Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Indian Muslims must avoid street protests

An incident that largely went ignored in national media recently occurred in Jalna, which is located in 'Congress-ruled' Maharashtra, and has lessons for Muslims.

Upset over circulation of a distorted photograph on Facebook, Muslims took out a protest. There was ruckus during the procession that sought stern action against culprits. Some youths in the demonstration had face-off with traders and resorted to stone pelting. A vehicle was also reportedly torched.

What happened thereafter is incomprehensible. The Jalna police registered cases under sections meant for  dacoity and attempt to murder against these youths. They were arrested and sent to jail and the father of one them died of heart attack when he heard news of his son's arrest.

Certainly there was no need for any ruckus in the procession and if, at all, there was lawlessness, it warranted legal action. But the police should have applied the appropriate sections under the Indian Penal Code (IPC), not the cases meant for acts that didn't happen. Instead they used such harsh sections that are never used in such incidents. One again you can cry 'injustice' or recite couplets like 'ham aah bhi bharte haiN to ho jaate hain badnaam, voh qatl bhi...'.

But there are several lessons for Indian Muslims in this:

1. Firstly, many would say that it is 'injustice' and that protests which are much more violent--ranging from open arms display by right-wing groups to Barjang Dal attacks during Valentine's Day or the Gujjars blocking railway track, don't invoke such harsh sections.

The fact is that incidents like Forbesganj firing, Gopalgarh killings and now Jalna arrests, show how administration acts in such cases. Was a mere Facebook post so damaging for a religion professed by hundreds of millions?

2. Couldn't the local Muslims have taken legal route--either filing FIR in the police station or getting case registered through a private complaint in the court. Else, submitting memorandums to district collector. Couldn't they have taken a leaf out of Muslims in another city [I have forgotten the name], who took Hindus and Sikhs also along, while taking their delegation to the officials.

3. How many protests have Jalna Muslims undertaken for issues pertaining to their socio-economic backwardness or how many times have they joined hands with other communities in taking out protests. We, mostly, go out, when there is an 'attack' on 'our religion'.

4. We exclusively take out protests. In such instances, there is often a risk, that the section of policemen or officers who don't like the sight of a 'Muslim juloos' may use extra force. There is apparently a feeling that with such processions, Muslims want to show their 'strength'.

This feeling is reinforced and officials sometimes take stringent action. If another group that is allied to a political party may get away lightly with a protest, it doesn't mean that you will also be let off that easily. The cases would be registered, youths hounded and their future [careers] affected.

5. A history of such incidents must have taught us that often the 'protesting minority' is seen as 'the other'. In Jalna, 60 Muslim youths were sent to jail. While one may criticise police action and the case may or may not stand in the court later on, the reality is that there was lawlessness to an extent, which you can't justify. And now the youths and their families are suffering.

The youths will experience what it is when your name is once registered in the local police station and you are deemed a troublemaker. It is really frustrating to see Muslims repeating the same mistakes again and again across the country.

6. Protest is out democratic right.But if you feel that someone else can get away with a violent protest and thus you should be spared as there was just a 'mere stone pelting', it is not a practical argument. Words like 'injustice', 'biased action', 'communal mindset' are often used but this can't justify your stand.

It also hurts the image of the community that it is ready to take to streets at the slightest provocation. Is our religion or belief so weak that any damn person's post or photo on a social networking website can hurt it. And why not take proper action, rather, than chanting emotional slogans and taking to the streets.

7. Frankly, you must protest for other people, belonging to other communities also for valid reasons, not just your own community as if you are absolutely isolated. We only go out for ourselves. This reinforces the set 'image' of Muslims. Each such protest results in loss for Muslims. This pattern is going on for decades.

8. I can recall dozens of incidents in the last decade alone, starting from the Kanpur case to the recent incidents that occurred in Rajasthan and Bihar. The violence in Kanpur had occurred in 2001, when Muslims protesting desecration of Holy Quran were fired at.

At least, 13 Muslims were killed as per official reports and the destruction of property of Muslims was immense. Not just right-wing groups but UP's notorious PAC smelt blood again and went about loot and destruction.

The better example is the case where Muslims took members of all other communities along and they took up the cases of online mischief that was 'hurting religious feelings' with the officials. Hindu leaders took up example of pictures of Gods that were morphed and similar was complaint of Sikhs.

As a result, the administration promptly acted and with greater sensitivityYou must take others along, rather than blowing your own trumpet alone.

9. Don't always think that it is you who gets the raw deal. In daily life, almost everybody who is unprivileged gets a bad deal from police and administration. The Tribal, Dalit and other weaker sections, a poor belonging to higher caste, are also a victim of numerous injustices.

So don't think that you alone are targeted all the time and stop raising the bogey of 'victim hood'. You are no special that you would be treated less harshly. Thus Jalna incident should again serve as reminder that reckless  actions can lead to further problems.

Muslims must learn to hold silent sit-ins and dharnas, if at all, it is necessary or innovative forms of smart protests that attract media rather than affecting traffic and turning off others. Otherwise they run the risk of getting labelled as aggressors and termed as 'troublemakers'. It's time to ponder seriously whether mindlessly protests serve any purpose or they instead hurt us.

10. And yes, new media is evolving. There will be a lot of stuff that you may find offending. But it shouldn't drive you crazy. You must learn to ignore things as well. One can only hope that repeated incidents will now serve as lesson for the community and they would learn to be more responsible and tactful. 

Friday, November 18, 2011

Peace Party: The rise of a political party in Uttar Pradesh

Travelling around 15 kms on a stretch from Lucknow towards Hardoi, I had seen 70 banners and hoardings of Peace Party and it was then that I stopped counting.

That was almost a year ago. Now the Assembly election is round the corner and Dr Ayub's Peace Party is giving jitters to almost all the mainstream political parties, even to a section of the BJP.

When the middle-aged medical practitioner, who runs a big hospital and has the second biggest business in disposable syringes in the country, made his foray in politics, it was met with skepticism.

