Saturday, August 11, 2018

Muzaffarpur Shame Exposes Governments dependence on NGOs for Welfare Responsibilities

Muzaffarpur Shame Exposes Governments dependence on NGOs for Welfare Responsibilities

Syed Ali Mujtaba

The horrifying news from a state sponsored shelter home at Muzafarpur town in Bihar has lowered the national esteem beyond imagination. All over the country, there has been shock and dismay at this shameful news. No one could believed that such kind of ghastly act can take place even in a state run shelter home.

Now, when the heat and dust of over such monumental shame is settling down, it is time to take stock of the situation. This should begin with acknowledgment of those who are the prime movers of this news into the public domain.

First mover of this news is the 'Team Koshish' (field-action programme of Tata Institute of Social Sciences) that conducted the ‘Social Audit’ of the Muzafarpur shelter home and brought out the shocking irregularities happening there. The ‘ Team Koshish' is worthy of praise because they have worked in an extremely hostile situation and brought out the graphic details of physical injustices happening on the marginalized girls who actually were destitute, homeless and beggars living in that shelter home. .

Even as all the members of the ‘Team Koshish' deserve accolade, the special one must go to Mohammad Tarique (an Ashoka Fellow) who led the team with great passion. He selflessly supervised the audit team and helped in the preparation of the report in an extremely tight time frame is commendable.

The third kudos goes to Atul Prasad, Principal Secretary, ‘Social Welfare Department’ government of Bihar for envisioning such an unprecedented social audit by impartial organization i.e Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS). He deserves the bigger accolade for accepting the truth and publishing the report and thus making it public. Had the TISS report not been made public, the truth may have remained buried in the files of Social Welfare Department of Bihar. 

The third person who deserves honor of accolade is Ms. Harpreet Kaur, Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP), Muzaffarpur. It is her investigation that made skeletons tumble out. She showed great sense of courage in lodging the FIR against the key accused and promptly arrested them. She has shown that what an upright police officer can do if allowed to handle such sensitive cases like this.

The case so far and where it’s heading? A nationally reputed organization Tata Institute of Social Science carried out a social audit of a state-run shelter home that was based on evidence of the ‘inmates’ reported instances sexual assault on them.

The TISS submitted the report to the social welfare department of Bihar that not only accepted the report but went ahead to make it public. Following which the Superintendent of police Muzafarpur, carried out investigation and video-graphed evidence based on statements of the victims. After that  an FIR was lodged against the accused and the culprits were booked.  Following that an independent medical board from the reputed medical college did medical examination of the victim and corroborated the report that 34 out of 44 girls of the shelter home were raped.

There was a public hue and cry for speedy disposal of the case and demand of exemplary punishment for those found guilty. After which, the Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar handed over the case to the CBI for investigation. He declared that no culprit, however powerful will be spared.

Now it is likely that the CBI will carry out further investigation of this case and collect more clinching evidence to make it a water tight case against the accused. After that the charge-sheet will be framed and the case will be heard in the CBI court and justice is expected to be delivered in a time frame.

It is now clear that most of the rape victims were minors and falls within the jurisdiction of Protection of Children from Sexual Offenses (POCSO) Act 2012. Under the new provision of POSCO Act that was amended in 2018 after 'Kathua rape case.'  “all accused are guilty till proven innocent.” This is a significant shift from the previous position “all accused are innocent till proven guilty.”

This Muzaffarpur shelter home case is a rarest of the rare case, where the new provision of POSCO Act 2018 can come into effect and the accused can be given the death sentence for raping minors below 12 years of age. It is expected that maximum punishment will be given to the pathological criminals found guilty of committing such heinous crime.

Muzaffarpur shelter home expose has blown over the lid of such horrific crime happening in state sponsored shelter home. The National Human Right Commission reports testify the fact that such sexual abuse of girls and women are more of a norm than the exception in government run mental hospitals, shelter homes run by NGOs.

