How Not To Fight Terror/ISIS

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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.

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Book Review: From The Margins To The Mainstream

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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

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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?

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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. 

Hum Khawateen: Voices of Muslim Women from Last Century

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If you are interested in knowing what Muslim women were thinking, debating and writing a century ago, then there won’t come a better opportunity your way than this Sunday (1st May) at India International Centre (IIC) Annexe, Delhi, 6 PM onwards. Raschakra, in association with Council for Social Development (CSD), is presenting a recital performance, “Hum Khawateen” based on the writings of Muslim women published almost a century ago. The performance’s texts are drawn from five articles written roughly 100 years ago and published in different Urdu Magazines such as Ustani (Delhi), Tahzeeb e Niswan (Lahore) and Khatoon (Aligarh).

HumKhawateen

A compilation (Kalam e Niswan) of such articles was published in 2013 under the editorship of Purwa Bhardwaj, who is also one of the four performers for Sunday evening. Other performers include Alka Ranjan, Shweta Tripathi and Rizwana Fatima. It has been directed by Patna based senior theater artist Vinod Kumar. What is remarkable is that these articles debate and discuss issues that are equally relevant in the contemporary times. The themes of these articles range from Politics to Education to Press Freedom and Socio-Economic problems of Muslim community in particular and the country in general.

Kalam e Niswan

According to Purwa, “While these writings help us to understand the minds of Muslim women, at the same time, it also compels us to think, rethink and question our understating and popular notions about Muslim women, their thinking, choices, dreams and contributions.”

To know more about Kalam e Niswan, click here

Why JNU in 2016 Is Reminiscent of Jamia in 2008

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It was late in the evening in the last week of September 2008 and I had to take an auto from Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) to Jamia Nagar. I had with me, a lawyer friend whom I had gone to meet in the university. We must have asked a couple of auto wallahs, but we were either met with a flat refusal or were demanded more than thrice the normal rate.

Bhaiyya, wahan se wapis sawari nahi milti,” was what a few auto wallahs said in defense, when I tried arguing with them. This was, needless to say, quite an invalid and bogus argument and there was hardly any truth to their claim. I thought of asking for New Friends Colony, an upscale locality in South Delhi and a stone’s throw from Jamia Nagar. This was, to no surprise, met with an instant agreement. My lawyer friend, who had to get down mid-way at Malviya Nagar, couldn’t stop himself from asking the driver on the general refusal to go to Jamia Nagar.

Kya batayen sir, darr lagta hai. udhar mullah, kat*a, aatankwadi log rahte hai. Aapne suna nahi, wahan se kayi aatankwadi pakde gaye hain aur wahan encounter bhi hua tha pichhle halfte” came the reply. (What should I tell you sir, I am scared to go. Muslims, terrorists stay there. Didn’t you hear that many terrorists were caught from that area and there had been an encounter as well last week).  My friend was aghast and agitated to hear this. He wanted to scream at the driver but I stopped him from doing so. I had to travel in the same auto after dropping him. And it wasn’t entirely his fault in harbouring such feelings. Following the media trail in the wake of the Batla House ‘Encounter’ last week (19th September 2008), it was too difficult to question the prevalent public discourse about Jamia Nagar and its residents.

There were concentrated efforts by right wing political forces to brand Jamia Nagar as the ‘Nursery of Terror’, and Jamia as a den that advocated terrorism and trained ‘terrorists’ instead of students. The more grievous fallout was that the children and youth from the area were teased and targeted in their schools and colleges and admission and jobs were being denied to them. Refusal to deliver services became the norm and those students of Jamia who were staying outside Jamia Nagar on rent, were asked to vacate their rooms by the land lords. It was even more harrowing for students and youth from Azamgarh.

There was a sense of fear and terror in the air as people were being picked up indiscriminately on an every-day basis in the name of ‘questioning’. The sense of being survielled was quite obvious even as plain clothes police men patrolled the area. Some of them were subjected to all sorts of brutalities like torture and mental harassment. An atmosphere of ‘who’s next’ plagued the minds of the people. The Youth was scared of going out and parents fearful for their children’s safety. This situation lasted for more than six months, and though far less, has still not gone down completely.

JamiaJNU

Having been a regular visitor to JNU, the crackdown on JNU and its students last month immediately brought a sense of déjà vu of the situation in Jamia Nagar and its neighbourhood in 2008. There were striking similarities between the two. The only difference was the element of mob-lynching and rightwing vigilantism.

