Sunday, August 29, 2010

Children hit for sitting on mat 'reserved' for upper caste students

Unbelievable it may seem but over a dozen children were brutally beaten up by teachers in a government school for 'daring' to sit at the place reserved for upper caste kids in the class.

This shocking incident of casteist cruelty was ignored by national media, particularly, TV channels that raise the racism bogey and turn jingoist when an Indian is roughed up in either Australia or America, for whatever reason.

In this case, the Dalit or Lower Caste [sic] children are supposed to unroll the mat and even sweep floors before the classes start but when it comes to sitting on the mat, they have to leave the space and either sit on the rag-tag mat or on the bare floor.

When they sat on the place where Thakur children used to sit, angry teachers--Shantilal Parihar and DP Yadav beat them up. Mercifully, the incident which occurred in Dongra Dongai village was not far from urban area and it got reported. The case was registered under Juvenile Justice Act.

The fact that children face such attitudes in government schools and such reports are not taken seriously clearly shows that the media large remains oblivious to atrocities on Dalits. At least, the news could have caused alarm as in this case the victims were minor children.

The incident occurred in Ashok Nagar district in Madhya Pradesh last week. Children as young as five and six year old were beaten. One or two local papers, particularly Nai Dunia, gave it some importance while the rest ignored it or published it as a small one column report. The irony is that intense casteism is prevalent across the country, especially in rural areas but mainstream media doesn't seem to have any affect.

Caste remains a harsh reality in rural India. Our national attitude towards it remains
In large parts of North India, it is impossible for Dalits to ride a horse during a marriage procession. There are still separate cups for tea in shops in several parts or they are asked to wash their own utensils. But lack of sensitisation among journalists is a reason for ignoring such issues.

It is a fact that often journalists sensationalise extremely minor and trivial issues while such incidents of inhumanity are considered 'nothing', as they are 'part of tradition'  in the regions. The reality is that even when such cases are reported, a section feels that the complaint may be exaggerated for 'financial gains' or harassing others by misusing the provisions of Atrocities on SC/ST Act, though they forget that the much-feared Act has hardly any conviction rate in the country. Even Dalit activists hardly bother about such incidents.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Sikh woman, man fight against former mujahideen in Aghanistan polls

A Sikh woman Dr Anarkali Kaur Honaryar is contesting election as an independent candidate in the election for the lower house of Afghanistan's parliament.

Dr Honaryar, a dentist, is fighting the election against a former mujahideen commander. A rights activist, who is known for championing the cause of woman, Anarkali Kaur is a well-known face in the country of her birth [Afghanistan] as well as abroad for her works in the field of education and women's rights.

Apart from her, another Sikh, Pritpal Singh Pal, who runs a medical shop, is also in the fray in Kabul. Indian Express journalist Aashish Jethra reports that Anarkali and Pal are running for positions in Afhganistan's Wolesi Jirga, the 250-seat lower house of parliament, for which elections are scheduled on September 18.

The posters of Sikh candidates during election campaign in Kabul speaks volumes about the resilience of the community. Jethra's story with the accompanying photograph on the left appeared in the Indian Express on August 23.

The Sikh diaspora is an amazing phenomenon and much before other Indian communities, the hardworking & enterprising Sikhs had reached the shores of America, Canada and Britian.

That the Sikhs not just survived the Taliban era and the US-led bombings but also the economically harsh conditions in the war-ravaged country, is no less than a wonder.

Now the Sikhs, despite their small population in the country, are playing an important part in building the Afghan society and this is best illustrated by the example of Kaur and Pal.

All the Sikhs in Afghanistan are not migrants from Indian Punjab. In fact, there are Sikh families who have been here since ages. Till recently Sikhs ran businesses in Kandahar, Kabul and other
major cities.

It is noteworthy that Sikhs have been part of Afghani culture since ages. Maharaja Ranjit Singh, who ruled large parts of Punjab and Kashmir, had his empire stretching up to the boundaries of modern Afghanistan.

Anarkali Honaryar wanted to become a pilot but then became a doctor. She was part of the Loya Jirga that elected the interim government after the Taliban-regime in Kabul. Radio Free Europe's Afghanistan chapter gave her the Person of the Year Award in the year 2009.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Triumphant Shireen steps into University without veil

Shireen Madiha has finally stepped into the university on her conditions. She had refused to bow down to the union's diktat that every woman teacher will have to wear a burqa on campus.

Now she has succeeded and the union is forced to accept its defeat. Shireen [her name wrongly appeared as Sirin Middya in some newspapers] had  invited the ire of the students' union in Kolkata's Aliah University, where she taught Bangla literature, for not wearing the veil.