But impressive vote share in elections, particularly, the recent bypolls, have shown that he has support among Muslims, section of Brahmins and the backwards. When the Peace Party of India (PPI) candidate got 1 lakh votes in Khalilabad in 2009, it raised eyebrows.

In conversations, often people wonder, 'Who is funding it?' & 'What's their agenda'. The popularity of the party in some areas is baffling others. Often there is criticism that it is a one-man's show. But similar objections are equally true for other parties as well.

With its good performance in by-elections where the party came second and due to its performance other major parties had to forfeit deposit has made politicians sit up and take notice. While there is a feeling that Peace Party would hurt Samajwati Party the most, other parties are also worried.

In Lakhimpur by-election, SP won the five-cornered contest. But Peace Party's Brahmin candidate came second, followed by Congress,  BJP and the BSP that was relegated to the fifth place. That was a year ago during the bypoll. Similar was the case at Dumariyaganj where its candidate came third.

Unlike SP that has Yadav leadership taking Muslims along or BSP that has a Dalit leader, PPI is a Muslim-centric party. But it claims to be not a party meant to secure Muslims' interests alone. It claims itself to be an inclusive party that will strongly take Muslims' issues.

A la AUDF, MIM or charting another course!

Perhaps, it's an experiment to replicate Maulana Badruddin Ajmal-led AUDF's success in successive elections in Assam. With every Assembly and Lok Sabha election, Ajmal's party has emerged stronger in Assam that has 33% Muslim electorate.

Others feel Peace Party may emerge a slightly diluted version of the Hyderabad-based Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM) that has strong bargaining power in Andhra Pradesh even though the state has far less Muslims than UP.

Andhra has barely 8% Muslims but MIM has a strong base in the capital, Hyderabad, which has over 40% Muslims.

In UP, Muslims account for 19% population but are more concentrated in Western UP, umpteen constituencies in Awadh, Purvanchal and other parts.

But will Muslims vote en bloc for Peace Party in any of the regions? It is not as easy though as Muslims haven't deserted Mulayam Singh Yadav' SP as yet. It is possible though that given the multi-polar contest, Peace Party may emerge victorious in some constituencies and later, in case of hung assembly, gain importance for the other parties.

Dr Ayyub who recently survived an attack on his life when his vehicle was repeatedly hit by a Sports Utility Vehicle (SUV), says that his party stands for harmony and social justice. If it is Muslim vote, he banks upon, then the 19% Muslim electorate in UP has many contenders.

Samajwadi Party has now projected Azam Khan as its Chief Ministerial candidate. BSP too is trying to woo the community. Apart from Congress, RLD and other mainstream parties, there are half-a-dozen Muslim parties too in the fray.

The 'Muslim parties' in the fray

Notable among them are the Welfare Party and Ulema Council, which was formed after Azamgarh was defamed in the wake of Batla House encounter. However, it is felt that the increase in number of 'such parties would divide the Muslim vote.
 Dr Ayub
Recently, after the Sufi Mahpanchayat, Maulana Tauqir Raza Khan has also hinted that his Ittehad-e-Millat Council (IMC) would throw its hat in the electoral fray, on certain seats around Bareilly, which is considered the centre of Barelvi sect.

Peace Party is however much more organised and has support of other caste groups also. The 2012 Assembly election would be crucial in many ways. While Rahul Gandhi is making an all out effort to win back the state, its a prestige issue for SP, BSP (and BJP) also.

Chief Minister Mayawati has flummoxed Congress with her proposal to divide UP. Clearly, each party is doing its best to outwit the other. Lately Peace Party has attracted leaders from several other parties and lot of Dalit-Backward politicians are joining it.

Slogans like 'Ekta ka Raaj chalega/Hindu Muslim ka saath chalega' and 'Bharat ke samaan mein/ Dr Ayyub maidaan mein' are visible on walls across UP. Just a matter of months and the election results would tell if there is indeed space for a non-conventional sort of political outfit like Peace Party in UP.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Ra One loses, G One wins: My Review of Shahrukh Khan playing Superhero in Bollywood movie!

SRK as G One: Indian movie Superhero
I have just watched Shahrukh Khan’s ambitious movie Ra One. I am not going to say that either it’s a great movie or a bad one. But yes it’s entertaining.

I do regret reading so many reviews before watching the film. I should have gone straight walked to the cinema hall rather than getting influenced by others’ opinionated views that do affect us. As I'd got influenced, I don’t want to do the same.

For the critic in me, it could be a ‘long video game’ or a ‘Bollywood-Hollywood synthesis with a touch of Rajinikanth style stunts, new age techniques and the Indian kitsch’.

For the child in me, it was engaging, interesting—at times scary [yes there is very much a child in me, the one who has read Phantom and Mandrake in Hindi-English Indrajal comics, as much as Tilism Hoshruba in Urdu], and riveting for the last half-an-hour.

For the youngster in me, it was a movie that offered a new story, perhaps the tale not woven well, no great music and lacking the finesse of real great movies. But despite the flaws, it does seem to work by the time it ends. At times, you get a feeling that everything was too surreal and you think that it was a tad too predictable.

The real action is in the last 30 minutes or so. Yes, the train scene is clear imitation of Rajinikant’s Endhiran [Robot] and for that lift-up there is a tribute [it was much needed] to ‘Rajini Sir’ from Shahrukh in the midst of the movie.

Amazing Animation: G One stops the train that has ran into Mumbai VT!
Now, an admission, I have never been a die-hard Shahrukh Khan fan. I belong to the generation that grew up on Amitabh Bachchan.

But lately I have realized that the country is divided in people who either love him or simply hate him.

I belong to neither of the sides. Many friends say that they just don’t like him, his facial expressions irritate them or that his acting puts off.

I think SRK cleverly saw the void--the need for an Indian movie superhero, and being aware that children like him more, he took the plunge. He got the role tailor made for him, putting all the ingredients of a masala movie, and then launched the publicity blitz.

