Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Dreamers of people’s rule no more in India

Dreamers of people’s rule no more in India
Syed Ali Mujtaba

I was involved in a conversation with a gentleman on left politics in the country and the name of left radical leader Charu Mazjumdar came in for scrutiny and my friend in an impromptu manner dubbed him a left ‘Jihadi’ and showered heaps of abuse on him that triggered a wave of thoughts in me.

I was not a witness to that era but I heard and read about this left ultra leader was that in 1960s, he inspired a whole generation. A lot many people read his revolutionary ideas and were inspired by them. Some left their homes to live with the peasants in West Bengal to put Mazjumdar’s revolutionary theories into actual practice.

So what was so attractive about Charu Mazjumdar’s theory? According to Charu Mazjumdar, a semi-feudal, semi-colonial society like India can only be transformed through a protracted peasant war. At the end of such war the triumph peasants would ultimately seize the state power and establish a "new democratic revolution."

Charu Mazjumdar suggested forming a guerrilla unit to wage protracted peasant war and elaborated this in the "murder manual" how to launch "annihilation campaign."

The "annihilation campaign" would produce the new man who will defy death and be free from all thought of self-interest, professed According to Charu Mazjumdar.

In today’s context such ideas could at best be described as abrasive rhetoric and fetish but in 1960s it inspired many to sacrifice their lives to chase Charu's Mazjumdar’s dream.

This led to the creation of a utopian space called Naxalbari in West Bengal that became a social laboratory to test Charu's Mazjumdar’s hypothesis. A lot youth from well to do families attracted by the romance of brining a revolution in the country, plunged into organizing peasant revolution in the country.

With this began an era of violence, bloodshed and martyrdom unprecedented in the country. The breeze that blew from ‘Naxlbari’ shook the edifice of the Indian state

A surgical operation was done to extinguish the voices of dissent. It was Siddhart Shanker Rey, the then Chief Minister of West Bengal, who at the behest of Mrs Indira Gandhi, virtually hunted out those revolutionary dreamers.

Was such a harsh measure necessary, instead, if those revolutionary youth may have been rehabilitated, they may have contributed to the growth of the country in some way.

Now a last point. At a time, when our country is totally wedded to the capitalist mode of production, where are the thinkers like Charu Mazumdar gone, can any one point out a name that can match his appeal and aura in the contemporary India.

Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist, based in Chennai. He can be contacted at syedalimujtaba@yahoo.com

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Politics around Enemy Property Bill

The Politics around Enemy Property Bill
Syed Ali Mujtaba

Partition of British India and the creation of Pakistan in 1947 have left behind many legacies. More than 60 years have passed to that event but still there are many issues thats being sorted out and one such is the Enemy Property Act of 1968.

Enemy property is a term coined by the Indian government in the wake of 1965 war with Pakistan to confiscate all those properties that were left behind by the Indian Muslims who migrated to Pakistan in 1947 or thereafter. This was an act to deny the legal heirs to all such properties who due to their own free will chose to live in India.

The government of India promulgated the Enemy Property Act in 1968 and created a separate department called “Custodian” to take control of 2,186 enemy properties, with Uttar Pradesh having the maximum (1,468) followed by West Bengal (351), Delhi (66), Gujarat (63), Bihar (40), Goa (35), Madhya Pradesh (29) and Maharashtra (25).

The most funniest part is the 'Custodian' was located in Bombay and Calcutta, while majority of these properties existed in UP, Bihar and other Muslim minority provinces from where migration to Pakistan took place.

The Enemy Property Act of 1968, in one stroke, made the legal heirs of such properties ‘Prince Paupers.’ They were left with two courses of action either to fight a legal battle or get out of such litigation. This created a way for fresh wave of Muslim migration from India, mostly to Europe and North in search of Roti, Kapara and Makan (bread – cloth and shelter).

One such property belong to my mother's own sister, whose husband stayed back in India while his father who owned the property, and other relations migrated to Pakistan. The property called 'Jahaji Kothi' is a landmark building even today located at Kadam Kuan, Patna. One can give a google search to 'Jahaji Kothi, Patna' to know how important is that building.

I remember as a child, visiting my aunt's house and enjoyed running up and down the staircase there. When that property was taken over by the 'custodian' in 1968, my aunt and her family moved out. The property still stands in a depleted condition, and with no one interested in laying claim to it, its likely to come under the hammer, and with that the sentiments and memories attached with it will also vanish.

