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Unsung Heroes & Heroines

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A BUILDER OF YOUNG LIVES

Samarpita Banerjee

Pune: Renuka and Anjana enter the room with a twinkle in their eyes. And why not? They had a big news to announce. “I scored 87 per cent in my class VII exam,” Renuka announces. “And I 85 per cent,” chimes in Anjana.

What makes the achievement of these two girls worth acknowledging is the fact that they belong to poor, uneducated parents who work as nomadic construction workers. And for this marvellous achievement, full credit goes to their mentor, Nirmala Hiremath, or didi, as she is lovingly called.

Hiremath has been working for the children of construction workers across the city for the past 23 years and runs the Tara Mobile Crèche (TMC). The crèche takes care of some 6,000 children every year. “We have children ranging from the age group of 15 days to 15-16 years. At the moment, we are running 16 day care centres across the city and till date we have opened and closed 128 sites,” said Nirmala, elaborating on the structure of the TMC.

So, how did it all begin? “The idea of starting such a crèche first came to social worker Meera Mahadevan when she came across many half-naked children of construction workers playing on a site in Delhi. The sight moved and motivated her so much that she started a day care centre for such children in Delhi in 1969. The Mumbai and Pune branches opened in 1972 and 1980 respectively, and we work collectively under the name Mobile Crèches. Since then, the programme has grown considerably and all the three organisations now function as separate entities,” says Hiremath.

Elaborating on the aim of the organisation, Hiremath adds, “Even as thousands of people come to the city from other states to work as construction workers, and build the ‘Modern India’, their children are left to fend for themselves among piles of rubble and construction material. They do not get proper food and hygiene. They have to work as domestic helps at homes and most of them cannot attend schools. In the process, they lose their childhood. Our aim is to ensure that we are able to reach out to more and more such children and make them capable enough to enter the mainstream instead of following the path of their parents.”

Since its inception, TMC has faced many problems. “Initially, the developers did not support the idea because it becomes an added responsibility and they even had to give us a room which is in a good condition to act as a house for new-borns. This problem persists even today. At times, they give us a small room with a tin ceiling without a fan or water supply,” says Sandhya Gujar, a volunteer who has been with TMC for the last 17 years.

However, facing these problems as challenges, the TMC team, headed by Hiremath spreads awareness around the city about the fundamental right of every child — the right to education. “Today, the situation is much better. Because of the awareness, schools are accepting our children. Also, more developers and builders are giving us support by contributing one-third of the expenses.”

The organisation has also opened a hostel for students who do well in schools. “Since the parents are nomadic, they keep shifting from one site to another and it becomes difficult for us to track down the children. Continuity in education is very important. That’s why we have opened the Seva Sadan hostel. Today, we have 13 students staying there.”

Numerous students, who once were a part of the TMC, have now entered the mainstream and doing quite well. Twenty three-year-old Sidhu Kamde today works in a call centre. “I owe everything to TMC and didi,” says Sidhu.

 

Easter : Christa Purana still moves faithful to tears

Christa Purana still moves faithful to tears

Ashley D’Mello | TNN


Mumbai: Avelino Rejoice Dhakul, 81, never fails to bring tears to people’s eyes when he renders the Passion of Christ from the Christa Purana, describing scenes from the crucifixion at the Good Friday service at St Francis Xavier Church, Vile Parle.

Dhakul, who has been singing solo for the last 25 years, is keen that others should step up to carry on the torch, but he says sadly, “I have no luck so far.’’

Singing of verses from the Christa Purana, which is written in the old Marathi script, is a looked-forward to ritual during the season of Lent in some of the old churches of suburban Mumbai, although the last three decades have seen a slow fading of this tradition.
Lent, commemorates 40 days of fasting and abstinence, before the death of Christ on Good Friday. The singing involves a mournful incantation of the verses, which detail the life and death of Christ. This is done during the Passu ceremony when the body of Christ is lowered from the cross for veneration by the congregation.

The Christa Purana is part of the religious and cultural tradition of Catholics in Mumbai, Goa and Mangalore. Written by an English Jesuit missionary, Thomas Stevens, who studied at Oxford and settled in Goa in the 17th century, the writing follows the Hindu puranic style and is regarded as an epic.

Dhakul states that most youngsters do not want to learn to sing the verses in the Purana. “The singing on Good Friday can sometimes last almost two hours, and most youngsters stay away from such a task,’’ he says. “The interest in singing in Marathi is also not strong any more. Youngsters prefer to sing hymns in English.’’

But for the D’Mello brothers at St Andrew Church in Bandra, Conrad (39) and Anselm (36), who sing, the experience is different. “The tradition of singing the Purana is still strong in our family but it has slowed down in Bandra over the last decades,’’ says Conrad. “We have the puran tradition since my great-grandfather’s time and probably even before that, we sang the puran verses regularly at home when we were growing up in Bandra.’’

Even among the Catholics of Vasai who speak and write in Marathi, the tradition is fading. Bishop Thomas Dabre of Vasai explains why.

“The Purana is no longer popular in Vasai because it is written in old Marathi, which is sometimes difficult to understand. The churches now use modern hymns,’’ he says.
Efforts to revive the epic are under way. Fr Simon Borges of Kurla has helped produce a CD of songs from the puran. The issue has also been taken up by Major Leon Fonseca, executive committee member of the East Indian Association. “We are discussing ways and means of preserving this centuries-old tradition. It should not be allowed to die,’’ he says.

Pune bishop
The bishop of Vasai, Thomas Dabre, has been appointed bishop of Pune by the Vatican. A Marathi scholar and a well-known Catholic theologian, Bishop Dabre is an authority on Indian mysticism and Sant Tukaram. One of his main thrusts has been interreligious dialogue and communal harmony. TNN

 

Islam and Peace:Muslims must speak in one voice against extremism

An article courtesy  TOI, of  17 March.

