Cow Vigilantes’ Attacks: The Privileged Must Rise in Rage

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , ,

The gau rakshak dals are on a rampage. There is hardly a single week without news of vandalism, rape, killing and looting by these so-called protectors of gau mata and proponents of ultra-nationalism. While most of the victims of these crimes have been Muslims, the Dalits and Tribals have not been spared either. Some attacks which have gained public attention, the killing of Akhlaq in Dadari (UP) last year, Majloom Ansari and Imtiyaz Khan in Latehar (Jharkhand) in March and, most recently, Ayyub last week in Gujarat. There are cases of alleged rape as well (like the one in Mewat, Haryana). These attacks are not just limited to the states of Haryana and Gujarat, but are also being carried out in Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Rajasthan, Himachal, and even parts of the north east. The most unfortunate part has been that despite wide reporting of these cases, these attacks continue to take place.

beef-cow

While all this is going on, there are well-meaning people who have been suggesting and asking Muslims to come out and protest against these attacks and killings against them. I am partially in agreement with them – Muslims must protest, but that alone will not solve the problem. I believe that as long as the majority remains silent, things are unlikely to change in the long run. Dalits have been protesting against similar atrocities against them, resulting in massive uprisings in Una and elsewhere, but that has hardly deterred gau rakshaks from continuing their crimes against the Dalits.

It would also be unfair to suggest that Muslims have been totally silent on the issue. Last month saw a public meeting in Delhi organized by a Muslim group called Ittehad-e-Millat Council (IMC) demanding a “complete ban on beef exports from India”. It is another matter that the media chose to ignore this meeting completely.

One may choose to disagree on whether a ban on export is a genuine way-out. However, it is quite clear that the ban was demanded keeping in mind the continuous attacks on Muslims and Dalits in the name of protecting cows. In other words, it was a form of protest that was adopted by the organisers. The council in its memorandum, which was endorsed by representatives from Muslim and Dalit communities, noted

“We would like to express our apprehensions with respect to the atrocities, suppression and discrimination meted out to the Muslim minority, on the pretext of cow protection, beef eating, terrorism, national security, etc. Since the death of a man beaten to death after being accused of eating beef last September in Dadri, vigilante groups of cow protectors have flourished.”

It was also announced that if these demands were not met by the government, the protesters would take their agitation to the streets and Ramlila Grounds.

In my opinion, part of the reason for continued attacks is not just the political patronage that is enjoyed by these cow vigilantes groups, but also the strength that they draw from draconian laws and provisions enacted in the name of preventing cow slaughter and protecting and developing animal husbandry, especially cows. Legislations like the Gauvansh Sanrakshan and Gausamvardhan (Cow Protection and Development) Bill 2015 passed by the Haryana Assembly on March 16, 2015 – it bans the slaughtering of cows and the sale of beef in the state, and also its import – are a case in point.  The amendments in the Maharashtra Animal Preservation Act, 1976 are another good example. Fortunately, unlike in Haryana, a later ruling by the Mumbai High Court allowed for the consumption and import of beef to the state of Maharashtra.

These laws are often used as proxies to target those who eat beef or those involved in its trade. In fact, as we have seen in various cases, it hardly matters whether the meat belongs to a cow, buffalo, goat or chicken. The mere possession of meat can make someone suspicious and vulnerable—both in front of vigilante groups as well as state agencies. And by the time that it can be proved that it was not cow meat, an irreversible damage has already been done. This is in contradiction to the fact that, as pointed out by some specialists, “slaughter does not drive down animal numbers, but actually supports their reproduction, as is evident in the case of India’s buffaloes.” In fact, they “also have mounting evidence to show how slaughter bans actively depress cattle rearing.”

I would like to state that one can’t get rid of their responsibility by merely appealing to Muslims (and Dalits) to standup and fight back, especially when these attacks are carried out keeping in mind that it has the support of a majority of Indians. As long as public perception persists that beef eating is opposed by majority of India or “against Indian culture”, vigilante groups will continue unchallenged.

What we must remember is that the target might be Muslims and Dalits today but if this is allowed to continue, it won’t be far when no one will be there to defend our rights, the democracy and the constitution, which we often boast about. Preaching to victims is not going to help. The privileged must rise in rage. Otherwise, very soon, there will be nothing left to be proud of.

Though I do not deny the power of agency, I insist that in order to counter majoritarian violence, a majority of the people have to stand up and say enough is enough. It is imperative for the majority to disassociate from and denounce the practices carried out in their name. Let’s wake up, before it’s too late.

First published in NewsLaundry.com  

Book Review : Being The Other: The Muslim in India

Tags

, , , ,

It is very rare to find close friends, relatives and longtime admirers question an author at whose book launch they have been specially invited, purely because book launches in our part of the world are considered to be sacred and questioning, akin to public shaming. This was certainly so at the book launch of Saeed Naqvi’s book titled “Being The Other: The Muslim in India”, when the author was heavily grilled by his friends and relatives, apart from his adversaries. And the list of those were ‘deeply disappointed’ by the author’s provocative positions taken in the book as well as the ‘pessimistic views’ on India’s future and the Muslims’ place in it include people who are no less ordinary. To name a few, these included veteran photographer, Raghu Rai, the author’s daughter and senior journalist, Saba Naqvi, former diplomat turned politician, Pavan K Verma and veteran journalist and author, Mark Tully. Verma and Tully were in conversation with the author at the launch.

