Narendra Modi and Ram Leela

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | 21 November 2013 | Posted in , , , ,

By Syed Ali Mujtaba

The RSS has created a new Ram for the Indians to worship. His hanuman is Amit Shah. The duo had staged one Ram Leela or rasleea, the skeletons of which is tumbling out of the cupboard, which they are finding it hard to keep back and shut the doors.

Those who are not familiar with this story, let me put this in perspective. A young lady called Mansi Soni, befriended Gujarat Chief Minister and she was snooped by his acquaintance, the reasons of it is shrouded in mystery.

Ms. Soni hails from Bangalore and was selected as the landscape architect for the development of Bhuj city in the Kutch district of Gujarat. It’s since then she came in proximity with the Gujarat Chief Minister and the story begins.

It appears that one Pradeep Sharma who was once collector of Kutch district and now victimized by the Gujarat Government has filed a petition in the court alleging that Ms Soni had developed intimate relations with Chief Minister Narendra Modi.

The fact of the intimacy is confirmed by the petitioner who saw them in close proximity and overheard their conversation during one of the official functions.

Subsequently, according to Pradeep Sharma, Ms. Soni confide to him that when she called Modi in his office, he would freely interrupt scheduled meetings, walking out of his office in order to speak to her privately……

One may believe this story or not but the fact remains that it has been submitted to the court and let it cast it judgement on it.

How does this connected with the surveillance issue that is hogging limelight now? Well the lady in question is none other but Ms Soni, mentioned in Pradeep Sharma’s petition. The stalking incident actually took place in August-September 2009, when Amit Shah was holding junior Home Minster’s portfolio of Gujarat.

A sting operation jointly conducted by two media outlet has produced audio tapes that reveal that the illegal surveillance of Ms Soni was ordered by Amit Shah at the behest of his ‘Saheb’ Narendra Modi.

The Anti-Terrorist Squad of Gujarat carried out month long minute to minute tracking, surveillance, stalking and phone tapping of this young lady.

The orders given by Amit Shah clearly come out from recorded conversations captured in the audio tapes that are submitted to the court handling Ishrat Jhan encounter case.

Prima facie facts that emerge out is that Narendra Modi through Amit Shah did order and carry out the most brazen, unauthorized and illegal stalking activity in the country.

Why did he do so? What was the motive behind it? The nation is seeking answers to it ever since this story broke out. This is more so because the common man want to know the motive before making choice for the Prime Minister of the country.

The BJP line of defence is this was done to ‘give protection to the girl,’ but this argument needs scrutiny. First of all why protection was need at all, from whom the girl felt threats? Even if we buy the protection argument, then a police jeep could have been sufficient for security, what was the need for stalking and that too for more than a month?

The father of the girl has come out with a statement that his daughter does not wish for an investigation into the politically charged controversy and has claimed that the surveillance was mounted on her with her consent.

There are two threads to this argument, one desisting from an investigation, and other to take on the blame. Both arguments seems to be of dubious and do not live up to the test of reasons.

The third argument is built by Madhu Kishwar, one time feminist writer, now doing public relations for Narendra Modi, calling Ms Soni a terrorist. She justifies the stalking that was done to check her credentials.

Well can terrorist be a landscape architect, who goes through the rigmarole of competing through open tender and wins the contract of Bhuj city’s beautification. Suppose, if she was not selected for the project, then was she still stalked?

This brings us to the last motive and that is Ram Leela or Rasleela of Narendra Modi. The 63 year old bachelor has gained notoriety for making livid comments on women. He had called Sonia Gandhi ‘Burhia’ (old lady) and Shashi Tharoor's wife, a 'Rs 50 cr girlfriend.' Even though unrelated, these comments point figures and his character. The Prime Minister in waiting has to come clean on the “character dhela hai” apprehension of the people of this country.

This episode also reflects the style of functioning of Narendra Modi. He is known for taking decisions that has resulted in post Godhara riots and fake encounters. Can India be handed over to someone who goes by his whims and fancies to run the administration of his state?

There is more than what the eyes can read in this story. The truth about this chilling instance of state-sponsored stalking must be known. The audio tapes clearly prove that illegal state sponsored surveillance of a young female had taken place. If that’s the case, then the stalkers, who are now equated with the rapist, in this case would find its place in the same category? If proven guilty what would be the quantum of their punishment?

It’s high time that the conspiracy of silence in this case should be broken. The patriarchal defence do not hold ground in such a case. The adult woman or the man in the dock should make the motives clear and bring the real truth in public domain. If they cannot do so, then an independent inquiry should be ordered to unravel the mysteries surrounding it.

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

'Indian Muslim Women remain unrepresented and unheard even after 60 years of Independence'

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | 09 November 2013 | Posted in , , , , , ,

By Dr. Shabistan Gaffar

Sixty years after independence also the Indian Muslim women have remained unrepresented and unheard. The Sachar Committee appointed by the Prime Minister established the fact of poverty and socio-economic exclusion of the largest minority in recent decades. Although the report is sympathetic to Muslim women, it does not have detailed analysis of the condition and issues faced by them. Women in every community are victim of neglect, discrimination and some of the other form of injustice. This is true for Muslim women too. However, as has been pointed out by many perceptive observers, Muslim women constitute “Minority within minority”. The lot of the poorer section of Muslim women is far worse.

In today's fast changing society the rights of women is at stake and their position has become very much vulnerable. The balance between the rights of women and its protection and her family and social responsibilities is totally disturbed. Women have to play role in society, family and country. They are to be made to fulfil the responsibilities as daughter, sister, mother, wife, daughter in law and as a citizen of the country.

If we talk about overall empowerment of women in India, since the country became independent in 1947, the democratic government has tried to introduce measures to empower women, yet the expected measure of success has not occurred due to reasons like, bureaucratic delays, political compulsions, social and cultural constraints and the continuing poverty of the masses. Obtaining some measures of economic self sufficiency and independence is prerequisite to any advancement of women at social, cultural and political level.

The silver lining in the cloudy sky has been the development of several grass roots movements initiated by women themselves, especially those from the lower section of society.

No, less important than the government’s initiatives are society own mutually caring and cooperative actions which strengthen the ethos of social harmony and inter-dependence, exclusive thinking, exclusive concerns and excessive reliance on exclusive policies can never lead to inclusive development. Much less will it promote social and national integration, which must form the bed rode of both government and societal effort for inclusive development.

Yet another shortcoming in the debate and governmental and action that followed the Sachar report is that the problems and concerns of Muslim women have been largely bypassed. Grossly inadequate attention has been paid to the condition of Muslim women, their socio-economic and educational backwardness, and the efforts needed to bring them into nation’s development mainstream.

Muslims lag behind in education which is largely responsible for most of the problems faced by the community. If women of the community are educated, things would change as women are the axis of Indian families. Muslim women could reform the whole family moreover this will help her in protection of her rights and controlling crimes against women.

