Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Inchoate Images of Changing India III

Inchoate Images of Changing India
Syed Ali Mujtaba

Ever since the liberalisation of India’s economy in the early nineties there have been few things that have been happening simultaneously in the country. The obvious is the shift towards the capitalist model of economy and the spectacular rise in the rate of the Gross Domestic Product. The second glaring feature is the rise of Hindu religious nationalism spearheaded by Bhartiya Janata Party, a right wing Hindu political outfit. The third trait is the explosion of media particularly electronic that’s having a huge bearing on the social and the cultural scene of the Indian society.

The opening of India’s economy and its merging with the global economic forces has been widely discussed and debated. Equally lot of energy is devoted analysing the rise of the right wing nationalist forces in tandem with the economic liberalisation. Similarly a lot has been talked about the media explosion particularly from the point of news and views and press freedom.

However, the impact of media boom on the society particularly from the angle of sexual libration is hardly being debated even though the entire nation is experiencing it in its day-to-day life. The general tendency is to brush up such topic below the carpet and shy away from brining it to the arena of public debate. This sounds strange for a country where opinion on any issue under the sun is on discount.

Unlike the West where the sexual libration has evolved over a long period of time, it silently tiptoed into the Indian living rooms from the skies. This happened exactly in tandem of the economic reforms in the early nineties when the satellite TV for the first time made its presence felt in the country.

Since then the satellite channels have flooded the small screen and India has been witnessing cataclysmic changes on its social and cultural scene.

There is little doubt that the barrage of electronic media has ushered in sexual liberation and with it the lid over the baser instincts of an average Indian has been lifted up.

As one surfs the channels there seems to be rat race on to outdo the other in name of glorifying sex. Damsels wearing mini skirts, hot pants and exposing the barren flesh on the navel, making pelvic thrusts, shaking their bosom, giving a peek a boo of their cleavages, forms a staple diet on the television screens.

Unconsciously, such display has drastically reduced the journey from the adolescence to the adulthood in India. Now a young boy need not have to lock in the bathrooms to flip through the adult magazines but just has to tune into any of the TV channels for sexual fantasy. Whether it’s song, soaps or comedy, every where its the same tale of unadulterated sex that glares ones face.

The big question is where this gamut of sex and seduction that’s going on the TV screens are heading for? The moral preachers would like to call this overdose of voyeurism as sleaze and would like to put a halt on them in the general interest of the society.

But does anyone care for the moral popes in India? The argument behind such hedonistic pursuit is pure economics of demand and supply. Since the audience like to watch such delicacies, its plated before them with all the prop and smoke, goes the argument.

There is little doubt that no one can put breaks on such form of entertainment given the speed in which the electronic media is moving in the country.

So if that’s the reality, what one can do about it? Well one can search for positives in this hedonistic madness and talk about how a complex subject like sexuality is understood by the Indian society.

There is little doubt that television has come to the forefront of the sexual liberation in India. Not only sex is being openly being debated on the small screen but various programmes related to the idea of romance and dating are unravelling its mysteries. Various soaps dwell upon an entire gamut of interpersonal relations that range from teenage to extra marital relationship. Some soaps advocate inter-caste, inter- religion relationship, cutting across cultural and linguistic lines. The screenplay and the dialogues of some the soaps are so bold and explicit, that at best it can be described as a clarion call for sexual revolution.

There are many positives that can be picked up from such developments. TV watching has made the current crop of youth much more confidant than to the genre that had radio and newspaper as the only form of entertainment. Such youth in their conduct are much more positive then their older generation.

Thanks to the various programmes, the body language and the dress sense of the average youth has changed a lot. The traditional dhoti and saris that doted the civic space are slowly waning out and replaced by smart trendy western dresses on the streets.

With the multiple channels on one’s remote control, the regulated era of entertainment has come to an end. If there is some sort of sexual liberation that’s being witnessed on streets it’s emanating through the TV screens, something that’s been unheard of before. This is some way is contributing to the secular values and helping in reducing the gap of regimentation in the Indian society.

However, TV sets are also acting as catalyst for solidifying religion-based nationalism as well. If one has to watch how religion dominates the Indian society one just had to take round of the Indian cities when the two mega soaps Ramayan and Mahabharat, ran on the small screen. The entire India use to come to a griding halt when these two serials based on Hindu epics was on air.

What does this point to: Is India breaking the shackles of the highly religious dominated society through sexual liberation or it’s clinging to its religious moorings?

There are no clear-cut answers for such hypothesis. The overwhelming response to the TV sets points towards the fact that changes are taking place in several directions. It’s contributing cementing the tradition of the Indian society at the same time it’s also inciting to break its stronghold.

If the TV sets have set up a clash between modernisation and tradition it has also has come in the forefront for the glorification of money something that goes against the grain of Indian society. The soap like “Kaun Banega Karorpati”-a game show that promised the winner 1000,000 rupees glorified the drive to poses money to its hit. As the protagonist played the game on the small screen every one was glued to the TV sets, counting the money in their living rooms drawing satisfaction possessing that much of wealth. Once again India from north to south, east to west was on a standstill.

It points to the fact that India is shedding its spiritual cloak, coming out of the slough of its Karma and Dharma mould and chasing the mundane world that’s marked by an era of globalisation.

The impact of television has been felt all round the India society. There is so much to pick and choose surfing the TV channels. There is news, views, entertainment, sports, health, wealth fashion and what not. Television has brought the entire country closer to each other in such a way that’s been never experienced before. The entire country together shares its joy and sorrow, trial and turbulence, shining or cheated watching the small screen.
Syed Ali Mujtaba is a television journalist based in Chennai, India. He can be contacted at

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Marauding Horsemen of Bihar

The Marauding Horsemen of Bihar
Syed Ali Mujtaba

On the banks of the meandering river Ganges, some 120 km east of Indian state of Bihar’s capital Patna is a sleepy town called Mungaer. Here a motor launch or a local boat ferries people to the other side of the river called Mungaer ghat. Some taxi-jeeps wait there to take passengers to Maansi railway station from where trains go to north Bihar.

During some part of the year especially summers and monsoon, this stretch of distance from the Mungaer Ghat to the Maansi railway station is any traveler’s nightmare. For, armed criminals on horsebacks suddenly appear on the scene to harass and rob the passengers of cash and other valuables on board the overcrowded jeeps or those who prefer to trek the distance to the station.

The law enforcing agencies have little grip over these marauding horsemen who roam as freebooters only to be chased when their menace becomes a constant threat.

At times it’s almost like a movie scene with the jeeps transporting the commuters and the criminals chasing them; the hurrying commuters disembarking from the jeeps and boarding the motor launch that immediately sails off to escape from the approaching horsemen.

Those who are unlucky are waylaid. Women and children are the worst victims of these criminals. So are those, who can’t afford the jeep fare and trek the distance with belongings on their heads.

Police sources, however, say waylaying of passengers on Mungaer ghat is not a common phenomenon. Seldom such activities take place and only occur when regular source of income of these gangs dries up. Once such incidents come to light, police immediately swing into action and these criminals are chased away. Most of these gangs don’t thrive for long and whenever the law enforcing agencies become strict these gangs are eliminated. In fact many police officers in Bihar have gained popularity eliminating top criminals of these gangs.

The bridge over the river Ganges that’s being constructed currently at Mungaer is touted to solve the long-standing problems of the passengers going to north Bihar from the terror of these marauding horsemen but that’s no solution to the real problem. The emergence of these horsemen is not a new phenomenon on a vast track of land that opens up due to the shrinking of the river Ganges during the dry season. Locally know as “Diara,” area, these land are dotted with maize and corn fields, providing an ideal sanctuary for these criminals to hide and operate from there as gangs, the tick vegetation and an unmotorable terrain, being in their favour.

These gangsters belong to different castes. Yadav, Bhumihar, Dhanuk, Dhari castes are notable among them. The name of Kamdev Singh, a Bhumihar, who struck terror in the early seventies, still sends chill down one’s spine. The recent names to reckon with are Kailo Yadav, Kapil Yadav and Ramji Dahari.

Each gang has its own jurisdiction to carry on its criminal activities of docaity, kidnapping, extortion, contract killing and even settling local property disputes.

These gangs operate in typical filmy style raiding the village on their horses. First they surround the hamlet from all sides, and then some of them enter the houses in search of valuables. They prey on healthy horses owned by cart operators and also abduct villagers. The entire village remains a mute spectator to such crimes. The lack of communication delays reporting of these crimes and law enforcing agencies take long to reach the spot.

There is a dispute over the date on which these criminal gangs started operating in these areas. Some trace it to the days of the British Raj, others say it was since post independence particularly after the criminalisation of politics in Bihar when criminals were being groomed under political patronage for winning the elections.

Irrespective of the dates, come elections and these gangs have a field day. Every political party approaches them for capturing poll booths. The deal is these criminals would fetch them votes and in return the politicians may shield them in the post election period. Some gangsters in recent times have themselves been contesting elections on political parties ticket and those doing so independently bargain hard for supporting the political parties.

The fact of history is such gangs never get eliminated permanently. They keep on cropping up from time to time. Little attention is being paid by the state government to tackle this problem on a long-term basis. And given the criminal- politician nexus in Bihar, this may never happen for some time to come.

Facts sheet: Munger Finds Mention in Historical Records

Mungaer, a district headquarter town of Bihar is full of reference in the Indian historical record books. It was sandwiched between the Kingdoms of Patliputra (Patna) and Champanager (Bhagalpur), a silk weaving center during the rise of Mahajanpadas (kingdoms) in 6000 BC in India. Mungaer had the unique distinction of having in proximity two premier universities of ancient India Vikramsila (Bhagalpur) in east and Nalanda near Patna in west.

Partliputra serving as a seat of power in India for about a millennium used the land and river route through Mungaer to reach Bengal. Greek traveler Magesthenese in his records mentions that the King of Patliputra Chandragupta made a fort in Mungaer with the river Ganges on the rear.

