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Burqa Is Not Trishul

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A recent debate in The Indian Express on the country’s Muslims, triggered by Harsh Mander and taken forward by RamachandraGuha, elicited dozens of responses in a host of other publications. This is welcome and timely. That Muslims as participa­nts were rare exceptions in that debate in the mainstream media proves Mander’s impassioned argument about the total marginalisation of Muslims in the country. Guha, fortunately, does not challenge Mander’s main lamentation, but argues that it is imperative for the Muslims to imbibe a liberal worldview and shun obscurantism.

Guha’s main argument in his dissent with Mander, succinc­tly articulated at the end of his article, is as follows: “Because Hindus are in an overwhelming majority in India, their communalism is far more dangerous than Muslim communalism. At the same time, one should recognise that discrimination by caste and especially gender is pervasive among Muslims too. And regardless of their own personal faith, or lack thereof, liberals must consistently and continually uphold the values of freedom and equality. They must promote the interests of the individual against that of the community, and seek to base public policies on reason and rationality rather than on scripture. In this struggle, liberals must have the courage to take on both Hindu and Muslim communalists.”

No one except arch fundamentalists will have any dispute with the above statement. However, in the process of framing his argument, Guha made some controversial remarks, including a shocking comparison of the Burqa, a dress, with Trishul, a weapon. These not only diverted attention from his core thesis, but also made him look insensitive to a commun­ity whose current obsessive preoccupation is not edifying ideas of social reform, but boringly mundane questions of dignified survival in their own God-forsaken ‘Modified’ country.

 

This writer holds no brief for either the skullcap or the Burqa, and agrees with Guha that the face-veil (particularly the Niqab) reflects a ‘reactionary, antediluvian’ mindset. But asking Muslims to shed all markers of their religious identity in the name of liberalism precisely at this juncture of Hindutva ascent and in the midst of a debate on the existential threats they face is not very helpful. Being a perfect liberal and a staunch defender of India’s composite culture did not save EhsanJafri from the Hindutva marauders in Gujarat in 2002.

Guha names three Muslim leaders in India who “had the potential to take their community out of a medievalist ghe­tto into a full engagement with the modern world”: Sheikh Abdullah, Hamid Dalwai, Arif Mohammad Khan. While Arif’s courageous position on the Shah Bano judgment was indeed praiseworthy, is it not ironical that one of the only three names he invokes is of a man who ended up in the BJP, the primary source of the sense of insecurity among the Muslims? Despite being a “secularising modernist” and believing “that patriarchy was a curse which kept their community backward”, Arif had no qualms in joining the BJP, which was neither secularising nor anti-patriarchal.

As for Dalwai, he was indeed an outstanding secular intellectual, but unlike the other two leaders Guha mentioned; he was totally deracinated, like, interestingly, Mohammed Ali Jinnah. Does he mean to say that it is necessary for a Muslim leader to abandon his Muslimness (by faith or culture or even a vague sense of belonging to a collectivity) in order to win the approval of the liberal intelligentsia? Did his liberalism, modern outlook and irreligion preclude Jinnah’s gradual transformation into a communalist?

These irritants notwithstanding, the arguments put forth by both Mander and Guha are not antithetical to each other at their core. A liberal, democratic, progressive, modern leadership is the need of the hour for the Muslims in India, particula­rly when even the so-called secular parties begin to look at them as an embarrassment. Even the current Muslim leadership in India will not dispute the fact that they are a bunch of nobodies compared to the towering personalities that led the community in the past: Sir Syed, AllamaIqbal, Maulana Azad, Shah Waliullah, C.H. Mohamed Koya and so on.

A cursory look at the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, arguably the religion’s most representative body in the country, and the emotive issues it took up over the past few decades will confirm one thing: the present religious and political leadership of the Indian Muslims consists of a bunch of myopic sentiment-peddlers with absolutely no vision—political or social—for the future of the community. This is true of most of the Muslim political leaders across the country as well. “As an Indian, I think the fact that the most important Muslim leader in our most populous state is Azam Khan is a disgrace to Muslims, to Uttar Pradesh, and to India,” Guha once wrote in an article aptly titled ‘Can Hindu Liberals Criticize Muslim Bigots?’

