Friday, November 30, 2007

Islamic Art at a rural Fair: Posters showing Sufis, other Islamic imagery vanish from Muslim households in India

Man sells Islamic posters at a shop in North India
By Indscribe

Until the decade of eighties, the posters depicting Sufis and Islamic imagery were quite commonly seen in Muslim households in India.

The calendars showcasing Islamic art like photograph of a Sherwani-clad boy with a Turkish cap reading the Holy Quran were visible on the Muslim street.

At friends' or relatives' houses, such posters were found in drawing rooms. I even remember seeing posters showing 'Sufis' with halo around their heads. 

There were also some photographs with which certain sections among Muslims weren't exactly comfortable.

Particularly, the posters showing miracles or imaginary faces of Sufis dervishes. But they all started disappearing in the 90s. 

I think these posters vanished from houses and shops of Muslims just the same way as photos of freedom fighters began disappearing across India.

In the past photos of Gandhi, Chandrashekhar Azad, Subhas Chandra Bose and other freedom fighters were a common sight in homes, shops and offices. But all that started changing from mid-80s when the film stars replaced them.

Posters show a meeting of Sufis [1 & 2], praying woman [3] and Karbala battle [last]
Probably urban upwardly mobile Indians didn't find them chic enough to put up in the drawing rooms. Recently at a rural fare in Uttar Pradesh (UP), I was surprised to see many shops selling 'Islamic art'. There were buyers also at these shops. 

Seems there is still a market for this kind of art though the variety is less. Some of these posters have a unique old charm. Mr Yousuf Saeed has created an excellent site where you can see some of these beautiful posters. 

As far as thumbnails above are concerned, the first of these four photos shows an interesting encounter between a Muslim Sufi saint, who visits a Hindu yogi on the latter's invitation. That's Indian secularism at its best!!!

The second photo shows a woman praying, the third is an imaginary photo of the meeting of five great Sufi Saints and the last is photo of the scene of Karbala. 

One must see the photos in full size at Saeed Sahab's website along with their description.

Check more photos at Tasweer Ghar. It's a tremendous site and has links to Hindu Art as well.

Taslima Nasreen issue: Have the BJP, RSS accepted 'Alternate Sexuality'?

From Narendra Modi to Shivraj Singh Chauhan, the BJP Chief Ministers are now on the forefront extending invitation to Bangladeshi author Taslima Nasreen to settle in their respective states.

It is interesting to see the proponents of Bharatiyata welcoming Taslima Nasrin and offering her to stay in these states.

I have absolutely no objection. Atithi daivo bhavah, that is the ancient Indian tradition.

I just wonder if the BJP-RSS leaders have read her works and what are their views about her sexual exploits, her lack of proficiency with the tongue in satisfying the partner and similar other aspects of alternative sexuality, which she has explicitly written in her autobiographical series of novels, which are not fiction but fact.

The BJP and RSS have been quite touchy on the subject. Remember the hullabaloo over the film Fire! The Sangh Pariwar has always treated homosexuality as 'Western disease' and been contemptuous of it. Seems they have overnight endorsed it and accepted as Indian Culture.

I wonder when the BJP leaders from Prakash Javdekar to Ravishankar Prasad seemed so enthusiastic about Taslima, why nobody asked them this question. Is it ignorance about her works or its a sudden broader outlook where there is acceptance of all cultures and lifestyles!

Hypocrisy or change of heart for Hindutva forces. Let it be clear.

Friday, November 23, 2007

BJP's Muslim leader Pasha Patel's growing popularity in Maharashtra

Over the last couple of months BJP legislator Pasha Patel has traversed across Maharashtra.

Patel has been holding rallies for speedy implementation of Sachar panel recommendations, and in process grown in stature.

His soaring popularity has worried Congress. Interestingly, Pasha's appeal cuts across party lines. 'Shiv Sena district president Manohar Chowdhury announces Pasha's arrival on the stage on a microphone as Musalmon ka masiha, aamdar Pasha Patel', reports Hindustan Times.