The educational and economic backwardness in which community lives make it necessary for policy makers to take urgent steps to alleviate this condition. The greater of multiple exclusion of women calls for a thorough analysis leading to understanding of their need and issues followed by multi-prolonged action to make a change the destination is equal citizenship of Muslim women in principle and in reality as guaranteed by the Constitution of India. The recent census of India has brought out a positive fact about the sex ration in the Muslim community being better than most other socio-religious communities. There is need to build further on this positive trend by paying equal attention to the education of girls and health and nutrition for the girl children and the mothers.

Apart from health care and nutrition, girls need opportunities for higher education, they need safety and security in order to access education of their choice. They need support and encouragement at home and in the community to realize their full potential as human beings. It calls for policy measures and financial allocations by the government apart from a supportive atmosphere in the family. Educated and empowered girls can be the change agents for an empowered community in the future. Social empowerment in general and women empowerment in particular is very fundamental in achieving such kind of goals.

Territory education is especially important so that women can move into positions of political, economical and social leadership. It is well known that Muslim women are home based working women, the Sachar Committee too endorsed this finding. There are women who missed out on education opportunities but are nevertheless working informally and out of homes. They work for very low wages and often in hazardous activities like beedi making and other activities posing hazard to eyes, lungs and skin.

They mostly underpaid or unpaid and exploited by middlemen. These women need support, mechanism at multiple levels beginning with skill training, skill upgradation, marketing support and financial support etc.

In fact, the voluntary organizations and experts faces lot of challenges in their work for empowerment of Muslim women. The work must happen at various levels, apart from continuous advocacy and campaigning for governmental accountability. They face the challenge of correcting and building understanding and perspective in the community society.

[Dr. Shabistan Gaffar is Chairperson, Committee on Girls Education,National Commission for Minority Educational Institutions,Government of India. She can be contacted at committeeongirlseducation@gmail.com]

India’s Foreign Policy Rhetorical Shift

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

By Syed Ali Mujtaba

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has outlined five priorities of Indian foreign policy that his government has evolved during its nine years of rule to firm up India's place in changing world order.

The Indian Prime Minister claimed that his government has reset the fundamentals of India’s foreign policy based on national priorities and concerns in concert with its capabilities and role and destiny in the world affairs.

First, international relations are increasingly shaped by our developmental priorities and the single most important objective of Indian foreign policy is to create a global environment conducive to the well-being of our country.

Second, India should integrate more closely with the global economy because it has benefited from globalization.

Third, India seeks stable, long term and mutually beneficial relations with all countries and is prepared to work with the international community to create a global economic and security environment beneficial to all nations.

Fourth, "Indian subcontinent's shared destiny requires greater regional cooperation and connectivity."

Fifth, "Our foreign policy is not defined merely by our interests, but also by the values which are very dear to our people.”

There is sub text in all the five points enumerated by the Prime Minister as his fundamentals of India’s foreign policy.

As far as his first point on creating global environment conducive for India, Prime Minister meant, he wants to create a global economic and security environment as India's relations with the world were increasingly shaped by its developmental priorities.

His second point is on globalization and likes India to integrate with global economy as our country would benefit a lot by greater integration with the world economy.

His third point maintaining long term relationship with all nations so that international community can freely invest in India and help in country's developmental activities.

His fourth point is lays emphasis on regionalism in recognition that the sub-continent's common destiny requires greater regional cooperation and connectivity. He likes India to strengthen regional institutional capability and capacity and invest in connectivity.

His fifth point on vales meant India's experiment of pursuing economic development should not be mercantilist but based on values. He defined India's core values as plural, secular and liberal democracy. He opinioned these values have inspired people around the world and would continue to do so. He would like India to align with such countries that espouse these values.

When we apply these five point objectives in the context of what India wish to achieve and where does it see itself in the changing world order, then the stark realities glares at our face.

The first foreign policy objective of creating global environment for developmental activities in the country does not sink with the domestic conditions prevailing for development in our country. The government policy of creating economic zones has run into trouble and many foreign investors have backed out due to lack of conductive global environment for investors. There is need to sort out India’s domestic developmental priorities before we promise to create friendly global conditions.

Second, pushing the cart of globalization is a mountain to climb. If globalization is the panacea of the mankind, then why there are nation states? Today, if a referendum is held on globalization, Manmohan government can only survive with the tricks it adopted to pass Indo-US civil nuclear deal, bribing the Parliamentarians.

Even though globalization can bring significant improvement but it has to answer some traditional nationalist questions like 'self-sufficiency' and 'self-reliance.' This has a huge challenge India has to tackle on the issue of globalization.

Third, point on seeking mutually beneficial relations and create a global economic and security environment beneficial to all nations seems to be rhetoric. When Indian economy was buoyed by 8-9 per cent growth and aiming higher growth, such words may sound music, but now when we are slipping to the Hindu rate of growth, such statement is mere hyperbole. The global economic slowdown and India’s economic mismanagement cast a shadow on this foreign policy objective.

On regionalism, Manmohan Singh’s idea of having "breakfast in Amritsar, lunch in Lahore and dinner in Kabul," may remain a dream. SAARC, the organization that’s pushing this agenda, is closing 40 years now and still taking baby steps. There is total disconnect between the talk and the realities on ground. There is no peace in India’s periphery and there is tension with all its neighbors, barring Bhutan. Terrorism poses a bigger challenge, not only to India but also to its neighbors. There is no sign of its containment. Besides, there are host of issues that vitiate peace in the subcontinent. So how this foreign policy objective of India could be achieve?

The last point on values is like saying; “I once had a girlfriend called America, she went on and on about freedom, while spying on me all the time!”

As Manmohan Singh talked about core values of India’s foreign policy objective, India’s Army Chief was delivering War games softwares and other deadly consignment to the Military Junta of Myanmar. In the war against the ethnic minorities in Myanmar, Indian weapons are freely used and against the rebels, who were fighting for the same values that India cherish. Those rebels had flashed to the media, ‘made in India bullets’ meant to kill them. So Papyji don’t preach! Is this the moral values you are talking about?

Manmohan Singh instead of making India’s foreign policy as another ‘Pachsheel’ if had stuck to his articulations made in 2004 as three point objectives, it would have been more modest summary of his international relations.

He had then said, the strategy was based on three pillars: "First, strengthen ourselves economically and technologically; Second, acquire adequate defence capability, and third, to seek partnerships to widen our policy and developmental options." He may have added this time that these are policies are at work has to be continued in future.

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

Policy paralysis catapults reforms vision to save India

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | 04 November 2013 | Posted in , , , , ,

By Syed Ali Mujtaba

The big debate in India is whether there is crisis of leadership or there is crisis of vision and mission to run the country. While there can be endless debate on the leadership issue, there exists a consensus on policy paralysis and India is in dire need of reforms at various levels to redeem itself.

An interesting book "Reforms to Save India" by S. Gokulraj lists out number of suggestions that need attention, although some may be laughing stock and quite out of context. Notwithstanding the facts, the author wants to convey the message that India needs systemic change in order to gallop on the highway of progress.

