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Archives for : Minority Rights

‘BJP MP behind murderous attack on me’ – Dr Kafeel’s Brother

 

Kashif Jameel, brother of Dr. Kafeel Khan, recovering from bullet injuries at a hospital in Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh.

 

LUCKNOW: Dr Kafeel Ahmad Khan’s brother, who has survived a murder attempt on him last week, has alleged that an MP of BJP is behind the attack. Addressing a press conference here on Sunday, Dr Kafeel demanded a CBI probe into the murderous attack on his brother.

Kashif Jameel, 34, brother of Dr Kafeel Khan, was shot at by two unidentified bike-borne persons, just half a kilometer from Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s math in Gorakhpur last Sunday night. Three had bullets pierced into his neck and shoulder. After four hours of shuttling from one hospital to another allegedly by the police, he was admitted to a private hospital where he was operated upon early Monday. This Friday he was declared out of danger.

Dr. Kafeel informed the media in Lucknow today that his brother recorded his statement to the police on Saturday in which he blamed a BJP MP for the attack.

“My brother Kashif registered his statement to police yesterday. He revealed Kamlesh Paswan, BJP MP from Basgaun, UP behind the killing attempt. I demand CBI enquiry,” said Dr. Kafeel who is out on bail in connection with the BRD Medical College tragedy of August 2017.

After his release on bail by the Allahabad High Court in April this year, after about seven months in jail, Dr. Kafeel has been very vocal against the Yogi government.

“Yesterday night (10th June) I was insisting on a private hospital because I know a prominent neuro surgeon there. But the police kept saying that I must go to the Sadar hospital first and then to the BRD hospital. But it is the doctors at the BRD hospital who sent him back to this private hospital. So crucial time was wasted yesterday night,” Dr Khan told NDTV last Monday.

Dr Kafeel said that he had always feared that he and his family will be eliminated. “An attempt is being made to murder me and my family,” he said. “My family was living under constant threat. We were not provided any security despite our requests,” he added.

Following the deaths of scores of children at the BRD hospital due to shortage of oxygen supply in August 2017, Dr. Khan was arrested along with some others though he had no administrative power. He was a junior doctor at the children’s ward. The gas vendor had stopped supply as was not payed over Rs 60 lakh by the state government despite several reminders. Dr. Khan had nothing to do with the gas supply or financial matters of the hospital. The Allahabad High Court heard his arguments and ordered his release on bail on 25th April 2018, about seven months in jail.

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India – Is Church trying to destabilize Modi Sarkar?

Ram Puniyani

A VHP spokesperson, Surendra Jain (June 7th) stated that the Church in India is trying to destabilize Modi Sarkar. This was in the backdrop of the statements by two Archbishops, the one of Delhi and other from Goa. Archbishop of Delhi, Anil Couto, on 8th May 2018 addressed a letter to all parish priests and religious institutions in the Archdiocese of Delhi asking them to pray for ‘our nation’. The letter begins with the observation “[w]e are witnessing a turbulent political atmosphere which poses a threat to the democratic principles enshrined in our Constitution and the secular fabric of our nation”. The letter then requests the 138 parish priests and 5 religious institutions within Delhi to observe ‘a Day of Fast every Friday … offering our penance and all our sacrifices for our spiritual renewal and that of our nation.’ While The Archbishop of Goa and Daman Filipe Neri Ferrao said that human rights are under attack and the Constitution is in danger, and it is the reason as to why most people live in insecurity. Ferrao, in his annual pastoral letter addressed to “priests, religious, lay faithful, and people of goodwill”, asked Catholics to “play an active role in the political field” and to “shun sycophantic politics”. “As the general election is fast approaching, we must strive to know our Constitution better and work harder to protect it,” and added “democracy appears to be in peril”.

Both the letters in a way are an expression of the cry of anguish of the plight of religious minorities. The anti minority violence has seen a quantitative and qualitative worsening during last few years. While anti-Christian violence is not spectacular and many a national commentators even question its occurrence, the fact of the matter is that low level scattered anti Christian violence is around, most of it not reported in the national media. Incidentally the World Watch List 2017 ranks India ranks India 15th worst among nations where Christians are persecuted. Four years ago, India ranked 31st on the list.

Vijayesh Lal of ‘Evangelical Fellowship of India’ states that ‘it has documented some 350 cases of violence and other forms of persecution against Christians last year. That is more than double the rate compared with the 140 annually before the BJP assumed power.  This is highest since an anti-Christian pogrom in the state of Odisha in 2008.

Interestingly around Christmas in 2017; Carol singers were attacked and cases against them were filed on the charges of conversion in MP. The community leaders point out that in their observation such incidents have gone up, more so as the ground level leaders are not reprimanded from the top leading to increase in the culture of impunity.

The violence against the other big minorities; Muslims also has shown a rise in 2017. In 2014 we witnessed (no of deaths in brackets) 561 incidents (90), 2015-650 (84), 2016-703 (83), 2017- 822 (111). The frightening nature of lynchings in the name of Holy Cow or beef eating has also shown a dangerous rise. According to the data collected by IndiaSpend, based on the content analysis of media reporting, “Muslims were the target of 51% of violence centered on bovine issues over nearly eight years (2010 to 2017) and comprised 86% of 28 Indians killed in 63 incidents. As many of 97 per cent of these attacks were reported after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government came to power in May 2014, and about half the cow-related violence — 32 of 63 cases –were from states governed by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) when the attacks were reported, revealed our analysis of violence recorded until June 25, 2017.”

So while VHP spokesperson is just one example, most of those from Hindu nationalist politics have been challenging as to how Church leaders can make statements which have political implications, how can they give their opinion on issues which can affect the political outcome? One knows that Church leaders have mostly not been making political comments till one witnessed the brutal murder of Pastor Graham Stains in Keonjhar, in Orissa in 1999. Since then some from the clergy did express the feelings, hurt and injury of the community in the wake of this violence directed against the Christian minority. Generally the Church leaders had been focusing on their prayers and the community work in a quiet manner. It is only after the rise of the violence that some of them started speaking on this topic.

The overall atmosphere has been becoming more intolerant, more frightening and Muslims and Christians both have been on the receiving end. Can these men of god speak on Earthly matters? It is true that Yogi should not be a commissar; yogi should not be in the business of business! The secular and profane worlds are different. In societies like ours, which are not fully secularized; clergy does have a hold over society in worldly matters also. We know how series of Hindu Godmen and women are dominating figures in Hindu nationalist politics. VHP, whose spokesperson is reacting to Archbishops statement; itself is a religious adjunct to RSS combine with political agenda of Hindu Rashtra. We have number of holy people who either directly or indirectly aid to the electoral and other politics. Starting from the likes of Karpatri Maharaj, who aggressively campaigned against Hindu Code Bill, we also saw Sadhus who took the issue of ban on cow slaughter to higher prominence by march to parliament in year 1966.

In current times we have politicians, wearing saffron, contesting elections and being part of politics all around. Likes of Sadhvi Uma Bharati, Sadhvi Nirnajan Jyoti, Yogi Adityanath and Sakshi Maharaj are ruling the political roost while wearing divinity! There are number of Maulanas, who have held the political arena, beginning with Maulana Azad himself. To reprimand the Archbishops to express just their opinions is very unfortunate. As they also are citizens they should be concerned about the social issues too.

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Why I am resigning from BJP- Shivam Shankar Singh

Shivam Shankar Singh

Political discourse is at it’s lowest point in the country, at least in my lifetime. The partisanship bias is unbelievable and people continue to support their side no matter what the evidence, there is no remorse even when they’re proved to have been spreading fake news. This is something that everyone – the parties and the voters/supporters are to be blamed for.

BJP has done a great job at spreading some specific messages with incredibly effective propaganda, and these messages are the primary reason that I can’t support the party anymore. But before we get into any of that, I’d like everyone to understand that no party is totally bad, and no party is totally good. All governments have done some good and messed up on some fronts. This government is no different.

The Good:

  1. Road construction is faster than it was earlier. There has been a change in methodology of counting road length, but even factoring that in it seems to be faster.

  2. Electricity connection increased – all villages electrified and people getting electricity for more hours. (Congress did electrify over 5 lakh villages and Modi ji finished the job by connecting the last 18k so, you can weigh the achievement as you like. Similarly the number of hours people get electricity has increased ever since independence, but it might be a larger increase during BJP).

  3. Upper level corruption is reduced – no huge cases at the ministerial level as of now (but the same was true of UPA I  ). Lower level seems to be about the same with increased amounts, no one seems to be able to control the thanedar, patwari et al.

  4. The Swachh Bharat Mission is a success – more toilets built than before and Swachhta is something embedded in people’s minds now.

  5. UJJWALA Yojana is a great initiative. How many people buy the second cylinder remains to be seen. The first one and a stove was free, but now people need to pay for it. The cost of cylinders has almost doubled since the government took over and now one costs more than Rs. 800

  6. Connectivity for the North East has undoubtedly increased. More trains, roads, flights and most importantly – the region is now discussed in the mainstream news channels.

  7. Law and order is reportedly better than it was under regional parties.

Feel free to add achievements you can think of in the comments below, also achievements necessarily have caveats, failures are absolute!

The Bad:

It takes decades and centuries to build systems and nations, the biggest failure I see in BJP is that it has destroyed some great things on very flimsy grounds.

  1. Electoral Bonds – It basically legalizes corruption and allows corporates & foreign powers to just buy our political parties. The bonds are anonymous so if a corporate says I’ll give you an electoral bond of 1,000 crore if you pass this specific policy, there will be no prosecution. There just is no way to establish quid pro quo with an anonymous instrument. This also explains how corruption is reduced at the Ministerial level – it isn’t per file/order, it is now like the US – at the policy level.

  2. Planning Commission Reports – this used to be a major source for data. They audited government schemes and stated how things are going. With that gone, there just is no choice but to believe whatever data the government gives you (CAG audits come out after a long time!). NITI Aayog doesn’t have this mandate and is basically a think tank and PR agency. Plan/Non-Plan distinction could be removed without removing this!

  3. Misuse of CBI and ED – it is being used for political purposes as far as I can see, but even if it isn’t the fear that these institutions will be unleashed on them if they speak up against anything Modi/Shah related is real. This is enough to kill dissent, an integral component of democracy.

  4. Failure to investigate Kalikho Pul’s suicide note, Judge Loya’s death, Sohrabuddin murder, the defense of an MLA accused of Rape who’s relative is accused of killing the girls father and FIR wasn’t registered for over an year..!

  5. Demonetization – it failed, but worse is BJP’s inability to accept that it failed. All propaganda of it cutting terror funding, reducing cash, eliminating corruption is just absurd. It also killed off businesses.

  6. GST Implementation – Implemented in a hurry and harmed business. Complicated structure, multiple rates on different items, complex filing… Hopefully it’ll stabilize in time, but it did cause harm. Failure to acknowledge that from BJP is extremely arrogant.

  7. The messed up foreign policy with pure grandstanding – China has a port in Sri Lanka, huge interests in Bangladesh and Pakistan – we’re surrounded, the failure in Maldives (Indian workers not getting visas anymore because of India’s foreign policy debacle) while Modi ji goes out to foreign countries and keeps saying Indians had no respect in the world before 2014 and now they’re supremely respected (This is nonsense. Indian respect in foreign countries was a direct result of our growing economy and IT sector, it hasn’t improved an ounce because of Modi. Might even have declined due to beef based lynchings, threats to journalists etc.)

  8. Failure of schemes and failure to acknowledge/course correct – Sansad Adarsh Gram Yojana, Make In India, Skill Development, Fasal Bima (look at reimbursements – the government is lining the pockets of insurance companies). Failure to acknowledge unemployment and farmers crisis – calling every real issue an opposition stunt.

  9. The high prices of Petrol and Diesel – Modi ji and all BJP ministers + supporters criticized Congress for it heavily and now all of them justify the high prices even though crude is cheaper than it was then! Just unacceptable.