After Muzafarpur shame a similar case was reported from, another shelter home in Deoria, in UP.  It is high time that all such government run shelter homes in the country should be scrutinized through social audit. An honest audit by the bunch of committed youth like those of ‘ Team Koshish’ can deliver the desired results. Such social audit should have full state support and be made public.  The various reforms suggested in such audit report should be implemented expeditiously and monitored periodically by the government.

Another concern is how to reorganize all such rehabilitation programmes of the government. The girls in the shelter homes were victims of the social and psychological malaise of the society. They have been protected in the shelter homes to escape further humiliation from the society. Now in such protected homes, they were physically and psychologically tortured.  This is a matter of great concern and poses a big challenge to the governments.

The need of the hour is a full proof rehabilitation programme of all such social victims who are living in protected homes.  The heart of the matter is that governments are absolving themselves from the welfare responsibilities and handing it over to some non-governmental organisations. This is the biggest revelation from this story.

There is no quick fix solution to such national shame. This malaise will not be set right unless the governments become proactive in discharging its social duties. This is a very serious issue and the response to it should be in proportion to the pandemonium that is created in the country.


Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai.

Friday, July 20, 2018

‘Fake News’ is turning India into ‘Lynchocracy’

 ‘Fake News’ is turning India into ‘Lynchocracy’

Syed Ali Mujtaba

There is spate of lynching incidents reported from different parts of India. Many of them are attributed to fake news that is discovered much after the damage is being done.

The Supreme Court of India has become agog to such frightening reality and had ordered the Centre and the State governments to take immediate steps to stop the dissemination of misinformation causing mortal harms to the individuals.

This phenomenon is reaching alarming levels forcing the government to direct the social media to control its fake content. It’s even contemplating to make legislation to arrest this growing trend.

The phenomenon of fake news which  is caught in the cesspool of blame game. The court is asking the government, the government is asking the state governments and social media and the social media is putting the onus on the public.

In this blame game, fake news is having a fields day. The civil society is a spectator to the lynch mobs that is on prowl at the drop a hat taking innocent lives.  It appears the phenomenon of fake news has acquired persuasive power with a tendency to whip up mob frenzy. It appears Indian democracy is being converted into mobocracy and lynchocracy. This is a serious issue and has to be dealt with all the seriousness it deserves.   

The very concept of fake news is the intentional spreading of misinformation. There are many sources of fake news. This can be individuals, lobbies, groups and even governments.  Invariable, all have their own selfish axe to grind. The motive behind fake news is to whip up emotions and reap the benefits of its cascading effects.

Fake news can be extremely dangerous if one cynical believe it to be true. The mother of all ‘fake news’ was the 2003 Iraq War, when the fake news was circulated that the then Iraqi dictator possessed weapons of mass destruction. Never in recent memory such chicanery of fake news was created that caused so much havoc in the world.  This misinformation lured the Bush administration to go to war with Iraq. And we all know what happened in its aftermath.

In hindsight, if the then US administration had bothered to check the reliability of such information and have not blindly have become susceptible to such fake news, perhaps world would have been a better place to live.  

Here, one wonders what would have been the trajectory of events, if social media, which are now considered to be the biggest carriers of fake news, was present at that point of time. Could it have exacerbated that fake news or it had deflated.

Well that is past, let’s talk about the pros and cons of the Supreme Court’s order to the governments  to find ways and means to control this horrifying trend. The government can either make legislation with punitive action to punish the culprits of the fake news or strengthen its vigilance over social media. 

The fear is any legislation made the government to control “fake news” could prove to be counterproductive. It may be used to target its critics and penalties in such case may stifle legitimate social discourse and divergent opinions. Many a time the governments itself are the chief source of fake news. In such case can governments be entrusted with the responsibility to control the fake news?  

Notwithstanding the facts,  it’s now an accepted fact that the social media platforms are the biggest source of ‘fake news’ generation.  This is because the online news industry is facing stiff competition  and the digital media revenues are dwindling. Unable to shore up its revenue Social Media are dishing out fake content to attract more page views.

This is a survival tactics of the online news industry which have adopted a certain kind of approach towards journalism that thrives on flashy ‘click-bait’ stories.Aimed at shoring up advertisements, it is creating contents that can go viral and can create maximum amount of page views. As a result, fake news have become a necessity on the social media platforms.

