Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Final Slumber 13-10-25




The Final Slumber

Mirza.A. Beg

October 20, 2013

Spring would come looking, who knows where will I be
Seasons would come and go in cycles, but without me

The world will go on; traversing the old paths anew, with
New hopes, new dreams, new stories and new songs

Love would stir young hearts to rekindle old melodies
Their passionate zest would renew the world to be

Time will race on from generation to new generation
Tiered and spent, I sleep and dream of elusive eternity

Mirza A. Beg may be contacted at mab64@yahoo.com.
His essays and poems are on my blog  http://mirzasmusings.blogspot.com/

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Halcyon Days at AMU 12-8-8




Halcyon Days at AMU &
Reflections on Riots of Oct.1961
By
Mirza A. Beg
August 8, 2012
Published; October 17, 2012
Sir Syed Day magazine of Aligarh Alumni association

Introduction
Life at Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) was much simpler in the early 1960s. Or so it seems, from the vantage of five decades in the evening of a long life. Those days are reminiscent of a long autobiographical movie, with panoramic scenes rich in the cast of characters; some intimate and essential to the story; others make cameo appearances as markers of time. Occasionally when I hear about old friends, images emerge from the enveloping mist of a bygone era, sporadically crisp and clear, often as apparitions communicating in the quietness of thoughts.

At the time AMU was considered a large residential university with about 5,000 students. It has been dwarfed by the present strength of more than 30,000.  Of the 5,000 students, about 3,000 lived in the hostels, and about 2,000, were non resident students. Students living adjacent to the university were classed as (NRSC-A) and those living in the old Aligarh city, a couple of miles away were (NRSC-B).

Though large, AMU had a quality of a small cozy place, because of its unique tradition. A simple act of salutation to strangers when our paths crossed broke the ice. Salamwlaikum, answered by an almost simultaneous Salamwalikum was amazingly binding. Strangers were strangers no more, the strangeness melted away. Those with whom our paths crossed every day, hurrying from class to class became unspoken friends even if we did not know their names. I have been to scores of universities around the world, but have not seen anything like it. After leaving the university in 1962, I came back for a visit a year later with a friend from Lucknow University. Walking around the campus, so many people greeted me. Many even stopped to inquire about my health and long absence, as if they missed me. Impressed, my friend commented, “You must have been very popular.” I simply replied, “This is AMU, every one is as popular.”

The flow of life at AMU
AMU’s academic calendar was a decagonal (ten sided) cycle. It started with admission, followed by introduction, election, Dassehra vacation, examination, winter vacation, exhibition, preparation, followed by the final examination and a long summer vacation.

The year started with admissions of fresh new students in July. It was much anticipated by the returning students, particularly by the half baked second year seniors, looking forward to about two weeks of “introduction”, when these newly minted seniors, did to others what was done to them the year before. Occasionally, it was a harrowing experience for some new students, but mostly it was mild ragging that did not cause permanent scars. To make up for the ragging, well meaning senior students some times invited the juniors for tea.  September was the start of election fever that culminated with election for the office bearers of the Students Union followed by Dassehra vacation. Coming back from vacation was a time for some serious studying for the midterm examination in December, followed by a much needed winter vacation that brought in the New Year. Classes started again in January. We looked forward to the annual exhibition on the outskirts of the old Aligarh city in early February. It was a time for week long revelry. Evenings spent with friends dressed in the required AMU uniform, black shervani (buttoned-up long coat). It was a time of seeing and being seen, stealing a glance or two at the denizens of the AMU girls college (Abdullah Hall). It was a thrill to have the glance returned with a smile. Almost every one indulged in the culinary delight of the famous Kababs and Parathas dripping with oil, washed down with sweet hot tea to avoid sore throat. Warm March winds ushered in the time for serious preparation for the approaching final examination. They took place from mid April to early May, followed by a much anticipated summer vacation.

This cycle repeated every year. The graduating old faces departed in May to face the challenges of life in the world beyond, making way for fresh young faces arriving in July. However for a few seniors, building seniority was a calling in itself. They managed to hang on to become fixtures at AMU as super seniors, as if they were tenured senior students. They held court as arbiters of AMU traditions.

Election for the AMU Students Union
Of this cycle the most colorful were the elections. Most students, including me did not know or care for the intricacies of the university politics, if there was one, and were oblivious to the existence of two ideological groups, allegedly active behind the scenes. The Student’s Islamic Organization, ostensibly an arm of the Jamaat-e-Islami and the Students Federation, ostensibly an arm of the Communist party. One heard of behind the scene maneuverings of these groups, mostly at the time of the Student’s Union elections held in early October. Among the many candidates for president, the two better known and financed were often rumored to be supported by these groups.

The most important and hotly contested position was the presidents’. Other positions were vice president, secretary, and ten cabinet members. There had been some legendary presidents who had made a name for themselves in late1950s, such as Saeed “Anda” and Abidullah Ghazi. The post was considered to be a possible stepping stone to a future in politics.

I had enjoyed the general elections of 1952 and 1957 for the UP legislature and the parliament with childish curiosity and enthusiasm. They were a serious affair with a festive veneer of musical propaganda and rhyming ditties in an effort to reach an uneducated and uniformed populace.

