• stumble
  • youtube
  • linkedin

Archives for : Minority Rights

Finding Najeeb Ahmad: Teacher says Budaun boy never shied of taking a stand

Najeeb Ahmad, an MSc Biotechnology student at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, went missing on October 15, 2016. A year on, there is no trace of the 28-year-old student. HT travels to Budaun, Najeeb’s hometown, to know more about him.

Nafees Ahmad, the father of Najeeb Ahmed, looks out of the door of his house in Vaidon Tola in Budaun. Najeeb Ahmad, an MSc Biotechnology student of JNU, had gone missing from his hostel on October 15, 2016.
Nafees Ahmad, the father of Najeeb Ahmed, looks out of the door of his house in Vaidon Tola in Budaun. Najeeb Ahmad, an MSc Biotechnology student of JNU, had gone missing from his hostel on October 15, 2016.(Vipin Kumar/HT Photo)

Outside the primary school in western Uttar Pradesh’s Budaun, a seven-hour drive from Delhi, Talat Jalalan elderly school principal recalls the verse from Milton’s Paradise Regained — The childhood shows the man, as morning shows the day.

In order to know the person behind Najeeb Ahmad, the JNU student who had disappeared from the university hostel a year to date (Sunday), HT went to the town where the 28-year-old MSc student had spent his childhood and went to school.

“He was different,” Jalal, the owner and principal of the Budaun Public School says, remembering Najeeb whom she taught when he was in the primary school.

“He never shied of taking a stand. If he felt strongly about an issue he would be ready to take risks. When some kids indulged in mischief and I asked students who did it, Najeeb came forward and named the troublemakers despite knowing that it would earn him the wrath of his classmates,” says Talat, remembering an incident when Najeeb was in Class 5. Najeeb studied at Talat’s school up to Class 8.

Talat Jalal, the principal of Budaun Public School, where Najeeb studies up to Class 8. (Vipin Kumar/HT PHOTO)

Mohammed Asim, who studied with Najeeb from lower kindergarten to the fifth standard, remembers Najeeb telling his friends that he would become a doctor.

Born to a carpenter and a homemaker, his classmates say that Najeeb had always wanted to be a doctor.

Maybe, it was also because he was born and lived in Vaidon Tola. The locality was once home to doctors and physicians in United Provinces, during the British rule. Hence, the name Vaidon, meaning a healer/doctor or a physician and Tola, which translates to a community or a home.

A month, before he went missing, another childhood friend Yasir had met Najeeb in the local market. “We were not in touch for many years. At the market, we recognized each other. He told me he had got admission in JNU. It was a short meeting but he seemed fine.”

Though HT was able to trace anecdotal memories of the young student, Najeeb’s life starts to become a blur once he leaves the village school. At Florence Public School, on the state highway leading to Budaun city, where Najeeb studied till Class 12, not one teacher remembers him. Everyone knew about Najeeb, the Budaun boy who went missing but nobody knew him as a student of the school.

Naveen Kumar Singh, who has been the school principal for past 12 years says, “We did not know he studied here.” Singh could not even recognize him, when we showed him Najeeb’s pictures.



After graduation in Bareilly, around 50 km from Budaun, Najeeb’s journey took him to the Jawaharlal Nehru University. But even in JNU, nobody knows man behind the name. He had only been in the university for less than three months before he disappeared at around noon on October 15, 2016. His classmates in the MSc Biotechnology programme, remember him as a quiet student who liked to keep to himself. His teachers say he was just one among the many faces they greet every year

The only person who remember Najeeb beyond the narrative of the “missing JNU student”, is Mohd Qasim, his roommate at Mahi-Mandvi Hostel. “I did not interacted with him much. We spent maybe just 10-15 days together,” recalls Qasim.

Qasim says Najeeb was an introvert. He spoke of how Najeeb adhered to a strict schedule, which included attending classes, studying after the classes and talking to his mother

“He had no political affiliations, or even expressed any interest in joining any party. I remember I was talking about something, I don’t remember exactly what now, but I had mentioned ‘AISA’ (the left wing All India Students Association) in passing. He asked me ‘Bhai, ye AISA kya hota hai?” recalls Qasim.

While Qasim still holds onto Najeeb’s place at the hostel, in the hope of his return, others on campus are not as sure.

A professor at the School of Biotechnology, where Najeeb had been pursuing his MSc programme, says they do not discuss the case anymore. “I think all of us (the faculty) at some level probably know he might not come back. So we do not discuss the case, even among ourselves,” he says.

Outside the school in Budaun, Najeeb’s childhood friends and locals gathered again. The sight of cameras and hopes that a journalist from Delhi may have news of Najeeb brought them together. The influx of reporters in this otherwise nondescript locality since the last one year also irks a few residents. “What is the use of giving interviews if you cannot find him?” a local tells HT.

Asim Khan, a friend of Najeeb, who studied with him from lower kindergarten to Class 5. He remembers Najeeb telling his friends that he wanted to become a doctor. (Vipin Kumar/HT PHOTO)

Inside the school, Najeeb’s younger brother Mujeeb is talking to another group of journalists from Delhi.

“Najeeb was the brightest among us all. He always ranked in the top five in his class. We had this firm belief that he would make it big some day. He was very excited when he got admission in the big and prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU),” says Mujeeb.

One of Najeeb’s childhood friends comes to us. He looks at Mujeeb to make sure he won’t hear the conversation.

Then he asks carefully and softly, “Do you think Najeeb is dead?”

Related posts

India – At Jaisalmer shelter, no food for Muslims forced out of village


Jaisalmer municipal commissioner says they don’t have budget to provide food to displaced families.

The Muslim families cook their own food after district administration failed to supply food.
The Muslim families cook their own food after district administration failed to supply food.(HT Photo)

Forced to leave their village in western Rajasthan following alleged threats from upper caste Hindu villagers, about 20 Muslim families are now staring at another crisis.

The district administration, which arranged a temporary shelter for them in Jaisalmer, has failed to provide them food for last two days. Lack of facilities at the shelter has left them, especially women and children, in the lurch.

Around 150 members of these 20 families do not want to return to their homes in Dantal, around 700 kms from Jaipur. They have urged the district administration to shift them to another safer location.

The families left their village following a string of events that began with the killing of a Muslim folk singer, allegedly by a Hindu priest and his brothers. The priest, Ramesh Suthar, who is a traditional occultist, has been arrested on charges of while his brothers are absconding.

Suthar is accused of killing 45-year-old Aamad Khan for his “poor singing” during a Navratri function at the village temple on September 27. Khan’s body was found outside his house the next day. The Rajputs allegedly threatened Khan’s family against going to police to report the killing. Khan’s family quietly buried the body.

However, after their relatives from nearby village came and assured them of help, Khan’s family lodged a case against Suthar and his two brothers.

Meanwhile, 20 families of Muslim folk singers, including Khan’s, left the village following alleged threat from the Rajputs and took shelter at nearby Balad village.

On Monday, some of them met Jaisalmer district collector (DC) KC Meena, who assured them of help and put them up in a temporary shelter run by the municipal council for the homeless people. The DC asked the civic body to arrange food for them.

“We are managing food for us through our local resources. The administration has made no arrangement,” said Tareef Khan. “However, we cannot mop up resources for long,” he said.

Jaisalmer municipal council commissioner Jabar Singh said they didn’t have budget for providing food to the displaced families. “We gave them food on Monday but we cannot give them food everyday due to lack of funds,” he added.

Meena wasn’t aware about the condition of the families at the shelter. He said he will need to check if the families have returned to the village or not.

The district collector also sent a sub-divisional officer to Dantal to ease the tension in the village so that the Muslims could return home. “We are talking to both sides and have assured the Muslims of their safety on their return to Dantal,” the DC said.


Related posts

India – The Assassination of Dissent, at Point-Blank Range

If I were to describe Islam in three words, there is nothing there besides sex, crime and murder. So the question for you is not whether Rohingya will stay here or the Musulman will leave here…. Now, whats the question is that everyone is being brought here (The banner in the back reads: Drive Out Rohingya Save India Protest.… Thank Modiji for saving Gujarat in 2002, otherwise we would have been surrounded from all sides. So, the question is only this, that you will have to repeat Gujarat 2002, there is only one solution, there is no other solution…. Are you ready for that thing?…. Look, our ancestors fought for us…. to keep us Hindu…. Can we say the same about us? That we can to do the same for the coming generation, or not?

—A man addressing a crowd at Delhi’s Jantar Mantar on October 7, 2017.

