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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.

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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

The young trinket sellers of Cox’s Bazar have learnt to better negotiate life’s troughs and crests; it’s surf-boarding, they tell Sonia Sarkar

  • Pics: Allison Joyce

  • TERRA FIRMA: Rashed Alam (top) teaches these girls to become professional surfers and lifeguards

The waves are choppy as they usually are during the rains, but Rifa Akhtar knows how to ride them. She walks into the water wearing a swimsuit, her surfing board in hand, paddles out into the water for a bit and then slowly clambers onto the board. Within a few seconds, she is surfing atop the waters with élan.

“I love the rhythm of the waves,” says the 13-year-old, a surfer at Cox’s Bazar, a coastal town in Bangladesh. The fishing port is famed for its sandy stretch of over 100 kilometres, said to be the longest natural beach in world.

Until a few years ago, Rifa and her sister, Aisha, used to sell artificial jewellery and crisps on the beach. They made around 800 BDT (Rs 650) a day, while their father worked as a cook at a local shack. Life took a dramatic turn in 2013 when Rashed Alam – a surfer and lifeguard at Bangladesh Surf Girls and Boys, the sole surfing club for girls at Cox’s Bazar – offered to teach them the sport.

“Rifa would look at us in awe,” says Alam. “So one day, I asked her if she would like to learn to surf. Initially, she was shy, also intimidated by the waves. And she refused.”

But Alam persisted, fanning the fire in her and helping build her confidence. In due time, their journey took off.

“A lot of time was spent paddling around and falling into the water. We were also asked to watch other surfers. There were days when I simply wanted to give up and leave,” says Rifa, who won two surfing competitions at Cox’s Bazar, in 2015 and 2016.

Rifa was among eight girls who joined Alam’s club in 2013; now the number has risen to 14. Most of them hail from families of daily wage earners and hawkers in nearby villages, and were contributors to the family income.

Naturally, their path hasn’t been an easy one. When they began surfing, Alam stopped them from working. Moreover, they did not tell their parents about their new activity, and when they came to know about it, all hell broke loose.

“The day Rifa’s mother discovered her daughter had taken to surfing instead of selling trinkets, she beat her up with an umbrella in front of us all and dragged her away,” Alam recalls. “Later, I went to her parents and explained that surfing is a popular sport and that there’s no harm doing it.”

Their question was – who will pay for the household expenses if she doesn’t work?

Alam had no answer. For over a year, he paid a small amount of money to Rifa and the other girls for tea and snacks out of his own pocket. A year later, he started crowd-funding for them on the club’s website. In this he was helped by his American wife, Venessa Rude, and a photojournalist friend, Allison Joyce. From the money that comes in, the club spends 5,000 BDT (Rs 3,950) on each girl.

“We provide the monthly grocery to each one’s family. We’ve also enrolled them in school, while we help them with their English and communication skills privately. The girls are trained in rescue operations and first aid too. We hope this will help them become professional surfers and lifeguards,” Alam says.

There were problems of another kind also. Many of Alam’s close friends turned against him as they felt that by teaching the girls to surf, he was going against Islam. Also, when the male surfers in Cox’s Bazar saw that the girls were doing very well, they began to threaten them and make their day difficult. Rifa and her friends were called “indecent” for moving around in swimsuits and taking up a sport which was hitherto an all-male domain.

“Initially, we took to the water in a salwar-kameez and orna (scarf). Later, Rashed bhai brought us swimsuits. The local people, however, objected to it,” says Mayesha, 13, the daughter of a fish seller. Neighbours also taunted her parents for allowing her to surf along with the men. This forced them to start looking for a groom for her. “But I told them that I don’t want to get married,” says the determined girl.

Surfing has, in fact, helped Mayesha deal with difficult life situations. “Waves come in clusters or sets. Sometimes, the sea is still for a while and then suddenly a series of waves appears, rolling out one after the other. This has taught me to negotiate uncertainties,” she smiles.

Mayesha’s friend, Nargis Akhtar, too, refuses to be tied down with marriage right now. For this 14-year-old, the sea is her escape from all woes. “All my worries seem to get absorbed by this vast expanse. It also made me strong enough to take the tide in my stride; I can now fight against all odds,” Nargis says happily.