Soumitro Ghosh writes that his campaign is changing the colour of socio-political atmosphere in rural Maharashtra. The BJP and Shiv Sena are both against implementation of Sachar committee's recommendations but leaders like Nitin Gadkari and others fully support Pasha.

Patel's 30-page booklet 'Sach kahte hain Sachchar, to phir khamosh kyoon hai Musalman' is circulated across the state and Swatantra Bharat Party's Ravi Devang feels he iseven  more popular among Hindus than the Muslims.

'I am tempted to am tempted to compare him with Rashtra Sant Tukdoji Maharaj, whose book on agriculture is treated as the Bhagwad Gita of the farmers."Congress leaders call Pasha to public meetings and say that they haven't called Pasha Patel as a BJP MLA but as a leader of Muslims.

Why is Pasha popular? He is a leader in the true sense and has fought his way up unlike many leaders who don't have mass base or are just popular among Muslims. Local leaders in districts from Congress to Lok Jana Shakti are as eager as BJP and Shiv Sena to invite him.

Patel was a firebrand leader of Sharad Joshi's Shetkari Sanghatana and had led countless farmers' agitations, reports Dnyanesh Jathar in Malayala Manorama daily. He says that a Hindu has prepared the most genuine report for Muslims' welfare and not a Muslim organisation has started agitation.

'I want 11 lakh signatures from you', he says. Patel has already travelled 22 districts of the state. Unlike most of the Congress' Muslim leaders, Patel has a mass base and has fought for non-Muslims as well. This gives him the moral authority to speak forcefully for Muslims also amongst any gathering.

Just because he has a political constituency he is not afraid of getting expelled or sidelined by party. Generally, the politicians with little mass base worry that if they are out of the party, they will have not have anywhere to go. Let's see how far he goes. 

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Kolkata violence: Irresponsible Jamiat rousing sentiments of Muslims, playing with fire in West Bengal

Kolkata was in flames on Wednesday. Mercifully the violence didn't spill out of control.

As TV channels started flashing the 'alert' about Army called in Kolkata and later the images of All India Muslim Forum activists, I really got worried.

If it was a protest over just Nandigam, I could understand. But the way Jamiat brought the issue of Taslima Nasreen and also the murder of Rizwanur Rahman, it is a dangerous signal. 

For Rizwanur Rahman, the entire Bengal has come together. Further, Muslims surely have other problems to worry about than Taslima. I don't know how many protesters have read her works.

They are not readable anyhow. Even if she has written something that doesn't go well with us, we have the option not to read it or ignore it. With every such protest Taslima's stature as a writer will go up even if she doesn't deserve that much attention as an author.

Violent street protests don't serve anybody. But what perturbs me the most is the involvement of Jamiat-e-Ulama and the Muslim Forum. By communalising the issues and raising the same old 'victimhood' complex, it is not going to help Muslims of West Bengal rather anti-Muslim feelings may rise.

As I saw the stone pelting on streets and the iamges of burning car and mob clashing with police, imposition of curfew, I could imagine what must be going through the minds of many non-Muslims, 'These Muslims, the troublemakers...they are at it again'.

I am not sure about the All India Minority Forum whether it has any following amongst Muslims in West Bengal. But Jamiat's political ambitions are a cause of worry. Muslims must fight for their rights, but peacefully, as as part of the society by taking along others.

Muslims should raise their voice against atrocities on themselves and also other sections of society who are facing injustice. The minority community can't afford to be an insulated group that just speaks for itself. That's my only concern. 

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Lucknow and imbibing secular values: Vinod Mehta turns nostalgic, recalls his association with the City

Eminent journalist Vinod Mehta has written quite a long piece in the Outlook, fondly reminiscing the Lucknow of yore.

Titled 'How I became a pseudo-secularist', the Outlook Editor recounts his childhood and youths in the City of Nawabs.

He writes about 'Kazim and Co' and its owner Nasir. 'Nothing exemplifies the clash of civilisations better than what happened to Kazim and Co.