It is very very rare to see such frank opinions on extremists, root cause for extremism, especially when linked to a religion with more than its share of violence and man made tragedies.

Even brave souls like MJ Akbar have not been so forthright in in voicing their opinions.

We wish those who should read it, do so, and introspect.

Ed:

Build The Peace Consensus

Muslims must speak in one voice against extremism

Sadia Dehlvi 

The trail of terror continues with cricketers as the latest target. The Mumbai and Lahore attacks, public executions and the murder of over a thousand civilians in the Swat valley by Taliban-style terrorists are horrifying examples of atrocities committed by militant groups thriving on political Islam.

Global Muslim communities urgently need to condemn the agenda of political Islam that distorts religious scriptures to legitimise violence. This ideology of Islamism is threatening to replace a moderate and spiritual Islam, leading to the destruction of many societies and, in particular, oppression of women and minorities.

Muslims have a moral responsibility to engage in the social, political and economic development of the societies they live in. Global Muslim societies would do well to imitate the exceptional efforts of Indian clerics in denouncing terrorism and delinking it with Islam. Sincere moral outrage needs to be expressed at Taliban atrocities in Afghanistan and Pakistan, political kidnappings and assassinations, militancy in Kashmir, Shia-Sunni killings in Iraq and Pakistan, fatwas condoning suicide bombings in the Israel-Palestine conflict and other atrocities affecting innocent lives.

Muslims require an international consensus on combating extremism. Our credibility is lost when we express selective outrage, as in the aftermath of the Danish cartoons controversy.

Political Islam draws its lifeblood from the ideology of fighting the oppressor, but has clearly become the oppressor itself. Though some Islamist groups have renounced violence, accepted the principles of democracy and marginally improved their stand on women and minority rights, they remain socially conservative.

In Jordan, the Islamist party does not support the rights of women to file for divorce. In Kuwait, the Islamists fought against the right of women to vote. In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood will not allow a woman or a person from a minority community to become head of state. Unfortunately, militant Islamist groups thrive in the political vacuum created by oppressive regimes in most Islamic countries.

Muslims must stop blaming the problem of extremism on catastrophic policies of foreign countries. For, two wrongs simply do not make a right. It is primarily a Muslim problem, threatening both Muslim and non-Muslim societies. We need to acknowledge that there is a problem of theology when extremists talk of going straight to heaven after taking innocent lives.

The roots of all modern militant Islamic movements can be traced to one man, Abdul Wahab from Nejd in the Arabian Peninsula. He set out to ‘purify’ Islam, believing that Muslims had drifted away from true religion. Wahab’s followers destroyed many sacred sites that he
considered linked to idolatry. Attacking the arts for being frivolous and dangerous, Wahab sanctioned the rape, murder and plunder of those who refused to follow his injunctions. He was considered a heretic by most, for Mecca and Medina were then centres of contemplative Islam, inhabited by Sufis from all over the world.

In 1774-75, Wahab negotiated a deal with the then nomadic tribe of Saud, forebears of the current royal family, in exchange for support to their quest for political domination. Most Saudis reject the name Wahhabi; they either call themselves Muwahuddin — Unitarians — or Salafi, referring to salaf, the venerated companions of the Prophet. In this blinkered view, no other version of religious truth can exist.

This new face of Islam has nothing to do with Sufis, music, poetry, miracles or the countless devotional customs of Muslim cultures across the world.

Under the patronage of Saudi Arabia, Wahhabism went from strength to strength. Abul Ala Mawdudi, a journalist who translated the Quran outside the classical paradigms, propagated the Wahhabi ideology. He founded the political party Jamaat-e-Islami in Pakistan, making jihad central to Islamic discourse. Addressing non-Muslims as infidels, he grouped Muslims into ‘partial’ and ‘true’ Muslims. Mawdudi’s ideas of Islam as a revolutionary doctrine to take over governments and overturn the whole universal order deeply influenced Syed Qutub of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.

These groups have been motivated by political upheavals and the rejection of traditional scholars. Syed Qutub’s brother happened to be among the teachers of Osama bin Laden.

The extremism now found in Mecca and Medina, the heartland of Islam, is the Wahhabi ideology that the Saudis have spent millions in promoting through their outreach programmes. There is no tolerance for Shias, Sunni Sufis or other Muslim traditions, leave alone non-Muslims.

Unfortunately, there is no collective Muslim protest against the Saudi regime for bulldozing graveyards, destroying the cultural and religious heritage of the holy cities, imposing a certain segregation of the sexes inside the Prophet’s mosque at Medina, radical sermons or distribution of radical literature outside Saudi mosques, many of them issuing calls for death to whoever they view as infidels or innovators of Islam.

The problem of Muslim extremism began in the Muslim world and the responsibility of resolving it lies with us.

The inability to present Islam as a peaceful religion is a collective failure of global Muslim communities. We could begin by increasing the decibel in condemning violence and sectarianism and standing up for women’s rights.

We should stop demonising the ‘other’ as infidels and show increased support for democratic movements in Muslim countries. It is time for the devout, silent and peace-loving Muslim majority to speak for Islam.

Let our voices be louder than the radical voices claiming to represent us.


The writer is a Delhi-based commentator.

Sadia Dehlvi is a renowned Delhi based media person. She is a prominent face on prime time television debates dealing with the issues of Muslim communities.

