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Archive for the ‘Religion and Conflict’ 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 )


 

 

 

 

 

 

Sonia Sarkar listens in to the rage and disenchantment feeding the violent student upsurge across the Valley

  • NOT BOUGHT OVER: Those who read Kafka and Shaw too feel the need to protest, say students
    Photographs by Abid Bhat

Girls dressed in white salwar-kameez and black cardigans march fearlessly on the streets of Lal Chowk in central Srinagar. Faces covered with white dupattas, colourful bunny bags slung tight on their backs, they chase uniformed men with stones in their hands.

Among these girls is Asma Firdaus, a second-year student of English Literature at Srinagar Women’s College. “I read Franz Kafka and George Bernard Shaw, yet I go out to raise azadi slogans and pelt stones,” she says.

A few kilometres away, a middle school boy, wearing an olive green pullover and a pair of white trousers, takes the lead as hundreds of boys and girls follow him. He chants, ” Hum zulm ke khilaf hain, khilaf hain” and “College-o mein ghusna band karo.” Others join him in chorus – ” band karo, band karo“.

These are the new images emerging from Kashmir – compelling and powerful. In uniforms, these school and college students have been facing water cannons, tear gas and pellets fired by the forces. These protests send a strong message to Delhi, students assert. “It is a stern reply to the narrative promoted by Delhi that only the uneducated youth of Kashmir, who could be bought over by separatists, come out on the streets to protest,” says Aala Fazili, a research student at Kashmir University.

Fazili is referring to former defence minister Manohar Parrikar’s statement that stone pelters could be bought over by separatists for as little as Rs 500. Clearly, his argument has fallen flat as school and college students come out openly to pelt stones at the forces now.

The immediate provocation was the incident that took place at Pulwama Degree College on April 12. On that day, an army vehicle entered the campus to organise a painting exhibition under its ambitious “Sadbhavna Mission”. Students held massive protests and some even pelted stones at the vehicle forcing the men in uniform to leave the premises. Three days later, on April 15, students staged another protest against a checkpost of Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) troopers, barely a few metres outside the college gate. Police came into the scene to control the agitating crowd; 55 students were injured in the subsequent tear-gassing.

Students narrate their tale of ordeal from that day. “Some of us fell unconscious after being tear-gassed,” says a first-year student of the college. “When we were struggling to come out of the campus, police officials told us that if we ask the boys hiding in classrooms to come out they will not touch anyone. We trusted the police and did as they requested. But the moment the boys came out, police started beating them up ruthlessly,” she adds.

The enquiry commission set up by the government too reveals police atrocities against students. “Police trespassed into the campus,” state education minister Altaf Bukhari says. “And they also beat up students – both boys and girls.”

But the police denies such allegations. “We went to evacuate the campus on the request of the college principal. No force was used against the students,” Syed Javaid Mujtaba Gillani, inspector-general of police of Jammu and Kashmir, tells The Telegraph.

However, the student uproar continued. On April 17, the Kashmir University Students Union (Kusu), a banned organisation, called an all-students’ protest across the Valley. Looking at the mass mobilisation of students, the government shut down the higher secondary schools and colleges from April 18 to 21. But sporadic protests continued across districts – Pulwama, Sopore, Anantnag, Bandipora and Srinagar.

In an Anantnag college, sources tell us, the principal too protested with students. Students from various schools and colleges blocked the arterial Srinagar-Jammu National Highway, crying: ” Awaz do, hum ek hain!

“We cannot allow the forces to damage the sanctity of educational institutions,” says Riddah Qazi, a student of journalism at the Islamic University of Science and Technology in Pulwama’s Awantipora. She wrote her exams before participating in the protest.

Like successive Kashmiri protests, even this one is being seen a result of pent-up anger of the youth against agencies of the state. The current generation of school and college students have grown up witnessing frisking, crackdowns, disappearances, summons to police stations and unprovoked killings, political scientists point out. The recent image of a man tied to an army jeep, used as a human shield, only aggravated the anger of the young Kashmiris. People across the Valley – politicians, separatists and political scientists – call these protests “unprecedented”.

