Archive for June 2017

Veil is not regressive anymore. Instead, it’s a fad to flaunt it these days. That’s exactly what young Muslim women in India are doing. They are making a style statement with a wide range of elegant hijabs, chic headscarves, bold turbans and stylish abayas. And a  host of new-age designers and online retailers are offering them a variety in fashionable Islamic clothing.

Chennai-based Mohamed Maaz, founder & CEO of, an online Islamic shopping store, is one of them. “We encourage women to embrace their modesty without having to compromise in fashion,” 32-year-old Maaz, who started the store two years ago,says.

On Ramadan this year, Maaz’s has launched a new collection of hijabs and abayas. For example, hijabs are not limited to the traditional black colour anymore; they come in bold and bright yellow, green, magenta and many others. Similarly, abayas come in the most trendy styles – front open, embroidered, maxi style, asymmetrical panelled, gown embellished; some even have pockets.

Like Maaz, there are many young fashion designers in India who are trying to create a niche market for Islamic or modest fashion, as popularly called. In the past three years, number of online shopping stores such as Islamic Design House, Little Black Hijab, Hayaah Hijabs and Mysha have come into the market with an aim to blend style with modesty.

Till two years ago, Mumbai-based Farheen Naqi of Little Black Hijab was a fashion blogger who used to write on Islamic clothing. Her idea was to tell the world that faith and fashion can go hand in hand. On her blog posts, she got queries from young Muslim girls asking her where to buy fashionable hijabs from. “It made me realise that there was a big gap in the market for young hijab-wearing girls. So I took it upon myself to start a brand where girls could find a hijab for every outfit and occasion,” says Naqi, who started her label, Little Black Hijab last year.

Naqi’s hijabs, embellished, laced and floral printed, which come in different fabric such as crepe, viscose, jersey and chiffon are in great demand among young Muslim women.  Naqi is already targeting a turnover of Rs 30 lakh this year. Similarly, Maaz sells at least 250 abayas in the price range of 1500-10000 every month and 70 per cent of his customers are domestic. But he has already expanded his client base to the US, Canada and Australia, among other western countries.

Globally too, the trend of Islamic fashion has been catching up for some time. In the past three years, some of the global brands such as Uniqlo, Dolce & Gabbana, DKNY, H&M and Mango have embraced Islamic fashion. Various online stores in the West such as Hijab Loft, Austere Attire and Hijab Junkie have been launched to cater to the Muslim women looking for trendy hijabs and fashionable abayas. Globally, individual designers too have created a space for themselves in the Islamic fashion industry.

UAE-based Rabia Z is one of the leading hijabi fashionistas in the world. She started her fashion label by her name when she saw a lot of her friends were forced to take off their hijabs soon after 9/11 attacks. “After 9/11 when hate crime was on the rise, it (her brand)started with a personal need for versatile modest clothing which extended to the clothing needs of family, friends and communities in need of modest style solutions,” says Rabia, whose brand Rabia Z sells abayas and signature hijabs via her online store.

For Stockholm-based fashion designer Iman Aldebe, the idea was to re-imagine hijab. So she started an affordable Turban line, ‘Happy Turbans’ in 2013. Women across the world love her creation for her turbans showcase the fusion of two cultures, for example, she mixes African and Middle eastern influences in her designs. “When you mix influences from different countries, the style becomes more interesting, exotic with a twist of modern and edgy type of fashion,” Aldebe tells The Telegraph.

Experts say that such innovative styling of traditional Islamic dresses has led to a larger acceptance of Islamic fashion in the world. “This is a big shift. For decades, it was a well-known secret that super-rich Gulf clients were important to the viability of European couture houses but there was little public acknowledgement of this and high street brands were often aversive to being associated with Muslims. Now being associated with Muslim consumers is being seen as an asset,” says Reina Lewis, author of Muslim Fashion: Contemporary Style Cultures.