  10. Failure to engage with the most important basic issues – Education and Healthcare. There is just nothing on education which is the nation’s biggest failure. Quality of government schools has deteriorated over the decades (ASER reports) and no action. They did nothing on Healthcare for 4 years, then Ayushman Bharat was announced – that scheme scares me more than nothing being done. Insurance schemes have a terrible track record and this is going the US route, which is a terrible destination for healthcare (watch Sicko by Michael Moore)!

You can add some and subtract some based on personal understanding of the issue, but this is my assessment. The Electoral Bonds thing is huge and hopefully the SC will strike it down! Every government has some failures and some bad decisions though, the bigger issue I have is more on morals than anything else.

The Ugly:

The real negative of this government is how it has affected the national discourse with a well considered strategy. This isn’t a failure, it’s the plan.

  1. It has discredited the media, so now every criticism is brushed off as a journalist who didn’t get paid by BJP or is on the payrolls of Congress. I know several journalists for whom the allegation can’t be true, but more importantly no one ever addresses the accusation or complaint – they just attack the person raising the issue and ignore the issue itself.

  2. It has peddled a narrative that nothing happened in India in 70 years. This is patently false and the mentality is harmful to the nation. This government spent over Rs. 4,000 crore of our taxpayer money on advertisements and now that will become the trend. Do small works and huge branding. He isn’t the first one to build roads – some of the best roads I’ve travelled on were pet projects of Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav. India became an IT powerhouse from the 90s. It is easy to measure past performance and berate past leaders based on the circumstances of today, just one example of that:

“Why did Congress not build toilets in 70 years? They couldn’t even do something so basic. This argument sounds logical and I believed it too, until I started reading India’s history. When we gained independence in 1947 we were an extremely poor country, we didn’t have the resources for even basic infrastructure and no capital. To counteract this PM Nehru went down the socialist path and created the concept of PSU’s. We had no capacity to build steel, so with the help of Russians the Heavy Engineering Corporation (HEC), Ranchi was set up that made machines to make steel in India – without this we would have no steel, and consequently no infrastructure. That was the agenda – basic industries and infra. We had frequent droughts (aakaal), every 2-3 years and a large number of people starved to death. The priority was to feed the people, toilets were a luxury no one cared for. The Green Revolution happened and the food shortages disappeared by the 1990s – now we have a surplus problem. The toilet situation is exactly like people asking 25 years from now why Modi couldn’t make all houses in India air conditioned. That seems like a luxury today, toilets were also a luxury at some point of time. Maybe things could have happened sooner, maybe 10-15 years ago, but nothing happened in 70 years is a horrible lie to peddle.”

  1. The spread and reliance on Fake News. There is some anti-BJP fake news too, but the pro-BJP and anti-opposition fake news outstrips that by miles in number and in reach. Some of it is supporters, but a lot of it comes from the party. It is often hateful and polarizing, which makes it even worse. The online news portals backed by this government are damaging society more than we know.

  2. Hindu khatre mein hai – they’ve engrained it into the minds of people that Hindus and Hinduism are in danger, and that Modi is the only option to save ourselves. In reality Hindus have been living the same lives much before this government and nothing has changed except people’s mindset. Were we Hindus in danger in 2007? At least I didn’t hear about it everyday and I see no improvement in the condition of Hindus, just more fear mongering and hatred.

  3. Speak against the government and you’re anti-National and more recently, anti-Hindu. Legitimate criticism of the government is shut up with this labeling. Prove your nationalism, sing Vande Mataram everywhere (even though BJP leaders don’t know the words themselves, they’ll force you to sing it!). I’m a proud nationalist and my nationalism won’t allow me to let anyone force me to showcase it! I will sing the national anthem and national song with pride when the occasion calls for it, or when I feel like it, but I won’t let anyone force me to sing it based on their whims!

  4. Running news channels that are owned by BJP leaders
    who’s sole job is to debate Hindu-Muslim, National-Antinational, India-Pakistan and derail the public discourse from issues and logic into polarizing emotions. You all know exactly which ones, and you all even know the debaters who’re being rewarded for spewing the vilest propaganda.

  5. The polarization – all the message of development is gone. BJP’s strategy for the next election is polarization and inciting pseudo nationalism. Modi ji has basically said it himself in speeches – Jinnah; Nehru; Congress leaders didn’t meet Bhagat Singh in jail (fake news from the PM himself!); INC leaders met leaders in Pakistan to defeat Modi in Gujarat; Yogi ji’s speech on how Maharana Pratap was greater than Akbar; JNU students are anti-national they’ll  #TukdeTukdeChurChur India – this is all propaganda constructed for a very specific purpose – polarize and win elections – it isn’t the stuff I want to be hearing from my leaders and I refuse to follow anyone who is willing to let the nation burn in riots for political gain.

These are just some of the instances of how BJP is pushing the national discourse in a dark corner. This isn’t something I signed up for and it totally isn’t something I can support. That is why I am resigning from BJP.

PS: I supported BJP since 2013 because Narendra Modi ji seemed like a ray of hope for India and I believed in his message of development – that message and the hope are now both gone. The negatives of this Narendra Modi and Amit Shah government now outweigh the positives for me, but that is a decision that every voter needs to make individually. Just know that history and reality are complicated. Buying into simplistic propaganda and espousing cult like unquestioning faith are the worst thing you can do – it is against the interests of democracy and of this nation.

You all have your own decisions to make as the elections approach. Best of luck with that. My only hope is that we can all live and work harmoniously together – and contribute towards making a better, stronger, poverty-free and developed India, no matter what party or ideology we support. Always remember that there are good people on both sides, the voter needs to support them and they need to support each other even when they are in different parties.

Source- Facebook

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Arundhati Roy: ‘The point of the writer is to be unpopular’

The acclaimed author and activist answers questions from our readers and famous fans on the state of modern India, the threat of AI, and why sometimes only fiction can fully address the world

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Arundhati Roy does not believe in rushing things. With her novels, she prefers to wait for her characters to introduce themselves to her, and slowly develop a trust and a friendship with them. Sometimes, however, external events force her hand. One of these was the election of the divisive Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi as Indian prime minister in May 2014.

At the time, Roy had been working for about seven years on her second novel, the successor to her stunning, 1997 Booker prize-winning debut, The God of Small Things. But Modi’s victory forced her to “really put down the tent pegs” on what would eventually become The Ministry of Utmost Happiness.

“It was just a moment of shock for people like me,” says Roy, twirling an elegant, checked scarf around her neck like spaghetti around a fork. “For so many years, I’d been trying to yell from the rooftops about it and it was absolutely a sense of abject defeat and abject despair. And the choice was to get into bed and sleep for five years, or to really concentrate on this book. I didn’t feel like writing any more essays, although I did write one, but I felt like everything I had to say had been said. It was time to accept defeat.”

It may have felt like defeat to Roy, but the arrival of The Ministry of Utmost Happiness last year was a cause of celebration for nearly everybody else. The novel, now out in paperback, opens in Delhi, in what appears to be the 1950s, and introduces us to Anjum, a Muslim hijra or transgender woman. In the second part of the book, the story moves to Kashmir and we follow a new protagonist, Tilo, an architect who becomes involved with a group of Kashmiri independence fighters. The strands eventually converge, but along the way dozens of odd characters dip in and out of proceedings. It’s not always immediately clear what purpose they are serving; it’s only at the end of The Ministry of Utmost Happiness that you realise what an extraordinary and visceral state‑of‑the-nation book Roy has created.

“What I wanted to know was: can a novel be a city?” says Roy. “Can you stop it being baby food, which can be easily consumed? So the reader also has to deal with complexities that they are being trained not to deal with.”

Much of Roy’s own experience feeds into The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, not least the fact that she studied to be an architect and has campaigned for Kashmiri independence. For herself, she realised very quickly that architecture was not for her. “I graduated but I didn’t actually build anything, because I wasn’t really cut out to be making beautiful homes for wealthy people or whatever,” she says, smiling. “I had too many arguments with my bosses. Kept getting sacked for bad behaviour. For insolence!”

So finding her way to writing was probably for the best then? “It started with knowing very early that I couldn’t have a boss!”

Even now, at the age 56, Roy manages to retain a healthy rebellious streak. We meet in London, at the offices of her publisher, Penguin Random House, a couple of days after the end of the Hay festival. I notice she hadn’t appeared at the festival and wondered if there was a reason. There was: Tata, the Indian conglomerate that owns everything from steel plants to tea company Tetley, sponsored various events at Hay under the banner “Pioneering with Purpose”. Roy has in the past been critical of it as one of the “mega-corporations” that run modern India. She didn’t want to be a hypocrite.

“There are so many of these corporate sponsors and mining companies,” Roy explains. “For example, Vedanta, which sponsored the Jaipur literary festival in 2016. I’ve been writing about them for the last 10 years. Recently, there were 13 people killed [by police] on the streets of Tamil Nadu protesting against one of their projects. It’s a big conflict for me, because so much of my writing is about what these people are up to and then they have these free-speech tents. So I just avoid them.”

Arundhati Roy at a protest in New Delhi, 2008.
 Arundhati Roy at a protest in New Delhi, 2008. Photograph: Manpreet Romana/AFP/Getty Images

Roy, who lives in Delhi, instead wanted to use her time in London to confirm the publication of her collected nonfiction work. In the 20 years between her two novels, these projects have occupied most of her time. She has written powerfully about government dams, the 2002 Gujarat massacre, and spent almost three weeks walking through the forests of central India with Naxalites, a Maoist group that seeks to defend the rights of the tribes whose land, abundant in minerals, is being developed. It is a considerable body of work: so much so that when the essays are released next year – with the title My Seditious Heart – the book will run to more than 1,000 pages.

Her political writing often lands Roy in hot water in India. In early 2016 she even felt it necessary to leave Delhi for London, after student protests broke out in universities across the country following the hanging of a Kashmiri separatist whom Roy had praised. “I didn’t fear for my welfare as much as I feared for my book,” she says. “I was very vulnerable at the time because I was just a few months away from finishing The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, and because there were students being put into jail, mobs were on the street. The main TV news channel was saying: ‘Who’s the person behind this?’ And it was me. But I came [to London] and I went straight back in nine days or 10 days, because I knew this was not my thing to run away.”

Roy describes her nonfiction as “urgent interventions”, but ever since Modi came to power she is mostly drawn to writing fiction. It seems unlikely, then, that we’ll have to wait another 20 years for a new novel. “Who knows, but I hope not!” she says. “Because I really have so enjoyed writing fiction again. But I must say that, the times are so uncertain, there’s going to be a very, very hard year in India and I don’t know what’s going to happen. I can’t ever say in advance what I’ll be doing …”

She shakes her head and laughs, “It’s a highly unplanned life.”

Famous fans’ questions…

Lionel Shriver.
 Photograph: Murdo Macleod for the Guardian

Lionel Shriver
Author
Do you ever worry that your work as an activist detracts – or at least distracts – from your fiction, and are you concerned that sticking your neck out politically changes the way readers and critics respond to that fiction?

I have always quarrelled with this word “activist”. I think it’s a very new word and I don’t know when it was born, but it was recently. I don’t want to have a second profession added to writing. Writing covers it. In the old days, writers were political creatures also, not all, but many. It was seen as our business to be writing about the world around us in different ways. So I don’t feel threatened or worried about that. For me, my fiction and my nonfiction are both political. The fiction is a universe, the nonfiction is an argument.

What I do worry about is the fact that writers have become so frightened of being political. The idea that writers are being reduced to creators of a product that is acceptable, that slips down your throat, which readers love and therefore can be bestsellers, that’s so dangerous. Today, for example in India, where majoritarianism is taking root – and by majoritarianism, I don’t just mean the government, I mean that individuals are being turned into micro-fascists by so many means. It is the mobs and vigilantes going and lynching people. So more than ever, the point of the writer is to be unpopular. The point of the writer is to say: “I denounce you even if I’m not in the majority.”

