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When the Devil quotes the Scriptures

The Kashmir Monitor




By Dr Akhileshwari Ramagoud

Something is cooking in the RSS. Certainly, it is fishy (apologies to fish). Otherwise, why this turnabout? Why this change of heart? Out of nowhere.Even the Hindutva spokespeople have become civilized suddenly, giving up their abrasive, aggressive, intolerant rant as has been evident in the English language TV news channels. They are using more reasonable language, have toned down voices, and are using friendly terms like “Bhai” for their opponents. Wow! This is too good to be true! Which means exactly that: that it is not true or genuine. The sudden change of views of RSS on India’s sizable Muslims, Reservation andAmbedkar is revolutionary, to say the least. Its views on women and homosexuality continue to be regressive. The RSS will stop being RSS, a Hindu fundamentalist organization, if the statements made by RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat during the three-day conclave in Delhi are genuine and reflect the considered views of the top bosses of the RSS. But it would be foolish to go by mere words and even more foolish if we are to believe that a hardcore fundamentalist organisation that has preached the superiority of Hinduism and Hindus, that considered everything Muslim as evil incarnate, that has preached and practiced superiority of Brahmins, that has questioned or distorted every historical fact regarding the Muslim rule in India, has had its moment of Nirvana/Enlightenment. Even the most liberal of RSS followers (if there are any) wouldn’t have even in her wildest dreams thought that such a day would  come when an RSS chief would sing paeans to diversity, secularism and the principle of live and let live.

One can try and understand why this turnabout has been undertaken. Clearly, the motivation is political and the context is the 2019 general elections. Is this move to help BJP, which everyone knows to be the political wing of RSS, to win support of the minorities and the oppressed castes so that the party gets another five-year term? Should the BJP win, all the earlier statements of RSS can be retracted as ‘election jumlas’ and then implement its fundamentalist agenda with a vengeance. As PrakashAmbedkar believes, aHindutva-based Constitution has been readied and will be adopted if BJP gets a clear majority in the LokSabha. It will be a matter of time before a majority in RajyaSabha can be achieved and hey presto, the Constitution that brought into being the democratic, socialist, secular Republic of India, will be a thing of the past. In its place will be a fascist dictatorship which will have categories of citizens whose rights will be differ with religion, gender, region, caste and so on.


