Network to reduce Drugs Dependency in South India

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | 29 January 2012 | Posted in , , , , , ,

By Syed Ali Mujtaba

The launch of the South Indian Harm Reduction Network (SIHRN) in Chennai heralds a welcome initiative for people dependent on drugs, especially those living with HIV and AIDS in the Southern States.

There is a serious concern in the southern states of India over under reporting numbers of people injecting drugs and infected with HIV/AIDS.

Tamil Nadu and Kerala have been delivering services for drug injectors for many years now, and injecting epidemics have been reported more recently in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka.

Civil Society and Community Organizations stated their concern over the numbers of deaths being reported and the lack of facilities for care and support currently available through national and state administered services.

The current services for HIV management through needle syringe exchange programs and medication for replacing illicit or grey market opiates have been largely successful but they are simply not enough.

The challenge of co-morbidities including the presence of TB and Hepatitis C along with HIV require wider access to health systems including hospitals.

There is also a huge demand for medically assisted detoxification and rehabilitation services and a scale up of the fledging Opioid Substitution Treatment Programs in the region.
It is in this context that the South Indian Harm Reduction Network that has been launched has a huge role to play.

In a freewheeling interview with A. Sankar, Convener, SIHRN and L. Samson, President, SIHRN, the goals and objectives of the new organization was spelled out.

SIHRN aspires to bring ownership of treatment to affected communities. It wants to mainstream services that include wider health care, psycho-social support, reintegration related to employment, family support and legal aid, Mr. Sankar said.

SIHRN wants to register state level networks that will work closely with state governments and the affected communities. It also wants to strengthen services for people injecting drugs under States AIDS Control Societies. SIHRN likes to advocate for an improved quality of life for drug dependent people, Mr. Sankar added.

L. Samson, President, SIHRN said the challenge is to keep people secure in access to various types of treatment. SIHRN resolve to widen the scope of services to draw together agendas such as homelessness and drug treatment with the key stakeholders managing HIV and AIDS services for people injecting drugs.

Counseling is the glue that will hold the populations adherent to services, as optimism is required to counter the despair felt by the severe stigma and discrimination experienced at mainstream health services, and the abuse on the streets by ill informed law enforcers, Mr. Samson concluded.

The meeting of South Indian Harm Reduction Network SIHRN was held under the auspices of the Indian Harm Reduction on January 28, 2012 in Chennai. It was supported by Sharan, a NGO working on HIV/AIDS in India.

The meet was coordinated by Indian Community Welfare Organization-I.C.W.O, a NGO based in Chennai. More details on this can be obtained from Mr. A.J. Hariharan of ICWO, who can be contacted at fieldmaster2000@gmail.com.

[Syed Ali Mujtaba is a Journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at syedalimujtaba@yahoo.com]

Contemporising traditions

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | | Posted in , , , , ,

By Sohini Chakravorty

Explaining the poetry in ghazals and the need to preserve Hyderabad's heritage, Dilnaz Baig goes down memory lane

After a series of short turns in the muddled lanes of Banjara Hills, is a white stately house peeping out of green foliage. It is the family house of former first class cricketer Murtuza Ali Baig and his wife Dilnaz Baig. Draped in an elegant black and white Bengal cotton sari and a bunch of bangles jangling on her right hand, she stands on the porch of her house with a welcoming smile. A small but beautiful garden circles her house, which she passionately tends to. Settling in her favourite patio chair, Dilnaz Baig is ready to talk about the Hyderabad chapter of Shaam-e-Ghazal formed by a group of ghazal lovers which organises ghazal mehfils and holds discussions and her association with the NGO Apna Watan. In her clipped English, she begins to describe her fondness for Urdu ghazals when her cell phone rings. As she answers the phone, she effortless switches into perfect Hyderabadi Hindi with the quintessential twang with all traces of English gone.

“It is not just refinement of poetry but ghazals are also the tehzeeb and tameez and learning Urdu especially when we see that the language is slowly dying,” explains Dilnaz one of the founding members of Shaam-e-Ghazal, Hyderabad chapter. The organisation which first began in New Delhi, started in the city in 1995. The Shaam-e-Ghazal nights are usually held at the India International Centre in the Capital city where the stalwarts of ghazal perform. “I pestered my husband and with Vittal Rao who is the jaan-e-ghazal we started our Shaam-e-Ghazal chapter here,” she says. The 40 odd members invite local ghazal and qawwali singers as well from across the country to perform within the comforts of any group member's home.

The group gathers around six times in a year for mehfils and mushairas. In fact, they will be hosting another ghazal night at the Paigah Plaza soon. Growing up in an atmosphere where poetry, music and literature were appreciated, she says, “When we were growing up, women did not have many outlets. The youngsters used to organise these musical nights where artistes like Vittal Rao used to perform for a meagre Rs 50. Sometimes, the performances used to go on for the entire night. The girls used to take care of the snacks so as a process we used to get trained in the art of entertaining guests.”

Expressing a strong disdain against the places which hosts ghazal nights in accompaniment with alcohol, she says, “It is not just appreciation of the gayaki but also a learning process. We want the right kind of people and youngsters to be involved to carry forward the traditions.” While singers like Nirja Giri, Rekha Surya, Seema Sehgal are associated with the group, Dilnaz is unhappy with the local singing standards. She feels that the young singers need to improve their Urdu diction before a performance. She feels that people need to move beyond requesting songs of Jagjit Singh and Mehdi Hassan and try to understand the art form. “Ustad Aslam Khan who has performed all over the world had mentioned that nowhere he has seen people listening with such adab than here in Hyderabad,” she says. With more members and better funds, she is optimistic that they will be able to expand Shaam-e-Ghazal.