Nina Stibbe
 Photograph: Alecsandra Raluca Dragoi/Commissioned for The Guardian

Nina Stibbe
Author

Which Beatle is your favourite and why?

John Lennon. I can say that in my sleep! Why? Because I always felt that there was a sadness that was wrapped with brilliance. And, this is not the reason that I love him – I also love the way he looks. This morning I woke up and felt a little jealous of seeing Yoko Ono and him together. I was like, “Fuck!” Although it was really before my time, but still…

George Monbiot
 Photograph: Fiona Shaw for the Guardian

George Monbiot
Writer and environmentalist

In a world racked by climate breakdown, ecological collapse and the marginalisation of billions, what gives you hope?

One of my books of essays is dedicated to “those who have learned to divorce hope from reason”. So being unreasonable is the only way that we can have hope. I am often among people who battle every day, but when you’re in there with them it’s not all grim. These are people who have their backs to the wall and are fighting for survival, but so much of the time they spend laughing at stupid things.

For example, when I was inside the forests of central India with the comrades, one night everyone was asleep and I saw this guy typing something on his solar-powered computer. So I said: “What are you doing?” And he said: “Oh, I’m issuing a denial. You know, if all our denials were published, they would run into several volumes.” So I said: “What’s the most ridiculous denial you’ve ever had to issue?” And he said in Hindi: “No brother, we didn’t hammer the cows to death.”

Arundhati Roy on the banks of India’s Narmada River, where she campaigned against a new dam, 1999.
 Arundhati Roy on the banks of India’s Narmada River, where she campaigned against a new dam, 1999. Photograph: Karen Robinson

The story was that the current sitting chief minister had promised in his election campaign that, if he won the elections, every rural household would get a cow. So once he won, to pretend to deliver on his promise, they rounded up all these elderly cows and then they were subcontracted to people who were expected to deliver them to these far-flung households in the forests of indigenous peoples. Some of them just killed the cows halfway through and then said the Maoists did it. It served so many purposes: they didn’t have to bother delivering them, and the Maoists come out of it as anti-Hindu.

So there’s often a graveyard humour and a steely resilience, and I believe that the only way – if at all – the machine can be pushed back is through these resistances. And I’m on the side of the line with them.

Eve Ensler
 Photograph: Annabel Clark/Guardian

Eve Ensler
Playwright

What reader’s response to The Ministry of Utmost Happiness surprised you the most?

Ha-ha, there are several. One is that it’s a book that doesn’t pretend to universalise anything or conceptualise anything. It’s a book of great detail about a place. So the first thing that surprised me was that it has been translated into 46 languages – that it is being read in Vietnam, in Georgia. It was never designed to be that kind of an easy read. I got a letter from someone in Palestine the other day who said: “Thank you for making space for the poetics of other languages in your book.” That was amazing because the book is imagined in more than one language. And given the climate we have in India right now, I’m happy to say that it’s been pirated and even being sold to me at the traffic lights. For half-price!

Wendy Doniger
 Photograph: USA Oxford University Press

Wendy Doniger
US Indologist whose book The Hindus: An Alternative History was recalled by its publisher, Penguin India, in 2014
Do you think it is possible for writers and publishers to join forces to find ways to oppose prosecutions for blasphemy (or “offending” religious feelings) under laws like Indian penal code section 295A? Or at least to change the charge from a criminal to a civil offence?

If we’re talking India in particular, I feel that it is possible. I know Wendy Doniger’s publishers let her down very badly. It was very wrong what they did, because they were not even taken to court. It was just this crazy man who makes a business out of going after people in this way. This is the way the criminal justice system is used in India, as harassment. So they could have backed her, but they didn’t.

At the moment what is happening in India is that censorship is being outsourced to the mob. Some person comes out and says: “Oh you’re not showing rajput in a good light,” or any community starts feeling that they can burn down cinema halls, they can stop a film release, and it’s all being allowed. In the same way, writers have been killed and shot and threatened. The government can try to act as if it’s not involved, but its involvement is in protecting the mobs. It’s a question that leads to many questions and Wendy Doniger has suffered.

Shobha Rao

Shobha Rao
Author

When did you know your childhood was over?

It’s not over yet! It should never be over for writers. The people I fear most are the people who I look at and I can’t imagine what kind of a child they were. Because of the circumstances in which I was born and how I lived, I had to be in some ways a pretty adult child and I would like at least some part of me to be a pretty childish adult.

Kate Hudson
 Photograph: Martin Godwin for the Guardian

Kate Hudson
General secretary of CND

It’s 20 years since India’s Pokharan nuclear weapons tests. At the time, you powerfully and convincingly demolished the claims that such weapons were deterrents to war. Now the narrative from the White House is one of “usable” nukes. How can we defeat this drive towards global self-destruction, and how can a new movement be built?

I don’t know what the answer to this question is. But one thing that’s truly on my mind now, and I know it will sound paranoid – but I think we do need to be paranoid – is artificial intelligence. Perhaps AI can do better surgery than surgeons, write better poetry than poets and better novels than novelists. But what it does is make the human population almost surplus: it makes it unnecessary. One argument is that it will be the end of work and the beginning of play; that people can be looked after. But people could be looked after now, as we know there’s enough surplus to do that, and it doesn’t happen.

When human beings become surplus, that’s where these smart nukes and chemical and biological warfare – these things that are genocidal – begin to really worry me. Because I do see a time when the masters of the universe will decide that the universe is a better place without most of the population. Artificial intelligence is a way of becoming the perfect human being, which fascists have always thought about: the supreme human being. If you can think of that, if that is your goal, then certainly you can think of the other. I worry about it.

Ali Smith
 Photograph: David Levenson/Getty Images

Ali Smith
Author

I am a fan of all your writing in all its forms, but what is it that the novel makes possible for us that no other form of writing does?

When photography came, there was a certain kind of art that it put out of business. When film came, there was a certain kind of theatre that it put out of business. So what the novel has to do, what I felt when I wrote The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, is [ask] what can it do that nothing else can?

And there are things it can do. There’s a quote from James Baldwin in The Ministry of Utmost Happiness: “And they would not believe me precisely because they would know that what I said was true.” So if you were to take out the political milestones in this book and just do nonfiction about them, they would not be what they are. Only a novel can tell you how caste, communalisation, sexism, love, music, poetry, the rise of the right all combine in a society. And the depths in which they combine. We have been trained to “silo-ise”: our brains specialise in one thing. But the radical understanding is if you can understand it all, and I think only a novel can.

Shelley McNamara and Yvonne Farrell
 Photograph: Luke Walker

Shelley McNamara and Yvonne Farrell
Directors of Grafton Architects
You have said that literature is not about issues, that it is about the world, about everybody, that literature is a monumental, profound, beautiful and complicated thing. Would you apply the same values in your contemplation of architecture?

Yes, of course. I’m a student of architecture, and if I had to choose a profession again I would choose architecture, because I do believe it’s about everything. One of the people who made me want to become an architect was Laurie Baker; he was British but had lived in India all his life. He used to do what was called no-cost architecture, where you pay a lot of attention to material and where it came from: he was so against the idea of his buildings living for ever. I learned from him that beautiful architecture is not directly proportional to how much it costs or how much money you put into it. So for me, it’s a very fundamental and beautiful art, certainly extremely profound in terms of how you should be thinking about it.

Arundhati Roy in 2002, after being released from jail for contempt of court.
 Arundhati Roy in 2002, after being released from jail for contempt of court. Photograph: Manish Swarup/AP

Readers’ questions…

With regards to your fiction, would you be able to describe the balance between research, autobiography and imagined worlds? How important is it to you?
James Corcut

I don’t do research. What generally happens is I begin to get curious about something for no reason and then I just find it impossible to contain and I’ve written nonfiction. But especially in the novel, these things just settle in you and you become like a sedimentary rock. The characters come by and it’s almost like you’re walking down the street and someone catches your eye and you meet them again and then you become friends. It’s a bit like that. One of the ways in which I write, especially when I write fiction, is just that I wait. And something just comes knocking at your door. You have to be open to it. You have to allow it in, more than pursue it.

I’m very much part of those worlds that I describe. So sometimes it might be really autobiographical and I don’t know. When you’re open to allowing these characters in, everything is autobiographical, no? Esthappen in The God of Small Things says: “If in a dream you’ve eaten fish, does it mean you’ve eaten fish?” For me, those worlds are all very osmotic: experience, autobiography, imagination, understanding. And that’s why it all needs to mix and settle and it’s not segmented.

My friends and I often debate “the best Bookers”. Mine happen to be, in no particular order: DisgraceThe God of Small Things and Midnight’s Children. I’d like to think that you, too, have these “pub conversations” – so, what’s your favourite Booker novel, and why?
Viren Mistry

I don’t have these conversations, because I don’t feel like thinking about books in this way. Books are unique and so I don’t think of them hierarchically. I understand that people need to give prizes, but it’s so particular to you and I don’t even think of “Booker books” to begin with.

You have been fiercely expressing your disagreements with the state, irrespective of political parties in office. Have you ever wished to go into electoral politics? If yes, why haven’t you yet? If no, why?
Anand Aani

No. It’s such an important place and time in which to be a writer, where you’re not burdened by the idea of soliciting people’s support. Where often it’s so important to stand alone, to be a person who expresses themselves very clearly on certain things. So I can only see it as a great defeat if I really wanted to come into politics or stand for elections or ask people to like me or vote for me. It’s just not in my DNA to do that. I cannot even conceive of becoming a person who needed to change something about the way they were dressing or thinking or speaking to get someone to vote for me. To suddenly start going to a temple and pretending I’m really religious because I want to win the Hindu vote, I can’t do it! I’d be terrible at it!

You once said: ‘Each time I write an essay I get into so much trouble I promise never to do it again.’ What was the last essay you wrote and did you get into any trouble?
Cate Lobo

Well, the last essay I wrote was actually about the trouble, it was called My Seditious Heart. But previous to that, I wrote a piece called Professor, POWabout GN Saibaba. He is a professor of literature, paralysed in his lower body, and he was thrown in prison and sentenced to life for… I don’t know what all the reasons are, but he’s accused of being a Maoist and working against the state. He’s still in prison now and is in a bad state.

I’ve known him for a long time and when I wrote Professor, POW I was charged with criminal contempt of court. I have a long history of contempt of court, being accused of contempt of court – I’ve also gone to prison for it. So I had to appeal to the supreme court to quash it, which they have not done, but they have put it in cold storage. It’s so tiring, but it’s OK for me. Because of the work I do, I have lawyers who are friends. I have the money to fly to the other city where the appeal is being heard and hire a hotel and stay there. But let’s say you’re a young journalist or a young writer who doesn’t have that – what do you do? You’re finished! So the idea is: “Let’s make this an example, let’s break up the stride, then the mobs will come there and will shout at you.” It just goes on and on.

How do you write the parts that make us cry? And do you cry when you read them back?
Brendan Ross

Writing and crying are things that people do differently. For me, I’m always writing: when I’m walking, when I’m shopping, when I’m thinking. There’s a processing that’s going on – and the heartbreak is close to the surface all the time. But there’s a difference between the retelling of a tragedy and when you sometimes don’t actually tell it, but what it reflects is even more tragic. So often when I think about things, yes, I do cry, but I shift between laughter and tears and anger. That’s what I meant about never stopping to be a child: you have to always be in touch with those feelings.

What female writers have inspired and influenced you?
Sofía Guerrero

Oh, so many. Of course, I have read Jane Austen in the past but long ago. I don’t know if I’m inspired by her, but I’m maybe interested in her. There’s Toni Morrison, whose Beloved was a great inspiration. The memoir of [Russian poet] Osip Mandelstam’s widow, Nadezhda Mandelstam [Hope Against Hope] – oh God, what a book, just incredible. And recently I read this book called Barracoon, it’s just come out. Zora Neale Hurston was an anthropologist and she transcribed a first-person account of the last slave, who was captured 50 years after slavery was abolished. He has a memory of the whole thing, of how he was kidnapped from his village in Africa – not kidnapped by white people, but by another tribe – and then sold into slavery to American slave traders. So it complicates the way you think about things.