Thanks to the US President Donald Trump who has blown the lid over the fake news industry. Now this problem has acquired a global dimension and countries are waking up to this reality. Each country in their own way are trying to grapple with this menace but have yet to find a tangible solution to this problem.

Since a great deal of fake news is disseminated on social media platforms, the onus is on the social media outlets to control the intentional misinformation. The focus should be more at the tech platforms like Google, Apple and Facebook, where a great deal of information is generated. These tech platforms have the technical capacity to identify and delete inappropriate contents. Closing bogus accounts, blocking obvious offensive content and expanding third-party fact-checking are some options available to them.

People‘s expectation is since these tech companies control smart-phone operating systems they can reinvigorate  their commitment to creating built-in opportunities for affirmative creation of civically useful news. 

Further, there is need to educate people how to consume news and to report abuse, or stories that are fake or disputed. The social media platform needs to educate users to identify disinformation and to block them making use of their filters.

Lastly, all stakeholders have to bear a personal responsibility for the dissemination of truthful information, including governments, the traditional press, the new media and the citizens at large. The ultimate defense against fake news is the people who have to develop critical thinking and to be vigilant against fake news.  

The issue of fake news has created another problem in its wake and that is restoring public trust in the news itself. This is a huge issue that has cropped up since the advent of social media. So there is a big challenge before the news media industry to build public trust and living up to the expectation of news consumers.

In order to restore rebuild public trust, there is need to re-evaluate the way the  content strategies is being made, how a story is built, how the news is formulated and how its formatted, and what are the mechanism to distribute the news.

The need of the hour is instead creating fake news content, the focus should be on content generation that that is civically useful. The news outlets should take a fresh look at what they should have that’s valuable to its readers.

For this there is a need to have better understanding of its readers. The best possible way to win over public trust is to be relevant in the new era of information communication technology. It requires a vigorous re-evaluation of the content development and news production. Perhaps that's the only possible way to go forward to tackle the problem of fake news. 

As far as India is concerned, two websites; and SMHoaxSlayer are doing a huge service to fight the menace of fake news.  However, the task is monumental and all the stakeholders should generate greater amount of resolve to address this issue.  


Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at



Thursday, July 12, 2018

Movie ‘Sanju’- A Fascinating Real Life Story

Movie ‘Sanju’- A Fascinating Real Life Story

Syed Ali Mujtaba

‘Sanju,’ the movie based on the real life story of actor Sanjay Dutt, is so far the best release of the year 2018. Producer Vidhu Vinod Chopra and director Rajkumar Hirani, the big names in Hindi film industry, have done a commendable job. ‘Sanju,’ is undoubtedly an exciting, entertaining and gripping movie.

Ranbir Kapoor’s stupendous performance as Sanjay Dutt and rookie, Vicky Kaushal as Kumar Gurav, (Sanjay Dutt’s real life best friend) has made the movie reach to some dazzling heights.

‘Sanju’ is based on colourful lifestyle of the actor Sanjay Dutt. It depicts the tale of the trail and tribulation of stars son born with silver spoon. Sunjay Dutt is son of iconic star couple Nargis and Sunil Dutt. He has hogged the limelight since he is born and his life story that is an open book that millions of his fans envy and relish.

Sanjay Dutt was launched as hero by his father Sunil Dutt in the movie ‘Rocky’ (1976). It took quite a while for him to get out of the shadow of his star parents and he had to struggle a lot to carve out his own place in Hindi cinema. His films like; Sajan, Kalnayak, Vastaw, Munna Bhai, all are known for his stellar performances.

Since the beginning, Sanjay Dutt has been a cynosure of all eyes. When he was an adolescent and growing to be a young man, he lived a lifestyle of a drug addict and alcoholic. His wayward lifestyle made into headlines and his freaky tales filled the gossip columns.

Sanjay Dutt’s connection with underworld was a much talked about topic in the media. That was a time when many film stars had to develop connection with Mumbai’s underworld to remain safe because they held sway over the Hindi film industry. However, it was Sanjay Dutt’s connection that was more talked about amongst all.

