze aversion” or “gaze persistence” absent other information will disproportionately and adversely affect women who are more likely to avert their gaze during recall. Alexander and Son (2007) also observe that there is as much variation among women as there is between men and women. They report that women with “higher circulating testosterone levels” were more likely to engage in gaze persistence during problem-solving.

Biased Technology Hurts Students

In addition to the gendered nature of gaze aversion (Alexander and Son 2007), there is a large body of literature that makes it clear that commercial panoptical surveillance programs and facial recognition programs have significant race and gender bias (Leslie 2020; Castelvecchi 2020). Buolamwini, who is black, studied facial analysis software that is used in a variety of applications. When she submitted photos of herself to several commercial facial-recognition programs, the programs often failed to recognize her photos as depicting a human face and, when they did, the programs consistently incorrectly assessed her gender (Hardesty 2018).

Gebru and Buolamwini (2018) in their study of commercial facial recognition systems observed:

substantial disparities in the accuracy of classifying darker females, lighter females, darker males, and lighter males in gender classification systems” and argue that these algorithms and packages “require urgent attention if commercial companies are to build genuinely fair, transparent and accountable facial analysis algorithms” (Gebru and Buolamwini, 2018: 1). These studies of facial recognition programs matter because they are at the basis of the panoptic surveillance used in commercial proctoring programs.

Swauger (2020) dilates upon these issues at length:

While racist technology calibrated for white skin isn’t new (everything from photography to soap dispensers do this), we see it deployed through face detection and facial recognition used by algorithmic proctoring systems. Students with black or brown skin have been asked to shine more light on themselves when verifying their identities for a test, a combination of both embedded computer video cameras and facial recognition being designed by and for white people. A Black student at my university reported being unable to use Proctorio because the system had trouble detecting their face, but could detect the faces of their white peers. While some test proctoring companies develop their own facial recognition software, most purchase software developed by other companies, but these technologies generally function similarly and have shown a consistent inability to identify people with darker skin or even tell the difference between Chinese people. Facial recognition literally encodes the invisibility of Black people and the racist stereotype that all Asian people look the same.

Swauger’s entire essay should be required reading of faculty reporting or investigating suspected academic misconduct and arguably, it should be included in any anti-racism training or curriculum required by faculty.

Other Forms of Biases Inherent in Online Proctoring

There are other biases that should be evident in the reliance upon such programs. First, they have significant technological demands. They presume access to a quality laptop with a quality camera and uninterruptable and reliable internet connections. Second, they also expect students to have a private space, free of distractions, with good lighting. Clearly, not all students have such technology or facilities and the variation in that access is to be deeply dependent upon economic class, race, gender, and age (Goldberg 2021). Poorer students may not have access to a private space or quality technology. Women who have dependents or live-in partners frequently report that their personal space is violated when husbands or children barge into the room to ask questions or make other demands (Hall 2021). Some people live in congested urban environments where ambient noise is loud no matter where you are in your residence. Third, these technologies are deeply ableist (Goldberg 2021). In short, students may be falsely accused of academic dishonesty include those students: who are, more often than not, women with family duties whose attention is drawn away from the screen; who have physical and/or neurological disabilities who may find it physically difficult or impossible to do what these programs require; poorer students who lack the ability to purchase a computer with a high-quality camera or other recording requirements; and women and racial minorities whose faces are less likely to be recognized as human.

Conclusions and Recommendations

As this cursory literature review demonstrates, gaze aversion is an inaccessible metric for academic dishonesty as it is literally a physical activity associated with cognitive recall. There are gender differences in gaze aversion, with women being more likely to do so. And there is variation among individuals based upon biological factors such as individual levels of various hormones. Moreover, the technologies used to detect such cheating are riven with race, gender, socio-economic status, and other kinds of biases that are simply orthogonal to any university’s commitment to anti-racism and creating a university that is more accessible and equitable to all. Given that these allegations of cheating can have career-wrecking implications, reporting faculty should be able to marshal actual evidence of cheating rather than vague concerns about “gaze aversion.” Universities should revisit any and all cases wherein students have been found guilty of academic misconduct and ex post facto absolve students of such accusations where gaze aversion is the sole evidence provided for misconduct. Prospectively, academic integrity councils should demure from using such evidence as dispositive evidence of malfeasance and require other, supporting evidence for such a finding. Students’ lives are at stake. If we don’t take our obligations seriously, who will?


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I Crashed into the Cuckoo’s Nest

In 1954, Dr. Brock Chisholm, the first Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), presciently declared that “without mental health, there can be no true physical health.” Some 68 years later, most citizens of the world’s largest and oldest democracies have inadequate access to mental health facilities, much less treatment, which often involves therapy as well as pharmaceutical approaches. In addition to the absence of resources, both countries to varying degrees stigmatize those with mental health problems. It’s a common retort when we are annoyed with someone to say: “Go back on your meds.” Anyone with actual experience with mental illness likely has a lot to say about this offensive quip. Would we ever say “Go back on your insulin” to a diabetic? No. Yet, the brain is like any other organ and sometimes it too requires care.

The statistics are staggering. More than one in four American adults suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder. Suicide, the most extreme manifestation of mental illness, is the tenth leading cause of death in the United States. For adolescents (15,019), it’s the fourth-leading cause of death. In 2019, 47,511 Americans killed themselves in addition to estimated 3.5 million people who planned to do so and 1.4 who attempted suicide but were saved. Overall, the United States has a suicide rate of 13.5 people per 100,000 people.

In India, mental health is also at a crisis point. In 2015–16, the Indian government undertook the Indian Mental Health Survey and concluded that some “150 million persons are in need of mental health interventions and care (both short term and long term) and considering the far-reaching impact of mental health (on all domains of life), in all populations (from children to elderly), in both genders, as well as in urban and rural populations, urgent actions are required.” India’s suicide rate is estimated to be 10.1 per 100,000.

Globally, each year some 800,000 people will take their lives. One person will commits suicide every 40 seconds and for each suicide, there are another 20 attempted suicides. The pandemic has only exacerbated acute mental health crises across the world, failing those citizens who are most in need. In January 2022, I became one of those statistics.

