:. ‘Indian media incites hatred towards Muslims’ Dr Zafar

:. ‘Indian media incites hatred towards Muslims

‘ Dr Zafar

Kashmir Watch, July 14

Mushtaq Ul Haq Ahmad Sikander

Zafarul Islam Khan is the President of the All-India Muslim Majlis-e Mushawarat, a platform of several influential Indian Muslim organizations. He is also the editor of the New Delhi-based fortnightly Milli Gazette, one of the few English-language Muslim news magazines in India. In this interview with Mushtaq Ul Haq Ahmad Sikander he talks about terrorism in India, about how the media projects Muslims and what he feels Muslims should do in the current context.

As President of the All India Muslim Majlis-e Mashawarat (AIMMM), what do you think are the problems facing Indian Muslims that need immediate attention?

There are a lot of issues facing Indian Muslims, as depicted earlier by Gopal Singh Committee and now by Sachar Committee report which clearly depicts the Muslims of India as the most marginalized community compared to other communities. Official figures available, portray the Muslim standard graph as the lowest whether in terms of per-capita income, literacy or living standard. There is under-representation of Muslims in all kinds of Government jobs. Prevalence of communal feelings against them is a common problem. There is no magic wand to change this grim situation in a few moments but the main priority as of now that reservations must be extended to Muslims as recommended by Mishra Commission as it is an assured way to fight this discrimination.

Regarding the presence of communal feelings against Muslims, were they present before Partition also or are these a post-Partition Phenomenon?

Communal grudges against Muslims were always there but Partition escalated these feelings. Communalists believe and profess Muslims to be aliens, demanding that they must live like guests in India. We reject with contempt this second-class status. We will never accept it because the Constitution of India guarantees us full rights and privileges as any other community. These are communal slogans of some political parties which exploit religion like BJP, and these will die a natural death as they only use them for vote bank politics and will abandon them if they feel that they are counter-productive as was witnessed recently in the case of Varun Gandhi. They used these slogans since late 1980s in Gujarat, Karnataka etc for political ends. This demon of communalism can be tackled by awakening the whole community through education, and economic and political participation.

What you say about the media hype of labeling Muslims as “terrorists” after any incident of bomb explosion or terrorist activity?

Indian media is manufacturing hate against Muslims on the basis of rumours and baseless reports spread by communal elements. We have just heard about the explosion in Margao, Goa, in which Malgonda Patil, a Sangli-based Sanatan Sanstha  member was killed. He was going to explode bombs on the eve of Diwali and then as usual accuse  Muslims for the same. The Sanathan Sanstha office has been raided by the police and it was found that the place is used for manufacturing bombs. This ground-breaking revelation has been blacked out by the electronic media. The media is concentrating on terrorism in Pakistan and Afghanistan or the Taliban threat while ignoring these types of real domestic threats. The media kills Muslim stories or buries them somewhere inside where nobody will read them while on the front page they create the myth of Muslim  terrorism. This labeling of Muslims as terrorists got a boost after 9/11 when President George W Bush used the word “Crusade” for his war against Muslims and this western label was lapped up by our journalists here to malign Muslims who have nothing to do with terrorism or Taliban.

Do you think that the Indian State is encroaching upon the rights of minorities, be it the 1984 riots against Sikhs, Gujarat riots of 2002 against Muslims, and Orissa riots against Christians in 2008?

Not only these minorities are facing the wrath of the Indian State but many other marginalized communities like Gujjars, Dalits and adivasis are also suffering and we must not be selfish as to speak about our rights only but we all must get together to form a large united front comprising all the deprived communities to fight for our constitutional rights.

This means that the Indian State as a whole has failed to live up to the principles enshrined in the Constitution of India be it commitment to Secularism or Protection of Minorities?

All the governments that come to power speak beautiful language; they have tried to show their concern for the minorities especially Muslims whether it be the 15-Point Programme of Indira Gandhi or now of Manmohan Singh. This concern is also witnessed by the fact of constituting committees like Gopal Singh in the past and Sachar Committee under the current government to show that the Indian State cares about the marginalized but nothing comes out of these exercises. They are only recommendatory in nature with no or half-hearted efforts for implementation. There is no real wish to implement, the top brass don’t want them to be implemented and the benefits are simply not reaching the common people, e.g., scholarships for students are not reaching the deserved and funds for minority development are lapsing back unused to the government.

But the present government has constituted a separate ministry for the welfare of minorities?

The Minority Ministry is not an Independent Ministry, it head, in-charge of another ministry, too overburdened to fully discharge his duties as the minister for minorities.

How can these problems be tackled and solved?

The schemes and programmes that are meant for minorities aren’t fool-proof, with no proper implementation, supervision and follow-up mechanisms. These loopholes must be plugged in, in order to reach a large chunk of deserving masses.

Do you think that the government is in fear or resorting to the votebank politics, or majority appeasement when it does not take action against the perpetuators of 1984 and Gujarat riots and Babri Masjid Demolition?

The government can do nothing in this regard. The people within the government are the problem. Many of the MPs, ministers, MLAs themselves are perpetuators of these crimes and accused; they would never want to get themselves punished. Lal Krishna Advani, main accused in the Babri Masjid demolition, managed to remove his name from the chargesheet of the accused. Also the CBI is a tool in the hands of the ruling politicians, not an independent body. It is highly politicized and the government doesn’t want it to take action in certain serious matters involving politicians or influential wealthy people.

Don’t you think that we can have hope for a change as the UPA in Centre is not the Right Wing NDA led by BJP?