Rifa, Mayesha, Nargis and the others have been taming the waves for about four years. Now they want to participate in an international surfing competition. A few months ago, they were ready to take on the Indian Open of Surfing at Sasihithlu Beach in Mangalore, but couldn’t as their passports hadn’t come in.

The chorus is clear – the girls want to see the world and surf the oceans. “I want to go to ‘Caliponia’ [California],” says Rifa, who now trains kid surfers at Cox’s Bazar.

And Mayesha, who once dreamt that she was surfing in Indonesia, says, “I want to win global surfing competitions and make my country famous. And then everyone who created hurdles for us would shout out in cheer.”

 

https://www.telegraphindia.com/1170820/jsp/7days/story_168126.jsp


Firebrand Indian politicians who once hogged the limelight have fallen silent now. I feature five of them here. One passed away earlier this month after suffering from Alzheimer’s for some years while the other four have been suffering from long-term medical ailments. Perhaps, this is also a lesson for the current politicians who think they are God and would always remain so as long as they live. They don’t know that life always has other plans.

Anyway, for those who want to know what happened to those politicians of yesteryear, here is an update:

 

  • THE WAY THEY WERE: (From top) Santosh Mohan Dev at a party meeting in 1988, (inset) with his wife, Bithika, on Holi last year; George Fernandes taking oath as minister in 1977, (inset) in 2011 when the Dalai Lama visited him; Priya Ranjan Das Munshi filing his nomination for the Howrah Sadar Lok Sabha constituency in 1991, (inset) in Apollo Hospitals, New Delhi, in 2016; Jaswant Singh in Darjeeling in 2009, (inset) at a press conference in New Delhi in 2014, shortly before his accident; Atal Bihari Vajpayee addressing a rally at Shahid Minar, Calcutta, in 1971, (inset) receiving the Bharat Ratna in 2015

India turns 70 in a little more than a week’s time. The five men featured here are all older – one of them passed away just this week. All of these men, in their time, were people of significance; they either dominated the political discourse of the day or made significant interventions. But for a while now, they have lain claimed by the slipstream of sub-consciousness, barely cognizant of the radical political and social changes around them. For the first time since Independence, all of the nation’s top jobs are held by RSS apparatchiks – the president, prime minister and vice-president. The country itself has been taken by bursts of violent social discord, fed by a surging sectarian, ultra-nationalist sentiment. India’s iconography is under active alteration at the bidding of the powers – Nehru’s legacy is being dismantled, Deendayal Upadhyay’s is being installed; history is being re-written, often with shocking brazenness. India is undergoing fundamental transformations, all of which these men would have had things to say and do about. The Telegraph brings you snapshots of the little-known current personal lives of these erstwhile public personas.

Santosh Mohan Dev

Late Congress leader. Was the party’s Northeast pointsman, Minister of Steel in the 1990s and Minister of Heavy Industries and Public Enterprises in UPA-I

When Sonia Gandhi went to meet Santosh Mohan Dev at his south Delhi residence in 2015, he was already quite ill. Dev, a third generation Congressman, had been a seven-time MP – he represented Silchar in Assam five times and Tripura twice. But a diabetic for 35 years, his health had started deteriorating beginning 2011, after a prolonged urinary infection. Around the same time, he showed signs of Alzheimer’s. His daughter, Sushmita, who is a Congress MP, says, “If we had to go for a meeting at 10am, he would get ready at 5am. If we asked him something, he would give us a vague reply. We couldn’t understand why he was behaving like that till we were told by the doctor that he had Alzheimer’s.”

During the last few years of his life, he didn’t speak much but he did recognise people. That day when Sonia Gandhi asked him, “Do you know who am I?” He replied, “Boss.” She laughed and said, “Now, Sushmita’s boss is Rajiv ji‘s (Rajiv Gandhi) son. Dev asked, “The man with the beard?”

Says Sushmita, “He obviously understood everything he saw on television.”

In 2016, Dev moved to his hometown, Silchar. He was confined to his home, where he spent time watching Bengali classics. Sushmita’s biggest regret is that her father could never see her in Parliament. “Every time we protest in Parliament, I think of him; he would have taken the bull by the horns. Sometimes, I wish he was with me in the Central Hall.”

Even before he fell ill this time, rumours about his death would float up from time to time. Sushmita tells us that her mother – Bithika – would often joke and say these rumours were only adding more years to his life.

