In the valley of despair, women look for a high

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Sameer Arshad Khatlani

August 23, 2009

The force of a midnight knock jolted Nazia Akhter (35) out of deep sleep on a chilly winter night in 1999. Before she could gather her wits, four masked gunmen had bundled her husband, Nazir Ahmed, into a car and taken him away. Ahmed was badly battered in captivity and seven days later when he was released, the family’s nightmare seemed to be over. But that was not to be. Armed forces picked Ahmed up to know his captors’ whereabouts. For next 10 days, Ahmed was thrashed so badly that he lost his memory. Nazia cried her eyes out through the 17-day ordeal and continued to weep buckets after the family faced penury, as Ahmed could no longer look after his once-thriving business. Over the months, Nazia became insomniac and restless. Somebody gave her a Diazepam tablet to relax. The family’s condition worsened so much so that the depressed mother of two started popping 15 tablets a day to relax. She was hooked on the sedative. This was when she was brought to a de-addiction centre in Srinagar.

Doctors say Nazia is not alone. Tens of thousands of Kashmiri women, who developed psychiatric disorders, fear psychosis, depression, stress-related disorders and suicidal tendencies during the two-decade-long turmoil, have taken to drugs (anti-depressants, painkillers and tranquillizers) which are easily available over the counter in absence of curbs in turmoil-hit Valley. Most are addicted to drugs ranging from medicinal opiates (opium-based drugs), cannabis and even heroin and cocaine.

Dr Mushtaq Margoob, a psychiatrist and author of the book Menace of Drug Abuse in Kashmir says an alarming 1.5 per cent women in Kashmir are addicted to opiates alone, which is the highest in the world. “Thousands of women are also addicted to contraband like heroin,’’ he says. He says four per cent of the women patients he sees daily are addicted to drugs to overcome depression. “The worst part is that it is a double-edged sword: They become addicts and the depression also lingers on.’’

Margoob has also come across patients using cocaine, costing an addict about Rs 2,000-2,500 per day. “Studies reveal that in comparison to 9.5 per cent use of opiate-based preparations during 1980 in Kashmir, it had increased to 73.1 per cent during 2002 and is worse now.’’

Women, as the worst victims of conflict, are more prone to its direct and indirect effects of death, destruction and unemployment. This pushes them into the trap of negative coping and drug abuse. “Women get hooked on drugs particularly opiates because such substances are easily available and used to relieve the symptoms,’’ says Margoob.

Dr Ghulam Nabi Wani, who has been running the de-addiction centre for 10 years, notes that almost every family has lost a member or somebody has been arrested or beaten up at some stage in last 20 years. “There is a pattern to drug abuse among women. Generally, women who have lost dear ones or have seen violent deaths become insomniac and in order to relax and sleep, they over the years became addicted to sedatives,’’ he says.

Poor implementation of licensing laws for sale of psychotropic drugs in the state compound the problem. Non-judicious use of drugs like Alprazolam, says Margoob, aggravates abuse potential of commonly used addictive drugs for anxiety and depression. “An assessment of the prescribing practice in anxiety disorder in Kashmir reveals a very disturbing trend that majority of such patients could possibly have been helped through counselling and psychotherapy rather than drugs,’’ says Margoob.

Another disturbing trend that has emerged is that elderly women, especially in rural areas, induce younger ones into smoking (hooka) to cope up with the bereavement. “With the easy availability of cannabis, these women often get hooked to them,’’ Margoob says.

The non-implementation of the Drug Act is also aggravating the problem. “If theAct is implemented, the addiction would come down by 50 per cent since the major reason for abuse is the easy availability of over the counter drugs like tranquillizers,’’ says Wani.

In fact, J&K has no drug policy since independence. “We will come up with one soon to check the menace of over the counter sale of psychotropic drugs,’’ said health minister Sham Lal Sharma. In a drug policy’s absence, anybody can buy medicine without a prescription.