Some people in India are paying a heavy price for exercising their democratic right to freedom of expression. Others, like the scoundrel quoted above, are getting away with inciting violence against Muslims in public spaces. The day after the bigot’s tirade, the Indian government, exploiting the Rohingyas’ high profile in the global news, sent out a notice to all state governments asking them to block any undocumented immigrants from entering and to deport those already in the country. That included ethnic Rohingya refugees, of whom there are around 40,000 now in India.

Nationalism is not the awakening of nations to self-consciousness; it invents nations where they do not exist.

— Ernest Gellner, Thought and Change, 1964.

The link that connects seven of India’s bravest dissenters — Ram Chander Chhatrapati, Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare, M. M. Kalburgi, Gauri Lankesh, Shantanu Bhowmick and Kancha Ilaiah, is the coward state, with its strong arms hanging limp at its sides, watching the country’s extremists play out their dream (nightmare for Dalits, Adivasis, along with countless women, Muslims, other religious minorities, journalists, rationalists, and others) of mutating India into a Hindu nation-state by hook or by crook.

Emboldened by the Indian state’s passivity, other peripheral fanatic factions—including godmen, warring political parties, and privileged upper-caste communities—are cranking out bling, multiplying the numbers of their blind followers, and killing innocents with impunity.

The first five of the heroic dissenters named above were assassinated at point-blank range by motorcycle-borne stooges of the country’s political elite; the sixth, journalist Shantanu Bhowmick, was beaten and stabbed to death. There are new developments ensuing daily with regard to writer Kancha Ilaiah’s predicament; you will read about them in the course of this article.

Killed on November 21, 2002

Ram Chander Chhatrapati
Ram Chander Chhatrapati

Sach aur jhooth ke beech koi teesri cheez nahi hoti (There is only truth and lies, there’s nothing in between.)

— Ram Chander Chhatrapati,editor of Poora Sach (The Complete Truth),Sirsa, Haryana.

On August 25, 2017, the self-proclaimed “Guru of Bling,” Dera Sacha Sauda chief “Maharaj” Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh was sentenced, 15 years after the fact, to 20 years imprisonment on charges of raping two of his sadhvis (female disciples). We all heard about that. But something else also happened fifteen years ago that involved the “Guru” and his sect, and most of us know bling little about it.

At the end of May, 2002, only about three months after the founding of Chhatrapati’s evening daily Poora Sach, the publication revealed details of an anonymous letter from a sadhvi alleging that she, along with others, was being sexually harassed and raped by Ram Rahim. The rest is history — some known, some not so known. Along with Chhatrapati, the Dera manager Ranjit Singh was also murdered in 2002. Ram Rahim is accused of both murders,“as these were carried out allegedly at his behest.”

Killed on August 20, 2013

Narendra Dabholkar
Narendra Dabholkar

In Maharashtra, each year around one crore [10 million] families bring the idol of Ganesha at home to celebrate Ganesha Chaturthi. Each idol weighs around two kilograms. Most of these idols are made up of plaster of Paris and painted with chemical colors. This means each year around two crore kilograms of these harmful chemicals are released into water bodies, causing blockage and poisoning. To prevent this dire environmental situation, we launched a movement and appealed to the people to donate their idols to the committee, instead of immersing them in the river. The movement received a tremendous response. We collect thirty to forty thousand Ganesha idols from different parts of Maharashtra. But since the last two years the Hindu Janjagaran Samiti has begun to oppose this movement vehemently. Their position is, let there be water pollution, but the idols must be immersed into the flowing river as sanctioned by the scriptures.

— Narendra Dabholkar rationalist and author,Satara, Maharashtra.

Narendra Dabholkar was one of India’s eminent rationalists. Described by some Hindu fanatics as a dharma drohi (an enemy of religion), Dabholkar committed his life to the eradication of andh vishvaas (blind faith) and the uprooting of exploitative superstition. In 1989 he founded the Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti (Committee for the Eradication of Blind Faith in Maharashtra [MANS]) and authored twelve books aimed at fostering scientific thinking among the Indian people, including one titled Vivekachi Pataka Gheu Khandyavari (Let Us Shoulder the Flag of Rationalism.) He was a victim of threats and assaults by Hindu extremists throughout those years.

Killed on February 20, 2015

Govind Pansare
Govind Pansare

Dabholkar’s assassination is an indicator that there’re fundamentalists and fascists among us who want to quell all rational voices with violence…. It is the Sangh [Rashtria Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a cultural guild] that decides who should speak, what and when. The Sangh is the boss, the rest, subsidiaries. The Sangh determines the policy, others merely implement it, and so goes its style of functioning…. There is a reason why the caste of  Mahatma Gandhi’s murderers should be made public. Of course, they were all Brahmins…. [Gandhi] was against inequality…. He was murdered for it.

— Govind Pansare, lawyer, trade unionist,author of Shivaji Kaun Hota(Who Was Shivaji), and member of the Communist Party of India, Bombay.

Pansare was front and center in hammering away on the role played by Hindutva ideologues in the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi. On the evening of August 20, 2013, as Narendra Dabholkar’s body lay at rest in his home in Satara, Govind Pansare was there. Standing beside his comrade’s body, he said many things, including the first part of the statement above. A year and a half later, Pansare’s words of reason were silenced by the same forces of unreason.

Killed on August 30, 2015

M. M. Kalburgi
M. M. Kalburgi

Of late artificial changes are being introduced instead of genuine ones in society thanks to religious and political leaders. The researcher needs to unravel actual history in order to stop the exploitation caused by such false history. Research is not a purely historical exploration but a struggle with those who invoke false history to profit from the present.

— M. M. Kalburgi, former vice-chancellor of Kannada University, Research Scholar of Old Kannada, Dharwad, Karnataka.

M. M. Kalburgi, was a prolific writer, and most importantly, he was a tireless truth seeker.

In the same year in which Dabholkar founded MANS, the politically and financially powerful Lingayat community of Karnataka cracked down hard on certain views expressed by Kalburgi. One of those views involved the arcane issue of the birth of the saint-poet Channabasavanna. Having hurt the Lingayat’s fragile orthodox feelings, Kalburgi was forced to recant in April, 1989. Afterward, Kalburgi explained, “I did it to save the lives of my family. But I also committed intellectual suicide on that day.”

Kalburgi went on to declare that Lingayatism was never part of Hinduism. Attacking Hinduism’s caste system was a regular feature in his writings. India’s current government in power, the Bharatiya Janata Party (the political wing of the RSS) was voted to power for the first time in Karnataka in the 2004 polls, with B.S. Yeddyurappa, a Lingayat, as the party’s chief minister. Both Hindu extremists and the mainstream orthodox Lingayats hated Kalburgi’s guts.

“I am Losing Faith,” says Kancha Ilaiah. On September 25, 2017, two days after a mob attacked the car he was driving in, intending to harm him, he announced that he was going into self-imposed house arrest. He also said that “In my two petitions at Osmania [University] I requested for strong police protection at my house. That is also not provided.”

Killed on September 5, 2017

#nuclear</a> (</li> <li class="zemanta-article-ul-li"><a href="" target="_blank">NPCIL,AERB and KKNPP Dodge the Substandard Equipment Issue</a> (</li> <li class="zemanta-article-ul-li"><a href="" target="_blank">Koodankulam: THE HINDU’s Bias Stands Exposed #Censorship #Medua</a> (</li> </ul> <p>&nbsp;</p> " data-medium-file="" data-large-file="" class="size-full wp-image-18167" src="" sizes="(max-width: 690px) 100vw, 690px" srcset=" 2252w, 300w, 768w, 1024w, 83w, 1380w, 2070w" alt="Gauri Lankesh" width="690" height="459" />
Gauri Lankesh

Whether it is attacks on pubs…. in the name of culture and protection of women, or whether it’s attacks on Dalits…. in the name of cow protection, or attacks on liberals and leftists in the name of Hindutva…. when Kalburgi was killed, one Bajrang Dal [youth wing of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), affiliated with the RSS] guy called Bhuvith Shetty, he sent a tweet saying that anyone who criticizes Hinduism will die a dog’s death…. Last week, after the court convicted fraud guru Gurmeet Ram Rahim for rape, his photos with several BJP leaders went viral on social media. Photos and videos of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and several Haryana BJP ministers were circulating. It irked the BJP and the Sangh. To counter this, they circulated a photo of Kerala chief minister and CPM leader Pinarayi Vijayan sitting with Ram Rahim. It was a photoshopped image…. What is most shocking and sad is that people accepted it [fake news] as truth without thinking with their eyes and ears closed and brains shut off.

