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Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Employer-employee relations in Indian homes have seldom not been troubled and troublesome. Sometimes, they’ve turned volatile. In the second week of July, Zohra Bibi, a domestic help, went missing. The 26-year-old was employed in one of the posh housing societies in the National Capital Region’s Noida area. The next day, a mob – from the neighbouring slum where Zohra lived – stormed the residential complex. The agitators’ allegation: Zohra was being held captive by her employers. Eventually, police confirmed that Zohra had been found in the basement of one of the buildings. Her employers had accused her of theft, and taken it upon themselves to punish her. Zohra’s version: they beat her and locked her up in their apartment when she demanded her dues. In time, 13 men were arrested on charges of rioting and vandalising property. The BJP MP from Noida and Union minister of culture, Mahesh Sharma, voiced his support for Zohra’s employers and promised that the offenders would not get bail for “years to come”. The incident itself developed communal overtones – “Bangladeshi” domestics versus Hindu house owners.

Zohra is not from Bangladesh. She belongs to Bengal’s Cooch Behar, as do most of her neighbours in the slum she inhabits. Among them, Ruksana Bibi and her husband, Afsar Ali. The couple arrived in Noida two years ago hoping to earn enough to pay off their debts. Zohra has gone underground since the incident but Ruksana agreed to show around The Telegraph what it is like to be a Muslim domestic help in Noida, Uttar Pradesh, these days.

  • It is barely dawn but Ruksana has been up for a while now. Some rice is on the boil in a pressure cooker. That would be her daughter, eight-year-old Bijli’s breakfast — rice with a slice of lime and salt. Ruksana and Afsar’s 50 sqft tin shack is in a slum less than a kilometre from the housing society where Zohra worked. The couple paid Rs 8,000 for it. Slumdwellers have contributed Rs 500 each to set up a hand pump. Sixty or so families use two makeshift community bathrooms; one of them has not functioned for some time now.

  • Ruksana catches up with Zohra’s mother-in-law, Mohsina, and her grandchildren. Zohra and her husband, Abdul Sattar’s house is locked. Mohsina alleges that Zohra’s teenage son, Rahul (not in picture), was picked up by police. He has been released since, but not the others. Mohsina, who worked as a domestic help in another housing complex, has also lost her job. Ruksana and others in the slum have been helping them with food and other necessities.

  • It is 6.10am. Ruksana enters a gated housing complex in Noida. She and other women from her slum work here. Each has an identity card issued by the management of the housing society after routine police verification. Other than this, Ruksana has a voter identity card and an Aadhaar card. After working in the brick kilns for 15 years, first in Cooch Behar and then in Ghaziabad, Ruksana and Afsar moved to Noida. Afsar was hired by the promoters of this very housing society to clean the windows and doors of apartments before they were handed over to the owners.

  • 9pm. After a long day, Ruksana returns home, as do the other women. They check on each other. Mother and daughter hungrily tuck into some rice, lentils and mashed potatoes. By 11pm, they are in bed. “I have not been able to sleep. I keep thinking, what if the police come back to harass me again? What if there are no jobs for us? What if we get thrown out of our homes? I don’t know how long this uncertainty will continue.” The thoughts jostle in her head and keep her awake. But her Bijli — Ruksana pats her gently. The little one must get her sound sleep.

  • Ruksana makes Rs 9,000 a month — she works in seven apartments, where she sweeps and swabs. Afsar’s monthly income is Rs 7,000. After the Zohra episode, there have been WhatsApp campaigns urging flat owners of the neighbourhood to blacklist “Bangladeshi” workers. “One flat owner called me a Bangladeshi and dismissed me,” says Ruksana. She adds,“I remember, it was my husband who cleaned their house and made it ready for them to move in. But now they consider us untouchables.”

  • Ruksana has taken a loan of Rs 15,000 from her employers to pay for the tuition and living expenses of the other two children. But after the allegations levelled at Zohra, she is scared. What if one of her employers slaps a false charge on her? She has stopped accepting gifts or food items from them. “All this while people knew we are Bengalis. Now, they look at us as Muslims and that has changed the whole equation. We are suddenly not trustworthy,” she says. This campaign against Muslims of the area is not new. In March, when there was a crackdown on meat-sellers in Uttar Pradesh, three Muslim boys selling poultry products at a makeshift market nearby were picked up by the police. They are still in jail. “That was the first we realised that things were slowly changing for us,” says Ruksana.

    (https://www.telegraphindia.com/1170730/jsp/7days/story_164519.jsp )


 

 

 

 

 

 

The exiled former President of the Maldives, Mohamed Nasheed, gets online with Sonia Sarkar to spell out why India is critical to his dream of returning as boss of the archipelago

  • Illustration: Suman Choudhury

He was known as the first rockstar President of the Maldives – Western educated, suave, crisply-turned out, espousing liberal values in an Islamic state, a visage that sometimes reminded some of a likeness to Barack Obama. Mohamed Nasheed caught attention easily. But not always where he wanted it most. He has the ears of the West thousands of miles away but has failed to cast a spell on his immediate neighbour, India. Former British Prime Minister David Cameron calls him “best friend”; Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has so far ignored him. But Nasheed hasn’t given up; he wants Modi to listen to him.

“I would try to tell Prime Minister Modi that the people of the Maldives are suffering under an autocratic government run by President Abdulla Yameen. We would like him to understand the fears of the people of Maldives,” Nasheed, 49, chief of the Maldivian Democratic Party, tells The Telegraph from Colombo over Skype.

So far, his plea has gone unheard in Delhi. Modi seems to be moving closer to Nasheed’s rival, Yameen. Last year, Modi signed a defence pact with the Maldives when Yameen visited Delhi. Indian diplomats say the deal was a bid to stem a growing Chinese influence in the Maldives. A major contract for the construction of Male’s international airport, which was earlier given to Indian infrastructure company, GMR, got revoked and went to a Chinese company.

But Nasheed cautions India. “I don’t think pandering to Yameen would make him averse to signing more contracts with China,” he warns. “Yameen has given around nine islands to China and some of those islands are very crucial for India because of their geopolitical positioning.”

Nasheed is frank enough to admit that these contracts to China will be tough to revoke even if he comes to power. Earlier, India suspected Nasheed of being receptive to China when a Chinese embassy was opened in Male in 2011 during his presidentship. “If we come to power, it’s going to be very difficult to undo any sovereign contract that Yameen will engage in with any other country,” Nasheed says. “We don’t want to bargain between India and China. I don’t want to blackmail a country into a negotiation or an action.”