A police officer said during the peak of militancy, they hardly had time to clamp down on drug trafficking and poppy cultivation. South Kashmir had become notorious for poppy cultivating till 2007 when police started a drive against it. Police have also engaged local clergy to support the campaign.

(First published in The Times of India)

Caste leader justifies killings in the name of honour, says ‘only whores choose their partners’

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Sameer Arshad Khatlani

September 8, 2009

Sisauli (Uttar Pradesh): Squatting on his haunches, dhoti-clad, bare-chested Mahendra Singh Tikait, 79, appears to be just another farmer with a shovel in his hand. But the appearance is misleading. For the influential farmer leader, as Baliyan khap’s Chaudhary, presides over a parallel medieval criminal justice system within 150km of the national capital that disdains law to “award’’ punishments ranging from amputations to death to “protect honour’’.

“We live by a moral code where honour has to be protected at any cost,’’ says Tikait. And anyone who dares to “cross the line’’ meets the fate of the likes of Radha, who was brutally slain for falling in love in Muzaffarnagar’s Fugana village in 2006. Radha was stripped, burnt and then hung by a tree. Radha is not alone. Dozens of women are summarily executed every year as panchayats cling on to the retrograde system that denies them the right to choose their partners.

Reliable data on “honour killings” is unavailable as National Crime Records Bureau does not maintain any records on such murders. “Honour killing” is not a separately classified crime and is recorded under murder. They are also difficult to identify since they tend to be closely-guarded secrets.

Home minister P Chidambaram acknowledged the problem’s severity when in July he told Parliament, “Villagers give precedence to caste panchayat judgments rather than that of the courts.’’ He said some panchayats approve of the so-called honour killings. “I recoil with shame when I read about them.’’

“Honour killings” appear to enjoy public sanction in the vast swathes of Western Uttar Pradesh. Locals say khap rulings are a binding on them and the sway Chaudhries (village leaders) hold over their people ensures police are kept away. “How will police know if parents kill and dump their daughter’s body?’’ asks Kamlesh Devi of Alipur village. “What is the harm, if we solve our problems among ourselves?’’ She says if police dare to intervene, they are driven out.

Tikait claims panchayats are infallible, for they have the divine sanction. “Panch means parmatama (god) and ayath means court.’’ He seeks legitimacy for panchyats in tradition saying panchayats existed even under the Mughal and British rule. “They never interfered.’’

Tikait is at pains to explain opposition to same-gotra marriages. “Such alliances are incestuous. No society would accept it. Why do you expect us to do so?’’ asks Tikait.

He says incest violates maryada (tradition) and they will kill and get killed to protect it. He sounds another chilling warning for lovebirds. “Only whores can choose their partners. Love marriages are dirty, I do not even want to repeat the word,’’ he says and adds that education has contributed to “this dirt’’.

“Recently an educated couple married against samaj’s wishes in Jhajjar. We hail the panchayat’s decision to execute them,’’ he says. “The government cannot protect this atiyachar (travesty).’’

If the government does so? Tikait declares that they are ready for a struggle. He disdains the Constitution and scoffs at the rule of law as “root of all problems’’. “That is your Constitution, ours is different. Your constitution also says that you should eat and pee while standing,’’ he says. “Samaj is unhappy with democracy.’’

Villagers say the Chaudhry enjoys “administrative and executive powers’’ over his khap’s 84 villages. Tikait is said to have presided over a panchayat in 1950 in which a resolution pledging complete loyalty to him was passed. “He can even demand our lives,’’ says Virendra Singh of Jaitupur village.

Daryanl Singh, one of Tikait’s retainers did not bat an eye when he said, “These shameless people (lovers) deserve death.’’ He graphically described how brutally “transgressors are dealt with’’.  He says erring couples are either hanged or nailed to death. “Some people are tortured to death.’’

While Singh explains the whole gamut of punishments, he underlines the crux of what sustains the medieval system – bad governance. Villagers say the government is non-existent and everything works, thanks to kinship. “The government has failed to provide basic necessities. It is impossible for people to survive without samaj (society). They cannot challenge it.’’