Mungaer formed the boundary between the rulers of Bengal and those of the north India. It finds mention as a camp of victory under the Pala kings, particularly Devapala. It’s also find mention in the record of the Partihara rulers of the east who advanced north to capture Patliputra. A Pratihara record of 837 AD tells that a chieftain named Kaka gained recognition fighting the Gudas at Mungaer.

During the medieval times Mungaer became the permanent highway for the marching armies from the north to the east of India. Numerous caravans plied the land route through Mungaer to the Bengal. There was brisk navigation on the river Ganges saw boats piling through Mungaer, Bhagalpur to up to Bengal.

Mungaer finds mention in records of the Khalji rulers of Delhi who expanded to the east of India. King Bhaktiyar Khalji (1206 AD) deputed his son Hussain Mubarak to look after the east of India and historical records say he reconstructed a fort at Mungaer.

Shershah Suri, who hailed from Sasaram in Bihar shot into prominence as the naib of the nohani tribe defeating the Sarwani tribe of Bengal at the battle of Surajgarh (1533) a few miles away from Mungaer. The wily Afghan went on to become the ruler of India defeating the second Mughal King Humayun.

During Mughals, Mungaer continued to remain an important place due to its proximity to Bengal and also due to silver mines near its hills. Mughal records mention that during Akbar’s time silver mining was going on near Mungaer at the Kharagpur hills. Shah Suja, son of Shah Jahn who was incharge of the east of India developed Mungaer as a military garrison town after shifting his capital from Dhaka to Rajmahal. Mungaer’s importance as a gun-making center owes its origin to Shah Suja’s time. He was also responsible for the fortification of the existing structure of the Mungaer fort.

During the war of succession that was bitterly fought among the sons of Shah Jhan in 1658, Shah Suja marched to Delhi from Bengal and history records say that Sulaiman Sikoh and Mirza Raja Jai Singh chased him out of Delhi and pursued till Mungaer.

After the decline of the Mughals, Mungaer came under their domination of the Nawabs of Bengal who controlled the whole of Bihar. Mir Qasim one of the rulers of Bengal repaired and garrisoned the Mungaer fort to put up a resistance against the British expansion to the north. It was at Mungaer that Mir Qasim fought the loosing battle with the British and the remnants of which still stands a testimony. The British finally defeated Mir Qasim at the battle of Buxar in 1764 and made Mungaer a retreat for the British East India army.

Mungaer became a special attraction for the British officials serving in Calcutta presidency and use to frequent the place for vacations. British took special interest to develop Mungaer along lines of a small English town. The fort area was exclusive zone where British residents owned huge villas and clubs, polo ground, gardens and churches were developed inside it. The ‘Company Garden’ here had all the hallmarks of London’s Hide Park.

Munger flourished during the British rule and Indian Tobacco Company (ITC) factory and a Railway locomotive workshop was established during its time. The development of Mungaer attracted the landed aristocracy who built palatial houses that still dots its space.

As long as Calcutta remained the headquarters of the South- East Asian trade, Mungaer thrived being part of the land and navigational trade route of Indian hinterland to Bengal. However, Mungaer’s importance declined after the introduction of the Railways that left it out from the main line that was laid from north India to connect Bengal. Mungaer’s importance further declined India’s capital was shifted to Delhi from Calcutta in 1912. Calcutta’s decline as a flourishing trade centers on the East coast of India further piped Mungaer to oblivion.

In the post independent India there is nothing that Mungaer could boast off. With practically little economic activity going on in this historical town, Mungaer represents a ghost city where life has come to a stand still. People have pinned hopes on the construction of the bridge over river Ganges to revive the sagging fortunes of Mungaer but the light at the end of the tunnel seems still far away.
Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist currently based in Chennai. He hails from Munger and often frequents his hometown. He can be contacted at


Unsung Women of the International Women’s Day

Unsung Women of the International Women’s Day
Syed Ali Mujtaba

Chennai: Every year before March 8, big cut-outs, posters and banners will be on display all over the city to celebrate the International Women’s Day. There would be public functions organized to mark the occasion where female celebrities would be facilitated with much fanfare. Paparazzi would click their pictures from every possible angle, the tabloids and dailies would flash them on the front pages as if to say... do you know the Pope is Catholic!

Contrary to these entire hullabaloos, a very small function was jointly organized by the Centre for Development Research and Training (CFDRT), East West Center Almunai (EWCA) Association Chennai Chapter and Experiment in International Living (EIL) Chennai Chapter at the office of the CFDRT, Chennai, on the 8th March 2007.

At this function there were women volunteers from the Anakavur block of Tiruvannamalai district in Tamil Nadu who shared their valuable experience working for the empowerment of the women. These women had formed women’s groups in their villages, and were focusing on areas such as health, nutrition, school drop-outs, water, hygiene and sanitation to bring about a change in their social milieu.

Four women volunteers made individual presentations explaining the work they had been doing for women’s upliftment. They described their experiences how they formed three groups comprising of women, adolescent girls and children and what they were doing for their development.

Issues such as ante natal care, institutional delivery, neo-natal and post natal care, exclusive breastfeeding, nutrition, monthly weighing and growth monitoring, referral and immunization formed their agenda of women empowerment.

They also briefed how they were building awareness on Right to Information Act, organizing cooking demonstrations to popularize locally available low-cost and no-cost nutritious foods and building awareness on rights of women, etc.

"These are grassroots workers, very simple women, very down to earth who have selflessly and silently been working for the upliftment of the society," said Mr. P. Subramaniyam, Managing Trustee, CFDRT Trust; Secretary of the EWCA Chennai Chapter and Community Chairman of the EIL Chennai Chapter, while welcoming the guests of the function and introducing the volunteers to the audience.

Mr. P. M. Belliappa, President, EWCA Chennai Chapter in his presidential address, praised the good work done by the CFDRT Trust and mentioned about his earlier associations with the erstwhile North Arcot District of Tamil Nadu of which he was the District Collector in the 70’s.

"I am aware of the backwardness of the Anakvur block and therefore full of appreciation for the excellent work done by the volunteers, particularly the women volunteers," he said.

Mr. Belliappa acknowledged that all the participants spared some time for development work in their own villages, even though the work was fully voluntary in nature. He also praised the life cycle approach of the women volunteers to empower women in their villages which was certainly an effort that would sustain their empowerment.

Mr. K. Muniyandi, a volunteer from Akkur outlined his plans to start a women’s group in his village on similar lines as being outlined by the volunteers in their presentation.

The function came to close with the appreciation and felicitation of the unsung women volunteers working to bring about sustainable change among the women folks living in their respective areas.

This International Women’s Day function was a fitting salutation to the entire unsung women world over who are silently but relentlessly working for women empowerment at the grassroots level.
The author is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at

Samjhuta Express blasts: Introspection needed

Samjhuta Express blasts: Introspection needed
Syed Ali Mujtaba

The twin bomb blasts that killed 67 passengers in the Indo- Pak Samjhuta Express train on Sunday midnight once again exposed the vulnerability of the people in the country. It also exposed the callousness of the intelligence and the security forces that refuses to accept that they are a national burden. Once the contrary it has established the smartness of the terrorists outfits that they can strike anywhere in India according to their chosen date, time and place.

Samjhauta Express is the oldest train link between India and Pakistan since Partition in 1947. The bi-weekly train had resumed its operation since July 22, 1976, after a long haul of the acrimonious Indo-Pak relationship to give peace a chance. This friendship and goodwill train has been on the hit list of the militant groups but had withstood the test of time of militancy. However, it’s not so anymore, now it too has become the target of another episode of bomb blasts in the country.

For a change it’s for the first time that ‘Delhi Durbar’ has not raised the “foreign bogey” the usually practice, that’s routinely done minutes after such blasts. Conspicuous by silence, is also the “manta” of “Jaise –E-Mohmmad” and ‘Laksher – E- Taiba that our 24 hours news channels keep chanting minutes after such blasts.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was reportedly quick to announce that the perpetrators of the Samjutha Express train blasts will not go unpunished. Home Minister Shivraj Patil tried to pacify the tempers mostly building across the borders saying that the government is in the know of the culprits but not to divulge the details as it may hamper the investigation. Railway Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav was more playing on to the gallery saying that the real culprits of the blast were those who oppose the India- Pak peace process.

As one many believe what suits one’s thoughts, the fact remains the target of the Samjutha express blast were overwhelmingly ‘Muslims.’ Normally, it is the Indian and Pakistan Muslims that travel back and forth on this train to meet their relatives separated across the border due to the Partition of India in 1947.

One is free to deduce from the profile of the target that who could be behind the blasts and what could be their motive. However, if we go by the government’s assessment then we have to accept that the blasts were the handiwork of the spoilers of peace.

The set argument is that the terrorists based in Pakistan are realizing that they would be the biggest losers in India- Pak peace process, swooned from across the border, killed few dozen people, no matter even if they belonged to their religion, and returned back to their safe heavens.

So there we go…there ends the matter... if we want to get them, we have cross the border and since hot pursuit is not our government’s policy, the case is solved and closed.

Samjutha blasts would remain another unresolved puzzle in the strings of blasts that our country has witnessed in the recent past. The Varanasi blast, the Delhi blasts, the Mumbai train blasts, and the Malegoan blasts, no conclusive evidence has been established either of the perpetrators or their motives.

The common thread in them is, they all were the work of the Muslim or Islamic terror groups that want to destabilize the country. At least that is what the government, the media and other mass communication sources want the entire country to believe.

Now who is the so-called Islamic terror groups operating in India? Even a child can say that they come in three varieties. Kashmiri outfits that have overt or covert support of Pakistan’s intelligence agencies. The Pakistani terrorists groups that often breach the Indian security cordon. The homegrown Muslim terrorists, that have sprung up after Ayodhya related communal riots and Gujarat communal pogrom and have been accused of seeking help from either Pakistan or Bangladesh.

In the wake of Delhi and Varanisi blasts, the government had reportedly blamed the Pakistani and Bangladeshi the terrorists’ outfits for that crime. However, it never provided any clinching evidence of their involvement nor it has answered to anyone’s satisfaction as to who were behind these blasts and their motives.