Nasheed was thrown out of power in a coup in 2012 by the former Vice-President, Mohammed Waheed Hassan. Hassan is known to be a crony of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who Nasheed defeated in 2008. A year after the 2012 coup, Nasheed had taken refuge for 10 days at the Indian High Commission in Male fearing arrest. That was the only time that an Indian government (the UPA at that time) has responded to his call for help.

Nasheed has been trying to drag India’s attention to alleged cases of corruption, media repression and human rights violations by Yameen but to little avail. India’s diplomatic outlook appears clear: it will not engage with any individual, it would engage with the country’s official representative.

But Nasheed isn’t giving up. He routinely briefs officials of the Indian High Commission in London, where he has been living in political asylum since last year. His party colleagues have been meeting experts at Indian security think tanks in New Delhi too. They are making all possible efforts to pursue the Indian government to create pressure on Yameen to allow Nasheed to fight elections next year.

Nasheed fears being arrested the moment he lands in Male because he has been sentenced to 13 years’ imprisonment on charges of terrorism in 2015. Of the 13 years, he has spent only a few months in jail. Also, he is barred from fighting the polls on grounds of criminal conviction.

So he has joined hands with all opposition parties, including his long-time foe, Gayoom, the leader of the Progressive Party of Maldives and half-brother of President Yameen, to come back to power. When Gayoom ruled the Maldives with an iron fist for 30 years, he had had Nasheed arrested more than 20 times for his demand for democratic elections in the country. But now Nasheed appears to have dissolved his difference with Gayoom.

Together, with two other parties, Nasheed and Gayoom have created the United Opposition, which enjoys a majority in the Maldivian Parliament. They plan to move legislation for “free and fair” elections in which Nasheed can also participate.

Many believe Nasheed’s alliance with Gayoom shows his desperation to come to power. But Nasheed, who signed the deal with the opposition parties in Colombo, begs to differ. “It’s not my desperation. People are desperate to find solutions to problems of the Maldives and the onus is on us,” he stresses.

But Nasheed has a problem: he isn’t known as someone who can take everyone on board. In the past, when he was in power, he was accused of alienating the judiciary, the police, even parliamentarians. Key members of his government also resigned in sheer frustration.

Nasheed admits to learning lessons from the past. “This time, we cannot consolidate power within our own party. We must be ready to share powers with our allies,” he asserts. During the two-and-a-half years he was in power, Nasheed’s notion of “liberalising” the outlook of the country didn’t go down well with his newfound allies; at the time, many saw him as a threat to “traditional Islamic values” in the Maldives.

Over the past five years, Islamic extremism has risen across the thousand-island nation 1,350 miles southwest of India with a population of 3,50,000. Some reports suggest the Maldives is the biggest per capita contributor to terror outfit ISIS. But if he comes back as president, Nasheed says he is determined to tackle extremism: “I must continue to show leadership in liberal acceptance.”

Nasheed’s concept of liberalism is largely borrowed from the West, where he grew up. He read at the UK’s Dauntsey’s School in posh Wiltshire, and later enrolled for maritime studies at Liverpool’s John Moores University. His connections with the UK are deep. He has met Queen Elizabeth II and stayed at the Windsor Castle. But his Western ties don’t stop at Britain’s royals. Amal Clooney, celebrity international lawyer and wife to George Clooney, carries his brief. Nasheed’s fight for democracy in Maldives also finds itself gloried in a documentary titled The Island President; it was made by Hollywood’s Jon Shenk, one of the directors on the iconic Star Wars space saga.

As president, Nasheed’s policies were largely influenced by the West. His economic policies were based on the International Monetary Fund model of capitalism. He was also hailed by the West when he conducted an underwater Cabinet in 2009 to highlight the threat of global warming to the low-lying Indian Ocean nation.

Despite receiving accolades from the West, his love for India hasn’t diminished. His fascination for Indian cinema is deep. “I have been a fan of all the stars of the 80s – Amitabh Bachchan, the Kapoors and Mithun. I seem to keep going back to Abhimaan, Silsila and Kabhie Kabhie over and over again,” he laughs, adding, “I can never forget Zeenat Aman and Poonam Dhillon.” His exposure to Bollywood happened during his various trips to India as a teenager. On his first visit as a teenager, he travelled across India by train for four months. Later, as a politician too, he travelled to New Delhi and Bangalore several times; his last trip to India was in 2015. “I like living in India,” he says.

A history enthusiast, Nasheed has authored three books on Maldivian history. A former journalist and an avid reader, Nasheed is currently reading Shashi Tharoor’s An Era of Darkness: The British Empire in India.

Nasheed is a fitness freak too. He wakes up early and his 40-minute run is regimented. He is extremely careful about his lunch and dinner timings. A family man, Nasheed loves spending time with his wife, Laila, and two daughters, Mira and Zaaya, who study in a boarding school in England.

But then his life in UK is only transitory. He aims to be back home. “Soon,” he insists. He compares his state of homelessness to what Salman Rushdie has mentioned in his book, Imaginary Homelands. “I am always imagining home and the condition itself is not easy. And I don’t want to remain like this.” For things to change faster for him, he has been trying to shore up support back home through social media, especially Twitter. He claims a large number of his 85.1K followers on Twitter are young men and women in their early 20s: “Successful politics in the 21st century is instant – on Twitter.”

That’s where he “met” Modi too. “Recently, Modi retweeted one of my tweets on democracy. I would consider that as our meeting,” he says.

But perhaps he’d like to take a break from that virtual meeting and make it real.


tetevitae

Son of a businessman, the 1967-born Nasheed is educated in his own country, as well as Sri Lanka and Britain

He is in his 20s when he comes to be known as an outspoken critic of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s regime

1991: Arrested for the first time for writing a magazine piece alleging that the government had rigged the 1989 general elections. Named Amnesty International prisoner of conscience thereafter

It is said that in the next 17 years, Anni – as he is popularly known – was arrested 20 times

2001: Tries to register the Maldivian Democratic Party but fails. Finally, he succeeds in 2005

2008: Elected president in the Maldives’ first free polls, thus ending the 30-year rule of Gayoom

His presidency is not entirely smooth. And in 2012, he resigns

In 2015, he is awarded a 13-year prison sentence on terrorism charges. Shortly after, he asks to be allowed to travel to the UK for medical treatment. The UK has been his home since.

 

April 16, 2017

Kashmiri indignation remains well-fed, generation to generation

I’VE BEEN looking at the renewed powderflash from Kashmir on the television screens, and I’ve been looking at old notes in my diary. Some of it is worth repeating because some things, sadly, never change.

The Bodo jawan, small and fair, stops the small car ahead of us. He leans his head inside and asks the elderly man, in pheran and skull cap, to step out. Taking slow and clumsy steps, the man walks towards the checkpost about 700 metres down the road. His car crawls behind him. We are on a dusty stretch near Padgampora in Pulwama, 35 kilometres south of Srinagar.

