National Conference’s (NC) boycott of upcoming Panchayat elections has put a big question mark on these elections. NC is the biggest and the oldest political party and its position, whatever way, on crucial issues like elections cannot be disregarded. National Conference President Farooq Abdullah on Wednesday announced the boycott of elections by his party in protest against the lackadaisical approach by the government in protecting the Article 35-A in the Supreme Court. This has forced the other parties too to make a rethinking on their stand on Panchayat elections. The Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) call for holding all-party meeting to decide about the elections should be viewed against this backdrop. The PDP has, in essence, sought postponing the elections as the situation was not ripe for any such political venture. Much to the eyes and understanding of even a lay man, Kashmir is passing through a dangerous phase of turmoil. Holding of panchayat elections would only but add fuel to the fire. Militants have vowed to punish any or every person participating in the elections. These threats cannot be dismissed without giving any thought. The government should re-read the situation in its right perspective. Last week when militants kidnapped over a dozen kin of policemen, they trod beyond a point to prove their claim. They made it known to everybody they had the power and prowess to make their point. Militants have threatened to put acid in the eyes of those who contested the panchayat elections in Kashmir. One must ignore the latest warning of militants in which they said “we don’t have jails and sub-jails to lodge the culprits in. We will go for on-spot action”.
Panchayat and local bodies’ members, in virtual sense, are unprotected common people. They are vulnerable to all threats and risks. It does need to have mobs of armed men to harass or harm them. Even a single odd armed person is powered enough to scare away dozens of such people. Government has to blame itself for making such provocations. In 2011, Hizbul Mujahideen said that they would disturb the panchayat election as a Panchayat member did not need to take oath of Indian constitution. That saw a large number of people participating in the elections. After the conclusion of elections, government declared the peaceful conduct of panchayat polls as victory against militants. It was a straight provocation to militants, who later forced many a Panchayat members to resign. On occasions it appears that the government has developed vested interest in keeping the pot boil. Kashmir is yet to recover completely from the unrest that swept the valley after Burhan Wani’s killing. Government should have learnt lesson from the anger people expressed during polling for Srinagar parliamentary seat when just around 2% voters turned out to cast their votes amid heightened tension. The government appeared so helpless that it had to put off the election for Anatnag parliamentary seat indefinitely. The seat is still vacant and government does not muster courage to hold elections there notwithstanding the fact that parliamentary candidates and campaigners do have full protection cover from the government. Panchayat members and sarpanchs, as against this, do not have any security cover. They are left to mend for themselves. That makes them easy targets. Deputy chief minister Nirmal Singh is reported to have said that the government was aware of the threat and a strategy has been devised to hold elections peacefully. But it is not a case of a day or two. Panchayat members would be vulnerable to threats permanently and round the clock. It could be said with great convenience that government is simply befooling the people and exposing them to dangers of insecurity deliberately. The state administration should take a dispassionate view of the situation, devoid of political undertones. That, by not holding the elections, the state government would lose over Rs.4000 crores specified by the central government for panchayat elections is no justification. Not, money, but human lives matter the most.
Plight of Indian Muslims
Islam is the second largest religion in India, with 14.2% of the country’s population or roughly 172 million people identifying as adherents of Islam. Over the centuries, Muslims have played a notable role in economics, politics and culture of India, however 70 years after independence the overall condition of Indian Muslims is pathetic.
Poverty illiteracy and ghettoization has marred Muslims for decades now. Ghettoisation among Indian Muslims began in the mid-1970s when first communal riots occurred. It got heightened after the 1989 Bhagalpur violence in Bihar and became a trend after the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992. Soon several major cities developed ghettos, or segregated areas, where the Muslim population moved in. This trend however, did not help for the anticipated security the anonymity of ghetto was thought to have provided.
During the 2002 Gujarat riots, several such ghettos became easy targets for the rioting mobs, as they enabled the profiling of residential colonies. This kind of ghettoisation can be seen in Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata and many cities of Gujarat where a clear socio-cultural demarcation exists between Hindu-dominated and Muslim-dominated neighbourhoods.