It seems that The Ministry of Utmost Happiness suggests it’s possible to live in a world that is carved out of, yet also away from, the degradations of a class- and caste-ridden (also ableist, homophobic etc) society. Is such a world possible only in novels, or do you think it’s possible in real life?
Alpana Sharma

I don’t think that The Ministry of Utmost Happiness should be viewed as a manifesto, that it’s proposing an alternative way of living. It’s a story about certain particular and unique people who find their way in a unique way. By having these people, you are shining a light on what society is really like and the fact that you can’t ignore caste and gender and all of that. It’s really about that.

What moments in your life give you solace?
Sylvie Millard

The moment when I just put my cheek on my dog’s tummy. I have two of them, and one has a considerable tummy, but the other is slightly more delicate. Both of them used to be strays. I found them. One of them, her mother was killed by a car on the road outside my house. Her eyes were closed and she was so small and I had to feed her with a dropper and now she’s huge. The other one I stole. I’d see her tied to a lamppost night and day on this road, and I just took her. Later, I told the people that I’d taken her, and they said: “OK, we didn’t want her.”

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/jun/17/arundhati-roy-interview-you-ask-the-questions-the-point-of-the-writer-is-to-be-unpopulars

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Every second Muslim In india fears being falsely implicated in terror Cases

 

Abdul Rashid Ajmeri was branded ‘mastermind’ of Akshardham Temple attack in Gujarat but he was released by court on bail in 40 days. His brother and one dozen other Muslims were already acquitted by Supreme Court in the same case.

Caravan Daily

NEW DELHI: Almost one in two Muslims in India fears being falsely implicated in terrorism cases, and Telangana leads all states in the country with 68% of Muslims there having such fear. The southern state is followed by the National Capital – Delhi with 65% such Muslims, says a survey conducted by NGO Common Cause and Lokniti, a research initiative of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS).

Moreover, more than any other religious community, Muslims (26%) face police discrimination on the grounds of religion, followed by Hindus (18%) and Christians (16%). According to the survey, Bihar is on top in religious discrimination by police with Muslims. In the north Indian state where Muslims account for more than 16% of the state population, 56% Muslims say the Police discriminate on the basis of religion. Bihar is followed by Maharashtra.

The surveyors talked to 15,563 respondents across 22 states in June and July 2017. The 220-page report titled Status of Policing in India Report 2018 was released in May this year.

Besides Muslims, Dalits and Tribals also face false implication and discrimination by police.

False Implication of Muslims

Three major vulnerable communities – Muslims, Dalits and Tribals – fear being falsely implicated by police. As per the survey, 47% of Muslims say they fear being falsely implicated in terror cases while 27% of overall respondents said that Muslims are falsely implicated in terror cases by police.

Some 68% Muslims in Telangana say that they fear being falsely implicated in terror cases while 65% of Muslims in Delhi have the same fear. At No. 3 is Tamil Nadu with 63%, followed by Maharashtra with 62%.

In the last 20 years, Telangana (earlier Andhra Pradesh), Delhi and Maharashtra have witnessed arrest of hundreds of Muslim youths following terror blasts, but after years in jail, most of them were acquitted by the court.

False Implication of Dalits and Tribals

The surveyors asked people to share their views on the false implication of Dalits in petty crimes and Adivasis on Maoist charges.

“Nearly two in every five (38%) respondents agreed with the proposition that often the police falsely implicates members of backward castes such as Dalits in petty crimes such as theft, robbery, dacoity etc,” says the report.

And 28% said that Adivasis are falsely implicated on Maoist charges.

An examination of state-wise opinion suggests that Muslims in Telangana, Delhi, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and Karnataka, Dalits in Jharkhand, Telangana and Madhya Pradesh and Adivasis in Maharashtra, Gujarat and West Bengal were most likely to hold the opinion that their respective communities are falsely implicated by the police than their counterparts in other States.

Discrimination by Police on Religious Grounds

As per the survey, about one in every five (19%) of respondents said that discrimination by police on religious grounds does take place while three in every five (61%) denied its occurrence.

“Among all religious communities Muslims were most likely to hold the view that the police discriminates on religious grounds with one in four (26%) of them stating so,” says the survey.

Among Hindus, this figure was much less at 18% and among Christians it was 16%. Sikhs (only 6%) were the least likely to hold the opinion that the police engages in religion-based discrimination.

Out of all the States, people’s perception of religious discrimination by the police was found to be greatest in Bihar, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.

As for discrimination with Muslims on religious ground, the survey found the belief among the community that the police discriminates on religious grounds to be greatest in Bihar, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra.

Among Christians, the feeling that the police discriminates on religious grounds was found to be strongest in the southern states except Kerala.

Other Key Findings of Survey

  • 44% respondents reported significant fear of the police/ torture in some form.
  • Sikhs, mainly in Punjab, reported the highest levels of fear among religious communities, with 37% saying they were highly fearful of the police (over double the national average).
  • People are most likely to report class-based discrimination by the police (51%), followed by gender-based discrimination (30%), caste-based discrimination (26%) and religious discrimination by the police (19%).
  • 38% respondents agreed that Dalits were falsely implicated in petty crimes, 28% agreed on false implication of Adivasis on charges of being Maoists, and 27% agreed on false implication of Muslims on terrorism related charges

EVERY SECOND MUSLIM IN INDIA FEARS BEING FALSELY IMPLICATED IN TERROR CASES: SURVEY

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Dr Kafeel Khan’s brother shot at in Gorakhpur, condition critical #WTFnews

Dr Kafeel Khan’s brother survived an attack last night in Gorakhpur.

Bike-borne men shot at Dr Kafeel Khan’s brother Kashif Jameel last night

GORAKHPUR: 

  1. Brother of Dr Kafeel Khan was shot at on Sunday night in Gorakhpur
  2. Dr Kafeel Khan is out on bail in Gorakhpur baby death case
  3. No motive was found behind the shooting

The brother of Kafeel Khan, the doctor who was jailed in connection with child deaths in Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s home base Gorakhpur, was shot at last night in the town.

Around 11 pm on Sunday, men on a motorcycle allegedly fired at Kashif Jameel, who is a businessman, and fled. The shooting took place just half a km from Yogi Adityanath’s home.

“I am very shocked that this incident has happened just 500 metres away from the Gorakhnath temple, which is the home of the UP Chief Minister,” Dr Khan said.

The 34-year-old was taken to a private nursing home. Dr Khan told the media that a bullet was lodged in his brother’s neck and he had to arrange for an emergency surgery to get it removed.

His brother was reportedly shuttled from a private hospital to two government-run facilities, and back to a private hospital. The surgery reportedly took place around 2 am, three hours after the firing.

“Yesterday night I was insisting on a private hospital because I know a prominent neuro surgeon there. But the police kept saying that I must go to the Sadar hospital first and then to the BRD hospital. But it is the doctors at the BRD hospital who sent him back to this private hospital. So crucial time was wasted yesterday night,” Dr Khan said.

No motive was found behind the shooting of Dr Khan’s brother said police sources.

dr kafeel khan

Dr Kafeel Khan said his brother was shot 500 metres away from Gorakhnath temple

Kashif is now under observation for another 48 hours at the private nursing home, the doctors said.
Hours after the shooting, Gujarat lawmaker Jignesh Mevani targeted the state’s BJP government. Mr Mevani tweeted “Dr Kafeel saved children when Yogi Adityanath government had no money to pay for oxygen. He was put behind bars. Now his brother is shot at. Thank you so much Modi ji for what your ‘acche din’ are offering us – hate speeches, violence, bloodshed and bullets.”

On April 25, Dr Khan was released on bail from the Allahabad High Court after eight months in jail. The court said there was no direct evidence of negligence on his part.

More than 60 children, mostly infants, had died at BRD hospital in Gorakhpur within a week in August, 2017. There were allegations that the deaths occurred due to disruption in oxygen supply. The BJP-led Uttar Pradesh government, however, had denied that shortage of oxygen led to the deaths.

Dr Khan was in charge of the pediatrics wing and had arranged oxygen cylinders from a private hospital. But he was removed and arrested on charges of negligence. His family insists he was made a scapegoat.

Kafeel had recently expressed his willingness to serve in Kerala which is under the grip of the Nipah virus. His request was also accepted by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan.

The incident takes place at a time when Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath is also in Gorakhpur.

The police have registered a case against unknown people and the matter is being investigated.

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India – The dilemmas of Shillong’s Dalit Punjabis

It took an argument between three young Khasi boys and a Punjabi woman of Punjabi Lane, Iew Mawlong Shillong for the whole world to know that there are Sikhs in Tribal Shillong and there are serious tensions between them and Khasis, for which Khasis can throw stones, Sikhs can brandish their swords and both can spread fake WhatsApp messages with fantasies of death and destruction (and a Punjabi Akal Channel to send Shillong to Mongolia). Dalit vs Tribals, Khasi vs. Dkhar, Sikh vs Christians, Rock vs. Bhangra, Scotland vs Canada – media used every binary available in their coffee machines to describe our recent troubles. Journalism became stereotypes written in a hurry.

RAIOT, the most unpopular and laziest gutterzine from Shillong kept its curfew silence. Confession – apart from recollecting our Punjabi Lane experiences, we were not even sure that there were Sikhs living in Punjabi Lane. Our curiosity about the people led us to publish a long historical essay by Prof. Himadri Banerjee. And suddenly we found that this long essay started its viral journey on Social Media and journalists and thinkpiecers started throwing around the phrase Mazhabi Sikhs. Some looking to establish Sikh solidarities started trolling us for our impudence in pointing out caste hierarchy within the Sikh faith. And then there were those who cursed us for the length and seriousness of the essay.

So here we go again with a sequel by Prof. Birinder Pal Singh of Punjabi University, Patiala, Punjab (we had no idea that there is a Punjab University and a Punjabi University). This essay describes socio-economic profile of the Mazhabi Sikhs (and other ‘sweeper’ Punjabis) settled at Shillong for more than a century. These safai karamcharis (sweepers) have been keeping the city clean but themselves live in worst slums. The essay tries to locate survival strategies of Punjabi sweepers in a milieu hostile to ‘outsiders’. What makes them stick together, maintain their ethnic and religious identity and resist various attempts to ‘relocate’ them. This brilliant essay (based on research conducted in 2012) was languishing since 2016 in Sikh Formations, an academic journal with exactly ONE view. 

So, dear readers get ready for a clearheaded, grounded reasearch essay on many lives of the residents of Punjabi Lane/Line, Iew Mawlong Shillong. Know them before you even think of evicting them.

THISessay is a description of the needs of a population that defines itself as a community for improving its quality of life. It is an attempt to obtain empirical data first hand for the first time on Mazhabi Sikhs, locally called Punjabis inhabiting Shillong. This study sponsored by the National Commission for Minorities, New Delhi, has the main objective to identify such communities there that demand the immediate attention of the government for welfare. It serves two purposes, one, of identifying the poor slum dwelling Sikh minority community settled for at least last a century. Two, it is a sequel to Himadri Banerjee’s historical study that provides a social historical sketch of these Sikhs. This essay tends to supplement history with sociology, social history with socio-economic profile. It also intends to highlight the plight of Sikhs outside Punjab living in slums, a fact hard to believe by Sikhs themselves.The present study differs from Banerjee’s in the sense of focusing on Mazhabi Sikhs alone not their relation with other Sikhs at both places. There is hardly any difference between them at two places; rather they are interlinked through bonds of marriage and kinship besides places of origin of their migration since all of them belong to two districts – Amritsar and Gurdaspur – in Punjab. It may be summed up as

Je Guhati saure te Shillong peke and vice versa. If parents are at Shillong then in-laws are at Guwahati and vice versa.

