Communalism Combat  
  - Archives  
  - Feedback  
  - Subscription  
 - Advertising
 - Other Publications
 - Combat Themes


  - About Khoj  
  - Teaching Tolerance  
  - Khoj for Teachers  
  - History  
 - Quiz for Kids
 - Articles on Khoj



Communalism Combat -- Themes


Punish the guilty

(1) Sounds of silence- August 1994

Is the trial of the accused in the March 1993, bomb blast case which killed around 300 people, being played up in comparison to the riots probe which claimed over 1300 lives, both in the city of Bombay? 

The Srikrishna Commission Report has been conveniently sidelined by the press, causing widespread unawareness among the people with regards to the incontrovertible evidence of dereliction of duty and widespread charges of anti Muslim bias against sections of the city police during the Bombay riots   

Ms. Dina Vakil, Resident Editor, The Times of India, agreed with the above mentioned fact but said that it was because of the shortage of staff and also because “not too much was happening on a day to day basis within the commission.” However she does not deny that the general media malady of highlighting sensational events rather than important social issues, is also a contributing factor. 

The cross examination of Police Inspector, Dilip M. Tipnis, in the Hari Masjid case directly points at the callous attitude of the police. Excerpts from the deposition reveal that police firing was aimed mainly at Muslims.

Rajasthan – November 2001
The nexus between RSS, BD and VHP has resulted in something as grave as the systematic distribution of a few hundred thousand ‘trishuls’ in Rajasthan. These parties have taken upon themselves to “defend the nation with swords in their hands.”

The trishul is exempt from the provisions of Indian law on the ground that it is a religious symbol. But is such an exemption justified, especially if it is used as a terror tool?

From the Trishul Diksha Samaroh to publishing pamphlets carrying inflammatory speeches, everything is well taken care of by the BD and the VHP.

Chief minister, Ashok Gehlot wrote to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, demanding a ban on the Bajrang Dal. However ten years of BJP rule under Bhairon Singh Shekhawat have thoroughly communalised the administration and the police.

Apart from this there is a serious bid in Rajasthan to engineer Dalit-Muslim and Muslim-Tribal conflicts, in order to serve the upper and middle caste motives to foment violence. The Gujjar community, which so far had no political lineage, is gradually drifting towards the RSS Shakhas. Dargahs that are symbols of syncretic worship are attacked and soon after this, the administration, the aggressors and most of the local media start referring to them as Poojasthals. Most IAS and IPS officers do not refrain from flaunting their political affiliations. All these subtle indications play a very important role in instilling immense fear in the minds of the religious minorities.

In Rajasthan, a silver lining in an otherwise bleak scenario is the Sampradayik Sadbhav Manch, an initiative of citizens that has been interacting closely with the state government. Bringing the guilty to book in a spate of incidents that have rocked Rajasthan, however, remains a formidable yet crucial task. 

Against the Law – May 2003
Pravin Togadia, a cancer specialist maybe, is most often than not responsible for spreading the very same disease, the cancer of communalism.

He is the self-acclaimed, International General Secretary of the VHP. Recently in one of his meetings in March, the inflammatory speeches made by him, completely against the Indian Constitution, bear witness to the administration’s mute spectatorship. He takes pride in condemning Mahatma Gandhi and is whole heartedly trying to convince the Hindu population that as long as India doesn’t become a Hindu Rashtra, the interests of Hindus who constitute the majority, will be in danger. It is no surprise then that he perceives secular people as a threat to his “cause.”

At the Roha Dharma Sabha addressed by Swami Dharmendra, the atmosphere was far from being religious. The swami did not hold back while saying that “all jehadis are Muslims and vice-versa; so they must be destroyed just as Shivaji did with Afzal Khan.” And “ if the Muslims want to live here, they can do so provided they all become Hindus.”

But some serious questions that remain unanswered are, such sabhas cost money: where is the money coming from? Why is the government and district administration giving permission for such sabhas to be held in this state when they are clearly intended to inflame passions and ignite strong emotions against Muslim?

By now Togadia has managed to defy most of the laws listed under the Indian Penal Code with regards to hate speeches. And yet the judiciary hasn’t been able to take any stringent action.

Instead of progressing towards an egalitarian society, we are allowing people such as Togadia to complete the task left unfinished by Hitler and Mussolini. Its high time Praveen Togadia realised that Hindu gods never trusted their devotees with weapons.   

Partition – April 1998

Award winning writer Suketu Mehta, met some elderly Sikhs on the Indo-Pak border and returned with moving accounts of revenge and remorse of the last 50 years.

He met Gurdev Singh a 70 year old Sikh man. Gurdev Singh started narrating what he did 50 years ago. Trains coming from across the border, stopped at Attari, which is the first stop on the Indian side. Gurdev singh used to go to the station to give buttermilk and water to the refugees. A train would come thrice a week from Pakistan, loaded with bodies. Gurdev singh would drag the bodies off the trains and perform mass cremations. Three times a week Gurdev Singh saw what the Muslims had done to Hindu and Sikh men, women, children.

One day during partition, an old Sikh man in a village near Attari was murdered by some Muslims. Gurdev was a student then and he gathered 10 Sikh men, four from his own family to seek vengeance. But took an oath that they would not harm women and children. They went to the Muslim part of the village. Gurdev Singh did not tell the writer what happened next. “My mind went mad for one day,” is all that he said.

Next morning he got a friend of his, Balbir Singh, who was part of the band of ten men.

He did not hesitate to give a detailed account of the massacre carried out efficiently by the Sikh band that claimed one third of  the people in that particular village but the remorse was clearly evident on his face. He was weeping profusely and said “ I don’t get angry on anybody else but myself …”   

The Road Not Taken – Feb 2003
“ If the battle for secularism continues to be fought on present lines, we are destined to lose” said Arif Mohammad Khan, former union minister. He feels and rightly so that the large majority of Indians are not communal and have no affiliation whatsoever with the Sangh Parivar. But the problem arises when the organisations raising their voice against the Sangh Parivar, go and join hands with the Muslim League. Not only do these parties lose their credibility, the secular principle itself comes into question.

Digvijay Singh, Chief Minister, M.P., spoke to Teesta Setalvad on a telephonic interview and said that “The VHP has never constructed a temple. It is only interested in disputed sites! Why? Because that way they can amass funds from abroad!” However these statements do not pacify the discomfort among secularists because lately he has resorted to the soft Hindutva strategy.

On the other hand Sitaram Yechuri, member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of India-Marxists says that “The state must stay aloof from religion.” Only then will the move towards the restoration of genuine secularism begin.

Dr. Tulsiram who is an expert on Russian, Central and East European politics, feels that the trend among Dalits to collaborate with the BJP is dangerous and has diverted them away  from what should also be their prime struggle: fighting for secularism. This process has been ably abetted by some Dalit intellectuals who crack crude jokes about secular ideas. Dr. Ambedkar had clearly stated that Dalits should never collaborate with the Hindu Mahasabha and the RSS.

 Kamal Mitra Chinoy, a teacher at JNU, Delhi, is of the opinion that the BJP’s current moves to vacate the supreme court stay on religious ceremonies near the Babri Masjid site, and the proposed bill to ban cow slaughter, starkly highlight that secularism is under assault as never before.                 

Denying A Shared Past – April 1999
In early December 1998, the RSS, VHP, Bajrang Dal and activists of the BJP organised a series of rath yatras that criss-crossed the entire length and breadth of Karnataka, culminating in a rally outside the ancient Sufi shrine of Dada Mir Hayat Qalandar, high up in the Baba Budhangiri hills of Chikmagalur district. Their demand: that the shrine be converted into a Hindu temple and the present Muslim custodian of the shrine, Pir Sayyed Muhammed Shah Qadri be replaced by a Hindu priest. Yoginder Sikand, an academic currently doing research at Henry Martin Institute of Islamic Studies, Hyderabad, gives a chronology of events that instigated the demand made my the Hindutvavadis.

Apart from this, in 1986, Shiv Sena kicked up a controversy over the Haji Malang Dargah

at Kalyan, claiming that it was actually a site of a 700 year old Machindranath temple.

If the Sangh Parivar raises disputes over places of worship and shrines of saints to heighten the “us” v/s “them“ feeling among Hindus, the Tablighi Jamaat has been equally active in recent years in fuelling isolationist sentiments among Muslims. The serious long term damage that the Tablighis can cause to inter-community relations is phenominal. Instead of finding solutions to the problems of mass illiteracy among Muslims, of growing poverty and the decline in their social status, Jamaat leaders are only concerned with teaching ill-informed Muslims to forget this world and concentrate all their life after death.

The growing animosity between the two communities is solely because of such external forces like the Hindutva activists and the Tablighs. Most people think Islam came to India as an invading force. That there were such invasions is an undeniable part of history. But few people know that he first Muslims had come much earlier, and were welcome here. There was a lot of Arab-Indian interaction, in fact Prophet Mohammed had even named his daughter Hind.   

Indo-Pak Peace
Bangla Hindus-December 2001

As a minority community, sharing a language and religion with the Indian populations of West Bengal, Hindus have been subjected to discriminatory practices or attacks by Muslim groups in Bangladesh. So far none of the governments in power have done anything to protect the interests of the Bangla Hindus.

They tend to support parties such as the Awami League and become soft targets of those groups who are against the Awami League. Recently before the general elections of October 2001, Hindus were systematically targetted and were threatened by the BNP led alliance not to vote. The attackers entered Hindu homes, beaten members of the family, looted their property and in some cases raped women. These atrocities often force hundreds of Hindu families to flee across the border into India. Human rights organisations in Bangladesh believe over 100 women may have been subjected to rape and the perpetrators have mainly been members of the BNP or its coalition partner, Jamaat-e-Islami.

Amnesty International has raised few valid demands with the government of Bangladesh, in order to ensure the security of the Hindus in Bangladesh.

As is often the case in India, both the care-taker government that supervised the elections and the new government led by Begum Khaleda Zia and the police machinery did precious little to stop the killing of Bangla Hindus, rape of their women and the loot and arson of their property. It has fallen to the lot of independent women’s organistions, human rights groups and other civil society actors to stand by Bangladesh’s victimised minority and demand justice. The Bangla Hindus are nothing but pawns in the power game and become the inevitable target since in popular perception, they are seen as a vote bank for the Awami League.

Amnesty International.

Kashmir – How Green Is My Valley – May 1998
The killing of innocent Hindus by Pakistan trained mercenaries in J&K is one more bid to convert the Kashmiriyat issue into a Hindu-Muslim problem.

The migration of Kashmiri Pandits from the valley after they had received threats in the name of Hizbul Mujahideen in 1989-90, remains one of the major tragedies of the Kashmiri population. But the question that is raised today is whether history will repeat itself and will there be another migration?

The recent threats are reminiscent of similar ones received by Kashmiri Pandits in 1989-1990 when each family had received threatening calls, letters and even notices in the local papers asking them to leave the valley.

There are several factors contributing to the complex nature of the Kashmir problem that is becoming increasingly intractable. The only logical way out would

 be through talks, but neither India, nor Pakistan, nor the Kashmiris have shown much flexibility in deciding upon the modalities of the dialogue.

 The starkest lesson the Kashmir problem holds for those interested in preserving India’s unity is the pressing need to ensure a people-oriented development.    

