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Archive for the ‘Religion and Conflict’ Category

 

– Historian Upinder Singh talks to Sonia Sarkar about her new book, an engaging exploration of our consistently violent past
Illustration: Suman Choudhury

Professor of History at Delhi University, and daughter of the former Prime Minister of India Manmohan Singh, Upinder Singh is just out with her new book, Political Violence in Ancient India (Harvard University Press). The book examines the representation of kingship and political violence in epics, religious texts and treatises between 600 BCE and 600 CE. But it rings with relevance to our present. Over green tea and kaju barfi at her campus home in North Delhi, Singh chats about her father whom she doesn’t see “leaping headlong into hectic political activity” in future; her next possible writing project — about the religious and cultural connect between India, Sri Lanka and the rest of Southeast Asia; but mostly about her new book, its revelations about India’s violent past and the need to read history for what it is, instead of trying to appropriate it. Excerpts:

The essential question that comes to mind upon reading Political Violence in Ancient Indiais: have we been living in a bubble all this while? Are Indians, actually, inherently non-violent in nature?

Many Indians have a perception of their early history as being exceptionally non-violent. I was aware of the violent details, the wars between different kingdoms and the oligarchies, the class and caste conflicts, but I had not made note of it as a historian. Then one day, I saw The Nitisara by Kamandaka, written between 500 and 700 CE, lying on my shelf. It was about political violence. One thing led to another, I looked at Ashoka’s inscriptions, I read Kalidas, all these texts said a lot about this issue. Violence was so pervasive in ancient India that it was not possible for me to tackle violence in general. So I decided to focus on the political domain.

The book has a contemporary relevance, coinciding as it does with the ongoing instances of political violence across the country.

When I was writing the book, I was not consciously thinking of the present, but now that it is out, I am much more aware about the contemporary relevance of this issue. People have become aware and worried about it and that makes them interested in finding out what was happening hundreds of years ago.

QThe chapter, The Wilderness, goes into the very harsh punishments prescribed in ancient India for those violating royal herds. It notes that anyone who killed or stole cattle from the king’s herd, or incited someone else to do so, was put to death. Were there no juridical methods to deal with crimes then?

That bit is from the Arthashastra, wherein Kautilya is describing an ideal state and how justice should be delivered. This included capital punishment, especially for crimes that involved the property of the king. We don’t know to what extent such justice was administered. Kautilya talks about a judicial apparatus when it comes to deciding civil and criminal crimes. But he also sees the king as someone who holds the power in the administration of justice. It is important to remember that these texts – Arthashastra, Manusmriti – are theoretical works; actual practice must have varied.

QRamayan and Mahabharat are war-centric. What do they tell us about our past? Was any of it real?

Many people want to know if these things actually happened. Whether Ram and Sita, the Pandavs and the Kauravs existed, if the wars at all happened and when. It’s impossible to prove if they happened or they didn’t. But there is some historical basis to these epics. There were some characters and events and then over time, these literary epics came to be woven around them. But you cannot read them literally; there is poetic imagination at work. It’s not really important to try to fix the exact date when the events may have taken place. Even if they have no historical basis, that does not take away the great cultural importance they have.

Q The book talks about how Ram’s story became part of BJP’s Hindutva agenda and communal polarisation tactics. Does this epic cast a shadow on contemporary Indian politics?

Of course, it does. There is a continuing close relationship between the past and the present. But many of our current political platforms are based on the distorted presentation of the past. The popular discourse continues to be impacted by the political propaganda and dubious historical interpretations. We need to distinguish between what politicians are saying about Indian history and what Indian history is all about.

So you are saying there are deliberate attempts to distort Indian history?

Yes. History has always been political. But the past few years, there has been an alarming rise in distortion and manipulation of history – whether it is an attempt to rewrite history texts at the school level or police university syllabi.

Q You have observed that Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru helped create the myth of a non-violent ancient India while building an Independence movement on the principle of non-violence. Was this required?