Industry experts say that the Islamic fashion industry is only growing by each year globally. According to State of the Global Islamic Economy Report 2016-17, produced by Reuters  in collaboration with DinarStandard, a New York based Growth Strategy Research & Advisory firm, Muslim spending on clothing is expected to reach US$368 billion by 2021, a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 7.2 percent from 2015.  “This is being driven by young, diverse, global modest Muslim women, but is also has a wider appeal to women world-wide who also prefer some form of modest fashion,” says Rafi-uddin Shikoh, CEO of DinarStandard.

The report also stated that of the US$ 110 billion retail clothing and footwear market in India, India’s 172 million Muslims spent an estimated US$11 billion on clothing in 2015 and this is expected to grow at a CAGR of 13 per cent to reach US$20 billion by 2020.

There are sociological factors leading to this expected rise in demand for Islamic fashion. Globally, as more and more young Muslim women have access to education, to careers and to the power to control their own expenditure; they are likely to want to clothing to take them through their lives and their different roles, observes Lewis, who is also the Artscom Centenary Professor of Cultural Studies at London College of Fashion in the University of the Arts.

Interestingly, many non-Muslims too buy the fashionable hijabs and turbans, reveal fashion designers. Rabia, who has a large Indian client base, says, “We have a large clientele of non-Muslims who appreciate the modest aspect of the designs but mostly love the style.”

With the rise of demand for Islamic fashion in India, there has been a revolution led by a few fashion bloggers cum designers who are popularising the trend on social media.They are telling the world that one could be covered, yet confident. Chennai-based designer 21-year-old Shazia Bargatullah flaunts her looks in self-designed trendy hijabs on her Instagram page, the_devil_wears_parda. She also designs long jackets, duster coats, maxi dresses and maxi shirts. “I do anything that can team up with a hijab and look modest,” Bargathullah says.

Fashion designers say that the real objective to promote modest fashion is to give a stern reply to anti-Muslim prejudice and discrimination. In the US, hijab has emerged as a symbol of resistance to the growing Islamophobia soon after  Donald Trump started targeting Muslim immigrants after taking over as President.

Lewis says many young Muslim women use fashion as a way to communicate positive images about Islam and about Muslims.

It’s also about empowering Muslim women to establish their own identity, some observe. “Islamic modest fashion movement does have its core in a need to respond to allegations that Muslim dress—the hijab in particular—is drab, oppressive, and a result of male coercion,” Asma Uddin, founder of US-based altMuslimah, an online magazine featuring compelling commentary on gender-in-Islam, says. “Women behind Muslim fashion line, particularly the chic ones are saying to the world – ‘we wear these clothes of our own free will.’ These clothes are empowering and fashionable.”

Indian fashion designers say this is their way of protesting against all kinds of bans against hijab, for example, in 2015, the Supreme Court of India had upheld a ban on hijabs and long sleeves at the All India Pre-Medical entrance test. This is also a message to those who pity Muslim women in veil. Recently, the union sports minister Vijay Goel tweeted a portrait of a woman wearing hijab next to a woman in a cage saying, “This painting tells a similar story to @zairawasim…. (our daughters are moving forward after breaking the cage). More power to our daughters.” Zaira Wasim is a young actor who came into limelight after her performance in Bollywood blockbuster, Dangal.

Naqi has an answer to such stereotyping. “Muslim girls are wearing it (hijab) happily, they don’t feel the need to be ‘freed’ and they feel unapologetically like themselves in it,” Naqi says.

Yes, “unapologetic” is the word, echo many Muslim women in hijab.


How two women took to trolling – their offensives, their defences, rewards and recognition. Sonia Sarkar reports

  • For whom the belles troll: (From top) Priti Gandhi with Smriti Irani; one of Gandhi’s tweets; Vidyut

They live in Mumbai. Both are mommies. They are politically aware and aggressive social media enthusiasts. They are both big-time trolls on Twitter.

That is where all similarities end.

Priti Gandhi tweets @Mrs Gandhi and Vidyut tweets @Vidyut. The former, according to the Twitteratti, is a ” bhakt” and the latter an “anti-national”. “We are very different from each other,” stresses 40-year-old Vidyut, who has over 35,900 followers.