As Sanjay Dutt was climbing his ladder of success in the Hindi flim industry, his father Sunil Dutt, entered into politics. He became Member of Parliament on Congress ticket. Since then the Hindu right wing political elements started targeting him. This was because Sunil Dutt married, ‘Nargis’ a Muslim and his secular ideals were not received well the Hindu right elements.

When all this was taking place, then some of the most tragic moments gripped India. The ‘Babari masjid’ was demolished in Ayodhya, UP in 1992. This triggered a wave of Hindu-Muslim riots in Mumbai. Muslims were targeted in a pre-planned manner in those riots. Sunil Dutt came out to help the riot victims of Mumbai and he was targeted by the Hindu group as they viewed him as pro Muslim.

.In this atmosphere of hate and revenge, some members of underworld group in Mumbai, engineered a series of bomb blasts to counter in the city to the mosque demolition and the subsequent riots.

The Mumbai bomb blasts which took many innocent lives not only shook the megapolis of western India but the entire country. What followed in its aftermath were arrests of the criminals and enemies of the nation.

In this whirlpool of real time hatred and revenge drama, Sanjay Dutt was sucked into it quite innocently. He and his father were under the life threat from Hindu fanatics. In order to protect himself and his family, Sanjay Dutt procured unlicensed “assault rifle” from Mumbai’s underworld. This revelation came when the criminals made confessional statements AND Sanjay Dutt’s folly came to limelight. The national media branded him as terrorist. He was arrested imprisoned and lived in jail like a hard core criminal.

When Sanjay Dutt, was out on bail many film makers cashed on his new found image. Movies like ‘Khalnayak’ and ‘Vastav’ etc cashed on his negative image.

This chapter of Sanjay Dutt’s life ended when the Supreme Court exonerated him from all criminal charges, except the gun possessing case. And for that he had to serve three years in jail, He is now a freeman absolved of all such charges.

This story of Sanjay Dutt is a real potboiler. There is lot of drama, conflict and internal trauma in this real life story. A biopic on him is something that was long overdue. Rajkumar Hirani, exactly did what people were expecting from him.

Hirani in his movie ‘PK’ attacked the fake ‘Godman,’ and in ‘Sanju’ he trained his gun the fake news. He has taken the problem head-on and by narrating the story of Sanjay Dutt, he exposed the nefarious designs of the unscrupulous media. How media can go to any length to manufacture fake news is the larger point that Hirani makes while telling the story ‘Sanju.’

Even though the movie ‘Sanju’ has tried to paint a positive image of actor Sanjay Dutt, the point of difference is, it has deliberately tried to cloak him as a playboy, to sell the movie, which in fact not true about Dutt’s real life.

Another piece of Sanjay Dutt is his marital life’s that is totally ignored in this movie. The mercurial actor is a victim of his own fate, when it comes to having his life partner. His first wife Richa Sharma (1987–1996) died of cancer leaving behind a daughter. His second wife Rhea Pillai (1998–2008) took divorce to marry Leander Paes. Sanjay Dutt at last found marital bliss in Manyata, his third partner with whom he has two children.

The narration of the story in the movie ‘Sanju’ is flawless and gripping. The screenplay and dialogues is of top notch. The technique of flash back and flash forward is conveniently used as its Hirani’s forte.

A sizable portion of the film is shot in America as Sanjay Dutt’s real life association with that country. This have given the look and feel to the movie and has made it look grand.

Performances wise, Ranbir Kapoor has proven the point that he is chip of the old block, and his acting genes comes from his great grandfather, Pirthvi Raj Kapoor.

Vicky Kaushal who enacted the role of Kumar Gaurav, (Sanjay Dutt’s real life best friend) has put a life in this character. Anuska Sharma and Sonam Kapoor are visual delights.

The only weak point of the film is Parash Raval. He is unable to fit into the character of Sunil Dutt and looks more like himself than Sunil Dutt. If the filmmakers had done more brainstorming on finalising a suitable cast for Sunil Dutt’s role, the movie ‘Sanju’ still could have been more gripping.


Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Transformative Issues Facing the News Industry Today

Transformative Issues Facing the News Industry Today

Syed Ali Mujtaba

In an era of profound distortion of news and storytelling, the most pertinent question that is being asked today is; ‘where is the News’? Notwithstanding the debatable in this context, the fact remains that we are witnessing new trends and upheavals in the media industry particularly the transformative issues in the business of news.
Today we are facing an increasing focus on the intersection of media, technology and social change. There is more digitized news environment now than it was ever before.   The transformative issues shaping the news industry are artificial intelligence, Big Data and digitization that are dominating the news scene.

In the new-era of disruptions and transformations of news, the news is no more mere information these days but it comes in wrappers of layers of sugar coatings.  The stories themselves have become victim of prejudices and are subjected to various interest groups that play a major role in its generation.                                                                                                              

News these days has entrenched itself deeply into our memory that comes from the prism of policymakers, tech platforms and amateur news gatherers and its processors. In such environment the question is being asked, when such players have entered into the business of news then is there any place for the hard bread journalists who have climbed the ropes of journalism the in its toughest  way?

India has some unique story to tell on the subject of issues facing the news industry. In the 2014 General Election, the digital media for the first time emerged as a force to reckon with in the country. The medium was employed aggressively by the winning party to woo the voters that constituted nearly 37 per cent of urban voters as they were connected to some form of social media. This new and relatively revolutionary platform created a whirlpool of information campaign that swung the election in favour of one party leaving other gasping.  

In this era of digitization of news the proliferation of fake news has become a big trend these and dangerous too. There are some Websites that have made a successful business model out of distribution of false news stories with catchy and provocative headlines.

A news item that showed images of number of Hindu temples being removed from the roads for encroachment with the caption ‘temples are being destroyed in India.’ This news contents got further momentum when it was shared by some of its diehard followers.  Even though later, it was debunked as fake news, the damage was done. Even today such false stories continue to be in circulation to appeal to the raw sentiments of right-wing protagonists.

Facebook Twitter and WhatsApp are the biggest platforms, in India, that plays a big role in circulation of fake news. In Jharkhand three innocent men were beaten to death by an angry mob that wrongly believed those men were human traffickers, based on a simple WhatsApp message.

Similarly, a screenshot from a local feature film showing a woman being molested as part of that filmy drama was peddled as news with the caption Muslim man molests a Hindu women. But for quick rebuttal by Tec savvy netizens, this could have led to communal tensions and violent incidents.

Similarly, when India lost a cricket match against Pakistan in June 2017 a video went viral that showed some Indian Muslims celebrating Pakistan’s victory. However, when those videos were verified all except one from Kashmir was found to be genuine. But then the damage was done targeting the Muslim community of India as anti-nationals.

In this heap of fact and fiction masquerading as news, the consumer of news is unable to separate the chaff from the grain. This is because the fake news, paid news, has proliferated immensely in the news bulletins. The biggest challenge before the news readers or news viewers is how to decipher “What Is the News”?

While this is one trend dominating the news industry, many emerging issues that are knocking at the doors of newsroom is unable to make news.  Killing of news for the sake of accommodating news of sex and glamour that catches the eyeball has become a new trend both in news media industry.  

In the business of news, the commercialization of news content for revenue generation is another disturbing trend. The electoral malpractices of paid news and coverage packages are a new trend in India. The press guild of India has found a few media houses engaged in in leveraging political and economic content for overt and covert revenue generation. 

The rapid erosion of the demarcation between journalism, public relations, advertising and entertainment is another growing trend is news industry. This phenomenon is attributed to the convergence of news media, entertainment and telecom industry that has emerged after the rampant growth of media industry in India.

Breaking news is yet another trendy trend these days. As eyeballs are more important to establish the size of readership or viewership, journalistic ethics are being sacrificed on the alter speed and accuracy.

In the mad rush of breaking news the content is approved for broadcast without any verification and cross checking of the relevant facts doing more harm than any service to the news.  In this, the method of ‘sting-operation’ has become a popular format of news gathering disregarding journalistic ethics and media norms. There is a raging debate in India that how unrestrained reporting is robbing the moral quotient of news gathering system that exists from ages.