They were disappointed because Naqvi, through this book, makes us uncomfortable as he challenges our commonly held views and understanding about important issues like partition, secularism, communalism, riots, the making of the Kashmir problem, the Babri Masjid demolition, the rise of Hindutva, role of the congress party and its towering leaders including Jawahar Lal Nehru. saeednaqvibook

 

 

 

Being The Other: The Muslim in India

Saeed Naqvi, Aleph Book Company (2016)

Pages:  xv+239, Rs: 599

 

Take this for example. “The principal excuse given for partition is the two nation theory credited to Muslim League supremo Mohammad Ali Jinnah. However, what is not widely known is that…(it) was first articulated by colonial theorist James Mill…In fact, as senior Congress leader K M Munshi points out, ‘it was (Jinnah) who warned Gandhiji not to encourage the fanaticism of Muslim religious leaders,’ explains Naqvi. According to him more than anyone else, Nehru and (Sardar) Patel were responsible for the partition of the country. And to substantiate his claim, the author cites various communications and meetings between Mountbatten, Gandhi, Nehru, Patel and Azad. Here it is imperative to note that Nehru was the hero of the author and his clan. In his own words, Nehru was “the undisputed leader of Muslims in India”.

According to the author, after partition, the Babri Masjid demolition was the biggest shock for Muslims in India. This was not just because a Mosque was demolished, but because it was a political statement declaring victory of Hindutva forces and the failure of secular polity. Naqvi rightly notes that, “The Babri Masjid demolition served as a shocking eye-opener for Indian Muslims. It destroyed whatever confidence the community had in the Indian political class and…Congress.” Moreover, after the demolition and subsequent riots, covert and overt dislike of Muslims in this country has become a lot more open and frequent. Discussing the rise of Hindutva, he notes that “the growth of the RSS in the north India was not without Congress support.”

Adding more insult to injury, Naqvi feels, the supposed war on terror brought another round of othering of Muslims in India. As he believes, “the global war on terror has become the newest platform on which to build Hindu nationalism.” In the post “9/11 war on terror, every fake encounter or atrocity committed by militant groups has been laid at the doorstep of the country’s Muslim community… It is not by accident that thousands of angry Indian Muslim men are routinely picked up on charges of being suspected jihadis,” he further notes. It is another story that most of them get acquitted from different courts as there has hardly been any case against them.

The book might come across as anti-Congress and Nehru-bashing, based on one’s selective reading of it. But here’s the spoiler-the book is hardly so and the devil lies in the details. It requires a cover to cover reading as it is equally critical of the BJP and other political parties. It ably demonstrates, using real life examples, how Muslims have been othered over the years and how the process is still continuing. It clearly showcases the institutionalised bias, impunity, indifference practiced by the system as well as the society at large.

In short, if I would have to introduce the book in one sentence, I would say that it is a firsthand account of a veteran journalist, who happens to be a Muslim and who tries to bring out his views of how Muslims were betrayed in India, and how he feels like an expatriate in his own country. And this is what makes the initial title (Exiled at Home: How India’s Muslims Were Betrayed) more appropriate, as it clearly captures the essence of the book rather accurately.

An edited version of this review first appeared in the Open Magazine.

Wishing you all a not so Happy Bakrid. Here’s Why

Tags

, , , , , , , , ,

It had been a custom every year, when I visited home for Bakrid, for my mother to pack the festival meat for my younger brother and friends in Delhi. Muslim and non-Muslim friends alike would wait expectantly for my meat-laden return and there would be opportunities for many a convivial gatherings in Delhi. Last year, however, I refused to carry the packets my mother had made for me – this one mutton chaamp, that one girail, dry, fried chicken, shaami kebabs and so on. However, I was reluctant to ferry these goodies from Supaul, a small town in Northern Bihar to Delhi – a train journey of nearly 1,300 kilometers. Who was to know when groups of men would turn up in my coach and demand to check my bags? Who would stop them? Who could possibly reason with them that the meat was not beef but mutton and chicken? The vision of Akhlaque rose before me and I ignored my mother’s insistent pleas.

I decided that I did not want to risk being lynched by vigilantes, nor harassed by the police. However, when I broke this news to my friends through Facebook, informing them through a post that I would not be bringing meat because of the ‘Dadari effect’, many thought that I was plain joking.  Some even felt that I was getting paranoid unnecessarily because the Dadari incident was an exception and that it shouldn’t demoralize Muslims from their cultural and religious practices. But a few also felt that it was a necessary precaution on my part, going with the lines of “precaution is always better than cure”.

meatWhat I feared in October last year turned out to be a reality this year. Early on January 13, a Muslim couple was beaten up in Madhya Pradesh while travelling in a train over suspicion of carrying beef. According to the state police, the “couple was among passengers assaulted by at least seven members of the Gauraksha Samiti at Khirkiya railway station, in Harda district of Madhya Pradesh, when they objected to their luggage being searched on suspicion that they were carrying beef”.

So, bizarre as it sounds, the news of Biryani testing by the Haryana Police, did not surprise me. It was nothing but a visible legitimization by the Haryana state government to what was being practiced for long by vigilante groups, better known as Gau Rakshak Dals. It is a well-established fact that over the years, especially in states like Haryana and Madhya Pradesh, the State has nurtured the Gau Rakshaks in the name of protecting Gau Mata. A detailed report published in the latest issue of Caravan Magazine establishes this thoroughly.

In fact, the only real change has been that the state has now taken it upon itself to play the role of vigilante, thanks to draconian legislations like the Gauvansh Sanrakshan and Gausamvardhan (Cow Protection and Development) Bill 2015 passed by the Haryana Assembly on March 16, 2015, which not only bans the slaughtering of cows and the sale of beef in the state but also its import.  The amendments in the Maharashtra Animal Preservation Act, 1976 also require special mention here. Fortunately, unlike Haryana, later a ruling by Mumbai High Court allowed consumption and import of beef.

The fundamental problem with laws like these is that, they especially target those belonging to religious minority communities, Dalits and Adivasis. Naturally, these laws have also created a sense of fear amongst these communities, apart from rendering lakhs of people whose livelihood was/is dependent on it, jobless in some way or the other.

The recent report of two Muslim women being allegedly gang raped in Mewat (Haryana), and one claiming that the accused asked her if she had consumed beef hints at the extent to which vigilantes can go. Moreover, news about pervasive sense of terror and fear has taken hold of Muslims in Mewat area of Haryana, with a shadow looming over the Bakrid celebrations.