Or, can this ‘reasonable face’ of RSS be an attempt to pull the rug from under Modi’s feet, clip his wings as he’s seen as a threat to RSS’ dominance? Is RSS feeling threatened by Modi since he has grown so powerful? Have the dissidents within BJP convinced the RSS that Modi could likely cut his umbilical cordwith RSS if he wins a second term? Would he then, along with his partner Amit Shah, become a law unto himself, not accountable to RSS?  The scenario is not too difficult to imagine considering how Modi ruthlessly sidelined his guru and mentor L K Advani and finished him off politically. If Modi manages to emerge victorious, then even the power of RSS might not hold him down, fear his fellow-Hindutva travellers. Those pointing out the disaffection within the ranks of BJP, especially the senior leaders include not just Congress but ArunShourie, an insider of BJP,YashwantSinha, a top party leader and  ShatrughnaSinha, a second rung leader, to name a few. There have been whispers of unhappiness among senior ministers in the Modi cabinet who have been reduced to zero, powerless and voiceless by the centralized decision-making in the Prime Minister’s Office.In a direct hit at Modi, Bhagwat decried the politics of ‘shamshanandkhabristan’, something that Modi had invoked in UP elections last year. The politics of shamshan-khabristan was practiced for power and not for public welfare, he said. Modi had used the expression during an election rally in February 2017, accusing the AkhileshYadav government using religion to divide people, basically to favour Muslims. He said “If you create a khabristan (graveyard) in a village, then a shamshan (cremation ground) should be created. If electricity is given uninterrupted in Ramzan, then it should be given in Diwali too. There should be no discrimination,” he said. Perhaps this is the first time that RSS has openly rebukedModi but without taking his name.Coming to Bhagwat’s concessions to Congress, praising its role in freedom struggle and in building the nation after independence, he seems to be ‘doing a Rahul’, giving Congress a verbal hug to disarm it, even if momentarily, and thus spread the impression of being a reasonable organisation, not hating its main opponent. He is willing to go the extra mile in praising Congress, who has been its bête noire, to convince the people that he and his organisation were much misunderstood and that they do appreciate Congress and its contribution to India, or Bharat. Or, is Bhagwat aiming at Modifrom Congress’ shoulder? Now, coming to the most important issue for the RSS and its sister ‘senas’ and ‘parishads’ of the SanghParivar, that of status of Muslims and their role in the country, Bhagwat has not minced words. His definition of Hindutva and ‘Hindu Rashtra’ means ‘unity of existence’ of those who live in India. “The day it is said that Muslims are excluded from such a conception, it would render Hindutva infructuous.” Of course, RSS includes Muslims in the Hindu Rashtra provided they live as Hindus, appreciate Hinduism, and admit their Hindu ancestry. Bhagwat admits very patronizingly that RSS talks of Muslims’ Hindu ancestry “not to ostracise you but to emphasise you are one of us.” Asked how he  would explain RSS ideologue M S Golwalkar describing India’s Muslims and Christians as ‘internal threats’ in 1966, Bhagwat said it was ‘contextual’. Admittedly contexts change but how is the context of 1966 different from that of 2018? If the context was 1947, for argument sake, one could explain it away but what happened in the 1960s that our fellow Indians were seen as threats by Golwalkar? In the very same book, Golwalkar gives the context for his antipathy towards Muslims.On page 178, he says “..Have those who remained here (after creation of Pakistan) changed […] Has their old hostility and murderous mood, which resulted in widespread riots, looting, arson, raping and all sorts of orgies on an unprecedented scale in 1946-47, come to a halt at least now? It would be suicidal to delude ourselves into believing that they have turned patriots overnight after the creation of Pakistan. On the contrary, the Muslim menace has increased a hundredfold by the creation of Pakistan which has become a springboard for all their future aggressive designs on our country.” The context for RSS’ hatred towards Muslims has remained the same, despite efforts of Bhagwat to whitewash it.

Despite the hand of friendship extended by the RSS chief to the Muslims, it has been accompanied by a threat. And this shows RSS in its true colours, notwithstanding all the noises of tolerance, diversity, universal brotherhood that Bhagwat espoused in his three-day public relations show for Hindutva.Asked about building Ram Mandir in Ayodhya where once Babri Masjid stood, Bhagwat said it was for the government to decide on an ordinance or ‘any other route’, but he wished that a grand Ram temple be built at Ayodhya soon.Now comes the twist: “If it can be built through consensus, it will foster harmony and far fewer fingers of suspicion will be pointed at Indian Muslims in future,” he said. In other words, the Muslims should agree to the building of Ram Mandir or they will be suspect. Now this is called an iron fist in velvet glove.The apparent change of heart is false. The threat is real.

(The writer was Foreign Correspondent and Special Correspondent of Deccan Herald. The article appeared






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The Kashmir Monitor



By Shabbir Aariz

This indeed is proverbially a herculean task to describe or define John Elia in any particular frame. Whosoever while mentioning him, is either trapped in contradictions of one’s own opinion or is able to confine to a few verses of John Elia to judge him. But the more one tries to understand John, the more confused one is and I believe that you need another John Elia to explain him. He is a phenomenon, a thing like a live fish to hold in your hand or an elephant amongst blinds to be described. Wusatullah Khan, a noted broadcaster, holds that knowing John is as good as dating with a liberated lady. And it is quite obvious that a man who in him is a philosopher, a scholar, a biographer, a linguist with command over Urdu, Arabic, English, Persian, Sanskrit and Hebrew and needless to say that the Ismaili sect of the subcontinent could not find anyone other than John to translate Ismaili treatises from Hebrew, it becomes a tedious affair to be conclusive about John. Common perception though with an element of truth is that John is a progressive Marxist, an unconventional poet and always in denial of everything including himself while himself saying in three line verse,