Knowledge of Urdu becomes imperative when understanding the lyrical poetry of ghazals and in her determination to master the language, Dilnaz has started learning Urdu at the Maulana Azad National Urdu University. “I could read and write Urdu but was missing out the finer nuances of the language. You cannot walk around with a dictionary in your hand, so I decided to learn the language even though it's a bit late in life,” she says with her infectious enthusiasm. Having spent the first 35 years of her life in the city, she is immensely passionate about Dakhini Urdu. “The mithaas that is present in the language cannot be found anywhere. I am very proud to speak the language. The language has more character and depth,” says the quintessential Hyderabadi.
She agrees that from once being a national language, Urdu has become synonymous with the Muslims. She says the beauty and poetry of the language should not be restricted to any particular community and according to her, the best way to learn Urdu is by listening to old Hindi film songs. “The lyrics penned by Naushad, Kaifi Azmi are so beautiful and old songs have so many emotions in it. You don't seem to remember the songs that are composed today. In fact, I am going to teach Kaifi Azmi's poem Aurat to my little granddaughter,” she says.

During her stay in Mumbai, she was also associated with Mahila Dakshata Samiti and has extensively worked for the cause of underprivileged women and has strong opinion about women's rights. She is also associated with the NGO Apna Watan in an effort to promote communal harmony. “We formed the organisation after the 2002 Gujarat riots to promote communal harmony. It is disturbing to see communities so polarized especially when children are indoctrinated into religious ideology,” She explains that apart from explaining communal harmony among children, the group organises lecturers at different localities and colonies. “We have made Muslim women participate in Hindu weddings and being a part of the singing and mehendi functions to break barriers,” she says.

“During my growing up days, Hyderabad was a closed society. Women have so many choices now. We were quite cloistered and our every move was monitored. It was surprising how they could not monitor our dreams,” says Dilnaz Baig who has dedicated much of her time to promote education among girls especially through supporting the students of Safdaria Girls High School at Humayan Nagar. “There are two girls coming from very impoverished backgrounds from this school who have scored 96 percent in their board exams and one wants to become a doctor. We want to ensure that they don't drop out but continue with their education,” she says as she encourages girl students to study and become financially independent.

Full of stories from her younger days, one gets a glimpse of the old Hyderabad and her unmistakable sense of humour. While regaling with her stories she briefly enquires with her husband Murtuza Ali Baig about a senior citizen plan at the bank and he replies with a twinkle in his eye, “You are not a senior citizen yet.” The couple exudes a feeling of great comfort and friendship. Balancing a delectable plate of home-made sweets, she says, “accha toh apan kya baat kar rahe the,” and continues to narrate her many interesting memories.

Preserving history

“While attending a speech by Nani Palkhiwala (jurist and economist) at Mumbai, I had asked a question. After a speech a Parsi lady had come up to me and asked me whether I was from Mehboobia Girls High School and when I asked how did she figure that out she said ‘my dear the Mehboobia girls speaks in a manner which is easily recognisable,” narrates Dilnaz as she fondly recalls her school days. Saddened by the present condition of the school, she feels that government and local bodies should pay attention to preserve heritage buildings in Hyderabad which are under a state of neglect. “These historical buildings represent Hyderabad's rich cultural past and they need to be restored to preserve the heritage,” she says.

(Courtesy: The Hindu)

Women Entrepreneurs on the Rise in Egypt: How Heba Hosny Hopes to Fund Social Good

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | | Posted in , , , , ,

By Nina Curley

As Egyptians stage a sit-in in Tahrir to honor the anniversary of the uprisings that eventually ousted Hosni Mubarak last year, one entrepreneur is celebrating her birthday- and funneling newfound optimism into a social venture.

Heba Hosny, who won third prize in the Ideathon this past October at Arabnet Cairo, has been developing 7ala Wa7da, a crowdsourced donation platform for NGOs, that will highlight urgent cases within a limited time frame. The goal, she says, is to make donation simple, by showcasing only one or two cases at a time that demonstrate the most pressing issues in Egypt.
Hosny, a computer science graduate who now works at software startup Vimov, came up with the idea after working for 10 years in the non-profit world. Now she's married her passion for supporting small NGOs and socially-oriented startups with the limited-time model popularized by daily deals sites. "I was working on a group buying website when I realized that I wanted to adapt the model to raise funds for NGOs," she says.

It's not just NGOs that she's targeting, however. While she hopes to boost organizations that perform surgeries for needy people or help with education, she says, other cases are more personal.

"At one point, we were looking for a donation for a woman who is in jail essentially because she is a poor widow. She wanted her daughter to marry, but didn't have enough money. She borrowed money, but didn't have enough to pay merchants back. She's been in jail for four years. We wanted to free her by collecting the donation to cover her debt, which was around EGP 8000 (US$1300)."

Her story speaks to the plight of women in Egypt, whose current status in society may be in transition now as well. It remains to be seen how the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, which has won a majority of Parliament and elected its new speaker, will approach policies on women in the workforce.

Yet Hosny remains optimistic about the ability of women to become successful entrepreneurs in Egypt. Women-led teams took home most of the prizes at Arabnet Cairo in October, a trend she says is continuing at other events. "At Startup Weekend Alexandria, it was very noticeable that women had fantastic pitches."

Her team consists of two "awesome" girls, she says, designer Dalia and developer Badreesh, who work parttime on the project. As they've worked to bring NGOs onboard, they've met with support from family, co-workers, and mentors. "I initiated my idea at [previous employer] eSpace, where we could present independent ideas and receive helpful feedback from our managers," says Hosny.

She developed the idea further at Startup Weekend Alexandria, after which 7ala Wa7da also won social incubation with local accelerator Tahrir2, where they received advice from CEO Samer al Sahn. This November, the startup also made it to the final round of the GIST Competition at the Second Global Entrepreneurship Summit.

As 7ala Wa7da continues to evolve, it may expand to include funding for youth projects. For now, Hosny is sharing the support that galvanized her. "I like to push women to create businesses and contribute to the community, for all of us. It's time to give women a chance to present ideas. When we have a suitable chance, we deliver great ideas- not only delivering them, but winning."