Even if Guwahati was the point of break in rail journey to the hill resort and then headquarters of the colonial administration Shillong, it had no fascination for Sikhs since the Shillong municipal board provided employment to them. They were on its rolls since its establishment in 1910. (Banerjee 2010) The Harijan Colony at Marakhali (Guwahati) came up later in 1930.

The respondents inform that their grandparents were brought to Shillong to work as safai karmacharis (sweepers) by an English military regiment that served in Punjab earlier. It sounds plausible as the local tribal people would not remove the night soil of colonial officers and civilians alike. There is no menial caste amongst them. And, the bug of market society had not bitten them then. Therefore, the choice of Mazhabi Sikhs for the city’s cleanliness and sanitation fell on them. They are a hardy people even amongst Punjabis. The presence of a people of ‘martial race’ in the upcoming cantonment on the north-east frontier adjoining Burma also might have suited the administration.1

LOCALE

Sweeper Lane / Punjabi Line / Harijan Basti / Them Metor / Mawlonghat / Iew Mawlong – Many names, many histories

The Sweepers Line at Bara Bazar / Iewduh (Shillong) or Punjabi Colony is the largest settlement with about 252 houses and more than double the number of families residing there on both sides of the market road in the heart of the city (Iew Mawlong/Mawlonghat of Iewduh). Although there are different estimates of population at Bara Bazar. According to a ‘Note on Sweeper Colony, Mawlonghat’ submitted by the Director of Urban Affairs Department, Shillong in July 2010 there were 200 families residing in 1990 that increased to 249 as per a joint survey by the Shillong Municipal Board and the Harijan Panchayat Committee in March-April 2007. It rose to 342 in 2010.

The larger population on the upper side has a City Gurdwara, two temples of Shiva and Durga and a Balmik ashram. 2

The roadside houses have shops of various types on both sides. There is Guru Nanak Lower Primary School established in 1964 on the opposite side that has been upgraded to upper primary in 2010. The school principal is also the general secretary of the City Gurdwara Management Committee (CGMC) and of the Harijan Panchayat Committee (HPC) functioning since earlier times but formally registered in 1993. There is also an Sadhu Sundar Singh Church of the Church of North India which caters to at least 50 of the families.

Another Punjabi colony at Gora Line has about 160 households on the lower side of the hill road. It has a gurdwara renovated in 2009, inaugurated by the local minister, and a Balmik ashram. At Happy Valley and Cantonment, there are a few scattered families only. The Cantonment gurdwara is under the control of a single family residing there.

In Guwahati their concentration is at Marakhali, earlier on the outskirts of the town near the cremation grounds (as also the Gora Line near the burial grounds in Shillong.) Starting from meagre 6 to 7 households in 1930 it has grown into a congested colony of about 80 households. Fatasil and Malegaon have a few households but Last Gate Colony at Dispur, the new capital of Assam, closer to the government secretariat has larger population comprising about 150 households. It has its own gurdwara, a temple and a Balmik ashram. The respondents inform that earlier they were at Shillong and employed at the secretariat.

When the capital was shifted to Dispur in 1972 we opted for it.

Most of its senior residents were and still are working as safai karmacharis at the secretariat, other government and private institutions. The younger ones indulge in a variety of trades.

At Guwahati and Shillong are both class I towns and yet the habitation of Mazhabi Sikhs is full of filth, foul smell and overflowing drains. Narrow and winding lanes are often used for washing and cooking since there is no such space inside numerous houses. Initially, in Shillong, there were independent barracks but over time, natural population growth has increased its density enormously. The division of residential space and encroachment of pathways has increased accommodation capacity but enhanced congestion. Restriction on colony’s expansion and not allowing the ‘outsiders’ to buy land and property at Shillong too contributes to congestion and stink. The central location of these settlements leaves no scope for any expansion, given the scarcity of land and exorbitant prices at both places. None of these settlements are purely Sikh or Punjabi though dominant yet have households of other migrant communities from Tamil Nadu, Bihar, Bengal, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Nepal and Bangladesh.

PEOPLE

Given the homogeneity, a random sample was taken from each of the colonies at Shillong and Guwahati/Dispur totalling 175 households, all Sikhs. The respondents have 136 males and 39 females; 37.7% heads of the households are in the age group of 30–40 years and 34.3% between 40 and 50 years, that is, 72.0% respondents are between 30 and 50 years. 17.2% are above 50 years and 10.8% below 30 years. 65.2% are engaged in job or service while 10.3% have own petty business like a corner shop in their own house. 10.85% men work as drivers.

Earlier the municipalities at Guwahati and Shillong and the government secretariats were their major employers and a father’s retirement would lead to his son’s placement in the same position. Majority of respondents are still employed as safai karmacaharis or as peons etc. in various offices. The Department of Urban Affairs (DUA), Shillong conducted a survey in 2007 to ascertain the number of legal or actual municipal employees staying at Sweepers Colony, Bara Bazar and found out that a total of 1204 persons are staying there out of which 291 adult males and 282 adult females are working with Shillong municipal- ity while 47 adult males and 48 adult females are with other departments of the government. The remaining population consists of minor children. 3 Their responses reflect distinctly that for all the 175 respondents there is no occupational change over the last five years.

The employment crunch and non-filling of vacancies as government policy has led to unemployment of the younger generation besides the policy of employing the locals only. A respondent sums up the general sentiment:

Phelon tan naukrian hi nahin. Je nikaldi hai tan NGO pahunch jande ne ki local layo.
First there are no jobs. As and when advertised, then NGOs dictate that only local be employed

4Now local tribal people too are willing to undertake these (safai karamchari) jobs. This has blocked the employment opportunities of Punjabi youth who had ensured employment earlier. In the words of a young respondent:

Hun ehna nu vi akal aa gayee ki thoda ja chahdu maar ke changey paise milde aa.
The locals too have understood the benefit of sweeper jobs of getting good salary without doing much.

Most young male Sikhs now prefer driving a cab either hired or on salary though only eight households own a vehicle. Retirement benefits of the parents are pooled with bank loans to purchase a cab. Parents too think:

Bachae nu settle vi tan karna wa.
The son is to be engaged usefully.

Moreover, both cities have strong tourist attraction and the quantum of tourism – national and international – has increased tremendously over the last two decades.

A look at the respondents’ income levels reveals that 42.8% earn between Rs. 5000 and 14,000 per month and 36.0% above the said range while 21.2% less than Rs. 5000 per month. These households have sufficient income since 65.0% respondents are employed but they do not count well on family assets as 92.6% have neither land nor shop. None has any cattle and 98.0% have no pets either. The government rules in Shil- long do not permit ‘outsiders’ to buy property.

Even if 90.3% houses are pucca (made with bricks), 75.43% have temporary roof with corrugated sheets while 22.86% have permanent roof. The condition of floors is better since 61.14% houses have cemented floor. But sanitary conditions are deplorable as 13.7% houses have neither bathrooms nor toilets and 7.0% are without a kitchen. 34.3% households use a common source for water which is a major source of social conflict between women and families within the colony as majority cases reported to Pradhan (the president) are on this issue.5 82.3% households use liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) for cooking and 98.3% use electric bulb for light. Interestingly, despite slum dwelling 37.2% households have scooters/motor bikes. However, 48.6% of these have no vehicle at all.

70.0% respondents claim to own a house as they have installed own electricity meters and built additional accommodation as the family size increased but the fact is that these barracks at Shillong (Bara Bazar and Gora Line) and Marakhali were built by the respective municipal committees.  The son could retain the house on his father’s retirement and get it transferred in his name with a right to use. However, 30.0% respondents have reported living on rent. The president of a colony in Shillong says:

Sadde bajurgan ne kha-pee ke taem kadd chha- diya, koi jaidad wal dhiyan nahin ditta jiven Bangalian te Napalian ne praperty banayi aa. Sannu surat aayi, tan bandash lagg gayi.
Our elders did not care to invest in property like the Bengalis and the Nepalese. They simply whiled away their time. When we became conscious the government banned it.

Of the total households, 46.3 and 39.4% have 3–4 and 5–6 members, respectively, in a family though 13.2% families have more than six members. The data show that 83.5% respondents are living in two to three rooms. There is hardly spatial mobility of the respondents since 85.2% are staying at their place of residence since birth and the remaining for more than 15 years.

TO BE OR NOT TO BE

Post-independence resurgence of tribal political consciousness has made them aware of their constitutionally protected rights and privileges and gain political rights. Adoption of the ‘sons of the soil theory’ has conveniently made all non-indigenous people as ‘outsiders’(dkhar) and has become the source of conflict between them. Myron Weiner comments in the context of Assam:

Clashes between migrants and the indigenous population have become prominent feature of post-independence politics within multiethenic developing countries. 6

Shillong, a hill resort and a colonial town as administrative hub for the far east in the midst of Khasi and Jaintia hills and dominated by the Khasis has numerous communities from outside the region including Mazhabi Sikhs from Punjab besides the Bengalis, Marwaris, Nepalese, Biharis, Muslims (sometimes tarred as Bangladeshis) and the tribal people from neighbouring states. Shillong was the capital of united Assam till 1972 and later of the newly formed Meghalaya. Subir Bhaumik writes:

In Meghalaya, the tension between indigenous tribesmen and outsiders has been largely restricted to the state’s capital Shillong, … . Since loss of tribal lands … has been restricted mostly to Shillong and its surroundings, violence against settlers has been most intense in and around Shillong. 7

The issue of ‘outsider’ does not bother them much in Guwahati which is the concern of the tribal outfits in the interior areas of Assam. They are called bahirghati. Its large size and heterogeneity of population with 963,429 persons in 2011 acts like a buffer. Shillong city is small (143,007 persons) though its metropolitan area has 354,325 persons in 2011.

The formation of a separate state enhanced the morale of local pressure groups who started dictating their own terms to the elected government. In the words of Subir Bhaumik:

In recent years, all across North East, generic identities that emerged during the last days of colonial rule and consolidated in the early years of the Indian Republic have tended to splinterize. The material advantages that follow recognition as a Scheduled Tribe (ST) in India have encouraged retribalization. 

The political demand of reserving jobs for the locals only generated hostility between communities. It led to the branding of the non-tribal as ‘outsider’. Tribal people even from other regions of the India were not suspect.11 To safeguard the economic interests of the locals the government banned purchase of property by ‘outsiders’. The Sikh youth grumble:

Asin outsider kiven hoye. Koi Pakistano aaye aan. Asin Hindustani nahin?
How are we outsiders? Have we come from Pakistan? Aren’t we Indians?

It adds to their dilemma, to be or not to be there. The senior generation wishes to return to Punjab but the younger one finds the present residence more fascinating given their peer group and metropolitan opportunities for work and occupation relative to Punjab where they see no scope. The question of social status and identity is important too. In Punjab living at the outskirts of a village in a caste society or even in a city is more discriminating than being ghettoized in the North-East. I. P. Singh profiling a village in Amritsar district writes about Mazhabis in the early 1970s:

They live on one side of the village, and a long wall of the backs of the houses of the higher caste group separates them from others in the village. About twenty families live a hundred yards away on the land given to them for residence by the father of the Sarpanch on the birth of his first son. Mazhbis work as farm laborers, while their wives clean the courtyards, collect cow dung and make cow dung cakes. Further, they have a separate well and a separate small room as marriage palace ( janj ghar) ‘in their part of the village’ while all other castes use the gurdwara premises for marriages. 