But the elections for the Students Union were in a class by themselves, an experience to remember. They were urbane when face to face, but the pamphleteering was often cleaver and occasionally acerbic.  Active canvassing period was limited to the last two weeks of September. Attired in black shervani and topi, the candidates made rounds of the hostels and the nonresident student’s centers. As the election grew closer, especially in the last few days, the activity reached a fever pitch. We looked forward to cleverly devised pamphlets aimed at giving the candidates a positive image with enumerated qualifications. Some of them were very creative, such as mimicking a telegram or a postcard slipped under our doors in the middle of the night. The most dreaded and inventive were the pamphlets deriding the opposing candidate with biting wit, especially on the eve of the election, so that the other party did not have time to respond. They were popularly known as “Anti” for anti-propaganda.

I had enjoyed the commotion of two elections, by the time the third election in October 1961 came around, we knew what to expect, and were looking forward to the wit and cleaver barbs. In the beginning it did not appear to be much different than the earlier ones, though there were forces at work behind the scenes that would have momentous consequences. A difference did emerge, and in retrospect, it turned out to be consequential. For the first time a Hindu candidate was also contesting for president. If my faded memory serves, his name was Iqbal Singh.

AMU, as the name indicates was founded as MAO College in 1875 by Sir Syed Ahmad Khan to bring modern western education to the educationally back sliding Muslim community.  So a vast majority of the students are Muslims, and as a norm, no Hindu had ever contested the presidency before, though traditionally there was at least one Hindu elected to the cabinet.

I had known Iqbal Singh cursorily from my Morrison Court days. For a short time, he lived with Amar Singh whom I knew a bit better. They lived a few rooms away from mine. I remember his name only because of what happened later. The other presidential candidate was insipid at best. I do not remember his name.

Attack on the University on October 3, 1961
Following is my recollection, albeit a bit faded account of the events. Memories, especially with the passage of half a century are likely to have gaps and may be at variance with the memory and personal experiences of others.

Finally the voting took place on the1st of October, it was an uneventful day. The results were declared rather late that night, and as expected the Muslim candidate won the presidency. The next day was Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday. It was normal, except what I heard from Kalyan Singh, a Sikh friend in my geology class, who lived in the Ziauddin Hostel. He casually told me that some altercation had taken place in his Hostel in the wee hours of the morning. That evening I did hear that some shots may have been fired, but no one was injured. Unwelcome news indeed. We thought, it was just an after election stupidity emanating from a tradition gone awry - teasing the loosing candidate by taking out a fake funeral procession.

On the 3rd of October in the morning, we did notice that our mathematics class was less than full. My section of the geology class consisted of only three students, of which Kalyan Singh and I were present, but my friend Ramesh Tayal who lived in the city was absent. The significance of the low attendance dawned on us later in the day. It was due to the absence of non-resident students from the city. My last class was in the physics department at the periphery of the main campus.

We came out of the physics class at about 2 PM and noticed that the campus looked ghostly quiet. Some one told us that the university had been attacked by a large Hindu mob from the city and they had burned the Shamshad market, the popular and only shopping street next to the university. It was almost next door to the Aftab Hostel, where I lived. Reflexively, I ran towards my room with a cavalcade of thoughts crowding my mind, including the possibility of my burned ransacked room. Breathless, I reached the hostel. It was a relief to see the serene building as I had left in the morning. I saw some students running towards the Shamshad market with long bamboo sticks used for holding up our ubiquitous mosquito nets, a nightly refuge from the teaming buzzing Aligarh mosquitoes. I ran to my room and pulled out a stick from my mosquito net and ran towards the Shamshad market, to join what I considered to be a student protection squad against the attackers.  

On the way I met my senior and a close friend, Haris Bhai (Haris Ansari). It turned out that the attacking mob from the city was long gone, but we saw some university students venting their frustration on a dilapidated shop, presumably belonging to Hindus. Some students were trying to pry and break the lock on its weather beaten wooden doors. A few students, including Haris Bhai and I instinctively felt the injustice of the mindless revenge and jumped in front of the shop to shield it.

We did succeed in saving that poor shop from the reprisal by the madness of infecting sectarian anger. The crowd moved on. We also moved on and saw some partly damaged building fronts and blackened shutters of the popular Friends Book Depot owned by Muslims. Apparently the mob from the city had tried to set fire to them. Further down the road we were shocked to see the ransacked Rama Book Depot and Krishna Book Depot. As the name indicated, they were owned by Hindus. I had been to these stores many times. The books were strewn in front of the broken doors, as if staring at me, in protest at the indignity heaped on these repositories of knowledge and wisdom, used to a place of respect on book shelves. No apparent damage was done to the businesses further down the road and to the university buildings and hostels.

Though most of us including the late arriving reporters had not witnessed the attack, in the charged communal atmosphere, it was easy to surmise that the Hindu mob from the city had run out of steam and did not enter the AMU campus doing only minor damage to the Muslim business establishments. And the looting of the Rama and the Krishna book depots was done by the vengeful Muslim students from the university. In the emotionally taxing environment, the conclusions seemed obvious.

Student life in the aftermath of the attack
We returned to our hostels, with mixed feelings of sadness over the destruction of the book stores, and anxiety over our safety. Those were the days without the instruments of mass communications - no telephones or even radios in the rooms. If the authorities made an effort to console and guide the students, I am not aware of it. Obviously the authorities knew more, but perhaps were busy devising plans for the protection for the students with the district administration. With the setting sun, we feared that the mob from the city would return in the darkness of night to attack the hostels. With no means of instant communication, the hostels were like isolated islands shrouded in the dark oppressive quietness of the night.