It’s our turn now. Curiously, the young soldier allows us through without a question.

“You are spared because you are an Indian,” quips my driver, Mehraj, a burly man in his late 50s. By “Indian” he meant non-Kashmiri.

Random checks, unprovoked summons and unwarranted detentions are common for local Kashmiris. “We are treated as outsiders in our own land” – is a common refrain.

Journalists on assignment from Delhi have it far easier than anyone Kashmiri. While we roam the curfewed streets of Srinagar freely, flaunting the central government’s Press Information Bureau tag, Kashmiri journalists, by contrast, must scout escape routes through Srinagar’s narrow bylanes to reach safety when there’s trouble.

One afternoon, during the 2010 unrest, I was on my way to downtown Srinagar, when I heard a Kashmiri journalist frantically call out. He had been thrashed by CRPF jawans who wouldn’t be convinced that he ran a news agency and actually published “pro-Indian” content.

It’s November 2016. I am back in the Valley. At Bandipora, I am passing by a landscape of burnt tyres, broken spokes and logs of wood. We are manoeuvring through the barricades and gun-toting soldiers. Two militants were killed in a nearby village the previous night.

Kashmir has been on high alert for several months now. A summer full of blooms has been busted by the killing of the young Hizb-ul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani in July. Months of unrest followed. Close to a hundred people died, thousands were injured or permanently disabled, Kashmir recorded its longest time under curfew.

It’s nearing the end of autumn now. In fact, a delayed autumn, Mehraj corrects me. The unusual calm in the fog-ridden air resounds with tales of a wounded summer. The tall chinar trees, bereft of the leaves, stand in a row. The skies are heavy with grey clouds turning darker. We hear thunder in the distance. In a while, thick drops of rain start falling on the windshield. I roll down the window to feel the rain-freshened air.

This sudden downpour is as unpredictable as the unrest in Kashmir, says Basit, a Sopore lawyer, as we munch on crispy lavassas (flat bread made of finely-milled wheat flour), bundhh (salted bun) and chochwour (bread with sesame coating) at his house.

Basit is telling me about the unlawful detention of stone-pelters and how their cases progress in court. As we get engrossed in our conversation, Basit’s little nephew, all of three, sits coyly next to him. He and his elder brother have been confined to home for months now; the schools are shut. His brother is now restless and is keen to go back to school but he isn’t. “Whenever we tell him, he would go to the kindergarten soon, he would say, ‘ Pehle India ko bhagaao, phir school jayenge (Let India leave Kashmir, then I will go to school),” his lawyer uncle says chirpily.

The child looks on with a glassy stare as Basit narrates more stories of his revolt at home. He even ignores his mother’s summons. The boy pulls a kangri (little pot with lighted charcoal) closer to himself for some warmth. I could see the glowing embers of the kangri. These embers, perhaps, resemble the rage of a young Kashmiri.

This rage remained subdued in the autumn and through the winter. But what’s the coming summer, already blistered, to bring? Kashmir is aflame again.

 

Telegraph, April 2, 2017

Link : https://www.telegraphindia.com/1170402/jsp/7days/story_143981.jsp

Is India’s biggest minority on the way to being made politically irrelevant? With the BJP picking Yogi Adityanath, among the most virulent anti-Muslim voices, as UP chief minister, the debate is no longer whether Indian Muslims are pampered; it is whether they are being shoved out of the national discourse. Sonia Sarkar gets a measure of the shifting equations

 

“Unless proved to be ‘good’, every Muslim was presumed to be ‘bad’.”

— Mahmood Mamdani
Good Muslim, Bad Muslim, written in the backdrop of 9/11

He rears cows; doesn’t eat beef. He believes the Mughal emperor, Akbar, was an invader but hails the Mewar ruler, Maharana Pratap. He despises Aurangzeb and has a soft corner for Dara Shikoh. He abhors the skull cap in his daily life but flaunts it at a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) rally.

Meet the good Muslim of India – a Muslim not defined by his or her own religious or cultural belonging or mooring but defined by parameters set by Hindu ultra-nationalists, many of who sit saddled in power today. Does it say something that one of the most consistently strident and divisive anti-minority campaigners – Yogi Adityanath – has been handpicked to lead Uttar Pradesh, our most populous and politically influential state?

One such “good” Muslim comes from UP itself and was recently applauded on the floor of the Parliament for disowning his “terrorist” son. Sartaj Ahmed of Kanpur disowned his son, Saifullah, killed in an encounter last fortnight in the thick of the final rounds of polling in Uttar Pradesh. Hailing him, Union home minister Rajnath Singh told the Lok Sabha: “We should all be proud of him (Sartaj).”

Did Sartaj have a choice? That’s the question many are asking now.

“Sartaj had to prove his nationalism by disowning his son,” asserts Delhi’s Mohammad Aamir Khan, 38, who spent 14 years in jail, being falsely implicated in terror cases. “Strangely, a Hindu’s patriotism is never questioned. Why don’t fathers of Hindu men, who were recently accused of spying for Pakistan’s ISI, disown their sons, just as Sartaj did?” Khan asks.

Umar Khalid, the PhD student of Jawaharlal Nehru University, who was arrested for allegedly shouting anti-India slogans last year, says society profiles him by his religion. “I don’t even call myself a Muslim, I am an atheist, yet they term me a bad Muslim. But these circumstances make you feel conscious of your Muslim-ness,” Khalid says.

This is a hard time to be a Muslim in India. Branding at the hands of ultra-Hindu groups, often backed by the powers, comes easy; belonging, as the recent outcome of the UP Assembly election might attest, comes tough. The BJP, which swept UP by a landslide, chose not to give a single Muslim a ticket. Hindu groups and leaders are quick to label Muslims as good and bad; Muslims are under pressure to prove their loyalty to the nation.

For quasi-political Hindutva groups, a good Muslim is one who exhibits ample love for the country or subscribes to their ideology of ultra-nationalism. Often, they cite the example of how the Bollywood Muslim trio of lyricist Shakeel Badayuni, singer Mohammed Rafi and music director Naushad, showed their patriotism by composing a Hari bhajan, Man tarpat Hari darshan ko aaj for Baiju Bawra (1952).

For the RSS, a Muslim who is fairly a Hindu is a good Muslim. “A Muslim doesn’t necessarily have to worship Ram as God but he must accept that Ram was a great personality and he doesn’t oppose the building of Ram Mandir in Ayodhya,” says a Nagpur-based Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) leader.