Some other hero may not have carried this kind of sci fiction sort of computer game movie. It needed SRK, who has been with us for the last 20 years and has come to symbolize popular culture, to lift it. To his credit, he manages to pull it off.

Though we have had TV serials like Ramayana and Mahabharat where divine & mythical  characters were seen burning the devil with deadly rays and fighting while flying in air or even the genie tales, but trying it in a mainstream movie in India was always risky.

 Chammak Challo enlivens movie. All other songs are forgettable in Ra One
That probably seemed easier with characters like Flash Gordon or Fauladi Singh in the comics or animation heroes in 'He Man’ series or the ‘Superman-Batman’ movies.

So you can give credit to SRK for his attempt in making the movie and trying to play a superhero.

The story goes like this: The kid wanted his father to make a computer game where the villain is more powerful than the hero. The father obliges but the villain Ra One comes out of the game to kill the father [the programmer--Shahrukh Khan] and then hunts for the player [Lucifer].

Aah, I am again reminded of my childhood. Do you remember the Mandrake series where his half-brother, the often faceless, Lucifer [Cobra or Vishdhar], comes back to settle old scores. Remember the hood without face in some comics!

Did the script writer had memories of that popular comic series in his mind and took the name from there? The two sides of the same coin: one good, the other evil. Sorry I again drifted from the subject and went back from movies to the world of comics.

I have always been bad at video games. Always found tough to graduate to the next level. So the last 20-odd minutes, provided some thrill when G One has to reach a particular level and then overcome his capabilities to fight with Ra One, the powerful monster, and defeat him.

In between there are a few comical scenes, the presence of Satish Shah, SRKs accent as a Tamilian, the animation scenes, the sole popular song Chhammak Chhallo where Kareena might allure you with her curves and cleavage, until the racy end. SRK's piercings and the airport scene maylook gross but it could be appealing to his gay fans.

G One gets ready for the final battle with Ra One
In the meanwhile, there is some melodrama and tragedy, ‘Funny scenes’, which are perhaps not as funny.

The 'crotch scenes' every now and then, that appeared repetitive. Also there was a widowed Kareena Kapoor’s ‘Karva Chauth’ episode with SRK’s robotic lookalike from the game.

Finally G One wins. SRK was long dead but the animated SRK, G One, dies fighting and then resurfaces at the end, a la Hollywood movie style so that there could be a possibility of the sequel in future.

So go and watch the movie with an open mind. There is chance you may genuine like it or might return dazed, feeling as if you are just back from the virtual world. But don’t go by self-appointed critics’ opinionated reviews [what about this one?]. had nearly half-a-dozen articles and pieces on Ra One in the first two days itself. Strangely, contrary to their style [they carry two reviews--one positive and a harsh reviews], almost all of them trashed the movie and even termed it a flop on the first day.

I think I would have enjoyed a bit more had I not read some much about the film. The hype perhaps led to this and it’s a double-edged sword anyway as expectations were raised too much. What do you expect of a movie, after all?

A Crumbling Mumbai Railway Station: That's the Best Scene in the Film
I don’t think every flick can be a masterpiece that could be rated high on all parameters.

There was visual delight, the ultimate being the crumbling scene of Mumbai CST [earlier VT], a hallmark of computer generated animation.

Box office reports suggest the movie is earning enough of crores to keep him in race for Bollywood’s top slot.

Do we, the cine-watchers, need to think in terms of hit or flop, when the film has just been released! I think I am not disappointed after watching the movie. It was different and it did entertain me. In the end, it was victory to good guy, which most of us like.

Isn’t that enough! What’s your verdict?

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Watching A Circus: Getting Entertained But Returning Sad

It was after a long time that I saw an advertisement in the newspaper about a circus in the town.

For years I hadn't gone to a circus and I decided to watch it. The Crown Circus advertised itself as a Chinese circus, probably, because most of the artists were either local or from Nepal and North East.

And anything from abroad, even Chinese, is apparently more chic. The tickets were priced at Rs 30, Rs 80 and Rs 120. Though it was not a holiday, the stands were almost 70% full even in the afternoon show.

Once inside, it was easy to see the difference in the circus industry today compared to the yore when Gemini, Venus, Apollo, Jumbo were popular circuses in India. Some of them still survive but mostly in smaller towns in the country.

Here there was hardly any pomp and show. There were lights but the electric atmosphere that was typical of circuses earlier was missing. The performers' dresses were not as fancy, in fact, some artists were wearing old and worn out clothes.

The chairs, the wooden bars and the iron framework all looked pale and depressing. Meagre resources and lack of money is clearly making it tough for them to run the circus on grand scale. Still, it was fun to watch the performances.

A family goes to see the Circus
Of course, scantily clad women ran around, rode tiny bicycles and balanced themselves on ropes. The show of skin perhaps is always an attraction for some people, either it's watching tennis on TV or in the circus arena.

There were acrobatics on the wire, then a troupe of girls who gave an astonishing performance of rifle shooting--hitting at things kept on joker's head while they shot from either of the hands or just by watching at the target in the mirror.

Some other performances were truly scintillating. The fact that even after 24/7 TV, if something amazes you so much, then credit must be given to artists.

I really wonder why the sports authorities don't see the talent in such people, particularly, for sports like gymnastics and shootings these artists can be groomed.

There were some strange performances. A girl who did amazing balancing act, a young man who would drink different colours of water by litres and then vomited out the colored water intermittently as if he had separate compartments in his stomach to store water.

The Babes and The Breathtaking Performances

There were youths dressed as Samurai warriors who enthralled the viewers. Holding spears they fought each other. Later one of them, blindfold, went on a mad assault with an axe in his hand. For a moment you felt that he might accidentally kill the persons lying on the ground but, nope, he did it with perfection.

That was breathtaking. There were a dozen-odd other performances including that of lasso and some 'magic tricks', which one could afford to miss. There were no lions or other big animals as one saw in the past. A girl gave a good show riding a horse and some trained dogs entertained the spectators.