So what is the way out? A liberal leadership within the Muslim community will emerge only if three fundamental preconditions—all crucial for internal democratisation—are fulfilled. The first concerns a modus vivendi to deal with the schismatic, theological diversities within the community. These differences in theological and jurisprudential matters are currently articulated in a highly undemocratic and defamatory manner. Followers of each sect or sub-sect think only they represent the true Islam and all others are doomed to eternal perdition. A language to debate these differences without mutual abrogation and excommunication is yet to emerge. Hence, the dire need for a process of internal democratisation and the creation of a dialogical, rather than a polemical culture within the community in matters of faith, without which there is no hope of a liberal transformation.

The second concerns the community’s penchant for turning every critical insi­der into a pariah. The moment you begin pointing fingers at what is wrong within the community, your othering and demonisation are stepped up. Your ability to influence the community is proportional to your readiness to conform—in your beliefs, ideas, sartorial choices, lifestyle, theological and jurisprudential nitty-gritty. This general intolerance is manifested in more obnoxious ways when something that is ‘hurtful to the religious sentiments’ is in the public sphere, such as a work of art or fiction, a film or even a critical statement. The sad truth is that the community’s general attitude to issues of freedom of expression is no different from the Hindutva brigades. A liberal interior is impossible to take shape unless the Muslims deeply intr­ospect on this aspect and change course.

The third and most important precondition for the emergence of a liberal culture among the Muslims is the willingness to accept that a gender-unequal order is no longer sustainable. Their internalisation of the notion that upholding misogyny is an integral religious right is deeply flawed. This in spite of the voluminous works done by a host of Islamic feminist scholars who successfully demonstrated that it was possible to interpret the scriptures in a gender-just, if not gender-­equal, manner commensurate with the modern world. It is not mere happenstance that the Muslim women happened to be at the receiving end of most of the AIMPLB campaigns for ‘saving Islam’.

Having said that, one must add that none of these played the causative role in the current marginalisation and brutalisa­tion of the community. For that, we have to blame the venomous politics of Hindutva, in whose growth the confessional politics of the illiberal Muslim leadership sometimes wittingly or unwi­ttingly contributed. “It is fashionable in some quarters to blame the Indian Muslims for their predicament. In my view, while the absence of a credible liberal leadership has contributed, a far greater role in their marginalisation has been played by the malevolent policies of our major political parties. The Congress seeks to exploit the Muslims, politically. The BJP chooses to demonise them, ideologica­lly (but also with a political purpose in mind). The Congress wishes to take care of the (sometimes spurious) religious and cultural needs of the Muslims, rather than adv­ance their real, tangible, economic and material interests. The BJP denies that they have any needs or interests at all,” Guha powerfully argued a couple of years ago.


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Opinion

Theology of Presence

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Amir Suhail Wani

“O you who believe! Remember Allah With much remembrance”: Al Quran

To believe is to be in a state of presence. Presence, though not the climax, but is, one of the most cherished states and authentic manifestations of belief. To let God stay far away in the realm of abstraction and beyond-ness not only dilutes the spirit of worship, but it brings under scrutiny the very notion of belief. Religion, in its finest form, aims at invoking in man the spirit of presence, so that the believer may feel and experience the himself in presence of divine and may thus be able to envision a living and existential relationship with his creator and his object of devotion. Religion, even in its basic etymological connotation invokes the sense of “connectedness and attachment” with the object of devotion. It is in the very essence of man that he wants to be greater than what he is and when submitting before the divine, the individual, finite and subjective ego undergoes an existential, psychological and spiritual transformation of unique nature which expands its contours beyond those of physical perimeters. In any act of worship, the subject envisages the object of devotion as infinite and it not only pays homage to that infinite by bowing to it, but it very much desires to expand its own finitude under the radiance of that eternal infinite. This is what is meant by the philosophical benediction that “make me Thou, not an it”.