Rajya Sabha MP and a staunch defendant of the people’s rights, Kuldip Nayar said, “My impression is that militancy has been more or less defeated. Therefore the ISI-sponsored part of the movement knows it cannot succeed unless it divides the movement communally.” In the midst of state callousness and connivance and militant bestiality, the real ray of hope for Nayar is that despite sustained provocation and brutalisation, the people have not allowed themselves to get divided.  Nayar strongly feels that the government of India must honour its commitment under Section 370 of the constitution and go back to the state assembly with all the legislation extended by the centre to the state, with all the laws implemented after 1952-’53 and leave it to them to decide which they want to keep or abrogate.

By Teesta Setalvad.      

The Talibanisation of Kashmir – November 1999
Post-Kargil, imported Mujahideen are pedalling a Talibanised Islam in the valley. And succeeding in good measure, thanks to the unholy nexus between the BJP-led government at the centre and an unscrupulous National Conference in the state.

The Kashmiri movement has, as a result, and very unfortunately, been virtually taken over by outsiders. The Jamaat-e-Islami has never had any faith in the Kashmiri brand of a more liberal Islam. A more standardised version of Islam is being offered to the local population that is completely out of sync with the region, with kashmiriyat, a characteristic that typified the movement before.

Just like the RSS and the BJP have assumed the sole monopoly on the Indian point of view, the Kashmiri protest movement has increasingly been epitomised by a Pakistani, Muslim fundamentalist flavour. Pakistan’s prime concern is not the annexation of the valley but the converting of the liberal minded Kashmiri Muslims into ‘Pucca Mussalmans.’

Pseudo historians are trying to rewrite the cultural and social history of Kashmir. A strong lobby has been created to sell the theory that the Kashmiri race is not of Aryan but Semitic origin and that its cultural manifestations are not its own and indigenous, but largely or even fully borrowed from Central Asia.

After the last elections a very stable and dangerous triangle has emerged after the last elections. The three points in the triangle are Farooq Abdullah, the BJP (driven by the extremist RSS) and the Hurriyat (now openly supported by a pro-Pakistan , Jamaat-e-Islami). While the three points of this triangle appear to oppose each other, they are in fact supporting each other. Hindu communalism supports Muslim communalism and an opportunistic National Conference makes political gain for itself, crucially dependant as it is on both the extremes. No points ever threaten each other , they depend on the other for their own survival.

By Balraj Puri.

Gujarat -- Split wide open – Feb 2001
Nature was undiscriminating in the staggering death and devastation it wrought on Gujarat. But as international and national aid pours in, disturbing reports of caste, class and communal bias in the distribution continue to surface. Among other things, this could mean scant attention to the rehabilitation of craftsmen from worst-hit Kutch – a region famed for its rich and vivid handicraft tradition.

There have been constant complaints from the other parts of the state as well-especially Saurashtra and Surendranagar districts. Activists from the VHP and RSS have allegedly been insisting that irrespective of their religion, all must chant ‘Jai Shri Ram’ before they are given food at the relief camps. When Vaghela, the minister for social welfare in the state cabinet, toured his constituency, he crudely ignored Muslim-dominated areas. He was accused by local residents of insisting that the RSS get credit for the material distributed in relief.

A disaster, be it a super cyclone or an earthquake of high intensity, is normally believed to be a natural phenomenon. But the role of nature does not extend beyond the immediate happening of the disaster.  Then ‘humans’ take over, those ‘humans’ who exercise the powers of the state and who decide how to make use of its resources in what situation.

Whether it is the super cyclone of Orissa or the earthquake of Gujarat, these greater mortals get ample oppurtunity to redesign and work out their own political and economic agenda. They are undoubtedly the direct beneficiaries of any disaster. The Gujarat earthquake has exposed one such group of beneficiaries – the BJP-led NDA government at the centre.   

By – Teesta Setalvad

Welcome to Hindu Rashtra – October 1998
Gujarat today, is under a pall of dreadful darkness. In the last six months the saffron brigade has unleashed a reign of terror in the land of the Mahatma, the prime targets being Christians and Muslims. Who is responsible for this and why? These are some of the questions that a fact-finding group of independent journalists and street theatre activists from Delhi tried to find answers to.

Whatever is happening in Gujarat today is part of a well laid strategy of ‘religious cleansing’ of the minorities in the state by the forces of Hindutva.

In an interview with Teesta Setalvad, Gujarat’s Director General of Police, C.P. Singh, said that the investigations have revealed that in most cases the allegations made by the VHP and Bajrang Dal were entirely baseless. The incidents at Randhikpur town in Panchmahal district, where two women were allegedly kidnapped by Muslim youths and terror unleashed on the Muslims of the village by the VHP and Bajrang Dal workers.investigations have revealed that the women had eloped with these youths of their own volition and one of them had married her lover.

In a news item that appeared in Vishwa Hindu Parishad News, in April 1998, originally in Gujarati, clearly states that Christian missionaries are actively working to convert Hindus in thousands in Gujarat. It also said that the claim to heal people through prayers is simply a hoax meant to mislead poor and simple people in order to convert them to Christianity. All this just in order to incite passion among the Hindus and gain political mileage.

Following over 40 complaints of violence against Christians and Muslims, filed with the National Minorities Commission, it has demanded action against the guilty. In spite of the statutory recommendations to the government by the Commission, all we need to do is wait and watch when the government actually initiates any action against the culprits. 

Gender Justice/UCC
Justice denied – Feb 2000
Seven years ago, India’s Christians told the Union government they were ready for sweeping changes  in their outdated personal laws to make it gender just. The community now plans an all-India campaign to demand prompt legislation from the BJP-led NDA government.

 As is well known, all religion-specific family laws in India – pertaining to marriage, divorce, maintenance, succession, adoption – are heavily biased against women. In the case of the Christian personal laws, the Indian Divorce Act 1869 (IDA 1869) and the Christian Marriage Act 1872, are in particular and urgent need of change. However terrible and traumatic her marriage may be, it is virtually impossible for a Christian woman to get a divorce under the provisions of the IDA.

The issue of reforming existing laws was first raised by Protestant groups who have been asking successive governments for a new Christian Marriage Act. But initially there was resistance from the Catholic Bishops Conference of India (CBCI), the all-India religious body which represents Roman Catholics, the largest group of Christians in India. This is because for them once marriage is consummated, no power on earth could dissolve that bond. The consensus for change within the Christian community was arrived at after extensive dialogue, discussion and debate in which a large number of organisations, representing both the clergy and the laity of different denominations, were involved. But the then Law Minister, H.R. Bharadwaj said that that the policy of the government has been not to interfere in the personal laws of the minority community, unless the initiative came from the community itself. In spite of the fact that the different church denominations have sent letters supporting the proposed bills, nothing has been done. It has been four years now and for some inexplicable reason, successive governments at the centre have been reluctant to act. In the process, Christian women continue to suffer.

India’s shame – may 2000

Fifty years after the constitution proclaimed equality for all Indians, over 160 million Dalits continue to be victims of a ‘hidden apartheid’, treated as untouchables and worse.

The National Campaign for Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR), was launched on 10th December 1998, in conjunction with the 50th anniversary of our country’s independence and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is a platform led by Dalit human rights activists with support and solidarity from movements and organisations committed to women, labour and human rights, as well as academicians, intellectuals and other organisations and institutions throughout the country who uphold that “Dalit rights are human rights.”

Dalits in an overwhelming majority of the villages in this country live in segregated villages and even experiments like the so called ‘harmony villages’ have ended up with caste riots. The situation is so grave that, incidents have been brought to light where a new class of Dalits are arrested under section 109 IPC and they are kept in jail – until they clean up the vomit, the excreta, clean the jail completely. Then the cases are dropped till the jail needs another clean up.

So much so that in Rajasthan, one Dalit woman is raped every 60 hours, one Dalit is murdered every nine days, one Dalit suffers grievous injuries every 65 hours, one Dalit household suffers an arson attack every 5 days and other IPC offences are registered against a Dalit every 4 hours.

According to Ruth Manorama, founder of Women’s Voice and the Dalit Women’s Federation, “Indian women need to free themselves from caste bondage.” She feels, caste oppression, class oppression and gender oppression are the triple burden of Dalit women.
By Henri Tiphagne

Hidden apartheid – April 2001  
The continuance of manual scavenging, untouchability and other obnxious practices do not seem to bother the Indian establishment, the intelligentsia included. What does disturb them deeply is the campaign of Dalits to have the indignities of caste recognised internationally as a distinct form of racism. Apart from the Indian government, several academics, individuals and groups have also voiced serious concern over what, in their perception, is a Dalit move to link caste to race.

According to Andre Beteille, anthropologist, “the practice of untouchability is indeed reprehensible and must be condemned by one and all; but that does not mean that we must begin to regard it as a form of racial discrimination.”

It is to racism, and not the theory of race, that the Dalit movement as a whole seeks to link its condition and demand world understanding, international condemnation and, yes, support.

The questions raised by Ambedkar decades ago are relevant even now. They are questions about prejudicial and discriminatory methods of production and social relations, methods and relations based on principles of exclusion, denial and humiliation that have existed within the Indian sub-continent for 3,000 years, even before the British arrived.

The world has seen a variety of exclusions, xenophobias and intolerances that have resulted in the genocide of the different sections of the people. The plight of Bosnia and the Bosnian people in the very heart of Europe is an example. 

By teesta setalvad.

Thrice oppressed – May 2001
According to Justice P.N. Bhagwati, “ Rape and molestation are new dimensions of a caste war, used as weapons of reprisal and to crush the morale of a section of the people.” In the present scenario Dalit and Muslim women grapple with the triple burden of caste – community, class and gender. Dalit women constitute16.3 per cent of the Indian rural female population and 12 per cent of the urban female population, but they have been consciously ignored by both, the Dalit movement and the women’s movement. Even today the Bahujan Samaaj Party that is articulate on caste identity, sidelines or handles extremely peripherally the issues concerning Dalit women. There are now two generations of committed Dalit women professionals who are lecturers, professors, activists. But this is perceived as a threat by the Dalit male leadership. This patriarchal attitude sideline women from forums and especially from decision-making bodies. This betrayal of Dalit women’s issues by the Dalit movement is matched by the utter disregard and tokenism with which Dalit women’s issues are taken up by the women’s movement. So it is not just gender inequality, but inequalities within inequalities.

In Gujarat, a Dalit mahila sarpanch was prohibited from hoisting the flag on August 15. With such segregation prevalent, what kind of ‘nationalism’ are we talking about?

Dalit women’s voices raise life and death concerns like water, food, wages, electricity, education and work. And of segregation and oppression within the family by Dalit men. Groaning under the burden of triple oppression, Dalit women could well throw up more challenging issues and approaches for the Indian women’s movement as a whole. 

As told to teesta setalvad by vimal rathod.     

The enemy within – march 1999
Muslim extremists have been actively involved in unleashing a reign of Taliban-style terror on co-religionists, women especially, in Left front-controlled Kerala and West Bengal, two of the relatively secular states.

The period immediately after 1992 gave a firm footing for fundamentalist sections among the Muslim youngsters, most of whom were being inspired by the pan-Islamic revivalist slogans current in the state and were also flush with money from the Gulf, sent by their working parents out there.

