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Saturday, September 29, 2012

Secularism in India: Lessons on communal harmony, religious tolerance and humanism from the ground

First the story about 'J' who runs a well-known coaching institute. Even though there are just one or two Muslims in every class, he ensures that the institute is closed on Muslim holidays.

I got to know about it and asked him why he did it? The man [J] said that he felt that even if there is a lone student, he would feel that he doesn't belong to this place, if we declare off on Diwali but not on Id. That's not all.

When a Muslim teacher joined, the institute owner told the newcomer, "We've a corner where we have put up idols.

You can also put an Islamic sign, a picture of your holy places [Kaaba Sharif], a calendar or whatever you want". I again asked him, 'How did you think of it?'. "It was natural. When we have Hindu gods, there must be a Muslim religious symbol also. It will also send good message to students, who will realise that their teachers set such example.

Hats off to the man. Don't you feel respect for him. J is a Hindu. But there is another person. A lady, 'T', who is a Muslim but runs a predominantly Muslim school but here Hindu kids not only read Sanskrit but also get teachings in Vedas.

The composite culture on the street

This happens because this is our culture. This comes naturally to innumerable persons in India. No one has taught us secularism. Some call it basic human values, for others it is what they learnt from elders & family and for others it is pure secularism or humanism.

From a Muslim who sells 'garlands' sitting on the premises of Bhawani Temple to a Hindu woman who cleaned the floor of a mosque for decades [no Muslim lived in the area or ventured there], we have such stories in abundance.

Living for centuries in such a multi-ethnic, multi-religious, multi-cultural society, our social milieu has evolved over hundreds of years. Still, it hurts when suddenly there are immature questions from people in this country, who seem to have got their worldview of religions from the post-9/11 America or countries that have no such legacy for multiculturalism. 

In India, a vast majority is secular. But now there is a small number of people who hide behind anonymity offered by web, to post communal and hate-filled messages on different forums including social networking websites like Facebook & Twitter, giving the impression that it is they who are in the majority. 

Nehruvian secularism, Hindustani cinema secularism

All of us have different stories, experiences. We had Nehruvian secularism in which Muslim wearing red Turkish cap appeared in government advertisements along with Hindu, Sikh and Christian kids, we had cliched Bollywood secularism but it was also important.

In movies, the D'Souzas and Khan uncles gave the same lesson. It worked on minds. Every minority felt that they truly belonged. It all affected us. This is a lesson for everyone in all places including other countries. Minorities should feel belonged. 

Sadly, the situation has changed with a generation that is educated. In 'bastis', slums and settlements, where there is are mixed neighbourhoods, people know so much about religious practices of other faiths. But in posh colonies, where there is little interaction, people are getting insulated.

Mosque with Ganesh idol, Temple with Muslim-Christian-Sikh symbols
Growing intolerance, Hardened attitudes

Colonies are being built on caste-basis also. I felt shattered when a Hindu friend said that the sound of Azaan  [not on loud speaker] was noise for his ear.

Just 1 minute, you can't tolerate it! Similarly, when a Muslim friend said that there was lot of religiosity in a particular Hindu event and he wasn't comfortable.

Why? Why should educated people get so intolerant. They can 'manage' everywhere, do all sorts of 'compromises' but when it comes to views about each other, there is strange fundamentalism, hardened attitudes and lack of understanding. 

There is nothing great in just looking at differences and point out each others' faults or looking at the other with disdain. We've a glorious tradition of composite culture [ganja-jamuni tehzib] from times immemorial and despite many faults, it is much more inclusive. 

These days there is such level of cynicism that if you write about good deeds of a person, you are instantly told, 'Look we are like that, but will you guys ever be even half as good'. So you keep balancing all the time, then justifying, explaining [arguing] and it goes on and on. Regarding communal mindset, I'd say that its all in your eye (and mind), what you want to see you'll see.

If you believe in harmony, you will find instances of it everywhere. If you believe in 'hate-filled' ideology, you will never get convinced by innumerable such examples, because it means the defeat for your ideology which you might consider as your personal defeat and hence you won't agree to the other point of view.

I just wish that rather than scornfully rejecting our traditions, we should take pride in our unique secularism and this value system which we inherited from our elders and that evolved on the streets and in the mohallas. The stories I recounted in the post initially are spread in abundance all around us.