Girls bring glamour to circus
A man exhibited his driving prowess, riding a motorcycle in a metal spheroid. In the meanwhile, there were jokers who cracked cheap jokes and some really vulgar gestures.

Among the last items in the show was the trapeze artists. I felt they weren't as good as in the past but I had the satisfaction of watching a circus.

Almost 2-1/2 hrs had passed by then when the show finally ended. I felt that the circus owners must be earning a good money from the sale of eatables. During the entire show, almost every five minutes, there was something the vendors would come out with, ranging from wafers to pop-corns, ice-cream, samosas, soft drinks, bottled water et al.

Falling Fortunes: The Decline of Circus in India

Still, the condition of the circus artists was depressing. They have to spend a lot of money in publicity in whichever city the go. Apart from charges for the ground where the tent is put up, the electricity and other allied expenses account for a lot of money.

Even if there are barely 25-30 artists that also include musicians, trainers & other staff, the salaries alone need lakhs every month. There is profit for the owners but this is not so much that the artists can get good salaries and save for their future.

Trapeze artists' acrobatics in the air
A large number of people who go to see circus come from lower-middle class or middle-class. With crumbling structure and lack of adequate show, the circus owners can't charge excessively either. After the ban on keeping animals, the circus-walas have to rely mostly on artists.

Though it is meant to entertain, after watching a circus, one feels sad, thinking about the lives of the artists, the short men who are made to act as clowns & make children laugh and the artists who take risks to earn their living.

Plight of Circus Artists, Fears of Exploitation

There are always fears of exploitation of artists, particularly, the women, who work in this industry. There are several other issues. But these circuses do provide employment to lot of people and they still attract the crowds.

However, there is need for a body for welfare of circus artists and their families apart from keeping a check on the circus owners, so as to redress the issues pertaining to problems of artists, allied staff and their children.

Perhaps, it's time for the circuses also to reinvent themselves, considering how people are spending much more at multiplexes compared to the old cinema halls to watch movies. Also, it's time for Government and private sector to come to their aid, if this traditional form of mass entertainment has to survive and flourish in future.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Saba Anjum: Muezzin's daughter is now Indian hockey team captain

Saba Anjum
The story of Saba Anjum Karim, 26, is nothing short of a fairy tale.

It has been a long and tough journey for the girl from Durg (Chhattisgarh) who has finally managed to turn her dream into reality.

Saba is now the captain of Indian women's hockey team. Today she is a role model not just for Muslims but all young girls who come from unprivileged background.

The daughter of a muezzin, who got barely Rs 400 a month, Saba, overcame the odds and her determination got her into the national team. Over the years, she became an integral part of the team.

Finally, the veteran striker was named captain of the squad that will play a four test series in Australia. The team will also participate in the three nation nine-a-side international super series championship there.

Unlike the Pathan brothers--Irfan and Yusuf Pathan, who also came from humble background to play international cricket, Saba Karim's fight, which is even more remarkable as she also had to fight gender discrimination apart from financial hardships, finds little mention in mainstream media.

But it doesn't matter much for Saba, who says that its an honour to play for the country and even more to lead the national team. Her success is already inspiring girls in Chhattisgarh. Saba had held stick at an early age and his father, who gave Azaan [call to devotees at a mosque], supported his youngest daughter.
Saba Anjum (extreme right)

Saba had played in the IHF's Under-18 which India had won in 2000. After the gold medal in commonwealth games, she got recognition.

Saba scored the winning goal in final of the four-nation Shastri Cup and had had six goals to her credit in tournament.

In her interview to a local radio station, she said that she didn't have any idea that one needed a passport after getting selection in the national team.

But that was long back. Now she is an established player and also the skipper. There is good news from personal front also. The experienced striker has just got engaged to former hockey player Abdul Fahim Khan, whom she has known since her childhood.

The engagement ceremony was held in Durg recently. Our best wishes to her. The success of sporting stars like Sania Mirza, Saina Nehwal, and now Saba Anjum will certainly inspire more girls to take to sports and earn a name for themselves and the country.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Salvation of Soul: 'Pind Daan' for MF Husain, Indian-Pakistani writers performed as per Vedic rituals in Gaya

Pind-daan: Hindu rituals for salvation performed in Gaya
Just the other day, I read a news that the 'Pind-daan' ceremony for the famous painter late MF Husain was performed at Gaya in Bihar.

This was indeed surprising. After all, the furore over his controversial paintings had even upset many liberals.

Umpteen cases were filed against him, forcing him to self-imposed exile. But now a social organisation led by Mr Suresh Narayan offered the Hindu ritual for the salvation of his soul, apart from others.

Narayan also performed performed the 'pind-daan' for Pakistani journalist Syed Saleem Shahzad, famous Hindustani classical singer Pt Bhimsen Joshi, eminent writer Kanhaiya Lal Nandan, Swami Nigamananda and a few others.

Social activists performed the rites under the guidance of Swami Raghavacharyaji Maharaj. Narayan said that the legendary figures who departed from us, had given society a lot, and the onus was on the people to ensure that they live in peace after death also.

Every year, the social organisation performs the rituals for salvation of souls of eminent persons who die apart from those killed in tragedies and mishaps. The rituals were held at Devghat on the banks of Phalgu river in Gaya district of Bihar.

Cynics may easily dismiss it. But the fact that despite all opposition to the famed artist, holding the ceremony for a Muslim person as per Vedic rites, is surely a courageous job. There is definitely a message, which the organisation, sends here. It's about humanity, it's the intrinsic Indian secularism, it's about their belief in composite culture.

If one seeks publicity, there are myriad ways. There is no dearth of celebrities who pass away ever year, even controversial one. But remembering a person like MF Husain, knowing well that it can raise heckles of the right-wing groups, along with other personalities is laudable.