A well-known columnist and writer, Dehlvi is frequently published in frontline Urdu, Hindi and English newspapers and magazines. She has been the editor of Bano, a popular woman’s journal in the Urdu language with the Shama group of Publications. Dehlvi has produced and scripted a number of documentaries and television programs.

For over thirty years Sadia Dehlvi has engaged in voicing concern on issues regarding heritage, culture, women and Muslim communities. She is currently working on a book on Delhi’s Sufi history. Her surname ‘Dehlvi” means someone from Delhi reflecting her family’s long association with Delhi

 

Who destroys our forests? The forest department!

Starvation killing jumbos

N D Shiva Kumar | TNN

Of 105 elephants that died in 2007-08, post-mortem of 22 was done after 10 to 25 days of death.

Due to the delay, between 2002 and 2008, the bodies of 23 elephants decomposed and the reason for deaths couldn’t be ascertained.

Five elephants died due to dehydration and starvation

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Bangalore: Elephants are starving to death.

Around 137 of them died over two years (2006-2008), and most due to starvation, dehydration and infection. This is a cause of concern as Karnataka has only 5,500-6,000 elephants.

Post-mortems have revealed that they died due to infection, diseases like peritonitis, diarrhoea, encephlyomyconditis, cardiac arrest, starvation and dehydration.

The number of deaths drastically increased after 2006. Between 2002 and 2006, 24 elephants died, 32 in 2006-07 and 105 in 2007-08.

Nobody cares for them

Of the 105 elephants that died in 2007-08, over 70% died before completing even half their lifespan, which is normally 55-60 years.

Also, 61 were below 20 years old and 21 between 21 and 30 years old.

Shockingly, forest department officials made no effort to find out the reasons for the outbreak of infection.

Displeasure over attitude of officials
The Public Accounts Committee led by Congress leader Siddaramaiah highlights these aspects in its report. The committee expressed shock and displeasure at the attitude of forest officials.

“It’s a serious issue of concern. The department made no efforts to find out the reasons for the outbreak of the epidemic. This is shocking.’’ The committee felt delay in the information to officials about elephants’ death was due to improper vigil (beat system).

Causes of deaths
Inadequate food and water holes and failure to manage and develop grassland were cited as major causes of death. The authorities registered 2,987 forest crimes between 2001 and 2008. Referring to this, the committee felt camps to prevent illegal hunting had not been set up properly.

More camps had been set up in areas less prone to illegal hunting and few camps in crime-infested areas. For long, animal rights activists have been asking the government to save elephants. It seems the effort is just not there.

Corrective measures
Study by Wildlife Society on reasons for major outbreak of epidemic and diseases Tighten beat system, conduct postmortem of dead animals and record reasons for death Ensure speedy disposal of pending cases

No peace even in death

Of 105 elephants that died in 2007-08, post-mortem of 22 was done after 10 to 25 days of death.

Due to the delay, between 2002 and 2008, the bodies of 23 elephants decomposed and the reason for deaths couldn’t be ascertained.

Five elephants died due to dehydration and starvation

Forest dept felled twice

CAG REPORT REVEALS LAPSES

IN FOLLOWING CONSERVATION ACT.

PAC REPORT SLAMS OFFICIALS FOR RISE IN ELEPHANT DEATHS

Jayashree Nandi | TNN

Bangalore: Who destroys our forests? The forest department!

The latest report of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) has revealed non-compliance of the administration of Forest Conservation Act, 1980 by the forest department, which has led to several hundred hectares of forest land diverted for non-forest use.

Shockingly, compensatory reforestation has not been carried out on 5,73,297 acres in Karnataka and Rs 17.09 crore fine has not been recovered from 23 user agencies.

Forest land of 483.52 acres were transferred by the revenue department without the Centre’s approval. Though renewal of lease in two cases was rejected by them, 24.09 hectares were not resumed. In 22 other cases, proposals of renewals of lease were not sent to the Centre by the PCCF despite lapse of 1 to 45 years!

And if this was not enough, the records in the forest department at Bangalore, Shimoga, Chikmagalur, Sirsi and nine other divisions headed by DCFs were checked by the auditor general’s office.

Seven user agencies had sought approval for utilization of 342.35 hectares for non-forest purposes. But over 391.71 hectares of forest land were utilized prior to obtaining an approval from the government.

This included 49.36 hectares utilized in excess of that approved for diversion in two cases in Bidar and Mangalore.

Way off the mark

In 19 cases of diversion of forest land for non-forestry purposes like irrigation, wind power, mining, road work and others involving an area of 3,198 hectares, compliance with conditions by Centre were not ensured despite a lapse of 2 to 27 years from the date of clearance.

LAND DRAIN

Of 594.10 hectares of forest land approved (December 1995 to September 1996) for settlement of displaced families of Sea Bird project in Karwar, only 182.94 hectares utilized

Out of balance area of 411.16 hectares, 277 hectares where felling was done, reforested subsequently at Rs 45.49 lakh without resuming land

Centre not informed

Forest land of 483.52 acres were transferred by the revenue department without the Centre’s approval

In 22 cases, proposals to renew lease were not sent to the Centre by the PCCF despite lapse of 1 to 45 years

 

Unsung :Girl tops exam, beats disability

Girl tops exam, beats disability

Visually Impaired Is An Ace

Ikram Khan | TNN

Bangalore: She can’t see but is showing the way. Sumaiya Khan, 15, topped the exams at St Michael’s High School (RT Nagar) and promises to continue her sterling performance in college next year.
Sumaiya was adjudged the best student after securing 94% in her preparatory exams.

The gutsy lass, who has coped with darkness since birth, is looking to achieve distinction in the SSLC exams. “I’m studying eight hours a day and hope to get more than the preparatory exam marks,” she said.