In our charged imaginations, a possible massacre was not out of the question. Most of the residence halls were quadrangles with one or two gated entrances, such as SS Hall. Even the newer hostels such as Ziauddin and Saifi were enclosed structures. But the three hostels closest to the main road, MacDonald, Aftab and Mumtaz were three sided graceful structures with verandahs adorned with Moorish arches. The fourth side was open to the road separated by an ornamental iron fence.

In frustration, some even criticized the bad design of our hostel, suggesting it should have been a fortress like closed quadrangle. Forgetting the irony that we took pride in the aesthetics of the aftab hostel, unlike those cooped up in closed quadrangles. Fear changed the perception and the cooped up design looked safer.

We felt completely exposed and vulnerable. Again those were the days when violence meant fist-a-cuff. We did not have, nor did we imagine anyone should have a revolver or a gun. Some one suggested that there was a big pile of broken bricks from some collapsed old structure, behind our hostel. Within minutes we got to work and carried loads of broken brick to the roof of Aftab hostel. We were not sure how effective brick throwing would be against the invading mob with fire arms. It was a good way to feel useful and use up our youthful adrenalin.

Tired, after hard physical work, I fell in deep sleep. Waking up next morning, it took a few seconds to be jarred by the returning memory of the eventful yesterday and the anxiety of a night time attack. I was still alive, the hostel was still there and nothing untoward had happened, at least not in our little corner of the world. It was hard to believe that yesterday was not just a bad dream. The October sky was a brilliant azure blue, even though we felt in our bones that the horizons were red with turmoil. Apparently every one assumed that there would be no classes and therefore there weren’t. There were rumors that hundreds of Muslims had been killed in the old Aligarh city. It was not deemed safe to travel as the miscreants may have carried the virus to other cities spreading mayhem from town to town.

Later that day a police constable showed up at my room, with a letter from the District Magistrate (Collector), Mr. Joshi inviting me to his office in the collectorate. I knew he was my father’s colleague at an earlier posting and apparently my father had called him. He offered to send me home accompanied by a police constable to navigate the long journey home. I felt irritated by the offer. I thought he was not doing his job of saving the innocent victims in the city. I felt that a strong district magistrate had enormous authority and could have nipped the rioters at the first sign of trouble. In solidarity with my friends who I felt were trapped, I declined the offer and came back to Aftab hostel and my other friends in other hostels in similar predicament.

The first thing on everyone’s mind was to inform their worried families of their safety. Long lines formed at the telegraph office as soon as it opened. Telegraphic shorthand in English is not everyone’s forte. Many students sent a crisp though unintended alarming message home, “still alive”. Aligarians are known for their sense of humor, gallows humor was rife. There was an undercurrent of subdued panic, based on the rumors of hundreds of deaths in the city. Some students mispronounced the unfamiliar word “Panic”; others did it intentionally with a broad smile.

Mr. Joshi informed my father that I was safe and would be coming home shortly. In a couple of days the papers reported that the riots had been quelled and it was safe to travel. AMU was closed for about ten days. We went home. The journey was charged with consternation, but uneventful.

There were two Hindu students in our hostel of eightyeight. Des Raj was much senior to me. He was a research scholar probably in political science and was teaching part-time at a local college. Dhyan Prakash was a year junior to me and we knew each other well. We were mindful of their emotional well being, and made an effort to make them feel a part of us in these terribly emotionally divisive times.

All my life I had attended schools with an overwhelming majority of Hindu kids. Almost all of my school friends from school days were Hindus. Many of them are still cherished friends after many decades. So even though AMU hostels were demographically overwhelmingly Muslim, I had many Hindu friends, mostly my class fellows from different hostels. Some names are still fresh in my mind - Sushil Tomar, Kalyan Singh, Ramesh Tayal, Ravindra Rustagi, Vinod Singh, Ambrish Kumar. Ravi Rustagi remained a close friend until he passed away a few years ago in Australia and Ramesh Tayal and I still correspond.

I did not see them until after the vacations, when the University finally opened in mid-October. What ever residue that remained in the minds of the students was gone and we were close as ever.

Many newspapers were very critical of the university. They blamed AMU for the inculcated communal atmosphere, based on the election results, appearing to justify the riots in the city. The photographs of the ransacked Rama and Krishna Book Depots were used as exhibits of vandalism. They had built up a case, completely ignoring the planning by the interested parties in the old Aligarh city to use the inevitable results as a pretext to engineer the planned carnage. K L Shrimali, the new education minister in the Central Government, accused AMU of communalism. When informed that there was a very strong influence of the communist party at the university, he scoffed that they are communal communists. Disheartened at being battered by a partisan press, we felt much better when Chnchal Sarkar of “The Statesman” a respected news paper spent time interviewing students at the university and the citizens of the old city. He published two incisive articles on November 6th and 7th. It gave some respite to AMU. Sarkar passed away in October 2005. 

Engineering of the 1961 riots
Many books and articles have been written on the subject.  The following analysis is gleaned from an excellent book by Paul R. Brass, “The production of Hindu-Muslim Violence in Contemporary India, published in 2003”; and an excellent analysis in the report by the India Policy Institute, published on the internet in January 2004. “Communal riots in India: A Sketch of History and Causes.” (www.indiapolicy.sabhlokcity.com/.../lbs-comm-notes.doc - India

In the wake of the British occupation of India for three centuries ending in 1947, the ruling class of Muslims was thrown off kilter. The Aligarh movement was started by Sir Syed to help Muslims retain their Islamic moorings while regaining their footing in the flow of history. He started the MAO College in 1875 to check the backsliding and help them join the modern scientific trend. Hindus were not only welcome, but many helped him in his efforts.