— Gauri Lankesh, journalist, Bangalore, Karnataka.

“Are Rohingya ‘terrorists’ killing Hindus and burning their homes & temples? Read verified, not fake news.”

That was the last tweet that Gauri Lankesh posted.Lankesh was the editor of the weekly Kannada tabloid Gauri Lankesh Patrika, described by some as an “anti-establishment” publication. She took on everything and everyone that indulged in right-wing divisive politics: the BJP, Hindutva ideologues, dominant-caste Indians, mob violence, hate crimes, lynchings.And she stood for all of their victims: Dalits, Adivasis, Muslims, and other religious minorities.

The assassins of Dabholkar, Pansare, Kalburgi, and Lankesh are yet to be brought to book. The Bombay High Court said recently that “People with liberal values and principles are being targeted. It’s like if there is any opposition to me, I shall have that eliminated. This is a dangerous trend which is giving a bad name to our country.”

A month later, emerging from his “house arrest” on October 5 (his birthday), Kancha Ilaiah stated that the central government should be held responsible if he is murdered.

Killed on September 20, 2017

Shantanu Bhowmick
Shantanu Bhowmick

Bhowmick was beaten and stabbed to death in Mandai, on the outskirts of Agartala, the state capital [of Tripura], where the local TV station Dinraat (“Day and Night”) had sent him to cover the clashes between police and members of the Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT), a local tribal-based party that issued a call yesterday for acts of violence against a rival faction…. Bhowmick was the second journalist to be murdered in the past two weeks in India, following Gauri Lankesh, a well-known woman journalist gunned down in the southern city of Bangalore on 5 September.

— Reporters Without Borders.

Attacks on media freedom are becoming increasingly commonplace around the world “especially in democracies,” claims Reporters Without Borders (RSF). Out of 180 countries, India is ranked number 136 in RSF’s 2017 World Press Freedom Index.

Threat issued Against Kancha Ilaiah on September 18, 2017

 Kancha Ilaiah & his controversial book Samajika Smugglurlu Komatollu
Kancha Ilaiah & his controversial book Samajika Smugglurlu Komatollu

Indian exploitation has a massive component of the use of caste ‘social borders’ to control the accumulated wealth within that border of heavily exploited wealth. It was used by the traders for their good life and gave enough to the temples for better survival of priests. The remaining surplus was hidden under ground, over ground and also in the temples. This process did not allow the cash economy to come back in the form of investment either for agrarian development or for promotion of mercantile capital. This whole process is nothing but social smuggling. The wealth did not go outside India but did get arrested and used only within the caste borders.This process is continuing even now in different modes. In all grain markets, the Shahukars [moneylenders] are the main buyers of the produce who get it for very low cost from the farmers and sell the same goods for huge prices.

—Kancha Ilaiah, Director, Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy, author ofWhy I Am Not A Hindu, Hyderabad.

History repeats itself constantly in uppercaste-noxious India. Like Kalburgi, Kancha Ilaiah is today a victim of the pathetic boo-hooing of the privileged. His writings have been condemned on TV; death threats have been issued against him; someone threatened to cut off his tongue; his effigies have been burnt along with his booklet; on September 23 he and his traveling companions narrowly dodged a “murderous attack at Parakal, Bhupalpally district…. by the Arya-Vysya forces at 4.45 pm,” and more recently, the Hyderabad police registered a case against him.

Kancha Ilaiah’s controversial book, Samajika Smugglurlu Komatollu (Vysyas Are Social Smugglers) has thoroughly upset the emotionally delicate Arya-Vysya (trader/bania) community of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, who find the title and contents of the book derogatory and demeaning. The Telugu Desam Party (TDP) MP T.G. Venkatesh even issued a Hindu version of a fatwa against him, calling for apublic hanging. The MP later took it back, saying that “he did not mean ‘fatwa’ as he was carried away emotionally. However, he warned that things will go out of control if the book was not banned.”

Well, I have news for you, MP Venkatesh. Things are already “out of control” in JatiIndia. Every reasonable voice, scientific analysis, environmental action, historical research, or challenge to hard-wired upper-caste privilege is at risk of being silenced by a coward state that is okay with the torrent of violence and threats that is ripping the threads of justice apart, one dissenter at a time.

Today, October 14, there was a small victory for the Indian Democracy, and Kancha Ilaiah. Samajika Smugglurlu Komatolluwill not be banned. The Supreme Court of India dismissed a “public interest” litigation filed before it by an Arya-Vysya advocate seeking to ban Ilaiah’s book. Said Ilaiah, “This has reaffirmed my faith in the Indian Judiciary, Constitution and Democracy. I thank all the social forces, political parties, organizations, media that stood by me and also for the right to freedom of expression.”

Now, Kancha Ilaiah’s predicament is back in the hands of Indian democracy, which needs to get him out of the gun sights of the Arya-Vysya troublemakers and punish severely anyone who threatens him.


Note: India’s dissenters featured here are #s 12 through 18 in my continuing series JatiIndia Flags of Atrocities Caste, Present and Future. The color orange in the flag symbolizes long-existing casteism, now made more open and feverish by resurgent Hindutva politics. Blue—a color historically adopted by the Dalit movement—here honors all of India’s and occupied Kashmir’s oppressed people and those who fight and die for them. The bottom green bar embodies India’s ecological foundations, which are endangered by the ideology of neoliberalism and defended by our Adivasis and other oppressed people, including Kashmiris. The circular image in the center signifies a target viewed through a weapon’s saffron (Hindu nationalist) crosshairs.

Priti Gulati Cox is an interdisciplinary artist. She lives in Salina, Kansas. Please click here to see more of her work.

Related posts

Our fights must begin in our homes, in our choices, in our language and in our refusal to ignore the hate

Everywhere I look, I see hate


I never wanted children. It was a political decision, as much as it was a personal one.

“No woman can call herself free until she can choose consciously whether she will or will not be a mother.” This had been activist Margaret Higgins Sanger’s rallying call that  I had made my own. But the finalities of life that we mark for ourselves have a way of unravelling when faced with the mortality of the people we love. Nothing prepared me to confront my father’s mortality. Three days after his surgery, that lasted close to 14 hours, I sat in the hospital lounge exhausted, when I saw three women sobbing. I recognised them from before. Their father was diagnosed around the same time as mine. After four months of pain, agony and multiple sessions of radiation therapy, the doctors had given him no more than a week to live.

They looked like my family – father, mother and two girls. Our fathers were the same age and had the same diagnosis. They lost him, but mine had survived.

Two months later, I got on a flight to return to the life I had left behind. I was alone with myself after a very long time, and the life I had left behind looked different than the one I wanted now – with a child. I wondered why and what had changed? Was it the encounter with my father’s mortality? Had this encounter made me chose motherhood? Did I want to see my parents live on through my child? Was it is the proximity to death, that reduces everything to primal need to procreate?

I didn’t know. I couldn’t articulate with certainty “why” I wanted a child, the way I could articulate my decision when decided not to have children.

There is a beautiful line in Odyssey: “Nobody, That is my name. Everybody calls me Nobody.”  I have always liked that line. The choice to not be yourself, for a brief moment. Being yet unbeing, to be free from my name, and its history, even if it lasts only for a while. Tabula rasa, a clean slate, just long enough to think, to make arguments afresh, and anew. I wished then, that just for a few hours could be a nobody. But there are no quiet spaces to contemplate counterfactuals in the reality of everyday life.


On the first day of the jurisprudence course, over a decade ago, my philosophy professor concluded the lecture with, “Always reserve the right to change your mind. Nothing in life is a foregone conclusion unless and until your life has ended.” That statement had made an impression on the 19-year self. Over the years I started all my lectures with the very same quote.

“Reserve the right to change your mind. Nothing is a foregone conclusion until you are gone.”

The decision to have a child is not merely a private matter; it is a significant political decision. Now that I had changed that stance,  every political position I had believed in, every argument I had ever made in furtherance of that position had to be reconsidered and adjudicated again.

When I became pregnant and found out that it was a girl, I became preoccupied with what it meant to raise her within the institution of family?  The family is still a political unit, heavily regulated by the state, often reducing women to their bodies. Desire outside the bounds of heterosexual marriage continues to be criminalised, and rape within marriage remains legitimate. The most intimate, visceral parts of our being – love, desire and lust remain governed by law, violence and social mores.

By bearing her, I was bearing witness to life in ways I had never perceived before. In her, I saw the map of my being, my limitations, my prejudices and predicaments that I would pass on to her. To raise her as a thinking-desiring-political being in this highly unequal and unjust society, I had to become infinitely better.