The Enemy Property Act of 1968 was blow to some, it was a heaven sent opportunity for many encroacher, mostly Hindus, who swooped on such properties and occupied them. They started behaving like the proprietors paying pittance as rent to the “Custodian” and may never like to part off with the loot.

The Muslim heirs of such properties now had to fight two legal battles, one with the ‘Custodian’ (government) to lay reclaim their property and second against those who encroached and occupied their properties.

A long drawn legal battle was fought for almost four decades in the Indian courts and finally the matter reached to the Supreme Court. In this, legal luminaries like Ramjethmalani, PC Chidambaram, Arun Jaitely appeared for the tents, while Salman Khursheed appeared against the tenets on behalf of Raja of Mahmoodabad,having claim to more than 1,000 listed properties.

Finally, the Apex Court in 2005, gave the ruling in favor of the Muslim heirs of the property, granting them the legal rights to their ancestral property.

In normal course, the government may have executed the court orders and handed over the properties to the legal heirs and settled the matter once for all.

However, the NDA government under pressure from non Muslim quarters intervened into this matter over ruling the Supreme Court’s order. It wants to bring an ordinance bill into the Parliament to once gain control over such properties and prolong the final settlement of the matter.

The NDA government had earlier tabled such ordinance bill in the lower house of Parliament but had to withdraw the same, in wake of the opposition from its own allies particularly by the RJD and Samajwdi party.

Mulayam Singh said his party will oppose the bill because 'it is part of the Congress' anti-Muslim policy'. 'It is a bill that would make Muslims second-class citizens and create an inferiority complex among them,' the Samajwadi Party leader said. He cited the Supreme Court order making 'clear that the custodian of such properties, the government, should return the properties to the inheritors'. The Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) supported the Samajwadi Party.

Now the ordinance bill is amended and cleared by the Cabinet. It is ready to be reintroduced in the winter session of the Parliament but is unlikely to sail through due to its controversial nature.

Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Shiv Sena are opposed any change in the bill. Leader of Opposition Sushma Swaraj has threatened to block the bill if the government brought in amendments.It is likely that the ordinance bill will be referred to a Parliamentary standing committee of for a review.

This means that the legal heirs of the Enemy property have to wait for some time more to get the custody of their ancestral property. Will they eventually get it or not get it is a matter of guess.

As we see this issue being shifted from the courts to the Parliament, it has opened up few fundamental questions that seek answers. The first pertains to India Pakistan relationship and the second relationship between the government and the Indian Muslims.

Let’s take up first question; are India and Pakistan still enemies? This has to be answered keeping in mind the sprit of Simla agreement 1972, Samjhauta Express was started in 1976 and Vajpaye visit to Lahore in 1998, rushing aids to flood victims to Pakistan in 2010. If the answer is candid NO, then the nomenclature “Enemy” to the property ordinance bill 2010, is a misnomer.

If the government is really committed to conduct the future dialogue with Pakistan in a friendly and positive framework, then it should consider dropping the tag “Enemy” with the property ordinance bill 2010. This would certainly be a confidence building measure in the future India- Pakistan dialogue.

The word is also offensive to hundreds of Indian Muslims beneficiaries who are being treated as offspring of “Enemy.” The definition of enemy excludes citizens of India and in this context the heir and successor cannot be termed as enemy and by virtue of this fact, the property of an Indian citizen can not be termed as enemy property.

In this context, it is interesting to note that while the enemy property belonging to Mohmmad Ali Jinnah in Mumbai is decided in favors of his legal heir Nusli Wadia, the same norm is not applied to the legal heirs of others of all such ancestral properties.

Does this mean, there is one set of norms for the descendants of the founder of Pakistan and else for other legal heirs of such property? If we stretch this argument further, does this mean there is a separate yardstick used for the Parsis of India and the Indian Muslims?

The ordinance bill 2010 gives a new meaning to the Enemy Property Act 1968. In one stroke, the entire legal battle that has been fought over this issue for decades has been brought to naught. It is a clear cut example of the executive action encroaching on the legislative power. The executive has annulled all the court orders and by doing so has assaulted the Indian judiciary, its surprising there is no murmur over this issue anywhere in the country.

The ordinance bill 2010 has a far reaching consequence on the Indian Muslims. It disallows legitimate legal process for rightful Indian heirs including the right to succession, adoption, hiba and other matters related to Muslim Personal Law enshrined in Indian Constitution.