Soon after the MAO College became Aligarh Muslim University in 1920. The idea of imminent freedom for India from the British Raj was in the air. Sectarian forces were also working overtime and the specter of separatism was on the rise. The popular belief with some justification is that hatred germinated under the aegis of the British policy of divide and rule. The Pakistan Movement of 1930s and 40s became a potent force and did a lasting damage to the amity between the two communities. Many students and faculty at AMU bought into the two nation theory and were active in the creation of Pakistan. This left a very deep animus to wards AMU among many Hindus.

Aligarh had a sizable Muslim Population. It diminished after the partition.  But over the years it has gradually increased by accretion. Muslims educated at AMU and the AMU faculty have settled down in new neighborhoods close to the university. AMU being a residential university, it legally gives preferences to students educated at AMU in coveted professional courses. With a stiff competition for professional education in India many Hindu students have also gravitated to AMU to qualify for the professional courses in the internal quota. Most of these students live away from the campus and have not been able to integrate in the residential student body.  The local Hindu colleges have tried many times, to swamp AMU demographically by getting a change in the AMU charter, to get affiliated, thus becoming a majority.

With this background the Student Union election of 1961 became a watershed. The resentments were simmering. The Hindu communal class’ resistance to AMU was well established and the Muslim communal resistance to Hindu incursion in AMU had grown over the years. Growing Hindu and Muslim communalism symbiotically found sustenance in exaggerated and often invented grievances.

Usually the Student Union election was contested by candidates from the right and the left of the political spectrum who happened to be Muslims. In1961, the sectarian Hindu forces decided to put up candidates for all the posts of the Students Union knowing that Muslim vote would be divided among many Muslims. It became apparent to the rightwing Muslims, that with about 40 percent Hindu students the Muslim vote would be divided and the Hindus will sweep the elections, particularly the coveted presidency.  A successful effort was mounted to make all Muslim candidates withdraw leaving a single insipid consensus candidate for each office.

The stage was set for the clash of two communalisms with a foregone conclusion. In the course of time, had an accomplished Hindu student contested the presidency it would have been notable and a positive evolution. But the way it was planned by the communal BJP minded Hindus was diabolically cleaver. They relied on the knee jerk push back by the myopic Muslim communalists. The dice was cast. If a Hindu candidate won with the agenda of harming the tranquility of AMU, so much the better, but as expected if he lost, it was trumped up as causes belie. An average student had no inkling of the gathering storm. The authorities were also caught napping.

After the contrived post election incident at the Ziauddin Hostel, early morning on the 2nd of October authorities should have been more vigilant. The propaganda in the colleges of the old city was allowed to fester. It resulted in the attack on the university. As it turned out it was only a side show to malign the AMU, the real atrocities were committed in killing innocent people in the city. The official figures were fifteen innocent people killed and hundreds injured, of which an overwhelming number were Muslims.   

The authorities had clamped a curfew on the town. That is the least they could have done. As it often happens they called the Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) for help to oversee the curfew. One may think that people would feel safer. But far from it, the record of the PAC has been blatantly anti-minorities over the years. So much so that in mid the1950’s commenting on the role of the PAC in a case before the court, Justice Ananand Narain Mulla of the Allahabad High Court (1954-61) is said to have included a comment in his judgment, that the UP police was the most organized group of Thugs (goondas) in the state.

It has been proven time and again, that Muslims do not fear their Hindu neighbors with whom they have lived in harmony, and most of us have experienced it all our lives. The problem arises when the riots are engineered by vested communal interest and the police particularly the highly partisan PAC is called. That is when the real atrocities take place, as it has been conclusively proven by the hundreds of photographs published internationally as evidence in the February- March 2002 Gujarat massacre. The published photographs show the miscreants throwing fire bombs protected behind the police lines towards the cordoned off hapless Muslims.

A long view
It was a lesson to me that the riots were engineered by a very small coterie of vested interest waiting to find a cause, or invent one when needed. Knowing the intensity and passion of the Student Union elections, they engineered a cause and when successful fanned the flames. All of my Hindu friends and teachers were good to me and remained my friends. Their attitude towards me was the same before and after the riots.

After graduating from AMU I joined Roorkee University for my master’s degree. In a class of ten students, to my pleasant surprise, I found two friends from my batch at AMU, Kalyam Singh a Sikh and Ravi Rutagi a Hindu of merchant cast. There were seven other students, three from BHU and one each from Lucknow, Jaipur and Patna universities. I was the lone Muslim. In the beginning there was a silent competition among us as flag bearers of our universities. Ravi and Kalyan were even more concerned and enthusiastic than me not to let AMU down. And succeed we did.

The problem of sectarianism (communalism) is endemic all over the world. It manifests it self as tribalism in African countries, as religious conflict in European countries up until the 19th century, as racism in the United States, and as communalism in Pakistan India, Sri Lanka, Burma (Myanmar) and other countries.

Rising from medieval civilization based on uniformity of power structure, the molding of a modern secular nation is difficult. It becomes that much more challenging after a long period of colonialism, especially when the society is economically poor and there is competition for meager resources. In India the religious divide between Hindus and Muslims and the cast divide among the upper and lower cast Hindus and the untouchables has been a bane to the progress of the nation. Yet India has adhered to secularism under very difficult circumstances.