While I struggled with these questions, on a fateful morning news started trickling in that Hyderabad University research scholar Rohith Vemula had died. The details of the events that led to his death were cruel and heartbreaking.

Six months after Rohith’s death, a talented Palestinian-Syrian dancer, Hassan Rabeh, living as a refugee in Lebanon, jumped to his death after a last breathtaking performance – as those who saw it described it. Then there is little Aylan Kurdi found along the Turkish shore, whose mother decided to risk her children to the ocean because the land was no longer safe.

Everywhere I looked, I saw hate, and indoctrination clothed as an education.

Then Pakistan’s outspoken, fearless and self-made working-class heroine Qandeel Baloch, was found dead in her home. Her brother, confessing to her murder, said: “Yes, I killed her last night. Strangled her to death… I am not ashamed of killing her.”

The social media that had made her a star applauded her brother for “doing the right things” and called her “a disgrace”. A woman who had transgressed boundaries, questioned power and undressed the farce of religious clerics on national TV, would not be allowed to live.

Margaret Atwood, writing in Second Words (1983), narrates the incident when she asked a male friend why men felt threatened by women. He replied, “They are afraid women will laugh at them and undercut their worldview.” She then asked her female students why they feel threatened by men. They answered, “We’re afraid of being killed.”

Leading up to her murder, Qandeel had openly declared her fear of being killed.

Every woman I have ever met, at some point or another has feared violence, for thinking and speaking her mind, and sometimes just for existing. In 2017, why is thinking, speaking and merely existing as a woman a radical act?


My little girl turned one recently, and in the past year, I have been perpetually angry, upset or afraid.

I saw gruesome photographs of a mentally disabled woman, Otera Bibi, being lynched and killed, were circulated widely. I felt sick. For the next week, I couldn’t sleep, I often awoke up caught in a nightmare I couldn’t outrun. But I knew that my nightmares were often other people’s permanent homes. I could wake up from them; others couldn’t.

When I found out that Gauri Lankesh was murdered, I felt like a truck had hit me. I did not know Gauri Lankesh. I had met her briefly in the company of a friend, who introduced her as the patron saint of the young and the rebellious. This was soon after the murder of another scholar MM Kalburgi. Trying to lighten the conversation she had said, “Banglore’s quota is done for a while. They won’t come after another one of us for a while.”

I try to remember her face after she had made that comment. I wonder if she had laughed. The more I try, the less I remember. But I recollect her as being defiant and fearless, and full of chutzpah.

Gauri Lankesh was an intelligent, strong-willed, brave, and audacious women who spoke truth to power. I want my daughter to be that person when she grows up. Powerful, fearless and glorious. And if I raised her to be this woman, what would I do if someone then put a bullet in her marvellous mind?

What would I do?

I didn’t know how to mourn Lankesh. I had met her once and barely knew her. Before I could find the words or the silence, an anti-Lankesh hysteria had spread. Even her lifeless body had become seditious.

“She was an anti-national and deserved to die”, was the narrative that was repeated and circulated from the pedestal of hate and the newsrooms, into the nation’s living rooms and WhatsApp chat messages.

In Banglore, the cyber crime police arrested, Malli Arjun for posting, “One person with leftist ideology is dead, other such people will also meet the same fate.”

Arjun, 22 and unemployed, confessed to posting hate messages, through multiple online profiles and ids. The Delhi Police registered a FIR against Shillong native Vikramaditya Rana for threatening violence against her and several female writers, journalists and activists including Arundhati Roy, Shobhaa De, Kavita Krishnan and Shehla Rashid through Facebook posts. Rana has been posting hateful messages on Facebook that go viral.

“Not an iota of sympathy for Lankesh, and the killers should have shredded her body with bullets and even blasted apart her apartment.”

“Serves her and her kind right for the damages these so-called journos have caused our nation.”

“Let the shooting of #GauriLankesh serve as [an] example to those anti-nationals who masquerade as journalists and activists.”

“Episode of serial assassinations of all anti-nationals.”

While such statements shocked a few, many more agreed with him. Like Arjun, Rana had multiple accounts. A cursory look at this page reveals a litany of hate and bigotry. His accounts were regularly suspended. But he returned triumphant, to dispense more hate to his compatriots who validated and applauded his hate. Lankesh was just his most recent target.

The troll is not just a troll to be dismissed. Let us not forget the political usefulness of the mob and their power. They are not the means to power; they are the power of hate thriving amongst us. They are not marginal or the fringes, they are the republic. Rana and his “friends” are a virtual mob, contagions of hate dispersed throughout the country, bleeding a nation to death. Their words, no matter how vile become justified when wrapped in the flag.

As I tried to reconcile my anger and argument, my partner showed me a Facebook notification:

“Gauri Lankesh – that bitch was an anti-nationalist.”

This was no troll; this was someone we knew. This was an urban middle class grandmother of two, who had posted this comment on  Arnab Goswami’s fan-page. My partner had seen the notification and was visibly disturbed. It took him another day to show it to me. A week since we are still coming to terms with the reality of these words.

Violence is not always armed, but its language can be weaponised.

The battles we are fighting are in our own homes, the ideology of hate is no mythical monster. It lives in the hearts and tongues of people we know, people we are related to, people we call our friends. This hate is not singular, it spreads and infects everyone it touches, not just its willing participants.

These words that signify so much hate will escape the realm of social media, and defiantly march into our homes and find other targets.

No matter what the violence, and how we employ it on others, we always bring it back home with us. You cannot spew hate on others, and then not let it infect our lives and those around us.

Hate lives in the intersections of multiple acts of violence through space and time.

Our fights must begin in our homes, in our choices, in our language and in our refusal to ignore the hate

Related posts

Taj Mahal: What we stand to lose

‘There’s a paradise of stone in Agra for all to witness.’


“Ye main nahi nigaah e tawaareekh keh rahi

Pathhar ka ik bahisht yaheen Aagra mein hai.

It’s not me but the gaze of history that says this

There’s a paradise of stone in Agra for all to witness.”

— Abhishek Shukla

On June 16, 1631, when Mumtaz Mahal left this world for the next, Sa’ida Khan, known as Bebadal Khan, composed the following chronogram which gave the Hijri year of her death- 1040:

“Jaaye-i-Mumtaz Mahal jannat bad (May the abode of Mumtaz Mahal be paradise).”

The abode that he was referring to was heaven, but a grieving husband decided to make her resting place a heaven too.

As Abu Talib Kalim Kashani, Shah Jahan’s poet laureate, wrote:

“Upon her grave – may it be illumined until the Day of Resurrection!

The King of Kings constructed such an edifice

That since Destiny drew the plan of creation

It has not seen such an exalted building.”

(Translation Ebba Koch)

Indeed it was a fit mausoleum for a beloved wife. The best of master architects, calligraphers, embossers, stone carvers, craftsman and masons from Hindustan as well as Iraq, Turkey and Iran were gathered to create one of the wonders of the world. The best of building material, precious and semi-precious stones was gathered.

The style to be used was the one used previously in Humayun’s Tomb in Delhi known as the “Hasht Bihist”.

taj_100517015628.jpgThe Taj Mahal, a painting by Edwin Lord Weeks (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Hasht Bihist [eight heavens] is a Persian architectural term which refers to a specific type of floor plan whereby the plan is divided into eight chambers surrounding a domed central room. The allusion is to the eight levels of heaven and this plan was usually used for funerary monuments. These tombs were square or rectangular planned buildings divided into nine sections such that a central domed chamber is surrounded by eight elements.

Since paradise has rivers and gardens, the Mughal tombs are modelled on them too with the “Chahar Bagh” plan. These rivers signify abundance, mercy and blessings of God. All this imagery is supposed to help the soul of the dead man gain forgiveness and entry into paradise.

According to Amal-e-Salih, written by Shah Jahan’s official biographer Muhammad Salih Kanbo, the construction of the tomb began in January 1632. As many as 20,000 workers laboured for 20 years to complete this marble wonder. While contemporary documents call it Rauza e Munawwara [the Iluminated Tomb] or Rauza e Mutahhara [The Pure Tomb] the locals called it Taj Bibi ka Rauza. However, it became famous as Taj Mahal, perhaps an acronym for Mumtaz Mahal.

“Like nightingales we should weep in this garden

For smiles fade too quickly from the face

— Kanbo, Amal-e-Salih (translation Begley and Desai)

What is it about this mausoleum that attracts lakhs of visitors every year and generates around Rs 20 crore-Rs 22 crore as revenue for the state?

