Monday, August 20, 2007

India at 60: Muslims Feel Left Behind

A Kashmiri girl participates in a programme to commemorate the 60th Independence Day at Srinagar’s Baskhi stadium on Wednesday

New Delhi: As the Indian tricolour unfurls on the historic 17th-century Mughal-built Red Fort in New Delhi marking the 60th anniversary of independence, many Muslims believe Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru’s dream of ending “inequality of opportunity” remains a dream.

“Nothing has changed in the last 60 years in the sense that in 1947 my grandfather was a powerloom laborer. Sixty years have elapsed we are still the same,” Sajid Khan said on Thursday, August 15.

At the stroke of midnight on August 14, 1947, Nehru delivered his famous speech Tryst with Destiny.

“It is a fateful moment for us in India,” he said eloquently, speaking of an “unending quest” and future.

“The service of India means the service of the millions who suffer. It means the ending of poverty and ignorance and disease and inequality of opportunity.”

While India has since became a heavyweight political, military and economic power, some sections of its society remain lagging behind.

“I don’t understand what you are saying,” Khan said when asked about India’s nine percent economic growth rate.

“I measure growth in terms of equity. Where is equity? We are not even paid the minimum wages fixed by the government,” he lamented. “Independence means nothing to me.”

In a speech from the ramparts of Red Fort to mark the independence anniversary, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh listed poverty, malnutrition, unemployment and agrarian strife among the challenges ahead.

“We need at least a decade of hard work and of sustained growth to realize our dreams. We have to bridge the many divides in our society and work with a unity of purpose.”
Aftab Ansari, a hawker selling plastic Indian flags in the streets on the eve of Independence Day, is no less disgruntled.

“What Freedom and what Independence? I only sell patriotism once a year to my fellow countrymen,” the 17-year-old said.


Many Indian Muslims feel insecure in their home country. “Indian Muslims are going through a terrible phase,” Javed Anand, the co-editor of Communalism Combat, said. “Fifteen percent of India’s population still feels insecure. The findings of Sachar Committee report have been really shocking.”

The Sachar Committee looked into the socio-economic and educational backwardness of Muslims in the country and suggested various remedial measures. The recommendations included setting up educational facilities, modernization of madrasahs, creation of job opportunities and steps to increase the community's representation in public services.

Anand is skeptical the findings would be implemented.

“Unfortunately, track record of the ruling government has not been very reassuring,” he recalled. “It is behaving like any other previous government. Let’s keep our fingers crossed.”

Mufti Mohammad Ismail, the chief of a newly floated political party called Indian Muslim Congress, regretted what Indian Muslims have come to. “Muslims ruled India for almost 1000 years. It was our culture and heritage,” he said.

“There was a time when we were rulers and used to sit on thrones. Today things have come to such a pass that jail is the only place where we outnumber other communities,” Mufti lamented.

“We fare poor economically. Eighty percent of Muslims are living below the poverty line. There was a time when we were the leaders in academics but now we are being led by others.”

There are some 160 million Muslims in Hindu-majority India, the world’s second-largest Muslim population after Indonesia.

Muslims complain of decades of social and economic neglect and oppression. Official figures reveal Muslims log lower educational levels and higher unemployment rates than the Hindu majority and other minorities like Christians and Sikhs. They account for less than seven percent of public service employees, only five percent of railways workers, around four percent of banking employees and there are only 29,000 Muslims in India’s 1.3 million-strong military.

Mufti Ismail said Muslims were the true champions of India’s struggle for independence. “When British came here, it was the beginning of the age of slavery. We had been fighting for the independence of India since 17th century,” he said.

“Hindus joined us only in the 20th century.”

He complained that Muslims are not being given their respective rights.

“The descendents of the last Mughal King Bahadur Shah Zafar are begging on the streets of Kolkata. The family members of the martyred Tipu Sultan are rickshaw-pullers today. “The widow of Abdul Hameed, who sacrificed his life in defence of the country, is on the brink of committing suicide. These are the people whose families have fought for the Independence of India. Government’s indifference is a class apart.”


But Anand, the co-editor of Communalism Combat, also reserved harsh words for Muslim politicians. “Muslim legislators are busy wasting their time in raking up fastidious issues which don’t have anything to do with the progress of Indian Muslims,” he said. He cited the recent attack on Bengali writer Taslima Nasreen, infamous for her anti-Islam writings, at a press conference last week in Hyderabad.

Television footage showed Muslim state lawmakers and activists hitting Nasreen with flowers and threatening to lob chairs.

“At a time when institutional bias has crept in our system, Muslim legislators are making a mockery of themselves,” said Anand.

Majlis-e-Ittehadul-Muslimeen leader-cum-legislator Akbaruddin Owaisi has been accused of “intimidation” after suggesting Nasreen could be killed if she returned to Hyderabad, a claim which he has denied.