“The biggest significance of this protest is that it’s led by students; it’s not a response to any call by separatists. Yet, the scale of mobilisation is huge,” says Gul Mohammad Wani, professor of Political Science at Kashmir University. He adds, “Plus, the women students are in the forefront. Last but not the least, these students have come out in their uniforms, defying any fear of being identified.”

Even separatists are surprised to see such large-scale protests by students. “Delhi must understand that these students have a mind of their own; their rage is uncontrollable now,” says separatist leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, chairman of the Awami Action Committee.

Students have come out in large numbers in south Kashmir, the stronghold of the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP). Clearly, its ambitious personality development programmes for the youth failed. “There is a sense of defeat and alienation among them,” concedes Waheed-ur-Rehman Para, president of the PDP’s youth wing.

Wani says that the anger of students has spilled out onto the streets because there is no other channel to vent their resentment. In 2010, the Kashmir University banned Kusu and demolished its office; the students’ long-standing demand to conduct a free and fair union election was never addressed.

Mainstream political parties such as the PDP, National Conference and People’s Conference had floated their youth or students’ wings in Kashmir University. The separatist Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front too started a more hardline Islamic Students League in 1985. Prior to this, Islami Jamiat-ul Talba was started in 1977 by the religio-political organisation, Jamaat-e-Islami Kashmir. But only the banned Kusu is popular among the students.

“Only Kusu has the credibility among the masses. It has been able to garner huge support among students only because the state doesn’t want it to function,” says Fazili.

In the past too, students’ movements in Kashmir, primarily led by university students, have played an important role. In the 1920s, Muslims Students and Youngman Association raised its voice against the denial of religious and political freedom by the Dogra rulers. In the 1931 mass uprising too, students came out in large numbers to protest against Maharaja Hari Singh. In 1964, students participated in the Holy Relic ( moe-e-muqaddas) movement. Many students joined the radicalised Al-Fatah in 1965. In 1973, Kashmiri students resisted attempts of authorities to change the name of the Government Women’s College Srinagar to Kamala Nehru College. Again in 1974, students took to the streets when the Indira-Sheikh Accord was signed.

After a lull of nearly a decade, young Kashmiris took to the streets at the peak of militancy in the late 1980s and early 1990s. In the recent past, whenever the Valley was on the boil – 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2016 – youth have been in the forefront of protests but they seldom came out in their school or college uniforms.

“For us this time it’s a uniform (forces) vs uniform (students) fight,” says Zabirah Fazili, an English graduate from Srinagar Women’s College.

These protests have proved another setback to studies as classes resumed only in March after a six-month closure of schools and colleges in 2016 due to protests following the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani.

Some teachers, however, feel that students are using the prolonged conflict as an “excuse” to stay away from classes and exams. “Some students want everything on a platter without any hard work. They have started liking this phase of inertia,” says Syeda Afshana, senior assistant professor at the Media and Education Research Centre in Kashmir University.

The other worry of teachers is the growing Islamisation of the students’ movement. The youth, they say, are increasingly showing readiness to embrace radical forms of Islam. During the latest protests too, students have been shouting “Allaha-o-Akbar” and ” hume kya chahiye – Nizam-e-Mustafa (What do we want? The rule of the Prophet in Kashmir)”.

“Very few students even know the history of Kashmir. They need proper understanding of the issue,” Wani cautions. But the separatist Umar Farooq asserts that the “cat is out of the bag” and nothing can stop the students now.


India is home to 4.5 lakh refugees from 12 different countries. Why then is the home ministry being particularly tough on Myanmar’s Rohingyas? Sonia Sarkar finds out

  • NOBODY’S PEOPLE: (Above) Raheema Khatoon with her children; the Delhi slum (below), home to Rohingyas refugees; (last) Mohammed Haroon in his shop. Pictures by Sonia Sarkar

They don’t speak their mother tongue – Rohingya – anymore, but Hindi. The men have exchanged their longyis for trousers and the women their thains for the salwar-kameez. What is more, these traditional rice-eaters are now learning to enjoy their rotis.