Attacking on the electoral system of India the author makes some pointed reference towards electoral reforms. He says the solution for general elections is to have a Single Transfer Direct Preferential voting system as it is followed to select the President of India. This will empower the people to select the person they want directly as they cast a primary vote for a person of their choice and a secondary vote for their second choice. He suggests that there should be provision for recall of the representative after two-and-a-half-years, if he fails to perform.

The author also sees problem in the way our Parliament functions. He finds it lethargic procedural and slow in operation. As part of Parliamentary reforms, he suggests the President of India should be made the speaker of the Lok Sabha and the question hour should be at the start of the proceedings and not in the end.

He also likes to see reforms in the system of Cabinet of Ministers, which constitute the government. He suggests that at the ministerial level, there should be three ministers for every Ministry. A Ministry should have an executive minister with the specific background of the portfolio he holds, and he should be selected by the UPSC. Then there should be a shadow minister from the opposition party, the third be an elected representative from the ruling party. He insists that proper educational qualification should be mandatory for handling the ministry.

Getting down on the issue of accountability, the author demands that the employees in Government offices should be made accountable. There should be monthly targets of work and this has to be audited on monthly basis. In finance and administration, he recommends, a self-sufficient revenue model.

He wants to see municipal reforms and likes each municipal corporation maintain a treasury and use 50 per cent of the money for developmental activities. He also mentions introduction of EVCC (Electronic Voting and Complaint Registration Card) which can be used as an ATM card to register complaints on bad roads and drains. The author is of the view that this model would help faster implementation of development activities in the cities towns and districts of India.

Turning his attention to the villages that is sulking in penury, he advocates Corporate Cluster Cooperative Farming in agriculture, where corporate houses adopt villages, invest money in agriculture, and buy the produce from the farmers in bulk.

He wants reforms in the employment exchange level and likes the government to help the economically weaker sections of the society. As a means to rehabilitate such people, he suggests attaching them to the agencies such as the employment exchange that may generate jobs for them in the Government or in Corporate Sectors.

Coming to judicial reforms, he wants a compounded court system for the entire judicial apparatus. Such complex should have multiple of courts to deal with crime, social issues, family problems, business and corruption. There should deadlines for the judges to clear the cases and their progress should be audited.

S. Gokulraj also wants reforms in the UPSC that selects officers under a complex examination pattern to govern India. He rebukes on the current selection system saying one exam selects officers for 24 postings and because of the ranking system; a qualified doctor is posted to look after the revenue department. He is of the view that the best of the talent can be put to use in the respective fields by conducting individual exams in that particular field. The selected candidates should then be given appointment in the respective departments.

Even though, there may be many shortcomings in the prognosis of Reforms to Save India, one thing that stands out is the author is able to provoke that there is in need of reform at various levels, if our country is to run like a well oiled machine.

The policy paralysis is apparent. At the corporate level the policy is to make rich, richer, so that a white and blue collared class is develop to live as hangers on. We protected our industries for forty years since independence and in the process created our own capitalist class. When we opened our economy in the 90s, it is same the class which benefited from the liberalized policies. Those who made cycles in the protected regime started making motor cycles in the liberalized environment.

Here one needs to understand the operational dynamics of democracy that works on party system and parties need money for contest the mammoth elections. A corporate class is essential to finance such democracy and to distract is being touted as growth engines of the nation. Even though being very small and electorally insignificant, this class holds leverage over the systems of governance in the country.

While at the urban setup, at the corporate level, the parasite policy is at work, in the rural level where the actual vote bank exits, a different policy is being followed. Here the policy is to make the large farmers poorer, robbing their holdings and conditions being created to push them out from farming. This plan has succeeded to an extent, having its own repercussions, the plan to uplift the marginalized section in the farming sector remains in fits and starts.

Now there is the talk is to bring corporate sector into farming and develop the same parasite model in the rural areas as well. What is this? Is this not policy paralysis?

What this discussion has brought to fore is that our country needs reforms that has to be well thought out. The current method of our plans and policies is ridden with deficiencies and has done no good to our country.

If the book ‘Reforms to Save India’ is of any worth, it is only in the realm of to raise the consciousness of the people to long for reforms. This aspiration has to grow thick and fast, if we want to make our country a true functional democracy.

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

Hyderabad’s Fall and Sunderlal Report

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | 06 October 2013 | Posted in , , ,

By Syed Ali Mujtaba

There are so many facts that the successive Indian government has hidden from its citizens and one such is the publication of the Sunderlal report that probed the Hyderabad communal flare up, soon after the military action against India’s largest Muslim Princely state in 1948.

The report that has been kept in wraps, chronicles the horrendous crime committed against humanity in the aftermath of the amalgamation of the Princely state with the Indian dominion. More than 40,000 people perished in that act of retribution and revenge.

The report that was commissioned by the government of India was considered to be so sensitive and inflammable that it was kept under lock and keys and was never brought to the public domain. Now almost Sixty Five years after its submission, the report is available at the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library in New Delhi, as part of declassified document.

The State of Hyderabad was one of 500 Princely states of India that enjoyed autonomy under the British rule. At the time independence, all of the Princely states agreed to join the Indian Union, except Hyderabad, Junagarh and Kashmir.

While the story of Junagarh and Kashmir is a different narrative, Hyderabad’s Muslim ruler Mir Osman Ali Khan, the seventh Nizam, insisted on remaining independent. This led to an acrimonious stand-off between New Delhi and Hyderabad and the dispute was taken to the United Nations.

Meanwhile, armed militia called Razakar, sprung up to protect the Hyderabad state. Some say, it had tacit support of the ruler, but apparently, it was the armed wing of a Muslim political party, that had issues with the princely rule.

The members of the militia supposedly held drills in and around Hyderabad and terrorized the non Muslims population. This incensed people and New Delhi was ceased of the matter.

After a yearlong high drama and without any settlement in sight, the government in New Delhi sent its armed forces to take over Hyderabad in September 1948.

One division of the Indian army and a tank brigade under Major General Choudhry marched into Hyderabad. The battle was swift, the Nizam’s troops and the Razakars were defeated within few days of army’s invasion.

Since the case of Hyderabad at the United Nation, the military action was called ‘Police Action’ and was code named ‘Operation Polo.’

Surprisingly, the so called Police Action was peaceful in taking over Hyderabad and there was no significant loss of life of the civilian population in the city.

The Nizam saved himself and his kith and kin, with witnesses saying that he had tacit agreement with the government India. Facts or fiction, some say, the Hyderabad ruler allowed the India army to plunder his treasury, and each solider made a killing in that loot of the treasure trove.

However, what followed the invasion of the Indian army in the ruler areas of Hyderabad was a sordid tale against humanity about which the current generation is totally unaware.

The poor Muslim population was left at the mercy of the wolves and for several days’ arson, looting, rape and massacre continued with impunity in many districts. The Hindus formed special vigilante groups and singled out poor Muslims in the villages and put them to death. There was total silence in Hyderabad, when bigotry, savagery, and brutality nakedly danced at its diabolic best in its districts.