The 'Pind-daan' is a Hindu ritual for salvation of the deceased's soul. As per Vedic beliefs, even after death the soul may retain its materialistic links. In this body less state, the soul suffers and undergoes pain until it gets another body.

It is said that after this ritual, the cycle of birth & death ends and the soul gets salvation or eternal peace. Gaya is considered one of the holiest places and every year innumerable people reach here for the pind-daan of their ancestors during the Pitr Paksh.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Besieged & Branded: The Burden Of Being A Muslim

By Mahtab Alam

“Serial Bomb Blasts in Delhi. Where are you, Are you safe?” read a text message on my Mobile, by Sonali Garg, a friend of mine from Delhi.
It was late in the evening of September 13th, 2008. “Oh My God! That’s really horrible. I am fine though and in Bihar. Hope you, your family members are all right,” I replied before forwarding this message to other friends in Delhi.
During those days, I was in Bihar, surveying the aftermath of the flood that had struck the Kosi region of the state in the second week of August that same year. Village after village had vanished in the flood. It was reportedly the worst flood ever seen by the people of that area. Most of them were left with no other alternative but to shift to the rehabilitation camps.
On 13th September 2008, the sun went down to serial bomb blasts in Delhi, killing 26 persons and injuring many more. In all, five bomb blasts within the time span of 30 minutes created havoc amongst the Delhiites. I heaved a sigh of relief as all the messages I received in reply to my forwarded message were positive.My friends were all fine. The last reply I received was around midnight by a senior colleague of mine, A R Agwan, a former assistant Professor of Environment Sciences with whom I had conducted many workshops for Human Rights’ Activists in different parts of India, saying that he was all right and had been sleeping, thus the delay in replying. 
Do we want fear or hope in these eyes!
Still shaken by the news, I tried moving on with my work, thinking that the worst was over. But I was to be proved wrong. Around noon the next day, I received a frantic call from the Secretary of the Association for the Protection of Civil Rights (APCR), a Delhi based civil rights’ group I was working with then as a Coordinator.
He sounded tense and the poor network added to the problem. All I was able to make out, in interrupted tones, was that the situation in Delhi, especially Jamia Nagar, a Muslim populated area of South Delhi, was very bad. A pall of fear pervaded all in the area. The police had been randomly picking up Muslims from the area. I was asked to come to Delhi as soon as I possibly could.
Not satisfied with the details, I tried ringing A R Agwan, as he was based in that area. I grew worried when around twenty calls made to his mobile through the day went unanswered. Knowing him, it was quite unusual of him to react in this manner. Immediately after Iftar (since it was the month of Ramadhan), I proceeded to the nearest Cyber Cafe to book my ticket for Delhi.
An e-mail I received struck me numb with horror and rendered me incapable of any action for a few minutes. It was hard to believe that A R Agwan was under arrest! He had been picked up by Delhi Police’s Special Cell, equivalent to the Anti-Terror Squad or Special Task Force of other states.
A R Agwan, is a prominent social activist and has been attached with many social and human rights’ group. With a clear record, and an even clearer conscience, his arrerst sent shockwaves in the community. The leaders of the Muslim community were completely outraged by the arrest. His neighbours did not know how to react.

Anxiety, Fear, Paranoia...

Enquiries to other activists of the situation revealed that apart from Agwan, three other people had been detained from the area. After much pressure from community leaders, social and religious organizations, Agwan was released, along with Adnan Fahad, a DTP operator in his late twenties, who was also into some small Publishing business.
They were arrested around 11 AM in the morning and freed in the late evening around 7:30 P M.  Illegal detention would have been prolonged hadn’t the community leaders and activists pressurized the Delhi police for their release. On 17th September, immediately after coming back to Delhi, I went to meet Agwan. He was still recovering from the shock, having been forcibly subjected to the worst hours of his life. He completely failed to understand why he had been picked up.
“They asked me about my whereabouts on the day of the blasts, my activity in the evening that day. I told them I was at home meeting two non-muslim friends from Hyderabad. They had come over to discussing the opening up of an NGO. Then they questioned me about the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) and its people. 
We are also like you, Does topi make us different!
They pressed me to give names of some SIMI people in my locality, and I told them that I didn’t know anything, but they kept insisting”. 
The interrogators also asked him about Abul Bashar, a Madarsa graduate, who was arrested from Azamgarh the month before and was later projected as the mastermind of the Ahmedabad serial blasts. “I told them I knew not more about Abul Bashar than what had appeared in the media”, Agwan recalled.
Not content with this response, they further alleged that Bashar had his cell number and that he had stayed at his home. Agwan flatly denied the charges. “But they did not believe me and wanted to put words in my mouth.  They just wanted me to confess to something with which I had absolutely no connection”.
“It was like there was no rule of law and the Police had become a Law unto themselves,” he told me, still unable to reconcile himself to what he had undergone. “When they realized that it would be too difficult to further my custody, as pressure was mounting from different sections of society to release me, they offered to drop me to my home. I refused to go with them.” “I told them that I was afraid that they would take me to some other place and torture me severely so that I confess to their charges, as had been done to hundreds of Muslims across the country”. “I asked them to ask my family to come and collect me”.

The fear that Agwan underwent reminded me of the stories that I had heard at the Impendent People’s Tribunal on the ‘Atrocities Committed against Minorities (read Muslims) in the Name of Fighting Terrorism’ at Hyderabad in August the same year (2008). We were told spine chilling stories of arbitrary detention and torture by the victims of ‘war on terror’, families of the accused who were in jails and human rights activists across the country barring Kashmir and North-eastern states of India.
The common complaints were that they were punched, kicked, beaten very badly. In order to humiliate them so that they break down, the interrogators made them stand for long hours and hung them upside down. In custody, they were denied all basic amenities and were forced to drink water from the toilets. Moreover, they were subjected to electric shocks by the police officials and made to repeat what the police were saying.