“We have learnt many new things here because we want to be one of the locals,” says Fayaz Ahmed, a daily wager. Ahmed is one of the 220 Rohingyas who set up home in south Delhi’s Madanpur Khadar slum five years ago, after fleeing their homeland fearing persecution by the Myanmarese Army and radical Buddhists.

Since 1992, Rohingyas – Muslims in Buddhist-majority Myanmar – have been routinely ostracised by Myanmarese forces. The attacks intensified in 2012, and even after Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy came to power in 2015, not much changed. Fearing persecution, Rohingyas continue to migrate to India, Bangladesh, Malaysia and Indonesia.

All very well, except that the Indian government has suddenly decided to wind back the hospitable neighbour act. And that notwithstanding the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants it swore by last September, the same that vowed commitment to “combating xenophobia, racism and discrimination” against refugees and migrants.

Apart from those living in Delhi, there is a sizeable Rohingya population – around 6,000 – in Jammu. According to an estimate, there are over 40,000 Rohingyas living across the country.

Rohingyas have always been regarded with a little suspicion. Intelligence agencies claim they are involved in drug trafficking in the Northeast and also raise funds for terror activities. Lashkar-e-Toiba chief Hafiz Saeed’s exhibition of empathy and offer to radicalise more people from the community hasn’t helped their case.

Lately, hate campaigns and demonstrations against the Jammu Rohingyas have intensified. The Jammu Chamber of Commerce and Industry, in fact, declared that they would be “identified and killed”. There was not a word from the government against such a diktat. In fact, a fortnight ago, the union home ministry said Rohingyas in India would be identified and deported, an exercise that will begin with Jammu and cover the rest of India eventually.

Taslima Khatoon is one of those facing the wrath of the locals in Jammu. She sounds distraught while speaking to The Telegraph over phone. “Unknown people come and threaten us, ask us to leave. I don’t know where to go,” she says.

Her sister, Raheema, who lives in Delhi, is in similar panic. Both sisters have their respective refugee cards issued to 14,000 Rohingyas in India by the UN refugee agency, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and stay visas issued by the home ministry’s Bureau of Immigration. But these won’t be of any help, it seems. “We don’t recognise the refugee cards issued by UNHCR,” says a senior home ministry official who does not want to be identified. “We will not issue or renew stay visas to the Rohingyas anymore.”

But why this sudden anti-Rohingya sentiment? There is a theory that they are mistaken for Bangladeshi Muslims – both speak similar sounding Bengali dialects. “In India, there is a great fear of mass Bangladeshi Muslim immigration and this appears to have become linked with Rohingya refugees in a problematic way,” says Kirsten McConnachie, who is a Rohingya specialist and an assistant professor at the University of Warwick’s School of Law.

Rohingyas understand this. “We do not speak in our language because locals think we are Bangladeshis. We don’t want to do anything that will make us look like them,” says Mohammed Haroon, a shopkeeper.

They are doing their best to integrate with their adoptive country. A group of boys in Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh have started their own football team, Rohingya Shining Stars. Over 65 Rohingya children of Madanpur Khadar are going to a nearby private English medium school. “We want to be one of you. We want to be equal,” says Ameena Khatoon, whose children started going to school only after they came to India.

But their problems might yet remain; the status of refugees is governed by political discretion and not by any codified model of conduct. So you have acres of agricultural land earmarked for Tibetans in Himachal Pradesh’s Dharamshala; designated camps set up in Tamil Nadu for Sri Lankan refugees; and even Bhutanese and Nepalese immigrants live in India under friendship treaties with valid work permits. Not just that, for the past three decades, India has been welcoming Buddhist refugees from Myanmar. But suddenly there is no space for the Rohingyas.

Experts attribute this hardening of stance to the ruling BJP’s anti-Muslim sentiment. “It seems, the Indian government is not so concerned about the influx of refugees; it is more against the religion of these refugees,” says Harsh Mander, general secretary of the Delhi-based Centre for Equity Studies.