Those innocent Muslims who perished in that organized crime, had nothing to do with the standoff between the ruler of Hyderabad and the Indian Union. They were left with no protection and became scapegoat to the Hindus anger against the Princely state.

Commentators have analyzed the animosity as the desire of the Hindu populace to extinguish a Muslim state at the heart of India. Some call it extraction of cancer from the predominantly Hindu country. It’s estimated that more than 40,000 people perished in that act of retribution.

The tale of the atrocities of this crime were so horrifying that then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru commissioned a small team of Congress leaders to investigate the matter.

The commission was led by a Congressman, Pandit Sunderlal and included Kazi Abdul Ghaffar and Moulana Abdulla Misri were its other members.

The Sunderlal team made a three weeks tour of Hyderabad in Nov-Dec 1948. It visited 7 district headquarters, 21 towns and 23 important villages, and interviewed over 500 people from 109 such villages. At each place the team carefully chronicled the accounts of Muslims who had survived the appalling violence.

The Sunderlal report which is now available, mentions; "We had absolutely unimpeachable evidence to the effect that there were instances in which men belonging to the Indian Army and also to the local police took part in looting and even other crimes. At a number of places members of the armed forces brought out Muslim adult males... and massacred them.”

"During our tour we gathered, at many places, soldiers encouraged, persuaded and in a few cases even compelled the Hindu mob to loot Muslim shops and houses."

The team reported that while Muslims villagers were disarmed by the Indian Army, Hindus were often left with their weapons.

In some cases, it said, Indian soldiers themselves took an active part in the butchery: "At a number of places, members of the armed forces brought out Muslim adult males from villages and towns and massacred them. They were lined up and shot in cold blooded manner.”

The investigation team also reported, however, in many other instances the Indian Army had behaved well and protected Muslims.

In confidential notes attached to the Sunderlal report, its authors detailed the gruesome nature of the Hindu revenge: "In many places we were shown wells still full of corpses that were rotting. In one such we counted 11 bodies, which included that of a woman with a small child sticking to her breast. "

And it goes on: "We saw remnants of corpses lying in ditches. At several places the bodies had been burnt and we would see the charred bones and skulls still lying there."

The Sunderlal report estimated that between 27,000 to 40,000 people lost their lives. The worst sufferers were in the districts of Osmanabad, Gulburga, Bidar and Nanded, where the loss of life was estimated to be 18,000. This retribution was said to be in response to years of intimidation and violence by the Razakars.

Well, there were three forces at work in Hyderabad leading towards its fall. The first was the Asafjahi dynasty that symbolized the last flicker of the Muslim rule in India. It steadfastly liked to cling to power, and drew its strength from the British rule. When it was clear that the colonial masters were certain to leave Indian shores, like other Princely states Hyderabad too was left rudderless. Its fervent appeal to British for independence felt on deaf ears due to the landlocked nature of the Princely state.

To the rulers of Hyderabad, Congress was an anathema due to latter’s stand to end the entire princely rule. The Nizam was not interested in Muslim League either. He shouted on top of his voice when Jinnah visited Hyderabad to enlist his support. Perhaps he never thought that he would ever be dethroned!

Alas, when the end came, as its last hope, the same person tried to latch on to the moth eaten Pakistan which proved to be his nemesis. Soon Hyderabad state was consigned to the pages of history.

The second force was the communist movement that was seething in the under belly of Hyderabad state due to its feudal character. The class struggle had begun much before the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia in 1917. The communist wanted to carve out a separate state on the same geographical space of the princely kingdom. The communist leaders had even gone to Moscow, to get endorsement for the first communist state to be carved out of India. Their proposal too was shot down for the same reasons having lacking in port facility. Nonetheless, the anti feudal agenda of the communists worked against the Princely state.

In this triangular contest, the Indian National Congress was the rising force that rode the wave of freedom struggle. It was among these band of nationalist were some black sheep’s, who nursed the anti Muslims sentiments. Their activities were checked by the Razakars, but this in turn solidified the anti Muslim anger among them. During the endgame, they took it out on the poor Muslim masses, leading to one of the bloodiest anti- Muslim program in independent Indian history.

The Sunderlal report that investigated this massacre in Hyderabad was so horrifying that it was never shown the light of the day. Few Indians, today have any idea about this shocking event.

Though no official explanation has been given to keep the report under wraps, it’s widely speculated that in the powder-keg years that followed independence, the news of what happened in Hyderabad might have sparked Hindu- Muslim riots.

Now when the Sunderlal report is available in the public domain, one wonders, why there is stock silence in the media, opinion makers and secular leaders about this event.

Even all these decades later, does not the nation have the right to know why the government-commissioned report was not published? What happened in the Hyderabad state, after its fall? Why such a important piece of history is being kept aside even when the Sunderlal report is now available for public discussion.

It is such a pity, when we watch some ludicrous topics being discussed on the TV, and a host of analysts with diverse opinion making their point of view, why there is no discussion on the TV channels. More shocking is, no editorials are being written, no social media is trying to un-layer this gory past.

What a shame, as Indians we, abhor to mention how inhuman and brutal some people were when they slaughtered 40,000 human lives. Well some say this may not serve any purpose, but for those who feel claustrophobic about the whole incident, it may at least help them to breathe easy.

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

Muzafarnagar Riot warrant Communal Violence Bill

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | 16 September 2013 | Posted in , , , , , , ,

By Syed Ali Mujtaba

There are two things that warrant attention for the immediate passing of Communal Violence Bill, in the post Muzafarnagar riots analysis.
Can India which is slipping closer to the ‘Hindu rate of growth’ afford the burden of communal riots and internal turmoil in the country and further slow down its economic progress?

Second, can the identity politics that’s so vigorously perused be would be allowed to gallop on, inviting the tag of India being a ‘moving anarchy?’

The instance of Muzafarnagar and Tamil Nadu suggest that, differences between individuals are no longer between people concerned and the identity of Jati, caste, religion gets activated in no time leading to communal riots.
Can India afford such development, if it likes to drive on the growth curb? If not, then there is an urgent need to pass the Communal Violence Bill for maintaining peace and prosperity of the country.

The Communal Violence Bill announced by the UPA government in May 2004, soon after coming to power, was a revolutionary call. The bill aimed to stop the repeat of 2002 post Godhara riots in Gujarat, gave a huge relief among the minority community, living under the constant shadow of insecurity.

However, somewhere done the line, the plot seems to be lost. The incumbent government has more reasons to pilot other bills than make efforts to see through the Communal Violence Bill become an Act. As a result this Bill is gathering dust from past nine years now.

In the wake of Muzafarnagar riot, Home Minister Shushil Kumar Shinde came out with a statement that the communal situation in the country is going to deteriorate ahead of the general elections due in 2014. He however maintained a stoic silence o how to contain it. He was at a total loss of memory about the Communal Violence Bill and was clueless about the time frame of its tabling it in the Parliament.