This ordinance also creates a precedent that because of inexplicable reasons the rights of individuals and especially those of the minority community could be superseded without permitting them to have recourse of law. It denies legal access to several poor and hapless Muslims who cannot afford to engage a lawyer and who cannot produce the citizen document within 120 days

The gist of the matter is that the enemy property ordinance bill is brought in the Parliament due to pressure from the Hindu tents and encroacher that have lost their case in the Supreme Court. It reminds of Shah Bano case with a different plot.

Since the ordinance bill 2010 do not have political ramification on the larger Muslim vote bank, the government has embarked on the policy to rob the ‘Peter to pay the Paul.’

However, such approach reflects on the character of the governance, thats being tout to be based on the principles of democracy, socialism and secularism, the three key words enshrined at the preamble of the Indian constitution.

Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at syedalimujtaba@yahoo.com

Chennai Sex Worker's Woeful Tales

Chennai Sex Worker's Woeful Tales
Syed Ali Mujtaba

Meet Kalaivani, a Tamil woman with short hairs, plump figure and dusky looks, was trafficked from Chennai to Singapore in 1997, when she was 24 years of age. She was promised a job, but ended up as a sex worker, soliciting customers on the streets to fend herself in the island nation. However, she could barely do this for two months, when Singapore police caught Kalaivani and deported her to Chennai.

In a frank conversation, Kalaivani, narrates her true story. I am from Sivgangai district of Tamil Nadu, and came to Madras to live with my husband, after getting married at the age of 19. He worked in the cine field and life ran smooth for some years. We had two children, a son and a daughter.

Then calamity stuck on our family, my husband passed away, leaving behind huge debts and two young children to be raised up. The responsibilities fell on me, but being a traditional village woman, I did not know what to do. Then one of my husband’s friends suggested me to go to Singapore and work for some time there and that is how I could clear my debts and look after my children. Having no other go, I exactly did what I was told, just to realize that there was no job for me in Singapore . Those who had brought me there forced me to become commercial sex worker. I was lucky to be deported to Chennai but my woes did not end here as well.

With people, knocking doors asking for money my late husband had borrowed, and the burden of bringing up the two children, willingly, unwillingly, I forced myself into the world’s oldest profession of the world. Even tough, I was able to clear the debts by 2003, but I continued the profession for the sake of my children.

Her son now an engineer and recently got married and her daughter is finishing her graduation in computer science, Kalivani has left the profession for good. She has become a peer educator in HIV/ AIDS promotion programme and running an NGO called Indira Female Peer Education Collection (IFPEC) for the welfare of the commercial sex worker in the Chennai. IFPEC has 2250 members and works for the rights of the sex workers, like, police harassment, old age pension, ration cards, life insurance, old age shelter etc.

If Kalaivani’s tale is chilling, the story of Baby is no less gripping. Her account is of a girl, whose love failure forced her to choose the fallen path and there was no coming back from there.

Baby was 17, doing her 10th standard in Hyderabad . Her father worked in the railways. A young man who too worked with his father used to visit his house. That is how a girl meets a boy story blossomed and the two lovebirds eloped to Madras . They looked forward to lead a new life working in the cine field. In three months time, Baby became pregnant. When she excitedly told this news to her boy friend, with whom, until now she had a living relationship, the man who loved her to the level of madness, one fine morning left her never to return back. Heartbroken, Baby did not know how to negotiate her life.

Life was a nightmare for me, Baby said, dropping her eyes, confirming she is an alcoholic. I had no money; I cannot go back to parents, as they may not accept me being pregnant. Having eloped, I already had damaged their reputation making them the talking point of the entire locality.

At this point of time, I wanted to commit suicide but my neighbor came to my rescue and got me a job, as a house cleaner in the Kodambakam locality, where the tinsel world of Kollywood is located.

However, I was not making much money and after I delivered the baby and left her in the orphanage, the monetary pressure grew. My neighbor, suggested me to visit some clients and that is how was pushed to the profession of commercial sex worker.

During the 30 years of my career I earned very well, Baby said telling with remorseful eyes. I remember, it was 1973 and my first client gave me Rs 50, and when I left the profession in 2003, someone paid me Rs 1000, Baby said with a smile. I had cleared all the debts of the marriage of my daughter that took place in 2000 and after that there was little meaning for me to continue the profession.

She narrates her experiences how her clients tortured her. They came drunk with the bottle and made me drink as well, Baby said telling the reason how she becomes addicted to alcohol. It was very difficult for me to kick of the habit, and I had to attend a conditioning camp for a month to get over the problem of alcoholism. Baby, who now drinks occasionally, works as councilor at the Indian Community Welfare Organization (ICWO), an NGO in Chennai, has dedicated her life for the welfare of the sex workers, something she had never to look up to when she was part of the profession.

