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Sunday, May 29, 2011

'Eternal Suspects': Mistreating Kashmiri youths must stop, more sensitivity needed


Kashmiris treat us well. Do we return the gesture?
If you are a Hindu going to Kashmir for Amarnath Yatra or a Muslim going to the place to visit Hazrat Bal or simply a tourist going to have fun, you expect the local Kashmiris--the shop owners, the hoteliers, the person on the street, to treat you well.

But when the Kashmiri youth leave their state and comes to other parts of the country, do we treat him fairly?

Either for higher education or for trade the Kashmiris who go to different states in the country remain the constant target of police..

Besides, petty politicians and even section of belligerent right-wing local media looks upon Kashmiris as suspects [euphemism for militant or terrorist]. If you can read Hindi, just see these three reports and find out yourself how injustice is done and Kashmiris are branded as terrorists.

A TALE OF DEMONISING KASHMIRI YOUTHS

Just an example. This incident occurred a few months back. Such things keep happening in other states also. Kindly read the following points.:

1. Two youths who 'looked suspicious' were caught in Madhya Pradesh and detained for questioning.

2. Nothing objectionable was found but an evening newspaper published a false news that 'Terrorists were arrested.

3. The other Hindi newspapers, apprehending that their competitors might do 'sensational stories', also wrote that they were terrorists, even though the journos privately knew that there was no evidence.

4. The State police chief clearly said later that no terror links were found.

5. But as the papers had made a beginning, follow-up stories continued. If one links the youths with LeT, other paper finds a HuJI connection and the third paper even more shockingly said they were Hezbollah activists active in India and came to establish base.

6. Police tried to clear air but some politicians also jumped in the fray. Xenophobic statements were aired as to how Kashmiris are getting 'easy entry' everywhere in India and getting admissions at the expense of local students in colleges.

7. Other Kashmiri youths living in private hostels and in rented houses got fearful. Once again it was tough to get accommodation due to surcharged atmosphere.

8. For days newspapers kept printing unsubstantiated, totally false reports. Once a reporter has filed a sensational report, next day he can't naturally tell his chief that his earlier report was wrong and trying to justify that, unnamed sources and highly placed intelligence sources were quoted.

9. The court acquits the youths, gives the police a dressing down. There is protest from a section of activists about demonising, harassing the Kashmiris.
10. Some papers finally see sense and put the blame squarely on police for botching up the case and arresting the youths just to get accolades, as they rarely get to catch criminals in normal cases of crime. Citizens remain as confused as ever.

This is not a one-off incident. The issue is that students from J&K [not just Muslims, but also Hindus] find it tough to get house on rent anywhere in India, due to such incidents. Cops routinely harass them as if all of them are militants.

Cops can misbehave with them, newspapers can afford to write sensational reports about them and politicians can make wild objectionable comments because the guys who are framed and falsely implicated in such cases are mostly young students.

They rarely have enough money to sue the rags or the harassing policemen. As soon as they are let off from police custody, they feel that it's better to leave the place rather than stay, fight and make the police or press admit their mistake.

The civil society takes little interest. Just like casteist, communal and regional biases, this form of discrimination must also end. How else will we integrate them, when we as a society behave so badly with them, accuse them, brand them and worse, term them as terrorists?

In a country as huge as ours, there have been multiple issues ranging from complaints of bias by North Eastern Indians in Delhi to that of North Indians in Maharashtra. But apart from citizens, lot is needed to sensitize police and media persons as well.

[*For those not familiar with Hindi. The first newspaper headline says 'Terrorists caught, arms and documents recovered. The second newspaper also terms them as terrorists. The third paper which changed its stand and was among the few papers to accept the earlier mistake, writes that the police had got the youths framed to get accolades. It also quotes Jammu and Kashmir IG who was incidentally in  Madhya Pradesh and spoke about the youth's innocence in a police conference in Bhopal]

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Calcutta 1911: Remembering Ismail Merathi's Urdu primer

Calcutta was capital till 1911& still is, in the Urdu primer
Exactly hundred years after British shifted the capital from Calcutta to Delhi, another major change has taken place as the Left front's empire ended after over three decades.

It is not my aim to write about Mamata Banerjee's victory as already tonnes of ink has been spent by experts over the crumbling of the communist citadel.