It’s an irony that from past nine years, consensus on the Communal Violence Bill is eluding. The result is the union government is shying away to use its residual power to prevail over the state government in wake of communal riot and put a lid over this crime against humanity.

As of now, the Center cannot interfere in the affairs of the provinces and can only appeal to the state government to control the situation, in the wake of the eruption of a communal riot.

The Communal Violence Bill is supposed to give powers to the central government to intervene into the states in wake of a breakdown of the law and order situation.

However, there are two contentious issues that need to be ironed out, before the Bill tabled in the Parliament. First, can a communal situation in a state be dealt with by the Central government without encroaching upon the state’s rights of maintaining law and order?

Second, can the deployment of central forces be done independently and such forces can act independently or it has to do at the request of the state government and act under its command?

Opinion seems to be divided on both the issue and is cited as the reason for keeping the Communal Violence Bill in abeyance. This logjam is well over nine years now.

Notwithstanding the rights of the states, the fact remains that in the name of state autonomy and its exclusive right over 'law and order', the Central government cannot remain a silent specter to the instances of communal orgy taking place in several states, time and again.

The 2002 post Godhara riots in Gujarat, that warranted the Bill, has lived up to its reputation. Communal riots are happening in the country with immunity. The state governments have repeatedly failed to control the situation.

In such case what stops the central government from promulgating this law. Is it a bankruptcy of ideas or a deliberate design to keep the communal pot boiling?

The riots in Muzafarnagar that has claimed over 34 lives, once again reiterate the necessity for the passing of the Communal Violence Bill.
Muzafarnagar is closer to Delhi and the loss of lives could have been prevented, if the Central government had acted swiftly to control the situation.
In Muzafarnagar, the communal tension was brewing for some time. It exploded after the Maha-Panchayat, where inflammatory speeches were made, that triggered communal mayhem.

The riot in Muzafarnagar is a clear cut of the slackness of the state administration unable to keep the communal forces in check. The building communal tension was farther aggravated by the state government’s permission to hold the Maha-Panchayat.

What was the necessity of its permission in the wake of rising communal temperature one fails to understand? Was Samajwdi party shuffling two cards, one of minority fear and other majority, and keep both insecure?

It’s a clear cut case, where if the Communal Violence bill was in place, and the Central government would have intervened and many lives could have been saved.

As it happens after every riot, motives are attributed to the events and the blame game circulates stories of aggrieved and revenge. The fact remains, in all such situation, its innocent people who lose their lives.

It’s ominous that the fatalities could have been avoided if the state administration had acted with a little intelligence and responsibility. However, its total sloppy approach allowed the situation to deteriorate.

This helped a well thought out plan to carry out a communal program against the minorities, similar to the post Godhra riots.

A cursory look at the history of all the communal riots in the country suggests that Muzafarnagar riot was not isolated event. In the larger picture of the communal program carried out intermittently in the country, it tells the similar story, as others.

The communal violence invariably flares up around skirmishes among religious communities and the state administration allows it to escalate. The extremists then go on the rampage unleashing an orgy of death and mayhem. When enough damage is done and media pressure becomes unmanageable, the authorities then put their act together and swing into action to control the situation.

In case of Muzafarnagar riot, this is exactly what had happened. Here the naked vote bank politics for consolidating the majority and minority vote banks was at its lethal display.

Since last sixty years, this is the pet theme of communal politics in India. The negative politics of hate is a tried and tested formula in Indian politics. First, create a sharp polarization in the society, and then ride on the insecurity wave of the communities. It happens each time at the expense of the minority community.

In this game, the Congress and the BJP are outwitting each other at several places, in Uttar Pradesh it’s the Samajwadi Party and the BJP that are battling it out currently.

Since communalism is one of the many tools on which politics centers in India, no political party wants to get it eliminated. Some parties may talk about banishing it from the society; but in their hearts view it as a holy cow that can be milked any time for electoral gains.

The Muzafarnagar riot has given enough indication of what future has in store, ahead of the general elections of 2014. If future communal riots have to be controlled, then Communal Violence Bill has to be brought out at once.

One wonders why UPA government that’s now coming close to two terms in office, is still shying away to bring the Communal Violence Bill. This is giving rise to suspicion among the minority community that it’s not seriousness of their welfare. Their disenchantment brewing among them may have serious repercussions for the future of the Congress led government at the centre.

It’s high time the UPA government should bring out a statutory order that Centre can have the exclusive right to intervene in event of breakdown of communal situation in the state.

Any further waste of time would be an invitation for another saga of communal riot somewhere else in the country.

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

PEOPLE: Syed Ghani Khan -- A Curator of Paddy Seeds

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | 09 September 2013 | Posted in , , , , , ,

By Syed Ali Mujtaba

Some 35 kilometers from the city of palaces, Mysore, sits an orchard, hidden with shrubs, trees and sugarcane, called Bada Bagh. It was once famed for its flavored mangoes, but now has become popular for being a museum of traditional rice seeds.

Bada Bagh is actually located in Kirugavulu village at Malavalli taluk in Mandya district of Karnataka. With paddy panicles of different colors, size and shapes, each lined up next to each other, the view of the lush paddy fields is amazing. It’s a real visual treat for urban dwellers grown up in the concrete jungles.

Bada Bagh is managed by an organic farmer Syed Ghani Khan who has collected over 600 varieties of paddy seeds and is spearheading the message of ‘Save our Rice Campaign’.

It is very difficult to catch this young and energetic farmer, as he is always surrounded by farmers, who come to him to get the new variety of seed that he has archived, but as the adage goes; when there is a will there is a way.

Talking to Ghani Khan at length helps to construct the picture of a farmer who is trying to revive the lost legacy of traditional paddy plants through organic method of farming. He is planting paddy seeds and retrieves them and archives them in his museum for posterity. He is also distributing them to farmers for promoting the cause of ‘Save our Rice Campaign’.

Like most converted organic farmers, Ghani tells his story in a humble way. "I was studying archaeology and wanted to become a curator of a museum, when fate struck and my father passed away. As the eldest son of an Indian family, I was called to take his place and take care of the family and manage the family farm. I was 22 then, my four brothers were all in their teens," he said.

Describing about the Bada Bagh, Ghani says, this place was bequeathed to his family by the great king Tippu Sultan and till recently was known for its tasteful variety of mangoes.

“We were dry land farmers. Then the Krishnaraja Sagar dam was built and we all had the Cauvery water. Most of the farmers chopped down the mango trees and planted rice in large scale. With this started wide spread hybrid cultivation and the region lost almost all the traditional rice variety that then existed.”

"Initially I too started with hybrid farming but one day I fainted while spraying chemicals on the crop. That made me thinks about alternative method of farming. I wondered if it was possible to do farming without chemicals. This event actually started my journey towards organic farming.”

Ghani Khan who is now an organic farmer for a little over 10 years says while hybrids have outstanding qualities, the ability to reproduce themselves is clearly not one of them. In his effort to shrug off modern hybrid rice seeds and return to more nutritious and health traditional rice seed, he narrates his experience candidly.

