Sunday, October 28, 2007

In Malegaon, 6 years after Riots: No Lessons are Learnt

In the Line of Fire: Diamond textile factory on fire during Malegaon riots of 2001

Malegaon: In Malegaon and elsewhere, riots have always followed a pattern: a minor incident, a lit matchstick, and a conflagration follows. Hooligans hold sway, rumours travel faster than truth.

The story was the same on a chilly Friday afternoon here on October 26, 2001. A few Muslims were distributing an Urdu pamphlet which was titled “Be Indian, Buy Indian” outside Malegaon’s Jama Masjid after the namaz. It listed the names of a few American and British companies and called for a boycott of their products in order to ensure a “free economic future.”

A jawan of the SRP, who was perhaps unaware about what it said, snatched some copies and tore them up. People coming out of the mosque at that point became enraged at this act of high-handedness and a fight broke out with the police. When a stone thrown accidentally hit someone involved in Dussehra preparations nearby, the clash took on a communal colour.

The 20-day madness that followed claimed 14 lives — 12 Muslims, a Hindu and one person who could not be identified. Of the 12 Muslims, nine died in police firing while the other three were stabbed to death by mobs. The lone Hindu was burnt alive by a Muslim mob.

The 2001 riots were not restricted to Malegaon alone, they spread to at least 138 villages nearby, where Muslims were targeted following the spreading of false rumours — including that Hindu women had been raped in Malegaon. A total of 135 mosques and dargahs were razed or partially demolished.

Justice K.N. Patil, a retired judge of the Bombay high court, was asked to inquire into the Malegaon riots. After a year and a half of painstaking digging, he submitted a report to the state government in June 2003, but more than four years later this report is yet to be tabled in the Maharashtra Assembly.

“It has been more than four years, but not a single word has been uttered by Vilasrao Deshmukh on the report,” Prof. Mustafa Khan, who has followed the case closely, said.

“Commissions have become our destiny. Other communities benefit from government action, while we only get commission reports,” he said.

“Our case is worse than (even) that of the 1992-93 Mumbai riot (victims) because we don’t even know what the commission’s findings are,” Prof. Khan added.

S.S. Shaikh, a lawyer, says he believes that the judge’s report has severely criticised the police and the administration, and the role played by some police stations in particular, and is almost certain that it will never see the light of day. “Forget implementation, it will not even be tabled in the Assembly — for the simple reason that it will be a major embarrassment for the Congress.”

It remains a fact that only Muslims were killed in the police firing. “Both communities indulged in arson and looting but only Muslims fell to police bullets,” said Nihal Ahmad, a former state minister and senior Janata Dal (S) leader.

The “police bias,” he says, was evident. “All Muslims were shot above the waist.”

The police has also been accused of indiscriminate firing on innocents. A 50-year-old woman who was drying clothes on her balcony was shot dead in the Mohammed Ali Road area. “A bullet pierced through Bilqees Bano’s stomach. Is drying clothes in one’s own balcony a crime?” asked Prof. Khan.

What actually caused the outbreak? Naseen Ahmed, founder of Malegaon’s first news channel, offers an explanation which finds many takers. “It was an outburst of Muslim anger against the establishment, (resulting from) everyday discrimination that Muslims face — from government offices to financial institutions,” he said.

“The Jama Masjid incident provided an outlet.”

Mr Ahmed says the Hindu reaction was the result of a collapse of leadership.

“During the riots, some Hindu leaders belonging to different political parties wanted to prove that they were the true champions of Hindus,” he says, without naming anybody.

Lawyer Shishir Hiray, who was the government’s special public prosecutor in the Malegaon riots case, terms frustration and unemployment as the root causes.

“Empty hands can only throw stones,” he says.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Eid with Indian Orphans

5-year old Fatima at Darul Yatama, girls' orphanage

Malegaon: As Indian Muslims celebrate `Eid Al-Fitr, the festival that crowns the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan, with usual euphoria and fervor, a strange calm envelopes Darul Yatama, a Muslim girls’ orphanage located at a stone’s throw from Mumbai-Agra national highway.

"Till last year, `Eid signified darkness but at Darul Yatama `Eid is all about light," Fahmeeda Mohammed Yusuf, a 13-year-old-blind girl said.

Fahmeeda has memorized eight parts of the Holy Qur’an.

Darul Yatama is Maharashtra state’s only Muslim girls’ orphanage with state of the art facilities where religious as well as the modern education is being imparted.

Orphan girls have been provided with new clothes and sandals on the occasion of `Eid.

"Since `Eid means day of happiness, I have played the entire day with other girls in the sprawling garden of the orphanage," said Fatima Hakeemuddin, 5.

An adorable Fatima, originally from the north-eastern state of Assam, wore new bright dress with a pink scarf.

She does not remember her father who died in an accident.

"Today we have been pampered so much that I could not think of my family."

"Since we have girls from all across the country, we had made enough arrangement for `Eid," said Maulana Abdul Khalique Faarkaleet, the head of Darul Yatama.

"We prepared a variety of delicacies keeping in mind the different traditional tastes," he said.

"Celebrating `Eid with orphans gives you a sense of joy which cannot be descried in words," he said with a smile.

"All 103 girls in the orphanage are part of my extended family."

For some of the orphaned girls `Eid Al-Fitr is a chance of family reunions.

"On this holy day of `Eid, I am waiting for my mother," said Rukhshana Aslam, 10, sobbing uncontrollably.

Her long wait for her mother has been quite painful because she is the only one who visits her on `Eid.