One of them recounted,”The interrogators repeatedly used name calling, sexually profane abusive language with me. The torture continued from about midnight/one o'clock until morning.” In most of the cases, the first question that they were asked was, “Why have you people become anti-nationals? You all are bloody Pakistanis.”

And the torture wasn’t limited to those arrested. The police made sure to use every trick to make those arrested confess to their will. The family members too were subject to similar torture. The police ensured that the most inhuman torture was meted out to them. Ataur Rahman, in his mid-sixties, lived in Mumbai with his family which included an engineer son who was an accused in the July 2006 Mumbai blasts.
Prove your patriotism every moment
At the tribunal, he had told us, “My house was raided in the night and I was taken to an unknown destination. After keeping me in illegal custody for several days, I was formally shown to be arrested on July 27, 2006, and an FIR was lodged against me.  Me, my wife, my daughter and daughter-in-law were paraded before my arrested sons while being abused by the police officers continuously. My sons and I were beaten up in front of each other.

The women of the family were called up by the ATS daily and were asked to drop their burqah (veil) before my arrested sons. Adding to their humiliation, my sons were abused in front of the women folk. An officer beat me up and threatened me that the women of my family were outside and they would be stripped naked if I did not remove my clothes before my children and other police officers. They brought in other arrested accused and I was stripped naked in their presence…”

The witch hunting of Muslims only intensified after the blasts on September 13th, which was followed by the infamous ‘encounter’ at Batla House of Jamia Nagar area of South Delhi. On September 23rd, a meeting had been organized in Delhi to discuss the police excess and the communal witch hunt, which was attended by well known lawyers, activists, journalists, academicians and community leaders.

When Cops Go On A Witchhunt

While the meeting continued, we received the disturbing news of the picking up of a 17 year old boy, Saqib. The men who had taken the boy were unknown and hence we decided to lodge a complaint with the local police station. Initially reluctant to entertain us, the presence of senior lawyers, Jamia teachers and journalists pressured them into register our complaint. We were later informed that the Delhi Police special cell had picked him up for questioning. When Supreme Court lawyer Colin Gonzalves and the boy's relatives approached the Special Cell, they had another surprise in store.

The cops said -"hand over his brother and take him!” Saqib’s is not a unique case. People are picked up indiscriminately everyday and are harassed, some of them reportedly brutally tortured. Like Saqib, there are some victims in the area, but most of them prefer to remain quiet to avoid further harassment. Moreover, they fear about who would employ or give a house on rent to a 'suspected person'.

Today, even after three years of the Delhi bomb blasts and the Batla House 'encounter', the residents live in fear. A situation has been created wherein every Muslim is seen as a terror suspect, if not a terrorist. The infamous SMS which reads thus, “Every Muslim is not a terrorist, but all terrorists are Muslims,” had first made several rounds after July 2006 Blasts in Mumbai.

This has always been believed as nothing but the gospel truth. The implicit message among a major section of the public is that every Muslim is a potential terrorist, regardless of whether he is a believer, an agnostic or an atheist.  Take the case of Shaina K K, a journalist and a declared agnostic, while receiving an award recently had to comment with the following words, “See, I happen to be a Muslim, but I am not a terrorist”.

The clarification was given because of the feeling that if one belonged to the minority community, they would but be profiled. Shahina has a personal experience of it, so she would know. She has been falsely framed for ‘intimidating’ witnesses in the Abdul Nasir Madani case. Her only ‘crime’ was that she investigated the case of Kerala People’s Democratic Party (PDP)  leader Abdul Nasir Madani, who is an accused in the infamous Bangalore blasts case, and asked the question, “Why is this man is still in Prison,” in the form of an article which appeared in Tehelka, based on the facts.

Madani had already spent 10 years in prison as an under-trail in the Coimbatore blast case of 1997 and who was later acquitted in 2007. It was only last month that Shahina managed to get an anticipatory bail, which put an end to her ‘underground’ life. Another Muslim journalist from Bangalore, working with a leading news-weekly was grilled several times in the same case.

In fact, this writer also had a similar personal experience but thankfully, to a lesser degree of threat to his life during a fact finding visit of Giridih Jail in the state of Jharkhand, in July 2008. I was branded a Maoist along with two other friends, and illegally detained for five hours by Giridih Superintendent of Police, Murari Lal Meena who is now being promoted to the rank of DIG, Special Branch of the Jharkhand Police.

Later I was informed by the PUCL Secretary of Jharkhand, Shashi Bhusan Pathak, who was the local organiser of the visit and had contacted officials concerned for our release, that Mr. Meena had told him, "Since the guy (meaning me) comes from a frontier area of Bihar which borders Nepal and has studied at Jamia Millia Islamia New Delhi, he is a Pucca Aatankwadi (Hardcore Terrorist)!"  He had also threatened to put us behind bars in the same prison without any hope of being bailed out for at least a year.

Implicating the Innocents

In the month of July this year, just a few days before the recent Mumbai blast, a Muslim photo-journalist of Mid Group, Sayed Sameer Abedi, was detained for taking innocuous photographs of a traffic junction and an airplane. He was threatened, roughed up and even called a terrorist because of his Muslim name.
Indian Muslims against Terrorism

According to a report in Mid Day, at the police station, when Sub-Inspector Ashok Parthi, the investigating officer in his case, asked him about the incident and he explained everything, emphasizing that he had done no wrong, he was told by the inspector, "Don't talk too much, just shut up and listen to what we are saying. Your name is Sayed, you could be a terrorist and a Pakistani”.

The inspector also told him that he (the inspector) was asked by the seniors to inform the Special Branch and file all kinds of charges, including those of terrorism, against him (Sayed).

Unfortunately this is not limited to police and security agencies. The common men also somehow believe that Muslims are responsible for the all the terror strikes. They are the real culprits! This is not a new phenomenon.