"Once my uncle brought a variety of paddy seed that I didn't recognize, I planted it and kept asking him and others about it but none knew anything about it. Then one day an agricultural scientist visited our farm and he was able to identify it. He told that it was a drought resistant variety of paddy that was traditionally grown in Mysore - Mandya region but has been lost in our collective memory.”

This prompted a spark in Ghani khan’s funnel and he embarked upon the idea to go after tracing all the paddy seeds that were getting lost. His curiosity developed into the eagerness to collect all such rice variety and save them for posterity.

He started collecting what was locally available first. He then moved to the adjoining states of Kerala, Tamilnadu, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha and Maharashtra.

In a span of 8 years, Ghani Khan collected over 600 varieties of rice seeds. Each variety has distinct flavors, and come in many different and unique colors, sizes, and shapes.

Ghani Khan started archiving them by giving new found number to each of such variety. As he didn't know the name of the seed, he developed his distinct style of labeling; Ghani Khan New Found Number- GKNF 786 / 2013. He has a wide diversity of wetland, dry-land, medicinal, aromatic, irrigated variety of rice seeds.

Ghani is maintaining different paddy strains to keep alive the evolutionary processes. He has developed skills in the art of seed production and has the ability to select the best seeds.

"I conserve them in the field each year, I plant, multiply and save all the seeds, also give them to farmers who assure will be saving them and returning me twice the amount.”

“As a matter of principles I don't give the seeds to the companies developing rice seeds...I know farmers are more genuine... even though it means a loss each year, but I am not doing it for sales, it’s my hobby my passion. I always wanted to be museum curator, and, now, I am a curator of a living museum", his face chuckles with a bloated smile.

Ghani Khan, lives in a large joint family, one brother has moved for livelihood to Bangalore and one more is a qualified technician, one helps him in the field. He manages his family farm of 15 acres with the support of other family members. He is not sure when the division of the land will happen in his family what will be left for him in future. He hopes his children will take interest and involve themselves in the farming. He is not confident that they will ever do that.

Beyond all those regular challenges of farming, Ghani Khan holds the rare distinction of having a 'living museum" of which he is the proud curator. A museum where every variety of paddy seeds conserved narrates a story of its own; history, location, lineage, features, benefits etc.

Ghani’s concern for conservation of biodiversity has in fact got many farmers interested in traditional varieties. His farm in the outskirts of his village has grown into one of the largest experimental restoration plots, drawing visitors from villages far and near.

More than 2000 farmers have taken seeds from him and he is on the verge of setting up a trust and getting things a bit more organized. His experiment has enthralled scientists and officials, who have applauded his venture.

India being a diversity country has a plethora of traditional paddy varieties which are nutritious and developed over centuries. The traditional strains are more resistant to drought and could be an answer to the climate change. So saving them is a great act of service to the nation.

Ghani’s story is a tale of a farmer who with a bit of imagination and hard work has made his name encrypted in the record books. With over 600 paddy variety and with a mission of creating more, Ghani khan has became an institution in himself. It would be joke to call him just an ordinary paddy farmer.

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

Response to an Open Letter: What India’s Muslims Really Want

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | 17 August 2013 | Posted in , , , , , ,

[After Chetan Bhagat, here is another 'sympathiser' of Indian Muslims who has followed the footsteps of Mr. Bhagat and wrote an Open Letter in North America's largest circulated weekly newspaper India Abroad. The 'sympathiser' gentleman couldn't muster courage ala Mr. Bhagat and preferred to conceal his identity. The gentleman has written under a Muslim pseudonym 'Zafar Shah Alam' (And, who knows he is a Muslim or not feeling the pains of the beleagured community!). The Indian Muslim Observer is reproducing the reply written by prominent U.S.-based community activist Kaleem Kawaja. The response by Mr. Kawaja is appropriate and eye-opener. -- Danish Ahmad Khan, Founder-Editor, IndianMuslimObserver.com]

About two weeks ago an article entitled "What India's Muslims Really Want" written by someone who used the pseudonym (assumed name) 'Zafar Shah Alam', appeared in 'India Abroad', the largest circulation weekly newspaper of the Indian community in North America. The article made many mischievous/ negative comments about India's Muslims and was similar to a similar recent article by Chetan Bhagat published recently in newspapers in India.

I wrote a response to that which has been published by India Abroad this week. Herebelow I am reproducing that article.

Thanks for your attention.

Kaleem Kawaja


Letter to the Editor, India Abroad:

What India’s Muslims Really Want

The column with the above title in IA of August 2 by an individual who used the pseudonym ‘Zafar Shah Alam’ surprised me. First, I wonder why the person who wrote on such a sensitive issue has concealed his identity? Second, in contrast to the title of the essay, the writer said almost nothing about what India’s Muslims want.

The writer has completely ignored the numerous positive actions that many Muslim organizations in India have taken over the last four decades to bring the community in the national mainstream, to improve communal harmony, to improve education and skills in the youth, and has instead spent a lot of words to vent his negative view of Muslims, and to rehash several decades old derogatory allegations that have already been proved false. Today Muslims definitely do not want to go back into acrimonious public disputes of the past decades.

What India’s Muslims want foremost is help to develop the currently very poor infrastructure in their communities in various cities, namely roads, sanitation, schools, medical clinics, parks and opportunities for education and employment. The OBC Muslims and Dalit Muslims want that they should be given the same affirmative action help, like reservation in education and jobs, that their counterparts in the Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist communities have been given since 1950, but which they have been denied unfairly.

Muslims want that the government implement the recommendations of the Government’s Sachar Committee report which highlights specific areas of socioeconomic uplift that the community acutely needs. They want security from the violence of anti-Muslim forces and police brutality, and just treatment from the government institutions in their daily lives. Muslims want to enthusiastically participate in the nation’s political processes at all levels. Muslims have full faith in the nation’s secular and democratic structure and its secular citizens who are no less than at least three-fourth of the majority Hindu community.

The writer has alleged that honor killings are not uncommon in the Muslim community, but there has not been even a single instance of honor killing in the Indian Muslim community at least since 1947. The writer makes the mischievous allegation that Muslims hold themselves apart from the rest of the country, but ignores the fact that everywhere in India Muslims mingle freely with others in schools, colleges, places of work, sporting and entertainment events, government events etc.

Browse the Indian newspapers, electronic media etc. and you will find adequate number of Muslim faces in every mix of Indians in proportion to their population. In higher level positions there is a shortage of Muslims based on the fact that Muslims do not have as much access to higher education as others.

The writer makes the derogatory remark that Muslim ghettoes exist in every nook and cranny. Go to any city and see for yourself that of the poor Indians who are more than a quarter of the population, there are people of all religions. Go to the slums in Mumbai or Delhi or Calcutta or Chennai or other cities and see for yourself that no more than one-third of the population there are Muslims. Yes there are more poor Muslims in comparison to their population, but that is because of the community’s lack of access to higher education and denial of affirmative action programs to the deserving among them. It is offensive that the writer has tried to put a religious label on the face of India’s poor.