Never in my wildest thoughts had I imagined that something similar could happen in JNU – to its students and teachers. The University was being targeted, students were arrested, random calls from the police were being made to students, teachers and journalists, unknown and late-night calls were a source of anxiety and there were reports of a few personal vehicles being trailed as they moved out of the campus. Students of JNU staying outside the campus were being asked to vacate their rooms. Autowallahs started refusing to go to JNU. People started referring to it as “Pakistan” (Jamia Nagar is still referred to as a mini-Pakistan). There was a sense of anxiety, fear and terror in the air while the remarkable fight for justice and the Stand with JNU campaign was on. Such was the fear that ordinary people had started avoiding mentioning JNU publically. And why not? Random people were being targeted, detained for hours at police stations because they looked like ‘JNU wallahs’.

There were vigilante groups outside the main gate of JNU, in Munirka and other adjacent areas. Students going to Munirka complained of being followed as they left the main gate of the campus. The right wing left no stone unturned in organizing protests against JNU, especially outside metro stations close to the campus. Loud speakers played speeches that incited hatred against the students while labelling them as anti-nationals. Solidarity marches held outside the campus in support of JNU were matched with protests and other kinds of mobilizations against JNU and it students, not just in Delhi but in different parts of the country. Professors were attacked (one even shot at), effigies were burnt for sharing articles, speaking out against the criminalization of dissent and witch hunt at JNU. What had taken four decades to build a space for democratic dissent and debate had been reduced to a space for criminalizing dissent and debate over a span of a few days.

It might sound hyper and ridiculous but I had to ask my wife (who is a research scholar at JNU) to remove the JNU sticker from the car to avoid confronting any untoward experience, especially near the university where the right wingers were stationed to organize and target those from the university.

Unfortunately, not much has changed. There is still a sense of loss, harassment and injustice. The crack-down has changed people’s lives, routine and perception drastically. I was travelling in the Delhi Metro a few days ago when I heard someone ask his acquaintance loudly, “JNU mein rahe ho kya?”  “Yaar, sare-aam pitwaoge kya,” came the reply.

Having been through this twice, I can only hope that it doesn’t repeat itself again, to another JNU or another Jamia.

(An edited and shorter version of this blog first appeared in TheQuint. )

Beyond Homosexuality and AMU: Why Aligarh is a Must watch Film

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Last week, a day after Hansal Mehta’s latest film Aligarh was released for public viewing in theatres across the country except Aligarh city, I watched it here in a Delhi multiplex. Unlike other movie shows, though not very surprisingly given it’s “A” certificate and ‘the subject’ of the film, the hall was not full. However, I must confess that there were more people than what I had seen for Shahid, almost akin to those that turned up for City Lights. I clearly remember that there were not more than a dozen people when I watched Shahid on the first day of its release. The first thing that I noticed after the film started playing was the tune of Beparwah, a song from Shahid. It had an electrifying effect on me. Ever since the release of the song, I have heard it a several hundred times and even today, I hear it on loop. Shahid was a deeply moving tribute to the man (Advocate Shahid Azmi) and his mission, though initially I was extremely skeptical about the film. Since this is not a blog about Shahid, I would not go into the details. However, those interested in knowing my take may read it here.

Let me talk about Aligarh. As soon as the film started, I got lost in it.  There were so many things in the film to watch, observe, understand, think, empathize, relate and engage with, that at the end of it, I was totally bogged by it.  It was an altogether different experience for me.  After watching the film, I did not know how to react to it, what to say and what not to. Literally, it took me a few hours to put down a small para on the film as my Facebook status. On reaching home, I wrote the following comment:

AligarhComment

Why did I say so? Let me give you a few examples. I felt so because, given the ‘controversial’ nature of the subject of the film and the university—Aligarh Muslim University (AMU), which is actual site of inspiration of the film, it would have been much easier and perhaps a box office hit, had the film maker chosen to make a sensational film instead. There was all the masala available for it. But instead of that, the filmmaker chose to make a film which takes one much beyond its immediate subject (much like ‘immediate identity’, remember Rohit Vemula’s words?) The most remarkable thing about the film is that it engages with you. It does not scream at you. It is very poetic and political with no overt claim of being one. It forces you to relate to your own vulnerabilities and insecurities, and perhaps at some level, privilege as well. It leaves you with unanswered questions, which don’t haunt you but force you to constantly think and ponder about.