 

This human urge of finding means of self expansion by submitting before the divine is the greatest expression of human will and self sacrifice. But this spirit is rendered meaningless and antithetical when religion, in its state of decline, reduces to mere theology. In this reductionism, God remains no longer a living reality in the life of believer. He is rather replaced by a set of axioms and statements which fail to stimulate and satisfy the deepest spiritual yearnings of man and this deepest spiritual yearning is nothing but an aspiration to come in living contact with the divine and transcendental. Islam and for that matter most of the religions strongly condemn the deistic notions about God for it leaves absolutely no scope for religious indoctrination and creates an unimaginable void in the realm of Transcendence. It is in response to nuances like these that the notion of presence assumes multifold importance. It is not only prayer but our entire life that demands, by virtue of its spiritual dimension, that we live perpetually under the spell of divine. Thus religions teach us not merely to pray and thus make prayer a part of our life, but they come to turn our entire life into a sort of prayer. This transformation of life itself into prayer is what has best been embodied by Islamic teachings which reiterate time and again that all acts shall be done according to the law/s prescribed by God and at the beginning and end of each of our activity, the name of God shall be invoked. Not only this, the orations we recite at various instances from entering a washroom to starting our prayer are nothing but a beautiful way of making God a perpetual and living presence in our lives. None of our activities shall be divorced from Transcendent and while we are bodily constantly engaged in acts of world and matter, our heads, hearts and souls shall be perpetually turned to the divine. This act of remembering God in world of forgetting paves the way for “discovering God through material representations”. The highest form of this discovery is prayer and within prayer itself it is dua that marks the height of living relationship between God and believer. The purpose of prayer, as has been narrowly appropriated lately is not merely to make God change his mind and to bring our naive desires to fruition. Prayer is in fact the testimony of our living and real time relationship of servitude and dependency on God. Thus when God asserts “If My servants ask you regarding Me, I am indeed Near. I answer the call of those who call upon Me when they call. So let them answer My call and let them believe in believe in Me–in order that they be truly guided.”, he makes us understand in most emphatic and explicit way that he is very much existentially related to us and responds to our prayers. This response to prayer shall not be seen as the fulfilment of our prayers in material realm (which is true on its own), but it shall invoke in us the existential quest and inspire us to awaken our slumbering spiritual sensibility so that we may truly feel that God is indeed responding to us as our creator and as an object truly worthy of our devotion and worship.

This notion of presence has been subjected to double irony. The religious centric people lost sight of this appeal and dedicated their energies in confining and codifying God in their formulae of logical atomism. They rigidly tried to fix God in their self made definitions made out of untenable language as if trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. While as the role of this intellectual cum theological process can’t be belittled, but their overemphasis on making God comply to their abstractions and creating an unsurpassable chasm between the creator and creation surely set them on too rigid a path. The aftermath of this theorization of God not only created uncompromising hostility among different religions, but within the same religion it gave birth to unending clashes, unforseen intolerance and created such shameful examples that served the purpose of latter day anti religious forces. The second threat, and that is more dangerous, to this “theology of presence” has come from movements like new age spirituality, occult practices and pseudo spiritual shopping malls. Whereas traditional religion and traditional metaphysics taught us to see this world as a reflection and reverberation of transcendental realm, the new age spirituality has tragically represented the divine realm as an “extended expression” of human realm and this immanent universe. This has been sort of shifting the frame of reference and with this shifting of frames, the meaning of spirituality and metaphysics is inverted on its head. This misplaced mysticism and consumerist spirituality is far dangerous than no spirituality at all. In absence of spirituality, one may set out to discover the genuine and true spiritual traditions, but the presence of fake and pseudo spirituality creates a halo effect around man and his genuine thirst and quest is buried under the garb of this “materialistic spirituality”.

There are no palatable solutions to this malice that has invaded our religious obligation of perpetual presence and taught us to be satisfied with rituals without knowing their meaning. What one can do is to read, if one can, the religious scriptures and try to get to the roots of these scriptures. Look out for commonalities among scriptures and try to make a sense out of these commonalities. Another suggestion is to read the authors like Rene Guneon, Frithjof Schoun, Martin Lings, William Chittick and others of their class. What is special about these authors is that they speak about traditional metaphysics in contemporary idiom with an insight that is both inspiring as well as awakening. Finally we must note and note it seriously that life is not a profane activity sprinkled with events of sacred prayers, rather life is sacred as a whole and the existential realisation of this axiom is fundamental postulate on which all religions stand.