The bureaucracy is infiltrated by the RSS cadres and it remains the same despite the change of regimes, so we can’t hope for any breakthrough or miracle happening for Muslims and other minorities and marginalised sections. Even in Ishrat Jahan fake encounter case, which was carried out in Gujarat, the Union Home Ministry in an affidavit stated that Ishrat and three others killed with her were operatives of the Pakistan-based terror group Lashkar-e-Toiba which was a lie as we know now. Maintaining that the four were “terrorists,” the Union government had told the High Court that “No proposal for CBI investigation is under consideration of the Centre nor does it consider the present case fit for CBI.”  So justice was neither done under BJP nor Congress and Muslims continue to be on the receiving end.

In these circumstances how will Muslims work for their progress when they have become so disillusioned with the State? Would education and reservation be enough or something different and unique is needed?

We must work hard to built our progress as Japan did after the Second World War and now they are free to create their own army to safeguard their interests. Violence is not the way; we must build ourselves educationally and economically in order to take up our rightful place in the country.

Do you think that the disillusionment with justice system, failure to protect minority rights, especially of Muslims by subsequent governments whether it be Batla House encounter or fake encounter killings in Gujarat and Kashmir, isn’t it driving Muslims to the wall, where they will dissent and can even resort to violence?

Even under worst conditions, Muslims must not resort to violence as it will give free license to security forces to kill us, torture us, intimidate us, raid our houses, offices and working places as well as rape our womenfolk. They really want it, that we get provoked and resort to violence so that they find an excuse to pounce on us. We must opt for the legal procedure which is open to us to fight against discriminations though this route is cumbersome and long but we must not forget that justice is still possible in this country where very high-ranking officials of the State who were guilty of crimes against minorities are now in jails like DG Vanzara of Gujarat. There may be stray cases of violence by Muslims but most of the cases of violence attributed to Muslims are fabricated by security agencies and Police. Even in the case of SIMI which was alleged to be a terrorist organization, the Tribunal set up by the Home Ministry itself declared that it is not a terrorist organization. Despite a lot of provocations, Muslims are maintaining their calm and tranquility and not returning violence by violence.

The Hindutva demon is spreading its tentacles in the Indian society but each government seems to protect this demon, be it the Kanpur blast while fabricating boms, or Hyderabad Masjid bombings. Why are they protected and the chapter is closed, while the case with Muslims is different?

We will not let this chapter be closed and those wishing to get it closed would not succeed. Communalism is a great threat to our nation and the poison of communalism is spreading in our society. Hindu communalism as well as Muslim communalism is not acceptable. Political parties actively play the communal card to gain votes.

A new trend of manufacturing terrorists has cropped up in which Muslim youths, especially the educated ones and techies are apprehended and tortured to make false confessions and then some case is slapped on them and the Police declares that it  has solved the case bringing the alleged culprit to court. How do you see the repercussions of this trend?

This simply is a trap to provoke Muslims to resort to violence but they are well aware of these traps and they should always refrain from using violence to achieve even genuine ends.

If there is a united political party of Muslims representing all Muslims of India would it help to turn the tables?

It is not possible to have a single party representing the Muslims of whole India as Muslims here are diversified and scattered over a vast country except the Valley of Kashmir  where Muslims are in majority. There are around 80 parliamentary constituencies where Muslims are in sizeable numbers in the country. Though there are political parties like the Muslim League in Kerala and some parties have been formed by Muslims in Maharastra, Assam, Uttar Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh etc. If these parties don’t fight with each other, they are destined to win in 20-25 constituencies which is a good chunk to ensure a vocal representation in Parliament. Muslims who get elected on other parties’ tickets can’t raise an independent voice for Muslim causes unlike the freedom enjoyed in Parliament by the likes of Bantawala, Suleman Seth in the past and Asaduddin Owasi of Ittihadul Muslimin at present. They were independent and therefore vocal articulating the real and unbiased demands and grievances of Muslims.

Indian Muslims have been too under-represented in the mainstream media. Why is this so?

Muslims are not in the mainstream media, though there is now some Muslim representation in the electronic media but same is not the case with print media. Educated Muslim boys and girls must join print media which obviously would help make a change. We should also create our own mainstream media like Muslims in Kerala and now in Karnataka have done. There are four Malayalam daily newspapers brought out by Muslims in Kerala, and they exercise a considerable influence on the local scene. In Karanataka too a Muslim daily has started some years back and it is exercising a healthy influence on the media scene there. Now other newspapers in Kerala generally abstain from publishing concocted stories about Muslims in the state because the very next day these Muslim newspapers reply back by exposing the false claims of biased journalists. This secular media has established a sort of check and balance there and same is being experience now in Karnataka.

Why is this contradiction between Muslims of North and South India?

It is because North Indian Muslims have no wish to get into the media. They must shun this attitude and only then they will be able make inroads into the mainstream media. Also, I am a witness to this fact that a rich Muslim businessman wanted to finance a Hindi daily but at the last moment he backed out only because of the fear of being harassed by the state authorities for supporting the truth and as a businessman he didn’t want to get into trouble and lose his peace of mind. It is not that Muslims don’t have money to support big media houses but they still do not fully realize its importance even as a commercial venture. In north India, we have only Urdu newspapers which are not read by non-Muslims; even our Muslim elite does not read them. So even if some false claims are made about Muslims in the English and Hindi press, the only way that Muslim organizations respond is by publishing counter-claims in the Urdu press which no one but a limited number of Muslims read, and so these responses do not have any impact on our society.

You say that Urdu newspapers are not read by non-Muslims and not even by the Muslim elite. Before Partition it was a common language reinforcing the Hindu-Muslim unity, why this apathy now? Is it due to government policy, Hindu apathy, yellow journalism or something else?