The 83-year-old passed away last Wednesday. Sushmita adds, “We admitted him to hospital. The doctor said he would not be able to survive the day. But my father was a fighter. He waited till each and every member of the family – my sisters and nieces – had arrived from different parts of the world. Only then he breathed his last.”

Atal Bihari Vajpayee

The first non-Congress person to serve as Prime Minister for a full term. The BJP leader, who idolised Nehru, was PM in 1996, 1998 and from 1999-2004. Pokhran-II, Lahore Summit, Kargil, Gujarat riots – it all happened during his tenure

The last public appearance of the unyielding Atal ji dates back to March 27, 2015. The only available photographs show President Pranab Mukherjee about to garland the former PM with the peepal leaf-shaped Bharat Ratna medallion. The tasselled tray in the hands of the President’s aide, on which rests the sanad, or certificate, covers most of the face of the man who was known as BJP’s ” vikas purush“. A cream shawl draped over his left shoulder covers his left arm.

At his residence on Krishna Menon Marg in Lutyens’ Delhi, Vajpayee spends a quiet life. He is often visited by old colleagues like L.K. Advani, and occasionally, Prime Minister Narendra Modi. But nothing ever emerges of what transpires in those meetings; perhaps they are no more than social calls. He reads newspapers and watches news and sports on television. The master orator whose speeches in Parliament sparkled with wit, erudition and political savvy, lost his speech after a stroke in 2009. “He is aware of what’s happening around. But he doesn’t speak,” says Vajpayee’s old friend and senior advocate, N.M. Ghatate, who visits him every week.

At 92, his mobility is restricted but he can walk with assistance. The three-time Prime Minister can recognise people too. “I feel he doesn’t want to meet many people, especially new visitors. He is comfortable meeting his old associates,” says Ghatate. “He is resigned to his fate and he looks peaceful.”

George Fernandes

One-time socialist rebel, feisty labour leader, Samata Party founder. Was minister in the post-Emergency Janata and, later, NDA governments

Dressed in a mustard shirt and white pyjamas, George Fernandes is lying in bed. His emaciated face has turned him beyond recognition – gaunt in the extreme. He is 87. His mouth is half-open and his eyes are fixed on the ceiling. His wife, Leila, leans in and says, “The country is in crisis. People are remembering you.” Fernandes coughs.

“This is the way he responds when I speak to him,” says Leila, who came back to him in 2009 after a two-decade-long separation.

Fernandes has Alzheimer’s, last stage. The firebrand socialist leader, who emerged during the dark days of Emergency, has been immobile the past seven years. His speech is impaired too. The greater part of his day is spent in bed but every morning he is wheeled out into the lawns of his Panchsheel Park residence, where he spends some time.

Barring some visitors such as long-term associate Jaya Jaitly, Leila doesn’t encourage many people to see him these days as he is prone to infections. PM Modi visited him in 2015. The Dalai Lama also visited Fernandes, once this February and previously in 2011.

There is a photograph from the earlier visit but not from the recent one. Leila, however, doesn’t like her husband to be photographed in his present condition. She is now planning a peaceful life for Fernandes at Ranikhet in Uttarakhand. “I told him, ‘George, we are going to the mountains.’ He flickered his eyes. I know, he also wants to go,” she says. “We want to watch the sunset together in the mountains.”

Jaswant Singh

Former BJP leader. Served as Finance Minister in Vajpayee’s short-lived government in 1996. He was Minister for External Affairs from 1998 to 2002

Like his former mates in government, Vajpayee and Fernandes, Jaswant Singh’s public life ended rather abruptly. He suffered a head injury after he had a fall in his house in 2014 and, thereafter, slipped into coma. After four months of hospitalisation, he was brought home in a minimally conscious state but he had to be hospitalised again. There was a slight improvement but for the past one year, the 79-year-old, who had represented Darjeeling in the Lok Sabha, has been static, says his son, Manvendra, an MLA from Sheo in Rajasthan. Singh, who controversially conducted the Kandahar terror swap during the Vajpayee premiership, is the author of a widely-acclaimed political memoir; alas, he cannot express himself anymore. “He is not responsive; he is under home care. We hope he recovers,” says Manvendra.