A Dalit, Raju, echoes Daryal. “Pani mey rehna hay toh magarmach say bair nahi leysaktay.’’ He says social boycott as a punitive measure is common. “People are also regularly paraded and beaten with shoes. Another villager says theft is punished by cutting a hand or feet. “I have seen how a couple was hacked to death after they were caught making out.’’

Additional SSP Raja Babu Singh refuses to accept that something was amiss and says jats have a penchant for bragging. “Panchayats settle minor disputes. We have never come across any case of honour killing,’’ he claims. “If khap violate the law, action is taken.’’

But a journalist, who covered Tikait’s arrest for abusing chief minister Mayawati last year, dismisses police claims as sophistry.  “A heavy police contingent laid a siege around Sisauli for 12 hours but did not dare to enter the village to arrest Tikait.’’ He says if they did not dare to implement Mayawati’s orders, how can they stand up to all-powerful Chaudhries.

Courtesy: The Times of India

Tardy procedures, mistrust & suffocating bureaucracy beset major India-Pakistan Kashmir CBM

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Sameer Arshad Khatlani

November 2, 2008

Salamabad, otherwise a nondescript ethic pahari minority dominated village near the Line of Control (LoC), suddenly came alive on October 21, as villagers gathered to celebrate the historic opening of trade links across divided Kashmir for the first time in six decades.

The mood was festive as a crowd lined up on both sides of the LoC, clapping and celebrating the chipping away of yet another part of the  “iron curtain” between the divided Kashmir. On the other side children dressed in their brightest sang songs of an emotional reunion on the beats of drums and musical instruments.

Euphoria notwithstanding, the route, however, largely remains symbolic as limited trade would be allowed across the de facto border; only four trucks will be allowed each side once a week.

Skeptics say the opening of trade was nothing more than “a joke”. They point out that similar euphoria was created around the launch of Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service in 2005. But three-and-a-half years on, the service, described as “mother of all CBMs”, has miserably failed to meet expectations. Thanks to the tardy procedure, mistrust and suffocating bureaucracy, only 9,000 passengers have traveled between the two sides of Kashmir on the “peace bus” even as regional passport office Srinagar alone received 14,600 applications from Indian nationals.

Naseema Begum, who watched the flagging off ceremony on TV at her Srinagar home, says she could not help but think it was a cruel joke. Naseema says she has given up hopes of meeting her family in Muzaffarabad after she was denied a permit recently. “They sat on my application for more than three years and finally rejected it on flimsy grounds,” Naseema says. She says it’s easier to travel on a visa to Pakistan and asks, “What was the need of staging a drama that the travel on the bus will be hassle free for the divided families with no requirement of  visa and passport?” “It’s like rubbing salt into our wounds.”

Srinagar businessman Mohammad Shafi echoes the skepticism. “The opening of trade routes is historic, but we have our doubts looking at the fate of the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service, which has been reduced to a mere symbolic practice,” he says.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had raised divided families’ expectations when he told Lok Sabha on April 20, 2005: “We started the service despite terrorist threats and a suicide attack. The courage and determination of our people give us confidence for its continued operation with even greater frequency in the future. I am convinced the service has tapped a latent reservoir of public support for greater people-to-people contact, especially among people living on either side of the LoC.”

The then foreign secretary Shyam Saran went a step further and described the bus service as a “humanitarian measure without prejudice and a win-win situation for all”.

“Hollow proved the lofty promises,” says Muzaffarabad-resident Nadeem Hashmi, whose application for a permit was also rejected recently. “Assurances of hassle-free travel across the LoC raised hopes of divided families. I have never met half of my family, which stays in Indian administered Kashmir. My father had migrated from Karnah in north Kashmir and settled in Muzaffarabad in 1947,” he says. “Ever contacts with our kin on the other side have been few and far between.”

Even the lucky ones like Noor Mohammad (name changed) of Karna, who managed to get a permit to see his kin in PoK, are bitter. “After a long wait, I finally managed to go to Muzaffarabad. But the suffocating bureaucracy and rampant corruption left me bitter,” he says. Noor alleges that while he was returning from PoK he was charged Rs 4,000 as “customs duty” even as he wasn’t carrying anything that warranted it.