What I do find interesting that the most famous series of Urdu primer written by Maulvi Ismail Merathi till recently mentioned 'Bachcho Kalkatta, hamare mulk ka darul hukumat hai' [Calcutta is India's national capital].

The fact that Maulvi sahab died long ago, and it was felt improper to tamper with his text, has ensured that without exaggeration, millions of children, read this lesson about Calcutta [Kalkatta, as in Urdu]. Things which you read in childhood remain with you all your life, and thus even though many Bengali friends don't remember it, the fact that Calcutta was India's capital till as late as 1911, remains stuck in my mind.

Merathi sahab was a tremendous writer who focused on kids. His poems, particularly, the ones on 'pavan chakki' and 'gaay' [cow] are famous for their simplicity. Many of you might have heard about these poems. The first stanza of the poem on cow starts with:

Rab ka shukr adaa kar bhai
Jisne hamaari gaay banaai

Similarly, there are poems on innumerable topics including festivals, trees, fruits, seasons and other objects. The set of his preliminary books for kids remained best-sellers till 90s in India, even though colourful primers were launched in the market.

I haven't checked whether there is still demand for book. However, it is a fact that for decades it was believed that you can't improve your language until you have read Maulvi Sahab's books. Old books remain fun to read not just because you can discern the change in language over the period but also because you see how the world has changed a lot.

Merathi, who was born in 1844, wrote numerous couplets that became famous.

sair kar dunyaa ki Ghaafil zindgaani phir kahaaN
zindagii gar kuchh rahii naujavaani phir kahaaN

mile Khushk roTii jo azaad rah kar
to voh Khauf-o-zillat ke halwe se behtar
jo TuuTii huii jhoNpRii bezarar ho
bhali us mahal se jahaaN Khatar ho

Ulfat ka jab mazaa  hai ki voh bhi hoN beqaraar
DonoN taraf ho aag baraabar lagii huii

New Delhi became the capital. India attained independence. Calcutta turned Kolkata. And Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has failed in keeping the legacy of Jyoti Basu in West Bengal, handing over the reins to Mamata. Perhaps, it's time again to check Mr Merathi's books. 

Sunday, May 15, 2011

'We haven't forgotten you': Bhopal's veteran Urdu poet Ishrat Qadri is ailing

Saharnuma
A friend called up recently and said, 'Do you know, Ishrat Qadri sahab is ill, in fact critical'. I felt terribly short of words. I didn't even know that he had suffered a brainstroke.

More disturbing was the fact that he was ailing was for a fortnight and was admitted in the general ward of Hamidia Hospital but there was no stir in the literary community, despite being aware of the family's modest means.

Personally I had a strong sense of guilt that I hadn't been in touch with him for quite sometime. The octogenarian litterateur is probably the last poet in the region who has kept the glorious tradition of islaah* alive in this part of Central India.

Qadri sahab has numerous disciples who learnt the nuances of 'shayri' from him. His 'library' in Budhwara locality of Walled City has been the hub of literary activity in Bhopal for decades.

I recalled that all these years whenever I had a query regarding literature or Urdu poetry, I would rush to him. Just to give an example. 'Yeh RKF ne umda ghazal likhi hai', I would say. Now Qadri Sahab instantly knew what I wanted.

'Shayar achche hain, falaan shahar inka watan hai, is akhbar se munsalik rahe, Maharashtra meN zindagi guzri, Jamaat-e-Islami se bhi vabasta rahe haiN', he would say, answering almost all my questions in one go.

More so, he gave an unbiased reply, which is rare quality among poets. Though he has been penning poetry for the last 67 years [since 1943-44, began writing short stories in 1943 and ghazals from 1944], he kept away from self-promotion and publicity. Rather, he promoted young writers by getting their articles and books published through his contacts.

Ishrat Qadri's personal library has always been open to research scholars and other bibliophiles. In the post-independence era, when Urdu was facing tough times, he published dozens of important books and fellow poets who couldn't afford to get their divans printed, through his own publication.

Ishrat Qadri

I have been an irregular participant to his evening 'mehfils'. Ironically, as he is lying in the hospital bed, among the first few persons to visit is a bureaucrat, Mr Srivastava, who directs the hospital authorities to shift the 'azeem shayar' to a private ward.