In places like Gujarat, riots and alienation of Muslims have led to large scale ghettoisation of the community. For example, the Juhapura area of Ahmadabad has swelled from 250,000 to 650,000 residents since 2002 riots. Muslims in Gujarat have no option but to head to a ghetto, irrespective of their economic and professional status.
Increase in ghetto living has also shown a strengthening of stereotyping due to lack of cross-cultural interaction, and reduction in economic and educational opportunities at large. Secularism in India is being seen by some as a favour to the Muslims, and not an imperative for democracy
The Sachar Committee Report explored and commented upon a truly wide range of random issues and concerns, often with a view to forcefully place the Muslim viewpoint on those issues in the public sphere. This included making observations on the high birth rate in the Muslim community in comparison to Hindus: the committee estimated that the Muslim proportion will stabilize at between 17% and 21% of the Indian population by 2100.As per the 2011 census, the population of Muslims is nearly 15% and rose by over 2% over a period of only ten years.
The Sachar Committee highlighted and presented its suggestions on how to remove impediments those preventing Indian Muslims from fully participating in the economic, political, and social mainstream of Indian life. The report was the first of its kind to reveal the “backwardness” (a term used in Indian academic and legal discourse for historically dispossessed or economically vulnerable communities, not meant to be pejorative) of Indian Muslims. An issue highlighted was that while Muslims constitute 14% of the Indian population, they only comprise 2.5% of the Indian bureaucracy. The Sachar Committee concluded that the conditions facing Indian Muslims was below that of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.
Report brought the issue of Muslim Indian inequality to national attention, sparking a discussion that is still ongoing. The Committee recommended setting up an Equal Opportunity Commission to provide a legal mechanism to address discrimination complaints, including in matters such as housing. In response to the Committee’s findings, Finance Minister P. Chidambaram proposed an increase to the National Minorities Development and Finance Corporation’s (NMDFC) budget, citing new duties and expanded outreach that the institution would take on to implement the Committee’s recommendations.
However, no such recommendations have been implemented and Muslims continue to suffer in India even seven decades after independence.
Our bond with divine grace
As Sufi teacher Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee explains, the Sufi comes into this world to love and serve the divine and this destiny is stamped within the heart in fire.
Eros makes his home in men’s hearts, but not in every heart, for where there is hardness he departs.
Look in your own heart,” says the mystic, “For the kingdom of God is within you.” He who truly knows himself knows God, for the heart is a mirror in which divine is reflected. Just as a steel mirror, if coated with rust, loses its power of reflection, so do our inward senses which are the eyes of the heart. When this visual heart becomes numb to the celestial impulses owing to the dross of material impressions it no longer remains a clarified beacon. Our quest for the numinous becomes barren and we experience tremors of the dark night of the soul.
The heart has long been the starting point for many spiritual schools, but for a mystic, the heart is a fixed referent for true enlightenment. The heart announces the first sign of life and its silence signals the message of the death of the physical body. The mystic regards God as the real agent in every act, and therefore takes no credit for his good works nor desires to be recompensed for them.
The heart is normally veiled or stained by sins, tarnished by sensual impressions, pulled to and fro between reason and passion: a battlefield on which the armies of God and the devil contend for victory. Through one gate, the heart receives immediate knowledge of God, through another it lets in the illusions of sense.
No previous society has offered seekers so many different ways to chase after Nirvana, so many different paths to spiritual epiphany. One powerful way is by polishing the heart. When we polish the mirror of the heart with daily spiritual practices — we can see beyond the illusion of our transient world and perceive the vast and luminous landscape of our true nature. This is one practice that in time can help us make the marriage between our being and our humanness. By its very nature, living in the world leaves a material impression on our heart, while our thoroughness of being and our impulses of love unveil it. The clear heart is the best guide to living. It is the mirror of our inner state, as also a hologram of all. As Sufi teacher Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee explains, the Sufi comes into this world to love and serve the divine and this destiny is stamped within the heart in fire: “We bring this purpose into the world, and when our heart is awakened we feel this need of the heart, this call of the soul.” This divine remembrance awakens the slumbering soul to its real purpose and the journey home begins.