(Anyone prepared to argue and prove that my existence is imperative for life). His poetry is admittedly very close to life and his verses in the words of a legendry poet, Majrooh Sultanpuri, are like a dialogue which no other poet has the distinction to be capable of. John has an extra-ordinary craft of connecting with his audience that has created an unprecedented fan following which no other contemporary poet can claim to have. So magical is his poetry and its rendition that it has created a cult of his admirers with such an obsession and longing for the life of melancholy lead by John Elia himself. It is no secret that he was never a happy man with defiance and protest against everything and anything around. Loudly a nonconformist when he says
“unjaman main mayri khamooshi…..

burdabari nahin hay wehshat hay”.

His style made him famous and popular. He appears to be disgusted even with creation when he says … “HASILE KUN HAY YEH JAHANE KHARAAB….


His admirers strangely wish to pass through the same pain and despair that is hallmark of John’s poetry besides satire and the disdain for the system which contributed to his sadness in life. He has so glorified and romanticized the pain and sadness that it leaves his audience in frenzied ecstasy.

John Elia was born in the year 1931 and died in 2002. He originally belonged to Amroha in the state of Uttar Pradesh, younger brother of Rayees Amrohi, a known journalist and writer. John migrated to Pakistan in the year 1957 and settled in Karachi where he is buried now. But Amroha never left his heart and mind. He never felt comfortable after leaving Amroha partly because his stay in Karachi brought him in conflict with the system too. Many other things have also contributed to his sadness in life. He was married to a well-known writer of Pakistan, Zahida Hina but in mid-80’s , the relation between the two became bumpy and ended up in divorce which left John devastated and for ten long years thereafter went in depression without writing a word.

As is true about many in the history of literature, John earned his name and fame more after his death than in his life time while he was not received well and felt a strange type of suffocation when he says,



Thanks to the electronic boom and You Tube that brought him to the lime light and enabled audience to reach him and his works. As if this was not enough that his first poetic collection only came to be published when he reached the age of 60. It is worthwhile mention that he has as many as seven poetic collections to his credit namely SHAYAD, YANI, LEKIN, GUMAAN, GOYA, FARMOD and RAMOOZ. Except one, all other are published posthumously. This is besides his scholarly works in prose which may require greater insight to go into.

John all his life remained honest, direct and straightforward in expressing his views on matters of public interest. He also never demonstrated any pretentions or reservations while expressing the truth of his personal life. He never made any secret of his fantasies, love affairs or drinking habits. Yet he was never at peace either with the times or with himself. John Elia, in my humble opinion lived ahead of times and even the desire of dying young without being bed ridden was not granted to him except that he strangely enough wanted to die of tuberculosis and which he did.

(The author, a senior lawyers, is a well known poet and writer. Feedback at: [email protected])

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Manto: Why I wanted to read a ‘lewd’ writer

The Kashmir Monitor



By Naveed Hussain

I first read Saadat Hasan Manto as a teenager and the spirit of what I’m writing now was etched on my memory in those years.

I was too young to understand the intricacies of his stories but I enjoyed what I read and craved for more. Back then, Manto wasn’t available in the small town of Haripur where I lived. A friend introduced me to a schoolteacher, a bibliophile who had a modest collection of Manto in his personal library.


“Why do you want to read Manto, he’s a ribald, lewd writer,” he quipped. “This is exactly why I want to read him,” I replied, almost impulsively. He smiled and agreed to lend me Manto’s books. Thus began my journey to explore Manto. The more I read, the deeper my love for him became.

Manto was a nonconformist, an unorthodox and ruthlessly bold writer. He didn’t believe in the so-called literary norms of ‘decency’ and ‘civility’ set by didactic writers of his time. For him, truth is truth. No matter how bitter and despicable the reality, Manto never dilutes the truth. Like a muckraker, he pokes his nose into the muck, rakes it, and then holds it up to the reader – in all its profound ugliness and twisted beauty. “If you don’t know your society, read my stories. If you find a defect, it’s the defect of your society, not my stories,” he says.