“Muslims have become victims of the promises made by professional mullahs acting as agents of political parties,” an angry Shamim Tariq, a researcher and columnist, said. “Muslims should be aware of the enemies within. Right-wing Hindu parties and ideologues pale in comparison to the enemies within,” he argued.

Tariq spoke of two sects of enemies within.

“One is religious and acts as the mediator of political class and other is irreligious lot which takes pride in attacking Islam.”

Confused Youth

Navaid Hamid, a member of the National Integration Council of the central government, said young Indian Muslims were looking for direction. “Young Muslim generation feels excited due to the pace of development,” Hamid said. “At the same time, they strongly feel that they are being sidelined in governance; so there is a sense of confusion: what to do now?”

Hamid said young Indian Muslims have a strong desire to be part of the nation to serve this country.

“They feel that there should be equal share of opportunity in every walk of life. More than 55 percent of India’s population consists of youths and they are the big asset for the country.”

“The Muslim community should be utilized for a strong, vibrant nation and a pluralistic society.”

Hamid warned that young Muslims are being targeted for no fault of their own. “Whenever some terrorist activity happens in the country, fingers are pointed towards them. There is an atmosphere of fear and mistrust. This is very harmful for any harmonious and pluralistic society.”


Ilyas Siddiqui, a historian, believes that self-help is the best help.

“Sixty years ago, our own struggle and striving was beneficial for us,” he said. “Even today we should follow the path of self-help by way of the concept of civil society. This is the biggest principle. There is no need to be dependent on anybody not even government.”

Mufti Ismail has his hopes in secular-minded Hindus.

“In India, the world’s largest democracy, there are a number of secular Hindus who genuinely strive for the welfare of the Muslim community,” he said. “They believe that India cannot progress as long as its largest minority is lagging behind. They know that such progress will be a lop-sided progress and not a real progress,” added the Muslim politician.

“We must strengthen their hands.”

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Freedom is Not Free

Taslima Nasreen: Symbol of Secularism Extremism

A nobody has been made into a somebody. Political Muslim passivity suddenly got an active voice thanks to the emotive goons of the MIM (Majlis-e-Ittehadul-Muslimeen). I want to congratulate Akbaruddin Owaisi, the chief mentor of the MIM, for defending his men of muscle after causing mayhem. Muslim honour has finally been preserved!

A C-grade writer has been given an A-class status!

What's Taslima Nasreen's claim to fame? It's Shame (Lajja means Shame). Taslima Nasreen is a Bangladeshi writer whose controversial novel Lajja appeared in February 1993 soon after the demolition of Babri Masjid. The theme of the novel was 'persecution of Hindus' in Bangladesh. It was banned five months later by the Bangladesh government for 'disturbing the communal peace' of the country.

Much ink has already been spilt on Lajja for different reasons. The issue which I intend to raise here has not been touched by our so-called secular-liberals. Lajja is a "novel", writes Taslima in the Preface, "and all the characters in the narrative are the product of my own imagination, and any resemblance they bear to actual people, living or dead, is entirely coincidental." Then she goes on to say that "I have also included in the text numerous incidents, actual historical events, facts and statistics." (Emphasis added).

Can facts be presented in the guise of fiction? It has been the tradition of anti-Islam writers to depict actual history in the guise of fictionalised fantasy. It gives them a real sense of 'freedom' to mix-match facts with fiction at their own convenience. You raise a slogan of 'communal bias', they will raise an eerie wail of fiction! It is the safest route to historical distortion and literary escapism. It is an act of literary cowardice.

At the backdrop of the post-Babri riots in Bangladesh, she mentions the Holy Qur'an in Lajja in such a subtle way that it can be inferred that Islam is essentially an intolerant religion and permits killing of innocents. In recent years, she has poured her venom against Islam in general and Muslims in particular in the form of articles. Her last such article appeared in Outlook (January 22, 2007) provocatively titled 'Let's Burn the Burqa'. Interestingly, after the protests that freedom can never be absolute, the title was later changed to 'Let's Think Again About The Burqa'!

Lajja is the best example of Taslima's hypocritical approach. In Lajja, she claims to continue her battle against "religious persecution, genocide and communalism" because "religious fundamentalism is not restricted to Bangladesh alone and it must be fought at every turn." (Emphasis added).

But alas, she has never ever spoken a single word on Muslim genocide of 1992-93 in Mumbai and State-sponsored pogrom of 2002 in Gujarat. All these years she has carefully chosen the 'freedom' of silence.

MIM legislators' attack on Taslima is an advertisement of political fanaticism. Akbaruddin Owaisi's justification of the attack smacks of political conspiracy keeping in mind that MIM is an ally of the ruling UPA (United Progressive Alliance) at the centre. Was it to 'appease' Muslims of Hyderabad since the image of the ruling class is at stake after the Mecca Masjid Blasts?