India, which is home to 4.5 lakh refugees from 12 different countries, doesn’t have any refugee law. It is not even signatory to the UN Refugee Convention, 1951, which was later amended to form the 1967 Refugee Protocol. According to the UNHCR, even so, India cannot send the Rohingyas back as the principle of non-refoulement is considered part of customary international law and binding on all states whether they have signed the Refugee Convention or not. Non-refoulement refers to the practice of not forcing refugees or asylum seekers to return to a country in which they are liable to be subjected to persecution.

This looks like an assurance for Shamsheeda Begum, who considers India as her home now. “Throw us into the sea or put us into jail but we will not go back to Myanmar,” she stresses.

She lives in the Delhi slum in a 7ft by 6ft makeshift wooden house – there are 45 of them – supported by bamboo frames and covered with tarpaulin sheets. These houses stand next to each other on a 9,900 square-feet plot provided by the NGO, Zakat Foundation of India, which also sponsors the education of 65 Rohingya children.

“Life is so much better here. Only after coming to India have we understood what it is to live freely. In Myanmar, we always feared for our lives,” says Shamsheeda, who claims images of mutilated bodies and burnt houses from her past Myanmar life still haunt her.

Haroon, too, is taken aback with India’s sudden stepmotherly turn. “I thought India is a peace-loving country. It gives space to all. Why is India being so harsh on us?” he asks.

Perhaps Haroon has not heard one of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s popular punchlines – “Mera desh badal raha hai (My country is changing).”

Enough said.


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

 

 

 


So what’s countering the climate of hate and intolerance best? Laughter, reports Sonia Sarkar

The fight is between puja and namaaz.

Bhai, a Hindu boy, says, “Our God is the real God.”

“No, it’s not,” Bhaijaan, the Muslim boy, retorts.  “You will know the truth when you die, brother.”

“And you will know after your death,” Bhai fumes.

“What if I kill you and you find out yourself?” Bhaijaan shouts back as he aims a sickle at Bhai.

To this, Bhai brandishes a knife and screams. For the next 10 seconds both make faces at each other, but comically.

  • FUN-DAMENTALISTS: (From top) A scene from BBC Two’s The Real Housewives of ISIS; comic actor Yugvijay Tiwari; Akash Banerjee of Newslaundry

The depiction might be funny but the message in this satirical sketch by 15-year-old comic act Yugvijay Tiwari is strong and unmistakable — the banality of communal fights. Yugvijay, who calls himself the “racist Indian” and has several videos on YouTube, believes comedy is the only tool to fight radical views. “In real life I have seen people fighting like this. They don’t realise what they are doing is wrong. So I decided to draw attention to some serious issues through humour,” says the Class 10 student from Madhya Pradesh’s Sagar.

The teenager is not the only one using humour to hit out at bigotry on social media. Sporting a red ‘tilak’ on his forehead, quite like a member of the right-wing Sangh Parivar, satirist Akash Banerjee too rips apart religious extremists through his spoofs on Newslaundry, a Delhi-based media -watch platform.

Aakash’s show, ‘Why So Serious?’ has been particularly stinging on the Indian Hindu-religious Right, from the ultra nationalists of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) to self-styled cow-vigilantes.

In one of his shticks, or lampoon acts, he even takes potshots at the union defence minister Manohar Parrikar for crediting the teachings of the RSS to the much-hyped ‘success’ of the surgical strikes against Pakistan last year.

In the opening scene, Akash is seen trying to put his foot into his mouth. He invariably fails and then reasons: “I didn’t go to RSS shakha for physical and ethical dexterity…It prepares you to be supple, so that the most awkward positions become the most comfortable ones like the foot-in-mouth, which is why Parrikar is found in such a pose always.” Banerjee then scans through the RSS supremo M.S. Golwalkar’s anti-Muslim teachings and asks the audience to decide if this parallel drawn by Parrikar is fair.

“In the post-truth world, radical views will keep pouring in and one has to counter them. The best way to do that is through satire,” says Akash, whose videos attract 25,000-plus views on an average.

Graphic artist Orijit Sen says humour strikes a chord with a wider audience. “Often, people don’t understand the long-term effects of extremist views. But when the same has been told with humour laced with irony, it appeals to people. It makes people think about the issue.”