Balbir Madhopuri writes in his autobiography about his own village in Punjab:

If an untouchable (chamar/churah) boy moves out from home after a bath and combed hair, then someone from the Jutt group (dhani) sitting under a tree or tharah (platform of bricks) would put sand on his head. If he protested, he was thrashed ( fainta chariah janda). Similarly an untouchable moving out with a new set of clothes was beaten too on the pretext that he was trying to be like them. 8

The situation about 40 years later is not all well. Paramjit S. Judge and Gurpreet Bal write about five villages in the district and the city as well:

mazabi respondents of Amritsar district reported caste-based exclusion of religious practices. Many of them said that the upper caste Sikhs did not allow them to carry the sacred book to their residence for purpose of performing various rituals/ceremonies … Similar information was given by the mazabis of Guru Ki Wadali – an erstwhile village that has become a locality of Amritsar city. 9

Judge and Bal note much change over time yet:

At the level of the caste system, inequalities and exclusion continue to show their existence, the evidence of which could be ascertained on the basis of data on social ecology, occupation and access to religious places

And before them Surinder Jodhka too concludes from his survey on untouchability in 51 villages:

Notwithstanding the changes experienced in almost all spheres of life, the continuities are not yet insignificant. Rural Punjab has not forgotten caste 10

Even I was told by Bhai ji of gurdwara in Dispur:

The Akali Dal has forced us to convert to Christianity. They were not allowing us to enter Darbar Sahib. They would refer to us as: ‘some’ (koi) Sikh brought the beheaded head of Guru Tegh Bahadur. A president of the SGPC would refer to us as ‘kachhehrian diyan juan ne uppar na charan diyo’ (ticks of the long breeches who should not be allowed to climb.

He added:

Aithon da mahaul Punjab nalo changa wa. Saade munde smack tan nahin peende, daru-sikka chald’ai. Mere pind’ch 40 smakiye ne.
The milieu here is better than Punjab. Our boys do not take smack at least though they do take liquor. There are about 40 boys in my village who take smack.

In the North-East they are not discriminated as low caste at least but on grounds of ethnicity as Punjabis, as also by upper caste and class Sikhs, and other communities. Mazhabis find it easy to neutralize this hostility in their quotidian life than do anything with their caste status in Punjab. They know how to fight back. The history of Sikhs also tells them not to remain subdued. The Punjabi culture too values fierce retaliation – ikki de katti paune or itt da jawab pathar naal dena (reply to bricks by stone) etc.11

WOULD WE BE EVICTED?

The Mazhabis at Shillong and Guwahati are especially targeted for eviction in the name of slum clearance and beautification of the two cities and to build a flyover and multi-level parking in Shillong to ease traffic congestion. No doubt these problems are there not in these cities of the North-East but all over the country, which is why the residents of Punjabi colonies at Guwahati and Shillong especially at Bara Bazar are not willing to vacate. They fear it to be a ploy to dislodge them and then throw out forever. The HPC is struggling against the government and the Shillong Municipality. They have approached the Human Rights Commission, the National Commission for Minorities, the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, Amritsar, seeking help in this regard but without success. The secretary of the HPC is busy mailing their grievances to all quarters. They have also filed a law suit against eviction citing evidence that the Syiem (chief) of Mylliem had allotted this land for their settlement. The Guwahati Municipal Corporation has constructed a multi-storey building at Marakhali adjacent to the sweeper colony for allotment to its residents. They have agreed and are rather happy but that is not the case with Shillong dwellers or those at the Last Gate Colony, Dispur.

The history of Shillong has witnessed local nationalist movements against other non-tribal (dkhar) communities but only the Punjabis are stuck it out and resisted through various means.12

As I was told:

Hale tak Sikhan naal kuchh nahin hoyiya.
Nothing has happened to the Sikhs so far.

But they are becoming frequently the target of local peoples’ rage because they are neither moving out nor shying away from resisting which is why their number has increased recently. Punjabis have resolved not to be sitting ducks to them rather retaliate fiercely. Colloquially put:

Asin chupp nahin behnde, karara jawab deyi da wa, nahin tan sir chad jaan ge. Bhaaji rakhi di nahin, ikki de katti maudi de aa.

Two incidents, one in the recent past (2012), are important.

In the first case of 2012, a group of Punjabi boys were standing at the turn of their colony (Gora Line). Some Khasi boys came in a car and shouted at them:

You outsiders (dkhar) why don’t you go home (des).

One of them alighted from the car and hit a boy with a beer bottle and fled away. The Punjabi boys called their people, got onto their motor bikes and chased them. ‘They got hold of them and thrashed them well,’ so narrates a respondent. The Khasi boys reported the case to the police. The local lady minister came to Gora Line along with the police and district officials and insisted on handing over the culprits. All residents came out of their houses and refused to hand them over. The officials kept camping there till midnight. The community leaders insisted: ‘We shall hand over our boys only if you hand over to us the Khasi boys.’ The stalemate continued for some time without any conclusive action.13

In the second case of 2004, when 40 houses of the Gora Line were gutted in fire and the residents started rebuilding their houses, the city administration found an opportunity to stall reconstruction, a step in the direction of their eviction and slum clearance. The police force was also used for this purpose. Residents apprehensive of the administration’s design resisted eviction and arrests putting up their women as shield. The Khasi boys too pelted stones on them in the presence of police. Sikhs believe that CRPF (Central Reserve Police Force) is neutral since it is not under the state government while the state police is biased against them and favours local people.

‘Our men too were ready with swords etc. in case of any eventuality’, recalls a respondent. It was the occasion of Guru Nanak gurpurab (birth anniversary) celebrations when the LPG cylinder had burst in the gurdwara kitchen. A senior resident recalls:

The reconstruction of the gurdwara too was stalled many a times but we were not relenting. Overnight we would raise the structure that finally led to its completion in many stages. That is why it was completed in 2009.

What happened above has its own history of differences, discord and distrust between the two communities. The fire that broke out in Bara Bazar on 22 March 1996 gutted many houses including a part of the Guru Nanak School. The President and the Secretary of the City Gurdwara, Shillong, mention in their representation dated 3 October 2006 to the National Commission for Minorities, New Delhi:

No Government authorities came to their assistance; only the two Gurdwaras in the city helped the victims … On top of it, the D.C. (Deputy Commissioner) East Khasi Hills District issued prohibition U/S 144 Cr.P.C. in the Colony to prevent the victim citizens from building their homestead. A Writ Petition was filed (Civil Rule No. 31 (SH) 96) … the learned Single Bench of the High Court stayed the order of D.C. and made a remand in his judgement: ‘I fail to understand why on the same day even when the fire was not put out, the District Magistrate passed the impugned order.’

The president and secretary of the CGMC and HPC, Bara Bazar had been making representations to authorities at all levels from the local police to the President of India from time to time, apprising them of their grievances but to no avail. The oft-quoted grievance as in the letter dated 25 November 2011 to the National Commission for Minorities is that

the Shillong Municipal Board, the Urban Affairs Department and its Agencies and other such authorities have always been looking down upon the community and there has been conspiracy after conspiracy to demolish the Gurudwara & Guru Nanak School and drive away the people of the colony … 14

Over these years the local leaders and administration had made announcements for their eviction and relocation. The Urban Affairs Minister reiterated on 21 August 2007:

the government was firm in its decision to shift sweepers from Sweepers Line, Mowlonghat, to the government housing units at Nongmynsong
(
The Meghalaya Guardian. 2007. “Shifting of Mawlonghat Residents will Take Place: Paul Lyngdoh,” August 22.).

But the local leaders have already challenged and condemned the government’s decision:

Government’s move to accommodate the sweepers in the Housing department’s colony at Nongmynsong was unacceptable, arguing that the colony was meant for providing housing facility to poor and homeless people.’ Moreover, ‘Nongmynsong does not fall under Shillong Municipal Board’s jurisdiction …’
(The Shillong Times. 2007. “Nongmynsong Rebuffs Paul Move on Sweepers’ Lane residents”,August 12.).

The mounting pressure of multiple factors like the local politics of insider versus outsider, the administrative moves to beautify the town and ease traffic congestion in the wake of growing tourist industry, the rising congestion within the colony and eviction of other communities over the past years may have softened the stand of the Bara Bazar residents to comply with administration by stating their terms of settling them there only in a housing colony. Thus the HPC in its meetings on 24 September and 9 October 2011 resolved the terms and conditions for the proposed residential colony. It listed 27 items and submitted the same to the Urban Affairs Minister on 20 October 2011 with copies to 18 offices starting from the President of India to the local media.15

The senior generation, as per their tradition here, especially after retirement, wishes to return to Punjab for emotional reasons (aapni dharti wa), their motherland. One respondent who retired from the Meghalaya State Electricity Board says:

Bas ji bachian karke baithe’an. Ji tan Punjab jaan nu karda wa. Othon da tan paani vi gheo vang lagda’i.
We are here for the sake of children but wish to return to Punjab.

Another 80-year-old former President of the Guwahati Municipal Sweepers’ Union with many feats to his credit is insisting on settling in Punjab. His son remarks:

I ask him to visit Punjab and be there for as long as he likes but permanent shifting is not possible. People there always look at us what have we brought for them (ki liaaye aa), at least tea if nothing else. After a few days stay, things are different … We had built three shops near Central Jail Amritsar. The occupants are neither paying us rent nor vacating. I approached the local M.L.A. (Member Legislative Assembly) (names him). He refused help, ‘We have to listen to our voters, not you.’ Then I lodged a complaint with the police. No one listens. On my insistence, the police officer tells: ‘Tusin tan baharle’on, asin tan aithon walian nu sunna’i.’ You are an outsider. We have to listen to the locals. Finally, we had to ‘strike a deal’. What do we do under such circumstances? My father doesn’t listen to me. He gets emotional (bhavuk ho janda’i). I have some business in Guwahati (vadda shehar’ai). What shall I do there (in Punjab)? No one knows me there and no employment chances as well. We are a tragic people, outsiders here and outsiders there.

All Punjabi people in the North-East are living with this dilemma, to be or not to be there. The one getting a chance to move out on the basis of education, business or employment prefers it making an excuse:

Yahan kuchh nahin hai.’
There are no opportunities here

.All others tend to stick out there under whatever circumstances. They have understood the message of the times present. They have formed associations at the level of locality and community to fight for their rights and their welfare. The data reveal that 96.0% have such associational memberships though each one does not have acumen to engage in active community politics that is the creed of 58.3% respondents only. In a way politics is imposed on them. A senior person remarks:

Changey-bhaley baithhey san, ehna ne majboor kar ditta wa.
We were happy with ourselves but threats of throwing out have forced us to show our strength and nuisance value to the local administration.

 

RESURGENCE OF SIKH IDENTITY

Punjabis now know well that ‘befitting reply’ is the only way to stay put which is why there is resurgence of the Khalsa identity though for political purposes of asserting their presence and local embeddedness. Earlier turban was supported by a few of the older generation but now the younger generation too is inclined especially between 15 and 30 years. Many of them have taken amrit, keep flowing beards and support kakar, the Sikh symbols. Bhai ji of the Last Gate Colony gurdwara informs (June 2012) that 50 boys have taken amrit recently out of which 12 are from Bara Bazar. He reiterates:

Aj bachae ziada ne dastaran wale, pehlon nahin si. Mere tinne munde sardar ne. Badi tagdi personality wa. Kise nu pata nahin lagda eh Mazhabi ne.
Now a day more youngsters are supporting turban than earlier. My three sons have the Sikh form and appear impressive. None can make out their Mazhabi status.

This seems in tune with what Stephen Harrison Oppong has observed:

Youths are more likely to struggle with identity cohesion, as they continually search for a sense of self. Basically, youths undergone this psychological journey so as to solidify and understand their experience of self as well as identifying and associating themselves with the familial, vocational and societal roles…

Religion is more likely to play significant role in identity formation in a culture where youth confront a continually fluctuating social and political milieu. Essentially, the transcendent meaning derived from religious affiliation is important for a youth identity development and well-being…

The existing literature on religion and identity is limited. However, evidence from few studies in the area suggests that religion is correlated with identity formation. For instance, religiosity is found to be relevant in explaining commitment and purposefulness in terms of identity formation. 16

The political circumstances, particularly in Shillong, are conducive to such developments whereby youth are getting ‘serious’ with regard to their religious identity. It has no contradiction with Punjabi ethnicity.