I don’t hide my own struggle with mental illness purposefully. When the social media trolls spanning the political spectrum between dangerously stupid and pathological malignant offer the “Go back on your meds” prescription, I confidently retort with complete sincerity: “Oh no, dumbass. I cannot go off my meds. It requires a lot of meds to keep my jalopy plane in the air.” I am open about my experiences of trying to fix my aircraft while flying it because I know that there are others whose airframes aren’t in tiptop condition either. Those who are spared the ravages of depression will most likely ask in earnest puzzlement: “Who wants to fly a broken plane?” The answer is easy: It’s the only plane we have. But I know that I am not waging war on an injured brain alone.

To give you the elevator introduction to my brain, she’s fifty-three. She’s kept me alive despite more than a decade of childhood sexual abuse, a petting zoo of every imaginable cretin malingering in out of my mother’s life largely for economic reasons, and from my own inept mother, who despite her best efforts, was first unable and then unwilling to protect me. And she was also known to give me a good whooping with any whooping object she could find, in addition to a sharp tongue and no internal filters. One of her common refrains when angry was “Goddamnit you little fucker! Cut me a switch.” And we did indeed cut that switch. So unless she intended to raise a highly educated savage, we may question her parenting skillset.

I first deduced that I could end this nightmare if I could figure out how to make myself die at the age of eight. Since then, I’ve generally managed these urges with medications and therapy until I couldn’t. This past year was the year the urges became too strong and too loud and I succumbed to their call. The last calendar year has been an unending onslaught of major assaults to my central nervous system. My tendentious mother-in-law finally died after three years of dying and my remaining in-laws, who consider me one chromosome short of being a spider inhabiting the reading light in the dining room, have repeatedly assaulted the fundaments of my marriage.

The emotional strain and drain of trying to help the Afghans who sought my help added to the burgeoning intolerable burden. Just when it was clear that the precarious window to help Afghans was closing, the holidays came. The holidays are that special time of year when your loved ones demonstrate how little regard they have for you. These specific challenges further strained my brain chemistry evolving under the ravages of menopause all the while suffering from unending pain from a roller-blading-induced broken wrist. One of the medications (gabapentin) given to me to stem my wrist pain has a regrettable side effect of suicide. One of my physician’s ex-post facto categorically denounced this drug as “dangerous.”

And so, on a lovely Friday afternoon on 7 January, without any compulsions or reservations at all, I drove my car into my garage, tried to run a hose from my exhaust pipe to my window and I hoped for that permanent sleep. Sometime later, the police were breaking into my garage and car and all hell broke loose. What happened next was a horror show.

I was rendered into what is called a “Temporary Detention Order” and I was forcefully admitted into our local hospital in Alexandria. There was one problem: That hospital had no psychiatric care. (As a well-practiced mental health survivor with an unfortunate habit of injuring herself, I know my hospitals.) I explained this to the police who kindly offered not to cuff me (as per protocol) for the short ride and they agreed that I was correct about the lack of psychiatric facility at the Alexandria Hospital. But statutorily they could not take me to the hospital that did have those facilities unless they asked for permission and they didn’t want to do that.

The police took me to the back-most room in the emergency room and cuffed me to the side of the rail, leaving my broken wrist unfettered. I briefly met with a doctor, who was younger than most wines I drink, who did a cursory exam and disappeared. I wouldn’t see her until about 9 or 10 that evening, some seven hours later, when I was begging to see a psychiatrist. The Alexandria Social Worker tasked to evaluate me via an overpriced notepad with ten percent battery remaining for all of ten minutes, announced that I should be remanded to a facility based upon virtually nothing. She refused to contact my therapist who, unlike this Zommed in nincompoop, knew me and my history.

For about nine hours, I was cuffed to that bed. I had been given juice and a turkey sandwich when I came in at about 3 pm. They did not serve me dinner. When I asked for dinner, I was told the service was over. They did not apologize for failing to give me dinner and indignantly complained when I explained I hadn’t had a proper meal since 7 am and needed to eat. At my insistence, they brought another turkey sandwich with the same enthusiasm with which one might dig a communal latrine. There was no privacy for my misery. A cop sat out my door. People wondered in front of me and stared. They thought I was a criminal. My students, colleagues or neighbors could’ve walked by. Why couldn’t the cop have sat inside my room with the curtain pulled for privacy? Why did my agony have to be shown to all who passed? And since my room was right across from the loo, many in fact passed by.

For the entire duration of the stay, which spanned 3 pm to past midnight, I cried nonstop. Without a proper meal, without any medication for my anxiety, or even a sedative to help me sleep, I remained chained to that bed. No one, including my husband, could visit me. I was essentially a prisoner receiving no medical care for my principal illness: PTSD-related depression. The bright lights and constant noise and untreated anxiety meant sleep was impossible. I was denied my phone and had no mental stimulation at all apart from coming up with creative invectives for the various humans whose actions and inactions put me in this situation.

A bit past midnight, I was ‘transferred’ in an unmarked police vehicle to a psychiatric ward about three hours from my home. My husband could not see me off and in fact, I wouldn’t see him until many days later, after my court date.

Once checked into the facility, I realized how bad our mental health facilities are. At one point, I actually considered checking into one of these clinics voluntarily. I now realized how bad that idea was. The ward was unsegregated which meant that I never felt safe the entire time I was there. What stroke of genius was this to put a woman with PTSD with a history of sexual assault on a ward with men? The staff was thin due to Covid-19.

The first doctor who saw me was a creepy older man who was redolent of brill cream and moisturizer for his freakishly pasty skin. He bristled when I introduced myself as “Dr. Fair,” after he introduced himself to me with his own title of “Doctor.” To regain the upper hand in this power dynamic, he casually announced that he “would not do my vaginal exam.” To which I replied, “Great. Because I wouldn’t let you.” This was a needless power move to reassert his control over the situation and remind me of my own helplessness. In the words of my therapist, to whom I later recounted this fiasco, it was “retraumatising.” He also sought to deprive me of medications that I required to manage my menopause symptoms which in large measure are intended to help regulate my mental state. I had to insist upon their reinstatement.