There must be some thrush to it because suddenly satirists across the globe are using humour as a tool to combat extremism. Humorists in the West are fighting Islamic extremism, largely the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Take the case of London-based comedian of Pakistani descent Humza Arshad. He has become a YouTube sensation with his ‘Diary of a Bad Man’ series where he mocks the young boys who joined  ISIS. Birmingham-based British Asian comedian Shazia Mirza is receiving rave reviews for her latest spoof ‘The Kardashians Made Me Do It’ inspired by the jihadi schoolgirls who joined ISIS. Shazia spells out ISIS as Illusion and Seduction in Iraq and Syria.

Recently, BBC Two released a sketch ‘The Real Housewives of ISIS’, yet another satire on the growing trend of women in the West joining ISIS. One of the scenes in the sketch goes like this. A hijab-wearing woman who met her husband online says, “It’s only three days to the beheading and I’ve got no idea what to wear.” Another woman wears a suicide vest and asks her friends, “What do you think? Ahmed surprised me with it yesterday.” The third radicalised wife turns up wearing a similar explosive device and adds, “What a complete b****. She knew I had that jacket.”

Heydon Prowse, the co-writer of ‘The Real Housewives of the ISIS’ tells The Telegraph, “We have spent the last five years taking the p**s out of every major political party, corporate fat cat and inane celebrity. It would have been a bit odd if we hadn’t done a sketch on the genocidal death cult currently spreading fear and misery across the Middle East.”

The two-minute skit was viewed more than 21 million times and elicited nearly 90,000 comments on the BBC Two television channel’s Facebook page within three days of its release.  Of course, it also incurred the wrath of a section of viewers.

Heydon thinks extremism is a cultural phenomenon best combated in the cultural sphere.

Jihadi studies expert Amarnath Amarasingam agrees; he ventures that sometimes something very spicy is easier to digest with a spoonful of sugar and that’s the kind of the role comedy plays. Toronto-based, and a distance senior research fellow at the UK’s Institute for Strategic Dialogue, Amarasingam told us in an e-mail, “The point of comedy is to allow non-extremists in different communities to see themselves as one and the same and to highlight extremism as something outside the norm.”

Across the globe, humour has established a strong connect with the youth through social media. Ahmed Al-Basheer of Iraq has been likened to American political satirist Jon Stewart for his sharp wit. He believes it’s the youth that is getting lured by extremists through social media and therefore one should use the same medium to counter it. “It’s important to tell the youth that extremism should be made fun of via social media because the medium is uninterrupted and uncensored,” says Ahmed from Amman in Jordan.

Worldwide, humour played a huge role in dealing with the political and religious extremists even in the past. Dadaists were the biggest critics of Hitler in Germany. In the recent past, Charlie Hebdo cartoons were regarded as a satirical answer to the religious extremists though many felt they were “irresponsible” and “provocative”. In India too, it was mostly political satire in the form of cartoons and occasional columns that became popular counter-narratives.

Varun Grover of the Indian satire troupe ‘Aisi taisi Democracy’ has been largely inspired by the Indian tradition of “haasya kavi sammelans”. He thinks humour can make a difference today when the space for public debate is shrinking. “People are not engaging with each other. Humour is the only tool to penetrate people’s minds,” he says.

But there is intolerance of humour too. Varun and his team members — Rahul Ram and Sanjay Rajoura — were not allowed to perform in Allahabad by a group of protestors last year. Akash is regularly trolled on Twitter.

Orijit argues that Indian audiences need to evolve. “They are largely conformist and are not ready to accept the fact that positions of power have been publicly ridiculed.”

Akash, however, is optimistic. He says things are changing slowly : “There is an appetite for more.” And for once he isn’t joking.

 

Published in The Telegraph, March 11,2017.

(https://www.telegraphindia.com/1170312/jsp/7days/story_140268.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.

The man who brought the ISIS footprint to Dhaka remains at large and could still be in Bangladesh. Sonia Sarkar has exclusive details from an ongoing probe

He is 30, has an egg-shaped face and a neat French beard. In a photograph that the Bangladesh police have circulated, he is seen wearing retro, rectangular glasses. But he could well be the unkempt rickshaw-puller you see, or perhaps the daily-wager waiting for a job. Tamim Ahmed Chowdhury – who is believed to have masterminded the terror assault in a Dhaka café last month – could well be moving around in disguise.