In order to understand all these transformative issues shaping the news industry today, the East-West Center at Hawaii is organizing a Media Conference in Singapore from June 24-27.

Hundreds of media professionals are gathering in Singapore, to look at new-era trends and transformative issues in media and the news itself.

Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He is invited to attend the media conference in Singapore from June 24-27. He can be contacted at

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Death of Modern India Birth of New India

Death of Modern India Birth of New India

By Syed Ali Mujtaba

Modern India was born when it got independence in 1947; then there was euphoria and a dream to build the modern India with democracy secularism, and social justice as its shining ideology. However, the zest of modern India started feeling tired sometime since 1990, when a new ideological force based on Hindu religious nationalism stared surging ahead. It started challenging the ideological parameters of the modern India and gained momentum of its own to the level that at present it holds the center stage in the country.

Even though many may not like to read the  obituary note on modern India, the fact remains that modern remains in books and the new India is a living reality. This is a seminal development because new India is celebrating nearing three decades of its existence.Apologists like me may still be basking in the old glory, hoping that it’s a passing phase of Indian history and the ideology of modern India, will bounce back to do the course correction in the ideological journey of India.  

Wishful thinking indeed because modern India is now consigned to our constitution only. Notwithstanding the facts of modern India and new India , the present India is witnessing a distinct change in the ideological parameters of the country.

India has already traveled from the center to its right and there are definite symptoms of its gravitating towards its extreme right. It may not be incorrect to say that the Modern India exists no more and the birth of New India is a reality.

In the wake of very weak and feeble opposition to the current narrative of   New Indian ideology is having a fields day. This can be substantiated by the fact that now imprint of the Hindu nationalist party, the BJP is could be seen in more than 20 states of India. The way it has spread its reach shows its growing popularity in the country and a death knell to Nehruvian Secularism that symbolized modern India.

Modern India took birth in 1947; and words like democratic, secular and socialist became the biggest rallying point for majority of the Indians. There was a distinct ideological veneer that was overlaid to accommodate several strands of ideological flavor that were clamoring for domination at that point of time. 

The Nehruvian Secularism clearly defined the parameters of secularism and communalism. It dubbed the majorities communalism as the worst enemy of the country. In modern India, all believed in the centrality of Nehruvian secularism as the dominant ideology as it alone had the power to integrate the entire diversity in the country.

However, as India traversed its journey since independence, the religious nationalist ideology started clamoring for ideological space in the country. This actually started happening sometime around the 1990 when the peddlers of Hindu religious nationalism openly started questioning the  Nehruvian vision of secular democracy.

The Hindu nationalist forces called Nehruvian secularism as minority appeasement and wanted to replace it with their own ideology that equated Hindu religious identity to nationalism. This has given birth to New India.

As of now, there exits two ideology, that caters to two distinct India that is; the modern India and the new India.  In modern India the Nehruvian Secularism remains the mot ivational pull for the common man while in the new India, the rallying point is Hindu religious nationalism.While the ideology in modern India catered to the entire diversity of the country, the Hindu nationalist religious ideology catered to the handful Hindu majority community.

It’s apparent that the new India has thrown the secular mask that modern India wore for long and is now marching towards the fundamentalist democracy.There are series of events those points to this fact. First the Ayodhya movement was built, then the Babari mosque was destroyed caring two hoots about the law of th e land. Second was the Gujarat riots, where thousands of Muslims were butchered in the Hindu communal uprising that followed the Godhra train tragedy. Third the holy cow protection campaign and the lynching of the Muslims. Fourth, saffron clad people emerged in the power structure and this tribe has started growing thick and fast. All these development proclaims loudly that modern India is dead and New India has acquired its place. 

It appears that the gravitational pull of fundamentalist democracy currently holds sway over the country and has put up a show of Hindu unity. However it has yet to evolve a dynamic formula to unite the entire diversity of the Satana Dharmis   under its fold.  