Given that I was remanded to this psychiatric ward on an emergency basis against my will, one would have thought that getting me to see a psychiatrist would be the highest priority. But it wasn’t. I wouldn’t see a psychiatrist until the day before I was allowed to go home, following a court hearing. This was not treatment: It was involuntary incarceration. It was a place they put me in hopes that my misery would pass without medical intervention. It was holding a tank.

I could fill pages with the insanity of that psychiatric ward. For those who have seen (or read) One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, let me say that that film is more documentary than fiction. The preposterous group activities were more like babysitting than therapeutic. In fact, I have seen street signs with larger numbers than the IQs of our group wardens.

I had to get out of there. My PTSD made me a very unsuitable candidate for this kind of facility. In truth, I’m not sure who is a good candidate for what was the equivalent of a goldfish bowl for humans. I became very anxious as the court date came. Despite the efforts of my local authority in Alexandria who advocated to the judge via telephone that I should remain detained against my will with zero information, the court-appointed lawyer and my own therapist persuasively and successfully argued that I should be released.

I’ve been home for twelve weeks and the hell of that sequence of events continues to play out. In their efforts to medicate me without understanding me, my trauma, and my needs, they put me on medication (aripiprazole) known for inducing a state of hypomania. Unbeknownst to me, I had been living in an unsustainable state of hypomania for weeks. Eventually, my state became so disturbed that even I could discern it. I was fearful of what would follow when this hypomania ended.

Oddly, the one lesson that I learned from this experience is that if I am going to commit suicide, I must succeed. I will never trust an emergency room again with my suicidal ideation. My experience with the deceit and ruses of the police officers who barged into my garage has added to my previous extant wariness of police. And I know now that psychiatric facilities are not therapeutic either. All of this has made me less trusting of our systems because I know they are flusterclucked. I have frequently reflected upon the fact that I have a PhD, am accustomed to self-advocacy, and am an astute wrangler of bureaucracies in the conduct of my research. Yet I was completely victimized by this system when I was most vulnerable and needing help. How are others treated with far less social and other capital? Perhaps in our derelict health system, it doesn’t matter? But I know this system isn’t just failing me. It’s most likely failing everyone who needs it.

The current task is to find what works to silence the voices in my head without causing yet another set of problems to manage. Knowing that I’ll be under treatment for the rest of my life and am unlikely to ever be cured and thus free of this illness, is itself a source of depression that can be overwhelming. When I think about the decades ahead, I become wary. I don’t want to live like this. Yet much of the treatment for PTSD works for adult trauma. For survivors of childhood trauma — especially incestual sexual trauma — the scientific literature gives little cause for hope.

There is no happy ending to the story or moral. It’s just a glimpse into how one person, who at first blush seems together and successful, manages the darkest of demons. And despite having some of the best health care an American can have, it’s still not enough. I share this deeply personal account because I know right now, someone reading this is going through I what I am going through. In short, the struggle to live continues. Because it has to.

Here’s the final kick in the teeth: Just as I’ve been trying to get over the shock brought by even seeing that hospital up the street, that asinine facility had the temerity to send me a bill for services they did not render. Do prisoners pay the cost of their incarceration? In the United States of America, they just might.

Why I am Running for the Faculty Chair of the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service

C. Christine Fair

Date: 14 February 2022
To: SFS Faculty
From: C. Christine Fair
Re: Fair’s Statement on the Incoming Faculty Chair’s Priorities

Dear Esteemed Colleagues:
I am writing to you today to seek your support for my bid to become faculty chair. I recognize I
am not the most obvious choice for this important post; however, I believe am the right person
to represent you due to my commitment to transparency, accountability, and integrity. For many
years, our faculty was collaborative and our governance transparent. Regrettably, over the last
several years, I have watched with dismay as our transparent governance retrenched and our
once cordial and collegial faculty became fractious and contentious to the detriment of the
school and the students we teach.
Below, I identify several issues that require immediate redress that I resolve to tackle as faculty

  1. Opacity of Governance: The governance of this body has become increasingly
    opaque and unaccountable to faculty members. Concomitantly, we are requested to
    endorse decisions and processes that have already been initiated. This is orthogonal
    to legitimate faculty governance wherein faculty are responsible for debating both the
    outcomes and the decision-making processes. Much of the current discord among
    our faculty stems from these suboptimal governance practices.
  2. Equal Access to Opportunities and Outcomes: In recent years, opportunities
    for service have not been equitably distributed despite claims to the contrary.
    (Analysis of historical SFS faculty minutes buttress this assertion.) While some
    faculty appear repeatedly in important committee assignments others are never
    afforded the opportunity despite demonstrable interest and explicit requests. For the
    last several years, this has been justified by the chair’s various prerogatives, which
    have never been elucidated. Consequently, important committees are simply
    announced and constituted without any discussion or debate. This opacity fosters
    distrust and resentment amongst the faculty.
  3. Diversifying this Faculty. There is an urgent need to diversify this faculty not
    only demographically, but ideologically and intellectually. If we wish to continue
    attracting promising undergraduate and graduate students, our faculty must
    resemble the student body we seek to attract.
  4. Commitment to Pedagogical Inclusion: Many faculty members have
    expressed reservations about the manner in which the SFS undergraduate program
    is administered. The absence of transparency and deliberation referenced above is
    often cited specifically as a reason why some faculty members feel excluded from participating meaningfully in BSFS deliberations even when their professional equities are at stake.
    I proffer that faculty governance that embraces transparency, inclusivity, and diversity is a
    necessary first step to restoring the amiability that previously characterized this body.

In this memo I introduce myself and articulate my vision for ameliorating the pressing challenges
that face our faculty.

About Me
I am an interdisciplinary scholar. I completed my Ph.D. in the Department of South Asian
Languages and Civilizations at the University of Chicago. Prior to that, I received an MA in
Public Policy, an MA in South Asian Languages and Civilizations, and a BS in biological
chemistry, also from the University of Chicago. I read and translate stories and write editorials in
Hindi, Urdu, and Punjabi. While I am moored in the study of South Asian languages, I have
become conversant in the tools of political science, which animate my work and my commitment
to the study of South Asian literature.