Soon after the Mumbai train blasts, the government reportedly announced that its script this terror plot was written in Pakistan and was executed with the help of the Kashmiri militants and the Muslim youth of Mumbai. The national security advisor had reportedly said that it has evidence of Pakistani involvement but it is best known to him whether he has handed over them to Islamabad, the nation owes answers to it what has been its follow up?

The Malegoan blasts had taken place some days after the Mumbai train blasts and this again remains shrouded in mystery. In comparison to Mumbai train blasts where the target was overwhelmingly Hindus, the Malegoan blast target were Muslims as it occurred on a Muslim religious day and in a Muslim graveyard where no non-Muslim would set their foot. In spite of the logical deduction, the government blamed the Student Islamic Movement of India, a radical organization, to be behind the Malegoan blast.

Now coming to the Samjhuta Express blasts, what motives could be attributed to this blast. Do homegrown so-called Muslim terrorists have any stakes in derailing the Indo- Pak peace process? If not then it leaves ground for the Kashmiri and Pakistani variety of the terrorist to hatch this plot. Now if we ask had the motive been to sabotage the peace process, cant that be done so by attacking the non-Muslim targets? What additional mileage could such terrorists gain by choosing an all-Muslim target?

If no sufficient answer came be put forward, then it may compel to look at other elements that could be responsible for this blasts. The Nanded blasts have very well exposed evil designs of the Hindu radicals that have stepped into the business of terrorism in our country. Their role needs to be thoroughly scrutinized in Samjhuta express blasts. They have vested interest in derailing the Indo-Pak peace. If the motive was to take revenge for the earlier bomb blasts where the targets were Hindu, again their role become prominent. Wishing them away or just reinforcing the stereotypes would be closing our eyes to the realties that are taking shape among us.
Syed Ali Mujtaba is a working journalist based in Chennai, India. He can be contacted at

Time to bring Communal Violence Bill

Time to bring Communal Violence Bill
Syed Ali Mujtaba

The Communal Violence Bill announced by the UPA government soon after coming to power in May 2004 seem be gathering dust. The incumbent government has more reasons to pilot the office of profit and the reservation bill than make efforts to stop the cancerous growth of communalism in the country.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Home Minister Shivraj Patil both made separate statements in the Parliament on the communal situation in the country and took credit of keeping communalism under check. However, both maintained a stoic silence over the time frame of tabling the communal violence bill in the Parliament.

Meantime, two riots one in Aligarh (UP) in April and other Vadodra (Gujarat) in May, reiterated the necessity of communal bill. The bill is suppose to give powers to the central government to intervene into the states in wake of a break down of the communal situation. As of now, the Center cannot interfere in the affairs of the provinces and can only appeal it to control the situation.

Take the instance of the Aligarh, where once again the dispute centered on places of worship erupted. Every year the matter comes to boil there during Hindu festivals with Muslims objecting to the use of the blaring loudspeakers used in the temple that disturbs their payers in the adjacent mosque.

As in the past, the tension this time too was building for some time and exploded with instances of stone throwing, looting and arson. This was retaliated through police firing killing eight people most of them Muslims.

The Minorities Commission fact-finding team that investigated the incident found that the police did not comply the rulebooks and fired above the waist as all the shots hit the victims directly on the upper parts of the body, suggesting its intention was to kill.

IG Police (Kanpur range) who headed the departmental inquiry too calls it a case of police high-handedness in his report. He says, sufficient evidence is there to prove that the situation could have been brought under control without the police firing if the administration acted with a little intelligence and responsibility.

The echoes Aligarh was heard in Vadodara a month later where five people were killed in the police firing. Here again the issue centered on a religious structure claimed as encroachment on road by the Vadodra Municipal Corporation.

However, the first survey carried out in 1912 by then ruler of Baroda Sayajirao Maharaj mention that the Muslim shrine was in existence for at least 200 years and its daily light (diya) and expenditure were borne by the Hindus.

Unless motives are attributed to its act, it does not stand to reason why Vadodra Corporation paid scant regard to the ancient place of worship and showed unnecessary haste in its demolition. The shrine was termed as ‘mini Babari masjid’ and was a target of attack at every communal riot that took place in Vadodra since 1969.

Ghani Qureshi, a prominent BJP Muslim leader of Vadodara corroborates this view. "The demolition of the shrine was a very well-planned conspiracy. The municipal corporation authorities had promised us that it would not be demolished. We were working upon a compromise formula but they backed out and simply razed it to the ground."

Muslims residents of the area that resisted the demolition were hit with police bullets leaving five of them dead and scores injured. A day after the demolition, a Muslim youth was burnt alive in his car by a fanatical Hindu mob.

It was Supreme Court injunction that ordered swift action by the central government to control the situation; otherwise the Vadodra incident had all the trappings of the post Gondra state-sponsored communal genocide of 2002.

Both in Aligarh and Vadodra, it’s ominous that the fatalities could have been avoided if the local administration tactfully handled the situation. However, in the two cases tend to suggest that it was a well thought out plan to carry out a state sponsored communal program against the unarmed protesters.

A cursory look at the history of the communal riots in the country suggests that Aligarh and Vadodra are not isolated event but part of the larger picture of the communal program that’s being carried out intermittently.

Riots after riots has similar story to tell. The communal violence invariably flares up around religious centers; the state administration allows it to escalate. The extremists then go on the prowl unleashing an orgy of death and mayhem in connivance of the local administration. When enough damage is done and media pressure becomes unmanageable, the authorities put then their act together to control the situation.

The naked vote bank politics of consolidating the vote of the majority at the expense of destruction of the minority is the pet theme since last sixty years or so in India. This is a tried and tested formula in Indian politics to first create a sharp division in the society and then ride on the insecurity wave to romp home to power. Congress or BJP both are two sides of the same coin, so goes the saying.

Since communalism is one of the many tools on which politics centers around in India, no political party wants to get this eliminated altogether. Some may talk about its banishment from the society but those who see it is a holy cow of the electoral politics, want the communal pot to be kept burning.

It was a revolutionary call in many sorts, when the UPA government announced that it going to bring communal violence bill to stop the repeat of 2002 Gujarat. The promise held credibility because left that’s supporting the government too showed keenness to put a lid over this recurring crime. However, the UPA government having completed two years in office but still not keen on bringing the communal violence bill, give rise to the suspicion that it may be another case of an empty promise made for electoral gains.

However, if the government sources are to be believed, it’s not the real case. The parliamentary standing committee of the Home Ministry is currently discussing the bill. The discussions are centering around two contentious issues; can a communal situation in a state be dealt with by the central government without encroaching upon the state’s rights of maintaining law and order? Second, can the deployment of central forces be done independently or at the request of the state government and, in any case, can such forces act independently or do they act under the command of the state government?

Notwithstanding the rights of the states to be encroached upon, the fact remains that in the name of state autonomy and provinces exclusive right over 'law and order', the central government cannot remain a specter to the instances of communal violence taking place in a state.

Irrespective, of the delay in the bill, the central government should immediately bring out a statutory order that it would have the exclusive right to intervene in event of communal situation, and punish those who have been behind this heinous crime.

Its time for the UPA government to deliver the promises made. Further waste of time would be an invitation for another Aligarh or Vadodra to take place.
Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai, India. He can be contacted at

Motives behind Sankracharya’s arrest

Motives behind Sankracharya’s arrest
Syed Ali Mujtaba

The arrest of the Sankaracharya, Sri Jayendra Saraswati, of Kanchipuram mutt, a monastic order, has taken the nation by a storm. Interestingly, the Tamil Nadu police arrested the high priest on murder charges on the day of Deepawali, the most important festival, in the Hindu calendar, which symbolizes victory of light over darkness.

The head of the monastic order was charged for conspiring in the murder of a former official of his mutt who was killed in the temple premises in September 2004. The allegation against the seer is that he had serious differences with the manager over the financial management of the mutt, and when it become irreconcilable, he hired professional killers to eliminate him.

It is alleged that the seer had paid some other persons to make confessional statements before the police that in order to mislead the investigation. It was during the course of interrogation the police realized that those persons making confessional statements were only a cover up, and the actual conspirator was none other than the head of the Kanchipuram mutt, Swami Jayandera Sarwasti.

The high profile seer enjoys considerable support among the political leaders of the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), which led the previous national government, in India. Some very important persons figure is in the list of his devotees and a section of Hindu community see him as a revered figure.

Swami Jayendra Saraswati hit the national limelight, since he accepted to act a go between the Hindu and Muslim community, to resolve the temple- mosque dispute in Ayodhya. The issue became a major flash point in 1992, when Hindu fanatics pull down a 16th century mosque there, claiming it to be their temple.

The arrest of Sankracharya, therefore was not an ordinary event as it took many people by a surprise. There are various ways to look at his arrest; first, every one is equal before law, and no one can claim to have a partial treatment, even though he may be a religious head and may be enjoy an exalted position among his community. According to law, if a person is a murderer or a conspirator in a murder, he / she should get the same treatment what any perpetrator such crime deserves and there cannot be any discrimination on the basis of any ascription.

The other way to look at is that every one is innocent till proven guilty and no one has a right to disgrace anyone and pronounce him criminal on the basis of some statements. In this case, the accused is not an ordinary citizen, but a revered saint and the law enforcement agencies could have taken into consideration that his arrest would not only damage his reputation but also of his monastic order which has an ancient history. They should have come up with answers, whether they could retrieve him back his dignity if he was absolved from the charges framed against him. The best course could have been to consider the seer innocent till the legal formalities ran its course and the charges were proved to be true in the court of law.

Even as the opinion remains divided on the arrest of the Sankracharya, there are questions being raised as to why such haste was shown to take the seer into custody. There definitely must be some motive behind it, especially when hundreds of similar criminal cases are gathering dust and no arrest has ever been made. The question is being asked what prompted in this case to be so quick to take such a tough action?