While watching the court argument about morality and homosexuality, I was reminded of the ongoing debate about patriotism and nationalism. One of the court room scenes succinctly outline the difference between conventional or popular notion of morality and constitutional morality, much like Prof. Upendra Baxi’s argument and the distinction about Popular Patriotism and Constitutional Patriotism, which he made in his latest column in Indian Express on 27th of February, the day I watched Aligarh.

Sorry, but I have to refer to Shahid once again. While watching the scene of outsiders barging into the protagonist’s house in Aligarh and making videos and taking their picture in an almost naked position and beating them black and blue, I was reminded of the scene from Shahid when he is tortured by police. To me, the very act of barging into someone’s house and filming their private and intimate part of life forcibly is nothing short of torture. In this sense, there was a striking similarity between the two scenes. The context might be different but the intent was the same. To humiliate and force someone in order to acquire a ‘confession’ that what he did was wrong.

Similarly, the scene where the land lord asks the protagonist to vacate the house because he is a bachelor, reminded me of my own vulnerability and that of many of my friends and peers. Not long ago, I was denied a place on rent by several land-lords and ladies in Bangalore because I was a Muslim and because I was going to stay alone. I was reminded of my helplessness, much like the protagonist.  And I was/am not the first and the last, many of my friends are denied houses because of their caste, religion, gender, food habits and region, to name a few.

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Many would argue that Aligarh is a film about human rights and justice. Agreed. But let me say this as an activist who works for human rights and justice that Aligarh is not a human rights story alone but a human story. It is not just about being gay but being human as well and all human beings are different from each other. In this case, the person featured in the film is different in terms of his idea of love (yeah, the film is just not about sex as many would like us to believe). And the protagonist of the film says it clearly when he is asked about whether he is gay. “ ‘Gay’ ? How can you define my love in just three letters?”

If you have not watched a good film in a long time, I recommend you to watch this as it will not disappoint you. It does not matter whether you are pro or anti-Homosexuality.  This is a must watch film even if you are not able to come to terms with it like a friend of mine who writes:

“How can someone end up making such a great movie! And how can someone bring such sensitivity to a character! Kudos Hansal Mehta and Manoj Bajpai. I’ll admit that even after years of effort, I am still substantially homophobic. And I don’t think I can change this at this age now. But any story told with such human touch, such sensitivity, deeply moves me. The only other film that did this to me was Brokeback Mountain. Do make time and watch Aligarh. It won’t be there for more than a week now.”

Aligarh Film: Muslim outfit headed by Modi supporter protests against the title of movie on AMU gay professor

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While acclaimed director of Shahid and City Lights, Hansal Mehta’s latest film Aligarh is scheduled to release today (26 Feb ‘16 ) for public viewing, the heading of a news item in Times of India (24 Feb ‘16) reads, “Muslim outfit protests title of movie on AMU gay professor” . The headline of another news item on the same issue reads: “Aligarh intellectuals unhappy over film ‘Aligarh’. This news item has been reported by the news agency IANS and carried out by several newspapers. AligarhFilmPoster

I was least surprised by these news items as there is no dearth of such outfits and ‘intellectuals’ who can indulge in such campaigns. However, in this case, the devil lies in the details. According to The Times of India (TOI), Aligarh based “Millat Bedari Muhim Committee has written to Union Minister of Communications and Information Technology and the Censor Board Chief over the title of the movie, claiming that the film will paint the whole city as a place where “gay practice is common, thus lowering its prestige in the eyes of the world.”

Seriously?

I was only left with two obvious questions on reading these news pieces. Firstly, who comprises the “Millat Bedari Muhim Committee” and, secondly what are the credentials of these ‘intellectuals’?

The last time that I remember reading something about this self-appointed committee of the Millat (community), which only exists on paper, was when it was busy in mobilising people in Aligarh in favor of Mr. Narendra Modi and his party. Interestingly, prior to the elections of May 2014, the same outfit used to work with and for the Congress party. However, with change of guard at the centre, they decided to work for and with Mr. Narendra Modi and his party. A news report published on 17 January 2016 in The Sunday Guardian weekly confirms this.

JasimShareshwala

“To be honest, until 2014, we used to work for the Congress . . . (t)hen in 2014, we happened to meet Zafar Sareshwala, who is considered close to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He convinced us that PM Modi is genuinely serious about the all-inclusive development of India, including that of Muslims and that Muslims should communicate with the Central government for that. We agreed, despite the sharp backlash we faced in Aligarh,” the weekly quoted its leading light, Jasim Mohammed.