As a scholar, I have worked with an array of colleagues from the social sciences and
humanities, as my CV attests. (My scholarship is available at http://www.christinefair.net.) As such, I
do not privilege one discipline over another, and I understand and value the importance of
interdisciplinary research in scholarship and faculty bodies such as ours. As SFS faculty chair, I
commit to treating all disciplines and subjects of scholarly inquiry with equal dignity and regard,
consistent with my personal ethics and empirical commitments as a scholar. Scholars of all
disciplinary training should feel equally at home in the SFS and equally supported in tenure and
promotion procedures.

Owing to the University of Chicago’s notoriously hostile environment for students, I am
extremely sensitive to the needs of our students and ensuring that they feel safe and supported
in their academic, personal, and professional journeys. Nothing makes one appreciate
Georgetown’s commitment to cura personalis like being at an institution that does not hold
similar values. As a faculty member, I have demonstrated my personal dedication to the
development of our students. I have a long and demonstrable history of working with students
and ensuring that their efforts are reflected in author bylines on journal articles and edited

I also have a long history of service at Georgetown. Since 2010, I have had the privilege of
serving on the honor council as both an investigating officer and hearing board member on
innumerable cases. I have also served on the Honor Council Executive Committee several
times. While many faculty may view the honor council as a punitive body, I long ago came to
appreciate it as an opportunity to help students in most need of help. As a member of the honor
council, I have also worked strenuously to help protect students from biased detection
technologies and ensure that they are fairly represented in a process that can have grave

Since 2016, I have been the field chair for the undergraduate international politics (IPOL)
concentration, the largest in the BSFS. In my capacity as IPOL field chair, I employed innovative
marketing strategies to recruit a more diverse pool of adjunct faculty. I am also currently serving
on the SFS executive council and have served on numerous hiring and promotion committees. I
am proud of my record of service at Georgetown. However, like many of my fellow faculty
members, I would have liked to participate in other committees, but opportunities were not

Opacity of Governance
When I first joined this faculty in August 2009, important initiatives were discussed prior to
implementation. Faculty were given the opportunity to discuss the pros and cons of important
initiatives, whether it was the choice of Blackboard over Canvas or the development of a new
MA program. Increasingly, opportunities to discuss important decisions that affect our abilities to
execute our obligations to our students, colleagues and community, ab initio, have been
curtailed. It is now the norm that the faculty chair presents decisions as a fait accompli. As such,
our votes are meaningless as we are left with the options of either acquiescing pro forma or
rejecting it as a form of procedural objection.

This approach is not the way this body functioned in the past and there is no reason why it must
continue to do so. As a self-governing faculty, we cannot merely ratify a singular choice
presented. It is the responsibility of this faculty to be engaged in processes from beginning to
end. The degradation of this basic norm of governance has had necrotic impacts upon the
morale and competence of this body. Equally important, failing to engage and mentor capable
and interested members of this faculty in important governance processes deprives the body of
capable future leadership. There is nearly always an absence of competition among competent
and willing members to serve as the chair of this body following the completion of the chair’s

As faculty chair, I will work with all of you to provide transparent governance that maximizes
opportunities for creative disruption and allows for healthy debate. For example, I will form and
staff hiring committees with faculty input. I will ensure that the expertise of the committee aligns
with the intellectual and other criteria required for a successful search. It is my hope that by
seeking greater initial buy-in from the faculty, we can better identify consensus candidates
through a collaborative process. In doing so, we can shape this faculty in ways that best serve the
interests of our students.

Hiring colleagues is perhaps the most important thing we do. It shapes the priorities of this body
for decades and the opportunities of our current and future students. While I respect the
academic calendar and the need for recuperative summer breaks, I resolve to reach out to
faculty over the summer to ensure the participation of those who desire to do so.
I also pledge to help restore the affability of this body and its members by rigorously enforcing
individual commitments to honor the confidentiality of this body’s deliberation on issues such as
tenure and promotion. Failures to honor confidentially in such proceedings erodes trust among
our faculty. As faculty chair, I will not demure from pursuing available remedies as identified by
our faculty handbook to disincentivize individuals from violating this fundamental value.

Equal Access to Opportunities and Outcomes:
One of the most obvious indicators of the decline of transparent governance has been the
empirically demonstrable unequal access to committee assignments both big and small. A
striking example of this deficit is this very process to identify the next SFS chair. Even as a
candidate, the committee has not communicated timelines, expectations or even articulated a
process by which voting faculty can fairly evaluate all candidates. Many faculty with whom I
have spoken believe that committees tip the scales in favor of a preferred candidate who better
satisfices the equities of select faculty. The non-transparent practices employed only serve to
heighten this perception of malfeasance in the committee selection process.
As faculty chair, I resolve to revert to historical and equitable practices of first announcing the
intent to constitute required committees before soliciting volunteers. I will ensure that all faculty
have equal opportunity to influence the future composition of this faculty through participation on
hiring and other committees that give faculty critical opportunities to develop institutional capital
in SFS. We must have equitable access to opportunities and outcomes to promote collegiality
among our diverse faculty.