Also, one interesting aspect of the entire episode has been missed by the mainstream media. Hyderabad Press Club is just two kilometres from the police control headquarters. The organisers of the book release function did not make adequate security arrangement knowing well the Muslim sensitivity towards the writer.

As senior journalist Syed Ali Mujtaba questions, "Why didn't the organisers make enough security arrangement to check unwanted people coming to their function? Why such people were allowed to enter their premises in the first place itself? It makes me to speculate that this could be part of a set piece devised by the author and the organisers of the function to gain publicity and mileage. They must have anticipated this may snowball in this way and once that happens and actually that happened, Taslima would be in the limelight again…the author has scored in maligning Islam and its followers once again."

Taslima Nasreen calls herself as a 'reformer' although her attitude has been that of an anti-Islam writer. She wants Muslims to stop reading Qur'an since she thinks that it's a flawed book and a 'revision' is a must!

When Muhammad Marmaduke Pickthall, an English convert to Islam, translated the Holy Qur’an, he said in the introduction that the Qur’an was that “great symphony which moved men to tears and ecstacy.” No wonder Encyclopedia Britannica observes that the Qur’an is “the most frequently read book in the world.” The Qur’an makes an irresistible appeal to all, irrespective of caste, creed or colour to produce the guidance it has produced in the Qur’an.

Taslima has been churning out cheap 'pedestrian literature' all these years. A cursory look at some of her book titles will suffice: Nimontron (Invitation), Bhromor Koio Gia (Tell Him The Secret), Amar Meyebela (My Girlhood), Utal Hawa (Wild Wind), Forashi Premik (French Lover).

Taslima Nasreen is a continuation of the Salman Rushdie syndrome. The present-day sufferers of the Rushdie syndrome include Ayan Ali, Irshad Manji, Waraq and a few others who have made a habit of writing on Islam without understanding its true essence. Hurting the religious sentiments of the Muslims is their full-time profession. Muslims worldwide must not fall prey to the Rushdie syndrome. There were enough Rushdies at the time of the Prophet Muhammad as well. His patient behaviour and compassion had compelled many bete noires to 'revert' to Islam in the end.

A book must be fought by book and not by bouquet: It has been an Islamic tradition of books fighting books. The most celebrated example is that of Imam Al-Ghazali and Ibn Rushd in the early 11th century. Al-Ghazali fired the first salvo with his monumental book The Incoherence of the Philosophers. Ibn Rushd, belonging to rationalists' philosophers, replied with The Incoherence of the Incoherence. The battle went on for centuries leading to 'The Incoherence of the Incoherence of the Incoherence' to the 'nth degree' — ending when the victory was finally conceded to Al-Ghazali on the basis of his arguments.

MIM attack was a clash between political and literary extremism making its subject a mute sufferer. 'When two elephants fight', goes the Malay proverb, 'it is the grass that gets trampled.' The voice of a common Muslim was subdued in this clash. Freedom of speech, thus, belongs to the powerful. "Freedom of expression", writes Ziauddin Sardar "belongs to those with secular power, or access and opportunity within the secular structures of power. That's the problem with secularism. As the preeminent truth and doctrine of the West, it renders insignificant and makes invisible all that is outside its purview, all the possibilities and the potentials outside its framework of power. Secularism masks the will to power; and like all authoritarian ideologies, it nurtures homicidal tendencies."

Islam is not a religion of ridicule but a religion of reason. "Invite (all) to the Way of thy Lord" says the Holy Qur'an "with wisdom and beautiful preaching; and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious: for thy Lord knows best, who have strayed from His Path, and who receive guidance." (16: 125)