Manto wrote on socially taboo topics like sex, incest and prostitution, which earned him the wrath of contemporary traditionalists, conservatives and even progressives. For some of his ‘lewd’ and ‘obscene’ stories he had to face lawsuits – among them were great stories such as Thanda Gosht, Bu, Khol Do, Dhuan and Kali Shalwar.

But it is to miss the point to simply say that Manto wrote about sex. He wrote about the sexual debauchery of men and the sexual exploitation of women; about our patriarchal society where women are often treated as a ‘sex toy’, not a human being. Unlike many, I don’t compare Manto with DH Lawrence, because Manto is not lustful, even though he explicitly writes about the female anatomy. He’s more like Guy de Maupassant, who sees the throbbing heart, not the sensuous body, of the prostitute.

Manto blames the ‘diseased mind’ for reading ‘ribaldry’ into his stories. If a sex maniac derives morbid gratification from Venus De Milo, should we blame Alexandros of Antioch for chiselling such a ‘graphic’ sculpture? No, certainly not.

For contemporary literary pundits, Manto was also unacceptable because he wrote ‘indecent’ language. “They [the critics] criticise me when my characters verbally abuse one another – but why don’t they criticise their society instead where hundreds of thousands of profanities are hurled on the streets, every day,” he wonders.

I also love Manto because he was honest. He was an unflinchingly true writer who believed in calling a spade a spade. Sketch-writing was introduced as a genre in Urdu literature much earlier, but Manto created his own peculiar tell-all style. He didn’t write only the good qualities of his characters. “In my bathroom, everyone is naked. I don’t clothe them because it’s the tailor’s job,” he writes.

Manto’s sketches, which he initially wrote for the Lahore-based Daily Afaq newspaper, were later collected and published as Ganjay Farishtay. Manto wasn’t a hypocrite. He minced no words while writing about his dead friends. “I curse a thousand times a so-called civilised society where a man’s character is cleansed of all its ills and tagged as ‘May-God-Bless Him’,” Manto wrote in Ganjay Farishtay. Manto wrote sketches of filmstars Ashok Kumar, Shyam, Noor Jahan, literary figures such as Meera Ji, Agha Hashar and Ismat Chughtai and some politicians. “I have no camera that could have washed smallpox marks off the face of Agha Hashar or change obscenities uttered by him in his flowery style.”

Before embarking on his literary career, Manto had read Russian, French and English masters like Chekhov, Gorky, Victor Hugo, de Maupassant and Oscar Wilde and translated some of their works into Urdu. Surprisingly enough, despite his love for revolutionaries, Manto was not a Marxist ideologue. He was a humanist who was pained to see social injustices, economic disparities and exploitation of the underprivileged. He hated the obscurantist clergy and parasitic elites alike.

Although Manto had migrated to Pakistan after 1947, he couldn’t understand the rationale of partitioning a land along religious lines. His stories of bloodshed and cross-border migration, such as Teetwaal Ka Kutta and Toba Tek Singh, made him unpopular with ‘patriotic’ Pakistanis. To this day he remains a shadowy figure on the official literary lists of Pakistan: our school curricula, our national awards, our drawing room conversations.

Manto was acknowledged as a creative genius even by his detractors. And he knew this, which is perhaps why he wanted these words to mark his grave: “Here lies Saadat Hasan Manto and with him lie all the secrets and mysteries of the art of short story writing. Under tons of earth he lies, still wondering who among the two is the greater short story writer: he or God.”

Manto’s family feared his self-written epitaph would attract the unwanted attention of the ignorantly religious, so on his grave one finds a Ghalib couplet. He faced censorship all his life and even now has chunks of his stories taken out by the authorities. But as we mark his centenary year, I can say this with the instant certainty I felt as a young man in Haripur: the words and stories of Saadat Hasan Manto will outlive us all.

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Gauhar Raza: Giving Poetry the Power to Protest

The Kashmir Monitor



By Asheesh Mamgain

If things were different his poems would have been different, or maybe he would not have been a poet at all. But things are what they are. And that is why Gauhar Raza, the poet is writing, and it is why he writes his poetry of protest.