Residents of Karna also point out that crossing points across the LoC set up to facilitate contacts between the divided families are “subjected to whims of local authorities on either side”.

“There is no accountability and the authorities demand bribes for letting people meet each other,” a local resident alleges. He says crossing points are opened on alternate Thursdays. “But no crossings were allowed on consecutive weeks last month. Once Pakistanis said they won’t allow crossing because of Eid holiday and then on our side Army refused crossings saying they were celebrating Dussera,” he says. “What is the point of having such arrangement when you cannot even meet your kin on Eid?”

Getting a permit to travel on the peace bus is complex and time-consuming. Once permission is sought, the issuance of a permit is subject to clearance from the secret services of India and Pakistan. And officials resort to the usual blame game. “POK authorities are responsible for the delay. They take a long time in clearing the applications, at times even more than six months,” a regional passport office official said. “We take at the most two.”

Intelligence agencies say they are choosy in recommending permits as many PoK residents refuse to go back. About a dozen of them have stayed back after approaching High Court. “We find it difficult to repatriate POK visitors as many of them go underground after failing to get permit extension to stay beyond 28 days,” a source said.

Intelligence agencies have also forcibly sent back around a dozen Pakistani citizens in last three years.

Visitors are allowed to stay beyond 15 days in case of some emergency but the permit rules make extension beyond 28 days impossible.

Aasim Awan who managed to get a permit to travel across LoC after a three-year wait says divided families deserve more than just symbolic gestures. “The bus service has been an abject failure,” he says. He says if the government is sincere, the least it could do for the divided families is to open telephone lines.  “Telephone is the basic service. We can only receive phone calls from PoK. Our government has banned telecommunication links across LoC,” he notes.  “So how can trade take place when people can’t talk on the phone?”

 Cautious optimism, however, prevails in Salamabad as local residents believe cross-LoC trade promises good days for the area, scene of the devastating October 2005 earthquake. Salamabad trader Mohammad Ibrahim said, “The region was always backward but earthquake made things worse. But the opening of the trade is a new ray of hope for us. The roads are being repaired and the development is visible.”

Courtesy: The Times of India

2008 Jammu and Kashmir election: All-India Gujjar power drives campaigns

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Sameer Arshad Khatlani

November 24, 2008

KANGAN (KASHMIR): For Gujjar businessman from Delhi, 40-year-old Ashok Khatana, Kangan is particularly chilly this time due to early snowfall. But his devotion for the area’s most-respected Gujjar Sufi family and its scion Mian Altaf, National Conference nominee from Kangan, helps him fight the cold as he tirelessly campaigns to ensure Altaf’s win for the fourth consecutive time.

“I have been campaigning for Mian sahib since 1996. For Gujjars, kinship transcends communal barriers,” says Khatana as he sets up the public address system for Altaf’s rally at Wangat, about 60 km from Srinagar.

Altaf, confident about his fourth straight victory, says he has known Khatana since 1989 when they met in Delhi on the sidelines of a Gujjar Congress. “Since then, Gujjar Vikas Mach (GVM) has been sending men and material for my campaign,” says Altaf. “They send vehicles and other support systems.”

Khatana, a GVM functionary, says the social and political marginalisation of Gujjars is what keeps them together. “At a time when the nation is dangerously divided, communal amity among Gujjars is a lesson for all,” says Khatana adding that Muslim, Hindu and Sikh Gujjars have a long history of kinship. “Even during Partition, Hindu Gujjars protected their Muslim brothers and helped them stay back in Punjab.”

Altaf’s father and Padma Bhushan recipient Mian Bashir Ahmed is the spiritual leader of Muslim Gujjars of Jammu & Kashmir and credited with working for Gujjar uplift across India. “He is our sardar and a towering national leader for Gujjars,” says Khatana, a devout Hindu.