There were several factors that led to the creation of this impression that non-violence is somehow deeply rooted in the Indian psyche. Both Gandhi and Nehru had an understanding of the diversity of Indian history. Gandhi was aware of the element of violence in texts such as the Mahabharat, but he considered the Bhagwad Gita a work about non-violence. Nehru spoke about how Indian history is marked by a great degree of social harmony. By choosing the Lion Capital that originally graced the Ashoka Pillar at Sarnath as the official emblem of independent India, both connected modern India with Ashoka and Buddhism. So at the time of national movement, it is not surprising Gandhi and Nehru were trying to emphasise values they thought were important for Indians of their own time and for future. I think, there is an emphasis on non-violence – what they were trying to do was to create a source of inspiration rather than a deliberate falsifying of India’s past.

Q And this idea of non-violence, as you see it, is now being consciously and systematically challenged by a new politically inspired aggressive idea of Indian-ness, which is more in line with (Vinay Damodar) Savarkar’s thought?

If you look at Savarkar’s Six Glorious Epochs Of Indian History, you’ll see he has no admiration for Ashoka. There is no emphasis on non-violence as a positive value in the entire discourse. He seems to think non-violence is a weakness in the face of foreign aggression. I am connecting all this with present-day Hindutva. There is aggressive Hindutva, an attempt to build an idea of aggressive Indian-ness. I don’t see this as an answer; it is part of the problem.

Q Why is it important to admire or even know of King Ashoka?

Ashoka is an important historical figure to engage with in the atmosphere of potential communal violence that we live in. He was a Buddhist ruler living in a multi-religious empire. He laid emphasis on religious dialogue and how people of different religions should respect each other, which is relevant in our times.

Q You write that war is an important metaphor in Buddhism and Jainism. How do we connect this with the violence that Buddhist monks have unleashed in Myanmar and Sri Lanka?

If you look at the early history of Buddhism, there is an extreme emphasis on non-violence. No religion remains true to its original principles. When Buddhism becomes associated with the state, there is violence. Also, Buddhist texts talk about persecution of monks, but religious conflict was not rampant in the period I am talking about because no religion had succeeded in capturing the state.

There is an impression that Islam, which expands on the basis of proselytisation, is the harbinger of violence in India. What is your analysis?

My book illustrates a great deal of political violence in ancient times, even before Islam came in. It’s not that violence made its appearance in India with the Turkish invasion.

Q And now BJP leaders are saying the Taj Mahal was built by “traitors”.

All these controversies are based on chauvinistic ideas and Hindu-Muslim polarisation. For a historian, this increasing appropriation of his-tory and using history to fuel one’s own political agenda is distressing. A lot of these controversies are about those who want to propagate the Hindutva way of Indian history. Historians have to find ways of effectively challenging these views.

 

(https://www.telegraphindia.com/india/we-need-to-distinguish-betweenwhatpoliticianssay-about-our-history-and-185271 )

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The hijab is ubiquitous in Kuala Lumpur, but it barely restricts women

Crossings

  • Journalists outside Putrajaya hospital, Malaysia. Photo by Rahman Roslan/Getty Images

A FEW months ago, a clip of a young Malaysian woman putting shampoo on her hijab went viral on social media. The video, believed to be an advert for a Malaysian brand of shampoo, invited wrath of people worldwide. Social media enthusiasts labelled Malaysia a regressive Muslim country which doesn’t give freedom to its women to take off their hijabs even while washing their hair.

But what transpired later was that it wasn’t a shampoo ad but a parody ad made by a local headscarf company. Their intended message: these headscarves are as comfy as one’s hair would feel after shampooing.

Since my sister lives in Malaysia, the controversy triggered my interest in the lives of Malaysian hijabi women. When I landed in Kuala Lumpur for a holiday with her and her adorable black labrador, Buzo, I was curious to know about hijabi women there. I spotted them everywhere – driving buses and taxis. I saw them selling train tickets at KL Sentral station. I saw them helping travellers at information desks of airports. I saw them selling lingerie in malls. I saw them working late at restaurants.

Hijabi women were part of my high-intensity interval training class, too. They walked in wearing the hijab but changed to fitted sportswear to work out in the all-women class. After the two-hour session, the hijab was back to where it belonged.

