Friday, August 25, 2017

Talaq Judgement: Muslim Women A Play Thing In Communal Politics?

Talaq Judgement: Muslim Women A Play Thing In Communal Politics?
                                                                                     Saeed Naqvi

Put it down to my acute perversity, because as soon as celebrations broke out and I glanced at the Supreme Court’s Triple Talaq judgement, Josh Malihabadi’s rubayee (quatrain) swam into my ken:
“Ae rind kya yehi hai baaghe rizwaan?
Na hooron ka kaheen pata na ghilma ka nishaan
Ek kunj mein maayuus-o-mulool-o-tanha
Bechare tahel rahey hain Allah mian”
(O’ Tavern companion, where have we come? Is this the promised garden?
I see no beautiful houris, nor handsome men.
In a gloomy corner, crestfallen,
Sad and lonely, Allah Mian paces ponderously)

Josh is mocking at Man’s distortion of God’s purpose.

Ofcourse, this is escapism on my part, but I can hardly help it because in all my 75 plus years I have never known anyone, even by remote association, who discarded his wife by pronouncing “talaq, talaq, talaq.” Since Muslims are supposed to be in the grip of this all pervasive practice, I may be forgiven for feeling a little left out.

The defiance and passion with which the General Secretary of Jamiat Ulema e Hind Maulana Mahmood Madani, has reacted leaves me breathless:
“If you wish to punish the person (for pronouncing triple talaq) you may do so but such a talaq will be recognized” by Jamiat and society at large. The Maulana, to his credit, advises Muslims not to resort to triple talaq but he insists that the courts or the state not be allowed to interfere with Muslim practices, presumably based on Muslim law.

Do I stand with the Maulana to keep my Muslim identity intact? Or do I ignore him as I have ignored all clerical edicts throughout my life?

That a five judge bench of the Supreme Court has struck down the obviously abhorrent practice, should find me in the ranks of those thunderously applauding the judgement. But that too is not my chosen path.

I spot triumphalism in this national exultation led by Narendra Modi, Amit Shah, Yogi Adityanath and leaders of other parties in supporting roles. The Muslim male has been administered a double-fisted punch on his chin and his women freed from his basement harems.

Chief Justice Kehar has accorded protection to 90 percent of Muslims from the barbaric practice.

Do I belong to this 90 percent or was I always protected, being among the 10 percent who, by His Lordship’s calculus, were outside the dark canopy of shoddy Islamic laws?

Since most surveys seem to suggest talaq-talaq afflicts not more than one percent, does it behove their Lordships to paint the entire community with one brush?

Should not the Ministry of Social Welfare, the Minority Commission, instead of sitting on their haunches, do a survey to establish the extent to which the practice is prevalent?

Beef is a sensitive word these days. But beef (not buffalo but cow) is slaughtered and eaten by Muslims, non Muslims and dalits in the North East, West Bengal, Kerala, Tamil Nadu etcetera. Would their Lordships judge Hindus as beefeaters along with Muslims across the country or would a clarification be in order that the practice is prevalent only in specific regions of the country?

Does the universal celebration over the judgement inspire optimism? Now that the Indian establishment across the board is so demonstrably filled with the milk of human kindness towards the divorced Muslim woman, it probably augurs well not just for the Muslim “Suhagan” (happily married) but for the entire Muslim community, all 180 million of them.

In his very first speech in Parliament in May 2014, Narendra Modi became the only Prime Minister to openly say what never came naturally to Congressmen that among the many burdens that weighed the nation down was “1,200 years of foreign subjugation”. Congressmen said this privately but never publicly.

The official party line, the one that the Congressmen went public with was about “200 years” of British rule. The Muslim period was glossed over. There was no public debate.

In fact at the earlier stages, soon after 1947, a common and particularly galling allegation was: “Muslims partitioned the country and then stayed on.”

There is no record of Congress leaders ever offering a clarification for this canard. So implicated were they in the country’s fracture, that they refrained from encouraging debate on this issue lest it turn upon them.

The Congress was not the only guilty party. Even socialists like Ram Manohar Lohia talked of the “spirit of Haldighati” as a panacea for boosting Hindu morale. He went along with the version of history which credits Maharana Pratap with victory over Akbar, a highly disputed proposition.