Those looking for political motive say that it was a well-thought out plan by the ruling AIADMK party, which knew that its political repercussion would help rather than dim its electoral prospects in the coming elections in the state. The ruling party, which got a drubbing in the recent Lok Sabha polls, was not confident that the withdrawal of some of its policies, which had triggered its debacle, had allayed the apathy of the voters. In order to play down to the gallery, it ordered the arrest of Sankrachrya, to woo the anti-Brahmin votes, and thus conveying them that it has decided to shed its pro-Hindu image.

Playing the Dravidian card had become imperative for the ruling party because there was no way other than this it could regain its lost political ground. The results were quick for ever one to see, as the initial reaction to the arrest was explicit and all the Dravidian parties hailed the bold move and came on board with the ruling party on this issue.

The motive of the arrest is also seen as an attempt by the AIADMK to make a dent into the opposition alliance, which is so formidable, that it cannot take it headlong alone. This masterstroke was to reach out to some of the constituents of the opposition alliance to join its ranks on the Dravidian plank. The effort was to move those allies, which may feel disgruntled of not getting the adequate number of seats if they remain in the overcrowded alliance. Since this arrest has erased the ideological differences, which remained there, some opposition allies may consider switching sides for better political representation in the coming assembly election.

The other political reason attributed to this high profile arrest is that the ruling AIADMK party wanted to convey to the so called national parties that it is they who are dependent on the regional parties and not the other way round. It was also an open message to the national parties that no matter how strong they are, it is the regional parties who can call the shots, and they have no leverage in the affairs of the state.

It is also to give the so-called national parties a sound of their own music, which they not long ago utilized to crawl to power. The pain and agony, which now have come to hunt them was gift in return to those who have been mercilessly dishing it out to others by dividing the society in the name of religion. No wonder, the larger fall out of the arrest of Sankrachara was felt on those constituent who were once on the forefront of Hindutva campaign in the country.

Tamil Nadu opposition leader and the DMK supremo, M. Karunanidhi see personal motive of the Chief Minister Jayalalitha behind the arrest of Sankracharya. He says that ‘there were some personal matters between Sankracharya and Chief Minister, which had prompted her to take such an action. The Dravidian leader, who initially had praised the Chief Minister for her bold policies, raises the question why such haste was shown in this case, while there are many other such cases on which the government was sleeping over?

The motive mill continues to churn out reasons for the arrest of the Hindu seer. One theory that is making round is that Chief Minister Jayalalitha has a fascination for remaining in the national limelight. Though this can be said about other politicians as well, but any one who has followed her political career can say with authority that there is some truth in such assumptions. The siren of Tamil movie, ever since has entered into the political arena, has been in the thick of publicity for right or wrong reasons.

There can be no end to the attributions to the seer’s arrest, but on an ethical plain it can be said that the way he was taken into custody and put behind the bars was not in a good taste. The government could have pursued the same legal formalities by keeping him under police surveillance either in the mutt premises or elsewhere. This could have avoided the negative publicity, and the public outcry, which followed his arrest.

However, ethics and morality is a rare commodity in our country, to expect it from those who are in the business of serving the people would be asking the fish to remain out of water. The arrest of Sankracharya suggests that the scarcity of moral virtues has entered the domain of spiritualism as well.
Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at


Will Godhra probe panel unravel all the mysteries?

Will Godhra probe panel unravel all the mysteries?
Syed Ali Mujtaba

The constitution of a high level committee to probe the fire incident at the Sabarmati express train that killed 58 persons at Godhra, Gujarat, on 27th February 2002, by the United People’s Alliance (UPA) government is a welcome step.

The incident triggered a backlash in Gujarat and in a retaliatory action, Hindu marauding Hindu mob, killed more than 3000 Muslims in an organized communal program that continued unabated for next three months in the state.

The primary blame lies on the Gujarat administration, which did little to stop the communal mayhem that erupted in the wake of Godhra train carnage. The irony is instead feeling guilty, the Chief Minister of the state, Nrander Modi is reported to have justified the post Godhra riots as a logical fall out of the train fire tragedy.

There are various theories floated citing the causes of the fire incident of the ill-fated Sabarmati express train. One such, theory did round was that the Hindu devotees who were returning by this train from Ayodhya pilgrimage, abducted a Muslim girl from the Godhra platform and took her into the S-6 coach and then shut the compartment from inside. This open vandalism provoked some Muslims of the area to stop the train to rescue the girl, but since they could no way open the compartment, burnt it down in a fit of anger.

The girl theory, which initially spread like a wild fire proved subsequently proved to be fictitious as it was discovered that some cyber savvy persons who concocted this story circulated it to a large number of people through the e-mails. Even though there was no iota of truth in this story, there are many people who believe this to be true as the most plausible reason for prompting such a heinous crime.

The next theory that made rounds was that the Hindu devotees misbehaved with some Muslim hawkers on the Godhra railway platform, pulling their beard and religiously abusing them, that sparked resentment among the minority community. Muslims, in an instant reaction stopped the train at the outer signal of the Godhra station, which lay close to their habitat and tried to set the coaches on fire occupied by those rowdies’ elements.

In a press conference, the BJP General secretary Arun Jaitely has come up with another theory saying that the “culprits” had purchased petrol in Godhra the day before the incident and when they were unable to throw the petrol in the S-6 coach, they got into S-7 coach and slit open the protective barrier that divided the two coaches, by sword, and then poured petrol into S-6 coach to set it on fire.

Justice G.T Nanavati and Justice KG. Shah, heading the inquiry commission of the Godhra train fire carnage conducted a mock drill of the incident and actually watched whether petrol could be thrown from the ground position at the eight feet high compartments and could fire be ignited to burn down the compartment.

The action replay revealed that it was impossible to pour any inflammable from that position into the coach and by that action fire cannot be ignited inside the coach. The other inference drawn was that it was impossible for a frenzied mob to procure such a large amount of inflammable in such a short notice to set the train on fire.

In the light of the inferences drawn by the ongoing inquiry commission, the theory propounded by Arun Jaitely sounds unconvincing. First, can such a thick iron sheet that divides the two compartments be slit open by a sword?

Second, Jaitely’s sword theory points the incident to be the handiwork of the frenzied mob that assembled at the railway signal in an instant reaction to the provocation on the Godhra railway platform. However, his contention that petrol was purchased a day in advance points towards a preplanned strategy to the crime. If the two-pieces of information are seen in a sequence then it is difficult to co-relate them together.

As a result of these unconvincing arguments, the Godhra fire incident remains shrouded in mystery. A renewed interest has been generated after the constitution of high-level probe panel that it would unravel the truth of the Godhra incident.

The high level committee has a big job in hand. First of all it has to clearly establish as to what prompted the ‘culprits’ to resort to such a crime? If the provocations at the Godhra railway platform were to be the reasons, then can a mob that had assembled in few minutes or say in hours could perform such a crime?

How can the inflammable be brought in such a short notice to the venue of the crime? For argument sake, even if it was procured, in what way it was transported from the approach road to the railway compartment? Obviously, the truck tanker could not be driven to the railway tracks.

How, the closed compartment was opened for pouring the inflammable, can such a job be done by a sharp edge weapon alone? If all this is accepted, then how much time it took to perform such a crime? Obviously it’s not a few minutes job. If all this took long enough time then why did not the passengers tried to escape from the compartment and chose to be burnt alive in a closed carriage? These are some question, which are still abegging answers. If the high level commission wants to probe the preplanned angle of the incident then it has to establish the motive behind such a planning, as to who all stand to gain from breaching the communal peace of the state? The probe panel also has to establish as who all have executed the crime and how?

If it was the work of the anti- national elements, then who were those behind it? Was it Pakistan’s ISI, that hatched this conspiracy to the malign India at home or aboard or was there some local or regional political elements behind it who tend to gain by breaching the communal peace to reap political dividends from such an outrage?

What benefit the poor Godhra Muslim would have by planning and executing such a crime? Could the provocation at Godhra railway station be the reason of the crime of such magnitude? If it was a work of anti- national elements then why only Godhra Muslims have been arrested and people of other community have not even be put of the suspicion radar?

The Godhra train tragedy is one of the modern day mysteries, which remain covered up from public eye. So far no one has yet been able to convincingly establish the fact as to what prompted such a heinous crime to take place in the first instance and who were the real culprits behind this and how this dastardly act was performed.

It is still too early to say whether the high-level probe panel would unravel all the mysteries surrounding the train carnage. If past history of such probe panels are an indication, then this one too does not deserve any great expectations.

However dismal, the hope remains that this panel would be different from the others and would eventually separate the sheaf from the grain. The Godhra truth may be any an eye opener for the countrymen if those behind this diabolic crime are really exposed.
Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai, India. He can be contacted at


Friday, November 23, 2007

The Muslim factor in Sri Lanka

The Muslim factor in Sri Lanka
Syed Ali Mujtaba

The talks between the Sri Lankan Government and the Tamil Tigers, the first round of which ended in Thailand recently, signal the end of two decades of armed conflict in the country. They took place in the background of several confidence building measures including the lifting of government embargo to Tamil-held territories and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) honouring the ceasefire for more than six months.

The talks, facilitated by the Norwegian peace brokers, agreed to move gradually in a structured manner to tackle the easier issues first and move on difficult ones later. The fact that they agreed to meet twice before the end of this year suggests that the realisation has dawned upon the LTTE and the Sri Lankan government that the path of conflict resolution lies only in dialogue.

The first round of talks mainly focused on the rehabilitation of the north and the east, resettlement of the internally-displaced people, de-mining and troops withdrawal. Though the finer details of the talks have not been made public, the cordial manner in which it concluded suggests that some agreement must have been reached in otherwise seemingly simplistic issues.

At the end of the talks LTTE' chief negotiator Anton Balasingham said that through the talks, the Tamils are seeking "autonomy and self governance" in North and East of Sri Lanka. This could be worked out "if both the parties agree to a particular political system and a model of government." Balasingham added that LTTE's demand for self-determination and homeland is not separatist.