There is no wall of separation between the state and religion in the Indian constitution. The state is supposed to be neutral, yet most people often vote on the basis of caste. In the Indian social milieu religion is supposed to act as a motivating positive force, not a force against other religions. But the bane of democracies is that unscrupulous politicians exploit religion to their selfish ends, injuring the fabric of the nation.

After the Aligarh riots of 1961, I found myself caught in the riots in Calcutta, twice. The first time it was in January 1964 while on a geological tour as a student; and again in January 1967 as a faculty in charge of the students. Both the times I was the only Muslim among my colleagues. The riots in Calcutta were intense. They were sparked by the flooding of Hindu refugees from the riots in the erstwhile East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) resulting from the atrocities on the Hindus by a Muslim majority. Obviously the times were tense, but the bonds of friendship and decency were a lot stronger than the beckoning force of sectarianism. I never felt threatened. Though there were some who tried to provoke me, but my Hindu friends stood by me.

Time is a friend as well as a foe. The passage of time often smoothes the sharp edges of the sad events and diminishes the sting, though memories remain, but in the process it also robs us of the innocence of the idyllic days of our youth.

As old men having lost the innocence we become cynical and lose trust in the innate goodness that is significant part of humanity. Young people do damage out of inexperience and foolishness. Old people know better, therefore they are guilty of criminal selfishness.

It does not have to be this way. Germany and France have fought three increasingly horrible wars within a period of seventy years - The War of 1870, The First World War (1914-18) and the most horrible of all wars The Second World War (1939-45). Making them the most hated enemy of each other. Nobody could have predicted that within a couple of generations they would be the best of friends with open borders and the most important bull work of the Economic Union of modern peaceful Europe.

Yet the hatred of what we consider “the other” continues. I keep reading about mayhem in many parts of the world from the Northern Ireland and Bosnia in Europe to endemic riots and wars in many parts of Asia and Africa. These fault lines are not only racial, but religious and within religions, casts and tribes. The solutions are so obvious. Countries that treat there citizens with justice do better economically. Larger countries do even better. The divisiveness can be ameliorated with cooperation that enhances economic development. According to a well known aphorism, “A rising tide lifts all boats”. But time and again the vested interests are able to invoke our baser nature and cause havoc on other humans caught in a vicious cycle of revenge with self-serving narratives of who started it.

I hope some day the world would be a better place for our children, but in the near future it is disheartening. I wrote the following lines about four years ago to express this conundrum.

Elusive thoughts at Midnight

Mirza A. Beg
April 3rd, 2008
Miiddle of the night
Is never perfectly dark
The restful dark
Of deep slumber

Stray eerie light seeps in
From the streets of the
Smoldering day, from the
Tormented world beyond

Eyelids quiver with twilight
Of wakeful concerns of the day,
Of wars, real and imagined
Of inhumanity and lost friends

Inducing an amorphous ache
From myriad hazy sources
Flooding the heart and mind
And engulfing the soul

With countless Images
Of tortured bodies
Of hungry faces
Of loss and injustice

Of slings and arrows
Of lost opportunities
Of what could have been
Should have been, but is not

In the name of
Egotistic power
Misbegotten ideology
And misused religion

In the deathly stillness
Of a body, dormant
The restless mind soars
To resonate with the spirit

Inspiring visions
Of possibilities of peace
Just and humane
Clear and concise

To capture lost opportunities
Transcending arrogance and pride
To mend the frayed fabric
And make shattered souls, whole

Slowly the sleep returns
To cloud the vision
Clarity dissolves in a mist
Leaving only a few kernels

Morning is melancholy
I stare at a blank page
Failing to capture that
Fleeting flawless vision

Mirza A. Beg may be contacted at mab64@yahoo.com

His essays and poems are on my blog  http://mirzasmusings.blogspot.com/



Monday, January 23, 2012

Surya Namashkar 1-23-12

From Sectarian to Multi-Religious Congregations

Mirza A. Beg

January 18, 2012

Indian Muslim Observer Jan. 23, 2012

http://www.indianmuslimobserver.com/2012/01/opinion-from-sectarian-to-multi.html

The article “Surya Namaskar, Fatwa and Muslims “, by my friend Mike Ghause (printed below- http://www.indianmuslimobserver.com/2012/01/latest-editorial-surya-namaskar-and.html) brought to my attention a rather juvenile endeavor by the Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Mr. Chauhan. He wants to congregate the largest assembly of worshipers, to garner a place in the Guinness book of world records, beating the record held by Kazakhstan. Mr. Chauhan has asked the schools to participate, perhaps because it is easy to assemble a large crowd by collecting obligated student.

Every one knows, certainly the Chief Minister of a state should know that a pluralistic society respects all religions equally. A call from the Chief Minister, the chief authority of the state with jurisdiction over the schools with multi-religious body of student is a form of coercion of students from other religions.

Apparently a respected Muslim Qadi (Legal Scholar) advised (Fatwa) that the bowing to any other entity except God is un-Islamic and the Muslim Students should abstain.

I substantially agree with Mike’s views in his article. I might add that the Indian democracy has come a long way, but has not matured enough. Often unnecessary small misunderstandings among different religious communities have been exploited by the sectarian interests to injure the cohesion of the communities. At times they deteriorate in riots and loss of innocent lives.