The Jamaat-e-Islami, the students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), the Students Islamic Organisation (SIO), the Islamic Sevak Sangh (ISS), were the few fundamentalist groups acting as moral police in Kerala. Today, however, there is a growing resistance in Kerala to the operations of these obscurintist groups within the Muslim community. There are more and more Muslim women coming into social and political life, thanks to the strict implementation of the policy of decentralisation of power through panchayat raj in the state, and reservation of 33 per cent of seats for women.

 A large number of Muslim women today occupy positions of power and they are now proving a formidable force against the fundamentalist ideas.

The West Bengal unit of the Jamaat has an altogether different complexion. It has great ideological affinity and a close working relationship with the Jamaat-e-Islami in Bangladesh, which is notorious for the treacherous role it played during the Bangladesh liberation struggle and is a rabid political force today. 

The more rigid the masses become, the more difficult it is for progressive forces to voice their opinions and gain any hearing. As Asghar Ali Engineer has learnt, it is not easy to speak of reform. His call for reform within the authoritarian priesthood among the Bohras (a sub-sect of Shia Muslims), was answered with ex-communication and attempts on his life.          

The pen is my only weapon – March 2000
Bangladeshi writer, Taslima Nasreen shot to international fame in 1993 when her novel lajja - a story on the plight of a persecuted Hindu family in Bangladesh following the demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya in December 1992 – was banned by the Bangladesh government succumbing to the outcry of fanatics belonging to the Jamaat-e-Islami and other communal organisations.

In an interview with Communalism Combat she said, “In my writings, I expressed the view that it is not merely the fundamentalists’ interpretation of religion but religion itself that oppresses women. This they could not stand.”

In 1993, three fatwas were issued and a price was put on her head several times. Strangely, the Bangladeshi government, instead of taking action against the fundamentalists for their criminal actions, issued an arrest warrant against Taslima. She had asked for the abolition of the shariat law and the legislation of the Uniform Civil Code to ensure justice between men and women but was misquoted as saying that the Quran should be revised or rewritten, and that’s what triggered the onslaught against her. After which she had to go into hiding because she knew that if the police put her in jail, she may never come out alive, considering, political murder is not uncommon in Bangladesh. The police could be fundamentalists believing that if they killed her, they would go to heaven.

Though she has been getting offers from many publishers and even Europe, to write about the period in hiding , she feels that its too soon as everything seems to be right in front of her. Maybe some day she will be able to write.

She feels that there is something wrong with all religions, but since she grew up in a Muslim family, her revolt is against Islam. But there is fundamentalism in every religion and women are oppressed by every religion.

Should the haj sabsidy go? – March 2001
Many Muslims in India feel that the Haj subsidy must go, because a large section of Indian Muslims – from the ulema to Islamic scholars to intellectuals to ordinary citizens – believe that only that Haj is acceptable to Allah, the entire expense of which comes out of the personal finances of the Haji concerned. The editor of Muslim India and former MP, Syed Shahabudin, has consistently demanded for the last 15 years that the government of India phase out the Haj subsidy. Saudi foreign minister Saud al-Faisal said that any state subsidy for Haj pilgrimage is “wrong.”  The VHP and the Bajrang Dal who have been against the subsidy for a long time, were quick on the uptake and VHP’s senior vice-president, Acharya Giriraj Kishore, wrote to the prime minister saying that “Even the ulema of Mecca have said that taking subsidy for Haj was un-Islamic and robbed the very purpose of undertaking the pilgrimage."

On the other hand Fuzail Jaffrey, editor, Inquilab, Urdu daily published from Mumbai said, “ I don’t see why Muslims should feel guilty or defensive about it. Doesn’t our secular state also provide financial support to many temples in the country?” Supporting him is Maulana Qazi Mujahidul Islam Qasmi, president, All India Muslim Personal Law Board, who feels “ There is nothing un-Islamic in the state’s Haj subsidy. There is nothing wrong in a secular state financing activities of different religious communities.”

Given such sharply divergent views within the community, should the ordinary Muslim accept or refrain from accepting the Haj subsidy?          

By – Javed Anand

Hell on earth – November 1998
Since the overthrow of the ‘communist devils’ in Afghanistan in April 1992, first the Mujahideens and then the Talebans have put ‘Islam’ in practice in Afghanistan. For hundreds of thousands of ordinary Afghanis, women in particular, this has meant an unending nightmare of terror and trauma.

 It is well-known that the struggle for supremacy within Afghanistan was fuelled by various international patrons from the Islamic world. For example, Hekmatyar was supported by Pakistan’s notorious ISI in the hope of seeing a pro-Pakistani head the post communist government in Kabul. In the backdrop of the warring political groups, more often than not, all members of a particular clan or all residents of a locality affiliated to a rival political group are treated as enemies, and targetted irrespective of whether or not they were combatants. And women have been the worst victims.

The women under the Mujahideen rule are treated no better than a commodity. Leaders of the different warring factions appear to treat rape of women from the vanquished populace as reward for its own ‘Islamic’ soldiers. Scores of Afghan women have reportedly been abducted and detained by Mujahideen groups and commanders and then used for sexual purposes or sold into prostitution. Young girls have suffered the same fate. The ones who have managed to escape their wrath have been those women who have chosen to commit suicide.    

  At such a time what comes as a ray of hope is an organisation for women called RAWA, founded by Meena Keshwar Kamal. She left the university to devote herself as a social activist to organising and educating women. Since then RAWA has been projecting the cause of Afghan women boldly and effectively.  


Our text books teach prejudice – October 1999

What we learn and teach about history and how this process of learning has been crafted or developed, shapes our understanding of the events of the past, which can make or break convictions of both the teacher and the taught. Forget RSS-run Shishu Mandirs and Muslim Madrassas. Textbooks prescribed by even ‘secular’ central and state boards in the country promote religious, caste and gender prejudice.

Hate language and hate politics cannot be part of history teaching in a democracy. But, unfortunately, prejudice and division, not a holistic fair vision, has been the guiding principle for our education boards and the authors chosen by them. There has been a constant attempt to demonise Christianity and Islam. And the bias does not end here. While the Muslim League receives detailed treatment in the average Indian text, it does not give a line to Hindu communal outfits, such as the Hindu Mahasabha and the RSS, who contributed in no small measure to the sharp polarisations and schisms at the time. 

 The NCERT’s National Steering Committee on the text book evaluation found that the RSS-run Vidya Bharati schools are being clearly used for the dissemination of blatantly communal ideas, so much so that in one booklet, the RSS is given the status of ‘divine power.’ Our secular texts are completely silent on the ideology that killed the Mahatma, despite the fact that the RSS was banned by the government of India following his assassination.

Unfortunately the issues that should have been dealt with a little more seriousness have been sidelined. The caste system receives generous treatment in Indian textbooks. There is also no attempt or desire to explain the inhuman concept of untouchability.

The fact that independent and democratic India’s secular texts reflect, with sometimes uncanny similarity, the vary same regard for a growing and inquiring mind, apart from being laced with a series of questionable formulations that hide gender, caste and community-driven bias is what requires urgent and specific attention and remedy.

By Teesta Setalvad

Your childs’s future in your hands – January 2000
Discomfort, murmers of  discontent, even downright outrage, have been the characteristic responses of many of us to the quality and content of Indian textbooks – especially those of history and social studies – that have, over the years, reflected sharper and sharper biases apart from being a boring read.   In other words, the Indian text-book on history and social studies in particular, has begun to effectively reflect the larger Indian political reality. A reality dominated by a strong right-wing discourse that openly admits to a hate-driven, enemy-making project, within whose scheme, education has been exploited to the fullest.

While discontent on the selective content and orientation of our textbooks and curricula has simmered in the past, parents and teachers in the country have remained mute spectators and the children, victims of these developments.

Our experience with teachers over the past five years, conducting intense workshops on “How and why I teach history?” has shown up an unhappy lot of professionals, but who as a group are reluctant to directly challenge the system.

A national campaign launched by the Khoj team, Sabrang’s ‘education for a plural India’ project, on Distorted textbooks, has space for each one of us, to actively participate and enrich this campaign.

Actively engaging in interactions with the schools that our children attend, is the first step. Such interactions would open up possibilities for discussion and deliberation on alternatives. The Indian history is very unimaginative and limiting. It has the capacity to generate misconceptions and stereotypes. Therefore it would be worthwhile for the Indian parent to participate actively in the process of identifying such biases, in interactive sessions with the teachers and the school. This will allow the parents and concerned citizens to be in a position to consolidate these moves into n action programme to register their protest against existing texts and initiate a dialogue with the text book boards on the urgent need for alternatives. At any rate, action is better than being silent spectators. And our children, the victims.

By Teesta Setalvad     

Allah’s army in Pakistan – February 1999
Drawing national boundaries for the creation of independent states in South Asia – India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh – has resulted in the dissection of history too, within the limits set by these modern Indian states. A three-day South Asia consultation organised by KHOJ, a secular education programme within India, enabled historians, educationists, writers and activists to meet in Mumbai between January 26-28 to discuss this and other aspects of ‘history learning, exploration and teaching within South Asia.’

Few examples of textbooks from India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka reveal, how within the South Asian nations and between peoples, sections of the population are elevated or demonised. History of Midieaval India, by Dr. R. R. Singh, recommended text for the Third Year Bachelor of Arts students in Maharashtra carries hard hitting statements like, “Islam teaches only atrocities.”

On the other hand The Murder of History, by K. K. Aziz, a history textbook used in Pakistan, states that “Non-Muslims nursed enmity against Muslims.”

According to Dr. Mubarak Ali, “ Since the two-nation theory is the basis of Pakistani separatism, there is a constant need to prove that Hindus and Muslims have remained separate from time immemorial.”

Quite apart from text-books and classroom teaching, history is today being re-written in popular communalist discourse through the extensive distribution of pamphlets and other forms of literature.    

Citing the example of partition, in the Indian context partition was perceived as a loss while in the Pakistani context it was an achievement. Thus we see that a particular event can be dished out in two extremely opposite ways.

 The participants in the consultation programme felt that apart from text books, syllabus and teaching in the classroom, popular history being disseminated through pamphlets, newspapers and communalist propaganda networks also need to be examined by historians, and techniques of intervention devised that reach people and the populace beyond the classroom. 

By Teesta Setalvad

Christian issue
Blinding reality – July 2000

The All-India Christian Council claims there have been 300 attacks targeting Christians and their institutions in different parts of the country in the last two years. For Indians who truly value tolerance, every passing day sounds a death knell. The ground is slipping swiftly; we are sinking fast into the quicksand of brazen manipulation.

Courts, the police, the legislature and he executive are all crippled. Either because of a tunnel vision that refuses to recognise the calculated plan or pattern behind the systematic build up of the climate of hate in which violence appears ‘legitimate’, or because of calculated indifference , driven by bias.

Physical attacks and intimidation of minorities have resurfaced with a vengeance. Every attack has been preceded by systematic distribution of hate  spewing pamphlets. Senior police officials, like the DGP of Gujarat, C. P. Singh, have stated on record that “Organisations like the VHP and the Bajrang Dal are clearly behind the violence.”

The National Human Rights Commission demanded details of attacks on Christians from the central and state governments. But only weeks earlier, the reamrk of the All-India Bajrang Dal convenor, Dr. Surendra Jain, calling for “a second Quit India Movement” to drive away Christian missionaries had passed unnoticed and unchallenged. (The Afternoon Despatch and Courier, May 27, 2000).