This Tuesday, the Bangladesh police said they had arrested four women and identified seven others connected with the July 1 attack on the Holey Artisan Bakery in Dhaka, in which 20 people were killed. But the one who still evades arrest is Chowdhury, a Canadian-citizen of Bangladeshi origin, with a US$ 25,000 (over Rs 16 lakh) bounty on his head.

“We are trying but we have not been able to arrest him yet,” says Mufti Mahmud Khan, director (media) of the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), Bangladesh’s anti-terrorism unit.

Researchers studying Chowdhury’s movements believe that he may be hiding in a densely populated city such as Dhaka. “It is easier to hide in a busy suburb, where you can move freely without people getting suspicious of you,” says Amarnath Amarasingam, a Canadian scholar currently a fellow in the extremism programme at the George Washington University in the US capital.

As Chowdhury’s story is pieced together by researchers and security experts, little-known facts are being unearthed about the man who is on Bangladesh’s most wanted list. His grandfather, Abdul Majid, belonged to Sadimapur in Sylhet and was a member of the infamous East Pakistan Central Peace Committee, formed by the Pakistan Army to crush rebels of the Liberation War of Bangladesh in 1971.

But Chowdhury’s life unfolded thousands of miles from Sylhet. He grew up in Canada, where his father, Shafiq Ahmed, who worked for a shipping company, had migrated in the early Seventies. Young Tamim is remembered as a shy and skinny boy when he was studying at the J.L. Forster Secondary School in Ontario.

He was seemingly fond of track and field activities – but always lagged behind other participants. He represented his school in an inter-school meet in 2004. He was last among 45 entrants in the 100 metre dash, last of 30 in javelin throw, and last among 28 in shot put throw, says Devin Gray, communications co-ordinator, Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations.

After finishing school, Chowdhury joined the University of Windsor to major in chemistry. University authorities refused to speak about their ex- student, but his acquaintances told Amarasingam that he was a “regular guy” in college.

That he had changed became apparent after 2011, when he finished college. That was when he moved to Calgary, the ski resort town in Canada’s Alberta Province, where, local newspaper reports say, there has been a rise in the number of Islamic groups in recent times.

Chowdhury is believed to have joined a small prayer group in Calgary and come in contact with two locals – a white Canadian called Damian Clairmont who converted to Islam and a Pakistani-Canadian called Salman Ashrafi. Clairmont joined the al-Qaida-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra and was killed by the Free Syrian Army in 2014; Ashrafi joined the ISIS and was killed in a suicide bombing in Iraq in 2013.

People around him started noticing the changes in the boy from Ontario. Amarasingam was told that he had become “domineering” and “arrogant”. Some who met him in 2012 said he was “full of himself” and “unbearable” because of his extreme views.

“This is part and parcel of the radicalisation process. He believed that he had discovered the truth whereas everyone else was living a falsehood,” says Amarasingam, who also co-directs a study of western foreign fighters at the University of Waterloo in Ontario.

Initial investigations by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police reveal that Chowdhury believed in the teachings of Anwar al-Awlaki, a pro-al-Qaida propagandist killed in 2011. He followed his online speeches and videos, which urged Muslims in the West to either go abroad or conduct terrorist attacks at home. Investigators say Chowdhury had started uploading posts as Abu Dujana al-Muhajir in a blog called Beneath which Rivers Flow. The blog had been started by a man called Ahmad Waseem, who is believed to have joined the ISIS and was killed by Kurdish forces in 2015.

In his blog posts, he wrote that he and others had taken up arms against a “global system of oppression” in which “innocent men, women and children are pleading for our help”. He described the Canadian government as “evil” and “despotic”. Jihad, he wrote, was going to be as Canadian as maple syrup.

Chowdhury’s radicalisation worried the community. In 2013, religious leaders in Windsor urged him not to talk to local Muslim youths. “There was a sense that he was radicalising fellow youth and goading them into something,” Amarasingam says. A year later, in his blog posts, he denounced the local imams as “deviant” and said they had been outnumbered by militants.