This post is in context of the following post:

[*I didn't name J and T because I didn't take their permission. I wish to write about them and those on the same path, in much more detail later]

Monday, September 24, 2012

Hindu temple bears Islamic, Christian, Sikh symbols

The temple that bears symbols of four religions
It was a chance discovery when I spotted this unique temple in a dense locality.

It was a small temple, just like many shrines on road sides, in India. However, it had symbols of all religions on the front as well as side walls.

As there was heavy traffic on the road and it was risky to suddenly stop the vehicle, I went ahead and then came back from the next traffic intersection, to have a close look at the 'Mandir'.

There is no need for any person who is a caretaker at a shrine to put up signs of other faiths. It doesn't lead to more collection in the 'donation box' and no community would generously laud the temple-administration for such a step.

It was purely a goodwill gesture. I met the priest. He introduced himself as Om Sai Ram, rather than his original name, which he uses only in official documents now. For him, all faiths are the same. The locality is predominantly Hindu [65%] and has around 35% Muslims, however, there is hardly any Christian or Sikh population.

The temple authorities didn't do it to please followers of other faiths. No one objected when Islamic crescent and cross were painted on the walls along with Om. There was a 'trishul' on other other side and a black stone that bore the words 'Shani Dev'. I was offered water.


The Saffron-robed pandit ji told me enthusiastically about the events held at the temple and how he is supported by everyone.

Some other people also came when they saw us talking. Unfortunately, my photographer friend was in a hurry, and we left, after exchanging our telephone numbers.

Fascinating, isn't it! But that's India. At every nook and corner, mostly in dense localities and 'bastis', if you wander, you find such amazing stories of communal harmony scattered all around. 

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Crowd Control: Failure of police in controlling mobs, readiness to fire at protesters, irresponsibility of media and indifference of society

Water cannons seldom called to disperse crowd
Six youths were killed in police firing in Masuri in Ghaziabad, an incident that could have been avoided, had police taken action earlier on the complaints of citizens.

Once again there was no serious attempt to tackle the protesters through the alternative methods of crowd control.

Sadly, in independent India, people are fired, straight in heads and chest, something which is unthinkable in other countries.

Every year police department in all states buy equipment and goods for controlling mob and for tackling law-and-order related situations

But none of them are used. Even when crowd surges over several hours, the 'water cannon' or similar other vehicles are not called. The death of 14-year-old Luqman who was killed by a bullet, has been reported by India Express in a sensitively written report AT THIS LINK. Heart-rending stories.

No one justifies violence but the manner in which citizens are shot, raises serious questions about the training of our policemen, as well as apathy of society, politicians and citizens. When groups broke railway lines or when political outfits attacked North Indians, did police mull firing?

How to control crowd:

1. Water cannon

2. Use of tear gas [or pepper sprays]

3. Lathi charge

4. Firing rubber bullets

5. Gushots in the air

Generally, if police use first or second method, the crowd is dispersed. In fact, when rubber bullets are used or tear gas shells exploded, it gives the impact of firing and the people feel firing has begun, thus they get dispersed.

But generally, cops never use all these steps, and leaving all these five ways, goes to the SIXTH AND FINAL DEGREE. This is shooting at people, which is inhuman. Of course, above mentioned options are used when political parties go on rampage.

Or when Anna Hazare's supporters get violent even in the most high-security zone in Delhi. But they are treated with kid gloves. Otherwise, in rest of the country, it's usual. The policemen have the licence to: Shoot and Kill.

Sadly, there is no outrage over how readily police fire on citizens. They fire quite early on certain groups while remain mute spectators in certain other cases. Apart from water cannons, the use of rubber pellets and tear gas should be done properly.

The economic condition of the protesters often plays a role in shaping the police perception. [They know it well that which kind of crowd is capable of later making their lives hell and which group won't be able to do anything].

Just like the poor continue to be hit with lathi [baton] by our police personnel. In fact, we curse General Dyer in our history books, but the brutality and contempt of our police towards the 'aam janta' hasn't changed much.