Gujjars in clusters across 11 states have collaborated for a long time. J&K Gujjars threw their weight behind the community’s demand for ST status in Rajasthan and organised dharnas and bandhs.

Says Jammu-based Gujjar scholar, Javied Rahi, “J&K Gujjars owe their ST status to their brothers across the country. We got the status in 1991 after Gujjar MPs and MLAs lobbied and mounted a delegation to the then PM Chandra Shekhar.”

When Muslim Gujjars came under attack in Jammu during the Amarnath land row, the country’s Gujjar leaders released a join statement seeking their protection, says Rahi.

Such is the camaraderie between Gujjars, Rahi points out, that in the last assembly elections in 2002, Congress candidate from Haveli-Poonch, Yashpal Sharma, roped in some Rajasthani Gujjars for campaigning and saw himself through. “They managed to convince local community that they should vote for Sharma in absence of a Muslim Gujjar,” he says.

Courtesy: The Times of India

Enchanting Afarwat: On the top of the world, literally

The world’s highest gondola ski-lift first crosses the tree, then the cloud line and for once you do not have to look up to see the clouds on your way to Kashmir’s Afarwat

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Sameer Arshad Khatlani

July 13, 2008

From Afarwat peak — 4, 390 m above the sea-level — of the Pir Panjal Range in the majestic Himalayas, Kashmir looks much better than how Mughal emperor Jehangir described the Valley: “Agar Janat Baroi Zamee Ast, Hami Asto, Hami Asto, Hami Aast (If there is paradise on earth…it’s here, it’s here).”

Afarwat, in the upper reaches of north Kashmir’s scenic resort town of Gulmarg, is the newest additions to similar enchanting locations across the Valley, where one seems to be at a handshaking distance with nature. The snow-clad peak has been a major attraction for skiers and adventure tourists from around the world after it was connected with Gulmarg via cable car in 2005.

The journey to Afarwat on the world’s highest gondola ski-lift is a breathtaking experience in itself as one first crosses the tree line and then the cloud line and for once you do not have to look up to see the clouds. The ropeway stretching 2.5 km connects the bowl-shaped Kongdoori valley with Afarwat. It is the world’s highest cable car using gondolas and the only one in the world that takes skiers and tourists to a height of 4,390 m. The return journey of 26-km costs Rs 300 on the ropeway, which ferries about 600 people per hour to and from Gulmarg.

Skiing experts say slopes at Afarwat are “beyond a skier’s imagination”. And then there is the price advantage in a sport that is often considered an expensive hobby. Afarwat is the cheapest ski destination — for Rs 1,000 rupees, a skier can have the skiing equipment, a gondola ride and accommodation for a day. The area also houses the High Altitude Warfare School in Gulmarg. Afarwat is also a major attraction for other winter sports such as snow boarding.

The area’s charm does not end here; there is much in store for tourists just down the slope at Gulmarg. Gulmarg or the meadow of flowers is described as one of the most beautiful hill stations in India. It offers many opportunities to adventure seekers, including trekking through its green hills. Located in Baramulla district of Jammu and Kashmir, Gulmarg stands at a height of 2,730 meters above sea level. It’s about 57 km from Srinagar, the capital city. True to the Kashmir’s secular ethos, the town, otherwise a notified area, has a mosque, temple, church and a gurudwara.

Other attractions in Gulmarg include Khilanmarg, which is a famous skiing spot. It also offers a great view of the Kashmir Valley and the Himalayan range. You can also take a tour of the Alpather Lake, which usually remains frozen till June. The Lake lies across the Apharwat peak. You may also pay a visit to the shrine of Baba Reshi, a Muslim mystic saint, while you are on a tour of Gulmarg. Visitors can also enjoy golf in Gulmarg, which has the world’s highest golf course.

The journey to Gulmarg from Srinagar is a treat for the lovers of nature. The road to Gulmarg has freshwater streams running on either side and from Tangmarg, the road cuts through jungles with pine and deodar making it a breathtaking experience. A stone’s throw from Tangmarg is Drang, which is being developed into a resort. Drang has a freshwater stream cutting across two hillocks. The tourists throng Drang to savour the sunset. Importantly, Gulmarg — the base camp to Afarwat — has remained untouched by the two-decade-long insurgency.