Press often unknowingly misconstrues the verbiage of religious leaders to mean what it does not. ‘Fatwa’ is one loaded word that evokes exaggerated sectarian passions. Unmitigated and ill-explained opinions even when right can sow unnecessary dissension.

As juvenile as the desire of the Chief Minister is to get into the Guinness book, it offers a teachable moment for our society particularly the youth. Some of the following is well known, but perhaps not fully understood in all its implications:

India is a Pluralistic Democratic Republic. It honors all creeds and their right to worship or not to worship. The government should not promote, impose or suppress any set of beliefs. Such a society works better when we as individuals also honor and respect the belief of others and try to understand them. And when religious scholars or jurists give their opinions on social issues they should be extremely careful in the nuances of their verbiage.

From my childhood my friends and I have worshiped in our own ways, but that did not stop us in participation in the religious festivals of others. It was that much more fun, it created deeper understanding of others and closer friendships.

I do not have Muslim, Hindu, Jain, Christian, Jewish, or friends with other prefixes, but have friends whom I value for who they are and for our unselfish bonds. They also happen to belong to many other religions and beliefs.

If he does hanker for a place in the Guinness book of world records, it would be a lot better if the Chief Minister Chauhan invites people of all religions to come together and offer prayers in their own traditions at the same place and the same time for the betterment and amity in the country and perhaps the world as Mike has suggested. What a grand spectacle and occasion of amity it would be. Guinness may even have to open another category for the Multi-religious congregation of worship.

Mirza A. Beg may be contacted at mab64@yahoo.com, His essays are available at http://mirzasmusings.blogspot.com/

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Friday, January 20, 2012

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LATEST EDITORIAL: Surya Namaskar and Muslim response

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By Mike Ghouse

The Surya Namaskar is a Hindu religious tradition, a beautiful act of bowing to the Sun and welcoming the first rays of dawn as an expression of gratitude to the energy it breathes in to life and everything about life.

India is a pluralistic society, where we have come to respect every which way one worships one, none or many representations of God. Even among Hinduism we have an amazing diversity of people who express their gratitude from no to an iconic to an abstract manifestation of that elusive creator.

The Chief Minister of the State of Madhya Pradesh, Mr. Shivraj Singh Chouhan called on the schools and the public to join him in the Surya Namaskar to beat the Guinness world record set by the Kazakhs who currently hold the world record in mass prayers. The intent of performing this act with a million people was not for spiritual need, but to get on the Guinness Book of World Records; a crazy passion of Indians.

At least Shivraj Singh Chouhan did better than Rick Perry, the governor of Texas who invited the evangelist exclusively to pray for the nation’s well being in a certain way to exclude all other Americans including Christians of different denominations. Indeed he duped the evangelicals in buying their support for his bid to the Presidency.

The Times of India reported that the city’s Chief Muslim cleric Qazi Abul Kalam Qasmi said, "Parents should take a call on sending kids to school, if there is apprehension that the child may be forced." The newly appointed Qazi maintained that Suryanamaskar, which involved 'bowing before the sun', was against Islamic tenets. "If a Muslim performs the 'suryanamaskar' the child and his parents would both be accountable in the act of felony." Qasmi maintained.

Indeed, the Qazi is right; it is not an Islamic practice to bow to any manifestation of God, but the God himself the non-visible energy. Everyone should have the freedom to pray or not pray in certain way and no one should compel or look down for not participating. That is our pluralistic ethos for over 5000 years and we need to be loyal to that heritage.

An alternate way to look at the opinion of the Qazi would have been to participate in the group act, but do it in a way that works from an Islamic point of view. This would have meant that we are all in this together for a better India and better place to live cohesively. However, no one should expect everyone to jump and do what they do. It would have been a good example of working together without compromising our faith.

Prophet Muhammad had led mass Prayers for rain and famine and for other goodness of the society. Two years ago, I was planning on going to Florida and witness a pastor burn the Quraan, if he was indeed burning, I was going to pray my two Rakat (unit) Nafeel Muslim prayers next door to his Church in an open space with prior permission from the City. We all would have prayed for his well being along with several fellow Muslims. Burning Quraan was not an act of bravery but stupidity and countering it with anger would have been greater stupidity. Unfortunately he postponed his act and I had a 9/11 Unity Day event the next day in Dallas as well.

There are examples set by Prophet Muhammad for situations like this. While he was travelling to Taif, a few miscreants pelted rocks at him causing him to bleed, his associates wanted to go get the boys, but Prophet stopped them and instead asked them and the Angel Gabriel to join him in prayers and pray for their well being. This is what Jesus meant when he said, turn the other cheek.

Prophet Muhammad was the ultimate peace maker, every act of his is a model for us to learn from, and he was the consummate conflict mitigater and goodwill nurturer.

When we attend weddings, some of us are strictly vegetarian and some eat variations of meat products from fish and poultry to beef. We wear different clothing’s and drink a variety of sodas to coffee with cream or black and same goes with the tea. Do we have a problem with that? Then we should not have the problem with this either as long as the Chief Minister is not getting his wish at the cost of public funds.

The right wingers among us need to honor Muslims, Christians, Jains, Sikhs and Hindus for their choices and each minority should not take this as an imposition in a free society. Nor any one should be negative if one does not participate.

May Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s dreams to solidify his political stand come true and those who are opposed to him politically can also hold a Chandra Namaskar to get what they want, but together, let Madhya Pradesh go on the Guinness book of world records. Bengal or any other state has a choice to out do it as well.

[Mike Ghouse is committed to building cohesive societies where no Indian has to live in anxieties, discomfort or fear of the other. He is a frequent guest at the TV, radio and print media offering pluralistic solutions on issues of the day. His work is indexed at www.MikeGhouse.net and his current articles at www.TheGhousediary.com. Mike Ghouse is now associated with IndianMuslimObserver.com as Foreign Editor. He can be contacted at MikeGhouse@aol.com]

Friday, August 26, 2011

Corruption - India 11-01-26

Rooting-out Corruption is Good, but

Parallel Government is Injurious to Democracy

Mirza A. Beg

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Indian Express, Delhi, August 26, 2011

http://blogs.expressindia.com/showblogdetails.php?contentid=837637#

Milli Gazette, Delhi, August25, 2011

http://www.milligazette.com/news/2136-india-rooting-out-corruption-is-good-but-parallel-government-is-injurious-to-democracy

Anna Hazare has captured the imagination of the Indian body politic. His clarion-call to end the exponentially growing, endemic corruption in India has been reverberating and gathering supporters with each passing day. The news media in India has become his megaphone.

The corruption has been increasing over the decades in magnitude as well as pervasiveness. The developing economy, increasing disposable income of the middle class and much larger workforce provide more opportunities for bribes. At the top levels of the government the bribes have grown from thousands to tens of millions of Rupees.

On my visits to India, I enjoy asking probing social and political questions in conversations with a wide spectrum of very friendly and talkative fellow travelers. Everyone is against corruption as a simple nebulous principle. But the answers get clouded and muddled when it benefits their lives.

The Indian Government finally realized that the evil of corruption has reached the tipping point and drafted a legislation to create an independent office of Lokpal (ombudsmen) to watch over various agencies with independent, but limited authority. It would have the power to investigate. Based on evidence, it would recommend and direct the judicial system to take action. Obviously it would take time for such a system to mature and work. Unfortunately the judicial system is not beyond corruption either.

The office of Lokpal would be similar to the office of the Election Commissioner, which has worked rather well, notwithstanding all the ills of the society. Indian elections are by and large fair and have successfully changed the government many times.

Yet the corruption at all levels including the legislature has grown, because the most important driving force for voting for a candidate is not honesty, but sectarianism – a substantial majority votes based on religion, cast and regional advantages. Political parties put up candidates based on these considerations. Once elected, they distribute economic largess as well as jobs and contracts to their most important supporters and casts in their constituency. Ironically, it is not considered corruption by a large majority of the populace.

Anna Hazare and his companions proposed a much stronger and aggressive office of the Lokpal (ombudsman). They insist that all the branches of the government would be under its authority including the Prime Minister. It would have independent police and judicial powers. In effect, it would be akin to a parallel unelected government, and would have minimal check on its authority.

When aroused, people like simple and fast remedies. Anna Hazare’s remedy of cut ting the Gordian knot in one strike is simplistic and very appealing. To force his ideas on the government, he first threatened and then took up a fast unto death. It sounds enticing, especially coming from a person who has put his life on the line and has a long record of service to the poor and personal honesty.

Taking advantage of the situation, all sorts of people have jumped on his band wagon for their own purposes, while many opposed to him have unearthed records, where he appears to have supported unsavory ideas and people. Many in the minority community want to join him but are weary of some of the Anna’s unsavory backers. No one is perfect, and he has some explaining to do.

I applaud his taking a stand and galvanizing the placid electorate to demand reform. One needs to look at it not from sectarian perspective, but a long range national perspective. Means and ends should be carefully considered. They do matter. Democracy is not easy to nurture. A system that changes with the changing wind of public opinion does not last very long. An unaccountable parallel government is an idea fraught with danger. Impetuously designed laws with the best of intentions have unintended consequences. The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

That is why most stable democracies have a bicameral legislature, so that a part of the legislature, called the upper house or senate --is protected from the immediacy of the impetuous public emotions.

Democracy by its very nature is inefficient. The system of checks and balances is an impediment to quick solutions of long festering social problems. Simplistic and draconian solutions against an evil are easy to understand and support. Anna Hazare has projected himself as a leader in the Gandhian tradition. But there is a difference.

Gandhi Ji agitated and fasted to give voice to the people, against an unelected imperial colonial government. Hazare is holding hostage, a legitimately elected government of the people. With his popularity growing by the day, the government is being held on ransom with a false choice of Hazare’s bill or widespread chaos.

In a democracy, the government is only as good as the people vote for. If the electorate really wanted honesty and integrity, they could have voted for them as beacons. But they did not, they vote for personal aggrandizement on the basis of cast etc. Impetuous quick solutions often bring unintended consequences. Thoughtful people should take time to bring in change without injuring the constitution and the essence of democracy. The start has been made to check corruption. Anna Hazare should compromise to get a good bill instead of throwing the country in to chaos.