The other salient feature of New India is the growth of crony capitalism. The New India’s economic system is characterized by close, mutually advantageous relationships between business leaders and government officials. The classical example is the growth of Patanjili group and its promoter Baba Ramdev. The euphoria of economic growth has appealed to some groups that are turning towards the Hindutva politics. The dynamics of the New India suggests that its vote bank is the upper caste and the capitalist class.

We like it or not the fact remains that a large chunk of people are keen to join the new Indian apple cart, is enough indicator of 'death of modern India and birth of new India.' The Hindu nationalist ideology the symbol of new India has emerged the dominant force in the country. According to one report Prime Minister Modi and his party enjoys about 70 per cent of the popular support and holds a distinctive advantage over other political forces in the country. This is despite facing the charges of mismanagement, corruption and running a fascist democracy.

This is a very significant development and it’s high time to understand these phenomena while scripting the story of New India.  Is 70 per cent of the people in the country adhering to Hindutva ideology or they belong to the RSS cadre. Why the BJP is scripting emphatic victories in state after state. Why the opposition is totally side lined. Is this not an obituary note on modern India and the birth of New India?

The new development comes with some caveats. How the New India is going to handle its birth pangs? How minorities and other group are going to adjust in the New India? How the protagonists of modern India are going to accept its obituary note or will they turn the tables around in their favor are stories that remains to unfold.


Syed Ali Mujtaba is an internationally awarded journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Shanker Shambhu Qawwal, the Epitome of Indian Plurality

Shanker Shambhu Qawwal, the Epitome of Indian Plurality
Syed Ali Mujtaba 

Two snapshots of visual communication haunt me all the time. One is of the lynch mobs calling themselves as neo patriots and other the You Tube Videos of two Brahmin saints who were sunk deep into Islamic music and epitomized the syncretic cultural tradition of India. The first need no explanation as they are staple diet in the Indian media discourse, but the second needs a detailed description as this story is much louder than the words.

In these times of highly charged communal atmosphere such stories need greater attention because that’s the only way to save our country from sure destruction. Well I am talking about “Shanker Shambhu Qawwal," the two real brothers and the only Hindu "Qawwal” in the entire subcontinent. These two Hindu singers with their Sufi songs have mesmerized an entire generation were seen as the torch bearers of peace and brotherhood in the country.

I wonder how the Hindu vultures preying on Mohammed Ikhlaq, in  Dadri in 2015 or Junaid in Haryana,  may have reacted after seeing the You tube videos of these Hindu Sufi singers. The custodians of the hate factories from where these hate mongers are being produced too need to be shown such videos in order to slap them to sanity.  

The pictures on TV screen from Kasganj, UP where the recent Hindu –Muslim riot broke out on January 26, too were disturbing. The hoodlums were seen stopping the Muslims to unfurl the national flag and intimidating them for no real reasons.

I think there could be some Shanker and Shambhu among that crowd but none resembled the Sufi singers that I am talking about, whose birth place was very near to the Kasganj where those thugs were having a field’s day.

Shankar-Shambhu Qawal sprung up when the country was emerging from the pangs of Partition of India. The duo epitomized the Indian syncretic culture and gave hope to the Indian Muslims that the people like them will protect the community from any Hindu assault, the ones witnessed at Kasganj in UP.   

Shanker and Shanbu’s command over Urdu language, its diction was a matter of awe and admiration to the Urdu speaking audience. They had memorized thousands of Urdu couplets with heavy Islamic content. This amused Muslims as how these two Hindus can narrate them Islamic history with such ease through their musical composition.


As a matter of fact it is recorded that when Shanker and Shanbu went to give live performance at the Urs of Kawaja Moinuddin Chisti at Ajmer, they could not get a chance to perform in the Mehfil Khana of the main shrine. This is not because they were Hindus but because there were many waiting for a chance to sing there and Shanker- Shanbu were just newcomers.

This made the elder brother Shankar to sit on fast in front of Dargah of Kawja Graib Nawaz.  He literally fasted for 3 days at the steps of the highly respected Muslim saint’s shrine that too even without water. He declared that he may prefer to die rather than leave the premises without singing. 
Sensing the gravity of the situation the management of the Dargah gave the duo the permission to perform on the 4th day at the Mehfil Khana, which happened to be the last day of the Urs Sharif.