Diversifying this Faculty
It is incumbent upon the SFS chair and all of the mainline faculty to remain steadfastly
committed to achieving Diversity Equity and Inclusion (DEI) goals in order to remain a beacon of
intellectual and ethical leadership in this country. While it is difficult to rapidly change the
composition of tenure-line faculty, both non-tenure line (NTL) and adjunct hires present
opportunities for more expeditious and positive evolution. Due to the overwhelming reliance
upon adjuncts and NTL faculty in the School of Foreign Service, most of our undergraduate and
graduate students will encounter many such faculty throughout the course of their studies. In
many cases, NTL hires are not competitively hired. Furthermore, in nearly all cases adjuncts are
hired due to their relationship with members of this faculty. The result of these uncompetitive
processes has been an adjunct pool that is overwhelmingly Caucasian and male.
There are enormous opportunities to reshape the student experience and ensure the diversity of
the faculty reflects that of the student body by standardizing the quality and methods of
identifying and hiring NTL and adjunct faculty. One way of doing this efficiently is by
consolidating several adjunct positions into more manageable NTL-hires, which are more
comprehensively advertised and evaluated. Candidates for such consolidation are adjuncts
teaching courses that could or should be taught by mainline faculty. To identify such potential
consolidation of adjunct positions into NTLs, I will form a committee to evaluate adjuncts across
SFS. Per my commitment to transparency in governance, I will consult with this body about its
formation and size. I aim to collaborate with the Dean, field chairs, and program heads to
establish standardized business practices that will govern all aspects of hiring adjuncts across
the SFS including advertising and vetting.

All faculty, particularly the SFS chair, have an obligation to work with SFS DEI to continue to
identify new professional and academic organizations with whom we can partner to identify all
qualified persons. This may include cultivating relationships with Historically Black Colleges and
Universities to identify potential students and create mentoring opportunities for them. As SFS
chair, I will work with the Dean to identify sources of funding to create post-doctoral positions for
underrepresented scholars to further demonstrate SFS’ commitment to expanding the pool of
qualified potential faculty hires.

I wish to acknowledge much progress has been made since I joined this faculty over a decade
ago. We still have much work to do. As the IPOL field chair, I have undertaken similar efforts to
identify adjuncts that will offer our students pedagogical opportunities that align more
consistently with their identities and aspirations. I know firsthand that this is a difficult and timeconsuming process, but the results justify these commitments. It is important to recognize that this is not a process that has an expiration date but rather it is a set of evolving habits that should animate all our faculty searches at all levels.
As SFS chair, I pledge to remain committed to ensuring that we set tangible goals in creating a
body of faculty that aligns better with the needs and aspirations of all our students.

Commitment to Inclusive Pedagogy

Many of the concerns expressed by faculty members at our Faculty Council meetings pertain to
the manner in which the SFS undergraduate program is administered. This has generated
grievances among some faculty who believe decisions are undertaken without adequate
understanding of their pedagogical and programmatic equities. Recent examples include the
promulgation of minors without requisite due diligence in understanding the impact of these new
minors on current certificate programs. Faculty associated with these certificate programs were
particularly aggrieved that they were not even given the opportunity to discuss these changes
with the curriculum committee. In my capacity as IPOL field chair, I serve as a member of the
BSFS curricular committee that created these minors. I agree with the aggrieved faculty that the
committee has made decisions about minors and certificate programs, for example, without
adequate consultation with faculty whose students are most directly affected by them. This has
caused needless rancor and disappointment among the aggrieved faculty.

Some faculty have also raised specific questions of expertise as experts are often left out of
curricular and hiring decisions that will affect them and the work they conduct with their
students. I can attest to this firsthand: I have never studied international political economy, yet I
am the IPOL field chair. While I have done my best given my limitations, I am hardly a suitable
person to provide high-level guidance on matters related to the curriculum. This is also an issue
faculty members’ willingness to serve. Members of our faculty with appropriate backgrounds
should step up and embrace such service opportunities to the betterment of our programs and
students we seek to attract.

Lastly, there is an urgent need to dedicate attention and other resources to updating the BSFS
curriculum which has not been revised holistically in decades. We must continually strive to
connect curriculum content and pedagogy to evolving student needs.

Concluding Thoughts
While it is impossible to comprehensively address each of the important above issues within a
reasonable length constraint, I hope that I have provided you with sufficient information about
me and the issues I will prioritize as faculty chair.

I look forward to engaging with the other candidates for this position on these and other
important issues, hopefully in a public forum with all of our colleagues present prior to the vote.
I hope you find my candidacy compelling and support my effort to represent you as SFS faculty
chair and work with you to restore the trust we once had in each other and in the institutions that
guide us.

Should you have any specific questions and wish to have a personal discussion, please feel
free to email me at ccf33@georetown.edu or +1 202 460 9295.
C. Christine Fair

Caste apartheid: India’s Less Salubrious Export to the United States

Until American state and federal laws — and domestic law elsewhere — catch up to the realities of caste apartheid, the most vulnerable of Indian-origin persons will suffer

Source: Equality Lab, “Caste In the United States,” https://www.equalitylabs.org/castesurvey

India exports nearly $20 billion in pearls and precious stones, pharmaceuticals, machinery, electronic equipment and textiles. But there’s another export that is increasingly apparent: India’s caste apartheid.

This was first brought to my attention in 2017 when students approached me about alleged caste-based intimidation and harassment they were experiencing in their graduate program. While I was dismayed by their reports, I wasn’t entirely surprised because Silicon Valley firms had already been in the news for similar reasons as the State of California sought to find a legal remedy and came up empty-handed based upon federal or state legal protections, which include the US Equal Employment Discrimination Opportunity (EEOC) enforced American laws which criminalize employment discrimination on the basis of a person’s “race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, transgender status, and sexual orientation), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information”. California’s own EEOC protects more classes of persons based upon ancestry, marital status, military/veteran status.”

But where does caste fit within these protections?

Source: Equality Lab, “Caste In the United States,” https://www.equalitylabs.org/castesurvey

Indeed, while such caste-based abuse is sinister and dehumanizing, American law has had difficulty finding a legal remedy for it. Two prominent lawsuits shed light upon this brutal form of discrimination in the United States In July 2020, the state of California sued Cisco Systems over alleged caste-based discrimination towards an Indian engineer by his Indian colleagues; however, the state struggled to argue that caste is protected as a form of religious-based discrimination but ultimately withdrew that case under pressure from Hindu groups which sought to minimize the role of caste in the Hindu religious tradition among other specious arguments including the argument that it violates due process and “uniquely endangers Hindus and Indians.”