While the struggle against corruption in Egypt may be a long fight, what's most important for Egypt's young entrepreneurs is that they now see possibilities, says Hosny. In the face of corruption, "We didn't believe in creating ideas before. But it's different now. We have hope, and this is the most important thing."

(Courtesy: Wamda.com)

Haj show seeks to lift veil on key Islamic ritual

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | | Posted in , , , ,

By Mike Collett-White

London: Billed as the first major exhibition devoted to the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, "Hajj: journey at the heart of Islam" at the British Museum aims to lift the veil on a ritual that is a mystery to many in the non-Muslim world.

Curators also said they hoped the show, which runs from January 26-April 15 at the London venue, would be visited by Muslims as well as non-Muslims who are not allowed to join the haj.
"People who don't believe in the religion of Islam aren't allowed (on the haj) and therefore know very little, but you'd be surprised how little Muslims know about the history of the haj also," said Qaisra Khan, co-curator of the exhibition.

"For me personally it's been a huge learning curve over the past two years," she told Reuters.
"In terms of the mystery surrounding the haj, I think we try and break the back of that in this exhibition so you learn a lot more about something you can't witness."

Pakistan-born Khan believed that its message of peace was particularly important because the outside world's image of the Middle East had been associated in recent years with violence and upheaval.

"If you look at the last five years, even if not the last 12 months, there is a lot about Islam and the Middle East in the press and it doesn't always get good press as we know.

"I think what the exhibition does is to talk about the one facet of Islam we don't know much about and that it's very much about peace."

The show takes visitors on a journey that starts with how Muslims prepare for the pilgrimage, including settling outstanding debts and asking for the forgiveness of others.

Many pilgrims also make wills before they depart, reflecting the belief that they should be prepared for the possibility they may not return home.


The exhibition traces some of the main routes Muslims have followed over the centuries to get to Mecca, including from Kufa, Cairo and Damascus, and seeks to explain some of the rituals associated with the haj.

It features recorded accounts of what the journey meant to Muslims around the world and includes loaned items from Saudi Arabia such as a "sitara" which covers the door of the Kaaba, the cube-shaped building at the centre of the Grand Mosque around which pilgrims must walk.
All Muslims who are physically able are required to perform the haj at least once, as one of the five pillars of Islam.

The British Museum displays the kinds of clothes pilgrims are expected to wear and the souvenirs they bring back.

One section showcases contemporary artists' interpretations of the haj, including Saudi Ahmed Mater's "Magnetism," in which tens of thousands of tiny iron filings form patterns around a central magnet that represents the Kaaba.

Among the individual tales told is that of Evelyn Cobbold, who wrote that she was the first European woman to take part in the haj.

Although never formally converted to Islam, she had long considered herself a Muslim and was granted permission to go on the pilgrimage in 1933.

Another Briton who earned considerable fame for his involvement in the haj was Richard Francis Burton, a 19th century soldier and explorer who disguised himself as an Afghan doctor and Sufi dervish in order to avoid detection.

He joined an Egyptian caravan to Mecca in 1853 and, despite several close scrapes, returned unscathed and wrote an account of his adventures in "A Personal Narrative of a Pilgrimage to Al-Medinah and Meccah."

(Courtesy: Reuters)

Islamic Bank of Britain launches ‘new banking experience’

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | | Posted in , , ,

By Chris Holland

The Islamic Bank of Britain has launched its first high street outlet in West Yorkshire with a new agency serving the Bradford district.

The move follows the recent appointment of Sohaib Hamid as business development manager for the region. The IBB agency, located within Reeds Rains Estate Agents on Northgate, Dewsbury, is one of six agencies being opened by the bank this year.

It will serve customers across the West Yorkshire region including Bradford, Leeds and Wakefield.

The opening will help IBB to meet a growing local demand for Sharia-compliant retail financial products of which it has the largest range in the UK, including a Sharia-compliant mortgage alternative, home purchase plans, savings accounts, personal and business banking, as well as pensions and investment products, in conjunction with partners.

Sultan Choudhury, IBB managing director, said: “IBB’s Dewsbury agency will provide a new banking experience for the residents of West Yorkshire. IBB is focused on serving the local community with a personal approach and becoming part of community life. Sohaib Hamid is already a familiar face among locals.

“With the Dewsbury IBB agency forming a high street presence for the bank, we have really underlined our commitment to the region.”

IBB has decided to open a network of agencies across the UK to extend its footprint and become more involved in local communities.

(Courtesy: The Telegraph & Argus, UK)

Mother Orientation Progamme held at New Delhi's Scholar School

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | | Posted in , , , ,

IMO News Service

New Delhi: The Scholar School organized an orientation programme especially for mothers of the students of the school on January 28, 2012.

Children of the Scholar School, New Delhi has presented sketches on the theme “Children should be treated with love and affection.”

The speakers, most of whom were the parents of the students, talked about the role of mothers in upbringing the children with school. They also shared their experiences with mothers and also encouraged them to do the efforts for the success of their children. The speakers included Dr. Haleem Sadiya (Head Mistress of Hamdard Public School, Okhla Branch), Mrs. Parveen (Director of Jamia Nursery) and Mrs. Tasneem Fatima.

Development of reading habits among students and many other problems faced by teachers dealing with students were discussed by Miss. Saima Akhtar.

The parents shared their experiences and gave suggestions for the development of school and students.

The School School organized the programme for the personality development of students and better performance in their studies, and spread awareness among the teachers and guardians. Not only this, the school also organizes sport competition, games, function and programme for personality development of students, teachers and parents.

Mrs. Parveen had a discussion over responsibility of mothers in Islam.

Mrs. Haleema Sadia elaborated about the physical fitness as well as mental development of the child.

The principal of the school Mrs. Nasima Khan gave vote of thanks to all the speakers, mothers, and the staff members of the school. The programme was concluded with dua by Mrs. Tasneem Fatima.