Priya Ranjan Das Munshi

Congress leader, football enthusiast. Was Minister of Parliamentary Affairs and Information and Broadcasting during the first term of the Manmohan Singh government

In 2008, Priya Ranjan Das Munshi suffered a stroke and slipped into coma. “Part of his brain is not responding,” says his wife and former MP, Deepa. “He cannot talk or recognise anyone.” He is 71.

He had all but faded from public memory when his name was included in the 90-member campaign committee of the Congress for the West Bengal Assembly polls in 2016. The move led to a huge uproar within the party.

Over the years, doctors have reportedly said he is not conscious of his surroundings but Deepa hasn’t given up. She says she keeps him informed about current politics. “He winks, he moves his head, he coughs. I feel he is responding but I am not sure if medically this can be considered a response.”

There have been reports that the hospital authorities want his family members to take him home but that hasn’t happened yet. “I believe that miracles do happen. They can happen at any time,” says Deepa.

 

 

(https://www.telegraphindia.com/1170806/jsp/7days/story_165729.jsp )

Since the chief actors of last July’s terror attack in a posh Dhaka precinct were discovered to be radicalised upper-class kids, university students have come under stern glare. Often, some fear, with counterproductive consequences. Sonia Sarkar reports

  • FACE OF TERROR: (From top) A woman displays a photo of her son who worked at the Holey Artisan Bakery, Dhaka; the site of the attack; a protest rally in a nearby village

Shoriful is barely out of his teens. He likes to wear Pathan suits and skullcaps, sports a well-trimmed goatee, prays five times a day and knows the Islamic sermons by heart. That and the fact that he is currently a student of a reputed private university in Dhaka make him a “person of interest” in the eyes of law enforcement agencies. This is Bangladesh, a year after the terror attack on Dhaka’s Holey Artisan Bakery.

“It’s difficult to convince people that not everyone studying in a private university joins the extremists, and my religious inclination doesn’t make me a radical either,” says Shoriful, who goes to one of the universities at Dhanmondi in Dhaka.

Private universities in Bangladesh are a 1990s phenomenon. The first one was North South University (NSU), which came up in 1992. Today, there are 96 of them, boasting a three lakh-plus student community.

Investigations following last July’s carnage – 22 people were shot dead in a café in an upscale neighbourhood of the Bangladeshi capital – revealed that three of the five terrorists were English-medium schooled, religious-minded, beard-toting rich kids. One of them was from NSU. Police said the university’s former pro vice-chancellor, Gias Uddin Ahsan, had sheltered the attackers in a flat owned by him. Soon after, police arrested many teachers and students of various such universities who had links with the radical group, Hizb ut-Tahrir.

Recruitment of young men by terrorist and Islamic radical organisations is not new. For decades, the Bangladesh Islami Chhatrashibir – the student wing of the country’s biggest Islamist party, Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh – has been wooing and winning over young impoverished madrasa students. Many students of the prestigious Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET) also signed up for the Chhatrashibir. They had been offered scholarships, free coaching and books in exchange.

But what the Dhaka attack showed up was different. This was a class shift. The Hizb ut-Tahrir was tapping into a different demographic altogether. Naturally, the “phenomenon” attracted a lot of media attention.

The Tahrir’s changed tactics led to a reflexive change in attitudes. An administrative crackdown followed. Profiling of students of private universities, previously unheard of, became a routine affair. And life was never the same for the likes of Shoriful.

“One of my students shunned the Pathan suit and started wearing trousers. Earlier, he used to keep a beard but now he is clean-shaven. He did so because he realised that people regard him with suspicion,” says Janina Islam Abir, a lecturer in the Media and Communication department at Independent University. “Also, some of our students have been distancing themselves from their overtly religious friends.”

The general opinion among private university students is that life in Dhaka has suddenly become claustrophobic – it’s the state’s surveillance being streamed upon them.

Police have instructed landlords, particularly those in Dhaka’s posh Uttara, Mirpur and Banani areas, to avoid renting out rooms to bachelors, especially students of private universities. Should they do that, tenant details must be shared with the local police station. That’s not all, random questioning by police has become the new normal.

“Whenever we pass the diplomatic zone in Dhaka, we are stopped by the police. The first thing we are asked is, ‘Where do you study?’,” says Ridoan AGM, a third-year student of Independent University. He adds, “Earlier, we carried our ID cards when we went to university, now we carry it whenever we step out of our homes to ensure we are not harassed by the police.”