But Haryana is hardly an exception. It is no different in Gujarat, Jharkhand, Himachal as well – with even North East not spared. If you ask me if I would consider carrying meat this year, my answer would be a big no. The situation, instead of improving, has only worsened. It is ironic to note that those vulnerable are not protected and those committing crimes are given a free hand and state patronage. In short, the law is the problem more than anything because it criminalizes food habits and preferences of a large section of Indians.

beef

Hence, as long as arbitrary and archaic laws and provisions like these exist, there will be a reign of terror, killings, harassment and others forms of subjugation. Unless we get rid of these, no dramatic changes are going to take place. It’s a red herring to appeal to or even to chastise ‘bad gau rakshaks’. As long as the perpetrators are assured not only of political backing but also served through law, things are bound to get only worse.

By the way, let me wish you a not so Happy Bakrid ! Not so happy because what is Eid if I can’t feed my friends meat prepared by my mother. What is Eid if Kashmir is under curfew even on the day of Eid and bleeding continuously…What is Eid if many areas of Bangalore are under curfew…

May peace and justice prevail soon, Aameen !

An edited version of this article first appeared in The Quint.

Manufacturing Sedition: Amnesty Controversy and Beyond

Tags

, , , , , , , , , ,

Let me start this article with the disclaimer that till 30th of June this year, I was working with Amnesty International India as a senior campaigner and hence am quite aware of Amnesty’s position on Kashmir, among other things. However, this has not been written in the capacity of someone who had previously worked with Amnesty or as their spokesperson, but as an activist who works on issues of human rights and as also someone who was present at the event held on 13th August at the United Theological College, Bangalore.

Amnesty International India through its public statements has made it fairly clear that none of its employees shouted any slogan at any point, let alone raised any that were ‘anti-India’, or gave a call for Aazadi as alleged by ABVP. As someone who was present in the audience, I completely agree with their statement. This then brings us to the question that were no slogans like “Hum Kya Chahate Aazadi”, raised? No, I am not saying that either. There is no denying the fact that slogans were indeed raised, but it would be unfair to say that they were raised by only one ‘group’ (read Young Kashmiri—Muslims) as widely reported by media and claimed in the complaint.

AmnestyABVP

Members of ABVP protesting outside Amnesty office in Delhi (Pic Credit: HT)

In fact, the sloganeering was started by the very ‘group’ (Kashmiri Pundits and ABVP/Bajrang Dal activists) which was agitated with the idea of having such an event. From the beginning itself, they tried interrupting the event. And when MC Kash (Roushan Ilahi) started performing, they boycotted it and started shouting slogans like “Bharat Mata Ki Ja” and “Indian Army Zindabad” while leaving the hall. It was only towards the end of the event, when MC Kash’s performance was abruptly stopped due to pressure from Police, that slogans demanding Aazadi were raised. Earlier, there was some minor scuffle between the groups, which the Amnesty staff tried its best to end. But, and by no definition and at no point was anything that was even remotely seditious said, done or performed.

One can confidently say this because as per the Supreme Court of India, in the case of Kedar Nath Singh v State of Bihar 1962, the judgment clearly states that a speech would amount to sedition (Section 124 A of IPC) only if it involves an incitement to violence or public disorder. The court ruled that: “[C]riticism of public measures or comment on Government action, however strongly worded, would be within reasonable limits and would be consistent with the fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression.” And the complainant knows this very well but is not ready to accept it because that would disrupt their game plan of harassing individuals and groups they don’t like or who don’t toe the line with them or their opinions.

They also know that their case is hardly going to stand in the court of law, especially in the Supreme Court. It is a well-known fact that convictions for sedition are rare. A report published by Newslaundry early this year clearly shows how the law of sedition does not hold any value in reality. It notes that, “…[T]he apex court of this country has not convicted a single person under (the charge of sedition), over the last 10 years. Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code that deals with sedition finds mention in 11 Supreme Court judgments between 2005 and 2015. None of these judgments, though, sentenced the accused on charges of sedition.” Hence, the complainants and their allies are mounting political pressure and using extra-judicial means like protesting outside Amnesty’s offices, resulting in the temporary shutdown of its offices in different parts of the country and the postponement of scheduled events in Mumbai and Delhi. In fact, this afternoon ABVP workers tried to storm Amnesty office In Bangalore with petrol bottles.

Research on law of sedition tells us, as is rightly argued in the latest report of Human Rights Watch that, it is “often used against dissenters, human rights activists, and those critical of the government.” And there is a long history to it, right from the very inception of the law. It was used against Mahatma Gandhi and B.G. Tilak during the colonial era and Binayak Sen, Arundhati Roy, Seema Azad and residents of Kudankulam (Tamil Nadu), to name a few in the recent past. Given its draconian nature, while pleading guilty Mahatma Gandhi had famously said in his deposition, “Section 124 A, under which I am happily charged, is perhaps the prince among the political sections of the Indian Penal Code designed to suppress the liberty of the citizen. Affection cannot be manufactured or regulated by law.”

But the issue here is not just limited to the charge of sedition but goes beyond that. In the wake of the recent controversy, as has been reported, “the Home Ministry has launched a probe into the funding of the non-governmental organisation for “possible” violation of foreign contribution rules.” This clearly indicates that, as often said in Hindi, sedition to bahana, hai asal mein kuchh aur nishana hai (Sedition is just a pretext, the real target is something else). In other words, by raising the bogey of sedition, anti-national slogans and foreign funding, the government and its political allies are trying to sabotage and attack the crucial human rights protection work that organisations like Amnesty are involved in.

Today, Amnesty might be the target but nor was it their first target nor will it end with Amnesty. There is a long list of human rights organisations and defenders across the country who have been targeted by government after government, political party after political party and state government after state government. In short, when it comes to the use of sedition, all seem united and in agreement. There is a close relationship between the use of the sedition law and the attack on the constitutional values and promises of India. They are directly proportional to each other and that’s the biggest problem.