One evening, at Kasturi Walk, a flea market near Kuala Lumpur’s Chinatown, I came across a bunch of slim and petite hijabi women, barely in their teens. They looked seduced by the sleeveless tops and trendy cotton, printed shorts. As I saw the girls buying a pair each, I felt compelled to talk to them. I wanted to ask – Do their family members know about their preference of clothes? What has been their journey so far in hijabs? Do they face any diktats from the men in the community? I cursed myself for not knowing Malay, the local language.

But my quest to know more about the hijabi women was somewhat fulfilled during a casual conversation with a Chinese Grab (App-based taxi service) driver. He told me that he has a Muslim girlfriend who works in a bank. She wears a hijab but she has no restrictions whatsoever. “Women enjoy every freedom in Malaysia,” he asserted.

  • A ground service staff of Malaysia Airlines at the departure terminal of Kuala Lumpur International in Sepang, Malaysia.  Photo by Rahman Roslan/Getty Images

But, I asked him, is Malaysia untouched by Islamist radicals? Isn’t it becoming a hub for ISIS recruitment in Asia? I told him about this US-based Pew Research Centre’s Global Attitudes survey 2015, which showed 11 per cent people in Malaysia held favourable views of ISIS.

He slowly opened up. His peace-loving, multicultural nation has seen some attempts by radicals to make it a more intolerant and radical Muslim country, he said. “There is a section of Muslims who judge women if they are ‘Muslim’ enough.”

In 2015, Malaysian gymnast Farah Ann Abdul Hadi was criticised for exposing “too much of her body” during the Singapore Games despite winning silver and bronze medals. But the then minister of sports defended her; he even criticised one of his colleagues for making a fuss over her attire.

Despite being as global as neighbouring Singapore, some recent incidents have forced the locals to think if Malaysia is losing its cosmopolitanism and if radicals have been taking centre stage. For example, on Valentine’s Day this year, the National Muslim Youth Association advised Muslim women against using emoticons in text messages or wearing fragrance. Two years ago, some women took to Facebook to complain that they were being forced to wear a sarong to cover their legs at a government office and also at a hospital.

But I saw women from every part of the world moving freely in a pair of shorts or tunics on Kuala Lumpur’s streets. And so was I. At least, for some days, I didn’t have to counter stares from strangers – men and women – for wearing short dresses. As an Indian woman, I felt more liberated in this Muslim country.

Muslims of Bengal are embracing education to break free from a certain way of life and an age-old stereotyping. How are they going about it? Sonia Sarkar has the story

  • Pic: Sonia Sarkar

  • DEGREE OF CHANGE: (From top) Saira Banu, who hails from Chaksapur in Murshidabad district, is a student of Calcutta Medical College; girls at an Al-Ameen Mission hostel; inside a classroom of the same institution;  Pic: Al-Ameen Mission

Saira Banu consciously pulls the yellow dupatta over her head with her skinny fingers as she walks through the corridor of the Calcutta Medical College (CMC). She is a third-year undergraduate student at CMC and her classes have just got over. On her way back to the hostel, she stops outside the emergency ward, where some patients are awaiting attention.

“The poor who come from various far-flung districts look absolutely clueless. I try to get them appointments with the right doctor so that their treatment is not delayed further,” says the 20-year-old.

Saira’s empathy is natural. This young woman from Murshidabad’s Chaksapur, a little over 280 kilometres from Calcutta, has seen poverty very closely. She and her three siblings were brought up by their mother, Anjura Khatun. Their father, who suffered from a mental ailment, stayed at home.

Anjura, a bidi roller, made a hundred rupees a day – not enough to raise four children by any stretch. There were many nights when Saira had to sleep hungry. There was never enough money for Saira’s father’s treatment either. But through all this Anjura remained adamant that each of her four children should attend school.

Saira and her elder brother, Sahidul Alam, turned out to be top performers at the local government school. Says Sahidul in fluent English, “Our father used to throw our books into the water; he never wanted us to study. Because of his mental condition, he didn’t even realise that it was a wrong thing to do.”

Sahidul graduated from Calcutta’s Institute of Post Graduate Medical Education and Research (SSKM Hospital) last year. “I felt an internal push to get out of this situation. Besides, our mother never wanted us to work as a daily wagers like she did.”