Rukshana stays at the orphanage with her 5-year old younger sister who is mentally-challenged.

"I am really happy that my mother has come to meet me on `Eid day from my hometown in the state of Madhya Pradesh," said a jubilant Nida Mirza, 12.

"We had a fantastic time since morning. My mother made amazing sheer khorma (a popular Indian sweet dish Muslims make for `Eid) for all of us on the occasion of `Eid."

"It’s the reunion time for our family," her mother said.

Nida's father was a mechanic who passed away in an accident when she was barely six year old.

Earlier her uncles used to support her mother but now that the family has been partitioned there is no one to look after her mother.

"There are times that I really can’t sleep thinking about my mother. She works as a maid to support herself," said a concerned Nida.

Nida’s empty eyes moisten when asked about how people generally treat her. She tried to contain her tears before breaking down.

"People think that orphans are helpless. The other day somebody wrote in a newspaper that I came to this orphanage because I was helpless," she said with her trembling voice.

"I deeply resent that. Orphans are not helpless," her voice choked off.

Nida wants to become an Aalima (Islamic scholar).

Friends Qurratulain, 7, and Shabana, 5, celebrated `Eid with a commitment.

They have both decided to permanently give up their old "profession" of begging.

"We together used to beg in streets for days. Now that we have found this orphanage which supports us, there is no need to beg," they said.

"Begging was such an abhorring practice," Qurratulain said.

For 6-year old Noor Jahan Abdus Sattar, who lost her mother in Malegaon bomb blasts on September 8, 2006, while she was begging outside India’s largest Muslim cemetery, `Eid is all about coping up with reality.

"I don’t have anybody in this world apart from this orphanage," she said with a stream of tears tickling down her face.

"`Eid conveys that we must accept reality as it is and live with it," she added wisely.

"Don’t judge me by these tears. They are natural. I am really happy this `Eid."

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Iftar Party?

A Political Iftar Party in Mumbai

Come Ramadan and every political party – be it right-wing, left-wing or middle-wing – float a new (political!) party with a limited life: Iftar party. Its life expectancy is that of a month! As soon as the Eid-moon appears over the horizon, Iftar party packs off and goes into hibernation mode for the next eleven months! Unlike other political parties (whose target audiences are broad), their main target audiences are those Muslim dullards who confuse personal welfare to that of the community’s welfare! It thrives on Jinnah’s Muslim League agenda: divide, sympathize, rule and attain personal clout!

Did you say Iftar party? Are you still confused that the holy word Iftar has been joined with that of an unholy entity called Party? Don’t be. The marriage between the two is a unique union of strange bedfellows. What emerges from this union is an unholy alliance for an unholy purpose: to woo Muslim masses on every count! The moment anybody utters the term Iftar party, the image that conjures up in mind is that of a political party which has come into existence just to exploit religious observation of the Muslims. There is no other Party in the world whose sole motto is so narrow and totally based on negativity. In Iftar Party’s manifesto everything else dominates over the true spirit of Iftar. But how can Iftar, a sacred act of the Believers, be connected with politics or vice-versa? Iftar is an Arabic word which is derived from the root word fatrann. It signifies breaking of the fast. What a political party has to do with the breaking of the fast? Political parties have their own system of interpretation. Let’s try to unlock their interpretative code!

Perhaps a politician’s limited brain with unlimited mischief thinks that the Iftar Party gives him an opportunity for future capitalization among the Muslim masses. It gives him the ultimate advantage of mixing with the Muslims where he can flex his political muscles without any opponent present in the ring! It provides him a pleasant platform to talk about the confluence of Ganga-Jamni tehzeeb (existence of pluralistic society) although his main aim is to garner Muslim votes. It is an attempt to showcase who is who of the politics. It is a race to boost public image of the politician where parameter of power is measured on the basis of cash flow. It is a public relation exercise where each and every object of presentation (read flashbulbs, chairs, tables, plates, delicacies etc.) is chosen carefully after close scrutiny. It acts as an ointment to pacify old wounds of the Muslims! Iftar Party is like a fisherman’s net whose sole function is entrapment!

An Iftar Party is a place where Jinnah comes alive: untouchable Jinnah caps suddenly become touchable. A politician’s favourite Nehru cap is replaced by the Jinnah cap!

Unfortunately some of the self-appointed messiahs of the Muslims who grace Iftar Party happen to be Muslim Ulemas. It is altogether a different matter that most of them are hired. Beware, we are living in an age of hire and fire!

Muslims, beware! Don’t be seduced by the aroma of the political food because it contains ingredients which can impair one’s independent way of thinking! Those who visit political Iftar Party tend to confine themselves to pigeon-holes!

As Ramadan readies to depart, there is a sudden surge in political Iftar parties. It would be worth recalling what Dr. Mustafa Kamal Sherwani has recently written on political Iftars in the form of a beautiful poem:

Count all the known ‘BEARDS’ with utmost care,

Seduce them all into our Party’s voting share.

Give them the title of ‘ULEMA’ of high esteem,

When they come, like a beeline, it must seem.

Manage to make them sit in separate rows,

To send a strong message to our foes.

For us, all of them are a great asset,

Their every motion must be recorded in cassette.

The ‘LONGER BEARDS’ must occupy central places,

From all sides, the media must cover their faces.

On this gullible community is resting our hope,

To blunt its mind, these ‘IFTARS’ are a dope.

With round caps on, like them, you must look,

To trap these ‘FOOLS’, it is the best hook.