It is a result of government policy after Partition. They tried to kill Urdu in favour of  Hindi, even though it was resolved before Partition that the common language of independent India would be Hindustani written in both Persain and Devangiri scripts. This was forgotten after independence and Hindi in Devnagri script was imposed by brute force. Before Partition many Hindus and Sikhs knew Urdu and even now some of them do exist in places like Delhi and Punjab. Also the lower administrative work was carried out in Urdu in north India but due to the government policy, Urdu was wiped off from its native bastions comprising of Uttar Pradesh, Uttrakhand, Bihar, Punjab and Delhi etc. There is no Urdu-medium government-run school at present in U.P. Now the children of these schools can only speak in Urdu but can’t read or write it. Some old newspapers in Urdu are still being published in these states but they have only a small readership and are not able to articulate Muslim interests and help shaping the opinion of the masses with regard to the problems facing Muslims.

How much has Milli Gazette been able to fill up this void in the existing Muslim media?

We have been able, to an extent, to fill the vacuum in the field of the Muslim English-language media though it is not a mainstream paper. Our aim when we started MG ten years ago was to publish Muslim news which didn’t find space in the mainstream media, as well as to reach non-Muslims and our own elite who now do not read Urdu. We are focusing on issues facing minorities and marginalized sections like Dalits, Christians, Sikhs while concentrating on Muslims who are neglected by the mainstream media. Even if we write a letter to a mainstream paper it is destined to end up in the dustbin. I recognize that at present our paper doesn’t fully satisfy the needs of the community. We are still a fortnightly while the situation demands that we become a weekly. We need better quality reports, stories from the field, but we lack the finances needed to do this on a wider scale. Presently, we do not have even a single full-time correspondent outside Delhi because of shortage of funds.

Regarding social and charity work among Muslims that you are committed to under the banner of Charity Alliance, do you think that Muslim money in the form of Zakat, Sadaqat etc is properly utilized?

First of all I wish to state that Charity Alliance (CA) is not a big organization. It owes its birth to a crisis that suddenly emerged in early in early 2005 in Murshidabad where Muslims were dying in scores daily with no one coming to their rescue. At present, we are offering weekly ration, medical help, school fees and a vocational training centre  there. Last May we have also opened a school in the area of our work in Murshidabad. We are also offering some scholarships to school-level students in Uttar Pradesh and Delhi beside some other small help here and there. We realize that there is need to broaden the scope of CA but for that we need much more funds.

Regading the Zakat and its proper utilization, according to a survey we conducted in a Muslim majority area of Delhi we found that ninety percent of Muslims do not pay Zakat and even the small minority that pays doesn’t bother to see that it is properly utilized and reaches the categories defined as recipients of Zakat by the Qur’an. So the real purpose of Zakat, ie, alleviation of poverty in the Muslim society, is defeated as it fails to reach the really deserving people while parasites siphon it off leaving the needy high and dry. We are not really able to see the benefits of Zakat in our society. We read in our early Islamic history that a time came when people used to go searching for someone who would accept Zakat. The real purpose of Zakat is that from recepients people should become payers of Zakat.

Ulama and madrasas where the age-old traditional Fiqh and jurisprudence are taught, eat away most of Zakat leaving  a little for others. Moreover, they have not been even able to guide the community.

We need madrasas but not so many as we find today. There has been a mushroom growth of these institutions and we need to curtail this trend. There are presently madrasas that exist in name or on paper only but they are the first in the run for this money. There are good madrasas like Deoband, Nadwa, Madrasatul Islam, Jamiatul Falah, Jamia Darussalam, Jamiat ul Salehaat and Sultanul Madaris. They are producing good scholars for the community and we really need them but we don’t need one lakh madrasas which are the need of people who have formed them not of the Muslim Ummah.

Also, madrasas should compete for Zakat and Muslims should pay more than Zakat for such purposes of the community. It is not enough to just pay 2.5% of your savings. Any person can spare much more than this for community services. If Bohras and Shia can pay a very hefty amount to their religious heads, why can’t Sunni Muslims pay more than their Zakat in order to run their community services. Money from foreign sources should be avoided by madrasas as the foreign donors impose their own conditions. Moreover, since most of such funds come through non-transparent channels, there is lack of accountability which breeds corruption and discontent in the institutions that accept it though even this channel is now drying up.

Ulama proclaim that unity is a basic characteristic of this community but the fact is that the Ummah is disunited and the unity is seen only rarely as during the Danish Cartoons, Babri Masjid demolition and Shah Bano case and the Ulama themselves are divided?

Let us start to learn living with differences which we cannot change them. Even the Prophet of Islam said that differences are a blessing for my Ummah. There have been attempts to wipe out these differences like the Ahli Hadith Movement which took this challenge but with the passage of time they themselves became a sect. Yes, it is true that cases concerning all Muslims like Shah Bano and Rushdie unite us for a common cause but these are spontaneous reactions and unity which do not last long.

This is a fact that 99% of these Ulama don’t come to the rescue of Muslims when in distress, e.g.,  Batla House encounter, countering the myth of Muslim terrorism etc, whereas politicians use them for their own selfish ends..

This is not correct that all Ulama are used by politicians. There is only a minority which is used by politicians and the community doesn’t respect them. Important ulama of Deoband and Nadwa do not join politics. The fact is that you cannot stop this trend of ulama joining politics and getting used by politicians as ours is a democracy and a free country where everyone is free to do what he things is good or beneficial to him or her. Ulama should only teach people, offer an exemplary character to become role models for the masses and help in removing the misconceptions about Islam.

These traditional Ulama with their rigid outlook have tried by every means to promote their own sects and interpretations of Islam, leading to internecine wars. What is the remedy?