Union Govt. should strongly oppose Dow in London Olympics: Madhya Pradesh CM writes to PM

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | | Posted in , , , ,

By Pervez Bari

Bhopal: Expressing regret over not removing Dow Chemical as one of the sponsors of London Olympics 2012, Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Mr. Shivraj Singh Chouhan has written a letter to Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh urging him to register India's strong objection to it.
India should refuse to take part in the Olympics on the issue of the Olympics Organising Committee not removing Dow Chemicals. In this connection, Chief Minister Mr. Chouhan has drawn the attention of the Prime Minister towards the resignation of senior member of Sustainability Commission Ms Meredith Alexander.

He has written in the letter that Dow Chemicals' name is linked with Bhopal gas tragedy, which was worst industrial disaster in the world. Dow Chemical has been included as a sponsor of Olympics despite opposition by the people connected with human rights in the entire world. This cannot be accepted in any way.

Mr. Chouhan said that Dow Chemical is responsible for untimely death of lakhs of people in Bhopal gas tragedy. He said that earlier also he had apprised Union Sports Minister Mr. Ajay Maken about his feelings in this connection. Removal of Dow Chemical is necessary on moral ground in view of public sentiments, the letter said.

[Pervez Bari is a senior Journalist based at Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh. He is associated with IndianMuslimObserver.com as Bureau Chief (Madhya Pradesh). He can be contacted at pervezbari@eth.net]

OPINION: Fanatics and Heretics

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | | Posted in , , , ,

The RSS remains close-minded and intolerant

By Ramachandra Guha

In the early 1980s, while coming out of a Marxist phase, I came across The God that Failed, a collection of confessional essays by once hard-core communists who had left the party and renounced its creed. The book was rivetingly readable, in part because of the quality of the writing (Arthur Koestler, Ignazio Silone and Louis Fischer were among the contributors), in part because erstwhile fanatics are often the most insightful heretics. Thus Terry Eagleton and James Carroll have written penetrating accounts of the Catholic Church, a body that, as one-time aspirant priests, they knew inside-out. And there is now an increasing number of revealing memoirs by lapsed jihadis.

I was reminded of The God that Failed by a memoir of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh that I recently came across. Written in the 1970s by the economist, S.H. Deshpande, it was originally published in Marathi and later, in English, in the journal, Quest, under the title, “My Days in the RSS”.

Deshpande was born in 1925, in a village some 30 miles from Pune. He moved to the city in 1938, and joined the sangh shortly thereafter. Early in his apprenticeship, he attended lectures by the eminent Marathi littérateur, P.G. Sahasrabuddhe. Attracted by the commitment of RSS workers, Sahasrabuddhe began delivering lectures to their camps on topical themes, such as ‘capitalism’, ‘socialism’ and ‘fascism’. However, the experiment soon ran aground, as the scholar “felt suffocated in an atmosphere which shut off all free discussion”, and which “demanded unswerving loyalty to the [RSS] leader.” In a short period of time, Dr Sahasrabuddhe “had been thoroughly disillusioned with the anti-intellectual atmosphere of the RSS.”

Life in the shaka was dominated by physical exercise — drills, marches, and the life. The new entrant compared the morning exercises with the traditional dances of rural Maharashtra. The former was more of a drill, the latter an intoxicating experience, recalled Deshpande: “The RSS lezim tended to be more mechanical and though it had vigour, there was no ecstasy in it.”

“A notable feature of camp life”, remembered Deshpande, was “the alarm that might be sounded at the dead of night to warn you of the impending attack of the ‘enemy’. You then jumped out of the bed, got into your uniform in about a couple of minutes and made a dash for the parade ground.” The sound of the alarm was “indeed frightening. It seemed to shout in your ears, ‘Get up, get up! The whole camp has caught fire!’”

Deshpande had been told that the RSS was a revolutionary outfit fighting to get rid of the foreigners. Hence his surprise that “when the Quit India movement gathered momentum [in 1942], the RSS remained a passive onlooker. In one of the theory classes this isolation was justified on the ground that neither the RSS nor the country was yet strong enough to overthrow the foreign yoke. The speaker told us that all the blood that was being spilled in the firings was in vain!”

Many years later, while looking back on his time in the sangh, Deshpande concluded that the main achievement of the organization was “the sense of unity and brotherhood the RSS was successful in creating in the minds of its adherents. True, this is confined to the Hindus, but the fact cannot be overlooked that in spite of its Maharashtrian parentage, the RSS is wholly devoid of any chauvinistic Maharashtrianism.... In fact, the easy camaraderie amongst its volunteers, be they Tamils, Bengalis, Maharashtrians or Punjabis, is its most heartening feature.”

On the other hand, “even a second-rate intellectualism had no place in the RSS scheme of things.” The anti-intellectualism of the sangh, recalled this former member, was responsible “for the utter vacuousness of the speeches that were delivered at the meetings misnamed theory classes.” For one thing, the speaker was chosen “not so much for his erudition as for the rank he occupied in the RSS hierarchy. So long as he merely mouthed sentimental platitudes, you found him at least bearable. But the moment he sought to give a theoretical basis to his arguments, he would stand exposed. This consisted of clichés like ‘Hindustan belongs to the Hindus’, ‘The Saffron flag is our National flag’, ‘One Nation, One Leader’, which would be repeated ad nauseam.”

Sometimes the speaker himself found the slogan-mongering wearying. Then he would instead “evoke the ‘glorious’ past of the Hindus, or ridicule the democratic polity, or find fault with the Indian National Congress because it was ‘founded by the British’. The discipline of the Germans and the Italians would be extolled....” Listening to all this, Deshpande “searched in vain for any rational or original thought in all this demagogy.”

The RSS “combined this intellectual poverty with intolerance of criticism.” The economist grimly remembered that in his years in the sangh, “at least three Marathi authors were physically assaulted for writing articles which were critical of the RSS philosophy.”