 Most often than not, the perpetrators of crime present themselves as victims acting in self-defence and do not hesitate from pointing fingers at the Pakistani ISI. Union Home Minister L.K. Advani also concurs seeing a foreign hand behind the attack on Christians. Advani does surface on appropriate occasions only to issue clean character certificates to the Bajrang Dal and the VHP every time their name gets associated with criminal incidents. The guilty not only escape the arm of the law but along with it enjoy government protection too.

Indo-Pak peace
Bombing – June 1998

If a single nuclear weapon is exploded over a major city such as Bombay, Karachi, Lahore or Delhi, it could result in the death of up to 9,00,000 people, depending on factors such as population density, height of airbust and prevalent wind velocity. Apart from these early deaths, there would be hundreds and thousands of cancer and leukaemia victims due to radiation, besides a host of other serious illnesses and disorders.

The bulk of the blame for this terrifying development must be squarely laid at the door of communalism. The nuclear obsession of a particular party was imposed on a billion people on May 11, when the BJP-led minority government made a violent break with a policy prevalent for 50 years. The BJP’s decision to put India on the dangerous path of nuclearisation deeply offends all notions of civilised public conduct.  All of us citizens who do not wish to be roasted to death and turned into radioactive dust, must act to prevent nuclear weapons from being made or deployed. This is too important a task to be entrusted to governments, least of all, governments led by recklessly irresponsible fanatics and bigots.

One of the most dangerous myths propagated by the bomb lobby is that nuclear weapons are affordable , and that they can replace conventional armaments  and thus lower military spending,  therefore, economically too, the bomb is a killer.

Admiral Ramdas, former Chief of the Indian Navy, who felt proud on May 11, now wants the madness to stop.

With both India and Pakistan having tested the bomb, pragmatism demands the urgent devising of a set of technically sound procedures and devices that will make difficult the unauthorised, unintentional, or accidental use of nuclear weapons.       

By Praful Bidwai.

Conversions – January 1999

Today, the issue of conversions is being rampantly used as a trump, by the RSS-VHP combine, to numb the Indian middle class mind from the horrors of violence and terror unleashed on Christians and Muslims in the far-flung villages of Gujarat. The manipulated discourse imparted by these groups, plays into the decades’ old fear of the upper caste Hindu, that the lower castes are being seduced away by alien faiths. But very little or no concern is  ever shown to the material and social indignities that have compelled groups and individuals to exercise this choice.

The sudden concern of columnists of leading periodicals appears to centre around the alleged monetary incentives and inducements offered by missionaries. But there is no examination of the developmental work in education, health and other areas, that is undertaken by Christian religious persons in our remotest districts.

After all the hostility shown towards the Christian community, prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, in a move to take a liberal stand, called for a national debate on conversions, instead of assuring the brutalised population, adequate state protection against violence and terror.

The Hindu brigade has not spared the armed forces either. Eustace D’souza, a retired major general, puts forth a very pertinent question to the Hindutvavadis, “Do these rabid fundamentalists not realise the effect their attitude and actions will have on Christian soldiers from the south, west, east and the Chhota Nagpur plateau?” According to him it is totally unjustified and unfair to forget the contribution of Albert Ekka, Eric Tucker and Desmond Hayde, all three who gave up their lives fighting for the country, all three who were Christians!

The ratio of Christians in the Indian armed forces is the same as the Christian population in India, 2.4 per cent. It is completely illogical then, to doubt their loyalty towards the country.

By Teesta Setalvad, Eustace D’souza

Gujarat – one year later – April 2003
Even after one year has passed, the atrocities against the Muslims haven’t stopped. A letter by Chinubhai Patel, Vishwa Hindu Parishad state leader, read, “Give the traitorous Muslims a taste of patriotism by boycotting them socially and economically….” Copies of this pamphlet were distributed in hundreds and thousands. In most areas of Ahmedabad  and Vadodara and villages of Gandhinagar, Anand, Panchmahal, Mehsana , Kheda and Dahod, insidious economic and social boycott continues to cripple the Muslim minority that is still reeling from last year’s brutal violence.

Recently, a well-placed advocate in the Gujarat high court, was shocked when he could not get a doctor to examine and attend to one of the six accused, allegedly held for a plot to kill chief minister Narendra Modi. There is scant proof of the charges leveled against them, but when he fell ill, doctors he contacted simply refused to see him because, one , he was a Muslim and two he was an accused!

Qutub-uddin Ansari, a tailor by profession, achieved fame of sorts when a Reuters photographer, captured his face on film, eyes terrified, as he begged the mob to spare his life. One year later he has paid the price. The photograph, with his name, that was published in dozens of publications has made him a marked man in Modi’s Gujarat.

Naroda Gaon and Patiya will be remembered for the planned and bloody decimation of over 110 innocents, in cold blood, led by elected representatives. Several testimonies and affidavits before the Shah-Nanavati Commission reveal that witnesses have identified the culprits, accused in henious crimes of sexual violence and rape. Yet these men roam scot-free. Today their freedom is a daily taunt to the survivors at Naroda Gaon and Patiya, and it makes a mockery of the process of justice in this country.   

By Teesta Setalvad

Millennium issue – December 1999

For the special millennium issue, Communalism Combat invited a few persons – politicians, human rights advocates, historians, men of religion, gender rights activists, a spokesman for Dalits, a poet and a writer – to introspect on the last century/millennium and also look at the century ahead, especially from an Indian perspective.

Vishwanath Pratap Singh, former prime minister said that “ our evolution as a democracy, with all the shortcomings, and India’s emergence as an economically self-reliant nation, are two major landmarks for India in the second half of this century. Sitaram Yechuri too feels the same and says, “democracy that has emerged toady as one of he essential pre-requisites for any civilized society.”

Coming to religion, Swami Agnivesh in spite of being a religious person, has no hesitation in recognising that religions have failed human beings. He feels the essence of the spiritual light that all great religious seers have brought, is the need for the human species to shift from the love of power to the power of love.

Javed Akhtar, poet and lyricist, is of the view that “our society is presently living in a void without any collective morality or collective aspirations.”    

Face to face with fascism – April 2000

Forced ethnic segregation, calculated violence and the blatant misuse of government machinery, has been throttling the very essence of democracy in Gujarat.

Muslims and Dalits, masjids and the kachrapeti are the clear communal and casteist segregation of space in urban Gujarat. Way back in 1989-’90, when Gujarat was still under Congress rule, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad had proudly circulated a map with saffron-green demarcators that declared its intention: to purge the upper middle class areas of the miyas; if they dared buy property out of their own ghettos, they were to be brutally pushed back.

Communalism Combat got access to a secret document from Gujarat that is a potent, inflammatory, step by step guide for supporters of Hindutva on how to bend the law, when convenient, and break it whenever necessary. A translated version of the vitriolic pamphlet in Gujarati that is being surreptiously, but widely distributed throughout the state, is reproduced below:

-     ‘ Now that we have our own government we should take proper advantage of it and should get our work done by it.’

-     ‘ The main attack on Hindu samaj is that our sisters of tender age are being abducted through inducements and allurements and then made to sign the marriage register after getting converted by force. Hundreds of Hindu girls are being made Muslims like this in Gujarat state.’

-     ‘ The police ran away, the magistrate and his staff hid under the table to save themselves. The Muslim boy and the Hindu girl were beaten to death by the people and their dead bodies were left in the courtroom…..since thousands were involved , no one was convicted . This incident of Halvad is etched in golden letters in the proud history of Hindu samaj. Revenge of this type is necessary against such abduction of our girls’.    

By Teesta Setalvad

Hindutva v/s Democracy – September 2002
“ Secularism and humanism are basic features of our constitution even as egalite and compassion are the finer components of our Paramount Parchment. To sustain these precious values is a fundamental duty of every citizen of India. To resist aggression on this composite cultural heritage is a primary obligation if we are truly Indians. I wish Communalism Combat, in its vigorous defence of secularism against Hindutva and state inspired abetment thereof, all success in its struggle for Secular Bharat.” This was the message passed on by V.R. Krishna Iyer, former judge, Supreme Court of India, on the occasion of the 9th anniversary of the magazine.

For this, a number of renowned writers and activists, sent in their views and their ideas which they stand by, to be shared with the readers of Communalism Combat.

Harsh Mander in his article titled, Protectors Turn Predators, he very pertinently points out that “ If the state authorities wantonly let violent mobs target innocents, citizens need to resolutely demand accountability and fundamental reforms.” He added on by saying that “ There can be no dispute that given administrative and political will, no riot can continue unchecked beyond a few hours. However, I will not substantiate this with my own experience, or those of older officers. It gives me great pride and hope, amidst the darkness that we find ourselves in today, to talk of the independent action taken by a few young officers in Gujarat and neighbouring Rajasthan, during the present crisis itself.”                

From Justice Suresh to Flavia Agnes, everybody had one common reason to come together and that was their crusade against communalism.

Punish the guilty
Who is to blame? – March 1998

Bombay 1992 –1993 and Coimbatore 1997 –1998, may become permanently etched on the post – 1947 canvas of the sub-continent. Both Bombay and Coimbatore were the locales for unspeakable venom against the minority Muslim community, under an avowedly secular state.

A close scrutiny of all the judicial commissions into post-partition communal riots in India shows how every report presented to the state or central government has indicted the police for its communal bias since 1961. But despite the findings by over two dozen inquiry commissions appointed to investigate communal riots over the last few decades, none have resulted in prompt criminal prosecutions of those guilty. To date, far from learning the long-overdue lessons, the experiences of Bombay show how the bomb blasts became yet another excuse to the Bombay and the Maharashtra police to unleash a fresh assault on innocent Muslim families. Instead of identifying individual culprits and bringing them to book, the whole community was sought to be tarred with the same “terrorist” (read anti-national) brush.

Apart from judicial commissions’ reports and reports of investigations by Civil Liberties’ Groups, the National Police Commission, the National Minorities Commission, the National Human Rights Commission, the National Integration Council, individuals have also frequently emphasised that the state needs to swiftly and firmly adopt remedial measures to arrest this growing alienation. 

Former Director General of Police, Padma Rosha, has contributed substantively to this ongoing debate and has urged strongly that the state must be held culpable for its failure in governance and begin by compensating the victim who is deprived of a life, home or means of livelihood.

The doyen of the BSF, K.F. Rustomji, sums up the situation well by saying, “ We put justice as the first principle of our constitution, but how many of us believe in it today? We will pay a heavy price for relegating justice to the far corner. Why cannot we see that impartial justice is meant to prevent individuals or groups from taking the law into their own hands to secure it? Why does communal rioting continue in the land?

Straightforward questions that demand prompt actions in answer.

By teesta setalvad

Punish the guilty
V.N. Rai – February 1995

 Vibhuti N. Rai, is an IPS officer the saffron brigade loves to hate. Now a D.I.G, Border Security Force, he was posted at Srinagar before he took a year’s study leave for research on the subject of communalism and the police force in India.

In an interview with Communalism Combat he very clearly stated that “ no riot can last for more than 24 hours unless the state wants it to continue.” But he adds on, that most of the times the police takes shelter behind politicians for their own failures.

Rai’s interviews with hundreds of riot victims from across the country produced the startling finding that in all riot situations, Hindus consider policemen as their friends while, almost without exception, India’s minorities – Muslims and Sikhs – experience them as their enemy.