Hence, if we want to get rid of the problem, the first and foremost thing that should be done is to strike down the section that deals with sedition from the Indian Penal Code (IPC). Because there is nothing that can be called the misuse of sedition law, as is often argued and perceived. There isn’t even one case that proves Sedition beyond reasonable doubt, or where the law was or can be used in a just manner. The law is inherently draconian and until we get away with it, the problem is going to persist in one way or the other. Notably, our erstwhile colonial masters (the British) which legislated it to muzzle dissent, have already stuck it down from its statute in 2009.

What then are we waiting for?

Book Review: Communal Violence, Forced Migration and the State: Gujarat since 2002

Tags

, , , , , ,

Displacement and migration constitute what might be called a traumatic experience for many as they lead to uprooting one from one’s base. But if this happens due to some large scale violence, which has a communal and a caste overtone, it makes the situation worse. It doubly marginalises the victims.  Till recently, it was the violence in Muzzaffarnagar that had become such a distressing story. According to a conservative estimate, more than 41,000 Muslims were rendered homeless, with most of them never being able to return to their village and having to live the life of a destitute. Gujarat (2002) was another example of a communal violence which had led to the displacement of a large number of people, as more than 2 lakhs were displaced within the first two years itself. Those who had to flee their homes had to settle down in houses on rent in Muslim concentrated villages and towns.  As per a status report (2012) published by the Ahmedabad based NGO, Janvikas, 16,087 of them continue to live in 83 relief colonies built by faith based (Muslim/Islamic) organizations and NGOs.

The book under review deals with this subject up to some extent. Taking cue from the much talked about and equally criticised category of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) of the United Nations (introduced in 1998), the author examines violence in Gujarat since 2002. She argues that “displacement (in Gujarat) is not only symptomatic of the state being taken over by a majoritarian vision of the nation in which the minorities may be threatened, but that in our globalised times it entails a shift in the very idea of the state in terms of what can be rightly expected of it and the source of its legitimacy.” The author of the book currently teaches at the Department of Civics and Politics, University of Mumbai, and according to her, this work of hers is a result of almost nine years of research that had begun with a thesis at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU).

Communal Violence, Forced Migration and the State

Book: Communal Violence, Forced Migration and the State: Gujarat since 2002

By Sanjeevini Badigar Lokhande

Cambridge University Press, Delhi, 2015, Hardbound

pp. XI+ 216, Price: Not Mentioned, ISBN-10: 1107065445

Apart from the introduction, the book is divided into five chapters. These reflect the meticulous research undertaken by the author of using ethnographic data, government documents, archival materials, NGOs and media reports, and shows how over the years, people who were displaced during the anti-Muslim Gujarat violence of 2002 have been to reduced to the status of subjects from once being citizens, and how it is now affecting their lives. Presenting a brief history of communal violence induced displacement, the author notes that it is not entirely without precedent in Gujarat. “The displacement of thousands of Muslims due to the violence in 1969, which the camps bore testimony to, also meant a loss of livelihood and even the means of livelihood for thousands as those who had been rendered homeless had lost all their possession that included their tools, instruments and other means of livelihood,” notes Lokhande. (p. 113)

She further notes that, “The examination of the governance of communal violence through state responses in the many instances of communal riots in Gujarat reveal that while the scale of relief offered in different categories of assistance for the victims of communal violence was increased howsoever variably, the categories of assistance remained the same, even in the case of latest relief package offered by the UPA in 2007.”

In the author’s opinion, “the state government scrupulously avoided the term displacement or IDPs, referring to it as migration which suggests that the movement was voluntary and under compulsion.” Hence, these victims are not entitled to the benefits suggested under the United Nation’s guides for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). “These illustrate,” notes Lokhande “the state’s absence in the complex problem of displacement where a large number of people did not want to return to what was once their home because it had become a place of vulnerability that was exposed during the violence and in some instances, a site where crimes had occurred that after the violence held the probability of legal action and led to continued tension in neighborhoods”. (p.128-12)

In the second last chapter of the book titled Reconstruction And Rights Though Self-Help, the author rightly concludes that, “From (the) account of reconstruction after the violence in 2002 it is not just the long term effects of displacement that are illustrated, but also that the phenomena of displacement is not a ‘one time set of events’ bounded in time and space but continue long after violence as those affected negotiate the uncertainties in their changed realities. In Gujarat these negotiations have included the assertion of their rights through recourse to litigation and self-help for security, housing and social rights as well as through different forms of settlements or compromise to avoid conflict. These shifts gleaned from ground analysis reflect changes in the larger political universe that further need to be unpacked.” (p. 157)

This book is important in its perspective on displacement and communal violence. However, while one appreciates the author’s attempts at taking up a relatively untouched theme, there has been an attempt at trying to touch and cover almost everything, which makes the book slightly monotonous and uninteresting. One also feels that it could have been better and substantial had the author tried limiting it, and rather focusing it on the core subject (of forced migration) as the book starts with promises of examining the issue of forced migration in detail but gets lost in detailing the different aspects of the violence of 2002.

For someone who has been following the issue for some time, it might appear to be a bit repetitive and offer nothing new except for the intense detailing of the different aspects of 2002. However the book will be an interesting read for those who are new to the subject and are looking for a guide on it.

First published in The Book Review Journal, August 2016.

 

Remembering Abba, my Friend, Father and Philosopher

Tags

, ,

This Eid (7 July) would have been our first without Abba at home, or so I had thought. But I was wrong. Because Abba had left us suddenly for his heavenly abode just two days before Eid last year, a day before Alvida Juma on 16th of July. He was in his early 50s and his departure was sudden. It was so sudden that I have to yet completely acknowledge that he is no more. That he is not around us to take care of us, to support us or disagree with us yet still approve.