I have been visiting the Taj Mahal since I was a child and have never been able to lose that sense of awe as one enters the enormous, monumental southern gateway to find it framed inside. The feminine charm and delicate decoration make the mausoleum look like a white rose in full bloom. Perhaps that was intentional? Very apt calligraphic words inscribed on this gateway invite the reader into paradise.

Indeed it marks the “perfect moment” in the evolution of architecture in the Mughal period, according to famous historian, Percy Brown.

The first thing that strikes the visitor is the lofty, bulbous dome. It is indeed a fit crown for the empress who sleeps within. It was built under the supervision of Ismail Khan Afendi, who specialised in building the double dome, and had been called from Turkey.

After the first rapturous moment one moves in and is drawn by the water courses all built as per the paradisical plan to enhance the beauty of the mausoleum. Today, the pools are just full of water, but earlier there were silver fountains from which the water gushed out singing eulogies and lotus flowers bloomed in the pools.

nauch-girls_100517015749.jpg“Nautch Girls emerging from the Taj Mahal”, by Edwin Lord Weeks (Credit:

The chief architect was Ustad Ahmed Lahauri also given the title of Nadir-e-Asr [the wonder of the Age]. He was also the architect of the Red Fort and Jama Masjid in Delhi.

The breathtaking calligraphy was done by Abdul Haq who was given the title of Amanat Khan. Inlaid jasper on white marble panels, bear verses from the Quran chosen apparently by Amanat Khan himself.

“O Soul, thou art at rest. Return to the Lord at peace with Him, and He at peace with you,” is the verse on the gateway.

If at the gateway the calligraphic verses refer to themes of judgement and paradisical rewards, the ones near the tomb itself talk of impending doomsday.

The plan of the tomb is an irregular octagon known as “Tarah-i-musamman-i-Baghdadi” and supervised by a master mason from Baghdad.

An inlay specialists came from Delhi to work on the monument. He had a plentiful of riches to work his magic as agates were brought from Yemen, cornelians from Arabia, amethyst from Persia, malachite from Russia, the turquoises from upper Tibet, diamonds from Central India, the onyxes from Deccan and garnets from Bundel Khand.

“They have inlaid flowers of stone in the marble

What they lack in smell they make up with colour.”

— Abu Talib Kalim Kashani (translation Ebba Koch)

Marble was brought from Makrana and of such a quality that it could take on the tint and hues of the sky itself. It has a dreamlike quality in the night and looks ethereal in the morning. The evening saw it suffused with blue and pink.

The night of the kartik purnima is a highlight in the tourist calendar. I witnessed it once many years ago and have never forgotten the experience when it indeed looked like a “teardrop” that hung on the face of time.

The rectangular plan of the complex is marked by its symmetry. Four graceful minarets on four corners of the tomb frame the beautiful dome.

If there’s a mosque on the western side, its jawab or answer is on the east in the form of a “mehman khana”. The entire width of the tomb is equal to the height, and the height of the central façade is equal to the dome.

The mixture of marble for the tomb and sandstone for the other buildings add to its charm, as the whole seems like a bouquet where the white rose is framed by the red flowers.

The ornamental gardens enhanced the incandescent beauty of the grave, almost as once floral jewellery must have added to the late empress’ charms.

It’s no wonder that this symbol of love and beauty is the most visited monument in India and has been included in the Seven Wonders of the World.

It is a building that could only have been built in India as a culmination of Indo-Islamic architecture and will forever bear witness to it.

As Shah Jahan’s court chronicler, Abdul Hamid Lahauri, wrote, “Verily our monuments will tell of us – long speak with mute eloquence [ba-zabaan e bizabaani].

Related posts

Why I will not be celebrating Diwali this year: something broke when I heard of the attack on Junaid

As a child, the two most important events in my calendar were my birthday and Diwali.

Weeks before Diwali my mother would go to the Blind School fair and buy candles. My sister and i would both get new clothes for each of our birthdays and for Diwali. I recall how we hovered over our mother as she mapped out the cloth on a newspaper, cut and stitched it on her Singer machine.

For us, what mattered most on Diwali was not the crackers and the evening lights, but the mornings. One would have to wake up at 4am, and have an oil bath. My mother would arrange our new clothes with a lamp, rice and a coin on a silver tray. We would scramble to find textbooks to place on the tray for the Saraswati puja.

By dawn, however, we would all be bathed and ready. Then, as on all Sundays (also the weekly hair wash day), we would breakfast on dosas with MS Subalakshmi’s Bhaja Govindam and Vishnu Sahsranam playing in the background.

A round of visits followed. Since neither of my parents are originally from Delhi, there were few family members around. But my father’s uncle, K Swaminathan, lived in Naoroji Nagar, from where he edited the collected works of Mahatma Gandhi.

He and his wife, Vishala Patti, were the first stop, and we always got a banana each as we left. And then there were visits to various Tamil colleagues of my father’s, whose sons and daughters were much older, or at any rate, always much better read than us. Completely intimidated, we would come home with relief to our Diwali lunch, which was usually pooran poli and srikhand or masale bhat – the only indication that we were actually half Marathi.

In the evening, my mother would do a simple Lakshmi puja and make little feet of rice flour which showed Lakshmi heading straight into our house. Like most girls of our time we disliked noisy bombs, held phuljadis with care, and exclaimed at all the anars and chakras blossoming around us. But most of all we loved the snakes which coiled out of a little black pill.

As i grew older and was left to my own devices, pre-dawn awakenings gave way to holiday sleep-ins. With no children to teach ritual to, i lapsed completely. My mother’s dainty Lakshmi feet have become in my clumsy hands manifestations of a yeti arrival. It’s been decades since i ignited crackers. But my husband and i still like lighting our house, and Diwali is still a special day in my calendar, despite the noise, despite the spiking air pollution – a day of visiting parents and eating too much.

This year, when i heard of the attack on Junaid in a suburban train, something broke. Here were young boys, on their way back from shopping for new clothes for Eid. What they were doing was what every child in this country does, look forward with excitement to an upcoming festival.

How can i be happy at Diwali, when Junaid’s family – and that of many others who have suffered the corrosive hate of a communal attack – have not been able to celebrate their Eid? When some people take pleasure in the death of a Gauri Lankesh, how does one have the heart to celebrate anything at all? The small black snakes of my childhood have become Kaliyas, but there is no Krishna in sight to subdue them.

I don’t know which prescient educator prescribed these texts, but the two stories that have stayed with me from school are Premchand’s Idgah and Tagore’s Kabuliwalah. For years, i could not narrate these stories to others without crying. In both, there are characters whose festivals (Eid and a daughter’s wedding) were made happier through the happiness of others. If our sense of our selves expands when we share our happiness, it also expands when we share the sadness of others.

For me it is more important to be human than merely to be Hindu. This year, my house will be dark on Diwali, but at least my heart will be lighter

Related posts

Sangh Parivar’s view of nationhood based on Faith and Fear

Sangh Parivar’s view of nationhood, citizenship and entitlements is based on narrow definitions of faith, and the purveying of fear.

Mohan Bhagwat, RSS, Rohingya, Rohingya muslims, Hindus from Myanmar, Rohingya muslims in india, Vishwa Hindu Parishad, VHP, RSS, RSS chief Golwalkar, Hindu Mahasabha, Muslim League, Narendra Dabholkar, Narendra Dabholkar murder, Govind Pansare, Govind Pansare murder, MM Kalburgi, Kalburgi murder, Gauri Lankesh, Gauri Lankesh murder, mohan bhagwat, indian nationalism, nationalism, indian express, express column

It’s a worldview that is at odds with the modernity and republicanism crafted in the Constitution. A fundamental belief, indoctrinated through skewed “history” lessons in the shakha, that religion and faith systems draw the faultlines of entitlement, rights and citizenship. It governs the officialdom today, and tells us, quite unashamedly, that the Rohingya (never mind that they are poor and distraught) are a security threat simply because they are Muslim. The Chakmas are not, the Hindus from Myanmar are not, but the Rohingya are a threat because of their faith.

Who is Indian? A draft legislation proposed by this regime says that only non-Muslims — Hindus, of course, and “Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan… shall not be treated as illegal migrants”. The proposed law signals the institutionalisation of discriminatory citizenship. Back in 1991, this writer, then with Business India, was gifted a “map of Ahmedabad” by a then far more tentative Vishwa Hindu Parishad. The VHP was born in 1964 when the then RSS chief, M.S. Golwalkar, met a select group of sanyasi heads of religious organisations in Mumbai with the aim of launching a new organisation to unite all Hindu religious sects and tribals under a single umbrella and a homogenised version of religion.