In March 2021, a federal lawsuit alleged that a Hindu organization lured some 200 low-caste workers to the United State and forced them to work on building a sprawling temple complex in New Jersey for as little as $1.20 per hour. While lawsuits are battling out these issues, Krishnaswami and Krishnamurthi, in contrast, argue that caste discrimination is cognizable under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

In the United States, it is true that caste is most typically associated with Hindus; Sumitra Badrinathan et al emphasize that caste hierarchies and caste self-identification are prevalent in most, if not all, the major religious traditions in South Asia. This is true in Pakistan, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh. Given that the vast majority of Muslims in South Asia converted from Hinduism, most Muslims carry with them the caste of their Hindu ancestors.

Additionally, Islam in South Asia has developed its own additional social hierarchies in South Asia, such as the Ashraf and Sayyids (persons who claim to be direct descendants of Prophet Muhammad), the local South Asian converts from Hinduism (Ajlaf) who also still bear the imprimatur of their Hindu caste origins, as well family and other network-based forms of social stratification (e.g. the Biradari System). Equally important one can be religiously secular while still perpetrating caste-based bigotry because it also confers notions of social status.

Two recent empirical studies demonstrate the impacts of India’s less salubrious transplant among its myriad diasporan communities in the United States. The Equality Lab, in its 2016 survey of 1,500 self-identified Hindu Americans, observes that many caste-oppressed migrant communities in the United States are affected by caste discrimination because this caste-apartheid has “replicated itself in South Asian community, religious, and business institutions. This has led to many shocking experiences of caste discrimination in the United States that includes physical assault, verbal slurs, and discrimination in schools, businesses, and workplaces.”

Moreover, they found that 41 percent of those identifying as lower-caste reported caste discrimination in American schools and universities compared to only 3 percent of those who identified as upper-caste Hindus. More than 67 percent of lower-caste respondents indicated that they suffered caste discrimination in the workplace compared to merely one percent of upper-caste respondents. Unsurprisingly, the Hindu American Foundation, lambasted this study perhaps revealing its own proclivities to upholding caste-based apartheid. While pro-caste trolls attacked this study, it is not the only effort to understand this phenomenon in the United States. In 2020, Badrinathan et al of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace oversaw a survey of 1,200 Indian American residents in the United States. They report that more than eight in ten Hindus identify as upper caste with foreign-born respondents being more likely to embrace a caste identity than are those who were born in the United States.

While the vast majority of Americans are likely to be blissfully unaware of this form of discrimination, South Asian Americans are. According to Krishnaswami and Krishnamurthi, in the summer of 2020, “[S]everal employees of large tech firms like Google, Apple, Microsoft, and Cisco came forward with harrowing tales of workplace discrimination, including being paid less, denied promotions, and mocked for their caste background. And, undoubtedly, the scourge of caste discrimination extends beyond Big Tech. While caste discrimination is in no sense new, these recent reports should serve as a needed wake-up call. Eradicating caste discrimination demands our immediate collective attention and action.”

There are several scholarly as well as journalistic accounts of caste-based discrimination among diasporan communities in the United States and elsewhere, such as the United Kingdom and other countries with large South Asian diasporan populations.

Another venue that is increasingly emerging as a site of caste-based discrimination in the university system where Indians live in large numbers. Times Higher Education, which studied this phenomenon in the United Kingdom and the United States, concluded that caste is a global problem. Given the so-far undefined legal protections to low-caste South Asians, many American universities are taking action to codify caste as a protected category under its anti-discrimination policy. As of December 2021, the University of California Davis, Maine’s Colby College and Massachusetts’ Brandeis and Harvard universities have done so.

Until American state and federal laws — and domestic law elsewhere — catch up to the realities of caste apartheid, the most vulnerable of Indian-origin persons will suffer. It’s bad enough that black and brown bodies must endure the brunt of American white supremacy, but they seem to be increasingly facing the brunt of a brutal system that they thought they had left behind when they left India.

A version of this essay was published in The Print on 9 February 2022.

Why Pakistan is happy to pay a heavy price this time for strategic depth in Afghanistan

Imran Con: Pakistan’s Selected Prime Minister

For the first time in over 75 years not only are there no Indian advisors in Afghanistan, there are now Pakistani advisors in their stead. This alone may be worth the price that Pakistan will continue to pay for its victory in Afghanistan

C Christine Fair January 24, 2022 11:22:14 IST

For the first time in 20 years, Pakistan believes it has a friendly government in Kabul. All of the pesky nuisances — such as the United States and India — have been vanquished and their embassies shuttered, while the embassies of Pakistan, China and Russia (Pakistan’s newest ally) remain open for business. That business is not salubrious for the international community or most importantly for Afghans. This has come at a steep price: Pakistan’s own Tehreek-e-Taliban-Pakistan has been revivified within Pakistan. Yet, more Afghans are trying to flee the brutality of Pakistan’s puppet regime and Pakistan is the only option as the international efforts to evacuate Afghans have wrapped up. And the Taliban — just like every other regime in Kabul — repudiate the colonial-era Durand Line, which Pakistan recognizes as the rightful border.

Far too many ingénues have been busy drafting lugubrious repines for the troubles faced by Rawalpindi and Islamabad, the seat of the army’s power and that of the ISI and their selected prime minister, Imran Khan, respectively. These are all prices that Pakistan’s real political masters in khaki are happy to pay. It is the ordinary Pakistani who will pay the price. Fortunately for the Khaki Condominium running Pakistan, the country is not a functioning democracy, rather a praetorian state with a democratic patina. This means that while Imran Khan may not be re-elected, it will not be because of Pakistanis’ immiseration. Instead, it will be because the Men in their Pajeros have finally created an alternative to Imran Khan after he’s ceased being a useful idiot. From the points of view of the army and the intelligence agency it controls, the ISI, these are not merely prices but investments for the future. Here, I explain why.

For much of the time period of the Raj, Afghanistan was a fealty of the British. British Indians were very active in Afghanistan. With the onset of World War I (1914–18), Afghans supported Ottoman Turkey against the British. Following the defeat of Ottoman Turkey, the so-called Khilafat Movement (1919–24) would start in earnest in South Asia. Afghan’s ruler, Habibullah Khan, navigated a policy of non-involvement in the war while British Indians were dispatched to fight in it. Habibullah was assassinated in February 1919 by anti-British activists. His son, Amanullah Khan, took the throne and promised complete independence from Britain. Persons. With this declaration, the Third Anglo-Afghan War began in May 1919. War-weary Britain was drained and the British Indian Army was exhausted from the brutal demands of World War I. In August 1919, both sides signed a treaty in Rawalpindi — not Calcutta or Delhi.