Differences of interpretation would continue but to form violent groups based upon these different readings of Islam is not acceptable in any way. Also, these violent groups in many cases were formed and clandestinely funded by foreign sources, e.g., Jundullah in Lebanon and Iran is a creation of the CIA. Similarly, other violent groups in Saudi Arabia and Iran etc owe their creation to foreign hands. If a country is occupied, like Palestine, Chechnya and Afghanistan, then only armed resistance groups may be formed and that too only to fight for the liberation of the country and not to indulge in sectarian strife or to attack innocent people of whatever religion or sect.

The Ulama still deny women the positive role they can play in changing Muslim society. They wish to keep them at bay and continue patriarchal hegemony. Don’t you think Islam needs to be liberated from these Ulama?

Ulama opposing women’s positive participation within the boundaries laid down by Shari’ah are not speaking for Islam but for their own cultural beliefs or tribal and social norms trying to camouflage these as “Islam”. Such attempts to curtail the role of women have developed due to local readings of Islam while ignoring the real and universal Islamic teachings. Who can forget the role of Hazrat Aisha (RA) in Islamic history and her contribution  to Muslim society. Many senior companions of the Prophet (Pbuh) would come seeking her advice in different religious matters. Muslim history is full of examples of women being rulers of great countries like Shajart al-Durr of. Even in the Subcontinent we had reigning queens like Raziya Sultana and Begums of Bhopal and Ulama were never opposed their rule.

They have tried to impose what they call Islamic State based on pure theocracy  whether be it Taliban in Afghanistan or Swat, thus paving a way for what Akbar S Ahmad calls as “Clash Of Muslim Inclusivists and Exclusivists”.

Muslim Ulama are not in a position to rule anywhere in the world. They are not equipped with the knowledge of ruling as well as they lack the knowledge of present time and the tools needed to rule today. There have been attempts since Syed Ahmad Shaheed to form an Islamic State but they all failed. Even Taliban in Afghanistan were an unsuccessful attempt as their state did not include modern features and failed to make contacts with the outside world. During its whole tenure, it was recognized as a legitimate government by three countries only and all these three states backed out when U.S attacked it. As far as the whole Muslim history is concerned, Ulama always played a secondary role and they never ruled anywhere. In the present times, their madrasas don’t equip them with the tools to rule a country. After the end of the colonial era, Ulama tried to lead the masses but all their attempts failed  because their way is rigid � it is either Halal (permissible) or Haraam (forbidden) in their dictionary, while politics is based on the principles of the possible, of give and take.

So do you think that a new leadership is emerging among Muslims?

Ulama have not been able to impose their leadership on Muslim masses, neither have they been able to rule, nor are they suited for political rulership. Yes, a new leadership is emerging in Muslim societies from other sections of the Ummah.

Don’t you think that the traditional Ulama can still play a significant role by joining hands with Muslim intellectuals and shunning their rigid attitudes?

As I said earlier, we need Ulama, but they must shed their rigid attitudes and emulate  Muhammad Abduh of Egypt who was able to influence Muslim masses unlike his mentor  Jamaluddin Afghani who despite traveling, preaching and inspiring for a change wasn’t able to bring a change be it Persia, Egypt, India or Afghanistan. We really need Ulama but they are not suited to become our political leaders, they should limit themselves to guide the rulers and educate the masses.


Start another Caravan

Start another Caravan

Fifty-five women from 12 states left home for 20 days to hit the streets through 20,000km in this scorching heat across 60 towns to push the  Women’s Reservation Bill
Shaweta Anand Aligarh

Twelve Innovas were transformed into railway coaches of ‘Reservation Express’ that whistled through three routes by road, covering a gigantic distance of over 20,000km through the north-west, north-east and southern parts of India. The campaign was flagged off by, among others, 84-year-old Qamar Azad Hashmi, one of the oldest activists supporting the cause, on May 20 from Jhansi – land of the legendary queen of Jhansi, Jhansi ki rani.

The campaign culminated on June 6 at Delhi’s Constitution Club where the karwans (caravans) converged with women activists from across the country celebrating a massive spectacle of dance, music and spirited slogans. They communicated their experiences to a happy Congress president Sonia Gandhi the next day, who backed this protracted struggle. Activists handed over 10,000 signed postcards to her backing the Women’s Reservation Bill.

“Each karwan had several Muslim and Dalit women who campaigned tirelessly for promoting 33 per cent reservation for all women, irrespective of their caste, class, religion and ethnicity,” Shabnam Hashmi of Anhad told Hardnews. Hashmi is the brain behind this national-level campaign. The campaign generated support from 200 rights-based organisations, feminists, intellectuals, activists and students across the Indian landscape.

Said Sultana Sheikh, stoic survivor of the Gujarat carnage of 2002, “Drunk Hindu fanatics put a sword through my raped body to see if I was dead or alive before leaving me at the river bank. My infant child kept howling while I was tortured. What could he do? What could I do? There was no one to stop them. This happened when we were trying to escape after hundreds of armed men smashed, maimed and burnt members of our families in front of our eyes.”

“That is why I am a part of this campaign so that I can talk to women about their rights, especially their political rights. By getting the Women’s Reservation Bill passed, we will be able to activate women power in this country and protect our rights in a violent, male-dominated world,” she said.

Sheikh was part of the karwan that covered ‘route number two’. They traveled to Jabalpur, Raipur, Balangir, Bhubaneshwar, Vishakhapatnam, Vijaywada, Chennai, Kanchipuram, Madurai, Cochin, Calicut, Bangalore, Anantapur and Hyderabad before converging with other karwan members in Delhi two weeks later. It was led by Sania Hashmi, a documentary filmmaker, and activist Manisha Trivedi.