“Maybe I would have written about love, the beauty of nature and science. But as things stand my poetry is predominantly about resistance and protest,” said Raza, who is faithful to the tradition of resistance poetry to the extent that he has throttled, without much difficulty, the romantic and the scientist in him. “The need to write poetry always arose when something happened around me which affected me, to the core. I have never written and will never write poetry just for the sake of it.”


“The murder of Safdar Hashmi, the breaking up of the Soviet Union, the demolition of the Babri Masjid, the killing of an activist in Afghanistan, the death of Rohith Vemula are some of those things,” he said.

Raza’s second published collection of ghazals and nazms (71 in all) came out in November 2017 and is titled Khamoshi, or Silence.

Is there a lot of anger in his poems? Yes, there is definitely a lot of anger. But then there is also hope. That is where Raza becomes special.

“For me, a poem that merely complains or rants about the injustice, violence and persecution happening all around is not enough. A poet has to go beyond this; he has to give a vision. The vision of an alternative world, of a better world. Only then will his poetry be successful and meaningful. A poet has to show the consciousness he wants to bring into society.”

So how does he define good poetry? “Well, a good poem should be able to raise the level of the reader at least one notch higher, and also give him a fresh perspective about the aspect being dealt in the poem. Something new to dwell upon,” said Raza.

The influences that shaped his poetic thought came pretty early, at home and at the Aligarh Muslim University where he studied. Raza’s father, Wizarat Hussain, worked in the education department there and was a second-generation Leftist.

“The question about the existence of God came up very early in my life and soon I became an atheist for life,” said Raza. Literature was read with passion at home and by the time he was 15 he had read all the Urdu literature available at the AMU library as well as a solid portion of Russian literature.

“During my growing years, Leftist thought had a major presence in the university. On the other hand, the fundamental forces were also steadily getting stronger. I was smitten by the leftist idea. I was part of a literary study circle, we served tea at the secret meetings of leftist groups and listened to discussions at home between my father and other intellectuals such as Irfan Habib and Iqtidar Alam Khan.”

There was a lot of churning in his mind and soon he started pouring the remnants of all that into his poems. When it comes to poetry some of Raza’s major influences have been Ghalib, Faiz Ahmad Faiz and Sahir Ludhianvi. He is often seen reciting their work at length during his various lectures, with Sahir Ludhianvi’s long poem ‘Parchhaiyan’ or Shadows one of his favourites.

“Writing the kind of poetry I do is not easy. Each time a write a poem I must relive all the pain and emotion I went through when the particular incident happened that forced me to write. All those disturbing images come rushing back to me. It is a difficult thing to undergo.”

Nor is poetry Raza’s only means of reaching the people. He recently retired as chief scientist from the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research. He is also into documentary filmmaking, his documentaries on Bhagat Singh and the 2002 Gujarat genocide being very well known.

Where does poetry stand today, as a means of communication with the reader? According to Raza, “for one, social media has helped. It has helped poets reach a wider audience. Also, the tradition of musharias and kavi sammelans (poetry meets) is still very strong in India. So even if a poet is competing with the multimedia world, it is easy to reach one’s audience with one’s poetry, provided you have something pertinent to say.”

More broadly speaking, however, “I have to say that things have progressed in a disturbing direction. A poem I wrote 20 years ago, I could rededicate it to Rohith Vemula and then to Gauri Lankesh. This disturbing trend is seen all over the world. I believe that the fall of the USSR has been a major turning point in the way our World has evolved.”

A few lines from one of his poems brings out his concern and struggle.

Mein phool khilata hoon jab bhi,
Woh baad e khizan le aate hain,
Mein geet sunata hoon jab bhi,
Yeh aag se ji bahlate hain.

Whenever I make a flower blossom
They bring the autumn wind
Whenever I sing a song
They give the soul succour with flame.

But Raza is still hopeful. “There has been a resurgence of resistance poetry in Urdu in the recent past. The trend of religious poetry in Urdu has also reduced in recent times. The youth today has become more involved in this attempt to bring a positive change. I have seen young people reading protest poetry and reacting to it. Once again universities have become a place of resistance and struggle for change.”

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