Indeed, Gandhi is a Narendra Modi fan, while Vidyut is quite the fierce Modi critic. Gandhi advocates the ban on cow-slaughter, Vidyut questions it fearlessly. Gandhi is a darling of ultra-nationalists, Vidyut is often called a “libtard” on Twitter by the same lot.

Both women got active on Twitter when as new mothers they found themselves confined to their homes. The year was 2010. “Those days, I was reading newspapers a lot and felt it was important to put forth my opinion on certain issues. So I hooked onto Twitter,” says Gandhi, 39, who has over 2,14,920 followers.

Within a year, national politics underwent a transition. Anna Hazare’s fight against corruption started and Arvind Kejriwal emerged as a third force to take on both the BJP and Congress before going on to form the Aam Aadmi Party. Modi was projected as a mass leader soon after he became the Gujarat chief minister for the third time in 2012.

Initially, Gandhi tweeted only about mundane things @pritirules. But even then the message was loud and clear. “Don’t get misled by my last name; I support the BJP,” she roared on Twitter.

Her anti-Congress tweets started getting retweeted by BJP leaders; and then one day, she changed her handle to @MrsGandhi. “One of my friends used to jokingly say, ‘There are two Mrs Gandhis in India – one is Sonia Gandhi and the other is you.’ I realised, this name has a lot of potential, as there would be one Gandhi questioning the other. So I changed my handle,” she says.

Vidyut invited the ire of the saffron brigade on Twitter because she was supporting AAP and criticising BJP. She was trolled relentlessly. But she knows that verbally abusing women who go against the tide is a norm on social media. She doesn’t get flustered because every time people troll her, her followers multiply. Says Vidyut, who is incidentally no longer a Kejriwal supporter, “Women have to roll up their sleeves and defend themselves. Ignoring or blocking the abusive handle isn’t really the solution.”

For once the two agree. “If you can-not bear the heat, get out of the kitchen. Playing the victim card doesn’t help,” says Gandhi.

Just because they have learnt the art of negotiating insults doesn’t mean they don’t troll anyone. “But I am not abusive,” explains Vidyut. “I am sarcastic and yes, my sarcasm is far more brutal than any abuse.”

Gandhi does not like to call herself a “troll”. “I put forth my opinion aggressively,” she says. It was her aggression that caught the attention of Narendra Modi, who started following her on Twitter in 2012. “He was one of my first 75 followers,” says Gandhi. Thereafter, her followers increased manifold.

That very year, she was invited to Gandhinagar. “He [Modi] liked that I, as an independent person, defend him on social media,” says Gandhi, whose Twitter page has three different shots of her with the Prime Minister. ” Bhakts” do get their due. Gandhi too was inducted into the communication cell first, and later into the BJP’s women’s wing.

In fact, such was Gandhi’s devotion that she once tweeted a fake endorsement of Modi by editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks Julian Assange without checking – only because it seemed to compliment Modi. This was before the 2014 general elections. The link had an image of Assange and a quote that read – “America fears Narendra Modi because they know he is incorruptible”. “Somebody had sent it to me. I tweeted it. It was a non-issue that was blown out of proportion by the media,” she explains.

But Vidyut is not going to let this Gandhi gaffe slip into oblivion anytime soon. “Whenever Gandhi trolls people by pointing at concocted facts and figures, I troll her back to remind her how she propagated a false endorsement of Modi by Assange,” she says. Then adds, “But she is a paid troll of BJP, I can never compete with her.”

For the rest of the catfight, please log in to Twitter.

A marriage bureau in Gujarat is facilitating gay marriages. What does this trend say about the future lives of homosexuals in India? Sonia Sarkar reports


  • AN EQUAL MUSIC: (Top)The Ahmedabad bureau has gay prince Manvendra Singh Gohil (below) as a counsellor

After years of dilly-dallying, Vishal, a marketing manager with a pharmaceutical company, decided to get married. The news far from pleased his parents. First, they threw a fit, then dragged him to a tantric. Next, his father brought home a female prostitute – for him.