Pakistan-born Canadian author Tarek Fatah is the new darling of Hindu nationalists because he lambastes radical Islamists. “Traditionally, India is a land of Hindus; I can never support the invaders,” Fatah tells The Telegraph from Geneva. His argument is ahistoric, and rubbishes hundreds of years of syncretic culture and tradition that went into the making of plural India.

When Hindu groups love a Muslim, they reward him too. For example, recently, they named Dalhousie Road in Delhi after Dara Shikoh. According to them, Shikoh was a good Muslim because he translated the Upanishads into Persian; Aurangzeb, his brother and slayer, was a bad Muslim because he was devout and imposed religious taxes on Hindus during his time. The erstwhile Aurangzeb Road now stands re-named after former President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, another “good” Muslim because he was the architect of India’s nuclear programme, he knew the Ramayana and played the veena. And this exercise of rechristening Aurangzeb Road as A.P.J. Abdul Kalam Road took place to send a strong message that there is no space for “bigoted rulers” like Aurangzeb in India. Recent works on the last great Mughal emperor, such as Audrey Truschke’s Aurangzeb: The Man and the Myth, suggest that he was more sinned against than sinning. But historical truth or detail has seldom come in the way of ultra-nationalists. Aurangzeb stands condemned and deserving of being airbrushed.

Bringing some “good” Muslims together in 2002, the RSS floated the Muslim Rashtriya Manch. Last year, the forum asked all Muslim members to rear cows and also brought out a booklet, on cow and Islam, highlighting the importance of cow in Islam.

“A good Muslim is someone who accepts Indian culture and tradition,” says RSS leader Indresh Kumar. “Muslims who are born here, should be loyal to India.” But that loyalty is for Muslims to prove, each step of the way. If Hindus think some Muslims don’t conform to their idea of loyalty, they’d want them packed off to Pakistan. That’s the diktat they issued to Bollywood superstars Aamir Khan and Shah Rukh Khan when they recently spoke out against rising intolerance in the country. Often, the net is cast wider. During the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, Union minister Giriraj Singh called out to all those opposed to Narendra Modi to head to Pakistan.

Muslims in India have for years been told “mend your ways, else go to Pakistan”. Hyderabad Lok Sabha member and no-nonsense Muslim voice Asaduddin Owaisi recalls that during his growing years as a Hyderabadi teen, a group of Hindu men would routinely come by his house in an upmarket neighbourhood and shout: ” Musalman – Kabristan ya Pakistan…“(For Muslims – it’s either destination graveyard or Pakistan).”

Delhi-based human rights activist Mahtab Alam has come to believe that many in his community sub-consciously feel the need to distance themselves from “bad” Muslims. He too has done it. “Once someone told me that S.A.R. Gilani, charged and acquitted in the Parliament attack case, was teaching in Jamia Millia Islamia, my alma mater. I quickly corrected him, saying, Gilani teaches in Delhi University, not Jamia. By saying so, I was not merely stating a fact but was disassocia-ting my alma mater and myself from the ‘bad’ Muslim.”

Muslims often make a conscious effort to prove their loyalty. In 2008, Mumbai’s Muslim Council refused to bury the Pakistani terrorists involved in the 26/11 attacks in the Marine Lines Bada Qabrastan. Recently, Muslim clerics in India spoke in unison against televangelist Zakir Naik, whose affairs are under investigation.

Despite displaying their patriotism repeatedly, Muslims are routinely stereotyped. During any India vs Pakistan cricket match, a Muslim is invariably suspected to be supporting Pakistan. A Muslim man with a beard and a woman in hijab are seen with suspicion. Recently, a young schoolteacher in Mumbai resigned after she was asked by the headmistress to remove her hijab and burqa before singing national anthem during the school assembly. Last year, a Muslim soldier was dismissed from the Indian Army because he refused to shave his beard. Again last year, Bollywood actor Nawazuddin Siddiqui was not allowed to act in a Ramleela in his west UP village for being a Muslim.

“Bad” Muslims have been routinely targeted. Two years ago, Mohammed Akhlaque of Dadri in UP was lynched for allegedly storing beef. Last year, two Muslim men in Jharkhand were hanged to death by self-styled cow vigilantes for allegedly trading in cows. Vice-President Hamid Ansari’s patriotism was also questioned for not being part of the International Yoga Day two years ago, and for not saluting passing contingents at the R-Day parade. Ansari hadn’t been invited to the yoga event and isn’t, as Vice-President, supposed to take the salute; only the President, as the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, is.

On the sidelines of rampant political discrimination and name-calling, Muslims have continued to fare poorly as a social group. In 2008, the government-appointed Rajinder Sachar committee report stated that Muslims suffer from severe deprivations in education, employment and health services. Houses are not rented out to them; they are forced to live in ghettoes. Indian human rights groups have repeatedly expressed concerns over profiling of Muslims as terrorists.

Hatred against Muslims has grown manifold too, fuelled by social media Hindutva activism. M. Reyaz, assistant professor of Journalism at Calcutta’s Aliah University, says, he chooses not to confront anything “obnoxious” against Muslims posted on social media: “Argument with them is futile.”

Experts say that this sort of labelling becomes stronger when politicians make the Hindu-Muslim divide more obvious. Addressing an election rally in UP recently, Prime Minister Narendra Modi made his infamous kabristan-shmashan reference, sending out a clear message on which side he stood. “The good Muslim-bad Muslim narrative gets validated when a prime minister makes such references in his speech,” historian S. Irfan Habib points out. Muslim representation in Parliament and the UP Assembly is at a low, and in both Houses the BJP coasted to victory making it apparent it wasn’t bothered about them. “It seems Muslim voters have no relevance and that’s a reason to worry,” Habib says.

Writer and theatre actor, Danish Husain, however, feels that paying attention to the Good Muslim vs Bad Muslim debate would mean playing into the hands of rogues, who have usurped the nationalism narrative. “This is a bogus distinction and an attempt to deflect us from the real issues of the country,” Husain says. “None including the media should fall into the trap.”

Perhaps, that’s a sound advice for Muslims in India too. But only perhaps.

My name is Khan, and I…

A Good Muslim

1. Rear cows; don’t eat beef
2. Don’t wear a skull cap socially but flaunt it at BJP rallies
3. Don’t ask for constitutional rights
4. Don’t object to the construction of Ram Mandir in Ayodhya
5. Lambaste radical Islamists; practice yoga
6. Tell everyone that I am supporting India in an India vs Pakistan match; oppose Pakistani actors in Bollywood
7. Am always apologetic about any crime a Muslim commits in any part of the world
8. Never question radical Hindus and self-styled cow vigilantes
9. Sing bhajans, celebrate Holi and Diwali, invite Hindus to Iftar
10. Consider A.P.J. Abdul Kalam as the ideal Muslim.