Courtesy: The Economic Times



Amritsar: City of golden grandeur

Sikhism weaved liberal, inclusive commonalities of Islam and Hinduism

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Sameer Arshad Khatlani

Jun 03, 2007

If you are looking to beat the heat, Amritsar is perhaps not the place to go. But, if you are interested in history, want to celebrate diversity, and if you are looking for a hair-raising experience of nationalism, the city of Golden Temple is the place to go.

Though the city offers a combination of charms, Golden Temple attracts maximum tourists to Amritsar. Drawn by the majestic pull of the Golden Temple, diverse devotees add to the grandeur of the place.

Among other things, the sanctum sanctorum of the temple has an uncanny resemblance to a Sufi Dargah, understandably so, the genesis of Sikhism can be traced to a critical point of time in history, when the subcontinent was fragmented on communal lines.

The religion beautifully, as illustrated by the Sufi Imprint, weaved the liberal, inclusive commonalities of Islam and Hinduism to leave an indelible impression on India, at the height of Bhakti and Sufi movements.

While you may get engrossed in realms of devotion, don’t forget to taste the modest but delicious langhar, inside the temple premises. The langhar —  served on the extreme left corner of the temple — represents the essence of Sikhism. I find it an affirmation of inclusiveness and equality of human beings — the cornerstones of Sikhism and the reasons for its birth.

Another religious attraction in Amritsar is the Durgiana Temple. It is unique; unlike a Hindu Temple. Built in the 1930s, its architecture is influenced by the Golden Temple. The Temple rises from the midst of a tank and has canopies and the central dome in the style of a Sikh Temple. Politician and educationist Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya had laid its foundation stone.

The Jallianwala Bagh in the vicinity of Golden Temple is another major attraction in Amritsar. Walking down the path of the Bagh, I was transported back in time to the centre of India’s nationalist movement. It is where a brutal General of the British Army slaughtered scores of men, women and children. The massacre, however, roused the conscience of a subjugated nation and intensified the urge for freedom.

I rounded off my visit to Amritsar with a visit to the Wagah border. It hosts a unique ‘Beating the Retreat’ ceremony; probably unparallel anywhere else in the world. The soldiers on either side of the international border virtually stamp their authority on their respective sides of the border. The atmosphere is virtually filled by the nationalistic fervour, with patriotic songs and sloganeering trying to outdo the same on the Pakistani side.

While the sun sets on the Pakistani side, the numerical strength of Indians outdoes Pakistani and overwhelms the audience with the ferocity of the patriotism and raises them in one go to salute the unfurling national flag and chant in one voice: “Bharat Mata Ki Jai’’.

Courtesy: The Economic Times



Stories of compassion, equality & humility Muslims grow up with

The moral of the stories is to drive home the centrality of Islam as a faith: compassion

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Sameer Arshad Khatlani

Aligned closely with India’s political mood has been the business of generating Television Rating Point for advertising revenue over the last three and a half years. A set of previously obscure bearded men have been integral to it. They mouth the most unreasonable positions on complex issues like triple talaq while a fraction of 0.56 per cent divorced women in India are the victims of the un-Islamic practice. In the process, the Muslim stereotypes are strengthened for the benefit of the party in power and the real issues of disenfranchisement, lynching, and lack of justice are obscured. It keeps the Muslim bogey alive and those who can “put Muslims their place” firmly in power.

In this dehumanising atmosphere, it is difficult to imagine a set of stories an average Muslim grows up on. The stories include that of the woman, who would curse and throw garbage at the Prophet Muhammad every time he passed by. The Prophet made it a point to see the woman when the routine stopped one day as she was taken ill. Garbage-throwing was nothing in comparison to the mutilation another woman, Hind, subjected the body of Prophet’s favourite uncle to. He forgave her too along with several others who had wronged him. The moral of the stories is to drive home the centrality of Islam as a faith: compassion.