The present data show there is no one in the sample who does not believe in Guru Granth Sahib; 72.0% respondents recite gurbani while 93.2% view it on television as Punjab Television Company, a television channel telecasts daily live gurbani kirtan from Harmandar Sahib, Amritsar. All respondents actively participate in the celebration of gurpurabs and 87.5% undertake pilgrimage especially to Dhubri Sahib in Assam about 500 kms away. It is associated with the ninth Guru Tegh Bahadur. But only 30.28% respondents have reported taking amrit once and majority of them are not regular with its observation. They are loose about the prescribed rituals. The hair (kesh) are supported by 58.28% and many of them are women and elderly males. Kangha (comb) and kirpan are supported by 32.57% and there is no relation of correspondence between them. Moreover these are symbolic entities and miniatures than actual ones. Interestingly, kada (steel wristlet) is supported by all respondents. It seems for them ‘the’ symbol of Sikh identity.

Though there are sporadic cases of local marriages, 98.3% respondents perform Sikh rituals on all rites of passage of birth, marriage and death. And last of all, despite labelling of being outsiders and having a distinct identity of a Sikh/Punjabi, 94.86% respondents believe that they have no difficulty in practising their religion. This may also be attributed to their remaining ever in high spirits following the Guru’s blessings – Chardi kala of the Khalsa.

All the four major settlements of Mazhabi Sikhs at Shillong and Guwahati have their own gurdwara and a Balmik ashram and almost all respondents participate in all celebrations equally and collectively, be it a gurpurab or Balmik jayanti. Langar (free meals) is also prepared collectively and served to all. Since 2002 they have restarted organizing Sikh religious processions (nagar kirtan jaloos) with pomp and show greater than before. Respondents claimed that in 2012:

Aida vadda jaloos kade nahin niklaya. Sangat bahron wi aayee si.
Mundian’ch poora josh si.We had the biggest procession ever on Baisakhi replete with enthusiasm especially amongst youth. Sangat came from outside Shillong as well

A medium-sized goods carrier decorated with flowers all over carried the palanquin with Guru Granth Sahib. The procession was led by armed five Khalsa Sikhs, the panj piyaras. Gatka (Sikh martial art) players kept showing their agility throughout the procession. All participants brandishing naked swords with jaikaras (war cries) of Jo bole so nihal, Sat Sri Akal; Waheguru ji ka Khalsa, Waheguru ji ki fateh and Raj karega Khalsa definitely must have unnerved the local populace and administration. But it has to be understood as a means of expressing solidarity.

VIOLENCE & VALOUR

A few years ago, a letter in the name of Balwinder Singh, Regional Commander (North- East) of the onetime dreaded Babbar Khalsa International,17 an outfit highly active in Punjab militancy, was received by The Shillong Times (2007):

By the end of this month (December), we are going to explode (blast) bombs in Shillong city to take revenge on you for committing atrocities on Punjabis residing in Sweepers Colony (Punjabi Colony) in Iewduh in previous years and for India’s oppression on us.

The following day the City Gurdwara and Harijan Panchayat Committee (CG&HPC) and the Khasi Students Union (KSU) ‘strongly condemned the bomb threat to Shillong’. CG&HPC rebutted it as it is meant to ‘create undue tension between different communities’. KSU also added, ‘the students body was not afraid of “this kind of threat” and that it would continue to fight to “protect our own people”.’ Further, it called upon the ‘State Government to take the issue of influx seriously before it was too late’ 18

A young man of Gora Line reminisces:

Many Khasis were requesting us to acknowledge their innocence that they did no wrong. We are brothers.

The case of Pal Singh of Bara Bazar is also illuminating. According to files of the Department of Urban Affairs, Government of Meghalaya, Pal Singh of Sweeper Colony was extorting money from shopkeepers and misleading youth. A complaint to this effect was filed by a social worker in April 2001 and enquiry was conducted by Extra assistant commissioner, Shillong attesting to above charges. Some residents pf Punjabi Lane though remember Pal Singh’s strength and bravery. As they say that Pal Singh, aving been left as killed by some Khasi youth walked up to the hospital on his own.

The local people were terribly scared of him. He could lift a Khasiya with a single hand

It is a result of this reputation of Sikhs that the city administration too is ‘scared’ of them. A senior official of the Department of Urban Affairs narrates:

All sorts of illicit activities happen in Bara Bazar but the police dare not enter there. Once when a police party raided the colony a senior police officer too was manhandled.
The residents of this colony are considered violent and criminal, indulging in flesh trade, gambling and liquor worth lakhs of rupees into this business while the residents of Gora Line (Laitumkhrah) are more sensible, understanding and well- behaved (woh sharif hain).

19The congested houses and narrow lanes of Bara Bazar, one merging into another, are sure to confuse the outsider and that is one factor among others for administration to infer the residents’ indulgence in criminal activities.

PUNJAB CONNECTION &  PUNJABI IDENTITY

An interesting feature of this community is that they have maintained their Punjabi language and accent intact over the years. Entering the first house at Marakhali, I wondered if I was sitting in Guwahati or Gurdaspur (Punjab). Not the Majhaili Punjabi but that very typically accented regional tone and dialect was baffling.20 It is true for those even born and brought up there. It did not take me long to decipher their Punjabiat. One, they are a close-knit community based on kinship and marriage between Shillong and Guwahati, and Punjab as well. Two, they maintain strong ties – physical and socio-cultural – with Punjab. The preferred and prescribed form of marriage is arranged and that too within the community. A boy and a girl of the same residential colony may marry but they should not belong to the same village in Punjab. Moreover, it should be acceptable to all (‘sab di sahmati honi chahidi aa’). Hence area for match selection ranges from within the colony of a city to another colony in the same city, to another town/village that may extend to Punjab as well. The local match was and is preferred still since there is no cultural lag and social adjustment is easier both for the bride and the groom. The girls especially are married early.21

Over the last two decades there is change in preference for Punjab especially for marrying the daughter. A common reply is that due to increasing tension on the ‘issue of outsiders’, it is ‘safe’ to marry one’s daughter there so that one may have some foothold in Punjab in case of their exodus. A respondent suggests:

Eh rujhan 1996 ton vadhiya wa.
This trend has caught up since 1996.

It sounds plausible in this context but a similar practice was followed earlier too. Many respondents have their father’s sister(s) (bhua) too married in Punjab. It was almost a norm that one of the children preferably a girl is married in Punjab. Hence there is twofold characterization within the community, of being a Sikh and a Punjabi, though a Sikh. The latter term denotes a bride or groom from Punjab.The data inform that 62.30% respondents’ mothers belong to the Sikh and 33.14% to the Punjabi community. The corresponding figures for respondents’ wives are 65.0 and 27.14%, respectively. Quite paradoxically with the opening up of the Indian economy and society with liberalization, privatization, and globalization and media revolution, we find the Guwahati-Shillong Sikh community has not opened up further as 73.07% daughters-in-law belong to the Sikh and 26.93% Punjabi community. The share of other communities in making marital partners of the mothers’ generation is 4.56%, which increases to 7.86% in the case of wives but gets confounded with the new generation since there is not a single daughter-in-law from outside the Sikh community. From mothers to wives and to daughters-in-law there is a slide from 95.44% Sikh to 92.14% and an ascent to 100.0% Sikh.

Why do the Mazhabis refuse to open up in the era of globalization? The case of the sons-in-law is no different with 90.0% Sikh and 10.0% Punjabi, making the total 100.0% Sikh for the present generation.This characterization of the self as local and the other though internally belonging to Punjab is suggestive of their embeddedness or at least such willingness despite odds. And it is in consonance with the characterization of Mazhabis as Punjabis and other Sikhs of other castes as Sikhs, hence their locality as Punjabi colony. The ‘other’ Sikhs who are affluent do support them financially even if they keep distance from them. It is not only due to their numerical strength but their fighting spirit that they are supported.

Their indulgence in physical violence is quite a deterrent to the locals (khasi)  and hence security of high caste and upper class Sikhs. In rural Punjab a Mazhabi worker with a big peasant is often ‘used’ to carry out the revenge for him for some money and liquor or a mere pat on his back (halasheri). Interestingly, the Mazhabi Sikhs of Shillong and Guwahati are not bothered about their dual identity of being a Sikh and a Balmiki. On the contrary, more youth are taking amrit and adopting the Sikh form.

The heads of households are usually men. Women take up this responsibility in case of husband’s death. Though some of them did belong to other communities like Nepali, Khasi, Assamese, all of them converted to Sikh religion at the time of marriage. The husbands of 89.45% respondents belong to the Sikh and 10.55% to Punjabi community. There is none from another community.

Selecting a match from Punjab seems more a case of compulsion than choice for two reasons. The looming insecurity of being driven out of the state now hangs more on their minds than before. It is a usual reply:

Pata nahin ji kadon kadd den. Aithon de halat eho jehe ne. You never know when you may be expelled from here. The situation is like that.

That is why they prefer to have some foothold, a close kin in Punjab, hence match-fixing. But either taking a bride or a groom from Punjab becomes problematic in terms of socio-cultural adjustment. The educated girls of Shillong and Guwahati in an otherwise socio-culturally liberal milieu of the North-East do not fit into the patriarchal and caste-dominated mindset of families in Punjab. An elderly lady quips:

Othhon te aithon da bada pharak ai ji.
There is a big difference between two cultures (Punjab and the North-East).

But when a local match is not available, there is no option. Himadri Banerjee too quotes a respondent:

The reason is that their girls find it difficult to adjust in the Punjab and brides from the Punjab are not able to adjust in Assam … when she was brought into the Marakhali Colony, she found it awkward and miserable. It was slowly after she had chil- dren that she was somehow able to assimilate herself into the ‘culture’ of the slum settlement.

It is invariably that a daughter is married in Punjab. It is easy to find a better match for them since the metropolitan girls are smart and they can give relatively good dowry. In many cases both parents are employed, which is not so in Punjab. Now it is virtually a rule to marry one daughter in Punjab.

Why do they not prefer a local son-in-law? Isn’t marrying a daughter in Punjab economically taxing for the whole life? Yet it is in practice. An old man replies:

Aithon de saare munde nashedi ne.
All local (Sikh) boys take drugs.

But to a counter poser that situation is no better in Punjab as liquor/drugs is referred to as the sixth river there, a quick reply is:

Makhi dekh ke ni nigali jandi.
One cannot take a dish with a fly.

Those in Punjab at least are out of sight.

These reasons seem plausible but a look at data across generations reveals that there is a difference though but not significant enough especially for later generations. If 33.14% respondents’ mothers were from Punjab, the percentage of their wives comes down to 27.14% and that of their daughters-in-law to 26.93%. None is giving a satisfactory response to this question – why are daughters married in Punjab? More fieldwork is required on the subject especially to make sense of marrying sisters in Punjab when all brothers and other relations are at Shillong and Guwahati only.

It is interesting that despite numerous socio-economic and political odds they keep ties with Punjab strong and kicking. The geographical distance too is significant, costing time and money. The better offs make it a point to visit Punjab once in two or three years:

Har saal tan nahin, do-tinn salan’ch tan parvar naal ja aayida wa
If not annually atleast in three years we visit our Punjab family

88.57% respondents have close family links in Punjab and 91.43% have visited there at least thrice. Once again it is father’s sister(s) that make the ancestral homeland connection in majority cases than paternal kin. Their kin in Punjab hardly ever visit them. On asking why, a respondent replies:

Its not easy. It involves lots of money.
Nale saak sambandhian nu milaayi da wa. Only we go there to see kinsmen.

Another aspect of the Punjab connection of the respondents is that the first-generation migrants employed and getting regular salary during times when money was virtually illusive and village economy was largely barter, sent home their savings to help parents as also to buy some property like a plot of land etc. The renovation and/or extension of the house would enhance the family status and reputation of the migrant. It must have been considered more worthwhile an investment than spending on self in an alien society where they worked as safai karamcharis and lived in government barracks. Once an investment is made then property requires up-keeping and maintenance necessitating frequent trips to Punjab, hence a common reply:

Jaidad di sambh- sambhal vi tan karni hoi.
There is noone to look after the property

The nonresident Punjabis of Doaba too have made huge investments in large residences in their ancestral villages that remain locked till a family returns once in two-three years and stays for a week at best. These mansions are looked after by a caretaker put up in a garage.