(The author is a freelance columnist with bachelors in Electrical Engineering and a student of comparative studies with special interests in Iqbaliyat & mystic thought. He contributes a weekly column for this newspaper that appears every Monday. He can be reached at: amirkas2016@gmail.com)

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Kathua verdict: fact, fable and fiction

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Shabbir Aariz                                   

Finally some relief has been accorded to the family of the victim, Asifa by the trial judge Mr Tejwinder Singh by convicting and punishing the guilty. But it is too little if not too late. The investigating agency has undoubtedly done a commendable job in piecing together the evidence against the odds and succeeded in obtaining conviction for criminal conspiracy, gang rape, poisoning and murder of 8year old Asifa on 17th of January 2018 in Rasana village near Kathua in Jammu. Rape is the fourth most common crime against women in India. The National Crime Records Bureau of India suggests a reported rape rate of 2 per 100,000 people, much lower than reported rape incidence rate in the local Indian media. However, Times of India reported the data by National Crime Records Bureau unveiling that 93 women are being raped in India every day. Every year 7,200 minors are raped as the statistics suggest without unreported ones. Rape is, surprisingly a weapon of punishment in India. In 2014, in Jharkhand village elders ordered the rape of a 14year old. The husband of the woman who was assaulted sexually was told to carry out the rape. As the woman’s husband dragged the girl to a nearby forest, villagers only looked on. Earlier West Bengal village reportedly ordered the gang rape of a 20 year old woman for falling in love with a man from another community. Even in case of Kathua, two BJP ministers stood in favor of the accused. Sexual crimes being committed with impunity not even sparing foreign tourists led to issuance of rape advisories like women travelling should exercise caution when travelling in India even if they are travelling in a group, avoid hailing taxis from streets or using public transport at night. India feels like it is going through an upsurge of sexual violence against children and after several incidents including Asifa’s, received widespread media attention and triggered public protest. The Prime Minister condemned it and UN Secretary General, Antonio Guiterres said “guilty must be held responsible” describing the incident “horrific”. This led the Government of India to reform its penal code for crimes of rape and sexual assault. As such India’s cabinet approved the introduction of death penalty for those who rape children. The executive order was cleared at a special cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister Modi. It allowed capital punishment for anyone convicted of raping children under the age of 12. India’s poor record of dealing with sexual violence came to fore after 2012 gang rape and murder of a student on a Delhi bus. The four men involved were sentenced to death. The Supreme Court maintained the death sentence of the convicts; Akshay Thakur, Vinay Sharma, Pawan Gupta and Mukesh. Rejecting their appeal Justice R Banumathi said the men committed “a barbaric crime” that had “shaken society’s conscience”. It is worthwhile to mention that the death penalty to the said persons was given in the year 2013 while as the executive ordinance came in April 2018 after Asifa’s incident and of a 16year old girl in northern Uttar Pradesh by a member of BJP, Kuldeep Sengar (ironically, victim’s father was arrested and thereafter killed by the Kuldeep’s supporters.) Prior to 2012, there was no single law specifically dealing with children as victims of sexual offences. Then came Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act in 2012, India’s first comprehensive law to deal specifically with child sex abuse and surprisingly the number of reported cases of child abuse rose by nearly 45% the next year.

The new amendments enable a court to hand out a death penalty to someone convicted of raping a child under 12, even if it does not result in death. In countries like China, Egypt, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Afghanistan, rape is punishable with nothing short of death by hanging, beheading or firing squad. Despite the changes to the law and arming Indian courts, there is reluctance to carry out the death penalty. Is there anything wrong with the collective Indian psyche that deters even courts from putting curbs on sexual crimes against even minors? One feels disgusted for the punishment not being exemplary in Asifa’s case when on trial crimes like gang rape and murder were proved. The court was saddled with the law and verdicts of Supreme Court where death penalty awarded was not interfered with and also its observations emphasizing the gravity of such crime with its impact on the society. Do the laws also have a fiction value? When do we really implement them? Is something more needed to shake society’s conscience? It is more likely that the convicts in this case will go in appeal to the higher court against the judgement. The verdict of the lower court also calls for a counter appeal by the prosecution seeking enhancement of punishment to death of the convicts.

