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Thursday, July 22, 2010

Parents protest 'lower caste' women cooking food in schools

The outrage among parents over Dalit or Lower Caste [sic] women cooking food for their children in schools has once again demonstrated the casteist face of our society.

'Upper caste' families are insistent that they would not send the kids to school if the children are served food cooked by Dalit women. In several places, villagers have turned violent and the cooks had to be sent away.

This is happening in the heartland of India, from Kanpur to Kannauj, Allahabad to Shahjehanpur and Farrukhabad to Bijnore. Despite that a Dalit woman is the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh (UP), the caste prejudices remain strong at the ground level, especially in rural areas.

The State government recently ordered that Dalit women were to be appointed as cooks in schools under the mid-day meal scheme which is aimed at enrollment of poor children in schools. For 25 kids, the cook would be a Dalit, and in case of 100 children, two cooks including a Dalit and a 'general' woman would be hired.

Despite the loss of upper castes' clout, a Kayastha, Bania or Thakur woman is not likely to go for a cook's job in UP. A Brahmin woman belonging to poor family may however be found at a cook's place because Brahmins are numerous and not financilaly as strong as Banias [Vaishyas] or even Thakurs.

Otherwise, backward caste women are more likely to do this job. However, a Dalit woman is still not welcome. Such are the complexities of caste in contemporary Indian society. In some schools, teachers went on leave.

Elsewhere the are not cooking food but cleaning school premises for fear of hurting 'sensibilities'. In Kannauj 70 parents were booked by police for withdrawing their children from schools. But this is causing further hardening of stance.

For political purposes, Congress' Rahul Gandhi and BJP's Rajnath Singh may go and have food in Dalit households but practically untouchability is still practiced widely. The educated class of parents is least bothered about the criminality of their conduct and that these actions are corrupting the minds of their kids.

Surprisingly, it is not just the traditional upper castes including Brahmins, Rajputs, Banias and Kayasthas who are protesting the decision to appoint dalit women as cooks in schools, but the other backward castes [OBCs] are equally fierce in their opposition to Dalits.

Jats, Kurmis & Yadavs also ganged up against the Dalits. Muslims may not have openly reacted but they are no less casteist and when it comes to caste divide, readily align with the upper castes. And though Dalits comprise the biggest caste group (22%) in UP, the battle for honor is yet to be won despite the BSP ruling the state once again.

UP that has a population of around 200 million is today ruled by a Dalit woman. But that hasn't changed attitudes much though there has been a sense of empowerment amongst the weaker sections who remained at the periphery for centuries.

The open display of caste prejudices and such inhuman attitude towards Dalits haven't still send shockwaves across the country. In rural areas of UP, MP, Rajasthan, Haryana and also parts of South India, it is still a dream for many Dalits to wear shoes or ride horse in the marriage procession.

Such news items don't alarm the society much. While reservation in jobs has helped a section of Dalits attain financial security, for a vast majority the real fight for dignity is far from over. The recent spate of honour killings in which often OBCs were the perpetrators show that the cancer of casteism is spreading.

Caste may not appear as strong and as divisive a factor in cities, in countryside--towns and villages--this abhorrent apartheid continues to oppress millions. It was perhaps this reason that Dr BR Ambedkar had urged his followers to move to cities.

While communalism may be responsible for more deaths in indpendent India, the fact is that casteism is a much serious social evil that is often neglected and due attention is not given towards redressing the caste issues.

It is this reason that some media reports seemed to blame the government for taking the decision to appoint Dalit cooks and in turn fanning caste tensions. Sadly no progressive or reformist voice has been heard from the society against this anti-Dalit mindset.

Legislations and penal actions haven't changed the situation. Isn't it ironical that even today we, in India, commonly use terms like Upper Castes and Lower Castes?

Friday, July 16, 2010

How RSS and other Sangh Parivar outfits escape terrorist tag?

The TV Today group's English channel Headlines Today aired the sting operation that showed top Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) leader Indresh Kumar's involvement with Hindutva-inspired fanatics.

Enraged, Sangh parivar workers attacked the channel's office and went on rampage. The sting operation was more shocking as a former BJP member of parliament was also caught on camera and a failed plot to target Vice-President Hamid Ansari at a function in Jamia Millia University was mentioned.

The fact that Indresh is not a fringe activist but top leader and close to RSS chief makes it even more serious. The BJP, which is the main opposition party takes orders from the Sangh, and is always ready to shield its masters.

During the investigation into Mecca Masjid, Ajmer Dargah and Malegaon blasts, already role of several RSS workers was found. Since independence, starting from Gandhi's killing, the RSS cadre was involved in numerous communal riots.

The report clearly shows that Pune-based chemistry professor held camps to impart training to radicals, a Delhi-based prominent doctor Dr RP Singh bought arms & ammunition and planned terror strikes while top RSS-BJP leaders were discussing that they had no faith in constitution.