Has anything changed since then?
Coloured ink, which is bought by police headquarters, as it can help in identification of hooligans or troublemakers, remains stored and is seldom used. Lakhs are spent to buy pepper sprays and similar objects.

Many states in India have bought most sophisticated vans worth millions for crowd control. There are even electric shock batons and other equipment to check violent crowd.

In worst case, when crowd gets uncontrollable, they should fire in the air, or in the legs so as to avoid fatal injuries on our people.

Unfortunately this doesn't happen. Everytime, police doesn't take action for hours, sometimes even for days. Complaints not taken, FIRs not registered.

When anger builds up and police feel the situation is out of control because of their delayed action, the poorly trained cops who see particular sections of society as their 'enemies', fire straight on heads and chest.

The crowd can later be blamed for being unruly. Just like colonial masters termed us till 1947. Human rights organisations may shout but who bothers!

TACTFUL DEALING: OTHER EFFECTIVE WAYS TO STOP PROTESTERS

It is not tough to check inflamed passions if police use tact. In many cities, individual police officers forge excellent ties with respectable persons of all communities. In such troubled times, they call the main cleric or the head priest of a famous temple or a leading Muslim qazi or mosque Imam.

These people are asked to make appeal on loud speakers. It always works. When the respected person from a community, particularly, a Sant or Maulana, says that "administration is sensitive and would take action immediately. What happened was wrong and those responsible for not taking action would be punished", the crow immediately disperses.

Sadly, there is such poor policing that what happens in a police station area is not known to superiors. In fact, in most communally sensitive towns, police have used these social connections to tackle worst situations.

Teenagers, youths lost lives: No dismissals, just suspensions

In Ghaziabad incident, teenagers who were not part of the mob, were killed. Luqman went every weekend to meet his grandparents, and was shot. A youth, the first engineer in his family, and many others, who were killed in cold blood.

Even worse is the fact that when these things happen, the failure of police in mishandling the situation or their lack of proper action earlier, is forgotten. Just like 'macho middle-class' loves encounter cops and extra-judicial killings, as long as the poor are killed in jungles of Chhattisgarh, dubbed as Naxals, no one is bothered.

The cops get full support for the action of killing fellow Indians. They don't get rap. The 'mandatory' inquiries start and end soon. Departmental inquiries are eyewash--a fact everyone knows. So nothing changes and cops continue treating people in the way British treated us.

And why guilty policemen are merely suspended, not terminated (dismissed)? What about accountability of superior officers? Who gave orders for firing? What about magisterial and judicial inquiries? Sadly, our society remains indifferent towards our own rights and the mindset hasn't changed a bit in six decades after independence.

MEDIA'S ROLE IN CASES OF POLICE FIRING.

The worst is the role of media that should in fact educate and enlighten--both police and citizens, so that there is no violence on either side. But instead, a section of journalists are against any voice regarding human rights.

Not asking questions on why police couldn't control the situation, it goes ahead asking why the 'violent protesters' are yet to be caught. Apart from the sensitive stories and follow-ups by Indian Express journalists, most of the papers found no fault in 'police firing to control situation'.

Almost all of them who died were teenagers. Those who died were sif, 19, Wasim, 18, Wahid, 18, Amir, 16 and Luqman, 14. Hayat as 35. As per other reports, the number of persons killed was seven. Such tragedies can be avoided, if policemen and intelligence officials at local level work properly. Worse, it has happened in Muslim-friendly Samajwadi Party (SP) government's rule.

Few write about the plight of those who were killed for no fault. But see this Rediff.com report. Shouldn't the report also ask, why police killed our people? Or will cases of murder would be registered against these policemen? And why situation took such a violent turn?

Even the top officials who are trained better now and are supposed to be sensitive, scornfully talk about these 'human rights walas'. Can we blame them when society finds nothing wrong with such inhuman acts. So what about the discussions on police reforms, which we have been hearing for almost a decade now?

Similar post on this issue:

1. Indian Muslims must avoid street protests
2. Indian police: Force to safeguard the rich
3. What's wrong with our society: Innocent Kuldeep gets the bullet, guilty go scot-free
4. Police brutality: Truth of an 'encounter'
5. Killing Ranvir Singh in cold-blood in Uttarakhand

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

From MF Husain to Aseem Trivedi: Drawing, disrespecting Bharat Mata and debate on creative freedom for an artist or cartoonist

A few years ago MF Husain painted Bharat Mata in a way, it was objected by a section of society. He apologised, yet numerous cases were filed against him in different cities by several groups.