He said the LTTE is only seeking international legitimacy for the administrative structure in the North and East of Sri Lanka. The Tamil ideologue added that if these demands were not met, then total separation from Sri Lanka would be the only option left for them.

Going by mood in the first round of talks in Thailand, it appears that the Sri Lankan government is showing a great degree of flexibility. After the talks, head of the government delegation, G L Pieris sounded cautiously optimistic when he said that it is possible to fulfil LTTE's aspiration maintaining the unity of the country. But how far the Sri Lankan government may actually go in assuaging the Tamil aspirations can only be known after the conclusion of the final rounds of talks.

The LTTE's demand of recognition of the North and East as their homeland is subject to its coming to terms with the Muslims who form a sizeable section of the population in Eastern province and if rehabilitated, in the Northern peninsula too. They feel they would be placed in a vulnerable situation if the Sri Lankan security forces pull out in the North and East, bringing them under LTTE rule and exposing them to harassment and extortion at hands of the rebels.

In Sri Lanka's ethnic profile, Sinhalese Buddhists make up for 70 per cent of country's 20 million people. Tamils, who are mainly Hindus, constitute about 15 per cent, while Muslims, forming about 7 per cent, are the third largest group. Christians, accounting for about 7 per cent of the total population, are found among both Tamils and Sinhalese.

Given the sensitive ethnic balance in Eastern Sri Lanka, the Muslim factor has become an important factor in the conflict resolution. As many as 31.5 per cent of them live in Eastern province concentrated in the Amparai and Batticaloa districts. They speak Tamil like their Hindu compatriots, but project themselves as a distinct ethnic and cultural identity. Muslim majority Eastern district have been described by analysts as the weakest link in the peace process.

Muslims, who had always voted for the Tamil Parties late till eighties, changed their stance since the LTTE started its armed struggle in 1983. Their insecurity has made them closer to successive governments in Colombo and led them to demand separate administrative units tantamount to what LTTE is demanding from the Sri Lankan government.

This earned them the wrath of the LTTE which, in 1990, ordered them to leave the Northern provinces. As a result, 50,000 Muslims were displaced from the Jaffna peninsula and they have been living in tents and shanty towns in other parts of the country. It may be made clear here that LTTE did not targeted the Muslims due to religious bigotry but only to eliminate elements unsympathetic to the cause of the Eelam.

But things are changing gradually. Ever since the ceasefire was announced earlier this year, the LTTE has taken a number of steps to win back support of Tamil-speaking Muslims. Those wanting to return to the Northern provinces have been guaranteed safety.

In an agreement signed on April 13 between Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) leader Rauf Hakeem and LTTE chief Velupillai Prabhakaran, the LTTE vowed not to harass Muslims in the East. But this promise proved to be shortlived as anti-Muslim violence erupted in Muttur town in the Eastern district of Trincomalee on May 6. Then in late in June, a communal conflagration erupted at Valaichchenai town and a few other places in the East. Although there has been no incident since then, a fear has set in among the Muslims raising the doubts about their safety under LTTE dominated administrative rule.

To alley their fears, LTTE supremo Prabhakaran has recognised Rauf Hakeem as the leader of Muslim community and agreed that SLMC should represent the interests of Muslims in the peace talks. Hakeem, who was part of the government delegation in the first round of talks, is reported to have said that there are implications for the Muslims in every issue that will figure in the future discussions. He is to represent his party and community in subsequent rounds of negotiations and is scheduled to meet Prabhakaran before the second round of talks to discuss the issue relating to Muslims in the unfolding peace process.

In the Sri Lankan ethnic jigsaw puzzle, there are two knots that have to opened: one between the LTTE and the Sri Lankan government, the second between the Tamils and the Muslims. How they are going to untied remains to be seen in the subsequent rounds of the peace talks.
Mujtaba is a television journalist based in Chennai

Tale from South Asia: "Yaa Warris"

Tale from South Asia: "Yaa Warris"
Syed Ali Mujtaba

I met one interesting character in the passenger train on travel from Shiekhpura to Gaya in the Indian state of Bihar. He had no marks on his forehead nor he had any tuffet hair on the back head.

From top he covered himself with woolen cloths but below he was dressed in dothi, the kind Gandhiji wore, and that’s how I could identify his religion. He was with two Muslim guys.

They were Muslims because one had beard, the other was clean-shaven but was wearing ‘pajama’. A kid sat in the Muslim guys lap and was wearing modern cloths. The Muslim guy was giving toffee and the Hindu guy was cuddling the kid. I cannot make out his religion of the child but guess he was related to the Hindu gentleman.

The most peculiar thing about this gentleman was he whispered "Yaa Warris" intermittently.
This was just as some Christian may say “Oh Jesus,” or Muslim "Ya Allah" or some modern day north Indian Hindu picked make their obvious statement saying “Jai Sri Ram,” this person seems to have picked up the fancy for "Yaa Warris" that was on his lips all the time.

He looked to me an interesting character and I was watched his activities minutely. Suddenly his mobile phone started ringing and instead of saying hello, he yelled "Yaa Warris." He closed his conversation in the same way.

When the train reached the bridge on the river Phalgo, on the banks of which Gaya town or Bodh Gaya is situated, he stood up, and folded his hands to the river and bowed his head. I could see him chanting some mantra after which he sat down. He continued whisper "Yaa Warris." in regular intervals after that.

I was itching to unravel the mystery of "Yaa Warris” but I was shy not ask him anything as that could be personal and may put me in tight spot.

I came home and narrated this spectacle to my folks. They said this person could be follower of the Sufi saint Pir Warris Qlander of Nawada district whom Hindus and Muslims alike revere.
I realize these passengers had boarded the train from the same station. I was also told that a private coach operator from Nawada, who is a non-Muslim is also the follower of this Sufi saint. He owns a fleet of buses that has “Warris Piya” written in bold letters up in the front both in Hindi and Urdu. I remember seeing a few such buses in my last trip to the same place.

My fellow travelers in the train looked to me moderately educated as one could make out from their talks. They seem to be friends engaged in some petty business activity. Their dress said they were not so poor either. The most conspicuous thing about them was they were above the Hindu Muslim communal madness that’s ripping India apart. They had perfect understanding with each other and respected each other’s faith.

This was an eventful journey that I may like to remember for long. Still the sound of "Yaa Warris" rings in and the face of the gentleman who was whispering haunts my mind. I am tempted to acknowledge my fascination for this strange but wonderful unknown Indian."Yaa Warris".
Syed Ali Mujtaba is a working journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at

A Tribute to Bismilla Khan

A Tribute to Bismilla Khan
Syed Ali Mujtaba

Sehehnayee maestro Ustad Bismillah Khan, who was in Chennai, for one of his concerts, says music has no boundaries, no language; it is a message of pure love that is divine. In an exclusive interview, the Bharat Ratna was anguished over the way decline in the classical music has set in our country. He said given the pace in which the things have been moving, it seems time is not far away when for listening to our classical music we have to go abroad.

The legendry Sehehnayee player who was born in 1916 in a family of Sehehnayee players at the court of the princely state of Dumraon in Bihar narrated an incident, when he was offered car, house, servants’ money and even the nationality during a concert in Europe. ‘But I refused all of them and in turn asked my admirer ‘can he gets him ‘Gangaji’, the river which flows near his home in Benaras, the holy city of the Hindus, and with whose water he does ablution before praying every day.

The maestro had some words of wise advice to the lovers of the Hindustani classical music. ‘It is the duty of every elder to teach the children their musical moorings’, he says adding that ‘everything may not be learnt, but at least the basics could be grasped which is essential to understand the soul of any music.’ He said earlier there was a lot of taboo to learn music but now things have changed for better.

The doyen of Indian classical music who has seen over seven decade’s fleeting past him held Sehehnayee first when he was probably five or six. He gave his first performance in the aristocratic city of Lucknow when he was barely 14. He said it was his uncle Allah Bux who blooded him in his family profession and was the greatest source of inspiration. Recalling his most memorable performances, Bismilah Khan said ‘it was playing on the ramparts of Red Fort on 15th August 1947 with Pandit Nehru and host of dignitaries listening’.

The octogenarian recalling his childhood said when was not playing Sehehnayee, he enjoyed swimming in the Ganges the most. He said this sport came to him naturally due to the proximity with the river. He attributes his ability to play Sehehnayee at this ripe age to swimming which requires strong lungs to blow the wind instrument.

Bismillah Khan is recipients of many awards including the highest the country can offer. He has toured almost all the seven continents and one of the few surviving treasures trove which symbolises the composite culture of our country. He is so gentle and elements so mixed in him that anyone who has interacted with him may not hesitate to say, he is gem of a man. Perhaps that’s the reason Sehehnayee has become synonym with Ustad Bismillah Khan.

The lilting melody of Sehehnayee lifted the spirits of Chennaits, when the king of the instrument Ustad Bismillah Khan played “Kajri,” usually synonym with coming of rains and starting of agricultural season in north India when farmers dance in joy. He was accompanied by his youngest sons on tabla and host of other musicians at a concert organised by Amir Kushro Sangeet Academy.

Ustad played four pieces which left the audience mesmerised. Every composition was greeted with elation and reverence by the music loving audience of the city. It was not just the music that had hooked the audience, but also Ustad’s witty remarks that left the Chennaites in splits.

In one of the rare moment’s music composer A.R Rehman facilitated the maestro with Amir Khusro life time achievement award. Ustad in an impromptu remark told Rehman; ‘where were you, so far I have just heard of you, it is for the first time I am meeting you.’ ‘Nevertheless i take your name five times a day during my prayers, he quipped.’ Rehman is one of the names of the God. He showered his blessings on the young musicians and said ‘he prays that God gives you a long life to attain the great heights in the music world.’