A Bad Muslim

1. Am into cow-trading; eat beef
2. Wear a skull cap socially without inhibitions
3. Claim my constitutional rights
4. Question the demolition of Babri Masjid
5. Don’t sing Vande Mataram or chant Bharat Mata ki Jai
6. Question atrocities against Muslims
7. Question police ‘encounters’
8. Don’t consider Muslim rulers
of India as invaders
9. Vote for ‘secular’ parties
10. Sympathise with Maoists.

 

Muslims speak…

1. Umar Khalid, JNU student.
“If you give up claims to your Constitutional rights – say, right to pray etc  and live like a second-class citizen, you are a good Muslim, in the eyes of the Hindu nationalists. But if you claim your rights as a citizen, you become a fundamentalist or an anti-national.” 
 
 
2. Shahid Siddiqui, Rajya Sabha member:
 
 “By disowning his son’s body, Sartaj, proved that largely, Muslims in India are loyal to their country.”
 
3. Shabnam Hashmi, social activist: 
 
 “If a rational Hindu questions the radical Hindus, he is an anti-national. If a rational Muslim does the same,  he is a terrorist.”
 
4. Asaduddin Owaisi, president of All India Majlis-e Ittehadul Muslimeen and Lok Sabha member. 
“Why is it necessary for a Muslim to be either with the secularists or the Hindu nationalists?
Minority Index

POPULATION

Muslims — 17.22 crore or 14.2% of the total population

EMPLOYMENT

Recruitment of minorities in government, public sector banks, PSUs
8.57% in 2014-15
(Religion-wise data as well as employment in the private sector are not maintained)

Defence Services*
3%

Bureaucracy
2.5%

Government sector
23.7%
(as against 35.2% Hindus)

Private sector
6.5%
(as against 13.9 % Hindus)

WPR**
33%
against the national average of 40%

LITERACY RATE

68.5% against 73.3% for Hindus

*Source: 2006 CNN IBN’s Minority Report
**Work participation rate (WPR) is percentage of the total workers to population
Sources: Census 2011; Ministry of minority affairs; 2006 Sachar Committee report 

The Telegraph, March 19, 2017.

https://www.telegraphindia.com/1170319/jsp/7days/story_141346.jsp

 

 

 


Narendra Modi’s sway over power is spurring a robust drift away from liberal thought and towards Right-wing nationalist studies across our campuses. Sonia Sarkar gets a grip on the trend

  • DOCTORAL DEITIES:  (From left) V.D. Savarkar, Deendayal Upadhyaya and M.S. Golwalkar have become widely favoured and promoted research subjects

Modi is in, Marx is out. Mythology is in, history is out. Announcing a new trend in varsities across the country. It’s “Rashtravaad” (nationalism), Hindutva, Golwalkar, Savarkar, Modi and Indian mythology that have caught the imagination of research scholars post-2014. Looks like Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “Make in India” cry carries a deep Indic ring in academic circles.

“This is the time for Indian researchers to move beyond (German revolutionary) Karl Marx and (Russian communist) Vladimir Lenin and research Indian personalities and Indian polity, Indian culture and consciousness,” asserts Kaushal Kishore Mishra, professor of Political Science at the Banaras Hindu University (BHU).

Mishra’s students are writing papers on “Cultural nationalism of (RSS icon) M.S. Golwalkar,” and “Relevance of Hindu Mahasabha leader Vinayak Damodar Savarkar in Political Science”.

More and more MPhil and PhD students are being encouraged by faculty in various universities to explore Hindutva-related subjects. “I tell my postgraduate students that they must look beyond human rights, women’s empowerment, Panchayati Raj and Gandhi as these topics have been explored extensively. They must do research on topics which have remained untouched such as Bharatiya Jana Sangh leaders – Deendayal Upadhyaya and Syama Prasad Mookerjee, and the RSS and its social service,” says Sanjeev Kumar Sharma, Political Science professor at Meerut’s Chaudhary Charan Singh University.

Similarly, in Lucknow University, research is on to establish “historical links” of Lord Shiva with Kashmir, inspired by a fictional work. “The scholar read about it in a recent bestseller and he proposed to write a thesis on it,” says a university professor.

Eulogising Modi in research papers is a growing trend too. Scholars in BHU are writing papers on the “Role of Modi in the empowerment of Muslim women,” and “Modi and (US President) Trump – a case study of the two personalities vis-a-vis their elections”. In Gujarat University, researchers are working on papers such as “Improvement in India-US relations, post Modi”, and “Emergence of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in national politics, post Modi”.

Other state-run higher education institutions such as the Ram Manohar Lohia Avadh University in Uttar Pradesh’s Faizabad and Maharaja Ganga Singh University in Rajasthan’s Bikaner are championing the “Hindu” cause in a big way too. A scholar in the Bikaner university is writing a paper on ” Sarsanghchalaks of the RSS (Heads of the RSS)”; another is working on “The cultural outlook of the RSS”. At the Faizabad university, grants have been sanctioned to a PhD student to write a paper on “Deendayal Upadhyaya and his Hindutva ideology”.

This is not to suggest that all research work in the social sciences in every university revolves around the Hindutva ideology these days. But surely, there is a pattern – young researchers are being nudged towards themes and personalities attached to the notion, and politics, of Hindu nationalism, whose unabashed mascot Prime Minister Modi is.

There is good reason for this to have become a trend. Many academics believe smart researchers are trying to cash in on the Hindutva vogue to secure easy grants. “Research grant funds allotted to universities are poor. Given the current political scenario, receiving grants, either from universities or from the central funding institutions, for Hindutva-related topics would be easier,” argues Vijay Kumar Rai, head of the department of Political Science at Allahabad University.

Some senior teachers and scholars also argue that the trend is part of an attempt by faculty members who espouse far-Right Hindutva ideology to gain a strong foothold in upper academia, a project of the Sangh Parivar and the Modi government to take the orientation and outlook of educational institutions, and indeed of learning, under their fold.

  • MASTER OF THE CLASS: Future generations may be looking at a radically revised view of India’s past

An illustration of how opinion is beginning to be skewed, without much to back it: an Indian Council for Historical Research (ICHR) journal recently stated that the iconic “Dancing Girl” of Mohenjodaro is Goddess Parvati, and therefore proof that people of the Indus Valley civilisation worshipped Shiva.

Over the past two years, many universities, central and state, have been quick to accept doctoral and research proposals on content that would be amenable to the Sangh ideology. So much so, that it has left some academics alarmed. “A young scholar would shape the academic terrain of the country in the coming years. Projects with preconceived conclusions should not be entertained by universities,” Rai stresses.