The sangh was close-minded in general, but, remarked Deshpande, it was “vis-à-vis the Muslims that this intolerance of the RSS acquired sharp edge.... [T]he image of a Muslim in the mind of an RSS volunteer is often extremely bizarre. An intellectual friend of mine, who like me has now left the RSS, only grudgingly concedes that a Muslim too could be a well-educated, cultured and soft-spoken person. He cannot yet get rid of the equation, ‘a Muslim = a dagger’!”

There have, in recent years, been a series of closely researched books on the sangh parivar by Indian and Western scholars. However, to my mind the best book on the RSS remains that written by D.R. Goyal, who — like S.H. Deshpande —was a once fervent swayamsevak who later left the organization. In a passage of striking clarity, Goyal sums up the ideology of the sangh as follows: “Hindus have lived in India since time immemorial; Hindus are the nation because all culture, civilization and life is contributed by them alone; non-Hindus are invaders or guests and cannot be treated as equal unless they adopt Hindu traditions, culture etc...; the history of India is the history of the struggle of the Hindus for protection and preservation of their religion and culture against the onslaught of these aliens; the threat continues because the power is in the hands of those who do not believe in this nation as a Hindu Nation; those who talk of national unity as the unity of all those who live in this country are motivated by the selfish desire of cornering minority votes and are therefore traitors; the unity and consolidation of the Hindus is the dire need of the hour because the Hindu people are surrounded on all sides by enemies; the Hindus must develop the capacity for massive retaliation and offence is the best defence; lack of unity is the root cause of all the troubles of the Hindus and the Sangh is born with the divine mission to bring about that unity.”

Goyal adds that “without fear of contradiction it can be stated that nothing more than this has been said in the RSS shakhas during the past 74 years of its existence.” Goyal was writing in 1999 — but nothing more has been said in those shakas in the past 13 years either.

[Ramchandra Guha can be contacted at ramachandraguha@yahoo.in]

(Courtesy: The Telegraph, Kolkata)

M.O.H. Farook: A long innings in power & politics

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | | Posted in , , ,

Puducherry: Kerala governor and former chief minister of Puducherry M.O.H. Farook — who died at a private hospital in Chennai yesterday — had a long innings in politics and power, holding also the posts of Speaker, Union minister, ambassador of India in Saudi Arabia and the gubernatorial post in Jharkhand at various times.

The 74-year-old Congress leader was an astute administrator and contributed much to the development of Puducherry during his three terms as chief minister.

Beginning his career as a Congress volunteer in his early student days, he had the rare privilege of winning all the elections he contested in his life-time. He was chief minister of Puducherry for the first time between April 1967 and March 1968 when he was in the Congress.

Farook subsequently went over to the DMK in 1968 following the developments leading to the capture of power by the party in Tamil Nadu the next year.

He, however, returned to the Congress and contested the elections in 1974 as a Congress nominee. He served as Opposition leader, when the AIAMDK formed the government for the first time.

He abstained from political battle for three years from 1977 but was chiefly instrumental in formulating political strategies with a view to widening the Congress sway among the people.

He had the credit of providing a stable government in Puducherry. He headed a Congress government in 1985 which lasted in office for its full term till 1990.

After winning the Lok Sabha seat from Puducherry in 1991 (he won the seat also in 1996 and 1999), Farook became Union minister of state for civil aviation. He was chiefly responsible for laying the foundation of Puducherry airport.

Farook served as Speaker in late 1960's and in 1980. He was the youngest Speaker when he adorned the office in 1968. Such was his style of functioning that he never developed enmity with any political functionary including those in the Opposition.

When he was out of political activity, he groomed his son M.O.H.F. Shahjahan who contested from Lawspet in the 2001 and 2006 polls.

He has been hailed as the kingmaker of Puducherry politics. So much so, whenever the Congress there faced a political crisis, they would turn to Farook for a solution.

Farook held posts with distinction: CM

Chief Minister Oommen Chandy led the state in condoling the demise of Governor M.O.H Farook.

The chief minister, speaker G. Karthikeyan and KPCC president Ramesh Chennithala were among the prominent leaders from the state who attended the burial in Puducherry.

Besides, several senior civil and police officials and Raj Bhavan officials also paid their last respects.Chandy said the death was a great loss for the State and the nation.

Farook had held several posts with distinction during the five decades of his public life. State ministers and prominent leaders condoled the death.

A public holiday had been declared for the day, as the state mourned the death.

Governor who had the shortest tenure

M.O.H Farook had the shortest tenure as Governor of the state — four months.

A total of 19 governors occupied the Kerala Raj Bhavan since the state formation in 1956. 

Farook took charge in September, 2011. Even during his short term, he had to deal with a couple of controversial issues confronting the state including the Mullaperiyar dam controversy and the KC(B) leader R Balakrishna Pillai's alleged violation of jail norms.

Farook was also the second governor in the state to pass away while in office - the first being Sikander Bakht.

Farook's swearing-in ceremony in September will always be remembered as one of the most colourful events in the Raj Bhavan.

Apart from the traditional bouquets and ponnada, the Raj Bhavan hall was flooded with people carrying silky and shining shawls, providing a colorful Tamil touch to the ceremony. A large number of his admirers from Puducherry and Tamil Nadu turned up for the swearing-in, indicative of his popularity there.

Very few knew that Farook, a devout Muslim, used to pray at the mosque located inside the Police Training College, Thycaud, every Friday. Days after taking over as the governor, Farook also paid a visit to the Beemapally Dargah Sharif and offered prayers there.

(Courtesy: Deccan Chronicle)

India Shining - Bharat Drowning

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | 28 January 2012 | Posted in , , , ,

By Syed Ali Mujtaba

India celebrated its sixty third republic day on January 26, 2012. Like every year, this time too, a grand show was organized at the historic Rajpath in New Delhi to commemorate the occasion. The pomp and gaiety that marked the occasion showcased India’s laurels in many spheres of activities.