In fact, it is deepening day by day. In 2001, I was on my way to Patna by train. I noticed an old man consistently asking a bearded Muslim youth in his teens for an English magazine that the youth was reading with much concentration. He politely asked the old man to wait till he finished reading the article. Unmoved by the politeness and angered at this rebuttal, he abused the youth by calling him and other Muslims terrorists, who were destroying India’s sanctity after having destroyed America.

He further voiced his prejudice by commenting that all Muslims belong to Pakistan and should leave for that place. I was a kid of fifteen and didn’t want to be identified as a Muslim, so thought it unwise to comment. Moreover, the matter had subsided when the youth gave over the magazine to the old man (which the old returned proclaiming unashamedly that he wasn’t literate in English).

I took this to be a matter in isolation, and tried not to give much attention. However, at home, I was faced with questions of a similar nature from a non-Muslim friend who enquired me about my whereabouts. He was surprised on hearing that I was studying at Jamia Millia Islamia in Delhi, which he had thought to be a madarsa. Quelling his doubts, I told him it was just like any other University (Delhi University as example).     

I still face this question, time and again. It is almost like under living under constant suspicion. Thanks to our media and security agencies, which leave no stone unturned to prove this wrong despite the fact that over the years, it has been proved that Muslims have no monopoly over terrorism. In the last three years, I often ask myself the ask question, ‘Am I Safe?’ To be frank and honest, I doubt it.

The Climate Of Fear

I am not confident about whether I am safe or not.  However, my biggest worry is that the ordinary Muslim youth, who doesn’t have the network of people like Agwan or me, as they are in real danger. After every blast every Muslim youth fears that he could be next. They can be, in fact, are, easily picked up, tortured, packed and thrown into jails, sometimes even killed in cold blood.

In India today, to be a Muslim is to be encounter-able, to be constantly suspected of being a terrorist, to be illegally detainable and severely tortured, to have the possibility of being killed without being questioned, no matter whether one is a believer, agnostic or an atheist. Recent communal witch hunt in the wake of Mumbai blasts only proves that. And if that is not the case, why hasn’t a single non Muslim person, as named voluntarily by Swami Aseemanad, in his confession, detailing role of Hidutva outfits in several blasts?

Why have two of the prime accused, belonging to Hindutva outfits, of Malegaon blasts been granted bail while bails of the Muslims accused in the same case are refused time and again. How long will the Muslims of India have to bear the Burden of being a Muslim? People have started considering this (sense of insecurity) as a part and parcel of their lives.

I still have no answer to the question, ‘Will this never end?’ , once asked by a teacher of mine, when I informed her about the illegal detention of Mohammed Arshad, an Engineering student from Azamgarh who was later released. I can only wish my answer would soon turn affirmative!

[Mahtab Alam is a Civil Rights’ Activist and Independent Journalist based in Delhi. He can be contacted at activist dot journalist at]          

Monday, September 19, 2011

Can Narendra Modi become Prime Minister of India?

Can just a hug do it?
The hype surrounding Narendra Modi's fast has once again generated speculations that Narendra Modi is the BJP's next Prime Ministerial candidate but can Modi ever become India's Prime Minister?

Though it is not an impossible proposition, if things are analyzed in perspective, one would find that his chances of becoming Prime Minister are quite low, at least in the upcoming election 2014.

Speculation is not easy, at least in politics but one can try to do a dispassionate analysis.

To begin with, the BJP doesn't have even 150 seats in Parliament. In fact, it has a mere 116 seats in 545 member Lok Sabha. Did you remember this figure! The party knows it well. Even when Atal Bihari Vajpayee was at the helm, it could get 180-odd seats with difficulty despite his acceptability.

A Modi-led BJP can't have Mamata Bannerjee, Chandrababu Naidu, even JDU rallying around it. How will it manage to get the seats? The compulsion of coalition era politics is such that most parties in respective states wouldn't like to be seen as close to a party led by Modi.

In no Indian state, a regional party--ranging from Trinamool Congress to Telugu Desam or even JDU wishes to be linked to him. Let's imagine a situation where BJP manages to ride the anti-corruption wave, the anti-incumbency factor against Congress-led UPA and also somehow gets one or two allies [say J Jayalalithaa, even though she won't concede seats to BJP in Tamil Nadu where the party has little support], it needs real numbers in Parliament.

Unless electorate in Uttar Pradesh (UP), that has 80 Lok Sabha seats, suddenly get into a 'change regime' mode and dump Mayawati, the BJP can't hope much in terms of MPs figure in Lok Sabha. In Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Bihar, the party has already been getting optimum seats and still failed to get anywhere near to the magic number.
Will they let him go ahead so easily!

Undoubtedly, a section of the vocal urban middle-class supports him. The voice of this section always gets amplified and is heard. TV channels and media also commit the same mistake.

Remember, the India Shining campaign! The BJP had almost believed that it was going to get a second term but nothing worked out for NDA then.

The point is that even after Anna Hazare's anti-corruption agitation on the issue of Lok Pal, the failure of Congress in tackling terrorism and the rising prices, elections are an altogether different phenomenon. When a leader like LK Advani couldn't become acceptable, how could Modi ever be?

Rajiv Gandhi has received tremendous flak for his role in the anti-Sikh riots. But there was no satellite TV then. Even in LK Advani's rath yatra, the video news casettes had just arrived. But Gujarat pogrom--the communal riots on mass scale and the genocide--were all seen on live TV and thus they evoke far greater response.

True, Narendra Modi has now emerged stronger, has wider acceptability and has managed to change his image in popular perception as a chief minister whose sole plank is development. He has many supporters in the corporate world. But whenever his name is mentioned, the same media also starts raising questions.

When he began fast, it got great coverage. But the protests, detention of riot victims, issues raised by Mallika Sarabhai, again brought controversy to the fast. Leave the issue of asking for apology or questioning about riot victims' rehabilitation, the officers like Sanjeev Bhatt and B Sreekumar, will continue to play spoilsport for the BJP.