It’s not that the universities have not done credible academic work on Hindu nationalists and their ideology in the past but most such work was conducted with a critical eye. Some of these studies were taken up in Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), known to be a Left bastion. “We study personalities as part and parcel of larger processes. There are studies which focus on communalism in its various forms, Hindu, Muslim and Sikh, and they do not accept the self-definition of communalists as nationalists,” Mridula Mukherjee, former professor at JNU’s Centre for Historical Studies told The Telegraph.

Equally truly, Right-wing academicians have long nursed a grouse that they stood sidelined by the Left-liberal academic caucuses. They complain of having had to forever jostle for academic space. “Proposals on these topics were often rejected because they were labelled mediocre, communal and far-Right,” Mishra grumbles.

Left-liberal thoughts and voices did enjoy an extended and domineering run over India’s academia. It was true not only of JNU or Delhi University or institutions in Bengal and Kerala, but also of campuses across the heartland and elsewhere. But there’s an argument for that – Right-wing thought hadn’t been able to bring to the table solid, credible ideas and work that could compete. Modi’s arrival in power began to slowly but surely change that. “So they are infiltrating into the liberal academic space aggressively now,” says a senior Delhi University (DU) professor who would not be named. “For them, the only qualifying factor is that the scholar has to be a Hindu loyalist.”

Politics and personalities have always influenced academic trends. In the late 60s, the Communist Party of India could influence the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s policies. Around that time, significant research took place on Marx, Lenin, communist politics in the erstwhile Soviet Union, and also on former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and his secular-liberal vision of India. Post the 1971 war and the creation of Bangladesh, academic papers were written extolling Indira Gandhi’s emergence as a strong woman leader at home and abroad.

So with Modi in power, the likes of Golwalkar are replacing Nehru in research bibliographies.

Hindutva-related ideologues tried to craft their narrative in educational institutions once before – during the Ram Janmabhoomi movement in the early 1990s. That’s happening in a big way now. “Modi’s radical approach is reassuring for the Right-wing academia; we feel encouraged,” says Manoj Dikshit, professor of Public Administration at Lucknow University. It is no coincidence that academics with Sangh affiliations are being handpicked to head major institutions – Y. Sudarshan Rao (ICHR), Girish Chandra Tripathi (BHU), Chandrakala Padia (Indian Institute of Advanced Studies), Vijay Bhatkar (Nalanda University).

Rai, however, warns universities that they should not compromise standards by welcoming run-of-the-mill work merely to appease the government. “Churning out research papers like factories could affect the credibility of the universities… Academics, with any leaning, shouldn’t try to prove their loyalty towards the government through their work,” he adds.

But few on the Right are interested in listening, it would appear. They are marching on, regardless, taking cue from a dispensation that is positively urging them on.

The presence of RSS members in university seminars and workshops is becoming a norm. For instance, many of them attended the Indian Political Science Association’s annual conference at BHU in 2015, where research papers on subjects such as the theory of Ram Rajya and the relevance of Manuvaad in the current political scenario were released. Last year, Hindu spiritual guru Shankaracharya Swami Nischalananda Saraswati addressed students of Lucknow University where he claimed that the computer has its origins in the Vedas.

In 2015, RSS conducted a camp in Osmania University. Last year, RSS leader Indresh Kumar was invited as the chief guest at the Hemchandracharya North Gujarat University’s convocation. RSS leaders were invited at the DU convocation in November last year. Many witnessed the varsity vice-chancellor, Yogesh Tyagi, touching RSS joint general secretary Krishna Gopal’s feet before moving to the dais. RSS leader Indresh Kumar and a few others have been regularly invited to speak at orientation courses in DU. In all these sessions, RSS leaders tried to indoctrinate teachers by giving lectures on their idea of nationalism. A teacher who attended one says, “One speaker likened atomic particles – electrons, protons and neutrons to Hindu gods – Brahma, Vishnu and Maheshwar.” IIT Delhi has received close to three dozen research proposals on the potential of panchgavya, a concoction of cow dung, urine, milk, ghee and curd.

BHU’s Mishra is unrelenting on the way ahead; now’s the opportunity and it needs to be grabbed. “Emotions are running high. If we don’t do research on these subjects now, nobody will remember our national ideology and icons,” he says.

In the post-truth era, await new truths.

PS: Just as an aside, Wendy Doniger’s opus, The Hindus: An Alternative History, pulped in 2014 for fear it will attract Right-wing Hindutva rage, has made a quiet return to the stands.

For weeks before it voted yesterday, Punjab was on song. Sonia Sarkar reports on the jig-gigs that became the key campaign tool across the state

Aaja nach lae!”

– Old Punjabi folk refrain

  • NOTES FROM THE HUSTINGS: Performers at Jaago organised by AAP

As the sun begins to set, celebration time dawns around this market square in Jalandhar, 80 kilometres south of Amritsar. Men turn out in the traditional kurta and chadra (sarong) strike up a rhythmic beat of the dhol; women, dressed in green and violet shararas and carrying decorated earthen pots on their heads, lead out a dance troupe, their arms twisting in sync with the drumbeat. Passersby begin to tap their feet. ” Le gaya bai le gaya, jhaaru wala le gaya,” they sing in chorus, (Those who wield the broom have swept the scene.)

  • Nishawn Bhullar

The jhaaru is the symbol of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and these singers are exhorting the crowd to vote for H.S. Walia, who is contesting the Jalandhar Cantonment seat. From the busy market area, the troupe moves into the dusty bylanes and then to someone’s courtyard in the locality, as more and more people follow them. “Music is the only effective medium to reach out to people,” says AAP media co-ordinator Manpreet Randhawa.

This traditional Punjabi dance form, called ” jaago“, is a pre-wedding ritual but AAP has roped in local performers to turn it into a campaign instrument. “When a local form of art is used for political campaigning, everyone gets involved. People are ready to listen. These days, nobody wants to listen to politicians,” Randhawa adds.

Perhaps, true. In Punjab, the sight of the quintessential kurta-pyjama-clad politician with his palms pressed together, making promises and asking for votes, was rare this election season. Singers, musicians and folk artistes were hired by political parties to woo the voters, instead. Jingles, songs and short video clips were employed as tools by politicians to reach out to people – young and old.

AAP, the youngest kid on the poll block, wasn’t unique in turning to local performing arts as a canvassing method; all parties did.

The Congress’s chief ministerial candidate, Captain Amarinder Singh, who is taking on Akali veteran and incumbent chief minister Parkash Singh Badal in Muktsar’s Lambi, has come up with a foot-tapping number, ” Keh do ek bar, chahunda hai Punjab Captain di sarkar” to bring in hope for future – say it out once, it’s the Captain’s government that Punjab wants. “Our message is positive,” says Rishi Raj Singh, director at political strategist Prashant Kishor’s IPAC (Indian Political Action Committee), which is handling the Congress party’s campaign in poll-bound states.