Almost all the TV channels gave a chronological description to this date, India’s progress from January 26, 1950 when India adopted its constitution and became a republic.
However, the positive blushes may pale into a big grin when we hear that our fifteen-year-old students who were put for the first time on a global stage and tested for their reading, math and science abilities, stood second to last, only beating Kyrgyzstan.

The results of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Secretariat's Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), ranked India 72nd out of 73 countries.

The PISA results are based on data collected from some 500,000 students undergoing two hour tests conducted annually that evaluates the education systems worldwide. The tests are meant to conduct comparative analyses, across vast international contexts, of 15-year-old students for "reading, mathematical and scientific literacy.

The 2011 survey reports that China’s Shanghai province scored the highest in reading and also topped the charts in mathematics and science.

China has been on top for last several years and it seems the country's youngsters are unbeatable and are far ahead than their counterparts.

The survey noted that more than one-quarter of Shanghai's 15 year olds demonstrated advance mathematical thinking skills to solve complex problems, compared to an OECD average of just 3 per cent.

India’s participants came from Tamil Nadu and Himachal Pradesh that showcased India’s education and development, but fared miserably at the PISA test.
According to the OECD report, the average 15-year-old Indian is over 200 points behind the global topper.

Comparing scores, it’s estimated that an Indian eighth grader is at the level of a South Korean third grader in math abilities or a second-year student from Shanghai when it comes to reading skills.

In case of scientific literacy levels Tamil Nadu students had very mean score that was below the means of all OECD countries, but better than Himachal Pradesh.

According to report, in Himachal Pradesh, 11 per cent of students are estimated to have a proficiency in reading literacy that is at or above the baseline level needed to participate effectively and productively in life. It follows that 89 per cent of students in Himachal are estimated to be below that baseline level.

Experts are unsure if selecting these two states was a good idea for India to participate at the PISA programme.

Tamil Nadu and Himachal Pradesh rank high on human development indicators among Indian states. The India Human Development Report 2011, prepared by the Institute of Applied Manpower Research (IAMR), categorized them as “median” states, putting them significantly ahead of the national average.

The fact is that not the USA, UK, France or any other developed country from Europe or America that tops the PISA list in the consecutive years but it is the Asian countries that mostly on top this standard education test. China, South Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan and UAE are far better than India.

This shows that an image of a world divided neatly into rich and well-educated countries and poor and badly-educated countries is a myth. The fact is that economic development and education are not congruent to each other and the two has little in common.

There is another fallacy in this story. While national income and educational achievement are still related; the PISA result show that the two countries, India and China with similar levels of prosperity can produce very different results when it comes to the educational assessment of its school children.

This brings to another presupposition can India aspire to compete with China for Asian supremacy, when the stark reality is its educational standard is way below the expectation to meet Chinese standards.

According to the census 2011, India has 74.04 per cent total literacy (82.12 % males and 65.46 % females). It's a proud moment for a country which has started from 20 per cent national literacy rate in 1950 and now racing towards 100 per cent target.

However, when we put our proud achievement to the global test then the fact that comes to hunt us as bad dreams is the poor educational standard of the country.

Prior to this participation in 2003, students from Indian states of Orissa and Rajasthan took a similar test called “Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS)” and produced similar results. TIMSS is another standardized international test.

The 2003 TIMSS study ranked India at 46 among 51 countries. Indian students' score was 392 versus average of 467 for the group. These results were contained in a Harvard University report titled "India Shining and Bharat Drowning".

In the second most populous nation on the planet, with the second biggest educational system in the world, it seems that the preferred way to bring clarity to a massive, murky educational landscape would be to let statistics paint the picture cleanly and efficiently.

However, to keep the subject in perspective the Indian context is so complex, so multi-dimensional, that trying to understand its depth merely through a numbered tale is not just silly, but detrimental to our ability to work on fixing what's wrong.

The two-hour tests cutting across vast socio-economic, linguistic, and ethnic divides tell us little of the context-specific literacy practices from those areas.

There are many discrepancies in the test itself that were disadvantaging for the Indian students. In many ways it actually did not really comprehend the actual knowledge of our students.
What we end up then are overbroad characterizations of how poorly Indian education is doing, on the basis of large-scale data collection that doesn't tell what's actually going on in the classrooms.

This isn't to say that PISA is useless and the data is sheer garbage. The statistics definitely tells us some hard facts about our own educational system. Clearly, India have to ramp up its efforts and get serious about what goes on in its schools as better educational outcomes are a strong predictor for future economic growth.

[Syed Ali Mujtaba is a Journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at syedalimujtaba@yahoo.com]

Dissolve ethics panel of BMHRC, demands Ms Sadhna Karnik; Bhopal gas survivors term LOCOG CEO’s statement as shameful

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | | Posted in , , , ,

By Pervez Bari

Bhopal: Ms Sadhna Karnik, convener of Bhopal Gas Peedit Sangharsh Sahyog Samiti, (BGPSSS), has demanded the Director General of Indian Council of Medical Research, (ICMR), to dissolve ethics committee of Bhopal Memorial Hospital & Research Centre, (BMHRC), which allegedly failed to curb drug trials, during his proposed visit to the hospital here on Sunday..

In a letter to Director General ICMR, Samiti convener Ms Sadhna, who is working among the survivors and victims of the 1984 Bhopal Gas Tragedy, the world’s worst industrial catastrophe, said that the ethical committee of BMHRC has allegedly failed to curb the unethical drug trials on gas victims, bungling of funds meant for their treatment and gross management at the hospital led to closure of some important departments at BMHRC. As such she said that the ethics committee should be dissolved for failing to meet its obligation. She has requested the Director General ICMR to grant her time to apprise him of the affairs in the hospital.

Meanwhile, the five Bhopal NGOs (Non-Government Organizations), working for the welfare of survivors and victims, have slammed the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, (LOCOG), Chief Executive Officer Mr. Paul Deighton’s statement as extremely shameful because it continues to spread the same lie which Dow Chemical wants everyone to believe that it faces no liability for Bhopal disaster.