Though a celebrity painter, Husain didn't say much about creative freedom or tradition of nude drawings in India. He was fiercely opposed by Muslims also, who opposed him in newspapers, on the streets and elsewhere too.

Was that caricature really denigrating or obscene? Anyway.
You can see photos about Muslims objecting to his caricature on my earlier post. Husain couldn't come back to India, settled outside the country and died. He must have been bitter but didn't say anything critical of the country or the government. 
Now, we have a cartoonist, Aseem Trivedi. In one of his cartoon, he shows 'Gang rape of Mother India'. These are the exact words which he mentioned in his cartoon. Mother India is shown wearing a tricolour Sari. 
Politician is telling her, 'Hurry up', while bureaucrat [spelt wrongly by him] is also holding her hand while another creature [corruption] stands ready.

He drew Parliament in such a way that it resembles a big toilet [commode] and as far as our national symbol 'Ashoka pillar' is concerned, he turned the lions into wolves.
Contrary to Husain's case. Aseem Trivedi is not apologetic. He won't say sorry. The cartoonist who was not too well known, feels that he has every right to draw it. He is quite clear about it. He has conviction, no doubt. Perhaps, good that he has taken a stand.
But the difference in this case is that political parties that right-wing Hindutva groups hounded Husain, but support him for these cartoons. They are not too engaging. But from Shiv Sena to MNS and even BJP, none of these parties feel that such cartoons, particularly, about Bharat Mata, and those tampering our national symbols are distasteful.
The law is clear about it. Yet, he has support from a wide spectrum. Is freedom of expression absolute. No! It comes with responsibility. You can't abuse your neighbour, leave alone tampering with national emblem.
However, Aseem is right in the sense that slapping a case of sedition was unjust. Yes, these colonial laws are used selectively, often misused, and they must be reviewed. He is courageous in a sense. The fact is that he did what he thought was his right.
Sorry, I don't like these cartoons & its my personal thought. They are not seditious but they do hurt my sensibilities. I won't post them on this site. If you intend to see them, search elsewhere. But this is a watershed case.
The strong support the activist-cartoonist has got, political parties standing for his right to expression and state government forced to review its decision--all these are things that would be unthinkable in the past.

I won't say double standards in the case of Maqbool Fida Housain vis-a-vis Aseem Trivedi. Press Council supports him for his right to draw the cartoon. He gets award for courageous cartoons. 
No case registered against him under cyber laws or IT Act, which any other ordinary person may be booked for, if he/she simply forwards objectionable material. 
So there is no question of patriotism test conducted on Trivedi. I am a fool yaar, I shouldn't even think of it. What a silly comparison. Why would someone ever question his 'deshbhakti'!
Or perhaps, there is a new dawn in India. Boundaries of creative freedom are getting stretched and people are imbibing the Western values as far as seeing and understanding art is concerned. Let's hope, the standards remain the same in future as well. 
It was just for the record. 

Saturday, September 08, 2012

NCPUL puts Urdu books, language learning course, encyclopaedia online: Can't blame government, institutions for 'apathy' towards Urdu anymore

Hundreds of story books for children available for free download on internet 
Positive news regarding Urdu is coming from all corners in India. The latest is the National Council for Promotion of Urdu Language ie NCPUL's step to put Urdu books online.

Firstly, what has gladdened me is that hundreds of children's books have been put up for free AT THIS LINK.

Under the category Adab-e-Atfaal or Children's Literature, there are illustrated, neatly printed books for kids of all ages. So if you are a lazy person who doesn't want to subscribe a magazine or find a bookshop to buy kids' books, you can download them, get the pages bound and gift the books to your child.

This will develop interest towards reading among the kids. You can't say that there isn't enough material for children in Urdu. The dynamic website now has complete Urdu encyclopaedia online apart from books ranging from literature to philosophy, medicines to NCERT Urdu medium school curriculum texts and history to arts in the Urdu Digital Library link, where books are being added regularly.