Details about his life in Canada are still sketchy. It is believed that he is married and has three children. What is not clear is when he left Canada. Some believe it was when the police started questioning him after Waseem joined the ISIS in 2013. But some reports state that he may have gone to Syria in 2012.

“People I interviewed had told me that he had almost certainly gone to Syria, either directly from Calgary or from Windsor, probably in late 2012. But another source claims he saw him hanging around the University of Calgary in 2013,” Amarasingam says.

There are conflicting reports about when Chowdhury entered Bangladesh but as per immigration records, he landed in Dhaka in October 2013.After arriving, he worked in populated areas such as Mirpur, Gazipur and Savar, police officials believe. They also claim that he started recruiting members to the Bangladesh Islami Chhatrashibir, the students’ outfit of the Bangladesh radical group, Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh.

Chowdhury, Amarasingam says, worked as a “project manager”, drawing young men into the ISIS fold, organising attacks and establishing links with the central leadership of the ISIS. “If you have the stamp of having visited Syria, then you can have many followers,” he adds.

According to intelligence officials in India, who have also been following the Dhaka attack, Chowdhury stayed in touch with the ISIS leadership regarding the café attack. They also claim that the ISIS in Syria established initial links with five attackers – all in the age group of 18-24 years – through fake Facebook accounts. Once they came into the ISIS fold, the interactions took place through encrypted messaging applications such as Pidgin and Threema.

Chowdhury was kept in the loop but he did not meet the boys to begin with, the officials add. Some of his team members in Bangladesh established links with them to see how committed they were to their cause. It is likely that a meeting with Chowdhury took place in one of his Dhaka hideouts after the boys had left home.

Intelligence officials in Dhaka have revealed that on the day of the attack, Chowdhury, along with the five assailants, came out of an apartment in the Bashundhara residential area. They were spotted near the café at around 8.45pm. Later, the five men stormed in with their weapons, but Chowdhury was not with them. They also believe that nine militants, who were killed by the Dhaka police three weeks ago, had had a meeting with Chowdhury earlier.

In some circles, Chowdhury is also known as Shaykh Abu Ibrahim al-Hanif, the “amir (chief) of the Khilafah’s (ISIS) soldiers in Bengal”, the Bangladesh intelligence officials claim. In an eight-page interview to the ISIS mouthpieceDabiq in April this year, Chowdhury, alias al-Hanif, warned Bangladesh of terror attacks.

“Soldiers are presently sharpening their knives to slaughter the atheists, the mockers of the prophet and every other apostate in the region,” he was quoted as saying. In the interview, he also vowed to “slaughter” non-believers throughout Bangladesh. Police officials claim that Chowdhury’s team killed a Hindu priest in June this year.

In the same interview, he said a group based in Bangladesh would facilitate “guerilla” attacks in India.

On Tuesday, the police said that Chowdhury had been tracked down in Dhaka. Unconfirmed reports earlier said he might have crossed over to Meghalaya in India while running for cover.

The man is still running; and for once, he has taken the lead in a race.

Tracking Terror Next Door

• Bangladesh government denies the presence of the ISIS in the country. But investigations have revealed that Tamim Ahmed Chowdhury, also known as Shaykh Abu Ibrahim al-Hanif, is the so-called ‘amir (chief) of
the Khilafah’s (ISIS) soldiers in Bengal’.

• A video clip was released in July by the ISIS which featured three Bangla-speaking youths. They were believed to be Bangladeshi ISIS fighters in Raqqah, Syria. They said there would be more attacks in Bangladesh.

• Over 261 men, mostly in the age group of 18-24 years, have gone missing in Bangladesh this year. Dhaka police officials believe that some of them have joined terrorist organisations.

• Besides Tamim, Dhaka Metropolitan Police is looking for Nurul Hasan Marzan, who too is believed to have been involved in recent terror attacks.

• The terrorist group, Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh, is believed to be affiliated with the ISIS.

• Other terrorist organisations active in Bangladesh are the al-Qaida in the Indian Sub-continent (AQIS) and Ansarulla Bangla Team




  • 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 ...