In a press statement issued here NGOs said that through its purchase of Union Carbide in 2001, Dow Chemical has inherited the criminal, civil and environmental liabilities of Union Carbide in Bhopal. They said that by having this corporation as a sponsor the LOCOG was encouraging it to continue to evade its liabilities in Bhopal. It is absolutely incorrect to say that Dow Chemical has paid compensation to Bhopal gas victims.

The statement said that Dow Chemical has paid compensation to victims of Union Carbide in the USA after it took over the company, but in the Indian Supreme Court it is refusing to honour liabilities to pay additional compensation to Bhopal victims. Ms Rashida Bee of Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Stationary Karmchari Sangh said that Ms Meredith Alexander’s resignation is a clear indication that LOCOG has decided to shut his ears and eyes to Dow Chemical’s outstanding Bhopal liabilities. The least LOCOG could do is give a fair and patient hearing to Bhopal gas survivors organization who can present facts on Dow Chemical’s liability in Bhopal.
It may be pointed out here that Sustainability Commissioner to the London 2012 Olympics, Ms Meredith Alexander, had quit on Thursday (January 26, 2012) in protest of the sponsorship deal with the Dow Chemical Company for its connection to the Bhopal gas disaster. Ms Alexander was appointed by Mayor of London Boris Johnson to monitor the LOCOG. Ms Alexander, head of trade and corporate at the charity Action Aid told the Commission for a Sustainable London 2012 that she could no longer remain in the unpaid post given LOCOG's refusal to end the association. She was one of 13 commissioners.

Meanwhile, Ms Safreen Khan of Children Against Dow-Carbide held Dow Chemical responsible for the contamination of ground water in her community. She pointed out that because of Dow Chemical’s refusal to clean up the hazardous waste left by Union Carbide factory, 40000 people are routinely exposed to cancer and birth defect causing chemicals. She said that by allowing Dow Chemical as a sponsor Mr. Deighton was encouraging Dow to continue to poison the unborn.

Sponsorship by a criminal corporation such as Dow Chemical is against the very spirit of Olympics. Mr. Deighton is not only doing a disservice to the Bhopal victims, he is betraying all who are part of the Olympic movement”, she added.

Bhopal survivors also lashed out at Indian government for protecting the interest of Dow Chemical. Ms Rachna Dhingra of Bhopal Group for Information & Action said that Indian government needs to send a strong message to the International Olympic Committee and LOCOG that it will not take part in London Olympics if Dow Chemical’s sponsorship is not revoked. Government of India is also protecting Dow’s interest by not correcting figures of death and injury in the upcoming curative petition on additional compensation in the Supreme Court, she said.

Bhopal survivors again thanked Ms Meredith’s Alexander for her solidarity. They also hoped that after the Ms Alexander’s resignation Indian government will find its backbone and hopefully it will stand with the survivors of the world’s worst industrial disaster.

It may be recalled here that 40 tones of methyl isocyanate, (MIC – a highly volatile toxic chemical), gas spewed out from the pesticide plant – owned by Union Carbide India Limited, (UCIL), a subsidiary of Union Carbide Corporation (UCC), USA – in the intervening night of December 2-3, 1984. The gas leak killed 3,000 people instantly and more than 25,000 over the years and inflicting grievous injuries on countless others. Many were deformed for life and many children born with the toxic effect are sick and with congenital malformations. It also affected 100,000 people that night and estimates are that more than 500,000 continue to suffer till date.

[Pervez Bari is a senior Journalist based at Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh. He is associated with IndianMuslimObserver.com as Bureau Chief (Madhya Pradesh). He can be contacted at pervezbari@eth.net]

Islamic Finance doing well, up 20% in Gulf

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | | Posted in , , ,

But Sharia limits expansion in the world

Dubai: Islamic finance has increased exponentially in the last decade, with transactions worth more than one billion billion dollars in 2011, but is yet to pass the 1% mark in global financial movements, because of a series of internal issues that see the system trapped between Sharia law, upon which it is based, and economic laws governing international markets.

Islamic finance assets in the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region increased by 416 billion dollars in 2010, a cumulative annual increase of 20% against growth of less than 9% for traditional banks, according to the Oxford Business Group's recently presented Abu Dhabi 2011 report.

The most solid markets are those in Arab gulf states and Malaysia but the Islamic model has at least 310 Islamic finance institutes operating in more than 75 countries. After making an appearance in such fabled centres of the western economy as the City of London, Islamic banking has also arrived in China, where the Beijing government has just approved the licence for the first Islamic finance institute.

"Growth is growing because of the emphasis on ethical principles, the constant commitment towards transparency and the application of the principles of mutual benefits for all sides in financial operations," says Tirad Mahmoud, the chief executive of the Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank (ADIB), commenting the presentation of the report.

Yet despite international interest, a day of talks at the Emirati centre for strategic studies has shown that Islamic finance still faces a number of challenges, beginning with internal issues.
Fatwas, the Islamic rulings which govern the sector, vary from bank to bank and sometimes contradict one another and delay the process of growth, as some institutes adopt financial instruments that others consider illegal, the economist Mohammad Al Asoumi explains. From the outside, the Islamic principle of sharing profits and losses clashes with the practice of adjusting interest rates in line with those of London's Interbank Offered Rate. The problem is already being studied in the banks' various fatwa offices but, as analysts admit, a solution is difficult to find as the Islamic banking system cannot be set aside from the international sector.

(Courtesy: ANSAmed)

Shariah in America: Not What You Think It Is

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | | Posted in , , , ,

A Personal Inside-Out

By Abdul Malik Mujahid

When some American pundits call Shariah, "a growing threat to the United States," Muslim Americans wonder what in the world are they talking about.