Mirza A. beg can be contacted at mab64@yahoo.com or mirzasmusings.blogspot.com

Monday, July 11, 2011

Bigotery in Election 11-6-20

Republican Debate - Stealth Agenda of Gingrich and Cain

Mirza A. Beg

Saturday, June 20, 2011

Counter Currents June 23, 2011

http://www.countercurrents.org/beg230611.htm

Media Monitor Network, June 23, 2011

http://usa.mediamonitors.net/content/view/full/87349

Tuscaloosa News, Sunday, June 26, 2011

http://www.tuscaloosanews.com/article/20110626/NEWS/110719975

OEN OpEdNews.com, June 28, 2011

http://www.opednews.com/articles/Republican-Debate--Stealt-by-Mirza-Beg-110624-554.html

The Republican debate of June 13th moderated by John King of CNN was generally a collegial affair. It was essentially a “Knock Obama” rally, with understated minor differences among the candidates.


Except, when CNN moderator John King asked former Godfather Pizza magnate, Harman Cain, “You recently said you would not appoint a Muslim to your cabinet and you kind of backed off a little bit and said you would first want to know if they’re committed to the Constitution. You expressed concern that, quote, “a lot of Muslims are not totally dedicated to this country.” Are American-Muslims as a group less committed to the Constitution than, say, Christians or Jews?”


Cain backpedaled a bit and said,” I would not be comfortable because you have peaceful Muslims and then you have militant Muslims, those that are trying to kill us. And so, when I said I wouldn’t be comfortable, I was thinking about the ones that are trying to kill us, number one. Secondly, yes, I do not believe in Sharia law in American courts. I believe in American laws in American courts, period. There have been instances –“


John King turned to other candidates and asked their views on the subject. Some candidates were uncomfortable, but not former speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich.


Trying to resuscitate his dying campaign, stridently he said, “Now, I just want to go out on a limb here. I’m in favor of saying to people, if you’re not prepared to be loyal to the United States, you will not serve in my administration, period.” He added “We did this—we did this in dealing with the Nazis and we did this in dealing with the communists. And it was controversial both times, and both times we discovered after a while, you know, there are some genuinely bad people who would like to infiltrate our country. And we have got to have the guts to stand up and say no.”


For those who do not know, Gingrich was approvingly referring to the Red baiting campaign of early 1950s by the Republican senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin and his cohorts. It has been widely condemned as the most shameful period in modern US history. It lives in infamy as McCarthyism. As Gingrich says, there were “some genuinely bad people”- but it is opposite of the way he construes. The bad people were, Senator McCarthy and his minions, who maligned and tried to destroy decent Americans by innuendos, as Gingrich does.


Yes, a few Muslim citizens have engaged in terrorism against the US, but an overwhelming majority of Muslims are productive and loyal citizens. It is no secret that Muslim bashing is popular among some in the Republican Party. They conveniently forget that some of the plots were thwarted by Muslims contacting the police.


Sadly not one candidate on the podium admonished Cain and Gingrich, as they would have, if such a sweeping statement was made to malign other minorities such as Jews or Blacks. Even sadder yet, it did not elicit much comment in the popular media either.


Not too long ago some Republicans did stand up to challenge such remarks, but the party has changed.

In 2007 Republican debates, while others remained quiet, John McCain condemned Mitt Romney’s remark that he will not appoint any Muslim to his cabinet. McCain said, “I’m proud of the Muslims who are currently serving in the United States armed forces and my sense is that if they can serve in that manner, they can serve in any position of responsibility in America.”


In December 2002, an intemperate remark by Senator Trent Lott cost him the leadership of the Republican Party in the Senate. Celebrating the 100th birthday of South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond, Senator Trent Lott, the Republican leader in the Senate said, “When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We’re proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn’t have had all these problems over the years, either.”


Those remarks were construed as racist, because in 1948 Strom Thurmond broke with the Democratic Party on the issue of enforcement of civil rights legislation and ran for the Presidency as a State’s Rights Party candidate.


The US Constitution is secular. Thankfully our laws are not based on religious preference. Although when not in conflict with the civil laws, in some jurisdictions it has accommodated people, who by mutual agreement wanted their personal disputes settled by arbitration by religious tribunal. Courts have enforced the result of such arbitration in case of Jewish, Mormon and other religions as in contract law.


The spurious injection of Sharia in the debate is a “Red Herring” to divert attention and garner cheap popularity from the considerable weight of the xenophobic wing of the Republican Party. There is no monolithic Sharia law. These laws were developed by different schools of thoughts in the 9th century to check the creeping autocracy of the rulers. They are open to debate, and have evolved on diverse lines through the ages.


The irony is that most rightwing Republicans are opposed to the idea of separation of “Church and State” notwithstanding the first amendment. That is why Rev. Pat Robertson found so much traction in the Republican primaries in the 1980s. Rev. Charles Kimball writes in his book, “When Religion Becomes Lethal “ that Ralph Reed, the head of the Christian Coalition, famously referred to the practice of running “stealth candidates” where the radical agenda would be hidden from voters by focusing on hot button issues such as abortion or homosexuality. By the time the voters knew what victorious candidate really advocated, they would not know what hit them.


Some of the 2012 Republican aspirants are not much different. Some want the United States to be under the Biblical laws, while others in an effort to dupe them are stealthily raising a bogus threat from the Sharia laws. To protect all, multi-religious as well as irreligious citizens, would it not be better to, honestly adhere to the principle of “Separation of Church and State”, no lying, no ifs and no buts?


Instead of the loyalty test for ordinary law abiding citizens of any faith or no faith, the electorate should reject stealth candidates whose support for the US Constitution is dubious. If elected they would have to take the oath of office with fingers crossed.


Mirza A. Beg can be contacted at mab64@yahoo.com or at http://mirzasmusings.blogspot.com/