The song, peppered with the exhort ” challo!” (let’s go!) after every stanza, touches upon the real issues of the state – drug trafficking and addiction, unemployment of the youth and farmers’ debts leading to suicides. “But the song will not make you sad. We are trying to tell people how Punjab will become great again under the political leadership of Captain Amarinder Singh,” Rishi Raj adds.

Political pundits have come to believe music helps politicians feel the pulse of the people. “We have a song for every occasion in our life. It’s music that keeps the people alive even in times of distress. Political parties have realised that music is the only effective tool to appeal to the masses,” says regional historian Raj Kumar Sharma, who is also the former principal of Government College, Gurdaspur.

  • Gurdas Maan

The Election Commission too has realised that music enjoys great mass appeal. It appointed celebrated singer Gurdas Maan as icon to spread awareness during the Assembly elections. Maan’s main role was to motivate the youth of Punjab to get enrolled in the voters lists and vote ethically. It’s a different story that his popular number, ” Apna Punjab hove, ghar di sharab hove,” promotes the locally distilled hooch, which has killed many young men in the state and is one of the burning issues in the polls.

For political parties, composing a catchy number is not enough. The lyrics should also strike a chord with constituents, especially at a time when rivals are using similar methods to woo voters. Kishor’s IPAC deployed 200 young men and women to push Captain Amarinder Singh’s case with the voter in March last year. The team spoke extensively with farmers, college students, businessmen and women to understand the mood of people. They picked up a series of local words and phrases, which were often used during long conversations and composed the theme song for him.

“People expressed their concern towards ‘ nasha (addiction)’ and ‘berozgaari’ (unemployment) but were also hopeful of a better future. So we picked up phrases such as ‘ kishan di khushhaali‘, ‘kheta vich bhangra’ and ‘ mund banjana nawab‘ that they used during casual everyday conversations and weaved them into the song,” Rishi Raj says. He hired Bollywood music director Sneha Khanwalkar of Gangs of Wasseypur fame to compose the peppy number. Sung by Bollywood singers Richa Sharma and Shahid Mallya, the song makes indirect references to AAP as “outsiders” too.

AAP, whose radio jingles became very popular during the Delhi elections in 2015, has mostly utilised its in-house talent. For example, Gurdev Mann, the candidate from Nabha, sang the party’s theme song, ” Jharu wala button daba dyon Punjabion… Badlan nyo sabak sikha dyo Punjabyon… (Press the broom button, teach the Badals a lesson).” AAP’s star poet-singer-cum-leader Kumar Vishwas wove out another song, “Ek Nasha”, slamming the ruling Badal family for all the evils in the state. The opening lines are hard-hitting – ” Saddi watt kha gaye, fasal kha gaye, khet kha gaye Badal, saddi sadak kha gaye, nahar kha gaye, ret kha gaye Badal (The Badals have eaten away our sand, our roads, our canals and our fields…)

  • Captain Amarinder Singh on the campaign trail

As a retort to AAP, Badal’s Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) came out with a video, Lalkar, which accused AAP of misleading people through false propaganda. Apart from releasing Lalkar, SAD has also used folk songs to deliver its message to the masses. “We have used the tune of the popular folk songs and peppered them up with party’s message. For example, our songs talk about our ‘ aata-daal‘ scheme under which rice and lentil were supplied to BPL families at a cheaper price and they also mention the uninterrupted supply of water and power to farmers,” says Badal’s media adviser Jangveer Singh.

None of these songs became an instant hit. These songs were released many months before the elections, to small gatherings at first on an experimental basis. “We played our theme song for the first time in a gathering in May, last year. When we saw people tapping their feet, we realised that this will do wonders,” Jangveer says.

Some candidates have been inviting singers too to campaign for them. Last week, SAD’s Hardeep Singh “Dimpy” Dhillon, fighting from Muktsar’s Gidderbaha, invited singer Babbu Maan to sing for him. The next day, his Congress opponent, Amarinder Singh Raja, also invited Maan. On both occasions, huge crowds – gathered on terraces and watching from every available vantage point – roared as he belted out some of his popular numbers.

Some local singers, who have been composing songs on social issues, refuse to campaign for politicians, though. Nishawn Bhullar, whose satirical number Jugni is liked by more than 1 lakh listeners on YouTube, is one of them. “This song slams all politicians. The message is subtle but strong – let’s not vote for the corrupt and the incompetent,” says Bhullar, who turned away requests by politicians. “Nobody wants to hear the politicians because they have nothing new to say. People only listen to the messages we give through our songs. So it is important for us to be cautious about these politicians.”

Dalit singer Ginni Mahi, who too refused to sing for a BJP candidate, believes singing for politicians would mean fooling the people. “I sing about equality and humanity – the songs of Ambedkar saheb and Sant Ravidas. Political parties would claim to believe in their ideologies only before the elections but they would forget them soon after. Why should I help them to fool people?” Mahi asks.

As you read this, the people of Punjab have already given their verdict. Who’s to face their music?

Telegraph, February 5, 2017.

https://www.telegraphindia.com/1170205/jsp/7days/story_134004.jsp

They’ve been at the forefront of social and political activism in Manipur but women haven’t got their due share in power yet. The forthcoming Assembly elections hold out little hope that things will change. Sonia Sarkar looks into the reasons why

 

  • LADIES LAST: Irom Sharmila Chanu (centre)

Imphal. It’s 4am. At five degrees, 44-year-old Irom Sharmila Chanu warms up with an hour-long suryanamaskar. She boils some rice and ‘laphu tharo’ (banana florets) for breakfast. At 7am, donning her green phanek and yellow pullover with a pink shawl, she prepares for a long day ahead. A water bottle, hat and a scarf in the bicycle basket, she sets off for Thoubal, 30 kilometres away.

“I like to start early. I get more hours of the day to meet people,” says Sharmila, famed rights activist and co-convener of the newly formed People’s Resurgence and Justice Alliance (PRJA).

She is having to work hard. After all, she is taking on the three-time sitting chief minister of Manipur and Congress leader, Okram Ibobi Singh, in the forthcoming Assembly elections. Also, being a woman politician in Manipur isn’t easy.

Bharatiya Janata Party’s Indira Oinam, who has been into politics for the past eight years, knows better. “As women politicians, we are made to feel that we are intruding into the man’s world and every day, we need to fight this patriarchal mindset,” says Indira, who too has pitted herself against Ibobi Singh (this is her second attempt at unseating him).