It will come as no surprise that Kazim and Co soon closed down as customers began drifting away to the neon-lit establishments of the Sikhs and the Sindhis who had come as refugees after partition.

However, Nasir went down honourably: he did not put up a fight.' Safdar, who survived on his wits., knew the family history of every person worth knowing in the city, was intimately familiar with the geography of the entire town, a self-styled poet and patron of the arts, he carried both delicate and indelicate romantic messages efficiently, frequently adding his own masala.

He could fix an appointment with any minister, he had a solution to every problem. Safdar died tragically on the street in Hazratganj. Or Giani Bhai, the magnificent wise and gentle Sikh who looking at the crass commercialisation of Lucknow courtesy the refugees, had sighed: "Saale Sardaron ne Lucknow ko tabaah kar diya [These Sikhs have destroyed Lucknow].

Mehta writes about the psychological blow to Muslims in Lucknow after partition and the loss of land holding which resulted in situation:

One of the most poignant and instructive sights in post-Partition Lucknow was to watch an entire class on the run. They had nowhere to go. As a result, they withdrew further and further inwards, locking themselves up in their crumbling mansions, fearful of the outside world.

To survive they did the only thing they could: they sold their heritage. Cars, land, chandeliers, paintings, old books, havelis and furniture. Some asked possible buyers to come after dark because it was too shaming to sell during daylight hours.

But the most important part of the story is how Mehta got his first lessons in secularism. 'Lucknow bestowed on me one invaluable gift. It taught me to look at the human being rather than his religion or his caste or the colour of his skin.

My so-called pseudo-secularism, which I wear as a badge of honour, comes directly from the experiences and the environment of my early years—years which shaped my personality and character. 'Call it serendipity, but at La Martiniere I made a wonderful chance finding. I located three chums—two Muslim, one Hindu. 

That made us two Muslim and two Hindu. This politically correct, equal opportunity co-mingling of faiths had a profound social, cultural and intellectual impact on me besides providing space for copious and sustained laughter. So the bottomline is that nothing is more vital than inter-religious interactions.

You may be emerge a leftist, a rightist, a secular or a pseudo-secular but the friendships override every other thing. If you have close friends belonging to the other communities, this softens you up even if you are in RSS or in Jamaat-e-Islami.

Some of the most communal leaders, manage to speak in abusive language towards other community because they hardly had any social interaction with members of the other religious community. Ghettoisation is a big problem.

Unlike 30-40 years ago, our Cities are now more divided. But this shouldn't stop us from reaching out to the other communities and discovering the joy of friendship. Here you can read the Article Online. Mehta's book 'Shaam-e-Awadh Writings on Lucknow' has been edited by Veeenta Talwar and published by Penguin.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Muslims in Haryana: No radio, TV, photograph in this Muslim town in Mewat

Mundogarhi is a predominantly Muslim town in Mewat region of Haryana. Huge minarets of the mosque catch your attention as you go past this town on the National Highway.

The town is situated almost at an equal distance from both Delhi and Chandigarh, but there is no radio or television. None of the inhabitants has a photograph and they strictly follow the tradition even if they miss out on many things.

From a loan application to a ration card, a photograph is needed for every document but Mundogarhi residents don't have any regrets.

There is no radio or TV in any house. 'I have heard music in the bus when I went out of the town', said a youth.

Ban on getting yourself photographed

Regarding the ban on photo, an influential person of the Mewati 'biradari' says, 'Man has no power to create any living being and if we get someone photographed, can we put life in this photo? 'We can't and thus it is a sin to get oneself photographed'.

Music is banned though some women said that they wished having a radio to listen to music and pass their time. An 18-year-old youth told the Sahara Samay correspondent, who visited the Mundagarhi town that he was learning English alphabets now.

It could have been a very good story had the correspondent Madhuri Singh and the Sahara anchor Punya Prasun Bajpai desisted from making unwarranted comments and passing judgments [though Bajpai was a bit restrained in comparison].