The story that illustrates Islam’s key idea of social justice is the honour a former African African slave, Bilal, was given as the first muezzin or the prayer caller. Nothing underlines the importance of gender equality more than the story of the Prophet’s employer and later wife, Khadijah. Impressed by the Prophet’s reputation as an honest man, she employed him to take care of her business that was spread from Mecca to Syria and Yemen. She had been widowed twice before proposing marriage to the Prophet when he was 25 and Khadijah 40. The Prophet only confided in Khadija and her Christian cousin when he is believed to have begun receiving revelations. Many of the early converts to Islam were women — impressed by the idea of equality — when the Prophet began preaching two years after he started receiving revelations. The Prophet’s message was revolutionary for its times; the women got the right to acquire property, something that eluded their counterparts in Europe for centuries.

The importance of universal education is underlined by the Prophet’s saying that go as far to China if you need to for acquiring knowledge. He declared education compulsory for women and men when the right to educate oneself was the privilege only for a priestly class in India. The Prophet loved animals and is once believed to have cut a sleeve of his coat to ensure that a cat napping on his arm was not disturbed while he had to rush for prayers. He is said to have told a woman she would find a place in paradise despite being ‘sinful and evil’ for saving a dying dog and giving it water.

Until a perverse form of Jihad backfired on the West and became the only thing defining over a billion Muslims, the idea for real Muslims meant to struggle with the biggest being against the evil within. The words for fighting or war in Arabic are qital and harb. Jihad appears in the Quran 41 times while dissuasion from fighting 70 times. The US introduced its perverse form in the late 1970s to fight communism. It pumped millions of dollars for textbooks full of violent images and teachings for Afghan schools. According to the Washington Post, the primers “filled with talk of jihad” featured “drawings of guns, bullets, soldiers and mines.” They served as “the Afghan school system’s core curriculum’’ and even the Taliban used them, seeping “a generation in violence’’.

Islam’s humanising elements have not disappeared overnight. As Sophia Rose Arjana’s shows in her book ‘Muslims in the Western Imagination’, there has been a long history of imaginary Muslim monsters who have aided dehumanisation of the Muslim Other. The Hindutva movement has borrowed liberally from this tradition for its power politics in India. As a result, the alleged conduct of ruthless empire builders who happened to have been Muslim has been used to further this dehumanising project. The project conveniently ignores the glorious legacy of spiritual Islam in form of Sufism and true heirs to the Prophet like Bulleh Shah, Khawaja Moinuddin Chishti, Baba Farid etc.

That a substantial number of Muslims have no agency in large parts of what is erroneously labelled as the “Islamic” world has not helped either. Most of this world is swathes of personal fiefdoms of self-serving rulers. The rulers owe their existence to the lines Mark Sykes and Francois Picot arbitrarily pencilled on the Middle East’s map for Britain and France to get the German oil share in 1916. The territories were demarcated in such a way to allow the two countries build separate pipelines from Iraq to the Mediterranean Sea ports for oil concessions in return. The rulers do not draw their legitimacy from their subjects and cannot see beyond the interests of their families and tribes.

The so-called Islamic world’s deficiencies are used as a stick to beat Muslims with while examples of countries like Indonesia are conveniently ignored. Indonesia is the most populous Muslim country, where 12.9 per cent of the world’s Muslims live. It is secular with a heavy Hindu influence exemplifying its pluralism. The influence is disproportionate to number – 1.7 per cent – of Hindus in Indonesia. Indonesia’s national airline is named after Vishnu’s vehicle, Garudam, its currency notes carry Ganesh’s picture while Ramayana and the Mahabharata have a deep imprint on the Indonesian culture. A Saraswati statue stands outside the Indonesian embassy in the world’s most important capital: Washington DC. These are the stories needed to be told repeatedly for a peaceful future of co-existence while Islamophobia and transnational terrorism are increasingly feeding into each other.

Courtesy: The Indian Express

In Good Faith: Tales that need to be told

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