The union members had asked her to comply just like other Muslim women in the institution. However, the lecturer refused. She took a strong stand against this irrational 'order'. Aliah University is the first Muslim university in West Bengal.

Firstly. it is unlawful to force a woman to wear a particular dress. Anyone has a right to not wear a burqa, just like it is a woman's right to go for hijab if she wills. Secondly, a 'student' union has no business to issue a diktat, and threaten a teacher, more so in a democratic country.

Unfortunately, certain individuals and groups commit acts send a wrong message. Media reports and a bit of intervention from the State government made the university authorities act. In fact, she shouldn't have faced this situation and university authorities must have reined in the union earlier.

She took a stand that she will not wear the burqa though some other women teachers started going to the university in veil. Initially she was shifted to the Salt Lake campus of the university, but was brought back and now goes back to teach, on her terms.

Banning veil, forcing veil equally absurd

For a lone teacher who was singled out and hounded on the campus, it was not easy. Shireen must be congratulated for taking a stand and fighting for her rights. It is absurd to force burqa in the same manner just like it is undemocratic to ban it.

Civil rights and individual choice have to be respected. There will always be narrow-minded fundamentalist persons and institutes but they must be fought. In the last couple of years, such incidents are getting reported more often.

Earlier, teenaged Ayesha had fought the ban on headscarf in a Mangalore college and got her right to keep her head covered.Sironj's Mohammed Salim went up to the Apex court against the school that had expelled him for keeping beard, and he had also won the case.

[Photo courtesy: NDTV]

Friday, August 06, 2010

Legendary mafia don Haji Mastan: The story of a Mumbai underworld gangster who became a don without firing a single bullet

Tale of Haji Mastan: India's underworld don

The recently released movie 'Once Upon a Time in Mumbai' [OUATIM] has again brought to celluloid the story of late Haji Mastan Mirza, the underworld don who had become a cult figure in his life.

Though films and media have been obsessed with gangsters and often the dons have been glorified, there is a marked difference between Mastan and the later dons.

Despite being a notorious law-breaker and feared underworld don, Mastan, had to an extent, acquired social sanction and respect. [After him, the 'bhais' turned to open extortion, drug dealings and finally, terrorism]

This was perhaps because he had certain principles that appealed to common folk, just like the Chambal dacoits* who fought against the system but never harmed the poor, instead distributed money among them, and acquired the image of Robinhood.

In the 70s, Mastan ruled the Mumbai underworld, and made a fortune in gold smuggling. It was license-permit Raj era, and the smuggling of imported goods brought him immense riches and as a result tremendous clout. However, he stayed away from the dirty business--smuggling of weapons or narcotics.

Ajay Devgan, who plays the role of Haji Mastan, has a dialogue in the movie that illustrates this difference between Mastan and the dirty dons which followed him, "I smuggle goods that are not permitted by the government but I don't smuggle goods that are not permitted by my conscience". 

'Main un chizoN ki smuggling nahiiN kartaa jiski ijaazat meraa zamir nahiiN detaa'.

Popular magazines of the era, particularly, Illustrated Weekly of India and India Today published special features on Haji Mastan, which further glorified him and turned him into a celebrity with a larger-than-life image.

Mastan, who had migrated from Madras [Tamil Nadu], and began working as a coolie at the Bombay port, went on to become a rich and immensely influential man.

He later financed movies and also entered politics. Mastan's life has inspired several movies in the past also including the blockbuster Deewar and Maqbool. [Varadarajan Mudaliar, often described as the first Mumbai don, also hailed from Tamil Nadu]

Glorifying the gangsters: Role of media, movies and society

It's indeed ironic that notorious criminals and lawbreakers are eulogised and seen as heroes in the society. Perhaps, the rags-to-riches stories fascinated section of society that saw no way towards upward mobility and could only dream of instant riches.

While gangsters get undue coverage in media, the truth is that society also enjoys reading about the exploits of the outlaws. The anger against the establishment or the 'system', particularly the corrupt bureaucrats and criminal politicians who are also seen as criminals to an extent, is probably a reason that a sections of soceity are in awe of the dons.

Mastan had a long and 'successful' innings. Though he couldn't make a mark in politics despite floating a party and trying to forge a Dalit-Muslim political alliance, he stayed in public life and had his admirers. People flocked to see him and he was mobbed in parties. After him, the underworld turned even dirtier.

Killings for extortion became order of the day and the decade of 90s saw the underworld drift towards terrorism. Both 'Maqbool' and 'OUATIM' exploit this grey area and seem to stress on the 'values' and relative principles of the earlier dons.

Haji Mastan, who became a don without ever firing a single bullet!

Senior journalist Sajid Rasheed says that Mastan had got immense fame because of juicy stories--with more fiction and less facts--which were published in newspapers and magazines., and he became a don without firing even a single bullet.