Mewat: The land of Mev [or Meo] 

The reporters's condescending attitude while talking to the women and the Maulana was irritating. After all, things don't change overnight. The town is situated on the GT Karnal Road and it is quite easy to reach the town to do the story.

There are countless other towns in far rural areas where the reporter may not have ventured. It is true that educational backwardness exists in Mewat. This region has one of the lowest rates of literacy amongst Muslim women in India.

In Firozpur Jhirka the literacy rate was just 1.49%. But the role of Panchayats and 'biradiris' whose writ runs large on the communities is not religion-specific alone. Rather across the Western UP, Harayana and parts of Rajasthan, the situation is more or less same.

The onus is equally on Muslim organisations as much on government and the NGOs to work in the region and open schools for changing the scenerio.

And yes, an amusing conversation I recall from the story:

Reporter: Yeh bachche madarse mein hil hil kar kyun paDhte haiN
Maulana: Is se bachche sust nahin rahte aur padhaai andar tak ghus jaati hai


[The question was about why the children keep moving forward and backward while reading in Madarsa. The reply was that it ensures that whatever they read goes deep down within the students and settles firmly.]

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Campaign to replace doctor's 'Red Cross' with 'Swastika'

Organisations sympathetic to Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh [RSS] have recently  started a campaign to replace the Red Cross with the symbol, Swastik.

The nationwide campaign has gathered some momentum and the organisation claims nearly 50,000 docs have already adopted the symbol.

The office-bearers of the organisation, Arogya Bharati, feel that Swasthik is similar to Red Cross and replacing it will be easy.

Also, it will bring doctors close to the 'Indian culture', they believe. Not all doctors seem to agree though.

Many feel that a religious symbol shouldn't replace the Red Cross.

Some private organisations of doctors that are close to Sangh Parivar are enthused and supporting the campaign.

Whether the campaign succeeds in its objective or not, one wishes that the focus is more on taking health services to the poor.

On the top left, you can see photograph of a a woman riding her two-wheeler.

The scooter has the symbol on it. In fact, the symbol of doctors is not the 'cross' either.

 It is the caduceus--the traditional symbol that shows two snakes, which you can see on the left [in black]. Still, cross is used by doctors as it is more recognisable.
Doctor's' symbol

Often, chemists and those associated to the medical profession also put the cross on their vehicles.

Will Arogya Bharati think of arranging docs' visits to rural areas where no doctor wishes to go and treating poor at nominal fees?

If it does that then it will be a great service and it will support even the 'Hindu cause' better than the mere symbolism. 

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Photo: Muslim boys celebrating Diwali

A Muslim boy lights a 'phuljhadi' as another kid watches.

This is the second day of Diwali and still the SMS messages are taking hours to reach. Many SMSs are simply lost.

Cell phone networks are still not working properly. I will be home soon and have got a dozen sweet packets waiting for me.

[I think the photographer is Nitin Kanotra though I am not sure about the City.]

The demise of Dr Zohra Begum: First Muslim woman who passed MBBS in 1935

Dr Zohra Begum Kazi, amongst the pioneering women to have got a degree in medicines, passed away in Dhaka.

She had got the degree of MBBS from Lady Harding Medical College in 1935.

She was the first woman Muslim doctor of the sub-continent, say newspaper reports.

Begum Kazi had served as head of Gynaecology department of the Dhaka Medical College Hospital.

At the time of her death she was 97. An activist, she had played an important role in the 1971 struggle. Her husband, Raziuddin, a lawmaker, had died in 1963. She was issue-less. She died on the night of November 8 at her Gulshan residence and was buried at Banani graveyard.


Just when I came across the news, I recalled the letter published in Rashtriya Sahara Urdu daily about the huge money spent on advertisements by the warring factions of Qureshi biradari.

The letter writer had expressed surprise over the manner the office-bearers were flaunting their money and numerical strength, and questioned whether they had opened any schools, colleges or given a thought to how many Qureshi girls are passing PET, MBBS and other exams.

Friday, November 09, 2007

An Indian Muslim 'celebrates' Diwali in an alien land, remembers the childhood

I am not in my City and that has made such a big difference!