“She is a brilliant girl. What amazes me is her focus and determination to challenge and beat the best. I’m confident she will do our school proud this year,” said school principal Naushad Nazir of head girl Sumaiya.

Her mother Nikath, a nursery teacher at the same school, said Sumaiya was a lot easier to teach, simply because she was always willing to learn and compete with normal children.

“She chose to study in a normal school and from the day she started, she has managed to top the class. She has won many debates and singing competitions. She loves challenges and that helps her scale new heights,” said Nikath.

After winning the Best Visually Challenged Student, a state award conferred by the National Federation of the Blind, a couple of years ago, Sumaiya was the lone child who made it to the final list of Horlicks Wiz Kids International School competition.

“I was selected from among 6,000 students and the onus was on me to make Bangalore proud. I gave it my best shot and all my teachers and friends were delighted and appreciated my effort,” said Sumaiyya. She made it to the final 12 round of the talent and quiz test.

Sumaiya was stood first in the International Chinthana Science exam and did well in the Winnova Genius Talent Search. Her favourite subject is social studies and she aims to give the civil services exam a shot. Knowing her steely resolve, her parents Abdullah Khan and Nikath are confident she will do well there too.

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Top French honour for Pondy Sanskrit scholar


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Top French honour for Pondy Sanskrit scholar

Bosco Dominique | TNN

BIRTHDAY GIFT: S Sambanda Sivacharyar, Sanskrit scholar and research assistant of French Institute of Pondicherry

Puducherry: He has been working more than 10 hours a day for the past five decades, collecting palm leaf manuscripts in different scripts from various parts of country and categorising them after researching their content.

On his 83rd birthday, S Sambanda Sivacharyar, Sanskrit scholar and research assistant at the French Institute of Pondicherry (IFP), got the pleasant news that he had been selected by the French government for one of the oldest and prestigious civil awards ‘Ordre des Palmes Académiques’ for his contributions to the study of the languages, texts, history and cultures of the Indian subcontinent.

The scholar, who joined IFP in 1969, extensively collected and studied Saiva manuscripts on palm leaves under the guidance of pandit N R Bhatt. He was instrumental in publishing critical editions of the Saivagamas, one of the 28 main texts (agamas) of Saivasiddantha (philosophy and scriptures of the Saivas), tracing the historical evolution of its doctrines and the Saiva ritual system dating back several centuries.

He is currently in charge of the upcoming edition of Suksmagama of the IFP, which has one of the richest collections of palm leaf manuscripts on Saivasiddhanta.

The institute’s palm leaf manuscript collections have been included in UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register.

The researcher said palm leaf manuscripts available in the institute were in several scripts including Tamil, Grantha, Telugu, Malayalam, Tigalari, Sarada, Nadinagiri and Newari.

His work primarily focussed on cataloguing the manuscripts based on their contents and transliterating the contents from one script to another, Grantha to Devanagiri script, for instance, enabling present generation researchers to access and understand ancient contents.

“IFP has about 8,000 bundles of palm leaf manuscripts mostly on Saivasiddhanta followed by grammar, palmistry and Thevaram in various scripts. We have categorised a little more than 25% of our collection and brought out several publications on Saivasiddhanta. transliterating the contents from ancient scripts to Devanagiri script,” Sambanda Sivachariar told TOI. He said in ancient times, Tamil-speaking people used Grantha script to write Sanskrit and most of the manuscripts on religious text were written in Grantha.

“The use of Grantha to write Sanskrit declined subsequently in the last century and Devanagiri became a widely popular script for Sanskrit,” he said.

Born on January 6, 1927 in a family of temple priests, Sambandan learnt temple rites at the tender age of seven from his father and the Vedas from eminent scholars before joining the Ahobila Math Sanskrit Padashala, Madurantakam. He studied at Raja’ College, Thiruvaiyaru and Mylapore Sanskrit College.

Before joining the IFP, he worked at the manuscript library of Theosophical Society and the Government Manuscript Library, Chennai and was also closely associated with the Saraswathi Mahal Library, Thanjavur, Thiruvanandapuram Manuscripts Library and Mysore Oriental Research Library in 1950s.

He has to his credit the establishment of a printing press with Grantha and Devanagiri scripts and printed and published many books on Agamas. Presently, he is editing an almanac, ‘Thiru Koil Anushtana Vakya Panchangam’ for the past 15 years and running a publishing company, which comes out with books on temple rituals.
bosco.dominique@timesgroup.com

 

ANGLO-INDIANS IN BANGALORE :With Diginity

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THEY CARE: Kyle Ian Fleming and Leroy Ashley Tills

Giving dignity to a community

Here’s an organization that works for the uplift of Anglo-Indians in Bangalore

Yamini Nair | TNN

They are a distinct yet minority community originating in India, consisting of people of British, French, Portuguese or Dutch ancestry whose native language is English. The Anglo-Indians, though a minority in India, have contributed much to building the nation by providing the best of teachers, and have worked for other aspects of development as well, from as early as in the 1950s itself. Yet they remain ignored.

To change this situation, a bunch of youngsters stepped in to form an organization. The brainchild of Leroy Ashley Tills, the Anglo-Indians in Bangalore (AIB) was officially born on November 1 this year. Among the 12,000 community members in the city, more than half of them lead a difficult life. The rest include many who cannot even afford their children’s education or a square meal a day. “In just 13 days of formation, we have over 60 members registered and a monthly get-together was conducted on November 9,” says Leroy, founder-member and president of AIB.

With members ranging from CEOs to MDs and GMs, the organization has a different strategy. “Education is the first priority though we also provide them with food, grocery, job placement, healthcare as well as personal and career counselling. We help the children of our community members who are not able to take forward their education,” he adds.