In his opinion, one vital thing to put ‘the house in order’ would be to give proper representation to minorities in the police force.  In the Indian society, which is plural in nature, composed of so many ethnic, linguistic and religious groups, a fair representation of the minorities becomes a must. Though many senior police officials argue that reservation is not the answer, Rai finds such a step totally justified, and feels that those who put forward these arguments are basically trying to hide their own communal bias under the guise of maintaining discipline or morale of the force.

He reaffirms that all said and done a quality leadership within the police force can make all the difference in controlling a communally tense situation, and to ensure this new training inputs will have to be evolved, so that by the end of the police training a conviction is created in the probationers, that once they don khaki, they seize to be Hindus or Muslims. Their faith remains their individual faith but once they sport their uniform they are simply police officers with one solitary duty: to maintain law and order.        

And one thing that sparks hope in our hearts is the fact that these are not mere views thrown in for effect, because Rai is one among the few police officers who’s determination is unrelenting.

Crime and punishment – January 1995
Legal luminaries, H.M. Seervai, Nani A. Palkhiwala, Fali S. Nariman, Soli Sorabjee and Hosbet Suresh, express shock and dismay at the supreme court’s dismissal of the special leave petition against the Bombay high court’s failure to direct the government of Maharashtra to prosecute Saamna for inflammatory writings.

After the demolition of the Babri masjid in December 1992, there was unprecedented violence in Bombay. The anti-Muslim pogrom was stoked and led by the Shiv Sena and its leaders, in particular Bal Thakeray, who is also the editor of Saamna, a daily newspaper published in Marathi. During December ’92  and January ’93, Saamna published a number of editorials and other writings which were clearly in contravention of section 153 A and 153 B of the Indian Penal Code.

Apart from the nine editorials specifically cited in the petition, a scrutiny of the issues of Saamna before and after 1992-’93, shows that systematic venom is spewed against the minorities, and was instrumental in provoking large-scale destruction, looting and killing in Bombay. During that period the Sena leaders openly admitted that their “boys were on the streets teaching the Muslims a lesson.”

Action of any kind against Thakeray was and is still conspicuous by its absence. Confident that none will be taken, he continues unchecked, spreading vitriol and prejudice.

Soli Sorabjee, former Attorney General of India said that it is extremely unfortunate that the judiciary has not intervened in this case where the law has been openly flouted and communal hatred spread by Bal Thakeray through his mouthpiece, the Saamna.

History teaches us that unless these pernicious tendencies are scotched they grow to become unmanageable monsters later on. The argument that a prosecution of persons responsible for spewing hatred would rake up past events is totally misconcieved because there has been no re-thinking or regret by the authors of the writings and every likelihood of such actions being repeated.

Peace makers
Pathare Prabhu in a Muslim Mohalla – December 1997

The demolition of a mosque in a small town in U.P., in December 1992, created such powerful shock that in its bloody aftermath, even distant Bombay, the ‘cosmopolitan capital’ of India, lost its innocence. Five years later, memories of what neighbour did to neighbour in that moment of trial by fire are fresh in most people’s minds. Memories of  bonding, memories of betrayal. The recollections of a single Pathare Prabhu family of their own experience living in the lap of Baba Maqdoom Shah’s durgah in Mahim through those troubled times give room for a lot of hope…..but also some doubt.

Their clan was one of the foremost entrants, community-wise to Mumbai. There are around 8000 that inhabit Mumbai today and one such family is the Dhairyavaans, who live in a secluded, typically Maharashtrian Hindu waadi in the lap of the Baba Maqdoom Shah’s durgah in Mahim. Their long association with this particular locale has strengthened their belief in the Baba’s durgah. So much so that before her marriage, the Dhairyavaan daughter sought blessings not from a Pathare Prabhu temple but from the durgah of Baba Maqdoom Shah.  Apart from this the family also narrates how the Muslims in their area stood by them providing them with protection, soon after the riots broke out in January ’93. The state of their kids when compared to the Muslim kids was no different, totally vulnerable. In spite of this the Dhairyavaans give an account of the constant pressure from the Hindu community and people they knew, to leave the place, because it was not wise to trust the Muslims. But their unfaltering faith in their neighbours has helped them to continue staying in their 60 year old abode.

Punish the guilty
Where then o lord shall we turn – December 1996

Rajeev Dhavan, a senior lawyer at the supreme court, articulates the anguish of secularists and minorities who feel that judicial activism has passed them by. The lack of strong judicial activism in the areas of communal mayhem and spiteful hate speech invokes anxiety, more so in the minds of secularists.

An unconditional apology from Bal Thakeray led to Justice Verma of the supreme court dropping contempt notices against him even though strong aspersions were cast against by him against the judges.

In contrast to this, the distinguished painter M.F. Hussain’s priceless paintings have been destroyed because he is a Muslim. On the ground that he made a sketch in 1976 which shows Goddess Saraswati – scarcely able to uphold the lotus of knowledge, unable to play the music that holds the world together, and in painful disarray with the palla of her dhoti fallen from her shoulder – exposing her form. Was this a deliberate and malicious act to outrage religious feelings? Hardly. Yet Hussain has been pushed into voluntary exile, with Bombay authorities threatening to interrogate this distinguished , secular 81-year-old artist with custodial interrogation the moment he lands on Indian soil.

All too often the forces of state stood idly by. When a regime wanted to curry favour with the Muslims, it yielded to fundamentalist demands and threatened to ban books like the Satanic Verses for wholly opportunistic political reasons. But when Rushdie’s The Moor’s Last Sigh caricatured Thakeray, physical threats were in the air.

There are many other instances of discriminatory abuses and forbearances by legal authorities, as also communal propaganda and the mayhem and social terrorism that such propaganda inspires. The simple and hopelessly unjustified surmise that the judges themselves are communal is unwarranted. But judgements have to be scrutinised and subjected to the respectful and responsible criticism of ordinary men and women.

Minority fundamentalism
In allah’s home at last – February 1997

Early this month, Muslim women in Thiruvananthpuram, the capital of Kerala, won a historic victory over priestly obscurantism. For the first time in their life, they stepped into the portals of the Palayam Jama Masjid along with men, for the Ramzan prayers. To many of them it seemed a new-year gift from heaven. P.K.K. Ahmed Kutty Maulavi, the Chief Imam of the Palayam Jama Masjid, Thiruvananthpuram, took a bold step forward on the road to gender parity,  by conceding to Muslim women the right to pray in mosques.

The entry of women in the mosque was silent but fireworks followed in the aftermath. Significantly, the protest came not from the Palayam Jamaath but from those outside it. A section of some 283 Jamaaths in the district formed an Imam’s Council and issued a “fatwa” against women’s entry inside the mosque. “It is un-Islamic and unauthorised by the holy scriptures”, they cried. In response to this protest, the Chief Imam, Ahmed Kutty Maulavi, known for his erudition and catholicity, said “It is a bitter truth that the leaders are misleading the flock. What about mosques in Mecca and Medina being open to women? Nearer home, women have been praying in mosques in Malabar. What is the justice or reason for denying women the same right?”   He also said that he is willing to withdraw the permission if the people opposing the entry of women in mosques, bring scriptual proof denying women the right to enter mosques.

 The Thiruvananthpuram episode is indicative of the changes education can bring about. It seems that those who are presently agitating against the dictum of the Maulavi saheb from the Palayam mosque will intensify their protests in the coming days. As to how long they can continue to resist the wind of change, remains to be seen. 

Satanic Strokes – November 1996
 Vir Sanghvi, the editor of Sunday, condemns the witchhunt against M.F. Hussain, not only as a liberal who recognises the difference between nudity and obscenity, and a democrat who defends the right to freedom of artistic expression, but also as a Hindu.

Sanghvi is outraged because he believes Hinduism is demeaned by the fanatacism of the Shiv-Sena and the “khaki-knickered buffoons”. In a signed article in Bal Thakeray’s and the Shiv Sena’s foul mouthpiece, Dopahar Ka Saamna, the Hindi eveninger’s executive editor, Sanjay Nirupam, has issued the “fatwa” that “Hussain’s fingers have to be cut off the moment he returns to Punyabhoomi”. But he does not stop at Hussain and his “unforgivable” crime. Nirupam’s “Hindu wrath” engulfs the entire community of Indian Muslims.

In any civilised society, no law, no court holds a mother, a wife or lover guilty of a crime, however grave committed by a son, husband or spouse. But the saffron brigade, with claims to speak in the name of a rich and ancient civilisation, holds an entire community responsible for the act of a single individual.

If the charge against Hussain is blasphemy, let the heavens decide. If the charge is that of a crime against society, let the courts, not the Shiv Sena and the Bajrang Dal judge.

The nude form, female or male, in their erotic beauty appear so threatening but the daily acts of making naked women in real life or disrobing women on the screen are acceptable even to “family audiences.” To keep this female sexuality from finding expression and space, rape is a useful tool besides the use of violence through other time tested male techniques. Unfortunately very few of us find the courage to raise our voice against such crimes.
Its is fascism, pure and simple.

Punish the guilty
Their Bombay, Our Bombay – January 1994
Thousands of Hindus and Muslims moved out of old areas of residence over the past 12 months in search of the security of numbers.

Muslim residents of Pratikshanagar, a transit camp located close to the Shanmukhananda hall in Central Bombay experienced one of the most harrowing time. Hindus who had been neighbours for a decade held starving men, women and children to ransom on the street for three days and night.

The plight of many Hindu families from the Radhabai Chawl in Jogeshwari, a western suburb where a family of seven were roasted alive last year, is no better.

Hundreds of Muslims from the service class, small businessmen or artisans have preferred naturally to move into Muslim dominated areas, causing a steep rise in prices there. Some buildings in parts of Central and South Bombay, have shot up by 100-200 per cent due to the massive influx.

Similarly a large number of middle class Hindus, mainly South Indians, have sold their homes in the city and moved to Vashi in New Bombay.

In Mahatma Gandhi Nagar, a slum colony in Antop Hill, Muslims were the main victims of violence. But some properties of Hindus living next to Muslim families were also damaged. Father Cristopher Brian of the Dominic Savio Church in the area, felt it was essential for ruptured relations to be repaired before houses were reconstructed. He refused the offer of cash from a wealthy BJP-supporter who wanted to fund the reconstruction of 50 huts, exclusively for Hindus.

This is just one among the many instances in the city, where, thanks to the untiring effort of numerous social workers and activists, and even the local police in some cases, the ghettoisation of Bombay has to some extent been halted.

A healthy trend it may not be, but security seems to be the primary concern of thousands of Hindus and Muslims who over the past year have moved out of dwellings they had inhabited for decades in many cases, to the security of areas where their co-religionists live. The large-scale demographic shift still continues. 

What’s In a Name? – December 1994

 For many people in India after December 6, 1992, as in November, 1984, the world was easy to comprehend. You were either a Hindu, a Sikh or a Muslim. Your name said it all and did anything else really matter? But there were many  more human beings around then, as there are today, who simply would not be pigeon-holed into an “us” or “them” compartment.

Two years after thousands of deaths, and much more, followed the demolition, combat spoke to four individuals whose life experiences and values can never be encapsulated in a name.

Shabana Azmi – For the first time in over forty years, I am today being looked either with sympathy or aggression. Being Muslim is just one part of me. Why is this given paramount importance? Is it because of the name I bear? After the holocaust in Bombay, Holi happened to be the first festival to come along. For the first time, I tangibly felt our (Hindu) friends silently sizing us up, waiting  with a question in their minds, “ Will the Azmi family celebrate Holi this time?” There was a visible release of tension when they saw us actually observe the festival as we always do.