Then the verdicts in riot cases like the ones in which BJP ex-minister Mayaben Kodnani is charged are awaited. Besides, cases of extra-judicial killings and encounters in Gujarat are under various stages of trial in higher courts. There are many other issues.
Gujarat to Delhi: Can Modi make it?

Yet, Modi has succeeded in getting quite far in terms of image makeover. Even if BJP manages to get 200-odd seats and finds allies, the question is that whether the top leaders like Advani, Arun Jaitley, Sushma Swaraj let him wear the crown so easily.

Nitin Gadkari, who has managed to steer the party at the critical juncture, in the right direction, has kept a low-profile all the while, and kept divisive [communal] issues on the back-burner. Gadkari is an RSS favourite and only the naive can overlook him.

The Chief Ministers ranging from Raman Singh to Shivraj Singh Chouhan are almost as secular as other Congress CMs [except in cases when RSS makes a push]. Will they accept it?

The more media pushes his name, the more other top BJP leaders get insecure [privately]. And can the ambitious Nitish Kumar ever let it happen? Frankly, it doesn't seem too easy a task for Modi. It is really a long way for him. Of course, miracles can happen and if, as section of media is speculating, he is destined to create history, then nothing can stop him.

Personally I feel, 2014 elections are too near. I think despite praises showered on him, he is far from having that pan-Indian acceptability. There are lot of stumbling blocks in his way. He has clearly won over Gujarat but I think for Modi, Hanoz Dilli Door Ast. Of course, one can't be too sure for 2019. Let's wait and watch.

Right now, my hunch is that BJP [and Sangh] would use his persona and his strong pro-right wing [Hindutva] image to mobilize middle-class electorate [and a section of other voters] just to get more seats and for creating a wave in its favour but if it comes to forming government, the party would instead go for a 'moderate' or a 'choice of consensus'

Friday, September 16, 2011

Passing By Kanpur: Ganges And Greenery But No Gazelles

The Great Ganges at Kanpur
I couldn't believe my eyes. The sight was breathtaking: Azure, green and the blue all around even as the train was approaching Kanpur.

I had passed the dusty town innumerable times, have even been to the place on a couple of occasions but it had never looked so enchanting.

The monsoon had turned the City beautiful. The sight of the Great Ganges was indescribable. For years I saw the Ganga in the form of a narrow stream here.

But this year as one passed Unnao and then read the famous signboards 'Ganga ki Chhammak nali-1 & 2', to enter the city, the overcast sky and the greenery around amazed me. The town suddenly appeared charming. Great cities are formed by great rivers.

And the magical effect was of the Ganga this year. I could now realise why this city attracted people for generations, both during the later Mughal's rule, the British India and even thereafter. It was only in late 80s that the downfall of Kanpur began.

On the walls, as usual there were advertisements of Hakeems promising cure for 'Gupt Rog' [sexual deficiencies], which one finds more in UP. I am familiar with the City to an extent but I don't have fond memories of the place.

On the banks of the Ganga
In my childhood, I have been to Civil Lines and some other localities. It is the place known for the famous Urdu daily Siasat Jadid and has been the hometown of poets like Fana Nizami Kanpuri, Nushoor Wahidi and the inimitable Gopal Das 'Neeraj'.

Not surprisingly, the powerful Congress politician Sri Prakash Jaiswal's name is visible everywhere as the train goes across the City. He is described as MP, Cabinet member and a crusader.

Phone numbers were also painted along side his name. One of them seemed to be minister's contact number.

The City which was once poised to be the fifth metropolitan city of the country, suddenly lost the race in development, I think, in the period 1987-1989. In the 1990s, it witnessed communal riots as a result of which the economy got a further setback.

Once it was common for citizens to mention this commercial capital of Uttar Pradesh (UP) as the Manchester of North India. Kanpur was famous for trade, textile industries & tanneries. Kanpur couldn't recover thereafter.

The city [then spelt as Cawnpore] that played a major role in the first freedom movement [mutiny] in 1857 is today known for more for pan-masala production. During the 1857 revolt, Nana Sahab and Azeemullah had made Kanpur, the centre of their activity.

Of course, it has IIT and some other institutions  [and of course comedian Raju Srivastava belongs to the place]. Two towns that are so close rarely develop into big cities but Lucknow and Kanpur are an exception just like Lahore and Amritsar were in the pre-independence era.

Photo of a boatman taken from the train on bridge
Now Lucknow is growing faster and may eclipse Kanpur in the next decade or so in terms of population.

However, as far as civic infrastructure and development are concerned, these two big cities of yesteryear have remained far behind, compared to other middle sized Indian cities.

The dust & smoke and the power-cuts [electricity] along with the density of population is what even the local residents complain of, these days.

One positive aspect is that the dacoits who operated from Kanpur Dehat  until a few years back, are almost extinct now. But urban gangsters have replace them in urban area and law-and-order remains another issue here.

But yes, Kanpur, remains a quintessential town of North Indian that has a distinct culture of its own and a different street humour. I remember having seen the performances of fakirs, alm-seekers and vendors. Heard Ram-kathas and 'Naats' in the most amazing voice from people who board the train at outer Kanpur and get a few coins from passengers in return.

The train passes Govindpuri where I see scores of working women [termed up-downers, as they shuttle from Lucknow to Kanpur for job daily] waiting at the station and trying to save themselves from the rain. Alas, I couldn't see any gazelle-eyed* beauty.

The 24 compartment Pushpak Express suddenly picks up speed and the town is gone in a flash. One remembers the words of Kanpur's legendary Hindi poet Gopal Das Neeraj, 'Karwaan guzar gayaa, Ghubaar dekhte rahe'.

The Shahar went past but there was no 'Ghubaar'. It was just mist and rain, as far as one could see from the train's window. For now, Khuda Hafiz Kanpur. But I'll be back soon to explore the alleys of this unique town.

[*Neeraj. Haven't you ever heard him reciting his poetry. Check it on Youtube then]
[Gazelle, Gazelle-eyed or Ghizaal is an expression used for beautiful women in poetry]