NCPUL expands its online operations
Secondly, they have now the online Urdu learning course AT THIS LINK. This is apart from Urdu digital learning, the complete and famous Urdu Encycopaedia.

For a long time, this website had just the monthly magazine and its literary journal available.

But now the plan is to enhance the site and put up thousands of Urdu books on the site.

Till now many of us relied on the website dli.ernet.in for reading old texts and rare manuscripts in different Indian languages. The new NCPUL project seems heading in the right direction.

Sincere thanks to NCPUL team including Council chairman, the HRD Miniser Kapil Sibal, Professor Wasim Barelvi, Director Khwaja Mohammad Ikramuddin and the many faceless people behind the scene for their dedication and sincere work.

There was a time when I wrote this post, 'No cartoons, comics for Urdu speaking children'. That was seven months back and I'd mentioned the name of NCPUL in the article then. Soon Syed Mukarram Niyaz came up with his website www.urdukidzcartoon.com.

Dr Khwaja Ekramuddin
This was a major step. An individual's effort which is now being recognised across the world. Now an institution, NCPUL, has taken the lead. Besides, good news is coming from different places in the country also.

Either its the issue of delayed publication of Urdu text books, which has been now rectified to an extent with NCERT putting books online or heartening news like Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) launching Urdu learning software that can teach people, particularly, elders in 40 hrs.

This is part of the drive against illiteracy. Opening of Urdu schools in MP, UP and appointment of teachers promised by Chief Minister Nitish Kumar in Bihar [he has promised that Urdu will be taught in all primary schools across Bihar] are all good signs.

This shows that 'tassub' or bias towards language has come down significantly. No one opposes Urdu now. Now there are more than 15 Urdu Academies functioning from Haryana to Tamil Nadu and Gujarat to West Bengal.

There are many more good stories like the big project of publishing books on technical and engineering subjects for ITI students (Industrial Training Institutes) that is underway. One can't really put the blame on state governments or centre. Stop blaming them.

From the free lessons to learn language to browsing through the vast treasure of thousands of books, you just need to go to the sites. Now the onus is on you to make use of the facilities and engage with these organisations.

Monday, September 03, 2012

Fate of political parties floated for Upper Castes after the Mandal wave?


After the Mandal Commission recommendations were introduced, there was an emergence of Upper Caste political parties in India.

I still remember the presence of 'Manuvadi Party' and the 'Sawarna Samaj Party' during the elections in North India, though there were a few other minor players. Most of them didn't get any electoral success.

There are still offices and banners of these parties. However, a look at these offices, are enough to give you an indication about fate of the parties.

See photo of the Sawarna Samaj Party office on the left. Its common knowledge that even being figure head president of a party, one can hold an office or government accommodation in many states.

Hence it suits the smaller parties ranging from the Anti-Mandal parties to the Muslim Majlis, Parcham Party or small RPI factions, whose jeeps and banners are visible once or twice every five years. Also, some people are bitten by this bug, and despite no chances of winning, keep the outfit to appear as "Neta ji'.

The Sawarna Samaj Party, which aimed at bringing back the Upper Castes to power, and put an end to reservation in jobs, had this slogan, "Jab tak na ho pratibha samman, Nahee banega desh mahaan" ie Nation won't attain greatness unless talent is recognized.

The national president, Archana Srivastava, continues to be at the helm. In fact, Savarna parties also kept one or two Muslim Upper Caste faces, during their campaigns. In some constituencies, they got a few thousands votes but never made a mark.

I still remember the fiery speeches of these parties, who promised to bring back the old golden era, when the Brahmin-Bania-Kayastha-Kshatriya (Thakur) and even Upper Class Muslim [Ashraaf] were at the helm, not the days of Dalit-Bahujans.

The anti-reservation SSP survives for namesake
So the party is still functioning! Though a bigger banner of the beauty parlour running from the premises, suggests that it failed to achieve its ambitions.

It was during the tenure of former Prime Minister VP Singh that Mandal recommendations were accepted.

Though BJP's Mandir wave was too strong and Mandal didn't work immediately, in the longer run, it was Mandal that succeeded. However, a few pro-Manuvadis or the anti-reservation voices remain on the ground, as seen in this photograph.