After a month of desultory skirmishes, the Afghans had successfully secured their own sovereignty with a caveat. Afghanistan had always been a rentier state, dependent upon the financial support of the British to maintain its military among other important functions. When the British left, they took their coffers with them. Consequently, prior to formalizing the treaty, Amanullah’s government signed a treaty of friendship with the Bolshevik regime in the Soviet Union. In fact, Afghanistan was one of the first states to formally recognize the Soviet Union. Increasingly, the Soviets picked up Afghanistan’s tab, and their involvement culminated in the Christmas Day invasion of the country of 1979.

Until India’s Independence in August 1947, British Indian Muslims played an important role in Afghanistan as advisors. Also, during the Khilafat movement and at the urging of many religious leaders, many Indian movements spontaneously moved to Afghanistan where they could be free of British bondage. The Khyber Pass became choked with those seeking to enter Afghanistan along with their animals and carts festooned with their possessions. Overwhelmed by this migration, Afghanistan blocked their emigration. Unfortunately, their woes were not over: Many of the emigres were robbed by Afghan tribes or died of hunger or heat. Those who did make it back to India were destitute.

With India’s Independence, the Afghan government preferred to work with Indians as the Afghan government repudiated the Durand Line, which was the international and lawfully recognized border with the new state of Pakistan; rejected Pakistan’s admission to the United Nations; launched military incursions along the border; and fanned the flames of Pashtun irredentism. From Pakistan’s point of view, a further irritant was a reliance upon Indians advising the various Afghan regimes from 1947 up until the 1988 Geneva Accords which formally ended the Russian occupation of Afghanistan. During this period, estimates of Indian advisors aiding the various governments in Kabul at any given time vary between several hundred and 1,500. After the Soviets withdrew, Afghanistan entered a long and protracted period of civil war followed by the Taliban regime which terrorized Afghans from 1994–to 2001, when the United States routed them.

For the first time ever, it is Pakistan that is sending advisors to Afghanistan. While the Soviet Union left Afghanistan a large rentier state, the United States and its NATO partners built the largest Afghan government in its history and the largest rentier state in its history. Whereas when the Russians left, they were paying about 35 percent of the government’s recurring cost, the Americans were picking up the lion’s share of the enormous tab to keep the government afloat. The Taliban, which were never terribly interested in governing, are now under pressure to do so. However, they inherited a large rentier state.

Even though the Taliban purported to offer amnesty to the civilians who worked in the government during the last 20 years, many did not trust them, and they left if they could with the international community that was still able to evacuate terrified Afghans. In fact, some 120,000 left Afghanistan over the objection of the Taliban which believed these Afghans should have stayed to “rebuild” their Emirate. Despite earlier Taliban claims that it had the money to pay for the new government including civil servant salaries, it is now clear that the freeze on Afghan sovereign funds and sanctions has made this impossible. Moreover, the Afghan “government” now faces a serious personnel shortage.

Following this reporting, Pakistan announced that it will send “qualified and trained Pakistan manpower to Afghanistan”, specifically those in “medical, IT, finance and accounting”. Pakistan’s selected prime minister also ordered “relevant Pakistani officials to extend cooperation in the fields of railways, minerals, pharmaceuticals, and media to help Afghanistan’s rehabilitation and development”. Afghans understood that the Taliban defeat of their country was actually Pakistan’s victory over Afghanistan via their proxies. Afghans now worry that their colonization is complete.

For Pakistan, this is a dream come true: For the first time in over 75 years not only are there no Indian advisors in Afghanistan but there are also now Pakistani advisors in their stead. This alone may be worth the price that Pakistan will continue to pay for its victory in Afghanistan.

The writer is a professor of Security Studies at Georgetown University. She is the author of ‘In Their Own Words: Understanding the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba’ and ‘Fighting to the End: The Pakistan Army’s Way of War’. She tweets @cchristinefair. Her website is christinefair.net. Views expressed are personal.

A version of this post first appeared in First Post on 24 January 2022.

We asked why Pakistanis support Lashkar-e-Taiba. Results will surprise you

The Pakistani deep state prefers the Lashkar-e-Taiba over others. At home, the brutal terrorist group is quite the opposite.


24 January 2022 09:23 am IST

Lashkar-e-Taiba, along with Jaish-e-Mohammed, remains Pakistan’s most virulent export. It remains the most effective and brutal terrorist group operating in India, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and possibly elsewhere. Understanding who supports this nefarious organization remains an important scholarly and policy analytic question. To cast light on which Pakistanis support this group, my colleague, Karl Kaltenthaler and I, fielded a novel, nationally-representative survey of 7,656 Pakistanis in the country’s four provinces of Punjab, Sindh, Balochistan, and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Our results may surprise you.

Ideology matters

The Lashkar-e-Taiba (and other various noms de guerre it has used and uses) differs from many of the Islamist terrorist groups operating in the region that hail from the Deobandi religious interpretive tradition, in that the LeT draws from the Ahl-e-Hadees tradition. In fact, the organization has a considerable conflict with these Deobandi groups in large measure because most of the Deobandis engage in a practice of takfir, or declaring Pakistanis to be non-Muslim, which then render them subject to lethal violence. Moreover, the Islamic State in Pakistan draws from Deobandi militant organizations because the madrassas and the terrorist organizations the Deobandis support are deeply sectarian with a rich history of targeting non-Muslims, Shia, Ahmadi and increasingly Barelvis over the last decade.

More than anything, Pakistan’s deep state values the Lashkar-e-Taiba precisely because it preaches non-violence within the country. As I discuss elsewhere, the organization does not even publicly advocate death for Ahmadis, which puts it in stark contrast with Pakistan’s Deobandis and even Barelvis, who view Ahmadis as the worst perpetrators of shirk(apostasy). Moreover, Lashkar believes that it provides the only ideological competitor to the Islamic State in Pakistan.