Monday, August 06, 2007

Mumbai Case Not Closed: Muslims

Members of Memon Family outside TADA Court

New Delhi: Although India’s special TADA court has completed sentencing in the 1993 Mumbai blasts, which killed 257 people and left 800 injured, prominent Muslims and human rights activists believe the case is not yet closed and that “real” justice is not been served.
“There is a widespread feeling that there are two standards of justice operating in India,” Javed Anand of Muslims for Secular Democracy said.
“Perpetrators of the bomb blasts have been effectively addressed while 31 police officials found guilty of overt communalism towards Muslims are still enjoying freedom. Some of them have even been promoted.”
The Terrorists and Disruptive Activities Act (TADA) court finished this week delivering judgments in the 1993 Mumbai serial blasts in a year-long judgment delivery process that saw at least 100 accused being convicted.
The court has slapped death sentences against 12 culprits, including Yaqub Memon, the brother of the alleged main plotter and fugitive Tiger Memon.
“The court gave death sentence to Yaqub for distributing funds and assisting acts of terror,” chief public prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam said.
An accountant by profession, Yakub is the most educated member of Memons, a prosperous Muslim family.
Twenty other defendants have received life terms, including his brothers Essa and Yusuf and sister-in-law Rubina.
Rubina, the first woman to be sentenced to life in the case, is accused of allowing her car “be used to carry explosives.”
They can appeal their punishments and India’s Supreme Court stipulates that the death penalty be used only in the “rarest of rare cases.”
Death sentences are regularly delayed indefinitely or commuted by the President.
Eight members of the Memon family stood trial. Four were held guilty while three were acquitted. Abdur Razzak Memon, the father who was out on bail, died in the year 2001.
Dawood Ibrahim, an underworld don, and Mustaq Memon, better known as Tiger Memon, are believed to be the masterminds of the serial blasts. Both have been on the run since 1993.
The serial blasts were seen as the direct effect of the demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodha on December 6, 1992 and the anti-Muslim riots that followed in Mumbai, the commercial capital of India.
The Memons had surrendered in 1994 amid leaks of a deal with the government that female members would only be questioned but not arrested and males would be arrested and helped to get bail.
None of the Memon family members is known to be part of the underworld except for Tiger.
Interestingly, Sanjay Dutt, a leading Bollywood actor, has been sentenced to six years of rigorous imprisonment for illegal possession of an automatic AK-56 rifle in 1993, two months before the serial blasts.
Blind Justice
Muslim leaders and rights advocates insist the 13-year trial is not the end of the problem, pressing for the implementation of Sri Krishna Commission report.
“The Congress government has been in power for eight years in the state of Maharashtra and there has not been a word on this subject,” said M.J. Akbar, a senior editor and follower lawmaker.
Sri Krishna Commission was set up in 1993 to probe the 1992-93 Mumbai riots.
Official figures indicate 1100 people were killed in Mumbai alone, although independent sources put the figure at more than 2000.
Justice B.N. Krishna, a sitting Mumbai High Court judge, was appointed to head the commission after many judges had turned down the offer.
The commission submitted its report on February 18, 1998, after examining a total of 502 witnesses and 9500 pages of evidence.
It indicted 31 “extremely communal” and “trigger-happy” police officials. The government of Shiv Sena a right-wing Hindu party, rejected the commission report claiming it was “politically motivated.”
When Congress government came to power, it set up a special task force to implement the report.
No appropriate action has been taken against the police officials named in the report. R.D. Tyagi, a senior police official accused of shooting nine innocent Muslims, was later promoted police commissioner of Mumbai.
Anand of Muslims for Secular Democracy says Mumbai stands as an example of double-standard justice.
“Sri Krishna Commission report talks about cause (Babri Masjid demolition and the riots that followed) and effect (Mumbai serial blasts of 1993) theory.”
He said no action has been taken against people like Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray and former member of the legislative assembly Madukar Sarpotdar who openly advocated violence against Muslims in the 1992-93 riots.
“In Mumbai riots, there is no indication of serious effort on the part of the judiciary as well as the executive.”
Same Terror
Teesta Setalvad, a prominent social rights activist and co-editor of Communalism Combat, believes there can be “no peace without justice.”
“The bomb terror of March 12, 1993, must be recalled with the same horror as the mob terror of December 6, 1992, in Ayodhya, resulting in the loss of hundreds of lives all over the country,” she said.
“The soul of Mumbai was forever scarred with the brute mob violence that held us to ransom from December 8 to January 20, 1993,” Setalvad said.
“Mobs stalked streets that were likened to Nazi Germany (by jurist NA Palkhiwala and Justice Bakhtawar Lentin of the Mumbai High Court). The Mumbai police connived with mobsters in mass arson, murder and even rape. Worse still, our political leaders watched as Mumbai burned.”
The prominent social rights activist quotes Justice B.N. Krishna who said the bomb blasts “were a reaction to the totality of events at Ayodhya and Mumbai in December 1992 and January 1993.”
Ms. Setalvad had recently sought information from government regarding the status of the cases against the “guilty” police officials under the Right to Information Act (RTI). She terms the revelations as “shocking and disturbing,” noting that not a single police officer has been properly charged.
In all her RTI findings, only one guilty police constable was dismissed from the service. Others have been exonerated in departmental enquiry.
The Supreme Court of India on Wednesday, August 1, sought a comprehensive affidavit on the alleged lapses by the Maharashtra government in taking action against the perpetrators of the Mumbai riots.
It asked the petitioner, the action committee for implementation of Sri Krishna Commission, and others to file the affidavit within six weeks.
“If there is complete failure of justice, it will certainly be looked into,” said a division bench headed by Chief Justice K G Balakrishnan.
Navaid Hamid, secretary of the South Asian Council for Minorities, commended the move.
“The Supreme Court has done a commendable job,” he said, believing that justice for the Muslim victims of the Mumbai riots can still be served.