It's Diwali and here I am sitting far away from my friends. Will not visit any home tomorrow.

Have no friend to greet here and can't enjoy the holiday either. Though a few SMS I have received, haven't sent many.

No Gujhias. No sweets. A friend called me to tell that my 'mithai ka dabba' is lying in office, and he is going to take it home.

Diwali is the biggest festival in India. Though Dussehra fascinated me more in the childhood because of the huge effigies burnt, Diwali was no less exciting.

I always had more Hindu friends than Muslims and never felt left out during any of the festivals.

The neighbours would come and place 'diyas' at our door and in the verandahs. The mithais would come from every flat.

The young ladies of the nearby flats who were younger would come and touch my mother's feet also. We were the only Muslim family there.

That was an intriguing sight to the new neighbours who would find it strange why rest of Hindu families had this special relationship with a Muslim household. And by the next year, a couple of Eids later, they would also become as close to us as others.

[Who cared about any cultural differences or Hindu-Muslim divide then? Ultimately what matters is friendship and relations...]

As a kid I was not much into bursting crackers but phuljhadis, 'saanp' [the small black tablets which were burnt and unending spirals emerged from them] and chakris were always brought for me. Occasionally Anars also but no patakhe. [Please don't say Phatake or fatake, it really turns me off].

Once though to impress a girl I did set fire to a 'bandar bomb' holding it in my hand. Fortunately the cracker took sometime before it exploded. I got a scolding from everybody in the locality. [I was 12 or perhaps 13]. Boyhood bravado!

Rush of memories. So many incidents, which you relive, when you are free. What else to do! Here I am blogging on Diwali eve. Anyway, refresh our memory. Diwali is celebrated to mark the return of Rama Chandra Ji to Ayodhya after 14-years.

So Happy Dipawali to All of You, who have come to this blog. And also to those who haven't :)

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Sher Ali: The revolutionary Indian freedom fighter who assassinated the Viceroy

Shams Ur Rehman Alavi
Do you know that a Viceroy was killed on Indian soil during the freedom movement?

Though many other revolutionary freedom fighters are remembered, the name of Sher Ali who was behind the assassination, is mostly forgotten.

In fact, Sher Ali's name barely finds a mention. Forget textbooks, the voluminous studies also have his name just in footnote.

It was in February 1872, when this revolutionary who had been sent to Andaman Islands [Kala Pani], assassinated Lord Mayo, the viceroy who was on a visit to the Andamans where the freedom fighters were kept incarcerated.

Richard Bourke, the 6th Earl of Mayo and Viceroy of India, was visiting the Andaman along with high ranking officials and security personnel, when Sher Ali stabbed him to death. When asked why he murdered the viceroy, the man from Tirah valley of Khyber said that 'Khuda ne hukm diya, is waste kiyaa'.

He was charged with murder and hanged on Viper islands the next year. Revolutionaries wanted to overthrow the imperial rule through force, as the felt it was by deceit and military might that the East Indian company had snatched their liberty. It was one of  the few ways in sight for the ordinary Indians to take on the power of the foreign imperialists, then.
We have read how Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Chandrashekhar Azad assassinated Saunders. Also, about Madanlal Dhingra, who in England assassinated William Hutt, there is little focus on the role of Sher Ali. 
Today, the assassinations are seen differently but it was colonial era, Indians were treated as second class citizens, they were exploited and brutalized, the freedom fighters were fighting the imperialists in different ways. But the fact remains that Bhagat Singh, Rajguru, Chandrashekhar Azad and Madanlal Dhingra are heroes in India. Their sacrifices are taught in texts, every child is aware of their role, and annually they are paid homage. However, nothing has come in way of Sher Ali.

1. Here is the Link to the Wikimapia image [the map] of the coast of Andaman where 135 years ago this incident had occurred.
2. Also, a link to the Times of India editorial page article on Sher Ali.

On the 150th anniversary of 1857

[Above photo of Sher Ali on the left and the place on Viper Isles where he was hanged]