I push the door but his wife is praying, in sajda. The poet looks frail, his eyes are focused on the roof. I recall his ghazal that begins with the couplet:

yaad-e-maazi bohat sataatii hai
raat aaNkhoN meN beet jaatii hai

The overpowering voice is missing, he is so weak that it takes a couple of minutes before he manages to utter a word. His daughter-in-law tells me that he doesn't recognize me, eggs him to speak to me. 'Dekhiye aapse milne aaye hain'. I touch his face, hold him, it is an emotional moment.

'Sab bhool gaye', he repeats with great difficulty. His first collection of poetry, Saharnuma, has a ghazal:

The hospital room

'No one has forgotten you, everyone is concerned, the papers are publishing reports about your health', I tell him. 'Insha Allah, you will be alright, back from the hospital. Don't ever think that you are alone.

He takes my name, the way he always does. I am happy that at least he recognizes me. It's a brief conversation. With tears in his eyes, he stares at me.

Now I can see hope in  his eyes. I tell him that he has to finish his memoirs. Few remain of the generation that was old enough in the 30s and 40s to discern the changes in the pre-Independence era, and recollect them. He has also seen the gradutal transformation of Bhopal from the era of princely state to the present times.

After staying for a few minutes, I leave the hospital room, praying for the veteran poet's long life.

Ab tujh saa kahaaN koii wazadaar mile hai...

[The tradition where a master poet guided young poets, corrected their couplets and ensured that the asha'ar were in proper meter and had no grammatical or linguistic error]

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Murderous attack on MIM leader Akbaruddin Owaisi in Hyderabad

The murderous attack on AIMIM second-in-command Akbaruddin Owaisi, the younger brother of MP Barrister Asaduddin Owaisi, gives a reflection of the murky real estate business that powers both the politicians as well as the mafia.

That the leader of a party, which is firmly entrenched in Old Hyderabad, was fired upon openly and stabbed repeatedly in his own citadel, shows how disputes over land can lead to such violence.

Owaisi was hit by three bullets and his condition was critical*. He was also attacked by knife-wielding assailants several times. The brutal attack that caused tension in the walled city was widely condemned by different sections.

However, the incident in the party's stronghold has come as a shock even for the AIMIM [All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen] and its supporters. The Hyderabad-based party, which has an alliance with Congress, is known for its strong-arm tactics.

Hyderabad is one of the fastest growing Cities in India. Apart from the software boom, the strong Hyderabadi diaspora--from Gulf to United States (US)--has led to skyrocketing land prices in the Andhra Pradesh capital.

The builders and local-level politicians have earned enormously in terms of both clout and cash due to their association with Majlis. Naturally this affects the rival parties as well who are losing out. The ongoing drive initiated by Majlis against 'land sharks' seems the latest provocation.

When their interests are harmed, the land mafia can strike with vengeance.  This seems to have happened on this occasion. The drive to get Waqf land freed of encroachments was being seen by the rivals as an attempt by Majlis to gain further control over real estate in Hyderabad.

It is also said that Owaisis wanted all land deals okayed by them. This was naturally not acceptable to the other parties that were involved in property business.

The Majlis, in its official statement, has termed it a conspiracy hatched by the land grabbers against the party's campaign. 

The rival, a former wrestler Mohammad Pahalwan, who has been termed mastermind of the murderous assault on the Chandrayangutta legislator, is said to be close to MIM's rival group, the Majlis Bachao Tehreek (MBT).

Urdu newspapers Siasat and Munsif, whose owners had supported TDP and had joined hands against Majlis' newspaper Etemad, have been bitter critics of the Owaisis. This is also visible in their coverage of the Saturday's attack in Barkas.

Siasat also published Pahalwan's version, as per which, it was Owaisi whose supporters had attacked on his relatives' houses. He claimed that he was falsely implicated and unfair propaganda was spread that he had masterminded the assault.

Owaisi's fellow legislator Ahmad Balala was also injured. His gunmen fired during the clash and as a result one person belonging to Pahalwan's group was killed. One hopes that Owaisi, the floor leader of the party in Assembly, is saved.

But there are many lessons in this story. Of course, such gang wars have occurred in different cities in the past. With growing influence [as also interests of a party or family in different fields], the opponents who find themselves pushed to the wall, and finding it difficult to survive in 'business', resort to violence.


Land remains the eternal cause of conflict. Land mafias and their political patronge is nothing new in urban India. That's the story which is repeated again and again across different cities. Thus the clash in Hyderabad is no exception.

[*On Sunday the doctors again termed his condition as critical but 'showing improvement']