“All this because I said I wanted to get married to a man,” says Vishal, who is from Mumbai but is currently settled in Ahmedabad.

When he couldn’t convince his parents, Vishal approached Arranged Gay Marriage (AGM), India’s first gay marriage bureau. A couple of interactions later the matchmakers there managed to get through to his parents. “They saw several videos on gay relationships on the Internet; they read about gay marriage on various websites; they sat through several counselling sessions to know how gay relationships work,” says Vishal. Once they were convinced, they started looking for a partner for him.

The search ended with Kartikey, a professor in a Mumbai college. “We are getting married in December,” says Vishal. Maitree Basu, who works for an IT firm in Bangalore, also met her partner Tanushree through the bureau. The two tied the knot last year.

Like Vishal and Maitree, over 23 other homosexuals – gays and lesbians – have found their partners through this Ahmedabad-based marriage bureau since it was founded a little over a year ago. To date, the bureau has facilitated four such marriages in India and 20 abroad. And its Facebook page is perennially flooded with queries.

Unlike Australia, Belgium, Norway, Spain, Canada, South Africa, the Netherlands and some states in the US, gay marriage is not legally recognised in India. In fact, Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code prohibits it.

But legalities don’t seem to deter Urvi Shah, the 23-year-old owner of the bureau. “Gays and lesbians also have the right to live a normal life just as any heterosexual,” she says. “Everyone needs a life partner. Moreover, marriage reflects traditional Indian values.” Having said that, she is well aware that in India “coming out” is no easy task, forget deciding to get married. She feels strongly about the social exclusion and psychological distress homosexuals are subjected to and through the bureau offers counselling support to those who want to come out of the closet.

For homosexuals opting or wanting to get married, the idea is to publicly claim their societal space as a married person just as any married heterosexual person. Only last month, Manjit Kaur, a 30-year-old Punjab Police woman sub-inspector married another woman at Pucca Baugh, in Jalandhar, complete with Hindu rituals. Mumbai-based Gaurav Salve, a chartered accountant, married Jake, an American, last year. He says, “I am a religious person and I wanted to get married. For a man in India, getting married to a man was impossible.”

Manvendra Singh Gohil, the celebrity gay prince of Rajpipla in Gujarat, often counsels the clients of AGM. He asks, “When heterosexuals have the liberty to marry, why should gays be deprived of the same right?”

No reason, except that among other things it isn’t easy for homosexuals to find partners keen on a long-term relationship and commitment.

“Homosexual men do have a tendency to have multi-partner sex as their stable relationships are not recognised by society,” says gay rights activist Ashok Row Kavi. “Our first baseline survey in Mumbai in 2000 showed that gay men had an average of 11 casual partners in a month. This figure has now come down to four and even this is reducing,” says Ashok who is chairman of the gay rights organisation, Humsafar Trust. He stresses that as society is getting used to same-sex couples, the chances of stable gay relationships are increasing.

In the meantime, however, the going continues to be tough for Urvi who runs the bureau out of Gujarat, the BJP-run state that supports criminalisation of gay sex. She will tell you it is considered “unethical for a Hindu girl to support homosexuals” and she is used to receiving random threats. Recently, an anonymous caller threatened her with acid attack.

On the home front, too, niggling worries abound. Her parents seem to have got past the initial worry about what people will make of such an initiative. But they cannot stop worrying about how it will impact Urvi’s own marital prospects. Perhaps they worry that no one will believe that she is herself of heterosexual orientation.

Urvi, however, is unbudging. Her steadfastness holds out hope to the homosexual community. Gaurav is thinking of adopting a child.

From counselling and facilitating same-sex marriages will AGM diversify into helping homosexual couples raise a family? It well might, once the trend they’ve floated settles in.