The mystics have discovered that, in addition to the mind, the heart is a very most important centre governing our spiritual consciousness. With diligent practice, teachers have perfected the techniques that moderate the heart, cultivating profound intuition and realisation. The polished heart becomes a mirror that catches the light of truth and reflects it in one’s consciousness. The surest way of achieving this sparkling quality is by focusing attentively on God and negating the ego. From then on the seeker starts to experience God, and see him with the inner eyes of the heart.
In the words of Hildegard von Bingen: “It is the heart that sees the primordial eternity of every creature.”
Rising tension in Kashmir
AS the Supreme Court is likely to hear the petitions against the continuation of Article 35-A of Indian constitution on Thursday, a wave of unrest is sweeping the trouble-torn state. Ahead of the hearing, On Wednesday, Kashmir is reeling under a protest strike called by the Joint Resistance Leadership (JRL). The rotest strike shall continue on Thursday as well. Apprehensions that the top court might dilute Article 35-A is a matter of concern for all shades of political opinion—separatist as well as pro India. While National Conference and PDP has already warned of serious consequences if 35-A was abolished, the latest to voice his concern is Sajjad Gani Lone. The Peoples’ Conference chairman, who has close political affinity with the BJP, said on Tuesday that the alienation in Kashmir was due erosion in special status Jammu and Kashmir had under the constitution of India. The separatists are already up in arms. That has made the continuation of Article 35-A and 370 of Indian constitution as a joint case for the political leaders in Kashmir.
Article 35A of the Constitution gives special rights to Jammu and Kashmir’s permanent residents. It disallows people from outside the state from buying or owning immovable property there, settle permanently, or avail themselves of state-sponsored scholarship schemes. It also forbids the J&K government from hiring people who are non-permanent residents. While separatist have asked people for a decisive struggle, pro India groups like National Conference and PDP too have joined the chorus. Former chief minister Mahbooba Mufti has cautioned New Delhi that any move to do away the special status of the state would have dangerous consequences.
National Conference patriarch and former chief minister Dr Farooq Abdullah too have expressed similar views. On Wednesday normal life was paralyzed under shutdown called by separatists. The shutdown would continue on Thursday as well. Jammu and Kashmir government, which is presently headed by the Governor N N Vohra in absence of an elected government, has submitted to the Supreme Court to defer the hearing till an elected government was put in place. The state counsel, Shoab Alam, in a written plea to the Supreme Court, has said that “The present matter involves a sensitive issue regarding a challenge to Article 35A of the Constitution of India… It will therefore be requested that the matter may kindly be head when an elected government is in place”. Voices of opposition against revocation of 35-A have come from Jammu too.
Sometime back around 300 lawyers of different courts in the region, last year, supported the continuation of the 35-A as it safeguarded the rights of the people of the state. The people in power at the centre should understand the emotions of the people of Jammu and Kashmir with regard to the state’s individual character. “Azadi” or “right of self-determination” may not be the slogan of every state subject of Jammu and Kashmir but the special status that the state enjoys under Article 370 and 35-A of Indian constitution is closer to heart to every resident of Jammu and Kashmir. Saner voices at national level, who have some knowledge of politics and power in Kashmir, too have warned of the threats involved in tampering with Jammu and Kashmir’s special status. Some newspapers have editorially commented that India would have no legal claim on Kashmir if Article 370 is removed. It would be in India’s national interest that the central government listens to saner voices. BJP which is ruling at the centre should think beyond the arithmetic of election gains. The party may get some votes in the name of 35-A but it is ultimately India that would lose.