Since I stayed with JP in his Kadam Kuan residence in Patna, I saw firsthand how the Bihar movement was put together by Nanaji Deshmukh of the RSS and his close friend, Ramnath Goenka, publisher, owner of Indian Express. Socialists, conservative Congress leaders who had broken away from Indira Gandhi (or whom she had disbanded) all came together in the Janata Party government. Subsequent politics during Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi years had become manifestly sensitive to this reality: varying shades of Hindu majoritarianism were an essential requirement for the electoral game. It was on this trajectory that Narendra Modi gained exceptional height in 2014. Has he peaked?

The other day my sister and her daughter travelled by AIR INDIA. She had asked for a vegetarian diet, her daughter for non vegetarian. The printout of her ticket said: “Vegetarian Hindu meal”. The other printout was equally explicit: non vegetarian “Muslim meal”. Their Lordships may wish to find out if institutionalized apartheid is creeping upon us?

This is the background against which the nation and its media are amplifying the turn that the Supreme Court has given to the plight of Muslim women, divorced by recourse in an ungodly method. Intentionally or unintentionally on the part of their Lordships, the situation created by their judgement is fraught with politics, even though only one percent of Muslim women who have escaped talaq, talaq have reasons to rejoice. If propaganda is the name of the game, these ladies should be facilitated on their way to Mecca for Haj, by way of thanksgiving. This is a photo op not to be missed.

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Friday, August 18, 2017

What Does This Story Say About The 70th Anniversary?

What Does This Story Say About The 70th Anniversary?
                                                                                            Saeed Naqvi

This is a true story. I am revisiting it with a purpose: so that it collides head on with the nation’s 70th anniversary celebrations. Absolute, undiluted joy on this occasion would require total amnesia of that which accompanied independence: Partition. With some of us, these celebrations will always be tempered with Keats’ great dictum:
“Ay, in the very temple of delight
Veil’d melancholy has her sovran shrine”

Yes, that story, spread over India, Pakistan and the United States. Before I share the story with you let me first spell out the dramatis personae to simplify the narrative.

When the feudal order was breaking down, my family in Mustafabad near Rae Bareli produced two ideological streams. My father came from a line of staid Congressmen. In fact his elder brother, Wasi Naqvi, was the first Congress MLA from Rae Bareli. My earliest memory of political activity in these 70 years is of Feroz Gandhi weaving his parliamentary seat around my uncle’s assembly constituency. This was the seat that Indira Gandhi inherited, then Rajiv Gandhi and so on.

My mother’s family was more literary and, after the intellectual fashion of those days, of a more leftist bent. Her only brother Saiyid Mohammad Mehdi, our dearest “Mamujan”, caught the eye of P.C. Joshi, General Secretary of the CPI, who was then stitching together Indian Peoples Theatre and the Progressive Writers Association. Joshi whisked Mamujan away to Mumbai to share a commune with Sardar Jafri, Kaifi Azmi, Majrooh Sultanpuri, Krishen Chander and a host of others.

Mamujan’s younger daughter, Shireen, with a degree from JNU, could not ignore her mother’s entreaties and married a cousin, Abbas, a gentleman to boot, settled in Dubai but, alas, of Pakistani parentage. The condition for the marriage were clear: they would live in a neutral country, not in Pakistan. Shireen obstinately held onto her Indian passport.

Like her father, Shireen is a reader (a book in two days) and taught in a school. Abbas stuck to investment banking.

Their eldest daughter Mariam studied cinema in Canada, fell in love with a Haitian film maker and settled in Canada. She was confident that her Indian passport, on which she had travelled to India numerous times, would be part of the record even if she acquired her husband’s nationality.

She had goofed. She had not taken into account the dark shadow that would always hover over her head: her father’s Pakistani nationality. That fact scratches out her Indianness. This is just a minor consequence of what the leaders of India, Pakistan and Great Britain accomplished 70 years ago. But Shireen had to prepare for worse.

When she was in the family way again, her husband had taken a transfer to the Cayman Islands. For Shireen this was a Godsend in a most unexpected way. In the ninth month of her pregnancy, she would cross over to Florida for greater gynaecological care. This is precisely what Shireen did. So, not only was little Rabab born in a world class hospital, she was doubly blessed on another score. She was born with a priceless document: the American passport. So far so good, until God revealed his enigmatic side: Rabab was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, immobile, comprehensively challenged, condemned to move only on a wheelchair.