Besides the personal contact with Punjab and Punjabi culture this connection is also taken care of by the media technology. The mobile phone comes very handy in this respect besides the internet and television. Punjabi songs, films and other programmes play an important role. A senior respondent informs:

Sara din mohalle’ch Punjabi gaun hi chalde aa.
Whole day they keep playing Punjabi songs.

The data show that 94.3% respondents listen to Punjabi songs and an exactly matching number watch Punjabi programmes on their television sets. The number of those who watch Punjabi films is slightly lower (92.57%). The beat of these songs is so enamouring that local youth too dance to these tunes.

No doubt that the respondents and their dependents know Hindi, Axomiya and Khasi languages as well but Punjabi is their lingua franca. 86.85% respondents speak Punjabi at home while 59.43% speak outside as well. Respondents’ wives are not behind them in counting at 84.3% Punjabi speakers. The respondents do not fare well on the writing scale as they are a meagre 1.14% for Punjabi only while 26.86% do so in Punjabi and Hindi. On the contrary, 30.86% write in Hindi only while 24.57% combine it with English. However, 12% can write in more than two languages. So we may say their literacy rate is 95.43% that is higher than the local averages and much higher than their counterpart in Punjab.33

It is interesting to note that low-caste Mazhabi Sikhs settled in North-East India have neither changed their occupation nor caste identity over the last one century. They have created space for themselves and stick their neck out by reasserting their ethnic and religious identities in a socio-political milieu manifestly hostile to them as ‘outsiders’. Their affinity to Punjabi language and culture too is remarkably intact.

 

Acknowledgement

Thanks are due to Professor Himadri Banerjee for his comments on the paper.

Funding

National Commission for Minorities, New Delhi and Punjabi University, Patiala, are to be thanked for supporting the project on Socio-Economic Conditions of Dakhani Sikhs in Particular and Minority Sikh Communities Settled in South and North-East India.

http://raiot.in/

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‘Speech will be forgotten, visuals Will Remain’: says Pranab’s daughter

A day before Pranab Mukherjee addresses an RSS event in Nagpur, the former president’s daughter and Congress leader Sharmistha Mukherjee on Wednesday, 6 June, disapproved of his decision, saying he was giving the BJP and the Sangh a handle to plant false stories, as his “speech will be forgotten” but the “visuals will remain”.

Taking to Twitter, she hoped the former president would realise how the BJP’s “dirty tricks department” works and said that with his visit, he was giving the BJP and RSS “full handle to plant false stories”.

Ahmed Patel

@ahmedpatel

I did not expect this from Pranab da ! https://twitter.com/sharmistha_gk/status/1004380682712334336 

She also warned her father of the consequences of attending such a meet.

Her outburst came soon after rumours about her joining the BJP cropped up ahead of Mukherjee’s visit to Nagpur on Thursday, 7 June.

She dismissed such “rumours” of her joining the BJP as “false” and alleged they were the handiwork of BJP’s “dirty tricks department”.

She said she would rather leave politics than quit the Congress.

“Hope @CitiznMukherjee now realises from todays’ incident, how BJP dirty tricks dept operates. Even RSS wouldn’t believe that u r going 2 endorse its views in ur speech. But the speech will be forgotten, visuals will remain & those will be circulated with fake statements.

Sharmistha Mukherjee

@Sharmistha_GK

Hope @CitiznMukherjee now realises from todays’ incident, how BJP dirty tricks dept operates. Even RSS wouldn’t believe that u r going 2 endorse its views in ur speech. But the speech will be forgotten, visuals will remain & those will be circulated with fake statements. 1/2

“@CitiznMukherjee By going 2 Nagpur, u r giving BJP/RSS full handle 2 plant false stories, spread falls rumours as 2day & making it somewhat believable. And this is just d beginning!” she said on Twitter.

Sharmistha Mukherjee

@Sharmistha_GK

.@CitiznMukherjee By going 2 Nagpur, u r giving BJP/RSS full handle 2 plant false stories, spread falls rumours as 2day & making it somewhat believable. And this is just d beginning! 2/2

The former president’s official Twitter handle is @CitiznMukherjee.

Mukherjee would be visiting the RSS headquarters on Thursday, 7 June, and would address a function there.

The visit has already given rise to a lot of speculation and a host of Congress leaders have urged the former president to review his decision for the sake of secularism.

Sharmistha Mukherjee, who is out of the city on a holiday, took to Twitter to swiftly deny the rumours, which appeared amid a row over her father accepting an invite to address the RSS event.

Rubbishing the rumours, she said on Twitter: “In the mountains enjoying a beautiful sunset, and suddenly this news that I’m supposedly joining BJP hits like a torpedo! Can’t there be some peace and sanity in this world? I joined politics because I believe in Congress. Would rather leave politics than leave Congress,” she tweeted.

Sharmistha Mukherjee

@Sharmistha_GK

In the mountains enjoying a beautiful sunset, & suddenly this news that I’m supposedly joining BJP hits like a torpedo! Can’t there be some peace & sanity in this world? I joined politics because I believe in @INCIndia Wud rather leave politics than leave Congress

Delhi Congress chief Ajay Maken also rejected such suggestions, saying Sharmistha Mukherjee is a “devoted” Congress person.

“In reply to certain rumors-Just spoke to @Sharmistha_GK , who is out of Delhi- She is a devoted Congress Person and firmly believes in the ideology of @INCIndia. She told me, that she is in politics, just because of her firm faith in the ideology of the Congress Party,” he wrote on Twitter.

Ajay Maken

@ajaymaken

In reply to certain rumors-Just spoke to @Sharmistha_GK , who is out of Delhi-

She is a devoted Congress Person and firmly believes in the ideology of @INCIndia .

She told me, that she is in politics, just because of her firm faith in the ideology of the Congress Party.

Sharmistha Mukherjee, who is president of Mahila Congress as well as in-charge of the communication department of Delhi unit, had joined the party in 2014.

She had also contested Delhi Assembly elections from Greater Kailash seat in 2015 and lost to AAP leader Saurabh Bhardwaj.

https://in.news.yahoo.com/speech-forgotten-visuals-remain-pranab-190035759.html

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Nobel Peace Laureates- Shirin Ebadi Urges Trial of Aung San Suu Kyi

Iranian Nobel Peace Laureate Urges Trial of Myanmar Leader, Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi

Sena Guler | Anadolu Agency – TRANSCEND Media Service

Shirin Ebadi reminds de facto leader of Myanmar the moral and legal responsibility of Rohingya genocide.

Iranian human rights advocate and Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi

31 May 2018 – Iranian human rights advocate and Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi today called for a trial in an international court for Myanmar’s de facto leader and military generals.

Ebadi said in a statement: “I wish that Aung San Suu Kyi, as the leader of the party in power, and the Myanmar generals are tried in an international and impartial court for the accusations of committing genocide in Myanmar.”

“That is the message I will convey to a diverse gathering of French citizens and politicians, international lawyers and rights activists, as well as Rohingya refugees at the Assemble Nationale (French Lower House) in Paris this coming Friday,” she said, referring to an international conference slated for June 1 where Ebadi will deliver a keynote speech.

Stating that the Rohingya were the world’s largest stateless people, Ebadi said they have been subjected to a “slow genocide”.

Sharing her experiences when she traveled to the Bangladeshi borders together with other rights activists Mairead Maguire from Northern Ireland and Tawakkol Karman from Yemen, Ebadi said they met 100 Rohingya women and girls who “survived and/or witnessed systematic ‘gang rape by command’” before they could flee Myanmar security forces between August 2017 and March 2018.

“We did not fail to take note that the tales of first-hand horrors formed a pattern, even though the victims and witnesses we spoke to were drawn from a diverse geographic and familial backgrounds across Myanmar’s killing fields of Northern Rakhine,” she added.

Ebadi went on to say that the Myanmar military had “institutionalized and popularized” the idea that the indigenous Muslim population living near the border with Bangladesh is “the greatest threat to national security”, since the early 1960s.

Islamophobia

“Aung San Suu Kyi [Myanmar’s de facto leader] herself has fallen prey to the Islamophobia,” Ebadi said.

Suu Kyi presides over a party which “cleansed itself of Muslim representation” and promoted the point of view that “Myanmar military was only defending the country against Muslim ‘terrorism’,” she added.

She slammed Suu Kyi for dismissing incidents of sexual violence, such as public stripping of Rohingya women, as “made-up stories”.

“The UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy on sexual violence Primila Patten of Mauritius has also gone public with her exasperation over Suu Kyi’s refusal to engage substantively on the issue of Burmese military’s systematic sexual violence against literally thousands of Rohingya women and girls – many of whom did not make it to Cox Bazaar’s camps,” Ebadi added.

She also warned the de facto leader of the country that she should know that “inactivity in the face of genocidal actions can carry moral and legal responsibility”.

Ebadi recalled the protests she organized in favor of Suu Kyi, when was under house arrest.

“Now Suu Kyi is in the commanding heights of power. And it astonishes me how someone who has been an activist and subject to tyranny herself for years, now with her silence approves the atrocities that is upon unarmed innocent people.”

Persecution of Rohingya

Since Aug. 25, 2017, more than 750,000 refugees, mostly children, and women have fled Myanmar and crossed into Bangladesh after Myanmar forces launched a crackdown on the minority Muslim community, according to Amnesty International.

At least 9,400 Rohingya were killed in Rakhine from Aug. 25 to Sept. 24 last year, according to Doctors Without Borders.

In a recent report, the humanitarian group said the deaths of 71.7 percent or 6,700 Rohingya were caused by violence. They include 730 children below the age of 5.

The Rohingya, described by the UN as the world’s most persecuted people, have faced heightened fears of attack since dozens were killed in communal violence in 2012.

The UN documented mass gang rapes, killings — including of infants and young children — brutal beatings, and disappearances committed by security personnel.

In a report, UN investigators said such violations may have constituted crimes against humanity.

Go to Original – aa.com.tr

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People Representing 45 NGOs Protest in Malaysia Against Visit by Modi

 

Demonstrators hold up placards protesting the visit of India Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Putrajaya on Thursday.– Photo Courtesy: Malay Mail

Many held up placards that read “Modi go home” and condemned the incidents of lynching Muslims by Hindu-rights mobs.

Web Report

PUTRAJAYA — A group of 50 people claiming to represent 45 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) demonstrated against Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his visit to Perdana Putra on Thursday, accusing him of forcing Hinduism on his home nation, say press reports.

Many held up placards that read “Modi go home” and condemned the incidents of lynching Muslims by Hindu-rights mobs.

A spokesperson for the NGOs Bazeer Ahmad Mohamed Ibrahim expressed hope that Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamed would take considerable note of their memo.

“In India, the lowest caste (Dalits) and those from the minority groups such as the Muslims, Christians and Buddhists have been subjected to endless persecution by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) which is aligned to Modi’s political party.

“I hope Mahathir would speak up against such tyranny, killings and oppression having been given the second chance to rule the country,” he told reporters prior to handing the memo to representatives at the PMO.

“Many Malaysians don’t know what’s going on there. We Indians know. Muslims there (in India) are forced, threatened and paid to change religion. These things should not have happened, especially among the lower caste who are being sidelined on many levels, including economically.

“They (Muslims) are considered as pariahs in India where they are oppressed,” Bazeer claimed.

Historically, India has practised a caste system although discrimination based on this is considered illegal in the country.

The group also submitted a memorandum to the Prime Minister’s Office asking Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad to relay their message to Modi and to inform the latter that his purported agenda would never be adopted here.

People Representing 45 NGOs Protest in Malaysia Against Visit by Modi

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