Abba was like any other father. Yet, he was so different that only he could have been that way. He was known to many people by different names. At home and among his close friends and relatives, he was called Bulla, for that was his nickname given to him by his mother and my Dadi. She liked Bulla machhli (fish) so much that she named her first boy after it. She died a year before Abba who was in Delhi at the time of her death, and by the time he was able to reach, she had been buried. I was in Bangalore and could not reach home either. At Abba’s death however, I was lucky enough to be a part of his namaz-e-Janaza and burial. I reached home just in time for it.

AbbaShahnwaz

On the day of Eid, my younger brother, Shahnawaz Alam praying at the grave of Abba.

By no means was Abba a famous man. He did not hold any public office, never stood in any election and was not even a member of any political party or socio-cultural group except the Tablighi Jamaat and perhaps a customary member of the Teachers Union—Sikshak Sangh. Yet he was a people’s person. He was an activist of his own kind. He was a selfless activist—an activist who was not defined and bound by any organization and funding. Meet anyone who would have met him once or twice and they’ll tell you how deep his commitment for Khidmat e Khalq (social service) was. It was so fierce that at times he would forget his familial and professional duties. I distinctly remember us ‘fighting’ with each other because of this. He would often ‘surrender’, accepting his mistake but wouldn’t ever forget to remind me of the following couplet of Meer Dard (Mir Taqi Mir):

“Dard-e-Dil Ke Waste Paida Kiya Insaan Ko/Warna Ataa’at Ke Liye Kam Na The, Kar-O-Bayaan”

And would also add, but ‘you are also doing the same by ignoring you career, health and family’. To which, I would say, haan, ye sab aapka hi asar hai (it is all because of your influence) and by that time my Amma would enter the picture saying, tum sab baap bete aik jaise hi ho! And we would all have a great laugh collectively.

What was the one thing that differentiated Abba from other fathers in general? He was not authoritative and feudal. We were not afraid of him. We could speak in front of him, talk to him and argue with him. In fact, we could say nasty things to him, which I must confess, I have done so several times, in rage or frustration. Yet he would never take it personally. He was full of forgiveness and compassion. I have seen him helping people who had always conspired against him and back stabbed him. But Abba, despite knowing all that, would behave as if nothing of that sort had ever occurred in his lifetime. He would often remind us that out of the 99 names of Allah, the two most used (in Quran) were: Rahman and Raheem (beneficent and merciful).

To us, he was a friend more than anything. He would always have consultations (Mashwira) with all, big-small, male-female, everyone in the house before deciding or doing anything. He was a great proponent of consent and consultation. “Mashware me barkat hota hai,” he would often remark. When I look back and try to think, I realise that this was how the basics of democratic process was inculcated my life.

No, Abba was not a scholar or a highly educated person. Due to his familial responsibility (he being the oldest son had to help his father, who was a small time businessman), he could not study beyond senior secondary regularly. However, he did complete his higher education from Bihar Maradsa Education Board. He could read and write in Urdu, Hindi and English. Hence, he had a basic yet important understanding of religious texts. He was essentially a Hindustani speaker, with a heavy use of local dialect.

Abba was a religious man. He prayed five times a day and wanted us to do so too. But he was not the kind who would believe in my way or the high way. However, he would keep reminding us of our religious duties and encourage us to take part in it. He loved feeding the poor and helping the needy through cash as well as kind. Abba firmly believed in life after death.  Hence, his deeds were for his God. He was hardly into the business of showoff and always encouraged us to help people in whatever ways and means we could, irrespective of how big or small.

To Abba, what always mattered was one’s Neeyat (intention) not the action. According to him, if the intention was only to show off, then one would only get that in return. However, if the intention was to help people in reality, then the popularity would come its own way as a byproduct of it. To explain this, he would give an example:  if you go to the meat shop to buy bones, then you you’ll only get bones. But if you buy meat, then you will get bones as well.

He was a well-travelled man too, from parts of North East and South India to almost the whole of North. And all this was possible because before becoming a government primary school teacher in 1995, he was into business. Some of the travels could also happen because my uncle was in the Army and Abba would once in a while go to places where the former was posted. In return, Abba would bring stories and lots of eatables from there. Much later, when I started travelling to different parts of India, he would always have readymade advice to give. Places to eat, stay and roam around.

I was always amazed with the way he trusted people, including me. He was always in favour of giving people an opportunity. It was only his trust that I could make something of my life that made him send me to Delhi for higher studies, despite the fact that I was a below the average student. I was the first in my entire paternal family (khandan) to be sent so far for padhai. Many thought that Abba’s sending me so far away for higher studies was akin to ghobar mein ghee dalna, or in other words, total wastage of one’s resources. I am not sure of how much I was able fulfill his dreams. However, whatever I am today is primarily because of his belief and trust in me. And I am happy to say that he had always had faith in me that no matter whatever I do, I will not cheat people or indulge in anti- human activities.

As far as earning money and fame are concerned he had always taught us: Rizq ka malik Allah hai…He would also say, wato izzo mantasha, wato zillo mantasha. He was a Kabir panthi in some sense. His philosophy about economy was:

“Sain itna dijiye jame kutumb samay, Mein bhi bhooka na rahoon Sadhu na bhukha jay”

Clichés apart, a proper detailing of Abba’s life and works would be a book length piece as he was not just my Abba but a friend and comrade of many. And I know that he will be always remembered by everyone he met and worked with, even briefly.

Today, Abba is no more with us and I have often felt like a yateem because his mere presence was everything. I miss him much quite often, especially during difficult times. Since I was earlier able to take things for granted, but I can’t anymore. Being the eldest in the family, it is almost difficult to step in his shoes.

Abba, you are not with us yet you are there. Your teachings and life will continue to inspire me. Hoping to meet you, once again.