Shireen and Rabab were able to travel to Delhi, Lucknow, Kanpur, Mustafabad once or twice a year until collapse of the global economy in 2008 affected Shireen’s mobility. Frequent travel between Dubai and Delhi became too expensive.

When sorrows come they come in battalions. At 30, Rabab is a big, heavy girl. With tears in her eyes, her Bangladeshi nanny told Shireen that Rabab was too heavy for her to change her clothes, bathe, seat on a wheelchair and be put to bed.

Shireen and Abbas began to share these chores until the next installment of bad news. Shireen was diagnosed with leukemia.

She now faces an existential choice. Her support structure – sister, uncles, cousins, nieces are all in India. She already has an apartment next door to our daughters, her adoring nieces.

Shireen, ofcourse, has an Indian passport and can come and go as she pleases. The problem is with Rabab’s long term visa because it is impossible to cart her back and forth, pointlessly, on a short term visa which incidentally, is not assured either. One would have thought she can sail in with her American passport. But that is not the case. Her father’s nationality trumps all other considerations. Look, she is on a wheel chair. Doesn’t matter. She is comprehensively challenged. That does not qualify her for an Indian visa. The system is telling an invalide child that her father is her curse.

Lest you begin to chastise the present government for Rabab’s woes, do pause for a moment. The BJP regime came in day before yesterday. Stringent, sometimes inexplicable, laws were put in place by successive Congress governments.

The document that Mariam was handed by the Indian High Commission in Ottawa (when she applied for OCI card some years ago) takes one’s breath away:
“As per the MHA’s OCI ruling, no person who, or either of whose parents or grandparents or great grandparents is or has been a citizen of Pakistan, Bangladesh at any time or such other country as the Central government may, by notification in the official gazette, specify, shall be eligible for registration as an overseas citizen of India cardholder. In view of the existing OCI rules, you are not entitled for grant of OCI card facility because one of your parents is of Pakistani origin.” That Mariam was born in India and, before her marriage, travelled extensively on an Indian passport is of no consequence.

I realize more than most people that these are abnormal times. In fact my career as a foreign correspondent would have been impossible without unstinted help, on a personal basis, from friends in the foreign office and in other parts of government. Additionally, visas for friends and relatives, on both sides of the border, were there for the asking. My friends were a strand in the vast mosaic that kept the nation’s sanity. Thanks to them visiting relatives from Pakistan envied us for the friends we had. “Bhaiyya, can we buy land here?” It all seems so distant in time.

My mother, an eternal optimist, a great favourite of Shireen and Abbas, indeed our entire universe, died three years ago, firm in her belief that sooner or later mists will lift and peace will descend. She would recite the following couplet with wistfulness in the eyes:
“Bada maza us milap mein hai,
Jo sulah ho jaae, jung ho kar?
(There is great pleasure in that harmony
Which descends after a big quarrel.)

Would my mother have been able to sustain that optimism given the state of play on this, our 70th birthday?

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Friday, August 11, 2017

Ahmad Patel Barely Survives To Keep Sonia’s Rahul Hopes Alive

Ahmad Patel Barely Survives To Keep Sonia’s Rahul Hopes Alive
                                                                                    Saeed Naqvi

It would be rank bad form to describe Ahmad Patel as a form of life under Sonia Gandhi’s furniture, because the entire Congress Working Committee defers to him as “Ahmad Bhai” with varying degrees of insincerity.

Look, how he came out of the throng which was blocking his path to the Rajya Sabha. P. Chidambaram, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Anand Sharma would not be marching back and forth from the Election Commission past midnight pleading for “Ahmad Bhai” had the Congress President not monitored the events, remote in hand, on a minute by minute basis.

She must have been close to a nervous breakdown when the numbers of Gujarat party MLAs sank from 57 to 43 who had to be whisked away to a Karnataka holiday resort to stop further hemorrhage. Even then a couple dug burrows to sneak out. If those two exhibitionists had not been caught flashing before “unauthorized persons”, Ahmad Bhai’s goose had nearly been cooked.