The VHP’s map of Ahmedabad had clearly defined zones — the green and the bhagwa/saffron. The old city was coded green (read Muslims). The message to its cadres was clear. Use any means, fair or foul, to limit the “Muslim” spread to the rest of Ahmedabad. One particularly bloody incident during the Rath Yatra violence in 1991, which I reported, haunts me. Two Gujarati woman shoved off a middle-aged Muslim professional from his second-floor home in Narangpura, seen as a posh “ours, not theirs”part of the go-getter city. He fell to a bloody death. This was only one among increasing instances of women engaging physically in acts of neighbourhood terror. The messaging was against integration, and for confining and segregating Muslims to ghettos. This pair of Gujarati behens were felicitated during the Navrati of 1991, revealing more about the militarised, exclusivist “Hinduism” of the RSS and the VHP.

B.S. Moonje’s Diary No 6-17, 1946, written en route to Islampur in Bihar, makes for fascinating, if chilling reading. This RSS ideologue, who after a visit to Benito Mussolini’s camps in 1931 started first the Rifle Association in Nagpur and then established Bhonsala Military Academy in Nashik and then Dehradun in 1936, was touring districts affected by pre-Partition riots. Sixty Muslims of Junair, Patna, had been converted to Hinduism “of their own accord” by some Arya Samajists. Moonje recounts, in almost gloating terms, the “power of the fear of death” among battered Muslims, signalling that — ideologically and organisationally — this was the way to go.

Addressing a meeting in Delhi, Moonje said: “I found the Moslems were so frightened from their experience in the Bihar disturbances that they came to me and said with folded hands, ‘Huzoor, Babuji, hum Hindu hokar rahengay…’ This was the first experience of its kind in my life. Fear of death is great. Concluding my speech, I said, this is how people are to be coverted to a new Religion of conscience and propaganda are of no use. They only cause waste of money with practically no result whatsoever (my emphasis).”

The fear of death after the use of targeted violence to achieve a political objective makes for an unbeatable combination. It has been nurtured since 1946, and evident in bouts of orchestrated and targeted violence. These have transformed into full-blown pogroms post Independence.

At the core of this instrumental use of a militarised form of faith is the transformation — through a climate and fear of violence and death — of India as articulated during the Independence movement and exemplified in the republic’s founding document, the Constitution. Theocracy, or religion-based nationhood, was unequivocally rejected by India’s Constituent Assembly. It was exclusivist outfits who were one in their worldview, the RSS (and Hindu Mahasabha) and the Muslim League, which successfully projected that Muslims could not be part of a composite nation with Hindus.

Today, this worldview that unashamedly articulates nationhood, citizenship and entitlements based on narrow definitions of faith, dominates the Indian Parliament and rules 12 states (another five in alliance). No wonder that people like Mohan Bhagwat now call for a paradigm shift away from India’s Constitution to one based on the “ethos of our society”. Is the ethos that the RSS speaks of the one that Moonje so accurately described after the blood-letting of 1946? An ethos of violence crafted around the fear of death?

For any dispensation in the 21st century, in a country of 1.3 billion people, a good 15 per cent of whom are Muslim, 2-3 per cent Christian, 27 per cent Dalit, a physical ethnic cleansing of those “not Hindu” may not be easy or practical. But periodic and brute lynchings by the brainwashed and armed cadres of these hydra organisations are useful to build such an ethos, based on the fear of death. As Moonje believed, the fear of death is the tool to keep Muslims in line and Christians sufficiently fearful. Top this with bullets, aimed at sane, courageous dissenting voices who question the very construct of the homogenised Hindu, and who assert — Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare, M.M. Kalburgi, Gauri Lankesh — that our ethos has been one of resistance to any homogeneity, assertion of dissent and difference, the stranglehold on our freedoms is near complete.

Which ethos does Ambedkar belong to? The Sangh claims him as its own, but arguably, Ambedkar, with his sharp and biting articulations — for instance, Annihilation of Caste — alive, would also been a target of elimination.

Faith and fear

Related posts

Karwan e Mohabbat: Uncovering how violence against minorities has been normalised

Humne sabar kar liya (I made peace),” said an old and fragile Jafruddin Hassan with tears in his eyes, trembling hands resting between his knees and his head stooped low, as he hopelessly looked at the floor. Jafruddin of Khurgain village,  Shamli district, Uttar Pradesh, is the face of the traumatised minority communities who have learnt to normalise the violence in their lives, exactly as it was envisioned by MS Golwalkar, the RSS guruji, in his book ‘We Or Our Nationhood Defined’ (1939).

Jafruddin Hassan, Khurgan, Shamli. All photos: Sanjukta Basu

Jafruddin Hassan, Khurgan, Shamli. All photos courtesy Sanjukta Basu

In his book, Golwalkar called Hindus a race that legitimately belongs to Hindustan, ‘Mussalman’ as outsiders or foreigners, and carved out a future for them in which they must forever live at the mercy of Hindus. To quote Golwalkar:

“There are only two courses open to the foreign elements, either to merge themselves in the national race and adopt its culture, or to live at its mercy so long as the national race may allow them to do so and to quit the country at the sweet will of the national race…the foreign races in Hindusthan must either adopt the Hindu culture and language, must learn to respect and hold in reverence Hindu religion, must entertain no idea but those of the glorification of the Hindu race and culture…must lose their separate existence to merge in the Hindu race, or may stay in the country, wholly subordinated to the Hindu Nation, claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, far less any preferential treatment-not even citizen’s rights.”

This vision seems to be complete from the stories that emerged during Harsh Mander’s Karwan E Mohabbat, a month-long journey that started from Assam and travelled to Jharkhand, Karnataka, Delhi, UP, Haryana, Rajasthan and Gujarat, meeting families of Dalit and Muslim victims of lynching by caste and religious supremacists including the state apparatus.

The Karwan e Mohabbat bus

The Karwan e Mohabbat bus

The Karwan walks through village Dangawas, Rajasthan to meet the survivors Meghwal family, which lost five members in a decades old land dispute with dominant group, Jats

The Karwan walks through village Dangawas, Rajasthan to meet the survivors Meghwal family, which lost five members in a decades old land dispute with dominant group, Jats

Harsh Mander, meeting the widow of Kodarbhai in a tribal village in, Sabarkantha district Gujarat

Harsh Mander, meeting the widow of Kodarbhai in a tribal village in, Sabarkantha district Gujarat

Making peace with violence — Jafruddin’s story

It has been four years since Jaffruddin’s son Salim was killed by a mob of cow vigilantes somewhere on the cattle trade route between Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. Till date, the police have not even handed the post-mortem report to the victim’s family, even though they exhumed his body for the purpose, an inauspicious act that has scarred the family. In his statement, Salim mentioned a mob of nine had attacked him — but only one was arrested and released on the same day. After exhumation of the body and post-mortem, a second FIR was filed but no arrests were made. Four years on, Salim’s family has no information about the case, and they do not even dare to pursue justice. Instead, the family lives in fear of further attacks on their other sons. “Humne sabar kar liya,” is their response to all the violence they met. Living at the mercy of self-proclaimed custodians of the majority religion has become the norm. Their hopelessness is so manic that Jafruddin blessed Harsh Mander with, “Aap ko jannat naseeb ho” on a mere promise of obtaining a copy of the post-mortem report, the last remnant of his son.


Human rights activist and Karwan member John Dayal with Jaffruddin and his younger son

Human rights activist and Karwan member John Dayal with Jaffruddin and his younger son

This is a pattern the Karwan noticed in its entire journey, meeting over 50 families across India. The religious and caste minorities are being systematically attacked by cow vigilantes and Hindu supremacists unleashing terror in their daily lives; several victims have lost lives or limbs, their only means of occupation taken away, their access to justice made difficult by the biased approach of the police and administration, and the media is constantly vilifying them with all kinds of fake narratives. The result is that their lives are disoriented by their misery, they are so broken, scared and isolated that their own lived realities have become fiction. They are neither aware that their basic human rights have been brutally taken away nor are they sure whether they have any basic rights to begin with — exactly as Golwalkar envisioned.