Ravi Gupta – Do you know why the demolition of the Babri Masjid disturbed me? Quite apart from all the obvious reasons, I found a large number of people, you and I would normally term secular, applauding the event.                        

For the first time the realisation hit me that barely below the surface, prejudice was very deeply ingrained. And for the first time in my life I began searching for its source.

Navjot – I am neither a Hindu or a Muslim. I am a Sikh married to a Muslim. Though my parents were uprooted by partition, thanks to my upbringing, never since my childhood have I ever felt, that as a Sikh I am distinct or separate. It is so ironic that despite this upbringing today I feel no one takes me seriously. If I talk to a Muslim, there is the attitude of, “Usko kya faraq padta hai?”(what does it matter to her?)  And if I talk to Hindus they say, “Oh, but she is married to a Muslim.”

Mohammad Khan – My introduction to the world is not as my father’s son. I am always introduced and will always be known as Maharaja Krishan Prasad’s grandson. Do you now why this whole “Hindu”, “Muslim” business makes me so angry? My first cousins include Hindus, Sunnis, Shias…it’s the same blood that flows in all of us. 

Indo-pak peace
Time to talk peace – August 1996

When nine Indians and ten Pakistanis met for a day at the Hotel Fellati’s in Lahore on September 2, 1994, none believed that in the span of two years they would be actively engaged in organizing the third convention of the Pakistan-India People’s Forum for Peace and Democracy at Calcutta, where as many as 250 delegates from either side, would meet to share space and time for five days, quite apart from deliberating on a host of issues. A major point on the agenda when people from both countries meet is to build opinion on both sides for a march to the Wagah border on August 14-15, coinciding with the completion of 50 years of independence, and partition.

The citizens for democracy, led by veteran columnist and human rights activist, Kuldip Nayyar and Justice Rajinder Sachar were only some of the names present to mark the onset of the fiftieth year since independence. “We want a soft border where the people of both countries can come and go, intermingle freely and allowed to build lasting relationships,” said Nayyar while talking to the press at Wagah. The only shadow cast on this touching display was the absence of the corresponding 100 Pakistanis who were expected to complete the picture from the other side of Wagah. One of the participants confided in a telephonic conversation to Communalism Combat, that the Jamaat-e-Islami’s threats of dire consequences to any Pakistani who dared reach Wagah, acted as a dampener.      

After a discussion with class 7 students from Bombay International School, the idea of launching ‘PEACEPALS’ was materialized. It came as an initiative to put children from SAARC countries in touch with each other. And this being the 50th year of India’s partition, the best country to begin, it was felt was Pakistan.

With initiative being taken by a few concerned citizens from both the sides of the border, it seems like a Herculian task but the real difference can be brought about if each one of us gets rid of stereotypical notions and engage ourselves in building concrete bridges across the two bruised nations.    

Fifty-Fifty – August 1997

Even though the word ‘minorities’ forms part of popular political discourse in India, its precise connotation is far from satisfactory. Generally, it is used to denote those non-Hindu religious communities whose members are for one reason or another inclined to assert their distinctiveness in relation to the Hindu community. Thus Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Parsis and Jews are commonly described as minorities in India. This feeling of distinctiveness is not just confined to religious communities, but also to the various caste groups. The recent felling of 10 dalit youth by the police in Bombay in the agitation following the desecration of a statue of Dr. Ambedkar has once again thrown the community into a state of ferment. But this time more than ever before, what is emerging is not only outrage against the system which continues to condemn the vast majority of them to a sub-human existence. It is also intense introspection over the quality of the community’s leadership and the ‘Brahmanisation’ of the thin middle class layer which has crystallized out of it over the last 50 years.

The link between various aspects at play or present in a society can be well exemplified by the rapid communal polarization in India, following the Shah Bano case in 1985. This polarization was also a process that destroyed the emerging constituency of women and set back the struggle for women’s rights in this country, possibly by several decades.

According to Ammu Abraham, “ Mahatma Gandhi once wrote that another Sita should be born to liberate the women of India, I do not think so. Maybe another Gandhi should be born, this time a female one, to save the nation.

I.K.Shukla, an activist of the Coalition for an Egalitarian and Secular India, California, USA., raises a very valid question, “ Shouldn’t the zealous exclusionary drive of the votaries of Hindutva be suspected to be the pawns of foreign powers at whose behest they would be working for the dismemberment of the nation while protesting loudly their undying devotion to Bharat Mahan?”  

Peace makers
Faith in love – August 1998

Screen idol and heartthrob of millions, Aamir Khan has been married to Reena for a dozen years. Theirs is a Hindu-Muslim marriage that thrives on cultural diversity within which the issue of religious differences has posed any problem.

In an exclusive interview with the editors of Communalism Combat on the occasion of its fifth anniversary, Aamir spoke at length this aspect of their relationship and gave a message for young couples contemplating such a relationship today: “let religion never be an issue between you. Let it never come in the way. If you are in love with someone from another community and the feeling is reciprocated, what more do you want? Go right ahead and make a life together.” He added that, “when and if my son Junaid is asked the question, which religion do you belong to, I’d like to teach him to reply – the human race.”

“Marry who you want, just want you to be happy.” That’s what Farzana Khan’s father told her daughter, determined to tie the nuptials with a Parsi, 30 years older than her. The result: ‘Busybee’ got a face and a name – Behram Contractor.

“You marry a human being, not Islam or Hinduism.” And Nargis and Sunil Dutt always believed in it.

Mahesh Bhatt, son of a Hindu father and a Muslim mother, grew up in the predominantly Hindu Shivaji Park area of Mumbai. He studied at Don Bosco, a Catholic school, embibing as he says, the cosmopolitan character of Mumbai and “never faced any dilemma or schizophrenia, no religious leaning as such.” But he admits that the sounds of Ave Maria, Hassan-Hussain and Jai Mangal Murti are all part of his consciousness.

All the above mentioned people have had the courage to stand up in life and have not bothered to wait for a sanction from the society. Their faith in love has been a major driving force for them to achieve their goal. Because there is nothing more universal than


To lay emphasis on the above mentioned thought, “Afghan kings ruled from the city of Mandu. One among them, Baz Bahadur, is especially remembered by the people of Malwa because he was different from the others. He had little time for battles and for court matters. What he valued most was his love for Rupamati and the music which they heard together. Their story is told in the ballads and songs of Malwa to this day.”

Having listed such remarkable stories of love, between people belonging to different religious communities, one finds it very difficult to accept that when there can be so much love then why most often than not people choose to pick up arms.      

Messengers of Peace – July 2003
By Abdul Hameed Siddiqui

After the Friday prayers on October 26, 2001, some Muslims were distributing a pamphlet outside the Jama Masjid in Malegaon. The pamphlet was an appeal to the public to boycott American goods in protest against that country’s attack on Afghanistan after the bombing of the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon on September 11. The unwarranted police action against some of those distributing the pamphlet triggered a riot that spread like wildfire and could not be controlled for five long days. In the process, 15 lives were lost, 12 others were injured in police firing and property worth crores was looted, burnt or otherwise destroyed. As part of my journalistic duty, apart from covering the incidents in Malegaon, I also tarvelled to the violence-hit villages and spoke to a large number of Hindus and Muslims, to put an authentic account of all that had happened. In many cases, I was horrified as people recounted their moments of torment and terror. But I also heard sufficient accounts of human compassion and fellowship, of instances where people had risked their lives saving the life and property of the ‘other’ community, to restore my faith in humanity.

Of their own accord and often risking their own lives, some messengers of peace rushed to the rescue, took entire families out from the areas they were trapped in and escorted them to safety. Among those who came out on a peace mission in the midst of the killings were Shaikh Rasheed, Prashant Hiray, Prasad Hiray, Yunus Isa, Ejaz Baig, Dr. Baliram Hiray, Ibrahim Seth, Yusuf Seth, Iqbal Peerzada, Asif Ali, Rasheed Seth, Mufti Mohd Ismail and the Jamait-ul-Ulema, Khursheed Pehelwan, Prakash Patil, Pappu Patil, Mazhar Shaikh, Haji Iftikhar Master, Asghar Ansari, Madhukar Hiray, Dashrath Nikam, Mustafa Seth Beediwale and Aziz Mukadam. They faced the difficulties of the curfew period, risked their lives and literally pulled a number of people out of the jaws of death. The fact that despite their tireless and fearless efforts at maintaining peace, 69 homes in Malegaon city and 531 homes in the district were burnt down, is an indication of how strong was the evil storm that had raged in Malegaon and its environs. 

Indo-Pak Peace
Violence in South Asia – January 2003

Because violence is both the expression and the symptom of social degeneration and political crisis, placing it at the centre of a regional democratic agenda will generate a highly overdue social debate about the roots, forms and functions of violence.

Why should jehadis and Naxalites be banned while the Bajrangis and VHP cadre enjoy the patronage of the central government? Will it clearly state why jehadi violence is terrorism but the VHP’s violence is nationalism?

 Five innocent dalits were lynched to death allegedly by the police in connivance with local VHP activist on October 15, 2002 at Dulina Police Post, Jhajjar in Haryana. The story of cow killing by dalits to justify the attack on them made the incident even more gruesome.

The ability of social systems to enable their citizens to live a life free from violence should surely be an important measure of judging them in terms of human advance. Analysis of or struggles against violence also need to go beyond the male-female framework and look at policies and politics that promote male supremacist values and cultures that get reflected in increasing violence on women.

The intrinsic violence in the Hindutva platform of the Sangh Parivar has wider implications for women across community. There is a deliberate move to militarise the Sangh’s political base through the distribution of arms. Swords, sharp edged trishuls, daggers, knives are being handed out free to any youth willing to commit himself to the communal platform.

Violence in is an overriding theme and an underlying assumption in much of the world, especially these days with the all-pervasive ‘war on terror’ and its accompanying rhetoric. South Asia is no exception, and Pakistan is no different. Violence pervades all aspects of life here. It is manifested in the aggression witnessed daily on the streets and in homes. The argument that poverty is the greatest form of violence has resonance in a region where palatial private homes overlook shanty towns in which human beings live in inhuman existence.    

Indo-Pak Peace
After Kargil, Kashmir – July 1999

By Balraj Puri
The surreptitious bid on India’s bid to divide the people of multi-religious, multi-cultural J & K into Muslim Kashmir, Hindu Jammu and Buddhist Ladakh, fits well into Pakistan’s communal agenda. And the RSS view of the latest conflict in Kargil as an integral part of the 1,000-year-old face-off between ‘Muslim barbarians’ and ‘peace-loving Hindus’ echoes the call for jehad from across the border.

Kargil has quite naturally dominated the Indian media’s attention ever since intruders from pakistan were discovered on its glaciated peaks.

Kashmiri youth used to cross the LoC and get arms and training and return as militants for the cause of ‘azadi’. The ruthless manner in which the insurgency was suppressed in the initial phase, invited universal condemnation. In contrast, today it is essentially an operation of the Pakistan army with the support of especially recruited and especially indoctrinated Mujahids in an area where there is no freedom movement.