Notably, Mr. Jasim, better known as jarasim (germ) amongst Aligarians, heads or runs at least a dozen paper outfits such as Millat Bedari Muhim Committee. To name a ‘prominent’ few, apart from being secretary of the Millat Bedari Muhim Committee, Mr. Jasim is Director, Jamia Urdu, Secretary, Forum for Muslim Studies and Analysis (FMSA), Director, Muslim Chamber of Commerce & Industry (MCCI), and Editor, The Aligarh Movement monthly magazine. A simple Google with key words such as “Mohammed Jasim+ Aligarh+AMU+Urdu+Modi” can fetch you various reports regarding the activities of Mr. Jasim and his gang.

However, when journalist M Reyaz of TwoCircles.net exposed Mr. Jasim and his gang through his incisive report titled, “New spring at Jamia Urdu: Changing colours as per political season”, Mr. Jasim tried to intimidate the reporter through his Facebook posts hinting legal action against the reporter and the publication. On this issue, TwoCircles published a rejoinder by Mr. Jasim, which can be read here.

To cut a long story short, the point that I am trying to make here is that people like Mr. Jasim have no locus standi in the Muslim community and its affairs. Hence, they should not be taken seriously. If anything, they are power brokers masquerading in the garb of ‘intellectuals’ and ‘community leaders’. We should be aware of them and not take them at their face value.

A Letter to Rohith Vemula from a young Muslim

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Dear Rohith,

I am not sure how or whether this letter will ever reach you. However, after reading and rereading your heartbreaking final note, I felt that I should write this one to you. This is a letter from a young Muslim to a young Dalit (yes, I have been often reduced to a Muslim with a capital M and I’m not ashamed of it, just as you were reduced to a Dalit with a capital D), who was committed to the idea of social justice and a life with dignity.  I have no doubt that your decision to say the final good bye, was nothing but an act of courage and dignity. Your life and struggle has taught me three important lessons; to be precise—courage, dignity and solidarity. Reading your letter reminded me of a couplet by the Hindustani poet Dushyant, who famously said:

jiye to apne bagiche main gulmohar ke liye/mare to Gair ki galiyon main gulmohar ke liye 

I am writing this letter to you to tell you that I did not cry, though I wanted to . . . but ‘pretended as if nothing had happened’ because you told us not to “shed tears”. I believed you when you said, “I am happy dead than being alive”. Many of us (young Muslims) can totally relate to it. You were absolutely right in suggesting that “The value of a man was reduced to his immediate identity and nearest possibility. To a vote. To a number. To a thing. Never was a man treated as a mind.”

rohith-vemula

Rohith, it will be my life long regret that I could not meet you in person, but then I am aware of the fact that a physical meeting would have hardly mattered. You are there in front of me, much like Adv. Shahid Azmi whom I could never meet and who was snatched from us 6 years ago. But like the memory of Shahid’s illustrious life and struggles, your memories are also more than enough for me to survive against all odds.

I know it is always easier said than done, but let me assure you that I will follow the path shown by you. And it is not just because you showed us this way but also because if we don’t do it, we will perish. Hence, I reassure you, we will carry forward the struggle just like you carried forward the struggles initiated by Jyotiba Phule, Baba Saheb Ambedkar and many others like them.

Baba Saheb Ambedkar had famously said and I know that this was the guiding principle of your life as well – “educate, agitate, organize”. I’d just like to add that it is high time that the ‘oppressed of the world should unite’ and ‘educate, agitate, organize’.

Rest in power, my friend.

Hope to meet you on a star.

In solidarity,

Mahtab

SIO-BHU Conference: Communal Harmony ka janaza hai zara dhoom se nikle !

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On 13th of June, I received an email from a National Secretary of the Students’ Islamic Organization (SIO) of India, Thouseef Madikeri, with an invitation to an International Conference on Communal Harmony & Nation Building. The conference that was scheduled for 15 – 16th June 2015 at Banaras Hindu University (BHU), was jointly organized by the University’s Political Science Department and SIO. “The main objective of the conference is to help students to focus on Communal Harmony & Nation Building by giving them a better understanding of Plural India,” read the invitation, adding “(The) conference will bring together the educationists, religious leaders, students, youth leaders, teachers & other interest groups.” And “the conference sessions will focus on the role of individual in peace building, conflict resolution theory & comparative religion.”