However, their activities are not confined to education alone. Adrian Gregaroy, in his successful days in West Asia, had earned enough to own a couple of houses and some land in India till his wife became a schizophrenic 20 years ago. Her medical treatment was done at the cost of his savings in all its forms. “When I came to Bangalore in 1999, I just had the clothes I was wearing, other than an ailing wife and my little son. The members of AIB helped me a lot. With their help, I’m shifting my wife to another hospital from Nimhans this week,” says Adrian.

“Our activities aren’t limited to just giving money and supporting their education. Many of them drop out of schools for various other reasons too. We go deep into the root cause of the problem and try to solve it. We give them guidance and help till they can sustain themselves,” says Kyle Ian Fleming, CEO of Nidus Technologies, and a member of the governing board in AIB. He looks after web, visual and media relations for the organization.

“Our aim is to change the image of the community in the society and lead them to the next century. According to the most recent Census, there are about 12,000 Anglo-Indians, a small figure from the government’s point of view. But that does not mean that we can be ignored,” adds Kyle.
Still at the budding stage, these youngsters want to make the functioning of their organization absolutely transparent.

“People frown when they contribute even Rs 100 to an NGO. They will have doubts about whether the whole amount will go to deserving hands. To avoid such confusion, we will let our well-wishers know where each and every rupee they donated is going,” says Kyle.
And do not think that the services of AIB will be limited only to Anglo-Indians. “We have plans to expand our services to other communities as well. We are always Indians first,” says Leroy.

ANGLO-INDIANS IN BANGALORE
Contact:
16, B-2 Renuka Nilaya, 9th Main, Chairmans Layout, Banaswadi Main Road, Bangalore 560043, Phone: 080 25465161; 9740657240
(This is a weekly column on schemes and initiatives by the government, private enterprises or organizations that have had a far-reaching effect on the under-privileged. If you are aware of any such programme, e-mail us at toiblr.reporter@timesgroup.com with ‘Sunshine Schemes’ in the subject line)

 

“Who Hijacked Jamia” : A different muslim perspective on the issue

This is a wonderful article by Arif Mohammed Khan, citing the poor leadership offered to the Muslim community from self-proclaimed muslim bodies such as the Personal Law Board, Muslim Majlis-e-Mushawarat and Jamaat-e-Islami. These organisations he says hijack the core muslim agenda, often backed by shameless political patronage, just as had happened in the Shah Bano case.

Khan talks about the boycott of sane voices in the muslim community such as Mushirul Hasan, who was boycotted for expressing his opinion that banning Satanic Verses would only increase its sales. Ofcourse this same fundamentalism has entered the hindu mindset as well now.

Khan goes on to seal the case with:

The most important Muslim organisation operating from the Jamia neighborhood is the All India Muslim Personal Law Board and its affiliates. During their agitation against the judgment of the Supreme Court in the Shah Bano case, the members of AIMPLB made public exhortations to break the legs of Muslims who differed with their stand. Their supporters went to the extent of suggesting that Supreme Court judges are not competent to interpret Muslim personal law….
Such activities of these Muslim outfits are as much a source of consternation to common Muslims as they are to other Indians. Occasionally some Muslims raise their voice but they lose nerve when they see the political promiscuity and influence enjoyed by these extremist elements.

We would invite the muslim readers of this article (or the artile at Indian Express http://www.indianexpress.com/news/look-who-hijacked-jamia/367985/), who agree broadly with the case Mr. Khan presents , to comment and have your opinion heard. This would help raise the level of discourse on what the muslim community feels about the current Jamia Nagar case, and in general on the agenda of the conspiracy theorists who are abound, and mostly whose voices are heard.

——— The article as appear in Indian Express ————–

“And fear tumult or oppression, which affects not in particular only those of you who do wrong. And know that God is strict in punishment.” (Quran, 8.25)Ibn Katheer commenting on this verse has quoted a Prophetic tradition saying that “if a people, despite being strong and numerous, do nothing to stop those men among them who do wrong, then they will be surrounded with punishment”.

History is full of instances showing how a small group of people or individuals by their odious acts have inconvenienced the communities they belong to.

Today the Muslims as a community are passing through a difficult period on account of the activities of terrorists who shamelessly use religion to justify their crimes.

A common Muslim, like his compatriots, is busy earning his daily bread and raising the family. With increased awakening about modern education, good numbers of Muslim families from rural areas have moved to urban centres to ensure education for their wards. A casual survey of the families living in Jamia Nagar will show that the majority of them hail from villages and depend for their income on rural sources. In many cases it is only the mothers and children who are living here, while the men spend most of their time in native places to arrange the necessary means for the family to carry on in Delhi. Their only concern is a safe and peaceful environment congenial for academic pursuit.On the other hand, attracted by this large population, more than two dozen Muslim outfits have established themselves in this neighbourhood taking upon them the responsibility to lead and organise the religious and social life of the community. They include organisations like the Personal Law Board, Muslim Majlis-e-Mushawarat and Jamaat-e-Islami. None of these organisations is known for promoting social reform or education. Most of the time they are competing with each other in crying wolf and pressing the need to fight against imagined threats to the Muslim religion and identity. Occasionally they also succeed in securing positions of power for their nominees and this political patronage helps them to widen their network in the community.

If we look at some important events of the past then an idea can be formed about the activities and mindset that is promoted by these organisations.