Despite the organization’s claims to be Ahl-e-Hadees, most of Pakistan’s Ahl-e-Hadees ulema and institutions reject Lashkar’s primary claims that waging military jihad is an inescapable obligation of all Muslims and that it can be waged only by non-state actors. Instead, most Ahl-e-Hadees ulema believe that only an Islami Riyasit (Islamic State) can wage jihad. While the LeT preaches nonviolence towards anyone who recognizes the supremacy of Allah, it has real ideological differences with virtually all other Muslim sects in Pakistan. It accuses Barelvis (likely the largest market share in Pakistan) of committing idolatry for their cult-like adoration for the Prophet, who in Islam is merely a human being. Barelvis not only ascribe attributes to the Prophet that are reserved for Allah alone, but they also engage in practices – wearing amulets, worship of pirs, erection of elaborate graves, etc. – that the Lashkar believes to be apostasy.

Lashkar, like Deobandi militant groups, also take issue with Shias because they reject the succession of the Prophet. Unlike Deobandis, who believe that Shia are wajib-ul-qatil, worthy of being killed, Lashkar believes that they should be educated and converted.

Despite significant ideological differences with mainstream Ahl-e-Hadees institutions in Pakistan, according to our study, Lashkar-e-Taiba still draws support from Ahle-e-Hadees adherents. Notably, we find that Barelvi, Shia, and Deobandi oppose the organization, which is consistent with the LeT’s proselytization efforts (dawa and tabligh) to convert such persons to the Lashkar’s understanding of the Ahl-e-Hadees interpretative tradition.

But ethnicity matters more

Lashkar has long claimed to be a Kashmiri Tanzeem, comprising Kashmiris fighting for Kashmiris and dying in Kashmir. But it has long been suspected and recent data somewhat demonstrates that only the latter claim is true (See Figure 1). Whereas some 90 percent die in India, and over 90 percent of its cadres come from a mere ten districts in Pakistan’sPunjab. A meagre 1 percent comes from Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. Irrespective of the LeT’s claim to be a “Kashmiri” organization, it is by all measure a Punjabi organization.

This raises an interesting question: Do Pakistanis support the organization because of its religious or ethnic bona fides? It turns out that while ideology matters, ethnicity is the strongest predictor of support. It is far more important than ideology. At the same time, the Baloch are significantly more likely than others to oppose the Lashkar-e-Taiba whereas Sindhis are weak in their response. This also tracks with reality: Pakistan’s deep state has used the Lashkar in Balochistan for various reasons.

First, it is expected that Lashkar can persuade Baloch to abandon their ethnonationalist aspirations and embrace the State-sponsored notions of Islam propounded by Lashkar. To advance this agenda, when natural disasters hit Balochistan, as they often do, Pakistan only lets “humanitarian” organizations in to do relief, which are tied to Lashkar. Equally important, the Lashkar is explicitly pro-China and endorses the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Given that Pakistan will fight to the last Baloch to make the resource-rich province safe for Chinese exploitation, the Baloch rightly view the Lashkar to be another guise of Punjabi domination working in concert with the Punjabi-dominated army, which many Baloch believe has immiserated Baloch in their own province.

Support of the Army-led status quo in Pakistan

While the Lashkar is an important and violent disruptor abroad, at home in Pakistan, it is an explicitly status quo power. While LeT advocates killing kuffars (nonbelievers) in India, within Pakistan, it insists upon converting them through social services, humanitarian relief, and lived examples of pious Muslims. LeT’s staunch opposition to sectarian violence pits it against the Islamic State and many of the Deobandi militant groups, such as the anti‐Shia Lashkar‐e‐Jhangvi (LeJ, which also operates under the names Sipah‐e‐Sahaba‐e‐Pakistan and Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat) or the Tehreek‐e‐Taliban (TTP or the Pakistani Taliban), which draws many of its commanders and cadres from the LeJ.

Moreover, Lashkar argues against any kind of protest of the State—irrespective of its leadership—and is a staunch supporter of the current domestic, political and economic system in Pakistan, including Pakistan’s unaffordable friendship with China. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the third-strongest predictor of support for the Lashkar was satisfaction with the status quo. Our results should put to rest any thinking that Lashkar is a revolutionary organization.

Mothers of brutes

While very little work has been done to explicate whether and why women support Islamist terrorism, women in Pakistan are much more likely to support the Lashkar than are men. As I describe elsewhere, the organization dedicates significant resources to recruit women to the organization’s goals to ensure that they support the LeT by encouraging their sons and other male family members to join it either as militants or in supporting roles.

The LeT empowers women to promote the organization’s creed, which empowers them and frees them to move about without hindrance. To ensure that mothers are not disenchanted with the organization, the Lashkar-e-Taiba requires the mother’s explicit blessings for every mission in which her son may meet so-called martyrdom. The organization dispatches senior personnel to notify the parents of their sons’ death and it oversees the important ghaib-e-janaza, or funerary prayers in absence of a body.

None of this is good news

So, what does one do with this information? These results continue to show that it is very likely that there is a viable non-kinetic strategy to deal with the Lashkar-e-Taiba. Given the extensive State support for the organization and the stronghold that Pakistan’s military and intelligence agencies have in the country, there is little scope to conduct information offensives that would undermine any of the sources of support we find.

The only options to deter the LeT—absent capabilities to impose India’s will over Pakistan decisively through overt military operations—are covert and kinetic. As I have shown elsewhere, the pyramidal and open leadership structure in Pakistan make it vulnerable to leadership decapitation. While this option is challenging and difficult to execute, other options seem elusive.

C. Christine Fair is a professor within Georgetown University’s Security Studies Program within the Edmund A. Walsh school of foreign service. She is the author of In their own Words: Understanding the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and Fighting to the End: The Pakistan Army’s Way of War. She tweets at @cchristinefair. Views are personal.

A version of this piece first appeared in The Print, on 24, January 2022.