The face of the traumatised Dalits in Shabbirpur village, Shamli, UP where the dominant upper caste burnt down over 50 Dalit homes over an Ambedkar statue, which today lies deserted in a dark store room

The face of the traumatised Dalits in Shabbirpur village, Shamli, UP where the dominant upper caste burnt down over 50 Dalit homes over an Ambedkar statue, which today lies deserted in a dark store room

Khurshida’s story

Khurshida, a middle aged widow, abandoned by her in-laws after the death of her husband, lives in Bhango, Mewat with her four children. Her husband, Ajmal, died mysteriously in a police encounter in 2010. In 2012, she suddenly received a bank draft of Rs 5,00,000 — presumably a compensation from the NHRC, but no explanation was given as to what had happened to her husband. This story is most baffling: it is obvious that there has been an inquiry into Ajmal’s death and the police must have been held guilty of a human rights violation, otherwise this compensation would not be paid. But the fact that no details about the investigation have been communicated to the widow is proof the administration wants to hush up matters.

Khurshida, Bhango, Mewat

Khurshida, Bhango, Mewat

Bhango village Khurshida-4

It is hard to even attempt to understand Khurshida’s grief. Ajmal used to drive dumper trucks and had no police case against him. One fine morning he went out for work and the next thing Khurshida knows, he was dead and buried. She didn’t even get to see his body, no rituals were performed, “Kuch pata nahi chala, koi mitti bhi nahi mili,” said Khurshida to Karwan travellers. The psychological impact of such traumas, of lives lost without reason, of grief without closure, of violence without accountability are all part of the dehumanisation of the minority community and normalisation of violence in their lives. Today, Khurshida has bought a land with the money she got and is trying to raise her children by working as a labourer. “I am an uneducated villager where will I go to ask questions?” is the end of the matter for her.

Khurshida’s four children

Khurshida’s four children

Threats from right wing groups — a strategy to cut off the victim from empathy and support system

What the minority community, disoriented by their sorrow, needs the most is an assurance that their lives matter, that the violence caused to them should not have happened and that we — the people of this nation — are sorry and extend our condolences. That was the idea with which Harsh Mander started his Karwan. But those trying to dehumanise the minority community are also against anybody who would extend any empathy and support to them. They are not only perpetrating violence but also cutting the victim off from all support system.

Harsh Mander and Karwan team reading legal papers of a victim’s family in Nuh, Mewat, Haryana

Harsh Mander and Karwan team reading legal papers of a victim’s family in Nuh, Mewat, Haryana

A day before the Karwan was supposed to reach Alwar all six accused named by Pehlu Khan in his dying declaration were given a clean chit by the Rajasthan state police. The timing of the decision was rather fateful and soon enough, the Karwan received threats from Hindu extremist groups. Harish Saini from Hindu Jagran Manch reportedly appealed to the Rajasthan administration to not allow the Karwan to hold any event in Alwar. “Any attempt to pay tribute to deceased Pehlu Khan would not be tolerated,” said Keshavchand Sharma of Vishwa Hindu Parishad.

Harsh Mander talking to district administration in Alwar reiterating his decision to visit Behror come what may

Harsh Mander talking to district administration in Alwar reiterating his decision to visit Behror come what may

Even though the Karwan received the Rajasthan administration’s assurance that it would not be stopped anywhere, local partners in Behror succumbed to the threats. The venue for the peace meeting — ‘Ganesh Plaza’ — was cancelled and no other venue could be arranged. Local traders threatened to close down Behror in case the Karwan held any event. A defiant Harsh Mander however remained steady in his mission to at least pay tribute to Pehlu Khan by offering flowers at the spot where he was lynched. Even this was not to be allowed by the right wing groups. The state police also tried to put pressure on Mander, “If you place flowers at that spot, this would become a trend,” said one of the officers. “Let it be, what is wrong in it?” replied Mander.

Harsh Mander, speaking to the media

Harsh Mander, speaking to the media

The Karwan had to enter Rajasthan with police protection. The travellers were given instructions on what to do if stones were thrown at the bus; “Duck and don’t move,” they were told. Despite constant threats and pressure, the Karwan arrived at Behror on 15 September and was met with a considerably large crowd of Hindu right wing groups.

Nisha Sidhu of National Federation of Indian Women raising slogans in support of the Karwan e Mohabbat at Bardod, few kilometers ahead of Behror, Alwar, Rajasthan

Nisha Sidhu of National Federation of Indian Women raising slogans in support of the Karwan e Mohabbat at Bardod, few kilometers ahead of Behror, Alwar, Rajasthan

Karwan e mohabbat behror rajasthan-17

Harsh Mander briefly sat in dharna near the Behror police station with his demand to offer tribute to Pehlu Khan and finally placed flowers at a symbolic location among heavy police security. As the bus moved towards Jaipur with a police escort, right wing goons from the street chanted “Bharat Mata Ki Jai” and “Joote maaro saalo ko” and threw stones and shoes at it.

Karwan e mohabbat behror rajasthan-11

Such extreme hate, threats and intimidation towards a group of ordinary citizens with a simple message of love and empathy is a sign of the times we are living in. The message is clear — anybody trying to build peace and harmony is doing so at their own risk. The Karwan members are not the regular protestors in political rallies facing tear gas and lathi charge or grassroot activists facing the establishment’s ire. It is a group of people who usually do not have direct political participation. It was this category of people who Harsh Mander wanted to reach out, to build a bridge between the victims and those unaffected. It is also this category which might be easily intimated, and by doing so, the right wing groups are trying to deter any such attempts for all times to come.

Harsh Mander and Karwan team offering flowers and prayers at a symbolic location to pay tribute to Pehlu Khan

Harsh Mander and Karwan team offering flowers and prayers at a symbolic location to pay tribute to Pehlu Khan

The practice of cross case on victims — a pressure tactics to withdraw cases against attackers

Family after family met by the Karwan revealed another dangerous pattern in the police investigation. Almost in all the cases of lynching by cow vigilantes, there are criminal cases filed against the victim, casually referred to as ‘cross-case’. Cross cases are filed by cow vigilantes or registered suo-moto by police on various grounds — like flouting traffic laws or animal protection laws etc as a means to put pressure on the victim not to pursue cases against vigilantes. Often these cross cases keep hanging around the victim’s neck, while the perpetrators easily obtain bail and justice seem elusive. In such situations, the victim or victim’s family is tempted to make a compromise — leading to withdrawal of cases by both sides. Although the legality of this is not so linear or simplistic, the truth is that Muslims having any kind of dealing with cows, be it simple transportation, buying or selling for dairy are scared to even file an FIR against cow vigilantes for the fear of getting roped into a cross case.

Immediately after Pehlu Khan and his son were brutally attacked by cow vigilantes, criminal cases were filed against the victims on grounds of cattle slaughter and animal cruelty, which were completely baseless, a fact now confirmed by Court. In Vadavli, Gujarat, a riot broke out between Dalits and Thakurs and FIRs got registered against both communities although Dalit residents of the village claim that force used by them was in self-defense. This space is too small to share all such cases but suffice it to say that with cross cases, the cycle of violence is complete — dehumanisation, isolation and victim blaming.

A bike burnt down in Vadavli, Gujarat in a riot between Thakurs and Dalits. In terms of scale, the Vadavli riots were similar to Basirhat riots in West Bengal, but the media completely blacked out Vadavli

A bike burnt down in Vadavli, Gujarat in a riot between Thakurs and Dalits. In terms of scale, the Vadavli riots were similar to Basirhat riots in West Bengal, but the media completely blacked out Vadavli

The Karwan will have a formal closing on 2 October 2017, at Porbandar. Karwan leader Harsh Mander has given a call to every Indian, “Chalo Porbandar, hum sab Gandhi”. How much this initiative will achieve is a question to be answered in the proverbial ‘long run’. But one thing is very clear: the powers-that-be are rattled by the potential impact of the Karwan and attempts to throttle the movement have already begun. On 14 September, RSS spokesperson Rakesh Sinha openly threatened Harsh Mander on NDTV, that his NGO’s funding would be investigated. As soon as Mander reached his office on 22 September, his NGO — Center for Equity Studies — received an income tax notice. “They can cancel our FCRA, shut down the organisation. How does it matter? This would be an infinitely small fraction of the suffering that we bore witness to during the Karwan,” Mander wrote on a WhatsApp group, signaling the long fight ahead

Related posts

Canada: 38-yr-old Sikh man becomes first minority politician to lead major party

He won the decisive first-ballot victory over three other candidates by receiving 53.6 per cent of the vote.

38-year-old Jagmeet Singh is the first member of a minority community to lead a major federal political party. (Photo: AP)

 38-year-old Jagmeet Singh is the first member of a minority community to lead a major federal political party. (Photo: AP)

Toronto: A 38-year-old Sikh lawyer was, on Sunday, elected the leader of Canada’s New Democratic Party, becoming the first non-white politician to head a major political party in the country.