Also on the same route was Mohini Jatav, a Dalit activist from Jaipur, Rajasthan. Her husband’s legs were mutilated by Gujjar panchayat members as punishment because he refused to work for them. His legs had to be amputated to save his life. “I am here so that I can travel far and wide while connecting with more women like me; so that we can heal our wounds together and fight for our right for representation in politics,” said Jatav.

“I appeal to every women of every village to join us in demanding passage of this law. Why is it that I still haven’t got justice even though I have been running around in courts for 15 years? If more women were in power, they would have ensured women like me got timely justice,” roared Bhanwari Devi.

Bhanwari was a sathin (companion) working for the Women’s Development Programme of the government of Rajasthan in Bhateri in 1992 when she was gang-raped. She was punished for trying to stop the marriage of a nine-month-old girl who belonged to an influential upper-caste family. Shockingly, the court ruled in 1995 that upper-caste men can’t rape a dalit woman. The rapists were publicly felicitated in this feudal, male-dominated state.

A Jaipur-based NGO called Vishakha took up her case that led to the historic Vishakha judgement by the Supreme Court. The court, for the first time, set guidelines of behaviour with women in public spaces, acknowledging that women can be sexually harassed in workplaces and outside.

Haseena Bano, Rubina Bano and Jawahira Rashid, all of 15 years, were the youngest campaigners. They traveled from a remote place called Tangdar in Kashmir to north-east India on ‘route three’. “It has given us so much confidence,” they echoed in chorus. “Every karwan had women from Kashmir. This was a chance of a lifetime for them as they mingled with people they can relate with all over India. It worked wonders for their self-esteem and it shows – some girls went without the traditional veil,” said Seema Duhan, leader of this karwan.

At Aligarh, eminent historians Irfan Habib, Shireen Moosvi and Dr Namita Singh from Bharat Gyan Vigyan Samiti (BGVS), endorsed the demand. “Although we got good response from most people, but a Muslim man mocked me in Aligarh. He said I can’t be a genuine Muslim woman since I had stepped out of the four walls of home and was talking to ordinary women about their political rights,” said Rashida Ansari, a survivor of the Gujarat carnage, 2002. “I asked him, which aayat (verse) of Quran says that women can’t get out of home, do politics and run the country? He stared back, speechless,” she told Hardnews.

“I want to see the killers of my sister punished,” said Musarrat Jahan, sister of Ishrat Jahan, killed by Narendra Modi’s top cops in Gujarat. “I am traveling with this karwan  to tell more and more women about how they can change the face of this country. Had there been more women in power today, my sister’s death would have been avenged and many more such deaths – prevented.”

Ishrat Jahan was kidnapped from Mumbai in 2004 and reportedly killed in a fake encounter, charged with plotting to kill Modi. “When we got the news of Ishrat’s death, we didn’t even understand what an encounter meant or who Modi was,” said Shamima Kauser, Musarrat’s mother. “If there were more women in positions of power, there would be less assaults on women in society,” she said.
Activists on ‘route number three’ travelled to Rewa, Daltonganj, Ranchi, Kolkata, Behrampur, Balurghat, Shillong, Guwahati, Siliguri, Katikar, Patna, Varanasi, Allahabad, Lucknow, Aligarh and back to Delhi.

Social workers Anandi and Eashwari from Tamil Nadu traveled on ‘route number one’ that covered north-west India. “As for Dalit women, they will get 33 per cent reservation out of the existing 22.5 per cent SC/ST quota. For Muslims, men and women need the quota since both are grossly under-represented in legislatures; but that is a separate fight which cannot be fought within the ambit of the bill,” explained Anandi.

‘Route number one’ destinations included Bhopal, Indore, Aurangabad, Mumbai, Vadodara, Ahmedabad, Udaipur, Chittorgarh, Bhilwara, Ajmer, Jaipur, Hissar, Jalandhar, Chandigarh, Dharamshala, Mandi, Bilaspur, Shimla, Solan, Dehradun, Meerut and, finally, Delhi. It was led by dogged activist Mansi Sharma of Anhad. “Out of the 543 seats in Parliament, why do we still have only 59 women representatives?” asked Philomena John of the National Federation of Indian Women (NFIW).

At Lucknow, the old, patriarchal city of nawabs, a huge solidarity gathering of social activists, writers, educationists and journalists welcomed the ‘Reservation Express’ on June 4. Shabnam Hashmi said she was provoked to start the campaign by the acidic comments of Shia cleric Kalbe Jawad of Lucknow that Muslim women should ‘produce’ good leaders instead of becoming leaders themselves. She said Muslim women don’t want a broker like Kalbe Jawad between them and God.

Roop Rekha Verma, former vice-chancellor of Lucknow University, was sure that hurdles created by religious lobbies will only strengthen the movement. She was sharply critical of Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav who said modern women MPs will face the whistles of young politicians. “Such leaders happily admit the corrupt and criminals in their party, but would still oppose women’s rights,” she said, in a voice loaded with sarcasm. Progressive writer Shakil Siddiqui  said reservation was not a solution, and yet, this campaign would raise awareness about women’s rights. So why are they creating obstacles, asked Urdu writer Sabiha Anwar and theatre personality Mridula Bharadwaj.

For many women in the yatra, India came as revelation. Most tribal women had no information about the bill, or their fundamental rights, pointed out Kummo Devi from Himachal Pradesh. Sukhbir Kaur from Punjab discovered that most women had no job cards.  “I was shocked to see so much poverty in our villages,” she said.