Now once again, it's proved that there is a strong militant and anti-national group in RSS. But why no one even dares to take on Sangh Parivar. Why it's not termed a terror group? How its top leaders manage to get away by claiming that a few fringe persons may be involved when any other organisation that gets involved in one incident, is dubbed terror group.

Take for example the recent incident in Kerala where a newly floated political party PFI was demonized and almost dubbed as terror group for one incident in which a professor's palm was chopped off by its activist. Despite PFI leaders openly condemning it, there were raids on party offices and a witch-hunt followed.

In case of RSS, Bajrang Dal and Shiv Sena there is never any raid or sustained interrogation. Ram Sene leader Pramod Muthalik was caught on camera claiming that he could set off a communal riot for a fee but there was no action against his group.

Babu Bajrangi became a face of militant Hindutva in Gujarat and confessed that he murdered women and raped them. But he wasn't touched.

While Muthalik and Bajrangi were active in states ruled by BJP, the Shiv Sena and MNS have done the same in Congress-ruled Maharashtra where outsiders including Biharis and UP-ites have been targeted and yet the parties escaped the terror tag.

On Friday, a group of Shiv Sena activists brutally beat up Karnataka politician Syed Mansoor and other leaders of Seema Rakshan Vedike over the claim of Maharashtra on Belgaum district and blackened his face in a Zee TV channel's office in Kolhapur. Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Raut termed the action as correct.

The offices of these groups aren't raided, their connections are never investigated and their leaders who openly pour out venom are not booked. It is no surprise that the radicals are getting bolder and bolder by the day, so much that they are even targeting Vice-President and planning to overthrow the state.

If SIMI operatives were involved in terrorism and it was banned, why not RSS and Bajrang Dal after all they also have their activists involved in terror plots? PFI's freedom march was banned but despite open display of arms, firing gunshots and holding training camps for years, Bajrang Dal or even Sanatan Sanstha is not reined in.

There are a host of reasons:

Firstly, today BJP has strong presence across the country and every step against RSS is strongly opposed by its workers. The party terms it political vendetta and goes out of the way to defend terror accused, just like its leaders targeted late Hemant Karkare.

Especially, when the Congress govt is firmly in saddle why should investigation be sped up as it may force BJP in a combative position or anger sections of majority community. A top bureaucrat had reportedly asked the investigators to go slow in Samjhata Express blast case.

There is a fear of the so-called Hindu votebank and the fact that a section of majorty community may not like strong action. Lack of activism among educated and secular middle-class is another reason. Besides, there are few NGOs or individuals who decide to file cases, take legal action against fanatic groups and then pursue the cases.

In the last several decades, pro-Hindutva elements have infiltrated several institutions. They include agencies that are vital in keeping tab on the anti-national forces and destructive organisations within the country. A single officer posted at a key place can sabotage the entire investigation.

Journalist Ashish Khetan, who did the breaking story in Mail Today apart from the sting operation in Headlines Today, says that there were attempts to botch up investigation from various quarters and after ATS chief Hemant Karkare's death, officers were reluctant to pursue cases because of the feeling that nobody wanted to burn their fingers.

The role of Saffron outfits in communal carnages like anti-Christian violence in Orissa's Kandhamal, Karnataka and numerous anti-Muslim pogroms is well-known and documented. RSS and Bajrang Dal were running the risk of getting dubbed terrorist groups in America after attacks of churches.

It's time that the government understands the seriousness of the issue. Just like SIMI, it should ban extremist Hindu organisations. BJP should also accept the reality, make its position clear and get rid of the fanatics from within the organisation.

Link to Headlines Today sting: Click for all videos

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Mahlaqa Chanda: Forgotten Urdu poetess before Ghalib

By INDSCRIBE

Mahlaqa Chanda had already compiled her first collection of poetry and attained fame when legendary Urdu poet Mirza Ghalib was just a year old.

For almost two centuries after her death, critics ignored this poetess though Mahlaqa was sometimes mentioned as the first 'Sahib-e-divaan' [a poet whose collection of verses is published] poetess*.

Recently I had the opportunity to visit Mahlaqa's tomb which remained neglected for long. It was heartwarming to see that the tomb is being renovated at a time when Mahlaqa's poetry is once again drawing attention. The US embassy is funding the restoration project.

But before delving deep into the life and times of Mahlaqa, sample a few couplets that will give a glimpse of her poetic abilities. One must remember that such couplets that still appeal to us were written when Urdu was not yet the court language in North India and Persian was the preferred language for poets.