 

(A leading lawyer and eminent poet, author contributes a weekly column. He can be reached at:  vaklishabir@gmail.com)     

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Let’s Become Environmental Protectionists!

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Dr. Shahid Amin Trali

It’s very alarming to find the unending disturbances to our environment. Man’s foul play with the nature is not going well with the present as well as our future. The environmental problems are mounting towards a bigger trouble in future but we are yet to recover from deep hibernation/sleep mode. This menace of pollution has existed for centuries but increased at an alarming rate after industrial revolution in the 19th century. Pollution is one of the biggest global killers, affecting over 100 million people. The world’s population is ever increasing and the treasures of the resources are getting overexploited.

 

There is greater need that we must promote better and efficient use of resources. Mass production of plastics, which began just six decades ago, has accelerated very rapidly—most of it in disposable products that end up as trash. If business goes on as usual, plastic pollution will double over the next thirty years. That would mean there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish. Plastics have several health hazards, both for humans and animals. Not just that, it is detrimental for the environment too. We must encourage the reduction, recycling and re-use of wastes as raw material for new products. Our younger generation is highly creative and all they must be given is ample support and opportunities. We must promote ‘Jugaad’ creation, the idea of using the waste to make something novel and save resources. We need to set examples from our home places and re-use what we would easily throw away and conserve for a future.  What we cannot recycle let us try not use them. Let’s promote paper products as they break down better in the environment and don’t affect our nature as much.

Learning to be more environmentally friendly is not that difficult task than we think. We must start by living with a greater awareness of the resources that we use in our daily life.  For example we must turn off the lights as soon as we leave a room in our homes and offices or even schools and colleges.  We must be environmental friendly when it comes to building our homes and buildings. Trees are necessary for us to survive. We must plant small trees around our home, don’t cut them unless it’s necessary, work with local environmental groups to plant more trees and educate others about the beauty and benefits of trees.

Water needs to be conserved. Few ways to conserve water are – take short showers, keep the running tap close while we brush our teeth, recycle water in our home, use water saving appliances etc. More good ways to contribute will be consume less energy, buy recycled products, and create less waste and many more. We must refrain from open burning as backyard trash and leaf burning releases high levels of toxic compounds. We must use public transit as much as possible. Let us walk more and drive less to conserve fuel and prevent auto-emission. Let’s use bicycles and scooters for shorter distances to save resources.

Cleanliness leads to cleanliness. We can easily find that a dirty place adds to its dirtiness. When we come across a fresh place, we think twice before turning it bad and dirty. It is sad when we think for our clean homes and hardly care for the roads, hospitals, educational institutions, offices, markets etc. Our mindset has to undergo a big overhaul that our public property is our own property.

India is one of the three worst offending countries when it comes to environmental performance. Corporate leaders have started joining the race to save the planet. Being environment-friendly, eco-friendly, going green are huge claims referring to goods and services, laws, guidelines and policies that inflict reduced, minimal, or no harm at all, upon ecosystems or the environment. But the attempts need to be strong and concrete. Small and medium sized companies in particular generate a lot of pollution and need awareness and support policies to safeguard the environment.

Individuals, organizations and governments need to join hands to protect our environment.  Let’s educate others about the significance of living an environmentally friendly life. The more we will share an awareness of the richness of the environment, the more we can do together to protect it. Environmental love and care must receive an all time attention and priority. Let’s go beyond the model building exercises for safer environment and turn them into reality. Organizations must appreciate and reward the employees for their environmental care.

The Philippines recently has taken a unique and wonderful initiative. The island country passed a law under which every student there has to mandatorily plant ten trees in order to get their graduation degree. The law if it is implemented properly will ensure that over 175 million trees will be planted every year. The law will be applicable for college, elementary, and high school students as well. Our education system must owe greater responsibility towards environment and find some unique strategies to safeguard it. Let’s go green and pledge to protect our environment. (The author is Assistant Professor, ITM University Gwalior, Youth Ambassador, International Youth Society. He can be mailed on: dr.shahidamin15@gmail.com)

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