It was a synthesis of human solidarity, aesthetics and politics. Poems of great progressive legends like Jan Nisar Akhtar and Kaifi Azmi were recited, songs were sung, songs and slogans of beauty, humanity, change and revolution; women and girls hugged and laughed, all prepared to reaffirm life, and fight till the last. This body language spoke of emancipation.

After a strong public response at Guwahati, the 20-member ‘Reservation Express’ made a brief sojourn at Shillong, capital of ‘matrilineal” Meghalaya, to garner support. The programme held at Asom Kristi Kendra in early June was organised by the North East Network (NEN) along with Lympung Ki Seng Kynthei and YWCA. Said Meghalaya’s education minister and lone woman legislator Ampareen Lyngdoh, “Women must be empowered, educated and enlightened on the nuances of parliamentary democracy and electoral politics.”

“There is tremendous response. It is a misnomer that people are opposing the bill,” said Seema Duhan. So will they meet politicians who are opposing the bill? “There is no point in reacting to chauvinistic statements which do not have content,” she shot back.

A panel discussion on ‘Women’s Reservation: Are we ready for it?’ was held at Shillong College. Activist Angela Rangad asked if there would be “real emancipation” of women if the bill is passed. There is no guarantee that if a woman is elected she won’t be as corrupt as her male counterparts. “This is the narrative of repression, from Catherine the Great to Margaret Thatcher who dismantled the ‘welfare state’. Indira Gandhi was responsible for the infamous Emergency,” she said.  “Women should be more concerned with what programmes the elected women would take up for their benefit. Besides, what are the 53 women MPs doing to push women’s issues?”

Dr Pascal Malngiang of the department of political science, North Eastern Hill University (NEHU), narrated the historical struggle for reservation. The Nairobi Conference in 1985 proposed 35 per cent reservation for women in all elections across the world. Scandinavian countries like Norway, Finland and Sweden have the maximum number of women representatives. “Two-thirds of the world’s work force is women. They earn only 10 per cent of the world’s income,” he said. Indeed, the matrilineal system in Meghalaya does not ensure space for women in the political system.

Prof V Pakyntein of the department of anthropology, NEHU, said she was wary of the money and muscle power used by male candidates to win elections. “Hence, women must come out of the closet and fight elections,” she said.

Come out of the closet. That is the key. Open the windows of emancipation. Seek power, forever denied. Seek equality and justice, forever shut out. Change the gender equations. Fly with the wings of aspirations. Make this world humane, better, worthwhile – for all. Eliminate poverty, exploitation and hunger. Said Mansi Sharma, “Women want to reserve their historic place in  our fragmented, unequal democracy. They want to find their collective identity and power. This world must change. The Women’s Reservation Bill must be passed. This is just another starting point.”

With Pradeep Kapoor in Lucknow and Andrew Lyngdoh in Shillong

Fighting the stereotypes on Islam

Fighting the stereotypes on Islam


The book covers issues such as pluralism, gender discrimination and relationship between Islam and Christianity

ISLAM IN A GLOBALIZED WORLD — Negotiating Faultlines: Edited by Mushirul Hasan; Imprintone, C-562, Sushantlok-1, Gurgaon-122002. Rs. 850.

In his introduction, Mushirul Hasan asserts that the book is born out of a deep realisation that hardly any academically worthwhile work is available on ‘Islam in South Asia,’ and this, at a time when pernicious misconceptions — such as that ‘Islam is a violent religion’ and ‘Muslims are the only trouble-makers’ — have crystallised into dominant facts in public mind. Obviously, this book is an attempt to confront these negative stereotypes and place the various elements of Islam and the Muslim society in perspective.

The book is divided into two parts — the first, on ‘Islam and the world,’ has nine essays and the second, on ‘Islam in India’, has 12, besides an interesting story, ‘I am a Hindu’ by Asghar Wajahat, translated by Rakhshanda Jalil from Hindi.

The contributors include not just the well-known names such as Imtiaz Ahmed, Tariq Ramadan and Seema Alavi, but also several young scholars, who need to thank the magnanimous editor for giving them the rewarding experience.

Post 9/11

The first part, which covers a wide range of issues such as pluralism in Islamic societies, relationship between Islam and Christianity, and politics of gender discrimination in Islam, discusses how 9/11 has shaped the content of news media, public diplomacy, and the war on terror.

The second part is devoted to themes like Sufism in Kashmir, caste in Indian Islam, role of Muslims of Bihar in India’s freedom movement, and the tradition of Deoband. It also has an analysis of the revenue and judicial records in the Nizzamuddin dargha and of the Muslim identity in Hindi cinema. The materials presented are so huge that each part could have formed a separate book in itself.

Tariq Ramadan, in his essay on the relationship between Islam and Christianity, argues that people of different faiths, instead of looking for potential converts in the modern world, should work for the betterment of humanity by going back to the roots of their respective religions. The article on ‘Islamic culture and brotherhood’ recognises that the real challenge before Islam, in its interface with modernity, lies in how it grapples with the concepts of ‘equality,’ ‘democracy,’ ‘human rights,’ and so on. The one on ‘Islam and gender discrimination’ articulates the need for a creative reinterpretation of Islam that would help place the cause of women in a progressive global system.

Although the justification for gender hierarchy and discrimination of women could be traced to the evolution of Islamic sciences such as Hadith (prophetic tradition), tafsir (exegesis), and fiqh (jurisprudence), creative analysis and de-contextualised reflections could make Islam compatible with modern ideas of gender equality.

Insightful analysis

Imtiaz Ahmed, known for his pioneering work on social stratification among Indian Muslims, offers an insightful analysis under the head “Recognition and Entitlement: Muslim castes eligible for inclusion in the category, Scheduled Castes” — a revised version of a paper he presented at a 2006 conference at Tata Institute of Social Sciences.