To this Rehman shot back; ‘even I take your name any number of times in a day, by saying Bismillah, before starting anything new. Bismilah means,‘I start in the name of Allah.’ Rehman said that while listening to Ustad he felt crying, as so griping were his compositions. He said he was amazed that at 86, Ustad is playing the instrument like a kid. He recalled, trying to learn playing Sehehnayee, but gave it up within a week finding it too difficult to handle.
Bismillah Khan said he has received any number of awards by many eminent personalities, but it is a great feeling for an artiste to receive an award from another artiste.

Paying obeisance to the living legend, the revered Tamil music composer, M.S. Vishvanathan touched the feet of the Ustad by his head. He lauded the maestro’s aura saying “Khansahib is an ocean and we are just droplets.” Bismillah Khan who had no clue of the language said that though he has not heard the Tamil musician, but feeling the pulse of the audience, he believes that he must be a big man.

Amir Kushro Sangeet Academy, the organiser of the concert is engaged in promoting Hindustani Music in Chennai. It helps young artists by providing them a platform and also financial assistance to those who are in need in old age. AKSA annually holds a concert featuring a prominent Hindustani classical Musician.
Syed Ali Mujtaba is a television journalist based in Chennai and can be contacted at

Rail Budget: high on populism

Rail Budget: high on populism
Syed Ali Mujtaba

There are three things that interest a common man about the annual Railway Budget: ticket rates, freight rates and new trains that may provide travel options. The Railway Budget 2007-08 has taken care of all the three anxieties and with so much of applause all around, no one has really gone to look deep into the pitfalls of the Budget. The fact remains, there are many aspects of the Railways that need attention but have not been seriously touched up in this Railway Budget.

Considering 18,000 kilometers of backlog for the track renewal work, the funds allocated for it seem inadequate. The Budget fails to take cognizance, how additional funds could be made available for the smooth functioning of the track renewal work.

Indian Railways have over one-lakh bridges in its system. More than fifty per cent of these bridges were built during the British rule. Railway safety committee recommended immediate rebuilding of at least 300 bridges that are in bad shape. The Railway Board some time back had announced the need of rehabilitation of weak bridges and in fact talked about engaging experts to thoroughly examine them and take up the rehabilitation work on top priority. What progress has been made in this direction, the Rail Budget maintains a stoic silence.

Then there is large number of unmanned level railway crossings that continues to be prone to accidents. The Budget has not talked about how much money it may allocate to close such unmanned crossing. The fact remains that every now and then we hear about rail accidents at the unmanned railway crossings does not move the railway authorities to take serious note of it.

The ten-year corporate safety plan prepared by the Railway Board appears to have been given a go-bye. The plan contained signaling and electrical works involving safety of signaling on single and multiple tracks.

No progress is reported in the Budget about the automatic electronic breaking system to prevent headlong collision between trains that was being developed by the RDSO.

In the cyber age, where speed matters and travel time counts a lot to the passengers, it seems the efforts to introduce high-speed trains have been given up. There is no talk of bullet trains in this Budget.

The Budget does not talk about what it has done with the relevant state government to ensure the safety of the passengers. Law and order problem continue to persist on the running trains. The Delhi bound Tamil Nadu Express and GT Express from Chennai some time witness Bajrang Dal activists boarding the train at Nagpur up to Bhopal and unnecessarily harassing the passengers.

Then there are biscuit gangs that operate in certain sections of the Southern Railway that decamp with the valuables after making friends with the passengers and offering them biscuits laced with sleeping pills. The Railway Budget has not talked about how many robberies and decoities have taken place in the calendar year in the trains. Its silent about the efforts the Railways have made to solve such cases.

It is glaring to the passengers travelling in train the amount of corruption that exists in the Railways. The ticket collectors and the TTs fleece the passengers that do not have reserved seats. One has to look at the ‘dowry rate’ of such jobs in order to understand the volume of ill-gotten wealth such persons make in such jobs. No wonder railway jobs are coveted ones and sometimes sold for a price. The Railway Budget does not talk about how many corrupt employees the organisation have nabbed in the calendar year and what safety mechanism it has developed to plug the growing corruption in the Railways.

It appears that more emphasis is given for introducing air-conditioned trains for common man in this Budget. Scores of new trains have been introduced without giving any careful thought about the availability of the fit coaches and back up rake maintenance facilities. No one knows whether there are sufficient engines available to run the new trains that have been announced.

Nothing much has been said about the upgrading of passenger facilities at the major railway stations, even though they continue to hog the limelight for the right or the wrong reasons. Why can’t the major railway stations to have airport kind of security to avoid any more bomb blasts in such places?

With the roads condition in India so appalling and the air travel so expensive the passengers have little choices other than to prefer travel by the Railways.

Indian Railways has total 63,465-route kilometres of track making it second largest railway system in the world after China. It has 7133 stations and operates 8,520 passenger trains. It transports 13 million passengers and carries 1.5 million tones of freight per day. It is the second biggest employer in the country after the defence forces with 15,45,300 people serving the Railways.

With a track record so impressive, an efficient and profitable railway system is mirror of the country’s economy. In achieving the laudable goals, the authorities should bear in mind that instead of populism, the safety related works should be top priority to maintain the perfect health of the Railways that’s India’s lifeline.

In trail of 2004 Tsunami near Chennai

In trail of 2004 Tsunami near Chennai
Syed Ali Mujtaba

{Tsunami pictures taken in Thailand.They were sent to me by a tennis buddy.Aren't they truly spectacular?}

I was awe struck by the kind of destruction left behind by the December 26, 2004 Tsunami on the Coramandal coast as I drove some distance on the East Coast road shortly after that event. Here are some of impressions of that catastrophe that linger on.

A random count tells that there are about 10 prominent beach resorts that dot the East Coast Road from Chennai to Mahabaliupram. Hopping in and out, I could say that each of them was hit by the Tsunami the most badly affected being the Tamil Nadu Tourism Development Corporations resort. The water there had gone inside the cottages and some of its places were having knee-deep water.

The port town Mahabaliupram looked battered and lonely. Here the killer wall of wave had created havoc. A shopkeeper, who survived the tragedy and was putting his trade back, described with unutterable shock what he saw on the morning of the Black Sunday.

A huge wall of seawater suddenly reared up, as tall as the light-posts around the he shore- temple arena, where the annual dance festival is held, and then dashed down to receded, leaving a trail of destruction in its wake.

The shops lining the lane to the beach of Mahabalipuram were all gone. This included the stalls set up by the Tourism Department. The long wall of stone raised on the north east of the shore-temples, acted a buffer for the seventh century monument. Thanks to it, the beautiful, temple remained intact, serene and misty as ever. The water flooded the nearby "five rathams," the other tourist spot in the port city.

Moving beyond Mahabalipuram, is Kalpakkam where Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research (ICGAR) is located. Opposite to it is the Kalpakkam atomic nuclear power plant. In wake of tsunami striking, the Kalpakkam, the atomic power plant was briefly shut down. Local say water dashed down the wall of the compound of the ICGAR and damaged the hospital located there. Costly equipment like, the ultra sonic scanners and dentist chairs were all submerged in water.

Kalpakkam accounted for the majority of the deaths. The toll here was put at 108, including 48 women and 31 children, most of them in Kalpakkam township.

Not far from the Kalpakkam township is, ‘Sadras’, a shore village that has a Dutch Fort. The fort locally called as 'Pudupattinam' stands in the full view, high above the sand dunes, remained intact undeterred by the killer Tsunami.

Recalling the event, the local people of Sadras, said they first saw water too close to their habitats. They grabbed their belongings and started for the Fort. A hundred or more of them had collected inside the fort, which was overflowing with water. No rescue reached them and they had to experience an entire night of hardship.

A total of 30 fishermen colonies on a 40 kms stretch of Kalpakkam- Sadras were devastated, five of them totally disappeared. It was learnt that some 150 fishermen, who ventured out to sea during night before the Sunday night were missing.

Eyewitness said that many people living near the shore ran for the road leading to a temple called Thirukazhukunram, that’s located on a hilly area close by. They got into the lorries parked usually in the villages for the night in between shifts carrying material for construction at Kalpakkam and drove to the hilltop to take refuge.

The government stepped in for evacuating people only late on Monday afternoon. Many had to leave behind their cattle and poultry, in search of safety, the local said.

Even though the rescue and relief operation was in full on full swing, barely few hours after that it what seems obvious was it may take a long time for every thing to return to normalcy.

Similar scene and stories were waiting ahead of me all along the Cormandal coast, but I preferred to return to Chennai before the sunset.

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

Has Woman Movement in India come of Age?

Has Woman Movement in India come of Age?
Syed Ali Mujtaba

Has Woman Movement in India come of Age? Yes at least that’s what the poster exhibition on women movement in India reflects depicting the story of a silent revolution taking place in the country.

The Poster woman exhibition that opened up this week at the Lalit Kala Akademi, New Delhi has a collection of nearly 1,500 posters, representing the women's movement in the country from the 1970s.

The posters visually map a history of the women's movement and some of the major campaigns that it tracks are violence against women, more specifically domestic violence, the anti-dowry and anti-rape campaigns, sexual harassment, literacy, health and reproductive rights, environment, religion and communalism, gender equality, rights of all kinds-land rights, rights of domestic workers, Dalits, working women, etc.

Some interesting insights are thrown up in these posters as to how ordinary women use their creative talents and artistic genius to disseminate information, create awareness, and generate consciousness about their life and work, their hopes and dreams, their struggles and achievements.

One could find a full story how handicrafts are used as an expression of women's sense of themselves. Women artisans from Bihar have produced a bedspread that documents the history of women from a fishing community. These embroidered figures tell the history how some of woman in aid with a woman help group were able to gain self-confidence in a past couple of years.

The entire exercise has been possible due to efforts made by Zubaan, an imprint of Kali for woman, India’s first feminist publishing house ( ‘Zubaan has been working on this project since 2004, and we are pleased that we can finally bring this wonderful exhibition,’ says its spokesperson Jaya Bhattacharji.

‘Collecting and documenting the posters has been hard work, but we've enjoyed the journey-and along the way we've learned a lot about Indian women's history too,’ she says.