How Not To Fight Terror/ISIS

Tags

, , , , , , , ,

This isn’t the first time. Nor will it be the last. Every single time a bomb goes off, or a Muslim man indulges in mass shooting, without fail the first thing you hear is: Why are Muslims silent? The demand for condemnations comes instantaneously: 9/11 and Paris, Akshardham and 26/11. Even at the time of Malegaon, Samjhauta and Mecca Masjid, in which Muslims were killed, and as investigations showed, the suspects were not Muslims.

While I appreciate Muslims condemning these brutal and inhuman acts, let me confess that I am wary of its politics. The politics of condemnation essentially means that each time we are being asked to prove our basic decency—as though somehow we are not moved by human tragedy. It hints at guilt by association unless we prove otherwise by shouting from the rooftops that we condemn bloodshed. Besides, it ignores the heterogeneous nature of Muslim communities.

The fact remains that Muslims in India and elsewhere have been condemning these acts continuously and spontaneously: fatwas have been issued against terrorism calling it un-Isl­amic; several conferences against terrorism has been organised by Muslim groups and ulema; and signature campaigns against ISIS have been carried out, and not just by ‘moderate’ but traditional and practising Muslims. But what has been the result: zero. Neither has it been able to stop acts of terror nor has it been able to persuade the masses that Muslims are against terrorism.

The question is: what should be done? At the cost of sounding a Muslim apologist, let me say: it is time to accept and understand that ‘terrorism’ is not just a ‘Muslim-only’ problem but a problem of a larger politics which cuts across the religious and ideological spectrum. So, instead of focusing on religious aspects, we should focus on the political asp­ects. Inherent in religion is the potential for both inspiring people to indulge in violent activities as well to fight for justice and peace.

Whether Islam is a religion of peace—or not—is not the issue; and little will be gained by quoting and counter-quoting texts and verses. The attraction that violent death—to oneself and to others—holds for some young men cannot be reduced to the promise of 72 virgins in jannat. Hold this view if you will, it won’t solve the problem.

Unless we recognise and address the political aspects of terrorism, we will be beating around the bush. And the political reasons are quite complex and need to be dealt with carefully. Otherwise, in the name fighting terrorism, we might end up siding with ano­ther kind of terror. And this we have already witnessed in the framing of innocent Muslim youths in India in the name of a war on terror. We must not forget that a war, no matter how noble its intention, can’t be suppressed with another war. It can only further displace, marginalise, terrorise and ruin people’s lives. That should be avoided.

First published in Outlook Magazine.

Book Review: From The Margins To The Mainstream

Tags

, , , , , , ,

As much a land of diversity, India is also a land of ironies. Diversity, because it is home to a number of groups and communities based on religion, caste, class, ethnicity, nationality and region. And irony, because this very diversity often leads to, and is the basis of exclusion – socio-political and economic. It often reduces the marginalized groups and communities from citizens to subjects. However, what is also noteworthy is that over the years, these marginalized groups have been able to ‘mainstream’ themselves as a result of various historical as well as ongoing movements, within and outside the community.

The book under review, which is an outcome of an international workshop held in 2013 on the subject of “Institutionalising Marginal Actors” tries to study the processes of the change and its institutionalization. It seeks to explain the struggles of marginalized groups, “for inclusion, voice and influence, by challenging long standing injustices and the potent interests and processes that sustain them.” The volume has 11 chapters, apart from a long introduction by the editors, and covers the issues of Dalits, Muslims, Tribals, Women and other marginalized groups from Karnataka, West Bengal, Assam, Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, and Maharashtra, along with an all India perspective on certain subjects. In their respective chapters which are based on field work as well as other data, the authors have deployed a critical viewpoint. And this is what differentiates the book from the other volumes on this subject.

From The Margins To The Mainstream

From The Margins To The Mainstream: Institutionalising Minorities in South Asia

Edited by Hugo Gorringe, Roger Jeffery, Suryakant Waghmore

Sage , Edition: Hardbound, ISBN: 9789351506232

Pages: xxxvi+294, Price: Rs. 950/-

It focuses on the question of “what happens when formerly excluded groups are integrated into the socio-political processes.” And it tries to “chart the processes by which people gain access to institutions—whether these are informal social institutions or the more formal political ones—and unpack(s) the consequences of these processes both for the groups in question and for the institutions that they enter.” In this regard, there is a very interesting and detailed ethnographic study by Qudsiya Contractor on the much celebrated peace initiative, namely the Mohalla Committees in Contemporary Mumbai, and its role in institutionalizing peace between Hindus and Muslims. Through her study of the Shivaji Nagar area of Mumbai, the researcher informs us that, “the labour in maintaining everyday peace is mainly the burden of local Muslim representatives that may or may not effectively diffuse communal tensions.” She argues that, “these efforts offer a façade of inclusion in social context where communal politics and the mainstream disgust against Muslims continues unabated, reinforcing representations of ‘Muslim’ areas like Shivaji Nagar as culturally deviant (at times anti-National) urban ‘disorders’ that need to be comprehended and dealt with by the state.”

A somewhat similar study, though on the subject of Institutionalising Informal Societies, in the context of the Dalit Urban Poor of Dharavi, Mumbai tells us a very different story contrary to the popular perception. According to the researcher, Martin Fuchs, “What seems striking here is that the concentration of a large number of Dalits and members of other marginalized groups in one place and the commonalities they otherwise share has not boosted Dalit unity, or Dalit-bahujan unity for that matter, or the fight for a common agenda. Also, considering institutionalization…Dalit parties have made few efforts to establish support base in Dharavi.” Moreover, he notes, “few Dalits in Dharavi have pursued a formal agenda of social recognition and political contention beyond the slum redevelopment issue. Those who did to a limited extent, tried to pursue this through affiliation to Dalit parties or Ambedkarite organisations based outside Dharavi, or, alternatively—and this may sound paradoxical at first view—through affiliation to Hindutva organisations.”