A quiet revolution is taking place in the Muslim households of Bengal. Like Anjura, more and more people are pushing the next generation to embrace education. And lending support to this burgeoning aspiration are several private educational institutions run by educated Muslims.

These institutions help students from the community prepare for competitive exams. In the past five years, at least 50 of them have come up across the state. Together, their effort is also breaking the stereotype of Muslims as a community not inclined to education, or only to religious learning – a tool often used to damn them.

Al-Ameen Mission is possibly the oldest of the lot. With funds collected through zakat or charity, donations from educationists, noted personalities, state and central government scholarships, the Mission runs several residential schools. It also runs residential coaching classes for engineering and medicine aspirants across Bengal and in neighbouring Assam, Bihar, Jharkhand and Tripura.

The institution might run on charity but when it comes to granting admissions, it is anything but charitable. It conducts entrance tests to pick the brightest minds. “Most of our students score over 80 per cent in the higher secondary [Class XII] examinations. On an average, 1,400 appear for the engineering and medical entrance examinations every year; 30 per cent crack them,” says M. Nurul Islam, general secretary of the Mission. Sahidul and Saira are among its success stories.

According to Nurul Islam, most students are keener on medicine. That’s what he has noticed over the past five years. Does it have anything to do with the state of healthcare – poor or unaffordable – that they have seen in their immediate set-up? Perhaps. In the meantime, the rising number of Muslim students in state-run medical colleges lends credence to Nurul’s observation.

When S.K. Enayat Ali, son of a tubewell repairer, cracked the medical entrance examination in 2001, there were only three Muslims in his class at NRS Medical College and Hospital. In Saira Banu’s class of 250 students – CMC’s entrance batch of 2015 – there are 30 Muslims. In the past four years, at least 1,689 Muslim students have got through to various government medical colleges across Bengal. According to 2017 estimates, over 332 Muslim students have got admission in government medical colleges.

Of course, not everyone is cheering. Questions have been raised about the Mission’s success rate. This year, a case was filed by one Samir Ghosh at the Calcutta High Court, challenging the results of students of Al-Ameen Mission in the 2016 West Bengal Joint Entrance Examinations – an entrance exam for undergraduate engineering, pharmacy and technology courses. That the petition was disposed of by the court is another matter. Detractors suggest that the institution has a “deal” with the state government and that is how the Mission students qualify competitive exams. Nurul Islam’s rebuttal: “The case against us has been disposed of, so that’s the answer to these allegations.”

Truth is, for years a large section of Muslims in Bengal remained unlettered. Following Partition, many well-to-do Muslims left for what was then known as East Pakistan; another lot left in 1964, after the Calcutta riots. Among those left behind were small-time peasants, artisans and landless labourers, most of whom could not afford higher education.

After the land reforms during the 1970s, the economic condition of Muslims improved, but they continued to lag in terms of economic development as compared to the state’s non-Muslim populace. Most of them remained self-employed – working as farmers or tailors or bidi rollers. And while over the years, the literacy rate of Muslims in the state has gone up – from 54.7 per cent in 2001 to 68.7 per cent in 2011 – it is still way lower than the literacy rate of other communities in the state.

Former IAS officer Nazrul Islam runs schools, colleges and technical institutions in his native Basantapur village in Murshidabad. But the chairman of the Basantapur Education Society makes it clear that his efforts are for both Muslims and non-Muslims of the area. He says, “In 1976, I was the only graduate in my village. Now, there are doctors, engineers and PhD holders from here.”

Enayat Ali is from Hooghly. He is pursuing a Doctor of Medicine course from NRS. He talks about how children in his village want to know where to study after Class X, how to prepare for competitive exams, how to get scholarships. “Even parents now understand that sending children to work on the farm won’t really help.”

Bengal’s Muslims are also challenging the misconception that girls from the community are not encouraged to study. The female literacy rate among Muslims has gone up to 64.8 per cent in 2011 from 49.75 per cent in 2001. Nurul Islam of Al-Ameen Mission says, out of the Mission’s 393 students who got into medical colleges last year, 80 were girls. “One-third of the 13,000 students in our educational institutions are girls,” he adds.