When the brothers sang the ‘Salaam’; "Mehboobe Kibriya se Mera Salaam Kehna" everyone in the audience was mesmerized with the rendering of the Islamic composition. Many were seen weeping at the soulful melody of the two Hindu Qawwals that had pierced their hearts. Since that day they got the title of "Qawwal" and they become famous as "Shanker Shambhu Qawwal".

One among those seen crying at the Mehfil Khana of Ajmer Dargah was the legendary film director Mehboob Khan, the maker of Mother India.  Mehboob Khan invited these highly talented brothers to Mumbai and asked them to sing at the inaugural ceremony of his Mehboob studio.

The who’s who of Bollywood was present in that function and they all welcomed Shanker Sahambu with open arms. Soon these two singers from Uttar Pradesh established themselves as Sufi Qawwal and playback singer in Hindi film industry.

Shanker Sahambu did playback singing in movies like "Alaam Aara", "Teesri Kasam", "Barsaat Ki Raat", "Professor and Jadugar", "Shaan-e-Khuda", "Mere Daata Gharib Nawaz", "Teesra Patthar", "Begunah Qaidi", "Laila Majnu", "Badal", "Tumhara Kalloo", " Mandir Masjid" etc.
Shanker Sahambu were dominating the music scene in the good old days of radio that carried the golden voice  into the living rooms, courtyards and roof tops of the Indian homes and soon these Sufi singers became a house hold name in the country. 

These two brothers were really a sensation to the Urdu speaking Muslim audience. Many wondered how they had mastered the art of Qawali that usually remains the forte of Muslim singers. It was their effort to live with plural cultural tradition of India that won them all round admiration and adulation.

They were appreciated by some great Indian personalities like Dr Zakir Hussaibn and Atal Bihari Vajpayee and were felicitated with titles like "Khwaja Pasand", "Fanafil Moin", "Qaumi Ekta Ke Pratik" "Shenshahe- e-Qawal" and many more.

Shanker died in 1984 in a road accident and his younger brother Shambu died due heart attack in 1989. Now Shanker’s son Ram Shanker and Shambu’s son Rakesh Shambhu are carrying forward their father’s legacies. 

The progenies too are well versed in Urdu language and have rendered many soulful compositions of Sufi Qawwali music.

However, people like Ram Shanker and Rakesh Shambhu are the fading hope of Indian unity in diversity. They are the chips of the old block and are nowhere near the popularity index that their father enjoyed once.  

It’s unfortunate that the soulful songs of Shanker-Shambhu that gave the message of plural tradition I India are now a forgotten lore.  The high politics of India is systematically destroying these composite cultural traditions of this country.

The religious polarization done to garner votes is an assault on Indian diversity and the consequences of such diabolic politics on the diverse mosaic of cultural traditions are unimaginable.

If India has to be saved from the saffron vultures, then remembering Shanker Shambhu contribution to communal amity is essential for universal peace and brotherhood in the country.  More examples of Shanker Shambhu and Ram Shanker and Rakesh Shambhu needs to cited to uphold the plural values and these examples has to be lauded in forceful words.
Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Syed Ali Mujtaba Honored by East West Center Hawaii

 East West Center, Honolulu Hawaii, USA has acknowledged me by putting my name on the wall of honor. This is primarily for my excellence in the field of media. I was there as a Jefferson Fellow in fall 2003.  I feel honored indeed with such pats on my back and even though there has been lots of twists and turns in my life, i feel no regrets with it so far. When I look back and see the journey of my life, I can only describe it as a exiting game of snakes and ladders.

Here goes the text of the letter....

Dear Dr Syed .....

 For the past 58 years, the East-West Center has been supported by many who believed in its mission and worked hard to achieve it.

You are honored by Mr Daniel Berman on the Wall of Honor for your important contribution to the   east west center with a gift to support the EWC Association Alumni Endowment fund for student scholarships which has supported scholarships for 125 participants from 23 countries.


Gary Yoshida

Development Officer