You might have seen a government-required sign at a McDonald's restroom telling employees to wash their hands. Muslims do this as a part of living their faith, which is part of Shariah. The Prophet Muhammad also encouraged Muslims to wash their hands before and after eating. Muslim parents raise their children on many such manners. The first chapter in almost all books on Shariah is about morals and manners of cleanliness, which Prophet Muhammad said is half of the faith. God's peace and blessings be upon him.

When Muslims begin anything they say, "In the name of God," that is Shariah, too. When they greet each other, they smile and say, "Assalamu Alaikum" (peace be with you), and that is Shariah. Similarly, when Muslims take short breaks five times a day to pray, this is another example of practicing Shariah. Prayer is normally the second chapter in almost all books about Shariah.

Shariah does not present a comprehensive list of pure foods and drinks, although it prohibits ten or twelve things and declares everything else to be Halal or lawful to consume. If Muslims cannot find Halal food, they often eat vegetarian or kosher food. This is all Shariah.

When you see a Muslim woman wearing a headscarf and a loose dress, or a Muslim man with a head covering or beard, they are likely following Shariah manners of dress. When in a marriage sermon you hear the Qur’an recited about piety, loyalty to each other, and God's advice for clear communication between spouses, that is a Shariah wedding.

Muslims often avoid taking out mortgages due to the Shariah prohibition on Riba (usury/interest). This has led to the establishment of the worldwide Islamic financial industry and Dow Jones Islamic Market Indexes. The latter selects companies that don't deal in weapons, pornography, gambling, tobacco, or alcohol, etc. These investments are similar to 30 other "faith-based" investment options, like the Catholic Values Index. These are examples of the practice of Shariah in the realm of business.

All of the above are real-life examples of the totality of Shariah as practiced by the observant among the close to six million Muslims in America and the 3,000 formal Muslim congregations in America.

Muslim Americans include doctors, entrepreneurs, professors, cab drivers, and the geek fixing your computer. Their service to their communities is also an example of practicing Shariah.

The Shariah that Muslim Americans Don't Practice

There are parts of Shariah that Muslim Americans don't implement in their daily lives.
Since Muslims ran a civilization for over a thousand years, they naturally developed a body of laws to deal with governing society. These laws deal with issues ranging from fighting neighborhood crime to international laws of war and peace. Muslim Americans don't practice these laws since they deal with the realm of government and state. Shariah emphasizes that the rule of law in a society must be implemented by the state. It considers vigilantism a major crime and a sin. Therefore, Shariah prohibits Muslims from practicing this part of Islam on an individual basis.

The Qur’an, like the Old Testament, is not limited to only the Ten Commandments, all of which except for the commandment to keep the Sabbath are to be found in parallel statements in the Qur’an. Like the Torah (Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, Leviticus and Deuteronomy), it ordains punishments for serious crimes. Unfortunately, it is this penal law that many people wrongly think is exclusively Shariah. This is incorrect.

It is true that Islamic criminal law has been at times implemented harshly, and even wrongly, by some Muslims. Such an application of Islamic criminal law is void of God's mercy, which is considered His primary attribute in Islam. However, those nations or groups that do this do not speak for all Muslims, nor do they speak for the prophet of mercy, Prophet Muhammad, who would turn his face away when a person confessed his or her crimes. This was to give them room for repentance and forgiveness.

About five countries among the 56 Muslim nations worldwide implement Islamic criminal laws. Virtually none of them implement Shariah in its totality in all spheres of life. Their laws are a combination of local custom and precedent in that particular country, as well as remnants of laws brought by European colonial powers that ruled those countries.

The primary purpose of Shariah is to preserve life and order in society, not to incarcerate and punish. However, many in the Muslim world who are sick and tired of corruption and injustice demand that the criminal laws of Islam be implemented in their countries. However, this is not what Muslims in America are demanding. Their practice of Shariah is limited to the personal sphere.

Shariah is Neither One nor Static

Shariah is not one monolithic body or a codified book of comprehensive law.
Shariah is based on the Qur’an and the teachings of Prophet Muhammad, but not all of Shariah is God's word. A good part of Shariah is made up of human contributions.

There are literally hundreds and thousands of books written in the last 1,400 years, in multiple languages in places as diverse as Timbuktu in Africa to Bukhara in Central Asia, with millions of opinions, judicial reviews, etc. on various issues. Together, they form the body of Shariah.
Shariah Continues to Evolve

A recent development, for example, is a Shariah discipline called Islamic Economics and Finance. It now commands a trillion dollar market, thousands of scholarly works, graduate programs, and the establishment of Shariah boards at hundreds of Muslim and non-Muslim owned banks. This exercise in Shariah is essentially a human contribution of the last 50 years, aiming to offer Muslims guidance on how to invest and conduct their financial transactions in a modern economy in line with their principles as believers.

Throughout history, Islam has cherished debates. An important early Islamic debate that continues today was between traditionalists and rationalists over whether the universal principles of God's law were to be known by revelation or reason or both.

These debates have resulted in dozens of schools of thought in Islam.

Is Shariah a Threat to America?

When some American pundits call Shariah, "a growing threat to the United States," Muslim Americans wonder what in the world are they talking about. Shariah is overwhelmingly concerned with personal religious observance, not with constitutions and laws. All observant Muslims practice Shariah. Defining Shariah as a threat, therefore, is the same thing as saying that all observant Muslims are a threat.

To understand Shariah is to understand Islam. Criminalizing Shariah will criminalize the practice of Islam in America.

Shariah mandates that Muslims respect the law of the land. It is also against Shariah to impose it on anyone. Muslim Americans are subject to the same laws and constitution as any other American.

Shariah is in some ways similar to the Jewish Halacha law or Catholic canon law, with similar historic roots but far less complex. Unlike Jewish Halacha law, which is practiced in Jewish American courts called Beth Din, there is no Muslim court system in the United States, nor is the Muslim community demanding this.

[Abdul Malik Mujahid is the Chair of the Council for a Parliament of the World Religions.]

(Courtesy: OnIslam.net)

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