But why did Pakistan change its position as a champion of the rights of the Kashmiris to that of an aggressor?  To recount some of the evidence that gave an indication of the shape of things to come. Pakistan was under the compulsion to convert the Kashmiri movement for azadi into a Muslim movement for Pakistan. For, Kashmiri nationalism was a double-edged weapon. India used it against Pakistan from 1947 to 1953 and from 1975 to the mid-eighties. The ideological gap between the Kashmir movement and Pakistan could be a political threat to the latter.

In short, all debate on Kargil that dominates the national agenda is based on the presumption  that the entire conflict between India and Pakistan over Jammu and Kashmir is based on the title over real estate. In other words, it means a refusal to accept the vital fact that people of the state also matter.

India’s decisive victory would depend on how far it can meet the political fall-out of Kargil. Can it help Kargil to feel a secure and proud part of a secular Ladakhi identity, which requires restoration of traditional, friendly and cordial relations between Buddhists and Muslims?          

Autumn and Fall – November 1993

Kashmir’s beautiful people are in an ugly mood today because New Delhi has denied them both dignity and democratic rights for over four decades. The militants must be curbed. But bullets aimed at unarmed civilians can bring no peace to the troubled valley.

For the rest of us as Indians, Kashmir has always been ‘our’ dream land, a proud jewel in the Indian crown. Its people however didn’t seem to matter. It was only after seccessionist activity acquired threatening dimensions in the late 80’s, that we woke up to the fact that all was not well in paradise.

When over 1,00,000 Kashmiri Pandits were forced to migrate from the valley and live in refugee camps outside New Delhi in early 1990, a tragic blow was dealt to the secular tradition of the valley. Hindu communal organisations made maximum capital from this migration, while the national press failed to document these aspects of the issue. About 20.000 Muslims also fled the valley. Many who stayed back took pains to guard the homes of Pandits who had left. Unfortunately, however these aspects were buried in the hysteria that was whipped up. Exaggerated numbers of Pandits killed and other tales of terror were unleashed by the saffron brigade’s rumour mill, uncorrected by government.

Human rights violations by the Indian security forces – torture and custodial deaths, encounter killings, gang rapes, firing on unarmed civilians – in the last few years, have been matched by gross instances of physical and mental abuse and torture of people by the militants. Kashmiri women, proud of their freedom till the late 80’s, were threatened with acid bulbs if they failed to don the purdah in the early days of militancy.

Any hope of winning back the Kashmiri people, lies in healing the proud Kashmiri’s wounded sense of identity. This can only happen if cold, aggressive and military solutions are put aside and humane, confidence-building measures are undertaken.            

Minority Fundamentalism
Freedom to Dissent – June 1994

In any secular democracy, the right to equality, the freedom to practice one’s faith and the right to live with dignity go hand in hand with the freedom of expression,  which includes the right to dissent. Both as a matter of principle and from the very practical question of co-existence in multi-cultural, multi-religious societies like India, there is little to choose between the frenzy of Kar Sevaks in Ayodhya and the murderous fatwas of Mullahs or Ayatollahs for the head of Salman Rushdie or Taslima. No one can deny to Muslims or any other group for that matter, the right to peaceful, non-violent protest against whatever, or whoever, offends their religious or other sensibilities. But if democracy has to survive, the call to kill Rushdie or Taslima must be unequivocally condemned.

Three years after a murderous attack on his life by students of the Jamia Milia University – for defending Rushdie’s right to the freedom of expression – professor Mushirul Hasan, its pro vice chancellor, cannot step into the premises. A month ago, some students have threatened again to “cut him to pieces” if he were to resume duty on the Jamia campus. He has no adequate security. Hasan, a liberal in an avowedly secular state has, in a nutshell, been held to ransom by fanatics threatening violence.

The practice of “majoritarianism” by the self appointed custodians of Islam, that is, the resort to violence to settle any difference over views or issues, can only contribute to the growth of majoritarian tendencies in society as a whole. If we are unable to accept varied and dissenting opinions and world-views from within our own or other communities, intolerance and violence can be the only result. And, since we do not live on isolated islands, this bigotry, fanaticism and extremism must inevitably flow across the borders of faith.    

Christian Issue
For Christ’s Sake – July 1994

A meeting of hundreds of Christian theologians from the church order and the Laity under the aegis of The Indian Theological Association in Delhi on April 22, 1994, began with desecrated remains of holy scriptures, the Guru Granth Sahib and the Koran, rescued from burnt mosques and gurudwaras, being passed around in little trays to the participants who stood in respectful silence.

 Reflected in this touching and symbolic gesture of the Indian Christian community is their response to the resurgence of Hindu extremism in India over the last decade.

The realisation and the fear deep down, that the miniscule Christian minority could be the next victim of nascent Hindu fascism, has already been borne out by both concerted and stray attacks against missionaries – including rapes and killings of nuns – in Bihar, Punjab and U.P., by the zealots from the Sangh Parivar over the past seven to nine years.

While at one level the Christian minority in India today has begun to analyse, prepare and equip itself to cope with growing Hindu extremism, at another level, the community continues to battle against the church hierarchy to overcome many rigid, and insular ideas within.

 Sixty Christian women leaders in India unanimously set a deadline, June 1995, for women’s ordination in all churches all over India. In a resolution passed at a meeting in Bangalore, between May 11-14, 1993, the assembly of Christian women from different walks of life, also demanded 50 per cent representation of women in churches’ decision-making bodies. Even though the initiative has come from the community itself, the union government appears to be dragging its feet over the tabling of a comprehensive bill in parliament signalling major reforms in Christian Personal Law. The delay by the government despite the Christian community’s readiness for reform has created apprehensions in the minds of those at the forefront of the movement for change about the motives of the ruling party.       

Gender Justice and Uniform Civil Code
Uniform Civil Code or Gender Justice? – March 1994

Caught between the Sangh Parivar which has communalised an essentially secular concern for a uniform civil code and the orthodox Muslim leadership resistent to any change, the women’s movement and other secular-democratic forces seem to have been gripped by an intellectual paralysis. Unless these organisations decommunalise the demand and shift the focus of the debate to gender justice – not just Muslim, but all personal laws in India are loaded against women – the uniform civil code issue may prove to be a lethal weapon.

The Hindutvavadi clamour for a uniform civil code is justified on the ground that it will help bring “national integration.” How a commonality in personal laws can realize this ideal when a common criminal law has failed in eradicating crime, is a question only they can answer. The Muslim orthodoxy has done its bit to aid the RSS cause, the women’s movement in particular and secular-democratic forces in general, too, cannot escape their share of the blame for letting the Hindutvavadis totally dominate and distort the debate on badly needed reforms in all family laws in India. But a dangerous, if unintended, result of this silence was the smug belief among large sections of the Hindu majority, including non-communal people, that while the law-abiding, secular minded Hindus had peacefully accepted the codification of Hindu family laws in the 50’s, Muslim personal law was still thickly laden with gender inequities. 

Last June, the ulema took the strange position that though triple-talaq is reprehensible in the eyes of Islam, its legality cannot be questioned. Undaunted by this , a large number of Muslim men and women publicly demanded an immediate end of this anti-women and anti-Islamic practice. It was an opportunity for women’s groups and other secular-democratic minded people to intervene and to reinforce the reformist voice among Muslims.

Indo-Pak peace
Voices From Pakistan – October 1994

The courageous efforts of progressive individuals and groups – the women’s movement and the human rights movement – have brought to light increasingly brutal attacks on the lives and dignity of minorities, including women in Pakistan. Radical theatre groups and dissenting historians, though small in number, join hands in the struggle to regain Pakistan’s lost, secular, democratic ethos.

According to the annual survey by the HRCP, 1993 saw more clashes, more killing, more incidents of violence within mosques and over possession of mosques than the preceding year. Members of one sect would not be caught dead in the mosque of another. Most ironically, these spurts of religious intolerance speared on by the blatant use of Mullah power are today being matched by rigid intolerance by some leaders of the minorities.

 Human rights violations against Hindus have also taken place. The confiscation of their only cremation ground in Rawalpindi, at the instance of fanatical zealots, generated a controversy with the HRCP stepping to investigate and help.

It remains indisputable that in all the elections held in Pakistan since its independence, political parties representing the voice of religious extremism have never managed to win more than 3-4 per cent of the vote. How then does the writ of the fanatical Mullah still fire individuals and some sections to frenzy and brutality? A part of the problem lies in the inability of all parties to openly condemn and sideline this voice of intolerance and extremism, however marginalised it may be.

Even the Benazir Bhutto government, that has been shrill over its concerns for human rights in Kashmir has been unable to adhere to its electoral promises, repeal this law or the Hudood ordinance, that is blatantly discriminatory towards women.    

Brothers in Arms – January 1997
Over 160 delegates from Pakistan and nearly 200 from India spent the last four days of 1996 together in Calcutta to reaffirm their commitment to friendship between neighbours and to finalise the peace agenda for the coming year. Excerpts from exclusive interviews with three of the Pakistani delegates is reproduced below.

Rochi Ram – Lawyer and Human Rights’ Activist, Sind
The fact remains that a non-Muslim in Pakistan is born with a handicap. There have been times when I might have been tempted to migrate to India but never could. What were these? A temptation to free oneself from undemocratic Pakistan, free of the tensions of the riots that take place. But, somehow, none of this ever made me want to leave Pakistan. Because its my country and I love the people there and most of all, because I belong to the desert. At a meeting of minorities in Karachi in 1979, I forcefully argued against the system of separate
[I1] . Muslim league people said that this was the tradition of Jinnah and they wanted to follow it. I said that the idea of a separate electorate was espoused to divide India. That has happened. But what does the Muslim League want to divide now?

Fauzia Saeed – Women’s Rights Activist, Islamabad
If you ask me which are the most organised sections of society in Pakistan, I will definitely include women. We have suffered, with two martial laws, which have had a very significant impact on our lives. The second one, particularly, was very harsh. The victims of the second martial law, in the name of Islamisation, were artists and women. It had a very negative impact in that we were thrown several years back. For instance in the seventies we were a lot more liberal. Then we could laugh a little more, sing a little more, dance a little more.

Abdul Hameed Khan – Retired Government Servant, Lahore
Building bonds, making friendships between people, these are my life’s mission. Each time I visit India, every year that is, I have never had a problem with my visa. I live in my village for at least one month. There is a Pandit Lekh Ram, he is a staunch Brahmin, does not even eat garlic, I stay in his house. And his wife feeds me inside her kitchen. She has even faced criticism from other villagers for doing this but she doesn’t heed them. For seventeen years now I have been spending time in both countries. I can never find the joy and satisfaction of living in Lahore, which I get in my village in India.                  

Genocide – March-April 2002

The torching of bogey S-6 of the Ahmedabad-bound Sabarmati express at Godhra on February 27, in which 58 passengers, including 26 women and 12 children, were burnt to death, is an unpardonable act. The perpetrators of this grossly inhuman crime must be tried swiftly and given the most stringent punishment. But, for the burnt corpses of the ill-fated passengers to become the justification for armed squads of the BJP and its ‘brother’ organistions – RSS, VHP, Bajrang Dal – to launch a pogrom that sits well with what the UN defines as genocide against the innocent Muslims of Gujarat?

The period between mid-March and April 16, when we go to press, saw continued violence in Ahmedabad and other parts of Gujarat. More and more instances of indiscriminate police firing have been reported where victims are mainly, the minority. It is imperative that the Gujarat police regularly make statistics available to the members of the public.