It was meant to celebrate diversity, create a blueprint for a more unified South Asia. Instead, Delhi’s South Asian University has turned into a miniature Saarc summit with Indo-Pak rivalry occupying centrestage and every other country jostling for attention. Sonia Sarkar has the story

  • INTERNATIONAL DIS-COURSE: A bulletin of events at SAU. Picture credit: Sonia Sarkar

    Bharat Kumar Kolhi was looking forward to his two-year stay in Delhi when he signed up for the Sociology programme at the South Asian University (SAU). The resident of Pakistan’s Umarkot imagined that in India, he would finally get to be Bharat – the name given to him at birth – instead of Bhrat, the tweaked moniker he had had to acquire to suit the political climate of his birthplace.

    It was not very long before Bharat realised his mistake.

    Just as the mere whiff of India in his name would set the Pakistanis bristling, here too everyone kept thrusting his Pakistani nationality in his face. Nothing else seemed to matter – neither his name nor his Hindu identity.

    “The first thing some Indian students at SAU asked me was – ‘Pakistani ho, haath mein bomb leke aaye ho?’ (You are a Pakistani; have you brought along a bomb?) I realised I would have to live with this kind of stereotyping the next two years,” says Bharat, now in the final year of his postgraduate programme.

    SAU was set up in 2010 with the aim to bring together students from the Saarc (South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation) nations – Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, the Maldives, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and, of course, India. While the physical bringing together has happened, it will take some doing before one gets to the “unity in diversity” part, at least going by what students have to say.

    In recent times, the SAU campus, like many others across the country, has come under the grip of ultra-nationalism. Pakistani students claim they find themselves at the receiving end of slurs such as “terrorists” and “ISI agents” here, whenever there is tension brewing along the Line of Control.

    Hira Hashmi, who is from Karachi, is studying International Relations at SAU. She talks about how last year, when 18 Indian soldiers were killed by militants allegedly “harboured” by Pakistan, a group of Indian students abused the Pakistanis on campus openly. “They put up posters saying ‘dushmano ki buzdili‘ and ‘Pakistanis are cowards’. When we protested, they removed them,” says Hira. “The campus was divided into two groups. It became an Us vs Them debate. We thought we may have to go back to our country halfway through the course.”

    Students claim a warning was issued to the mischief-makers after a complaint was lodged with the university disciplinary committee. University officials, however, deny this. “These things happen between students and get resolved by them. We don’t get involved,” says SAU president Kavita A. Sharma.

    While the Pakistani students claim they could do with less attention of a certain kind, students of other Saarc countries say they feel left out and their ethnic sensibilities ignored. Sounds familiar? Think Saarc meetings.

    Even celebrations are centred around India and Pakistan, students of other nationalities complain. For instance, initially, Indian and Pakistani students celebrated their Independence Day on the midnight of August 14-15. Mahamadul Hasan Rana, a Bangladeshi PhD student at SAU says, “Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was killed on August 15. No one bothered to understand our sentiments.” He adds, “The event has been mellowed down the past two years after we complained.”



    SAU Facts

    Established in 2010

    Programmes offered: PG, MPhil and PhD

    Number of students by country*

    ♦ India: 350**  ♦ Pakistan: 19

    ♦ Bangladesh: 67  ♦ Sri Lanka: 8

    ♦ Nepal: 52  ♦ Afghanistan: 55

    ♦ Bhutan: 9  ♦ Maldives: 1

    US $300 million (Rs 1,996 crore)

    is the estimated capital cost

    The operational budget for 2016 is

    US $10.71 million (Rs 71 crore)

    Capital budget for 2016 is

    US $36.37 million (Rs 242 crore)

    *Number currently enrolled at SAU

    **50 per cent seats reserved for Indians

    Some others allege that India’s “big brother” attitude in the Saarc region is reflected in the conduct of the Indian students. “Indians try to emphasise that Bangladesh exists only because Indians helped us in our Liberation War,” says Sariful Islam, a Bangladeshi student, who is doing his postgraduate in International Relations.

    The imbalance, apparently, is also reflected in the curriculum. Afghanistan is under-represented in courses such as International Relations and Sociology, points out Omar Sadr, a PhD student from Afghanistan. “The multi-cultural and multi-national theme of the university is defeated because there is an overdose of India and Pakistan in the curriculum.” And yet, the SAU is overflowing with applications from Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Nepal.