Another very interesting chapter titled “Challenging Normalised Exclusion: Humour and Hopeful Rationality in Dalit Politics” authored by one of the editors of the volume, Suryakant Waghmore, explores normalized prejudice against Dalits through a study of humour, drawing from ethnography on Dalit movements in Marathwada. “Humour serves as an important medium within Dalit movements to communicate and perform Ambedkarism,” explains Waghmore. While discussing the practice of humour in general, he makes a very important point of distinction, “Humour and laughter in Dalit movements, are less intended to cause disparagement and are largely about setting up new standards in which a critique of popular culture and ideas of purity and pollution is possible.” He rightly concludes, “While challenging the normality of caste violence, Dalit political humour also expands the ideas of tolerance and self-critique in the popular culture of Marathwada. Such humour and rationality, however, is still at the margins and speaks to the continued marginalization of Dalits in contemporary India.”

Other chapters included in the volume are equally engaging and enriching. However, one feels the sub-title of the book is quite misleading. Since out of the 11 chapters that are included in the volume, there’s only one chapter (Rise of Adivasi Janjati Movement and Nepal’s Political Interregnum) from outside India, or let’s say from South Asia. This mislead could have been certainly avoided on the part of the editors as well as the publisher, since, without a doubt, this volume is a very valuable addition to the existing and ever growing literature on exclusion studies in the Indian context. A must read for policy makers and development professionals.

First published in The Sunday Indian monthly, June 2016.

Shaam e Sher: An evening of pleasant surprises #UrduPoetry

Tags

, , , , , , , ,

Last weekend, I attended a Mushaira in an unusual place. I say unusual because, of all the possible places in and around Dehli (as it’s pronounced and written in Urdu), which could be associated with Urdu and Mushairas, NOIDA stands the least probable. To be honest, I was very reluctant in going all the way. But there were two primary reasons which compelled me to go. First, since I had not been to any Mushaira in a longtime, despite being a regular participant of Mushairas for many years. In fact, when I had moved to Delhi in 2000, I would initially attend almost every Mushaira that would take place in and around the city. I specially remember taking the DTC specials in the night while returning from Mushairas that were held at the Red Fort as part of the celebrations for Independence and Republic Day. In my fascination, once I even walked all the way back from Barakhambha to Nizamuddin in the night, after having attended a Mushaira (Shankar-Shad) in SAPRU House. It was only after reaching Nizamuddin that we managed to get some vehicle to reach to Jamia Nagar.

ShaameSher

Secondly, this particular Mushaira was a gathering of young poets. Most of the Mushairas that I had attended in the past were full of old men, and only with a few lady poets. The only plausible reason to me was that the organisers didn’t want to take any risk and thus only invited established or known poets. Hence, I felt that it would be an interesting experience listening to young poets, and that too when it’s being claimed almost every day that Urdu is on the verge of demise as the young generation is hardly interested. And if at all, then their interested is limited to ‘romantic poetry’ and Urdu-laced Bollywood songs. So I went along with an Urdu loving friend of mine. The Mushaira was organized by Rekhta Foundation which has been organizing the annual Urdu festival, Jashn-e-Rekhta since 2015 in Delhi.

The hall was full beyond capacity with people sitting on the ground and many standing on the sides. It defied almost all the stereotypes (Old, Bearded, Muslim, Men) associated with Urdu poetry.  On the stage, as promised, were mostly young faces in their early thirties and late twenties, barring the Sadr (President) and the Nazim (Compere/Anchor). While the Sadr was an emeritus Professor of Urdu at Jamia Millia Islamia, Prof. Shameem Hanfi, the Nazim for the evening was an assistant professor of Hindi literature at Jamia, Rahman Musawwir. Hence, it was not surprising that there were some poets whose poetry had a blend of both Urdu and Hindi literary cultural traditions. However, what was surprising was the audience and the way they were appreciating the poetry. The majority of the audience was young and belonged to the non-Urdu speaking class or whose mother tongue was not Urdu. There I met an engineering student who had come along with his friends all the way from Faridabad. Another person that I met was a young sub-Inspector of Delhi Police (No, he was not in Uniform!).

It was not only me who was pleasantly surprised by the gathering and by the interest shown by audience but Sadr, Prof. Hanfi also expressed the same surprise. In his presidential remarks, he spoke about it at length, insisting that this is how it should be.

There were some disappointing aspects as well. While there were many ladies and girls in the audience, there was not a single one on the stage and those recited their poems that evening. One hopes that gatherings like these flourish in the months and years to come and also that the gender aspect of it will be taken care of. After all, like Urdu is not just language of Muslims, it’s also not the language of men.

Some of the couplets recited that evening:

Kitaab padhte rahe aur udas hote rahe/ajeeb shakhs tha jiske azab dhote rahe ~Shameem Hanfi

Kuchh log hain jo jhel rahe hain museebatein kuchh log hain jo waqt se pahle badal gaye~Shakeel Jamali

Raat karti hai khamoshi se hifazat din ki din hai ki chand sitaron ko bhi kha jata hai~ Rahman Mussawwir

Har mulaqat pe seene se lagane wale Kitne pyare hain mujhe chhod ke jane wale ~ Vipul Kumar

Gila nahin ke mere haal pe hansi duniya Gila ye hai ki pahli hansi tumhari thi ~Subhan Asad

Teergi se roshni ka ho gaya/ mein mukammal shayari ka ho gaya ~Prakhar Malviya Kanha

Verdict 2016: How Urdu Dailies reported Assembly poll results?