Jaya narrates that the whole exercise would not have been possible without the active participation of many women's groups and individuals all over India whom Zubaan contacted to collect hundreds of posters. After the preliminary selection at the regional level, posters came to Zubaan for final screening and documentation. These were then sent for digitalization to ensure the best production values, she adds.

The Poster Woman exhibition was formally to be inaugurated by Vina Mazumdar and Shah Jehan Apa, two of the key woman activists of Delhi.

The exhibition will be traveling to different cities over the next few months in the country. It will open at the Karnataka Chitrakala Parishad, Bangalore, 8-14 November 2006. It will then travel to Chennai in early December. The Poster Women thereafter will be making its journey to Mumbai, Hyderabad and Calcutta as well.

Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He chanced to see Poster Woman exhibition during his visit to New Delhi. He can be contacted at

'GangaaJal' Unstitches Baghalpur Blinding Wounds

'GangaaJal' Unstitches Baghalpur Blinding Wounds
Syed Ali Mujtaba

In otherwise insipid trappings of good verses evil of Indian cinema, Prakash Jha’s latest movie "GangaaJal" raises the issue whether the law enforcer can break the law to correct the ills of society. The movie tries to glorify evil for societal good and in the process triggers a national debate whether bad could be good or not? But it seems country has no time to look beyond the nose and remains busy debating mandir-masjid, terrorism-counter terrorism problems.

Contrary to expectations, a very innocuous debate was generated on “cultural policing”, when the movie was released in Bihar. Supporters of Chief Minister’s brother, Sadhu Yadav vandalised some cinema halls in Patna, objecting to the name of the villain who they said was deliberately kept to malign their leader. The supporters of Sadhu Yadav actually petitioned a court banning the movie but later withdrew at the behest of Bihar’s strongman Laloo Yadav.
Coming back to the movie set in the terrain of eastern Bihar and revolves around infamous Bhaghalpur blinding case of 1979-80, which had then shaken the nation by surprise.

"GangaaJal" attempts to celluloid a larger than life size story about police action in Bhagalpur and adjoining districts where operation code named "GangaaJal" was launched. This meant criminals when caught had their eyes splashed with acid rendering them immobile rest of their life, never to commit any crime again.

One of the 31 victims of the Bhagalpur blinding case, who survives narrates how he was taken to a secluded place and was told by the police that since he had committed a sin he need to be washed clean. He said police told him that gangajal (acid) was brought for him he should wash his eyes (headlights) with that. The victim adds that before he could do anything, acid was poured into his eyes. Since then everything has changed, the young criminal, now an old man, survives on a merger sum of Rs 500 hundred paid to him as compensation by the state government.

Bhagalpur prison was not the isolated place where such an incident had taken place. In fact, there were seven or eight police stations in the same district from where similar incidents were reported. It was extended to few other districts like Munger too. The villagers, of that region, buoyed by police justice, meted out the same treatment when they managed to capture some criminals then. Reports of making criminals permanently impaired were not so uncommon in those days in Bihar. It was only after the hue and cry by the judiciary about the blinding that such cases ceased to exist.

Even though many may not approve the Bahagalpur blinding case and many human rights activists may call it criminal, the fact remains when the case broke out in 1979-80, there was a massive public sympathy for the police officer who had had been suspended on these charges. Residents of Bhagalpur took out rallies in defence of the police officers saying their deterring act brought some respite into their daily sufferings. There was social approval for those resorting to such measures to prevent crime in the society.

In order to understand the reasons for Bhagalpur blinding, one has to understand the social nuances of Bihar in early seventies. The state was in turmoil due to the civil disobedience movement launched by Lok Nayak Jayprakash Narayan against the Congress government. People came out on to the streets, student’s boycotted classes, workers stopped going to the factories, hartal and bandh became order of the day. It was street fighting days in Bihar till the national emergency was proclaimed in 1975.

There was an uneasy calm built in those two years of emergency but the signal of gathering storm was ominous. The momentum generated from Bihar yearned for change all through the north India. This crystallised in form of a wave in favour of Janata party which swept Congress out of power in 1977.

However, the post emergency period also saw the rapid growth of crime and corruption which was more pronounced in Bihar. There was a general decline in the political and administrative system. Bihar instead of transformation clung to the feudal and caste moorings. Violent clashes with the groups and caste undergoing social transformation often started hogging headlines. This was the beginning of the Jungle raj in Bihar.

Criminals became the lap dogs of the politicians who gave them licence to commit crime. They were assured that even being caught they would be released without impunity, as it is the political clout which matters in the end. This gave rise of robberies, docities and even killings in the state. All this added on to the general sufferings of the people who remained silent spectators and strangely becomes accomplice in the brutalities that police indulge by launching operation "GangaaJal."

When the news of Bhagalpur blinding case broke, apart from usual noises being made and guilty police officer suspended, nothing actually happened more. The case was buried and guilty officers were neither charge-sheeted nor punished. When media broke story, state’s top brass claim they did not know about it, (which is very unlikely) the fact is such an operation could never take place without their tacit approval.

Whatever may be the antecedents, Bihar administration quickly swung into action, as happens in all the Hindi movies, when judiciary reprimanded it, ending one of the goriest incidents of state crime. The Bhagalpur blinding case had made criminal jurisprudence history by becoming the first in which the Supreme Court had ordered compensation for violation of basic human rights.

In "GangaaJal" director Prakash Jha has assembled Ajay Devgan, Mohan Agashe and Gracy Singh, among others, to explore the uneasy relationship between the police and society, exemplified by this dark chapter in Bhagalpur’s crime history. The film focuses on a police officer’s moral dilemma on the short-cuts in crime control.

Prakash Jha is known for portraying deeply disturbing expositions of the society and "GangaaJal" is no exception. The most provocative part of the movie is society’s ambivalent position on the blinding issue. Jha leaves for the audience to decide whether recourse to evil for societal good is right or wrong. "GangaaJal" definitely is a digression in otherwise hackneyed plots of India cinema.

Syed Ali Mujtaba is a television journalist currently working in Chennai. He hails from Bihar and acctualy has witnessed some of the blinding incident near Bhagalpur. He can be contacted

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Sri Lanka- Muslim aspirations cannot be ignored

Sri Lanka- Muslim aspirations cannot be ignored
Syed Ali Mujtaba

As Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga and Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe are engaged in a continued feud over the handling of peace process with the LTTE, a new twist has emerged over the ethnic question in Island nation.

The Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) has constituted a high level committee to prepare a blueprint on behalf of the Muslims for an agreement with the Government as well as the LTTE to establish a separate regional administrative unit in the eastern province of the country.

The SLMC has alleged that the LTTE has failed to give them due importance in the Interim Self-Governing Authority (ISGA) which it had proposed to the Government as a counter-proposal to administer the eight districts of the North-East region. This has compelled them to spell out their own course of action.

In Sri Lanka’s ethnic profile, Muslims constitute about 7 per cent of the country’s 20 million population. They constitute about 33 per cent in the eastern province with higher concentration in Amparai and Batticaloa districts. They speak Tamil but would like to be recognised by their religious and cultural identity. The eastern districts are described as the weakest link in the Sri Lankan peace process being hammered out between LTTE rebels and the Government of Sri Lanka.

Muslims have made it clear that they will not like to be part of the LTTE controlled North-East territory which is sought by the rebels as "Elam" or homeland of the Tamils. They have taken a stand that in any compromise formula; Muslims should be given a similar guarantee by the LTTE in the areas dominated by them, as what they are demanding from the Government of Sri Lanka.

The SLMC, leader Rauff Hakim, who was recently in Chennai and is a minister in the Ranil Wickramasinghe’s Government, said that it was true that there was serious erosion of confidence among the Muslims in Sri Lanka as they were feeling marginalised in the peace process. He said that Muslims were angry with him because LTTE had flouted the commitment made to the SLMC to ensure the welfare of the community.

Hakim said it’s a reality that Sri Lanka is fast becoming a fertile ground of Muslim radicalisation. He reasons that the growing alienation among the Muslim youth is making them reactionary. He says the situation at the moment is not very alarming but do not rule out when it may go out of hand.

Hakim scotches off the rumour that Muslims are strengthening themselves militarily. He denied the existence of any Muslim Defence Force. He also said that there was no truth that Muslim Home Guards being armed to teeth. Hakim pointed out that they were merely civilians who were guarding the homes at night.

The SLMC leader says those engaged in the acts of extremism are not more than six to seven local groups and are not heavily armed. They have small following but warn that if they resolve to become human bomb then it’s going to be terrible scene out there. Hakim says that this dangerous trend should be stopped at once.

Commenting on peace negotiations, Hakim says that since the outset it had been specifically defined that Muslims would be represented in the talks as a separate delegation. However, this has not taken place. Hakim feels that there is a denial to the Muslims in the peace process as he has been attending the talks on behalf of the government and not as a leader of the SLMC. The Muslim leader said that peace talks are fast losing its credibility among the Muslims and appealed to the LTTE and the government that SLMC should be called separately for the talks when they resume.

The question of Muslim identity is well recognised in the Sri Lankan constitution, the Muslim leader said. Among the Tamil side of the divide, he said that moderate parties had always promised safeguards to the Muslims. The LTTE too had been of the same opinion and had specifically talked protecting Muslims interests at the Kilinochi news conference. This was further reinforced in an agreement with the LTTE chief V Prabhkran on April 30, 2002.

About India’s role in the Sri Lankan peace process, Hakim says Muslim felt betrayed by the Indo-Sri Lankan accord in 1987. The accord did not recognise the sentiments of the Muslims but he reasons that then Muslims themselves had to blame, as they did not had any political organisation to represent their case.

The SLMC leader adds that things have changed since then and India’s current stand that the interim solution should be the integral part of the final solution of any peace process is very balanced. India has made it clear that the de-facto status should not become de jure until it is acceptable to all section of Sri Lankan people.