    In fact, it is the number of Pakistani students that has been dwindling – their 10 per cent quota remains underutilised in most courses. And while the ongoing political tension has most definitely contributed to the reduced numbers, there are quite a few niggling issues that they face.

    Hira talks about how Pakistanis have to literally go to lengths just to be able to pay the fee for the aptitude test. Payment via debit card, credit card and netbanking from Pakistan is not possible. “One of my cousins who lives in India made the payment on my behalf,” she says.

    It is the same story when Pakistani students have to block seats by making an advance payment after they have cleared the test. A senior university official who does not want to be identified confirms that Pakistani students have indeed been complaining about payment-related problems.

    The other stumbling block is visa. According to SAU rules, students along with faculty members and university staffers from other countries were supposed to get the SAU visa. It is valid for the course duration and allows visa holders to move freely across India. But the reality is different for some, especially if they are from Pakistan. “We need to renew our visa every year. Besides, only six entries are allowed and the movement is restricted to four places – Delhi, Agra, Gurgaon and Amritsar,” Hira complains.

    But a lot hinges on the political dynamics between the two countries. Last year, an additional visa granted to Hira for travelling to Patna was withdrawn, and apparently no valid reason was cited.

    Then again, every time Pakistani students re-enter India, they have to report to the foreigners regional registration officer within 24 hours of arrival. Students of other Saarc countries have to do so within 14 days of arrival.

    •    The first thing that some Indian students at the university asked me was — ‘Pakistani ho, haath mein bomb leke aaye ho?’
      Bharat Kumar Kolhi


      •     We need to renew our visa every year… Only six entries are allowed and movement is restricted to Delhi, Agra, Gurgaon and Amritsar
        Hira Hashmi

        International Relations

        Picture credit: Sonia Sarkar

        University officials are inundated with complaints. “We have written to the ministry of external affairs (MEA) several times about these issues,” says president Sharma. “That’s all we can do.” The Telegraph tried to contact the MEA spokesperson to understand the visa issues but did not get any response.

        All said and done, two years is a decent period. Despite irritants, one picks up survival tips, makes friends, learns to laugh at the situation. Hira points out that a lot of the campus humour also revolves around Indo-Pakistan relations. “One of my Indian friends taught me this dialogue from a Sunny Deol blockbuster where he apparently tells Pakistanis – ‘Doodh mangoge toh kheer denge, Kashmir mangoge toh cheer denge (If you want milk, we’ll give you kheer. But if you seek Kashmir, we will rip you apart),” she says with a laugh.

        Hira has learnt to cope with the biases too. Tips from her Indian cousins have helped. “They told me that whenever someone asks where I am from, I should say Ranchi since it sounds like Karachi.” She also takes care not to speak in Urdu in public places.

        Both Hira and Bharat are scheduled to leave India next month after the convocation. They leave with bittersweet memories. “Perhaps, I will come back when the ties between the two countries are better,” says Bharat.

        But with ultra-nationalism taking centrestage here, this might take a while.

Delhi University professor Nandini Sundar has been taken by controversy again. This time a surrendered Bastar “Maoist”, Podiyami Panda, has alleged that he facilitated meetings between her, rights activist Bela Bhatia and top Maoists, a claim she denies. Last year, Sundar, author of The Burning Forest – India’s War in Bastar, was charged with murder of a tribal in Sukma district. Far away from the Maoist hinterland, sitting at her office in Delhi School of Economics, Sundar faults both the government and the Maoists and pleads for peace talks. Where she herself is concerned, she sees a “witch-hunt” by state agencies. Sundar, 49, an awarded academic – recipient of the Ester Boserup Prize (2016) and Infosys Prize ( 2010) – also tells SONIA SARKAR that she suspects directives against her are coming from the very top in the political establishment – the Prime Minister’s Office and national security advisor Ajit Doval.