"He may not have even slapped anybody but English magazines presented him as a dreaded gangster and he also enjoyed it, never contesting the charges, in fact, even trying to dress himself in such a manner so that he could appear as a don".

"He was not a don but a smuggler who was spendthrift and helped poor and in process acquired fame.  He quietly helped the needy. When I was as student in Maharashtra College, I was among a group of students who protested the presence of Mastan Mirza in a poetry meet that was held on the college premises,  in order to generate funds for the institution.

However, we later found that college authorities were in dire need of funds and Mastan Mirza alone had given Rs 3 lakh, says Rasheed. "He was not a killer mafioso rather a man who had become a celebrity due to his sheer luck and the prevalent social circumstances apart from the role of media."

Read translated excerpts of Sajid Rasheed's article:

Fact Vs Fiction: More myths than reality, Mastan was more a smuggler than a mafiosi

Haji Mastan earned his fortune, smuggling gold and foreign goods. When Indira Gandhi imposed emergency, all smugglers were arrested under MISA. Mastan was also sent to jail. Later Congress lost elections and Janata Party assumed power.

Incidentally, someone had suggested to Mastan that he should meet loknayak Jai Prakash Narayan [JP], the ideologue of Janata Party, and confess his crimes. Along with Yusuf Patel, Mastan presented himself before JP, and seek forgiveness for his past life.

It was this 'surrender' that was lapped up by national media. In the pre-TV era, magazines and papers were read extensively and cover stories featuring him, turned Haji Mastan into the country's foremost don. Mastan loved expensive cigarettes, liquor, beautiful women and splurged money.

He dressed himself in white and even wore white shoes. He was a partyman and Bollywood personalities surrounded him. A photorapher who worked as free-lancer one day beamingly told me that he had built his own house after Mirza lent him Rs 40,000 and when he went to return the amount, Mirza scolded him and refused to take back the money.

The photograph of showman Raj Kapoor bowing in front of Mirza had also been splashed in papers and magazines in the era. But much later Mastan Mirza told me that Raj Kapoor was bankrupt after Mera Naam Joker failed at the box office, and though I asked him if he needed money, Kapoor politely refused because it was black money.

Mastan said that Raj Kapoor was not bowing due to a sense of obligation, in fact, the photograph was deceptive as the showman was drunk and got stumbled when a cameraman took the photo but it was interpreted otherwise.

[Sajid Rasheed is a senior journalist and this article was published in Urdu daily Sahafat, Mumbai]

[*Chambal dacoits were seen as rebels and society in general admired them for their valour. Most of the dacoits robbed the rich, particulary, the exploitative money-lenders, and some of them had become bandits because they rebelled against the system. Either failure to get justice after the death of a kin by influential persons or caste oppression, the dacoit was seen as 'baaghi'. However, in recent years the tradition also changed and dacoits became brute killers and kidnappers.]

Monday, August 02, 2010

Worshipping Kansa: Unique idol in Uttar Pradesh

Traversing across North India, it's not uncommon to find rare architectural heritage or unique aspects of the culture.

But a temple for Kansa is truly a discovery. On Hardoi Road, I spotted this huge idol in a village. After crossing the village and going ahead for a distance, I decided to go back and inquire about the statue.

Villagers said that it was the idol of Kansa who was worshipped here for several generations, much to the astonishment of my companions also.

In Hindu mythology, Kansa is an evil king, who kept his sister Devaki and brother-in-law Nand incarcerated and killed every child born to them, due to a prophecy that one of his nephews would kill him.

But Devaki's eighth child, Lord Krishna, survives and later kills Kansa, who ruled the kingdom of Mathura, not far from this region where the temple exists. No wonder that Kansa is considered a negative figure almost at par with Ravana.

It is this reason that no one may have ever heard of Kansa being worshipped in India. In fact, there are a couple of temples for Ravana because he is considered a wise Brahmin and a devotee of Shiva apart from the fact that he was perhaps part of the entire divine plan in which Lord Rama as seventh avatar of Vishnu emerges and brings justice to the world.

Over the centuries, Kansa has been a demon in stories in countless households in India. In fact, a cruel maternal uncle is often referred as 'Kans mama'. There are certain positive traits in the character of Ravana but not one in Kans.

Everyone I asked about the idol including the family that has been taking care of it, said that it was indeed Kansa, but they failed to give any satisfactory reply as to how the structure was built and the locals made it a deity.

The caretaker who is a local BJP leader said that for centuries it is being worshipped and an annual fare is also organised. Perhaps, here lies the uniqueness of  Indian culture, that not just others but we also get surprised at such cultural diversities.