Talking about the fall-out of Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination and India’s interest in Sri Lanka, Hakim says, it is true that India has lost its edge in Sri Lanka since that incident but there are two facets to this story. One that the LTTE has got emboldened that India would be reluctant to step into Sri Lanka. Secondly, it also feels threatened that India would never come to their side again. Notwithstanding these facts, India’s goodwill matters in the peace deal, says the SLMC leader, adding that it is New Delhi, which alone can bring the southern parties together and help kick-start the peace process.

As things stand in Sri Lanka, the LTTE has submitted a counter-proposal in response to government, which tantamount to asking for a de jure status of a separate homeland comprising north-east provinces of the island. The Sri Lankan Muslims-dominated eastern province has urged the Government to allow them to establish a unit exclusively by themselves with a view to maintain their identity.

All eyes are set on government’s response to the LTTE’s counter -proposal as well as to the Muslims’ demand. However, at the moment Sri Lanka’s President and Prime Minister are engaged in bitter feud over the handling of the peace process. The possibility of the dissolution of the Parliament looms large. Sri Lanka’s peace process has reached a critical stage.
Syed Ali Mujtaba is a working journalist based in Chennai. He can be contcted at

Indian saga of crime, sex and politics

Indian saga of crime, sex and politics
Syed Ali Mujtaba

It may sound strange, but it is normal to find crime, politics and sex going hand in hand in the Hindi heartland of India. A cocktail of one such combination came to light when a little known young poetess Madhumita Shukla was murdered in her apartment in Lucknow. Six months pregnant, Madhumitta was alleged to have relations with Amarmani Tripathi, a minister in Mayawati’s cabinet in Uttar Pradesh. The news attracted media headlines for all the juice and spice, a crime thriller has in its plot.

The reason for Madhumitta’s murder apparently has been because Amarmani’s legal wife did not approve her husband’s illicit relationship forcing the flamboyant BSP leader to choose between the two. Tirpathi, who has established criminal record, pleads innocence, saying the accusations were foisted on him to tarnish his political image.

However, his arguments do not convenience his critics as the poetess and the minister were seen together at several places in public. The domestic help in Madhumitta’s house too stand witness to this fact. He told private news channels, that, “the minister use to frequent the house and couple use to retire upstairs.” The telephone calls made in the past three days before the murder also scream that as many as thirty-five calls were exchanged between the deceased and the minister. Further, medical prescriptions too corroborate the liaison where Madhumitta was addressed as Mrs AM (Amarmani) or as Mrs Tirpathi.

With the TV channels playing the murder mystery with extra tinge and the opposition and public opinion mounting, the UP Chief Minister Mayawati had no option than to sack Tirpathi from her cabinet. However, his removal came with strings attached; the police officer who initially took up the case was transferred, the case instead of being handed over to the CBI was given to CB-CID, the state investigating agency.

The domestic help of Madhumita who was an eyewitness to the murder, was taken to custody with no trace of his whereabouts. Madhumita’s sister Nidhi, who initially alleged Tirpathi to be the main conspirator, backtracked from her own statement. The sample of foetus taken for the DNA test to ascertain the parentage of the child was being withheld. The whole thing looks as if is being hushed up till public memory fades.

A new twist to Madhumita murder mystery emerged, when the name of a student of IIT Kanpur was tossed up alleged to have married the poetess. A priest too has surfaced claiming to have solemnised one such wedding, a yea ago. The student is believed to have gone to Singapore for summer course and his parents vehemently deny such allegations.

It’s no secret that Amarmani Tirphati had contacts with Madhumita, it’s also an open fact that more than 35criminal cases are registered against Tirpathi, which include murder, extortion and abduction. However, with all the clinching evidences, the general perception is the minister will never be brought to book. With the investigating agency famous for being astonishingly slow, it is also a foregone conclusion Madhumitta’s case will prolong till public memory sleeps.

In context north India’s social and political milieu, Madhumita’s case is not an isolated one. The Indian Express reporter, Shivani Bhatnagar murder case too had a similar plot. Here an officer of Indian Police Services, R.K Sharma stands accused having an illicit affair with Shivai Bhatnagar. It’s alleged that R.K Sharma unable to carry on his relationship with Shivani plotted her murder.

Shivani murder mystery twisted, when R.K Sharma’s wife, screamed on television channels, alleging Union Minister Pramod Mahajan having illicit relationship with the deceased. However, with entire ruling coalition coming in defence of Mahajan, Mrs Sharma’s allegation was summarily rejected. The political career of Pramod Mahajan which had come under cloud retrieved and RK Sharma, who later surrendered in the court, languishes in Delhi’s Tihar jail.

It’s common in India to read cases like Madhumita and Shivani cropping up from time to time. In 1995, Naina Shani murder case took the nation by a storm. It was alleged that a small time Congress member, Sushil Sharma, murdered his wife Naina Shani, also a Congress activist, for having an affair. Sharma then tried to burn Naina’s corpse in a tandoor at a Delhi hotel, Ashoka Yatri Nivas, but was accidentally got noticed by the Delhi cops.

Interestingly, the cops bumped over the case unknowingly, when they detected huge smoke emerging from the hotel building and they helped extinguishing the blaze which was hitting the ceilings due large amount of Ghee being poured into the Tandoor. The cops found to their surprise, a charred body in the tandoor, when brought the fire under control, which actually belonged to Naina Shani.

The Naina Shahni murder case hogged media headlines for days together. Sushil Sharma who had fled Delhi by then was dubbed as Tandoor Sharma by India’s vibrant media. It was after days of manhunt he was finally arrested in Bangalore. Naina Shani murder case still has not been disposed even eight years has elapsed to that gory incident.

Something, closer to all these cases rocked the nation in late seventies too. This was the murder of India’s badminton star, Syed Modi, who was shot dead near Lucknow stadium while returning home after a practice session. All evidences to Syed Modi’s murder, point the involvement of Sanjay Singh, the scion of erstwhile Amethi estate and nephew of former Prime Minister Prime V.P Singh. It is alleged that Sanjay Singh having fancy for Modi’s wife Amita, hatched up a conspiracy to murder the badminton star.

National champion, Syed Modi, whose actual name was Mehdi but being misspelled in school records, became Modi, had a roaring affair with Amita, also a national badminton champion. They eventually got married and settled in Lucknow representing the Railways. This is when Sanjay Singh appears on the scene.

The CBI which investigated the case published startling letters to prove the illicit relation that had developed between Sanjay Singh and Amita Modi. It said that at some point Amita too had been enamoured by the wealth and clout of Sanjay Singh and her mother too favoured the Raja to a badminton star. The All England champion, Syed Modi who had no clue what was going on behind his back, became victim of politics, sex and crime game.

Syed Modi murder still remains mystery in the court of law even though every one knows the main conspirator of his murder. Amita Modi has now become Amita Singh and lives with Sanjay Singh as his second wife, first being Garima Singh. Sanjay Singh’s political career remains untarnished and he is a senior Thakur leader of Uttar Pradesh.

All the cases, whether it is Madhumita, Shivani Bhantanagar, Naina Sahni, or Syed Modi, have the common factor of strong male bias in the Indian society. Our country may have made phenomenal progress in certain areas but when it comes to the social values specially man- woman social status, India is still under the grip of feudal mindset. Even as skeletons continue tumbling out of the social closet, laced with stories of crime, politics and sex, the general perception over this social issue remains unchanged in India.

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


Madhumita Case: Amarmani, wife get lifer

Dehradun, October 24,2007: Former Uttar Pradesh minister Amarmani Tripathi, who has a reputation of using strong arm tactics in politics, was on Wednesday convicted in the murder of poetess Madhumita Shukla and sentenced to life imprisonment along with his wife Madhumani and two others.

Amarmani's cousin Rohit Chaturvedi and contract killer Santosh Rai were the other two convicted in the murder four years ago and given life imprisonment while Rakesh Pandey, who was accompanying Rai, was acquitted for lack of evidence.

Holding all the four guilty, District and Sessions Judge V B Rai gave one year additional imprisonment to the Samajwadi Party MLA for wrongful confinement and threats to one Anuj Mishra, who was forced to claim that he was married to the poetess in the aftermath of the murder. He also imposed a fine of Rs 50,000 each on the convicts.

Madhumita, who was pregnant at the time of murder, was having an affair with Amarmani, whose wife objected to it. She was murdered at her Lucknow flat on May 9, 2003 at the behest of Madhumani.

Though the CBI had demanded death penalty for all the accused, the court said the case was not the rarest of the rare and felt that the four deserved life punishment. It took only five minutes to pronounce the judgement.

The family of the slain poetess expressed dissatisfaction over the sentence and demanded capital punishment to the controversial politician.

Amarmani and three others were present in the court when the judge delivered the judgement.
He was taken back to the jail after the verdict and refused to react to it.

His lawyer Vijay Vikram said the former minister would appeal in the High Court against the judgement.

Amarmani, who was minister in the Mayawati government at the time of murder, joined the Samajwadi Party before a trial of strength in the state assembly later the same year.

Following outbreak of a huge controversy, the case was transferred to the CBI and he was arrested but there were allegations that he threatened Madhumita's sister Nidhi Shukla, who carried on a campaign demanding fair trial, and others of her family.

On the insistence of Nidhi Shukla, the case was transferred by the Supreme Court to Dehradun to ensure a free and fair trial.

CBI counsels Baljit Singh and Raj Mohan Chand said they were satisfied with the verdict.
They said they would examine the court verdict and decide whether to appeal against the acquittal of Prakash Pandey.

"Though we had demanded the highest penalty for all the accused, we are satisfied with the judgement," Chand said.

Nearly 79 witnesses appeared in the case in which the poetess' sister Nidhi and her servant Desraj were the key witnesses.

The family of the slain poetess demanded capital punishment for Amarmani and others convicted in the case.

Madhumita's mother Shanti Devi said the verdict was ‘not a relief’ for the family as Tripathi had on previous occasions ‘threatened and harassed’ them.

BJP and Congress in Uttar Pradesh welcomed the judgement. Former BJP state president Keshari Nath Tripathi said the court's ruling has sent a message that no one is above law.