The Muslim community in Gujarat is one of the most prosperous in the country and its contribution to the economy of the state is pivotal. The fact that the economy of this section of the population has been made a direct target suggests a deeper and long-term motive behind the destruction.

Journalists covering communal riots in the country over the past decade, have noticed a sea change in the conditions of work and the risks they run. Gujarat 2002 saw some of these tendencies being directed at the media. Chief minister, Narendra Modi himself made repeated and veiled threats about the television coverage by national channels like NDTV and Aaj Tak. He even attempted a ban on the channel, which did not quit work.

 The utter disregard for the loss of life, property and the anguish that a section of the citizenry suffered due to perpetrated violence could be seen in the fact that, until Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee flew into Ahmedabad to give his speech at Shah Alam camp, Gujarat Chief Minister, Narendra Modi had not visited a single one.

Adept at its role behind the scenes, the fountainhead of Hindutva, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh gave a clean chit to the Narendra Modi administration after the Gujarat carnage. Describing the violence after the Godhra incident as a “natural reaction of Hindus,” the RSS said that no government could have controlled the “upsurge.”

In the language of the chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC): “ it is the primary and inescapable responsibility of the state to protect the right to life, liberty, equality and dignity of all those who constitute it. It is also the responsibility of the state to ensure that such rights are not violated either through overt acts, or through abetment or negligence. It is a clear and emerging principle of human rights jurisprudence that the state is responsible not only for the acts of its own agents, but also for the acts of non-state players acting within its jurisdiction. The state is, in addition, responsible for any inaction that may cause or facilitate the violation of human rights.”

Godse’s Gujarat – July 2002

Five months after presiding over a state-directed, statewide genocide in his state, Chief Minister Narendra Modi continues to rule Gujarat in abject defiance of judicial directives and constitutional principles. Refugees in Ahmedabad city and all over the state have been forcibly evicted despite assurance given by government to the high court that camps will not be coerced into closing down.

The demonisation of Muslim survivors huddled in relief camps is an ugly reality of post-genocide Gujarat. Be it the C.M. or his senior ministers, vicious and highly publicised statements have only rubbed salt on the wounds of the traumatised victims of violence. In most cases where Muslims have returned to their villages, they are faced with economic and social boycott for having had the audacity to name the guilty.

Given the abject failure and refusal of the state and the central governments to resettle the survivors through reasonable and speedy rehabilitation, the onus has fallen entirely, on the Muslim community to look after their co-religionists. A sad commentary on the social and political reality in India today.

Forced to go back to their villages or to re-locate where the former option is simply unavailable, Muslims in Gujarat face a bitter reality. In mid-April, they were convinced or compelled to cancel the Muharram tazia procession. But when it came to the Lord Jagannath Rathyatra, despite police advice to the contrary, Modi insisted that it must follow the traditional route that winds its way through Muslim areas and mixed localities.

In Ahmedabad and in Baroda, a silent yet effective boycott of Muslims, socially and economically, continues. A few icons from the Gujarati business community have tried to counter the hate politics led or encouraged by the Gujarat government. But schools in Ahmedabad and Baroda have now, more so than before, bid good-bye to Muslim students.

Godse’s Gujarat – July 2002

Five months after presiding over a state-directed, statewide genocide in his state, Chief Minister Narendra Modi continues to rule Gujarat in abject defiance of judicial directives and constitutional principles. Refugees in Ahmedabad city and all over the state have been forcibly evicted despite assurance given by government to the high court that camps will not be coerced into closing down.

The demonisation of Muslim survivors huddled in relief camps is an ugly reality of post-genocide Gujarat. Be it the C.M. or his senior ministers, vicious and highly publicised statements have only rubbed salt on the wounds of the traumatised victims of violence. In most cases where Muslims have returned to their villages, they are faced with economic and social boycott for having had the audacity to name the guilty.

Given the abject failure and refusal of the state and the central governments to resettle the survivors through reasonable and speedy rehabilitation, the onus has fallen entirely, on the Muslim community to look after their co-religionists. A sad commentary on the social and political reality in India today.

Forced to go back to their villages or to re-locate where the former option is simply unavailable, Muslims in Gujarat face a bitter reality. In mid-April, they were convinced or compelled to cancel the Muharram tazia procession. But when it came to the Lord Jagannath Rathyatra, despite police advice to the contrary, Modi insisted that it must follow the traditional route that winds its way through Muslim areas and mixed localities.

In Ahmedabad and in Baroda, a silent yet effective boycott of Muslims, socially and economically, continues. A few icons from the Gujarati business community have tried to counter the hate politics led or encouraged by the Gujarat government. But schools in Ahmedabad and Baroda have now, more so than before, bid good-bye to Muslim students.

Christian Issue
India’s Christian/Salt of the Earth – December 2000

As we enter the third millennium of human civilisation, as calculated by the Christian calender, Christians of various denominations in India, totaling not more than 2.3 per cent of the entire population, are responsible for 25 per cent of the social services provided in the country. Forty per cent of the total social work by NGO’s undertaken in the country is by Christian institutions alone.

It is alleged that the insidious intent of ‘conversion’ is the sole reason why, in the service of their Lord, Jesus, Christians travel to regions ignored and neglected, to people forgotten and even brutalised, to educate, to nurse, to cure and to comfort – all with the missionary zeal that has come to be associated with their life-long work. This allegation has achieved unsurpassed success in the past five years or so, with chilling violence of varied kinds being used against Christians. We as a nation have allowed the burning of Bibles and the desecration of churches, to lay the foundation for mass violence against others in our midst.

Any project for the underprivileged living among the squalor of the slums in Ahmedabad today automatically draws in the institution set up by Father Ramiro Erviti, the St. Xavier’s Social Service Society. Father Erviti, has his band of followers and devotees, in a city scarred by hate and venom. They maybe silent, afraid to speak out against the insanity and irrationality of hatred, but given an opening these young and not so young men speak highly of the man who tried to make them “men for others.”

It is time that all those who believe in India’s secular and pluralistic society do everything in their power to thwart the Sangh Parivar’s game, which in the ultimate analysis will not usher in a Hindu Rashtra, but will destroy us as a nation. 

Past and Prejudice – March 1997

Relieving our past from prejudice, will not only contribute to a more rich and clear understanding of it but, could also, at this fragile juncture, contribute to a more rational understanding of the present.

The successful penetration of a single term, ‘Babar ki aulad,’ in the Indian socio-political discourse shows the remarkable success of Hindutva ideology in interpreting past events for us. The past decade has been live witness to the bloody potential of such communal discourse. Text books are today only one of the means by which communal ideologies are perpetuated.

A study of early medieval India, projects the Gupta empire, as the ‘Golden Age’ for India. The Guptas were shown to have repulsed “foreign” invaders such as the Hunas. Literary achievements were also underlined, Kalidasa being the best example. However, when we speak of the medieval age, we unconsciously refer to the “Muslim invasion of India.”

 One of the major problems in the communal approach to history is when we make the cardinal error of characterizing an age through the character of a king. Aurangzeb has suffered most at the hands of such stereotyping. Ironically, under Aurangzeb, percentage of Rajput nobles reduced but the share of Maratha nobility, within the Moghul administration, grew considerably. Besides, we also know that the same Aurangzeb who has cruelly been labelled a temple breaker, also gave enormous grants to temples.

In modern India, for the British, as rulers to understand and control Indian society, it was important to develop an understanding of what Indian society is. It was through this process that the category of a community of Hindus and a community of Muslims began to be widely and increasingly used. This use of community terminology became part of our scholastics and analysis. What we need to ask ourselves is: does this category as a category of analysis, give us the whole picture?               

Women Under Saffron – November 1997

Rajasthan, the state which has been governed for six of the last seven years by those who promise Ramrajya, has witnessed an alarming increase in sexual crimes against women.but what is worse is that, all too often, the sympathies of the self-proclaimed saffron Rambhakts lie with the accused, not the victim.

Jaywantiben Mehta, the then president of the BJP’s women’s wing , when asked about her reaction to the well orchestrated rapes of poor Muslim women in Surat in a crude demonstration of the current-day war and the pillage by the victor, it had been easy for Jaywantiben then to shoot back, “what about the rapes of Kashmiri Pandit girls lying in refugee camps outside Delhi? Are you concerned about them?”

Ironically, the saffron patriarchs already have their answers ready. For Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, CM, Rajasthan and Hari Shankar Bhabhra, deputy CM, “it is quite clear who must bear the blame for this violence against women: women themselves. A woman’s character, elusive and problematic is what leads society to all its ills. And it is women, who have failed as mothers as they have been unable to groom their sons not to be rapists.”

Is there no place for a life of dignity, honour and respect for women under Ramrajya? No justice for women living under Hindutva, where Hindu sanskriti prevails? Is there no security from rape and other forms of sexual violence against women when saffron rules? The alarming rise in sexual crimes against women in Rajasthan in recent years and the BJP government’s shielding of the culprits, provides the answer.     

BEST Bakery Report – June- July 2003

Ending one and a half month’s speculation and silence after she turned hostile in court, Zahira Habibullah Shaikh and the entire Habibullah family approached the Citizen’s for Justice and Peace (Mumbai) for legal aid to jointly ask for a re-trial in the BEST Bakery Massacre. The petitioners will also urge the higher court to order the location of the re-trial outside Gujarat as a consistent atmosphere of threat pervades there under the current political dispensation.

The BEST Bakery carnage, in which 14 persons were brutally massacred over a period of 12 hours on March 1, 2002, like 18 other brutal incidents in that period in Gujarat, epitomised the abject failure of the state administration and law and order machinery to protect the lives and properties of innocent citizens. Justice H.U. Maida, additional sessions judge, Fast Track Court One, Vadodara, delivered his verdict on June 27, 2003 in which he acquitted all accused of brutal murder.

From the time the case was committed to sessions until the summons were issued to eye witnesses, the public prosecutor, Raghuvir Pandya, did not have any sitting with them. When in fact the witnesses did turn hostile in court, the public prosecutor made no efforts whatsoever to place before the court the report of the NHRC, of the Concerned Citizens Tribunal – Crimes Against Humanity, numerous media reports and television  video-taped testimonies where the eye witnesses had deposed clearly about what and whom they saw. In short he did nothing to gather the truth from the witnesses even though they were contradicting previous statements in court.  These are few of the questions which remain unanswered till date.

And the lop-sided judgement that has been released is reason strong enough for the case to be tried outside Gujarat.         

 Was this a deliberate and malicious act to outrage religious feelings? Hardly. Yet hussain has been pushed into voluntary exile, with Bombay authorities threatening to interrogate this distinguished , secular 81-year-old artist with custodial interrogation the moment he lands on Indian soil.

All too often the forces of state stood idly by. When a regime wanted to curry favour with the muslims, it yielded to fundamentalist demands and threatened to ban books like the satanic verses for wholly opportunistic political reasons. But when rushdie’s the moor’s last sigh caricatured thakeray, physical threats were in the air.

There are many other instances of discriminatory abuses and forbearances by legal authorities, as also communal propaganda and the mayhem and social terrorism that such propaganda inspires. The simple and hopelessly unjustified surmise that the judges themselves are communal is unwarranted. But judgements have to be scrutinised and subjected to the respectful and responsible criticism of  ordinary men and women.


Feedback | About Us
Sabrang Communications India 2003 All rights reserved.
Sabrang is a non-profit organisation registered under the