After the official ban on The Satanic Verses, Mushirul Hasan, the present vice chancellor and then teacher in the history department of Jamia, said in an interview to a weekly that a ban on the book would only boost its sales and increase the circulation of the objectionable writing. His remarks were not in support of the book, its contents or the writer, yet they provoked an angry and violent protest inside the campus. The Muslim outfits worked overtime to instigate and excite the feelings resulting in a situation where despite continuing on the rolls of the university Mushirul Hasan could not enter the campus for more than three long years.During the war in Afghanistan, public expressions of solidarity with Osama bin Laden were made and posters in his support were pasted in the area by some self-appointed champions of Muslim interests. This was done despite the knowledge that Osama and Al-Qaeda were directly involved in Terror activities in Kashmir. I remember having met many Muslims from Jamia Nagar who expressed their utter indignation over the episode and felt sorry for not being able to oppose these undesirable activities.

In 1990, Prof Mushirul Haq, the vice chancellor of Kashmir University, was killed by terrorists in Srinagar. Since he was an old teacher of Jamia, his burial took place inside the campus. As an academician I had held him in great esteem and during the Shah Bano controversy had sought his opinion on several occasions. I went to attend his last rites and walked almost a kilometre with the funeral procession. After reaching the burial ground suddenly the lights went out and in that darkness I was attacked with an iron rod, causing head injury. Later, inquiries revealed that the students who had organised the blackout and attack belonged to the Jamaat-e-Islami. It is important to recall that the banned organisation, SIMI, was mostly manned by young activists inspired by philosophies like that of the Jamaat-e-Islami.

The other organisation with headquarters in this area is Muslim Majlis-e-Mushawarat. On the slightest provocation they would call for a boycott of celebrations of Independence Day or Republic Day giving rise to communal tension. It is true that on every occasion they had withdrawn the calls, but that did not help in lessening the tension.

The most important Muslim organisation operating from the Jamia neighborhood is the All India Muslim Personal Law Board and its affiliates. During their agitation against the judgment of the Supreme Court in the Shah Bano case, the members of AIMPLB made public exhortations to break the legs of Muslims who differed with their stand. Their supporters went to the extent of suggesting that Supreme Court judges are not competent to interpret Muslim personal law.It is important to recall that during parliamentary discussion of the bill that was brought in to negate the impact of the Supreme Court judgment, almost every minister who rose to defend the measure referred to the apprehensions of threats to law and order arising on account of an aggressive and violent agitation.

Such activities of these Muslim outfits are as much a source of consternation to common Muslims as they are to other Indians. Occasionally some Muslims raise their voice but they lose nerve when they see the political promiscuity and influence enjoyed by these extremist elements.

The establishment must realise that the police can fight terrorists, not terrorism. Terrorism can be contained only by a strong political will that identifies and isolates individuals and organisations promoting a violent mindset and does not favour them with political patronage.

 

Sister Alphonsa: Our Own Saint Alphonsa

OCTOBER WILL be a good month to be a Christian in India. On the 12th, Anna Muttathupandathu of Kottayam will become Saint Alphonsa.

Anna was beatified by the Vatican in 1986 as the Blessed Alphonsa and on March 1, 2008, Pope Benedict XVI decided that she deserved sainthood. Two Sundays from now, she will officially become a saint — the first woman saint and the second person ever to be canonised in India.

Anna had wanted to become a saint all her life, says Father Alphonse of the fledgling parish at Vasant Kunj, the only church dedicated to her in the Delhi Archdiocese.

While getting a granite plaque ready to mark her canonisation by the Pope in Rome, he drives the point home: “Being a saint means being closer to God.” Sainthood, however, was for Alphonsa, a bit of a project. She “loved to suffer,” says the priest. She spent most of her 36 years in bed suffering from tuberculosis, pneumonia, typhoid and malaria. But she made the “best use of all her ailments by turning her life of pain into a virtue,” says Father Alphonse. “It’s like I don’t get the girl I want, so I’ll make the most of the girl I have.” Alphonsa, one is told, was a girl of wit; she would have chuckled at Father Alphonse’s analogy Perhaps he speaks so .

freely because the saint-to-be whose church he now presides, was something of a local girl. As a child, Father Alphonse remembers accompanying his parents to her tomb and asking his mother to explain why they shared the same name. “Her doctor had said (my mother) would have a difficult delivery when she was carrying me. So she had prayed to Alphonsa,” says the priest. “When I was born, I was named after her.” And to underline the fact that he alone wasn’t born under Alphonsa’s watchful gaze, he rattles off more ‘ phonse/Alphonsas’ A he knows from his hometown in Dindigul district, Tamil Nadu, that in clude a nephew, a marriage photogra pher, a teacher…

Alphonsa is indeed well on her way to spiritual stardom. So what makes her a saint while others like Mother Teresa and the Blessed Kuriakose Elias Chavara (who’s been waiting for more than 50 years for the papal nod) are yet to be canonised? The answer lies in one word: miracles.

According to the Catholic church, acts of faith like miracles, ironi cally, need the stamp of science. A saint needs at least 22-24 miracles, explains Father Alphonse of which four are picked as ‘proof ’. “The legs of a boy with a club-foot, became straight, after they touched Alphonsa’s grave. Doctors certified this could only be the power of prayer.” Mother Teresa’s work, he adds, was easier. She went out on the streets and brought home the poor. She was visible. “But to be inside the four walls of the convent like Alphonsa isn’t easy,” he says.

When Alphonsa died, he rues, there were only a few people to carry her coffin. After her canonisation, things will change.

Alphonsa will be everywhere. On cups, saucers, on beads to be worn around the neck. Mother Teresa, by the time of her beatification, had become a roadside musical.

paramitaghosh@hindustantimes.com

ANNA MUTTATHUPANDATHU will become Saint Alphonsa on October 12. And more than 6,000 believers from Kerala are flying to Vatican City to witness her canonisation. Ten-year-old Jinil, busy playing with his brother Jubin, some 25 kilometres from the saint-to-be’s tomb, is going as well. After all, he has played a pivotal part in her canonisation. It was Jinil’s testimony that finally clinched Sister Alphonsa’s sainthood.