According to him, it would be an over-simplification to argue that dalit Muslims are basically converts from the Scheduled Castes. Instead, he feels, they need to be seen as people who found themselves in such a state because the Muslim elites, possibly, forced them (the newly converted) into it so that they themselves could perpetuate and retain their dominance in feudal, agrarian India.

In an interesting article, Seema Alavi looks at Unani medicine’s engagement with the colonial systems of medicine in 19th century India. The author questions the idea of colonial public health being a direct import from the Western model of civil society.

It is argued that the local communities using medical literature published in major languages of the time — Persian, Arabic, and Urdu — contributed to the shaping of the public health system as well as to its discourse in civil society. Overall, this collection of essays should serve as a vital source for scholars concerned about the current issues affecting Muslims and Islam.

The invisible capital of identity

The invisible capital of identity

Jayant Sriram
First Published : 04 Jul 2010 10:38:00 AM IST
Last Updated : 01 Jul 2010 07:18:46 PM IST

The collection of caste-based data is not a new thing, according to social historian M S S Pandian, who teaches at Jawaharlal Nehru university in Delhi. It is an exercise that is already been conducted, through surveys by the NSSO (National Sample Survey Organisation) and by the Anthropological Survey of India. While the collection of such data has been a good thing, the opposition to a larger exercise like the caste census, he says, mainly stems from a north Indian anxiety.

“In Tamil Nadu we have been aware of caste issues for a long time. Upcountry, it hasn’t been politicised as yet. They’re not comfortable talking about it.” Pandian points to two prominent examples. “When the Mandal commission report was introduced, and all of north India was up in arms about it, the state assembly in Tamil Nadu passed a resolution which was printed out and circulated widely. There was even a rally on the Marina beach to commemorate the event where thousands of people turned up.”

As a more recent example, he points to a rec­ent Madras High Court judgment directing the Centre and the Census Commissioner to hold a caste-based census based on a PIL filed by one of the court’s lawyers. The point, he says, is that in Tamil Nadu, what the rest of the country might find shocking is treated as normal.

He says it’s taken people a long time to rea­lise that caste needs to be taken seriously. “Caste exists, and caste works as capital. It determines things like access to information and resources. If a government is going to plan and carry out welfare schemes you have to take this into account as a factor.”

This is essential, he argues, for a broader understanding of development. “Indicators such as BPL provide only a narrow understanding of what is capital, focusing only on the economic aspect. There are other factors involved. Caste is one, and it could also be things like your knowledge of English, or whether you come from a village or city. To make good policy you have to have an expanded notion of what constitutes capital and caste is extremely important in deciding access to resources or a lack of access. If the state takes its business seriously, it has to take caste seriously.”

Pandian also gives short shrift to arguments that the logistics might prove too complicated and the notion that enumerating caste numbers makes caste identity more rigid. He counters that compared to the Unique Identification Number, collecting data for the caste census is much easier.

As for the second argument, he says it doesn’t hold because our definition of caste is now very fluid. “Even in colonial times the definition was accompanied by a lot of religious discourse. Now, it is more secular. We are talking about jobs and opportunities.” At the end of the day, he emphasises, such information will provide useful data.

Perhaps the biggest fear surrounding the caste census is that it will throw up several new demands but this should not be regarded as a bad thing. “Right now, we take decisions based on caste very arbitrarily. When the Sup­reme Court asked why states had given so much reservation for caste, it challenged them to provide figures. Then they went ahead and fixed the figure at 50 per cent as if somehow this was valid. With accurate information, we can cut out this arbitrariness.”

A detailed census can also help in a more nuanced social understanding. “When you talk about things like caste mobilisation, if you have the data and the facts, you can understand why it’s happening.”

A wasteful exercise

C Lakshmanan, assistant professor at the Mad­ras Institute of Development Studies, who specialises in Tamil Nadu politics and Dalit movement, looks at the issue differently. He questions the need for such an exercise. Caste data are already available, he argues, through the census of 2001, the NSSO as well as various state commissions on backward classes. The problem though, is that precious little has been done with it.

“Since Independence, the government has had to deal with the problem of nearly 25 per cent of the population under the SC/ST category. If they had at least said that 15 per cent of them had improved their status it would be reasonable to move on to a larger project like the caste census. Yet they have shamelessly admitted that not even one per cent of them have been alleviated.”

A caste census, he says, is just going to invite new problems. “The classic case is the Gujjars in Rajasthan. Their population is only about a lakh, but they can mobilise the community and frequently hold the state to ransom.” The danger with the caste census is that any community that has enough numbers can mobilise its people and place all kinds of dem­ands on the state.”

At the same time, he points to another problem. “If the data from the census show that a certain group no longer needs to be categorised as SC or ST, then do we have the political will to exclude such a community?”

He feels government, academics and media alike are conditioned to think that the prime indicator for backwardness is caste. “If they can move beyond this caste-centric approach and broaden their understanding then something is possible, but they have to realise state intervention based on caste iss­ues is a myth. A caste census is just a ploy to divert attention.”

“In Tamil Nadu, for instance, reservation is only there in the public sector and of the 25 per cent of the people it’s meant to cover, only 6 per cent actually benefit, that too for jobs like sweepers and drivers. But no one talks about this.”

Lakshmanan also points to a study conducted by Professor Sathyapaul of the University of Andhra Pradesh which surveyed the participation of SC and ST MPs in Parliament during question hour from 1975 to 2000. “In 25 years they spoke for a total of six and a half hours. Only four hours actually dealt with Dalit issues, an example of how caste based intervention has become meaningless.”