On the issue of Babri mosque the writer is again repeating the false allegation of the anti-Muslim forces that the Babri mosque was not a place of worship for Muslims; it was so until government stopped Muslims from praying there in 1949. As to the demolition of Babri mosque, the Liberhan Enquiry Commission report of 2009 has clearly indicted several senior leaders of anti-Muslim political parties for this crime and has recommended that they be tried in a court of law.

The writer again repeats the provocative allegation that during the 600 year long Muslim rule, Muslim rulers demolished Hindu temples and built mosques on them. Research by several reputed non-Muslim historians, including Prof Richard Burton and Prof Paul Brass has proved conclusively that barring a couple of such incidents by a couple of rogue rulers in six centuries, as a rule Muslim kings did not desecrate Hindu temples. In fact the same research shows that in the era before the Muslim rule some victorious Hindu kings demolished temples of the favorite deities of the other Hindu kings whom they defeated.

The writer’s calumny against the Muslim Personal Law Board is galling indeed. This Board established in 1973 with the assistance of the Indian government simply conducts advocacy that Muslims be allowed to live their lives according to the precepts of their religious scripture. Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Christians have their own religious panels to oversee the implementation of their respective personal laws. Why does the writer want to force the Muslims alone to abrogate the guidance to them from their scriptures?

The allegation that the Board supports child marriage and opposes the right of children for free and compulsory education is patently false. Why should the Board endorse Salman Rushdie who has identified the wives of Prophet Mohammad with whores in a brothel in a desert in Arabia? Have any Hindu or Buddhist or Christian organizations in India ever applauded any authors who insulted their deities in such an obscene manner?

It is strange that in applauding Narendra Modi of Gujarat, and questioning Muslims as to why they do not support him, the writer does not even mention the killing of 2000 Muslims in central Gujarat towns in 2002 abetted by the Modi administration, including several key ministers in Modi’s cabinet and his top police officials from that period, who have been convicted in Indian courts- of- law by Hindu judges and have been jailed.

Additionally, since 2002 Modi administration has systematically cut off most municipal services like sanitation, transportation, repair of roads etc. in various Muslim majority areas in various cities in Gujarat, and has throttled the previously thriving economy of the Muslim community by imposing sanctions. Does any community anywhere vote for its oppressor? So why should Muslims be an exception?

Indeed today the biggest political opponents of Modi’s attempt to revive the sectarian and divisive politics in India are secular Hindus, many senior Hindu politicians including top political leaders in more than a dozen major states in India and even senior BJP leaders like LK Advani, Yashwant Sinha etal.

Today, India’s Muslims are focusing on resolving their core issues of backwardness in education and socioeconomic status by working closely with the majority Hindus and with the government. Today, Muslims are cooperating with Hindus and others and are contributing to the building of a modern and prosperous India. They have no desire to get entangled in the relegion based politics of the past.

Kaleem Kawaja

Association of Indian Muslims of America

Washington DC

August 2, 2013


An open letter: What Muslims really want

If you are more than your rhetoric about a strong and united country, give us our due -- treat us as countrymen, says an ordinary Muslim in this open letter.

Dear Epistolarians,

I thank you for your concern about my community, and felt it would be rude not to reply Now to be clear, I do not claim to speak for India's 150 million Muslims but of them. No doubt, my own socio-cultural and economic biases will seep in frequently, but I do hope you are not still under the illusion of perfect objectivity.

To explain the lay of the land, you must first understand that Islam is not a centralised religion -- we have no Pope, even if we do have a fixed text like the other Abrahamic faiths. Islamic law, therefore, varies widely from region to region, and there are four schools of legal thought. Decrees from our clergy are only as binding as the acceptance of the particular qadi pronouncing judgment. In personal matters, that faith is high, but in matters of geopolitics, that trust runs much shallower.

Secondly, Muslims, like every other community, come in all hues -- some are conservative, while others are orthodox; some are liberal, while yet others are indifferent; some are spiritual, while a fringe are, admittedly, radical. If this spread is not repeated in every community whether you divide people based on religion, ethnicity, or something else, I will eat your taqiyah! So when you write "Dear Muslims," rest assured, most of us are looking around wondering, "Who, me?"

Now, let us start with the question on most of your minds: terrorism. I am sure most of you will agree that there has been a spurt in Islamic militancy, particularly in the last 15 years. Now, I am not sure if you noticed, but that violence carried out in the name of religion has less to do with its stated reason and more to do with power. Most terrorists have been dismal failures in expressing their cause, but US support of totalitarian regimes in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, etc, overthrow of democracy in Iran, Israeli treatment of Palestinians in the occupied territories, and other such political reasons have fuelled the upsurge in terrorism; tragically, its leaders use the ambiguous category of religion as a means of luring followers.

My explanation is not a defence of terrorist methods; in fact, the version of Islamic society these monsters envision -- beheading, capital punishment, stoning, extreme gender discrimination -- is abhorrent to many Muslims and goes against the most basic Islamic tenet of social justice (remember zakaat?). All but the radicals would agree that terrorists, whatever religion they claim to fight for, are enemies of society that should be resisted and defeated. just be wary of primitive social profiling based on ungrounded suppositions.

Muslims have fought Muslims from the earliest days of Islam just as much as they have fought non-Muslims. To this day, you see inter-sect as well as inter-faith conflict involving Islam, clearly indicating that religion is not necessarily the motivating factor in everything we do. To some, religion is important and to others, less so; yet to assume it is our only identity, even our prime identity, is about as sensible as assuming that someone buying a Tata Nano is expressing his or her solidarity with Narendra Modi because the factory is in Gujarat.

To turn this around a bit, let us ask you -- are you Hindu, Tamil, or Indian? Can you be all? Can you be motivated by just one of those in certain tasks, two of those in others, and all three in yet others? I suspect you can, so why do I have to choose between being Muslim, Tamilian, and Indian?

Then comes the issue of the crude stereotypes -- if you see all Muslims as Osama bin Laden or Hafiz Saeed, then by the same logic, are all Catholics like Tomás de Torquemada, Protestants like Anders Breivik, Jews like the first-century Kanaim or Yigal Amir, and Sikhs like Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale? Are all Hindus traitors like B K Sinha or Madhuri Gupta and assassins like Madan Lal Dhingra or Nathuram Godse? Or perhaps you think A P J Kalam, Altamas Kabir, Idris Hasan Latif, Shahabuddin Yaqoob Quraishi, and Asif Ibrahim are also terrorists? You can harbour such essentialist thoughts, but do not be surprised if we treat you as quacks.

Please don't misunderstand me -- there are indeed many problems with the Muslim community, and you are absolutely right that no one is taking on the fanatics out of fear. Yet to see this as a purely Muslim problem again misses the texture of the issue. For example, honour killings are not uncommon in Islam; yet they are not unheard of among Hindus either, particularly in the case of inter-caste or inter-faith relations.