Tags

, , , , , , , , , ,

While there is a lot of discussion happening around on how ‘Muslim voters’ polled in the recently concluded assembly elections in five states, there is hardly any talk of how Urdu (and Hindi) newspapers reported these results. As Hindi is not the primary language for the non-Muslim population of these areas, so too is Urdu not the primary language of the Muslims in these states. However, it is hardly a matter of dispute that Urdu enjoys an influential (if not large) readership base amongst Muslims in not just several states of North India, but also in southern states such as Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Maharashtra. In fact, West Bengal also has a bunch of Urdu dailies that are regularly published from Kolkata, such as the Akhbar e Mashriq and Azad Hind. I remember, in 2012, Mamata Banerjee nominated Nadimul Haque, the owner of Akbar-e-Mashriq to Rajya Sabha. Haque was one of the three journalists chosen by the Trinamool Congress (TMC) chief for the upper house of the parliament. Needless to say, it was done to woo a section of educated Muslims (especially Urdu speaking), as the paper is patronised and subscribed by them. Apart from Kolkata, the Urdu daily has editions coming out from Delhi and Ranchi as well.

AkhbarUrdu

So back to the question of how were the Assembly poll results reported in the Urdu Dailies. If I have to answer this in one sentence, I would say that unlike English, Hindi or other dailies, those in Urdu did not declare a #CongressMuktBharat (“Congless India, Almost” reported The Times of India) or a #BJPTsunami, as reported by Asomiya Pratidin (Assamese) in its headlines. For Urdu dailies, it was essentially the return of Mamata and Jayalalithaa. In fact, it was their grand come back. “Mamata Banerjee aur Jayalalithaa ki shandar futuhat, Assam mein pahli martba Kamal khila” (The grand victory of Mamata Banerjee and Jayalalithaa, Lotus blooms in Assam for the first time), reads the banner headline of Akhbar e Mashriq.

Inquilab_Mumbai.png

Maghribi Bangal mein didi aur Tamilnadu mein Amma ka qabza barkarar, Assam par zafrani saya” (Didi’s hold in West Bengal and Amma’s in Tamilnadu remains intact, Saffron shadow over Assam), reported the Inquilab daily in its Mumbai edition on the front page. The Delhi edition’s banner headline reads, “Didi aur Amma in iqtedar mein shandar wapsi” (The grand comeback of Didi and Amma). The sub heading of the news item reads, “Puducherry ne Congress ki izzat bachai, Assam mein pahli bar hukumat banane se BJP khush, Kerala mein bayan mahaz ne lahraya parcham” (Puducherry saves Congress’ reputation, BJP happy with forming government in Assam for the first time, Left front flags government in Kerala). In its editorial, clearly hinting at BJP’s ‘over enthusiasm’ on the election results, the publication terms it “Jeet se bada zashn” (Celebration’s bigger than the victory). Inquilab is one of the most widely read Urdu dailies in India today, with 14 editions simultaneously being published in 14 cities of 3 states of north India (Delhi, UP and Bihar), and one from west-central India, namely Maharashtra.

Siyasat

Siyasat daily, which is published from Hyderabad reports, “Assam aur Kerala mein congress ka safaya, Jayalalithaaa, Mamata Banerjee ki shandar kamyabi” (Wipeout of Congress from Assam and Kerala, grand victory for Jayalalithaa and Mamata Banerjee). While Munsif, another leading Urdu daily published from the city calls it “BJP ki Assam mein tarikhi kamyabi” (Historic Victory of BJP in Assam), Politician Owaisi’s family funded Etemaad daily reports, “Bangal mein Mamata, Tamilnadu mein Jayalalithaa ka iqtadar barqarar, Assam mein BJP ko fatah” (Mamata’s in Bengal and Jayalalithaa’s in Tamil Nadu reign intact, victory for BJP in Assam).

Sahafat daily, which is published simultaneously from Lucknow, Delhi, Dehradun and Mumbai, reports, “Bangal mein Mamata lahar, Tamilnadu mein amma ki wapsi, Assam mein khila Kamal, Kerala hua lal (Mamata wave in Bengal, amma returns in Tamil Nadu, lotus blooms in Assam, kerala turns red)”. There is no news of the results on the front page of either the Sri Nagar or Jammu editions of Kashmir Uzma, a leading Urdu daily of Jammu and Kashmir.

However, the most striking aspect about vernacular media reporting, even if owned by the same group of publications, is that they present a different picture, which are often contradictory to each other (this might be equally true of other languages as well but here my argument is based on Urdu and Hindi dailies only).

Jagran

Let’s compare, reports of Inquilab (Urdu) and Dainik Jagran Hindi daily, one of the most widely read (according to its own claim of being the world’s most read daily) and influential Hindi newspapers. This comparison is important because both Inquilab and Dainik Jagaran are owned and managed by the same group of publications. While the Urdu counterpart terms it the “Saffron shadow”, the Hindi daily reports, “Bhari Bhajapa ki jholi, Congress aur simti” (BJP’s cup fills up, Congress’ further shrinks). The lead editorial calls it, “Aik achcha din Bhajpa ka” (A good day for BJP). It can be noted here that Narendra Mohan, the chairman and the managing director of Jagaran Prakashan had been a member of the Rajya Sabha as a BJP nominee, and L K Advani is considered to be his mentor. And Jagran is known for its pro-Hindutva reporting and editorials. SaharaUrdu.png

But why should the blame only rest with Jagaran when it is not just limited to them? Sahara India group, which publishes both a Hindi and an Urdu daily is not far behind when it comes to an opinionated and biased reporting. And as a regular reader of these newspapers, I can confidently say that this is their common practice. Sample this: while Roznama Rashtriya Sahara Urdu reports, “Amma aur Didi ki shandar wapsi” (Grand comeback of Amma and Didi), Rashtriya Sahara Hindi banner’s headline reads, “Bhajpa, Jaya, Mamata ne racha itihas” (BJP, Jaya and Mamata script history).

SaharaHindi

So clearly, both the publications, though brought out by the same media organizations, are trying to give two different messages, which might be totally based on their business interests. However, the end result of these heavily opinionated reports develop a viewpoint which can be essentially based on a ‘communal’ line. And which essentially feeds to the production of prejudiced mindsets, albeit in different languages.

Note: All the newspapers cited above were published on 20th May 2016, the day after the results were declared.