Q. What’s your response to Podiyami Panda’s statement that he was the link between you and Maoist leaders in Bastar?

A. I have never met any Maoist leader through Panda. It’s a false statement.

It seems that he has been tortured in police custody. His family members have filed a habeas corpus plea in the Chhattisgarh High Court. In the affidavit, his brother has stated that he met Panda in the presence of police; he was not able to walk properly, and seemed to have injuries on his feet. It is clear that he has been saying whatever the police want him to say. The police have been trying to frame us for a long time; they make us the target whenever they get an opportunity.

Q. Have you ever met Panda?

A. I know him for the past 15 years. He was a member of the Communist Party of India (CPI) and sarpanch of Chintagufa in Sukma. I met him because he was strongly opposing the Salwa Judum (civil militia) movement in 2005. It was in April 2015 that I met him for the last time.

Q. Did you ever meet any Maoist leader?

A. In May 2006, as part of the Independent Citizens’ Initiative, I met Gudsa Usendi – the name taken on by a succession of Maoist spokespersons. I object to this question on principle because it is insulting to researchers. If journalists feel entitled not to reveal their sources and meet all sides, why shouldn’t researchers? For the record, I have written on my chance meeting with lower cadres in my book. I criticised their violence, so they accused me of equating their violence with state violence. For my research, I would have wanted to meet more Maoist leaders but they never offered any guided tour or any interview because I asked them too many difficult questions.

Q. Why do you think Bela Bhatia and you are often drawn into controversies? Why is there so much questioning of your role in Bastar?

A. It is because Bela and I have been consistently insisting on peace talks. The state wants to discredit us. It doesn’t want any middle ground – it wants a black-and-white situation where there is nothing but the presence of military force.

Q. You have been working in Bastar since the 1990s. Is this sort of harassment new to you?

A. The state started harassing me ever since I filed a petition in the Supreme Court opposing Salwa Judum. In 2007, the police photo-shopped my image. I was shown with my arms around Maoist women cadres. They wanted to say that I filed the case on behalf of the Maoists. When I protested, the police replied saying it was one “Ms Jeet”. Nothing has ever been heard of this Ms Jeet before or after. In 2010, when I visited Bastar along with a friend, after being asked by the additional solicitor-general, we were picked up by 50 armed special police officers. They even followed us to the airport to make sure we left. Then last year, there was a murder charge against me but I have got a reprieve from the Supreme Court. But now, there is harassment by the Centre, which is putting pressure on Delhi University. If I apply for leave, I am asked, “What’s happening to your murder case?”

Q. Do you think the former IG (Bastar range) S.R.P. Kalluri made things worse for you? He filed murder charges against you.

A. I don’t think Kalluri was the sole issue. Yes, his language was defamatory. But I was harassed even when Vishwaranjan was the director-general of police (from 2007 to 2011). The main issue is that chief minister Raman Singh is condoning all of this.

Q. Do you think the Centre, too, has a role in all of this?

A. Yes. Either the Prime Minister’s Office or the national security advisor, Ajit Doval – it’s the political establishment that should be held accountable, not just the police.

Q. What changes have you noticed with BJP coming to power?

A. I think, Salwa Judum has spread all over the country in the form of gau rakshaks and vigilante mobs. The atmosphere now has become vitiated and violent.

Q. Are you a tribal rights activist or has your role changed into that of a mediator between the Maoist and the mainstream?

A. I don’t call myself a rights activist or a mediator. I am a sociologist whose work is to research and teach. In the course of that, I have been drawn into this because it’s an area I have done research on.

Q. What’s your understanding of the Maoists issue? Where are they going wrong?

A. The surrendered Maoists I interviewed have revealed that there is corruption in the ranks. Also, they carry out horrible punishments – like they kill people if they are suspected of being police informers. This is a perversion of their policy. The top leadership should realise that this strategy is going nowhere.

Q. What should be the approach of the government towards Maoists?

A. There should be peace talks. There should be a set of independent people who could be trusted by both sides such as former Supreme Court judges, retired administrators, policemen and others to mediate.