Born club-footed, doctors had writ ten off a cure saying he would never be able to walk. His parents, Shaji Joseph, a sales tax inspector and mother, Lissy had begun their , rounds of speciality hospitals. When medicines failed to cure, relatives suggested they make a trip in 1999 to Alphonsa’s chapel in Bharaninganam and pray .

The Josephs placed the child on the tomb and prayed for hours to gether. That very night, little Jinil started walking. “We are happy we played a key role in Sister attaining sainthood. We, on our part, are in debted to her for all our happiness,” says Lissy Joseph.

Jinil has also become a tourist attraction of sorts. Those who vis it Alphonsa’s tomb also take time out to visit the Josephs. At times, the parents are pestered to reveal the ‘exact words’ of their prayer ‘that fateful day’.

Even the doctors who treated Jinil vouch for the miracle. “Jinil was born in my nursing home. His condition worsened with each passing day I couldn’t believe it when he was fully cured,” says Dr Eliayamma Cora who has been quizzed by the Vatican representative to prove the legitimacy of the miracle.

It is said that when Sister Alphonsa was on her death-bed, her mentor, Father Kuriakos Chavra, an 18th cen tury church reformer, appeared before her and blessed her.

Interestingly, in her journey to sainthood, she has pipped him to the post. “Most of the miracles attributed to her were proved, and they convinced the Vatican to move quickly to canonise her,” says Father Mathew Arackaparambil, vice postulator of the canonisation process.

“Miracles are still happening,” claims Sister Goratti of the Alphonsa Bhavan in Kudamaloor. Recently, a terminally ill new-born was cured after her parents prayed three consecutive days at the saint’s ancestral home.” Bharaninganam has a museum that houses Alphonsa’s habit, a hand fan, books, a wooden cup and other belongings. These serve as a major attraction for pilgrims. “I have given myself up completely to Jesus. Let him please Himself in his dealings with me. My only desire in this world is to suffer for love of God and to rejoice in doing it,” reads a letter on display that Alphonsa had written a few of months before her death.

Anna Kutty died young but she left behind many stories. As a teacher, she was an epitome of love and patience, says her student, 85year-old Thomas Kalappura. She taught him Malayalam and mathematics in Vakakkad School between 1932 and 1933.

It is a glorious moment for believers in the country says Father Paul ,” Thelekkat, spokesman of the SyroMalabar church. Her good looks are still fresh in the mind of 99-year-old Lakshmi Amma, her former classmate from Thonnakuzhy School. “We used to call her Venna (butter) Kutty ,” she says remembering Anna who will become Saint Alphonsa next month.

 

Extending Article 370 beyond Kashmir; Could this be a solution?

n 2004 my friend and mentor, Prasanna Lal Das, wrote an article called “Article 370 – a case to extend it beyond Kashmir“, and ofcourse as most Indians do, I was out of my wits on reading the title. To me Article 370 was clearly another case of appeasement of “kashmiri muslims”. I never read the article.

An article on Kashmir stating the problem

Today, I caught up on an article in the Indian Express titled “Beyond highway of peace” (http://www.indianexpress.com/story/349899.html; 18 August, 2008 ) which highlights a few points.

Separatist Hurriyat leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, however, said the mass protests have not surprised him. “We always saw it coming,” he said. “Amarnath land row might be the immediate cause, but the level of anger is the result of the long pent up disillusionment with New Delhi’s status quo policies,” he said.

…“New Delhi talks to us when the situation is really bad here. And when there is apparent peace, they ignore us,” he said.

It is a fact that the Centre and its various agencies on ground in Kashmir had been extremely complacent after the recent drop in militant violence and a surge in mainstream political activity.

My observations on the article

The article ofcourse like most of those appearing in media, states the problem superficially, and for that reason cannot, and does not, offer any solution.

The following few points, however, occur to me on reading this article:

  • The centre becomes complacent when things are going well, instead of constantly keeping on its toes, and regularly engaging people (or their representatives and leaders; elected or even self-appointed) in discussions and creating mini agreements
  • They are happy in finding simple answers to problems which are often coloured with their worldview (which can be rather outdated in the evolving human race) of how things *should be* instead of *how it is in reality*
  • These views are often “taught” to the politicians rather then based on *critical thinking*, *dialogue*, and *understanding people’s anxieties*

Liberating people; self-organising groups; moving beyond conventional and easy categories of success

As I have matured and grown in my spiritual pursuits, I have developed a somewhat different outlook to the reason for conflicts and in general ways of management. I have increasingly become a die-hard fan of democracy at workplace, which traditionally has been very centrally controlled and managed. Ideas of small self-organising groups of people working towards common “agreed” goals, have inspired me over the last few years. I have observed people, driven from their own collective self-interest, acting extremely responsibly and much beyond their normal abilities. I have noticed this at my workplace.

Yet, it is true that some people often are not mature enough to see the larger picture, and may not appreciate the values propagated in democratic and self-organising setups; or those who are unable to raise their mental make-up, and can remain stuck in shallow self-centered, and *taught* behaviour. These people are often not ones who can engage in *radical thinking*. Yet, these people are fewer in numbers, in my experience. Most people are not trained to think and question, in our society; however, most of these people can be inspired by greater causes of common collective long-term good.