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The chief guest in the plenary session was HRD Minister (Higher Education), R S Kheteria, while Narendra Modi’s guru Vishwesha Theertha Swamy of Pejawar Mutt, Udupi (Karnakata) was going to be another star speaker. Among the prominent speakers were the Vice Chancellor of BHU, Girish Chandra Tripathi, Swami Sarvanand Saraswati from Bhartisreepeeetham University, New Delhi and Maulana Iqbal Mulla of Jamaat e Islami Hind. Among the lesser-known names were one Maulana (Dr.) Enayatullah Subhani of Uttar Pradesh, Rev. Father Dr M.D. Thomas and Paramjit Singh Chandok of Sikh Academy, Delhi, apart from staff members of SIO and BHU. However, they were projected in a way as if they were the ‘who’s who’ of the peace and communal harmony discourse, movement and activism in India, if not, of the world.

But this was not the end of the story. There was one more name in the list of speakers mentioned in the invitation circulated by SIO of India: Indresh Kumar, to deliver the valedictory remarks. Indresh Kumar, who? “Social Activist, Delhi,” read the invitation. For many of us who have lived and worked in Delhi for long (in my case, almost 15 years), the existence of an Indresh Kumar who was a Delhi based social activist, was indeed “news”. We knew only one Indresh Kumar, who was associated with the RSS and was named by Swami Aseemanand in his confession about Hindutva Terror networks. My efforts of searching online for this other Indresh Kumar who was a Delhi based social activist, brought the same results – Indresh Kumar, RSS Pracharak.

However, giving them the benefit of doubt, I thought of seeking a clarification about him from the person who sent me the invitation. Hence, I wrote an e-mail to Thouseef Madikeri seeking his response. This is what I wrote:

“I will be happy to know that I am mistaken and you have not invited the same Indresh Kumar as you have been telling our common friends (copied in this mail)…If that is the case, I would request you to share the profile and bio of Mr. Kumar. I am sure, you and your co-organiser must have done a background check before giving him such an important duty in you conference”.

Simultaneously, I also contacted many people who are and have been associated with SIO and its parent body, Jamaat e Islami Hind. Barring a few, no one replied to my mail or returned my call.

The response that I received next day (14th June) from Laeeq Ahmed Khan Aqil
National Secretary (PR), Students Islamic Organisation of India (SIO) reads thus, “Indresh Kumar from Netherland, Basically he is from Bombay, completed education in Netherland, he was a professor at Netherland presently stays in Delhi”.

With this response from a national secretary of SIO, I started another round of search for this Indresh Kumar from Netherland. But once again it didn’t fetch anything new, apart from the information that I already had. For a moment, I assumed that something could have been wrong with my way of searching and thus sought help from friends, who came up with the same information—“There is no other social activist Indresh Kumar” and, “Bhai, I could not find anything by the name of Indresh Kuamr from Netherland”.

Meanwhile, I received a call from a journalist friend who was aware of my earlier association with SIO. “ye sab kya ho raha hai, bhai?, he asked (What is happening, brother?). I briefed him about my interaction and the information that I had. He further asked me to check with the BHU staff members because Prof. Koushal Kishore Mishra, Head of Political Science Department and one of the conveners of the conference, had told journalist and Editor of TwoCircles.net (Hindi), Siddhant Mohan that this Indresh Kumar was none other than the RSS Pracharak. And Siddhant had a recording of his conversation with Prof. Mishra. To be on the safer side and to double check, I called on Prof Mishra’s mobile number and confirmed that this was the same Indresh Kumar who had been invited. When I asked him that people from the SIO were saying that this Indresh Kumar was a different person who used to be based in Netherland, he said “Haan bhai, inn Indresh ji ka bhi videsh mein kaam hai (Yes, this Mr. Indresh also has his work abroad).

It was only after all this that I decided to go public. But, before going public, I still sent another mail (on 14th June) to SIO of India, informing them of my conversation with Prof. Mishra. And then I wrote on my Facebook profile:

“And it’s official now. Contrary to ‪#‎SIO of India’s claims, according to Dr. K K Mishra, HoD Pol Science, BHU, who is also one of the conveners of the conference, this Mr. ‪#‎IndreshKumar is none other than the same ‪#‎RSSPracharak. SIO of India, Shame on you for inviting Mr. Kumar and lying about it!” 