Social scientists hail the trend. “First, this is going to bring about a socio-economic change in the community. But what is most important is that this mainstreaming of Muslims might change the notion of non-Muslims about them. Eventually, the prejudices and stereotypes could be reduced,” says Maidul Islam, assistant professor of Political Science at the Calcutta-based Centre for Studies in Social Sciences.

Some say they can understand that biases and perceptions hardened over the years will not vanish overnight. Mohammad Faruquddin Purkait, director of the AshSheefa Group that runs residential coaching centres for medicine and engineering aspirants, adds, “A section of non-Muslims still wonders how poor Muslims become doctors and engineers; they want them to remain maulvis or rickshaw-pullers or tailors for generations.”

Sometimes, these prejudices can be very blatant in day-to-day life, says Sahidul. He recalls one time when a Muslim woman was admitted for the delivery of her fifth child. “The doctors were ridiculing her and the community for having multiple children. But the moment I entered the ward, one of them said, ‘Shush… the doctor is a Muslim’.”

The still younger lot are plain weary of this kind of stereotyping. Take the case of Mohammed Hasanujjaman of Malda. A student of Class IX in Al-Ameen Mission School and the son of a farmer, the teenager keeps a beard, prays five times a day and also dreams of becom-ing an engineer. “I want to tell people that not all Muslims are radicals,” he says. “We are the new agents of change and society must accept us.”

Nothing succeeds like success. A degree of acceptance, no matter how minuscule, is coming about. Going by the results of the Muslim-run institutions, non-Muslim families, too, have started sending their children to these places.

Saira Banu talks about a professor in her college who applauded her in front of the whole class when he learnt she was a Muslim. “He said, ‘It’s not a big deal when a student of an elite Calcutta school gets admission in CMC, but it’s a huge achievement for a poor Muslim girl from Murshidabad to be here’. His words boosted my confidence.”

Saira says, “Earlier, I was a bit shaky. Now, I don’t have any inhibitions.” Sahidul, who is getting their father treated by a top Calcutta doctor, echoes her sentiments. He adds, “I don’t want to run away from my past anymore; I have realised that my past is my biggest strength.”

 

https://www.telegraphindia.com/1170910/jsp/7days/story_171982.jsp

“Don’t have sex during Amavasya, Purnima, Shivaratri or Holi. A child conceived on this day will be born handicapped. That’s 100 per cent guaranteed,” Asaram is seen advising his followers in a video on YouTube. “Even if the child is not conceived, intercourse on this day will lead to impotence or the man could face several other problems. Never ever have sex on these days. It will lead to disaster, disaster, disaster,” he adds in another video. Currently, Asaram is in a Jodhpur jail for allegedly raping a teenager in 2013.

The “sex gyan” from godmen in India is very common. Perhaps, their knowledge of sex is vast, and a few reasons may suggest themselves. Many self-proclaimed godmen or swamis in India have been alleged to have abused their power over devotees, and their ashrams, to fulfil their sexual appetites. Last week, Gurmeet Singh, the “Love Charger” from Sirsa, was convicted for raping two minors. Sex scandals around such men are not new. Recently, a 23-year-old law student in the southern state of Kerala chopped off the genitals of a self-proclaimed holy man who tried to rape her and who, she alleged had been sexually assaulting her for the past eight years.In 2010, Swami Nithyananda of Chennai was seen having intimate moments with an actress, in a clip telecast by a Tamil television channel. But in an interview to The Telegraph, he said, “I am a virgin. I have no libido.”In the same year, one Ichchadhari Sant Swami Bhimanandji Maharaj Chitrakootwale from Delhi was arrested with his aides and six women.The ashram of another Indian “spiritual” guru, Swami Satyananda Saraswati, in New South Wales in Australia, was known to be a den of systemic sexual and physical abuse in the 1970s and 1980s. Apparently, most of the alleged abuse occurred at the hands of Satyananda’s disciple, Swami Akhandananda Saraswati, a convicted paedophile and sadist. Swami Premananda, who came to Tiruchirappalli in Tamil Nadu from Sri Lanka in the 80s, was sentenced to double life, for several counts of rape and a murder, in 1997. He died in jail in 2011.A lot of the times, women allege that consent for sex is obtained by deceit; they are told that sex with them could cure all their ailments or would be a great service to God. But there are also women who are willing to have sex with these so-called spiritual gurus.Hyderabad-based andrologist, Dr Sudhakar Krishnamurti, who deals with sexual problems of men, says that these “godmen” are just like ordinary lustful men who would like to have more and more sex. Krishnamurti, who is the director of Andromeda Andrology Center in Hyderabad, says, that with their vantage as “godmen”, it is much easier for them to have sex because there are “willing” partners at their disposal. For reasons of doctor-patient confidentiality, Krishnamurti didn’t name names. SONIA SARKAR spoke to him. Excerpts from the interview:Q: Do godmen come to you to discuss problems related to their sex life? Are these high-profile godmen?