It is, ofcourse, fake news that in celebration, he lifted up his arms in front of Sonia Gandhi and sang:
“Hum laaye hain toofan se
            Kishti nikaal ke.”
(From the eye of the storm have  
            I rowed the boat to the bank)

Parties fight to advance their mission or when parties face adversity. The Congress fights when chosen leaders are in trouble. A reversal for Ahmad Patel in Gujarat would have been an enormous loss of face for Sonia. By helping her keep her face what does the party gain? That would be a hurtful question to the deluded who are convinced that one day the Congress, like the Phoenix, will rise again.

There are other important, unproven stories. Sonia and, by extension, “Ahmad Bhai”, have to be somehow saved because they have the key to the treasure. This is the testimony of Congressmen who have picked up their marbles and walked away from the game. And their tribe is growing.

That “Ahmad Bhai” made such heavy weather of a solitary seat reflects on a matter of some political value. “Ahmad Bhai” is no mass leader. He would not be able to collect 100 persons for his meeting. He is a maestro in pre and post electoral politics – the consummate fixer across the political field, particularly in Gujarat where a great deal of back scratching between him and the likes of Amit Shah has gone on for some time. In direct proportion to the growing self confidence of the Modi-Shah duet, such deals may now onwards be at a discount. They may even be discontinued without notice. Were Ahmad Bhai’s travails part of this shifting of gears by the two “Gujjus” because they are on a winning streak?

Ahmad Bhai’s deal making abilities in Gujarat became the subject of some speculation even on the eve of the 2014 elections when Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, warned of an impending Congress rout, turned up to save her mother and brother by campaigning in Rae Bareli and Amethi. She did save them.

Her pitch was shrill. Her family was being “humiliated” by the BJP. They were targeting her husband’s land deals. Like her grandmother, she would fight back, she said. She then unleashed her finest invective on Narendra Modi’s “snoopgate”, how the Gujarat strongman had allegedly organized surveillance of a woman architect across these states.

Poor Priyanka did not even know that a few days ago there was a front page cabinet announcement that matters of such sensitivity will now only be handled by the next union cabinet. Priyanka could scream herself hoarse on “snoopgate”, “Jashodaben”, “Ishrat Jehan” but it was now so much shouting into the wind. Her leaders, “Ahmad Bhai”, and Manmohan Singh included, had waved a white flag at Modi. An electorate on the eve of a key election may be forgiven for being totally befuddled at the turn of events. How should the common man know that the deal has been struck because Sonia does not want Priyanka to worry herself sick about Robert Vadra’s travails.

That even so, there is an occasional eruption of fierce sloganeering against each other is, according to Congress sources, a possible part of a broad understanding.

What Shankersinh Vaghela told a group of journalists during the 2002 Gujarat riots sheds light on “Ahmad Bhai’s” genius. Just imagine, the leader of the opposition, Sonia Gandhi, did not even visit Ahmedabad after it had witnessed the most ghoulish pogrom.

“Had Sonia gone on hunger strike outside Raj Bhawan in Gandhinagar on February 28 (peak of pogrom), the situation would have been controlled”, Vaghela said. Fingers were pointed at “Ahmad Bhai”, for having advised Sonia against visiting Gujarat.

All of this has history behind it. It fits into the Congress unprecedented victory in 1984 being seen by the party as majoritarian consolidation against the minorities, in this instance the Sikhs. But the floodgates had been opened. By 1986, the most secular of congress General Secretaries, V.N. Gadgil, told me with considerable alarm:
“A feeling is growing among Hindus that Muslims are being appeased.” The Congress had turned. Rajiv Gandhi was to go far on this route. He gave the call for Ram Rajya in 1989 from the hallowed precincts of Ayodhya.

How appeased the Muslims were became clear after the Sachar Committee report in 2005. The Sonia-Manmohan duet did not do a jot to implement recommendations following the report.

Pundits are shy of admitting that what we have in competition are two parallel efforts at Hindu consolidation: one is pursuing an aggressive Hindutva agenda, an awesome machine on the roll. The Congress, which has already crashed between two stools, remains frozen but only on one stool. The other stool has been moved from the drawing room. The party is ever cautious not to be seen with Muslims on issues that might drive away the Hindu vote which, alas, is already proceeding towards the BJP, in single file or, maybe, two.

In this critical moment, Rahul is inspiring poetry. A variation on the old limerick:
As Congressmen went up the stair
They met Rahul who wasn’t there
He wasn’t there again today
We wish, we wish he’d stay away”

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