While the anti-religious lobby brigade like to find fault with religion itself, the fact is that it is a cultural problem, and there have been cases of honour killings even among atheistic families due to their cultural influence. Similarly, with female genital mutilation, it is an abhorrent custom that has tried to creep into religion but remains largely restricted to Africa more than to all Muslim lands and communities.

Some of you wonder why we hold ourselves apart from the rest of India like partially immiscible liquids; Muslim ghettoes exist in every nook and cranny of India. Yes, it is true that we have our own communities. It is also true that many of us have mingled quite freely with our Hindu and other neighbours during festivals and other occasions for celebrations such as marriages and births. Again, the reasons for this need not be religious -- people segregate themselves based on caste, class, dietary habits, ethnicity, and various other criteria. You might not know this, but some Muslims refuse to live in certain Muslim areas for class reasons!

Personally, I have enjoyed the fruits of a liberal education in England, France, and the United States. I love my Faiz and Ghalib as much as I adore Balzac and Petrarch. However, very few people in the world -- of any religion -- have that sort of fortune. Imagine an Indian family of four earning Rs 69,000 per annum -- they would probably have to rely on state welfare and poor government schools to make ends meet.

In this intellectually stultifying environment, there is the added burden of quotidian life in India -- electricity and water shortages, corruption, poor infrastructure, and all those other problems successive governments have promised to solve since 1947. In the midst of these pressures, what do you think would be the impact of being asked repeatedly to prove one's patriotism? Of being asked to officially accept that one's ancestors were Hindu? Of being put in the spotlight for refusing to sing the Vande Mataram despite an explicit religious injunction on iconography? Of having to fight to eat whatever one wants? Of all those snide, covert and not-so-covert comments about one's ancestors having voted for the formation of Pakistan in 1947 and the suggestion that perhaps one ought to go there? Does a free citizen of a democratic country have to put up with such haranguing?

Before you all collectively jump down my throat, it ought to also be conceded that the recent walkout by the Bahujan Samaj Party MP Shafiqur Rahman Barq during the playing of Vande Mataram in Parliament was deplorable -- as a country of multiple communities, the respectful thing to do would have been to stay but not sing. I am glad to see that Barq's action has been criticised by voices from most segments of the political spectrum, the BJP, Congress, as well as the Communists. Such pandering to the radical votebank must have strong negative consequences.

Another issue that pops us when the "M" word is mentioned is the Babri Masjid. Hindus are right that the mosque was not of particular importance to Muslims, and that it was rarely used. However, any building that is over 450 years old is a part of Indian history and it ought to be of value for at least that reason. The merits of the case can be decided by the courts, but what is hurtful is the venomous Rath yatra led by L K Advani and the crowd mobilisation for the destruction of the structure. As if that were not enough, a year later, the Bombay riots orchestrated by Bal Thackeray in celebration only added salt to the wound.

While Advani has since said that his role was unintentional in the demolition and expressed regret for 6/12 his loss of control over the crowd, the Shiv Sena was allowed to disband the Srikrishna Commission. Reconvened with a skewed mandate that included the Bombay blasts of 1993, the report it produced was nevertheless rejected and no action has been taken to punish the guilty.

Muslims might eventually come to terms with Advani's and the Babri Masjid incident, but the unabashed revelry and criminal inaction of the BJP's ally in Maharashtra casts doubt on the sincerity of their outreach to the Muslim community.

The destruction of Indic religious structures and the erection of mosques upon those very sites is, no doubt, a grievous offence Muslim rulers of yore gave local populations, and a human tragedy. Yet is there no statute of limitations on these sorts of civilisational crimes? Should we exterminate the Israelis for killing and chasing out the Philistines from Judea some 3,500 years ago, or perhaps the Europeans and Americans for their intrusion into the New World?

Even among Muslims who are not particularly attached to the Babri Masjid issue, the question arises up to what point one can go back to settle old scores. Furthermore, what does it mean to be an Indian? In a multi-cultural society like India, short of genocide, these questions will continue to haunt unless a commonsensical approach is taken.

The greatest irony in all this Hindu-Muslim acrimony is importance you give to the All India Muslim Personal Law Board. The body is a private non-governmental organisation whose views are taken as largely representing all Indian Muslims. They threatened political action against the high court ruling on Babri Masjid, objected to Salman Rushdie at the Jaipur Literature Festival, disagreed with the Right of Children for Free and Compulsory Education Act, opposed gay marriage, supported child marriage, and resisted change in divorce law for Muslim women.

Interestingly, while the government accepts this non-elected organisation's claim to represent all Indian Muslims, it is Muslims who have problems with the board -- there have already been two splinters, the All India Shia Personal Law Board and the All India Muslim Women's Personal Law Board.

For all the talk of Shariah, how many Indian Muslim men actually have more than one wife? Most Muslims, in India or elsewhere, do not apply each and every facet of of Islamic law to their lives. By focussing on the AIMPLB, in essence, the Indian government has made, as Prayaag Akbar pointed out, a more regressive faction of the Muslim community the voice of all Muslims.

For all the hungama you raise about Muslims, how many politicians have challenged the AIMPLB's position as the sole voice of Indian Muslims? Would you allow, say, the Art of Living Foundation to represent all Hindus in religious matters? More importantly, why has my personal relationship with God become a matter of national policy?

No conversation on Muslims in India, particularly around elections, ends without mentioning the other "M" word -- Modi. Many of you would like to know why we do not support Narendra Modi as a prime ministerial candidate. I am not sure if you noticed, but many did vote for him in the Gujarat assembly elections last year, and there are some Muslims in his party. So make up your minds -- did he win from Muslim-majority districts or do Muslims not vote for him? It cannot be both. As Zafar Sareshwala points out in an interesting article, (external link) most of Modi's critics are actually Hindu.

Non-support has many reasons -- disagreement with economics, distaste for others in the party, and yes, the unease many feel over the whole Godhra issue. You can score political points with the Congress about 1984 and whatever else, but as far as many Muslims are concerned, even those who acknowledge his governance record, there is a black mark against his name that will take time to fade away.

All this started with Chetan Bhagat's letter. There were issues with his letter, as many have pointed out, but the letter was really not as bad as people have made it out to be. Bhagat appealed to our better instincts, did not play up fault lines, and talked of Muslims as part of the Indian whole. Despite whatever analytical weaknesses exist in his letter, his intentions were, in all probability, noble. What we need is more reassuring Chetan Bhagats and fewer fear-mongering and hate-spouting Praveen Togadias or Subramaniam Swamys.

If you genuinely want to work towards a congruence of visions between India's two largest religious communities, learn about us with an open mind: historical flexibility and half-baked notions about civilisational friction are best left to demagogues. If you are more than your rhetoric about a strong and united country, give us our due -- treat us as countrymen.

Yours sincerely,

Zafar Shah Alam

[Zafar Shah Alam is the pseudonym of an education industry professional in the United States.]

(Published in Rediff.com, July 22, 2013 14:18 IST)

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