He finishes by arguing that if the government feels it doesn’t have adequate data then it should temporarily suspend policies such as reservation and refashion it once data are collected rather than do both simultaneously.

— jayantsriram@expressbuzz.com

The blind side

Caste blindness is the tendency of a group to “not-see” or ignore caste. Many call it the privilege of the upper castes, one they have gained after having extracted the most out of caste privileges. Satish Deshpande and Mary E John wrote in their article titled “The politics of not counting caste” (Economic and Political Weekly, June 19 2010): “For the most privileged sections of the upper castes this was true in a certain sense because three generations of caste blindness had allowed them to fully encash their caste advantages. They were now in a situation where they no longer needed to invoke caste explicitly, having acquired all the other resources that guaranteed them the “legitimate” advantages of inherited wealth, expensive education and abundant connections among their own kind. It is these groups of upper castes who are the most vociferous advocates of caste blindness today. It is they who believe that the Census is mainly about and for the lower castes and their squabbling about quotas.” But caste blindness or denying someone’s caste identity can lead to unequal distribution of resources. Post tsunami, Dalit Network Netherlands noted in its report that in the “pretence of caste blindness” the aid agencies had not taken into consideration the inherent caste discrimination. “The discrimination was present at all phases of the recovery process, from the denial of rice, the refusal to share emergency shelters, the removal of bodies, and the relief materials provided, through to the compensation and provision of livelihood assistance and housing,” says the report. It was not “planned or organised by the caste fisherman” but, “it merely played out its natural course as a result of thousands of years of an unchallenged caste system.” Caste blindness among the oppressed castes came down considerably after the Mandal Commission report. Today, caste assertion has become a way to reclaim resources and privileges denied.

New panel to study Vedanta mine impact on tribals

New panel to study Vedanta mine impact on tribals

The Dongria Kondhs of Lanjigarh in Orissa may have got some respite with the Ministry of Environment and Forests setting up another committee to reconsider how the proposed Vedanta mine in the area could affect the tribe

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s office has written to the Ministry of Environment and Forests urging it to clear Vedanta’s proposed Niyamgiri mine in Orissa. The project cannot go ahead without final clearance from the ministry, which, on June 30, 2010, appointed yet another expert committee to carry out further investigations.

Media reports indicate that the experts will be submitting their findings within a month and that the environment ministry is likely to announce its decision around the time of Vedanta’s AGM in London on July 28. Till then, Vedanta Alumina’s plans to source bauxite from the Niyamgiri hills in Orissa’s Kalahandi district will have to wait.

An earlier team of experts commissioned by the environment ministry to investigate Vedanta’s plans warned that the mine was likely to have a devastating effect on Dongria Kondh tribals living in the area. In fact, the latest committee was set up as a follow-up to concerns raised by a three-member committee that submitted its report after site inspections in January and February 2010.

The report on violations of the Forest Conservation Act was prepared by the Chief Conservator of Forests (central) J K Tewari. Former Additional Director General (wildlife) at the Wildlife Institute of India, Vinod Rishi, made out the report on the project’s impact on local wildlife. The study on the impact on local populations was carried out by Usha Ramanathan, an independent legal researcher.

Tewari and Rishi’s reports gave the project a clean chit; Ramanathan was the only member of the team who argued against the project. She questioned the Orissa state government’s claim that the Forest Rights Act had been fully implemented. The report gave clear warning that the project would destroy the local Dongria Kondh tribe. According to Ramanathan, the 7,000-odd strong tribal group would not be able to make the transition from a forest-based lifestyle to one that would be necessary should the mining project take off.

The new expert committee, headed by National Advisory Council member N C Saxena, will now examine, apart from the diversion of land which comes under the Forest Conservation Act 1980, issues of settlement of rights under the Forest Rights Act 2006. Of particular importance will be the “specific impact on the livelihood, culture and material welfare of the Dongria Kondhs, a notified primitive tribal group,” a ministry release says.

The committee will also consider the project’s impact on wildlife and biodiversity in the surrounding areas.

The decision to withhold final clearance is in line with the environment ministry’s July 2009 circular, stating: ‘State/UT governments, where process of settlement of rights under the Forest Rights Act is yet to begin, are required to enclose evidences supporting that settlement of rights under the Forest Rights Act, 2006 will be initiated and completed before the final approval for the proposals.’

This stance came under attack from the prime minister’s office and the company’s spokespersons, who argued that the environment ministry’s jurisdiction was limited to forest and wildlife matters. The project was given ‘in-principle’ clearance in 2008 by Jairam Ramesh’s predecessor.

Ramesh, who has been objecting to the concept of in-principle clearance, has told Parliament that “had the Tribal Act been in place, the chances are that this project (Vedanta) would not have been cleared in the first place”. In the past, he has repeatedly stressed that the project would be given forest clearance only after the issue of tribal rights had been settled.

A number of international NGOs have taken up the cause of the tribe, which claims that the mine will desecrate its holy mountain and cause disruptions to its way of life in the Niyamgiri hills.

Survival International’s director Stephen Corry, said: “The prime minister ought to be protecting the rights of India’s most vulnerable citizens, not helping to railroad through a project that government experts have warned could destroy them.” A Dongria Kondh man told Survival: “Mining only makes profit for the rich. We will become beggars if the company destroys our mountain and our forest so that they can make money.”

Last year the UK government condemned Vedanta, declaring that it “did not respect the rights of the Dongria Kondh” and that a “change in the company’s behaviour (is) essential”. The Church of England, the Norwegian government and the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust are among the high-profile investors that have sold their Vedanta shares over serious human rights concerns.

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