This post broke hell for me. A barrage of abuses started coming in. Interestingly, though not surprisingly, this was no different from Sanghi trolls. Members, sympathizers and apologists of SIO and Jamaat started calling me Commie, Opportunist, Dal Badlu (since once I was part of SIO), Bakch*d, sold out, rumor monger and later, aasteen ke saanp, and insisted that I should apologize for my mistake.

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Mistake? What was my mistake?

According to them, I was spreading rumor and misleading people, and indulging in defaming the organization. The basis of their claim about me lay in a report in TwoCircles.net-English (that was put up after my post) stating that the person invited was a different Indresh Kumar.  The report  read:

“Indresh Kumar, invited in the programme, is not the same person, however. He is a “reputed academician who taught at the Vivekananda Academy, Netherlands”, the organisers told TCN, who after retirement “works on social harmony” and is based in Varanasi. . . Speaking to TwoCirlces.net, Dr Koushal Kishore Mishra of the Political Science Department of BHU, termed the controversy unwarranted, adding that they have not invited Indresh Kumar of RSS, but a reputed professor, who works on social harmony.”

When contacted, the author of the report, M Reyaz said that since he was informed by both the organisers about this Indresh Kumar was from Netherlands, and had hence incorporated their version, while also mentioning (in his report) that I had mocked publically about the event. I said to myself, fair enough. It was quite simple. I wrote what I was told and he wrote what he was told. However, he added that, “even I could not find a single information about this Indresh Kumar of Netherland fame”. So, all the claims that I had not contacted the SIO were nothing but plain falsehood.

Abuses and name calling kept pouring on my wall and in my inbox. Not only me, but who so ever tried making a point was called a stooge of the left and equally abused. Some even hinted that I was being a Congress stooge.  They also claimed that I was just being arrogant and trying to settle some old score or that I had some personal agenda. This precisely reminded me of a campaign that some of us had launched Jagdish Tytler being awarded the Maulana Mohammed Ali Jauhar Award. Back then we were called BJP’s stooges and that we doing this for some personal reasons. Interestingly, like in the previous instance, the case was the other way around. In this case, Abubakr Sabbaq’s (who was in fore front of hurling abuses and justifying SIO’s move) father, Maulana (Dr.) Enayatullah Subhani was one of the lead speakers at the conference. Once again, I was reminded of an old song, “Choron ko saare nazar aate hain chor”… A thief sees everyone else as a thief too.

What was even more interesting is that Mr. Abubakr Sabbaq, who is an advocate and claims to be associated with human rights work, kept bashing secularism, democracy, the left and civil society organizations. He went on to claim that the BJP was much better than the Congress. Following is a sample of his argument.

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You must by now be wondering what had finally happened of Mr. Indresh Kumar of Netherland fame. Did he turn up? The answer is a big no. Even the organizers kept completely mum about him after the programme. Why? According to a report by the TwoCircles.net Hindi editor, Thouseef of SIO told him that, “He was not going to attend it anyway and we came to know two days ago that he had declined to come”.  But when he asked them why this was not informed to the participants, he was told that they had forgotten to inform them!  Here is the must read story  in Hindi on the entire fiasco, written by Siddhant Mohan.

Coming to the end, I must confess that I was not going to apologise in any case because whatever I had said on the issue was based on facts. On the other hand, the SIO is yet to come clean about this other Indresh Kumar. Once again, I ask the organisers to share the details (contact number, email id, CV, some of writings since he was professor) about the Indresh Kumar of Netherland fame.  I am not being sarcastic, but I would love to meet him personally, given his commitment to peace and communal harmony.

Oh, but Wait. There is an anti-Climax as well.

While Indresh Kumar of Netherlands fame did not turn up at the Conference, BJP UP State President Lakshmikant Bajpai was present at the event as the chief guest and he spoke at length, even though his name was not mentioned anywhere on the invitation. One may ask about his contribution for the promotion of communal harmony and peace building. Here is a sample of his efforts when victims of Muzaffarnagar violence were crying for justice:

“In our state, 71 of 100 crimes are against women,” Bajpai said. “It is shocking but true that 99.99% of the accused in these crimes are Muslims. The UP government is defending ‘love jehadis’ while victims are murdered or harassed by the police. The BJP aims to stop this and save the country,” said the BJP leader at the conference which was convened to gear up the party for the challenge of UP elections.”

On the same day of his lecture at the BHU conference, he was reported to have famously said that “Not Yogis but Ulema stink

Well, what should I say, Communal Harmony ka janaza hai zara dhoom se nikle !

First published on TwoCircles.net on 18th June. Also read response by a SIO member here.