Jagmeet Singh, the Ontario provincial lawmaker, was elected on the first ballot to lead the party into the 2019 election against Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberals.

He won the decisive first-ballot victory over three other candidates by receiving 53.6 per cent of the vote.

“Thank you, New Democrats. The run for Prime Minister begins now,” he tweeted after the victory.

Thank you, New Democrats. The run for Prime Minister begins now 🇨🇦

“That’s why today, I’m officially launching my campaign to be the next Prime Minister of Canada,” he added.

Alongside such an incredible @NDP caucus, I’m excited to continue the work of getting us ready for 2019 – we’re organizing to win 

That’s why today, I’m officially launching my campaign to be the next Prime Minister of Canada. 

Singh, who has penchant for colourful turbans, is the first member of a minority community to lead a major federal political party.

He now has the difficult task of rebuilding the party that lost 59 seats in the 2015 election.

“This race has renewed excitement in our party,” Singh said, calling the win an “incredibly profound honour”.

The New Democratic Party is currently at the third place in Canada’s Parliament, with 44 of 338 seats. The party has never held power.

In the 2011 general election, the party made historic gains only to lose almost a million votes – mostly to Trudeau’s Liberals – four years later.

Singh said he would focus on issues of climate change, reconciliation with indigenous peoples, and electoral reform, The Globe and Mail reported.

He has received attention for his sharp style.

Earlier this year, he told the American magazine how his personal style, which includes brightly coloured turbans and well-cut suits, became part of his political brand.

During the leadership campaign, he raised far more money than his competitors did and he said he believes he can continue that success as Leader.

Born in 1979 in Scarborough, Ontario, to immigrant parents from Punjab, Singh grew up in St John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador and Windsor, Ontario.

He obtained a Bachelor of Science degree in biology from the University of Western Ontario in 2001 and a Bachelor of Laws degree from York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School in 2005.

He worked as a criminal defence lawyer in the Greater Toronto Area before entering politics.

Sikhs account for roughly 1.4 per cent of Canada’s population. The country’s defence minister is also from the community.

Related posts

India’s economists should listen to its activists

Two children eat at a temporary shelterImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionJean Dreze is known for his influential work on hunger and gender inequality

Economist Jean Dreze’s new book makes an increasingly necessary argument that creating a morally good, progressive society is as important as improving traditional development indexes, writes Nilanjana S Roy.

The jhola, a sturdy, often exuberantly decorated cloth sling bag, can be spotted all across India. Over time, this precursor to the backpack and the man bag became the accessory of choice for a varied set of Indians, from sadhus (holy men) to college students to clerks.

It has also become synonymous with social activists, field researchers, academics, artists and rural workers, collectively dubbed “jholawalas”.

The term, once mildly affectionate, is now often used derisively by the media and politicians as a denunciation of forms of liberal thought and activism branded as bleeding heart, communist or anti-corporate.

“Jholawala has become a term of abuse in India’s corporate-sponsored media… a disparaging reference to activists,” development economist Jean Dreze writes early in Sense and Solidarity: Jholawala Economics For Everyone, a welcome collection of his essays.

Mr Dreze reclaims and reinvents the term, though he’s quick to add that the “jholawala economist” is a mythical being.

His “jholawala economist” would be the “road scholar” researcher or progressive economist who believes that social development in countries like India must be accompanied by ethical development, and the spread of civic sense.

Creating a morally good, progressive society would be as important as improving traditional development indexes.

Mr Dreze, born in Belgium, is an Indian citizen who’s lived in, worked in and explored parts of India for almost 40 years.

He is one of the country’s best-regarded development economists, known for his influential work on hunger and gender inequality in particular.

John DrèzeImage copyrightANURADHA ROY
Image captionJohn Drèze is one of India’s best-regarded development economists

He lives in Ranchi, capital of the eastern Indian state of Jharkhand, known for its coal mines.

It’s striking that he begins his introduction to the book with a brief meditation on privilege – the gap between the world of those who work at thankless, sometimes brutally demanding jobs (such as the koilawalas or coal workers whom he sees going by in the hundreds every day in Ranchi) and those who benefit from or seek to build a new India.

What separates the two? Chance, says Mr Dreze, nothing more than that. “In India, as elsewhere, the privileged tend to nurture the illusion that they ‘deserve’ what they have.”

This illusion evaporates rapidly, he explains. Rich people might work hard, but so do coal workers, construction workers and domestic help.

This is not a popular argument at a time when the powerful and those aspiring to power prefer to either ignore the poor and disenfranchised, blame them for their own plight, or angrily persecute activists for shining a light on their circumstances.

But it is an increasingly necessary argument.

The essays in Sense and Solidarity rest on research and field surveys done between 2000 and 2017, and bring to life changes in social policy in India.

They attest to the value of his firm plea for a public policy informed by the direct experiences and evidence of those on the ground, less theoretical, more an outcome of “democratic practice”.

Economists and jholawalas, Mr Dreze suggests, could both learn much from each other.

Cover of John Drèze's bookImage copyrightSOHAIL AKBAR
Image captionEconomists and “jholawalas”, Mr Dreze suggests, could learn much from each other

In the early 2000s, the country had vast food stocks, he writes, “if all the sacks of grain in the Food Corporation of India were lined up in a row, they would stretch for a million kilometres”.

But in 2002, Mr Dreze and his partner, Bela Bhatia, visited Kusumatand in Jharkhand thrice to investigate starvation deaths.

What they found shocked them – the entire hamlet lived in a state of semi-starvation. Children did not play – they stood by “listlessly, ill-clad and under-nourished”.

Travelling in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh to a village called Chharch in 2003 was “like descending deeper and deeper into a dark well of poverty and hunger”.

This India rarely makes it to television debates, and Mr Dreze urges solutions that go beyond quick-fix schemes and “yojanas” (the Hindi word for plan, commonly used in the names of government schemes).

The second section in the book, “Poverty”, grapples with a key and lasting problem – the selection of eligible households for inclusion in social schemes, and the “bitter struggle” of those attempting to live on or below the poverty line.

The elderly, Mr Dreze discovered, were frequently the worst hit. They lived “quiet and unobtrusive lives”, rarely complaining in public, but their tales of sorrow were endless.

Time and again, he returns to the lives, and troubles, of humans to the landscape of statistics, schemes and policies.

Indian school girls eating lunchImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionIndia’s mid-day meal scheme challenges caste prejudices as children learn to eat together, writes Mr Dreze

The mid-day meal scheme, where schools provide a hopefully nutritious lunch to children, has had a positive impact on health – but also on challenging traditional caste prejudices, as children learn to eat together.

On caste, he writes about the subtle way in which discrimination works. In a survey conducted in the north Indian city of Allahabad, they found that 75% of those who occupied positions of power and influence across a variety of public institutions were upper-caste.

He visits a Dalit village in the central state of Madhya Pradesh’s Rewa district. It has no approach roads, and is hemmed in by the fields of upper-caste farmers.

“The hamlet had the feel of an island surrounded by hostile territory,” he writes.

On demonetisation, India’s currency ban, and on Aadhaar, the universal identification scheme, Mr Dreze is swift to point out that the “disruption” caused is paid in public hardship, deaths and vulnerability to extreme surveillance, rescuing the term from the business-jargon use of “disruption” as a positive effect.

Indians queue to withdraw money from an ATMImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionThe only “disruption” caused by India’s currency ban, Mr Dreze writes, is public hardship

Like a growing number of intellectuals and activists, Mr Dreze too has been attacked for his plainly stated views.

He was prevented from speaking at a recent function by a minister from India’s ruling BJP who shouted him down when he argued that communalism was at its most dangerous when the state created antagonism between communities.

But the model of development that he advocates has far more hope to offer India than big dams and bullet trains.

In his final essay, he suggests that it’s time to retire the belief, widespread in mainstream economic theory, that “rational self-interest” is the prime motivation of economic agents. This is only “a kind of superstition,” Mr Dreze writes.

People act out of love, kindness, compassion, public-spiritedness, solidarity and more.

The value Mr Dreze wants to nudge thinkers on development towards is public-spiritedness, so close to the fraternity that accompanies liberty and equality.

What would “development” in India look like if it was driven by public-spiritedness, or politics (and policies) if they were truly in the public interest?

It’s a big question. Anyone who answered it might actually have a chance of building a New India – so loudly promised, and so elusive.

Related posts