This is the opportunity that the politicians have. They need to constantly work in liberating people, engaging them in inspired action, and training them radical thinking and questioning – doing all these things themselves. And this is where the problem lies – most of our politicians are not trained in experimenting, and in moving beyond their conventional ‘easy’ categories of answers.

Coming back to Prasanna’s article

On reading his article which presents a case to extend Article 370 beyond Kashmir to all of India’s states, is completely based on values of federalism, and liberating people, allowing them to self-determine their own rules, and how they would like to live their lives.

Gandhi ofcourse, was a big propagator of local self-determination, down to the village level, with complete ownership of local resources with the people of the region.

I feel, this is the answer to Kashmir’s, and in general, all of India’s problems; and the world’s as well.

Once again, the framework of this federalism must propagate some central core modern spiritual, humanist and civic values such as *liberty*, *equal opportunity*, *secularism* and *non-violence*. These values must be accessible and applicable to all citizens irrespective of race, religion or gender. The state must constantly train and engage leaders in dialogue and training, in action based on inspiration, and, in questioning and radical thinking. With these, the collective consciousness of people could be raised, and with it the risk of degeneration of federal values, and other motivated self-interests of local leaders taking over, is minimised.

Some quotes from Prasanna’s extremely inspiring article:

Article 370, unwittingly perhaps considering its historical circumstances, may be the brightest glint of federal expression in the Indian constitution, which otherwise remains largely unitary in character. Large sections of the Indian population (and regions that contain them) thus feel increasingly marginalized from the ‘mainstream’, and seemingly disparate phenomenon like recent disturbances in the northeast, the girding of heartland India by naxalites, the trivialization of the parliamentary process, and paradoxically enough, the continuing impasse in Jammu & Kashmir, may well be said to spring from the centralized nature of governance in India which concentrates power in the hands of a few organized interest groups and leaves the average citizen with only symbols of democratic participation like ritualized elections and awe-inspiring, monumental edifices where elected representatives apparently serve the people. Article 370, minus its current imperfections, may well be the harbinger of a ‘new India.’

it may be time to view the article in a larger national context. Does the article offer any guidelines to the governing system in the rest of India? Is there greater merit in the rest of India adopting some of the salient features of the article than in denouncing it largely on the grounds of ‘we don’t have it, so shouldn’t she’? Should we choose to be frogs in a well pulling each other down, or is it time to climb out of the holes we have dug for ourselves, and take a look at the larger world around?

The article recognizes that India is a diverse country and that a region may have special needs which may or may not be in consonance with the needs of the rest of the country. It thus leaves discretionary powers with the state and subjects all central laws/amendments to state approval before they can be implemented in a state. It transfers accountability and power to the state government in virtually all matters except those that deal with the integrity of the Indian union, and its international relationships.

Make no mistake; Article 370 was not formed to lay down the principles of center-state relationships or to directly solve the problem described above. It isn’t thus either exhaustive enough or extensive enough to cover the gamut of issues that go into center-state relations. It however does provide the springboard necessary to begin questioning the unitary model we have chosen to adopt in the whole country, bar Kashmir. And if it can work in Kashmir, why can it not work in the rest of the country too?

The other more fundamental problem with Article 370 is its state-centric, monolithic view of autonomy and local governance. In keeping with the overall unitary spirit of the constitution, the article does little to promote grassroots governance and concentrates all significant powers in the hands of the state government. The version of autonomy it thus creates is in essence a majoritarian one – it cloaks a centralized mode of governance under the garb of an autonomous one. Kashmir can thus never be truly autonomous unless it itself allows power to percolate downwards to the people. In its current avatar, Article 370 is largely a sham, and its fundamental centralizing proclivities must be given a thorough makeover before the article can truly become a template for other states.

He also puts in a word of caution, which I believe vindicates my stand of a framework which allows for common accepted civic, humanist and spiritual values of *liberty*, *equal opportunity*, *secularism* and *non-violence*, and also the need for constant training, dialogue and engagement in radical and critical thinking.

A more pertinent concern is perhaps the ability of the states to do justice to increased power, and handle it responsibly. Unfortunately, recent Indian constitutional history isn’t exactly littered with examples of farsightedness shown by states – their record is patchy at best, and downright shoddy in reality. In fact, a case may be made that but for central intervention and guidance, most Indian states, driven by narrow, parochial concerns, would have descended into anarchy a long time ago. Possibly the worst record in this regard is that of the Jammu & Kashmir legislature itself, which has shown a remarkable ability to shoot itself in the foot consistently. The recently proposed bill debarring Kashmiri women from property rights on marriage to ‘outsiders’, the legislature’s refusal to accept the amendment limiting the size of state ministries to 15% of the total elected strength, and its long standing refusal to recognize Anglo-Indians and other minorities in the state are just three examples of legislation which persistently refuses to look beyond the state. What guarantees are there that other states shan’t do the same, and perhaps worse?

The answer to both questions lies in the inchoate nature of Article 370, and in its flawed, single-state focused implementation. As stated earlier, the article is not designed to guide center-state relations, but in the case of Jammu & Kashmir, it does just that. Limiting the article to one state however produces one very significant consequence – it allows Jammu & Kashmir to create discriminatory legislation without fear of consequence (as no other state is in a position to answer it in the same coin).

And the recommendation to not seek easy answers, but to continually challenge our thinking:

At the end however, the question about India’s secular fabric will remain – will expanding the article to the entire country send wrong signals to minority communities in India? This is the most morally challenging part of the debate because like it or not, religion and religious emotions are inextricably tied to the history of the question. Needless to say, the government must be steadfastly secular in its implementation of federalism in India, and religious leaders must indubitably play an important part in the process, but there are no easy answers to the question. *The time may however have come to move away from the politics of easy answers.*