The state’s probe has penetrated the campuses too. Once again, one must fall back on the 2016 revelations. According to police investigations, universities were used by a section of radical teachers to indoctrinate students. They would apparently use the prayer rooms to talk to students on conflict and religion, share books on liberating the land of the Muslims, global jihad and Islamic rulings on democracy. One recruiter had told The Telegraph shortly after last year’s attacks that rich college students usually lacked a purpose in life and, therefore, were more prone to buying into the “martyr” dream.

Experts – social as well as behavioural – had also remarked how these youngsters did not have very strong family ties and lacked knowledge about the secular and cultural ethos of the country. Also, in the absence of students’ unions and active clubs and committees in these universities, they spent the larger part of their student life online with no “real” outlet for their youthful fervour. In fact, there has been enough evidence to support the view that the young men involved in the café attack were radicalised online.

After the attack, many universities installed closed-circuit television cameras in prayer rooms. Students were asked not to mingle with pupils they “are not sure of”. In NSU, which had earned a reputation for being “a den of extremists”, vigilance was more aggressive. It has since formed an anti-terror committee and asked students to remain alert. Insiders say, it recently suspended a group of students for allegedly forcing women classmates to wear the hijab.

As it happens, many innocent students have been caught in the crosshairs. Take the case of the student who approached a counsellor for a bothersome obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). The university administration suspected him of being a radical because he wore kurta-pyjama and sported a beard. “They asked me to question him rigorously about his background and try and find out if he had any connection with radical groups. I refused because I am not trained to deal with issues related to radicalisation. But another colleague grilled him so hard that he did not return for counselling,” says a counsellor of NSU, on condition of anonymity. She still believes the student really had suffered an OCD affliction, no more. Police too, apparently, “randomly” pick up young men and label them radicals. Going by news reports, in the past one year, a dozen “masterminds” have been hunted down.

If we have not heard the liberal thinkers speak up against this and for the rights of the student community at these universities, it is because they haven’t spoken up at all.

In fact, writer and historian Muntasir Mamun told The Telegraph over phone from Dhaka: “There is no such profiling.” So, was he denying all this is going on? Mamun admitted that students might feel “societal pressure” because names of one or two private universities had come up again and again for their involvement in terrorist activities, but added that it was a “temporary phase”. He said, “This will end soon, as the government is making a concerted effort to root out terrorism.”

Rooting out extremism from Bangladesh will, if anything, be a long haul. Radical forces seem to be only expanding their base in the country. But stereotyping is possibly not the best of solutions. “Some of them [students] feel intimidated by this constant vigil and are hiding their real selves in public. They are becoming introverts,” says Shami Suhrid, psycho-social counsellor and lecturer at BRAC University.

Counsellor Tamanna Chowdhury of the University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh (ULAB) seconds that. She also throws in a warning. “Youth between 18 and 23 are vulnerable. Eventually, this alienation may push them to join radical forces.” But who’s listening?

In the meantime, in the absence of any kind of support, private university students have decided to take things into their own hands. They have started doing their bit to change the societal notion that they are “rich kids with extremist views”.

In the past one year, they have organised conferences, Sufi concerts and photo shoots to spread the message of peace and tolerance. On March 26, which is the Bangladesh Independence Day, students of the Eastern University painted their palms red and green – the colours of the Bangladeshi national flag – took selfies and posted them on Facebook.

In February, a Belgian mother, whose son went to Syria to join ranks with the terrorists, was invited to address students and parents at ULAB. She spoke on how to read the early signs of radicalisation among young men. Recently, students of five private universities organised a film festival under a project titled, “Film-making and television journalism for peace and tolerance in Bangladesh”. It showcased 12 films shot by students on radicalisation in Bangladesh and ways of containing it. Some universities are trying to engage ” muktijoddhas” or freedom fighters of the 1971 Liberation War to interact with students and talk to them about the history of Bangladesh.

Is it helping? Not all of these efforts can bear fruit overnight, but some are. Students claim that the interactive sessions give them a sense of context, help them engage in debates on politics and Islam. “Earlier, we used to listen to radical views in college canteens or clubs but never reacted because we didn’t know what to say. Now, we can confront them with valid arguments,” says Ridoan. Shoriful adds, “The onus is on us to change the perception about our tribe.”

Listen closely. Or recall Wilfred Owen. Bangladesh is ringing with the Anthem for doomed youth.



  • 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 ...