  • Indira Oinam

The irony is that women feel politically left out in a state where they have been at the forefront of many a battle. “Having women participate in social agitations is one thing, giving them their rights in politics quite another. We have failed to do the latter,” says S. Mangi Singh, professor of political science at Manipur University.

There is only a handful of women in politics in Manipur. In the outgoing state Assembly, only three of the 60 MLAs are women. And for the coming Assembly, only two women other than Sharmila and Indira have entered the fray. Both are from Congress – Akoijam Mirabai Devi from Patsoi constituency in west Imphal and Nemcha Kipgen, a Kuki from the Kangpokpi constituency in Sadar Hills. The celebrated boxer and the Rajya Sabha MP, Mary Kom, is likely to be courted by the BJP for campaigning.

“There are only a few women candidates because it’s predominantly a patriarchal society, so the real decision-making power lies with men,” Mangi Singh says.

But it’s not that women in Manipur have no say in society at all. Two Nupi Lan (women’s agitation) movements, the first in 1904 and then in 1939, both against the British, became the defining moments of woman power in the state. Protests led by Rani Gaidinliu against the British, forcing them to leave Manipur, is a local legend. In 1925 and 1932, women also led agitations against the increase of water tax by the then king.

When the late Indira Gandhi was addressing a gathering in Imphal’s polo ground in 1969, women staged a black flag vigil to press their demand for statehood. Curfew was imposed but three years later, statehood was granted.

  • Nemcha Kipgen

An all-woman campaign for prohibition, called Nisha Bandh, was much highlighted in the 70s. Irom Sharmila’s 16-year-long fast to repeal the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) is iconic, of course. Also, Meira Paibis, or women torchbearers, redefined public protests when 12 naked Manipuri women agitated against the killing of 34-year-old Thangjam Manorama Devi by security forces. Imphal’s all-women Ima market, centre point of the Nupi Lan movement, is considered to be a sign of women’s economic progress.

“But in politics, women are treated as second-class citizens,” says 57-year-old Akoijam Mirabai, the social welfare and co-operatives minister. “People feel women are not committed to politics and their focus is the family.”

That’s the reason Mirabai never got married. “I wanted to tell people that I am serious about politics,” she says.

But the journey wasn’t easy for her when she joined politics in 1980 at the age of 17 – first as part of the Congress Sevadal and then the Mahila Congress. “My neighbours used to tell my parents that my image as a woman would be tarnished if I joined politics. I fought every gaze and every taunt because I knew politics was my true calling,” says Mirabai, who hails from Taobungkhok in west Imphal.

There are several deterrents for women. “Women lack winnability. Even if we want to give tickets to women, we would lose out seats because the BJP might just put up stronger male candidates there. Social goals and political gains cannot go hand in hand,” says a Manipuri Congress leader.

In contrast to national politics, where political parties often foreground women candidates, keeping their glamour quotient in mind, Manipur politicians don’t look at “glamour” as a valid reason to give tickets to women. But glamour or no glamour, Indira thinks, women should get a chance. “When our PM talks about beti bachao, beti padhao, women should get priority in politics,” she says.

A senior BJP leader in Imphal argues that elections are all about money and muscle power and women fail to exhibit both, in most cases. “Indira will fight against Ibobi Singh but we are not projecting her as the CM candidate,” says the BJP leader.

Indira, who fetched 3,668 votes in the 2012 elections, the second largest tally any BJP candidate swung in Manipur, has faced such a bias once before. In 2014, Indira was expecting to get the ticket for Inner Manipur parliamentary constituency but the party chose R.K. Ranjan Singh, instead. Women members of the party protested openly, but quite in vain.

In the past, women in Manipur have mostly contested elections under the legacy of their powerful husbands in politics. For example, former Manipur King Bodhachandra’s wife, Srimati Ishwari Devi, contested from the Inner Manipur parliamentary constituency in 1952, but lost.

The first elected woman in the Manipur state Assembly, Hangmila Shaiza, came into politics in 1990 after the assasination of her husband and the former chief minister, Yangmaso Shaiza. Similarly, K. Apabi Devi won the 1992 by-elections after MLA K. Bira Singh died in a plane crash. Both benefited from “sympathy votes”, writes Binarani Devi in her paper, “Electoral Politics and Women”.

Again, Wahengbam Leima Devi, wife of Angou Singh, contested and got elected from Singh’s seat in 2000, only after Singh became an MP. Landhoni Devi, wife of Ibobi Singh, contested and won from the Khangabok constituency in 2007 and 2012 after Singh vacated it as he could retain only one, and that was Thoubal. In Ibobi Singh’s party, patriarchy rules. “Now that his son, Okram Surajkumar, is contesting, Landhoni Devi has had to sacrifice her seat. A woman has to make way for the male members of the family,” a state Congress leader says.

Mirabai feels that her singlehood is certainly a boon for her as a politician. “Being single, I don’t have the compulsion to listen to my husband, at least,” she laughs.

  • M.C. Mary Kom

Mirabai and Nemcha are the only two women to have made a mark in mainstream Manipuri politics without any political patronage. “When I joined politics in 2012, many discouraged me but now they are happy to see that I have sustained,” says Nemcha, who left her job as a nurse in Delhi’s All India Institute of Medical Sciences to join politics.

Nemcha – her husband S.T. Thangboi Kipgen is chairman of the United People’s Front, a Kuki militant group – claims one of her biggest achievements is forcing the government to create the new district of Kangpokpi – a longstanding demand of the people of her constituency. The creation of seven new districts, which led to an economic blockade by the Nagas, is one of the issues in the Manipur elections, besides the Centre’s secret peace deal with the NSCN-IM, corruption, unemployment and repeal of AFSPA.

But issues related to women such as compensation to widows, whose husbands were killed either by the militants or the state forces, and women’s empowerment are also likely to enter party manifestos.

In fact, political parties often float women self-help groups to generate funds. In Manipur, a woman’s entry into politics is mostly through social work. Both Indira and Mirabai were well-known social workers before joining politics. But few make it to the decision-making level of the party.

Here, another irony. Female voters have outnumbered the male voters in almost every Manipur election. In 2012, 6,94,893 women cast their votes as opposed to 6,31,223 men. The truth remains, though, that – as Sharmila herself rues – even women voters lack confidence in women candidates. She’s set on contesting nevertheless.



  • mamun ibne hussain: dont take it negatively but we are indian and our daughters should not follow the filthiest dirtiest horrible european and american womens the w
  • Susmita Saha: Memories truly have a special place in the treasure trove called life. And your memories shine like jewels in this piece.
  • saimi: That is a lovely one Sonia.. and I can relate to so many things that you mention ...