A: One must understand that godmen are “men”, after all. Their sexual desire is no less than that of a common man. They may want people to believe or people may imagine that they are celibate or they don’t indulge in sex just because they are “sadhus”. But the truth is most have very active sex lives. These “sadhus” have plenty of opportunities to have sex with multiple people. If you have high libido, you don’t have to do anything, just become a “sadhu” and you are done for your life. They discuss problems pertaining to their sexual health just as any other man would do. They are of all ages, even 80-year-olds come to me. But I cannot disclose their names as they are my clients.

Q: What are the issues pertaining to their sex life that they discuss with you?

  • HOLY KO UNHOLY KAR DE: (From top) Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, Swami Nithyananda and Asaram

A: The most common problems are related to erectile dysfunction and premature ejaculation. All of them want a delayed ejaculation; they want to know the techniques for sustained ejaculation. Some of them also want to know how to get an erection soon after ejaculation. A lot of them read and watch pornography and they think that it’s natural to have sex with 15 women at the same time just like it’s shown in blue films. They have many misconceptions. They do different experiments in bed. Men often indulge in orgies. They ask me how to have sex with multiple partners. Often, they want to know how to increase their chances of incredibly intense orgasms. Some of them inject drugs to perform better. Sometimes, they smoke marijuana or take other intoxicants before having sex to deal with their anxiety or inconfidence. They think drug-induced sex is always better.

Q: What is the psyche of these godmen? Why do they rape women?

A: Godmen are like priests. Haven’t we heard about church priests molesting seven-year-old boys? Sodomy is also common in boarding schools, where often men in white robes molest young, powerless boys. There are also godmen who, irrespective of their age, leave no chance to take advantage of a situation and get physically closer to women. These godmen abuse their position and power. They are all lustful people who want to have more and more sex.

Q: Have they ever discussed with you their dirty secrets?

A: There is a small population of willing partners – both men and women – inside these ashrams. They are willing to have sex with these godmen. Not all women are sexually abused by the “sadhus”. There are also women who go to them secretly because they don’t have an active sex life at home. Consensual sex is common.

Q: Do they indulge in safe sex?

A: They prey on women who are available and who have no knowledge of hygiene and the risks involved. They pretend to be God’s people. They are careless about precautionary habits and take advantage of sex-starved women. These godmen are the biggest transmitters of venereal diseases. Their idea is that if they have sex with virgins, their venereal diseases will get cured; certainly that doesn’t happen. But in the process, they end up transmitting diseases to many others.

Q: Do they ask for surgical interventions for any problems related to their sex life?

A: They come to me if they suffer from malformation or deformities of the penis. On account of these deformities, the penis is cosmetically and aesthetically unsightly. So they want it fixed. Some desire a longer or thicker penis to either lift sagging self-esteem or to satisfy their sexual partners’ unrealistic expectations. Please understand, sex is their only means of livelihood.

Q: Do these godmen take drugs such as Viagra?

A: For people like “sadhus” who are promiscuous, it’s quite natural to take Viagra. Viagra is available over the counter, so they won’t have problems getting it. They use vibrators for stimulation too.

(https://www.telegraphindia.com/1170903/jsp/7days/story_170506.jsp)

https://www.telegraphindia.com/1170903/jsp/7days/story_170506.jsp

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.




  • 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 ...