The couplets of course represent the prevalent poetic taste of the era:

ham se kare hai yaar bayaaN apnii chaah kaa
haazir haiN ham bhii gar ho iraada nibaah kaa

Or

rukhsat bosa diya paan chabaa ke zaalim
apnii qismat meN magar thaa ye hijaab-e-yaaqut

Mahlaqa was a devout Shia and her devotion towards Hazrat Ali is visible in innumerable ghazals.

paiGhaam sabaa jaa ke mere yaar se kahnaa
betaab huuN us Ghairat-e-gulzaar se kahnaa

Chandaa tuu kisii aur se zinhaar na rakh kaam
jo kuchh ho gharaz Haidar-e-Karrar** se kahnaa

Chanda's divan has numerous such asha'ar. For example:

dekh Chandaa ko ye kahte haiN Maula Ali
Haidarabad meN ek ahl-e-wafaa rahtaa hai

This prominent poetess of Deccan also penned ghazals in Persian but most of her works in Persian was lost. However, a copy of her Urdu divan that has 125 ghazals, which was compiled and calligraphed by herself is preserved in the British museum in London.

This tomb was built by Mahlaqa when her mother had died. It was built at a cost of Rs 1 lakh way back in 1792. An Ashur-khana, 'baodi', naqqar-khana and dalaan were part of the complex. After her death, she was buried beside her mother's grave.

Various sources suggest that Mahlaqa was born in 1766 AD. Her father Bahadur Khan belonged to an illustrious family. Her mother Maida Bibi also came from a distinguished family in Gujarat. However, the tide of time forced Mahlaqa's mother Maida Bibi and her family to leave Ahmedabad.

They briefly stayed at a place, Devalia, before shifting to Burhanpur, and later settling in Aurangabad where Mahlaqa was born.

Sadly the chroniclers and Urdu critics didn't give due attention to Mahlaqa's poetry. Also, there was a visible bias towards a girl who 'sang and dance'.

The truth was that Mahlaqa was an extraordinary artiste. Ironically she was even termed a tawaif in the sense of prostitute, which is a grave injustice to her.

Mahlaqa was a poetess, a celebrity classical singer and renowned danseuse of her era. She was respected by not just royals and ryots but also the Ulema and scholars. Her intellect and literary taste were widely regarded.

Mahlaqa's library was well-known for her collection of rare books and manuscripts. She had a number of writers, 'Kaatibs', in her personal service, for copying texts for her library. Whenever she heard of a new or rare book, she would somehow get hold of it and ask the Kaatibs to prepare a fresh copy for her library.

She built mosques like Masjid Baitul-Atiq a hospice for Musa Qadri, baradari for Sufi Taar Shah other than construction of dalaan for the pilgrims at Maula Ali shrine.

She was associated with six royal courts starting from Ruknuddaula, followed by Nizam Ali Khan to Sikandar Jah, Arastu Jah, Maharaja Chandulal Shadaan and Raja Rao Rambha. Rahat Azmi, who painstakingly collected details about Mahlaqa Chanda's life writes that this famous Urdu poet of Deccan was a contemporary of renowed poets like Mir Taqi Mir, Sauda and Dard in North India.

Mahlaqa had received early education under the watchful eyes of Nawab Ruknuddaulah, Madarul Maham of Asafia dynasty. Apart from fine arts and training in music, she also learnt horse riding and was imparted military training. At the age of 15, she accompanied Asaf Jah-II in battles.

She was renowned for her mastery on dhrupad apart from khayal tappa. A prominent personality, she lived in Khasa Mahal with hundreds of khadims at her disposal.

Mahlaqa's estate was spread over Syedpalli, Chanderguda, Chandapeth, Ali Bagh and several other areas. She was a generous woman who spent lavishly on the preparations for Khat Darshan Mela and Gyarahvin Sharif.

For Muharram and Jashn-e-Haidari, she prepared for months in advance. She threw banquets in the honour of visiting poets and also patronised poets and artists.

Once she accompanied Asif Jah-II to Madhav Rao's court in Pune. When she saw Nana Phadnavis turning away a French trader who had brought rare breed of horses for sale and Phadnavis refusing to pay more than Rs 1,500 apiece, she offered him Rs 12,000 and bought all the six steeds.

There are several such tales about Mahlaqa. She died in 1824 [1240 AH]. It is said that she died during the outbreak of an epidemic in Hyderabad. The photograph here shows the mazaar of Mahlaqa with the epitaph on the left while her mother's grave is on the right.

                            ہاتف ندا داد بتاریخ او

راہی جنّت شدہ مالقاۓ دکن      ١٢٤٠ 1240

Photographs: Mahlaqa Chanda's tomb in Hyderabad, Deccan. Her portrait by Mirza Mohammad Ali Beg. The third illustration shows the epitaph while the last photograph shows the two graves--Mahlaqa and her mother--inside the tomb.

The renovation work began after American researcher Scott Kugle mooted the idea. Subsequently, a fund of around Rs 50 lakh was sanctioned as part of US Ambassador's Fun for Cultural Preservation, to refurbish this tomb and garden.


[*Though she is generally considered the first female Urdu poetess who had her poetry published, recent research suggests that Lutfunnisa Imtiyaz was the first Sahib-e-Diwan woman poet of Urdu. Her collection was published in 1212 Hijri, just a year before Mahlaqa. However, her husband who was an accomplished poet and wrote an important book on the early poets, didn't include his wife's poetry.]