Well does someone fall in love with sex workers? If the story of Mary is to be believed, the answer is big yes. Mary hails from Kerala and at the age of 21, she was brought to Chennai to work as house cleaner. She lived in a home that had four girls and three other elderly people, one male two females.

Mary before could realize what was going on in the house where she lived, police raid took place in that house and Marry was arrested along with the other members of the family Mary did not know the house where she lived was not a real house but infact was a brothel.

She was sent to remand house and after 15 days when she came out, the person who had brought her from Kerala, was waiting for her on the gates. He told her, she was sold to him for Rs 25,000 and unless, she clears that off she cannot walk free.

Mary narrates her tale in sobs and tears; I had no other go but to act to the wishes of that pimp. He used to get me the clients or sent me to them. It is during one those meetings with a regular customer, she narrated her story and the customer showed sympathy and took her out of the clutches of the pimp.

It was a fairy tale, he kept me like a queen and we loved each other mad. I always, longed for a family and a home, and when I became pregnant, I was on cloud nine never to realize that this was the undoing, my savoir and my messiah left me for good at the mercy of Jesus Christ.

Life should not give such shock to anyone, Mary said with tears. I had an emotional breakdown several times but I came over them only for the sake of my child. Having, no means of livelihood I had to revert to the profession as sex worker. Now when her son is happily married, leading a life of its own, Marry is brimming with satisfaction. What a successful conclusion to all my trial and tribulation, I live this day to see him happy, says Mary who now works as a volunteer in AIDS control board.

A survey conducted by the Indian Community Welfare Organization (ICWO), the NGO working with sex workers, estimates there are about 6500 sex workers in Chennai city. The survey updates the figures of the World Health Organization (WHO) that had identified 3000 sex workers in Madras in 1993.

The secretary of the ICWO, AJ Hariharan, who was part of the WHO survey, says the Chennai’s sex industry stands on four pillars -- sex workers, clients, brokers and police. It is a chicken and egg syndrome where it is difficult to say who surfaces first in the cycle of sex work, says Hariharan.

According to the survey, the commercial sex workers in Chennai are classifies into four categories; family-based, street-based, brothel-based and mobile sex workers.

There is a fairly well organized and systematic method of recruiting the women into the city’s sex trade. Most are picked up from regular conduit points in the adjoining states at prices ranging from Rs 100,000 to 300,000.

The relationship between the broker and the newly recruited sex worker is governed by a contract. Brokers go periodically to the recruitment points and procure girls on 37-day contracts. The girls are paid 50 percent of the contracted sum up front as an advance while the remaining dues are paid on their return after the completion of the contract. For those who are set up at brothels, owners provide breakfast and lunch during their stay, while dinners are normally the clients’ responsibility.

Though the sex workers are on contract for 37 days, they eventually end up being paid for only 30 days. Menstruation and travel time are cited as reasons for cutting a week's salary.

The entire sex industry in Chennai, it is said, flourishes under police protection, something not entirely unbelievable given that many ‘prominent’ middle-men and brokers have been around in this business for quite some time. Owners of brothels that function openly and street sex workers pay a fixed amount of money to the police to avoid arrest and harassment.

Despite the precarious conditions of the work, the sex profession continues to attract a steady stream of girls in Chennai. Most join the profession because of poverty and financial obligations, mainly family debt. Others land into this following failed marriage. In fact, as many as a third of the respondent said they came into the profession because their husbands had left them. Social factors also have a role to play, as is evident from the fact that nine percent say they entered the trade because their lovers had deserted them.

Significantly, the majority of sex worker’s main priority is the child’s future, and more than 75 percent do not want their children to follow their example. More than 30 percent wanted to send their children to boarding schools while 14 percent thought it safer to deposit them with relatives. Tragically, however, more than one fifth are convinced that they will be unable to stop their children from entering the profession.
Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at syedalimujtaba@yahoo.com

Festival of Lights ‘Diwali’ Environmentalists Nightmare

Festival of Lights ‘Diwali’ Environmentalists Nightmare
Syed Ali Mujtaba

The entire country is reeling under festive spirits of the festival of lights ‘Diwali’ that is going to be celebrated with renewed fervor on November 5, 2010.On this occasion, most member of the house buys new cloths, many houses and shops get a fresh coat of paints, and are well decorated, there is exchange of sweets and gifts among relatives and friends, business clients and partners and last but the least, buying the firecrackers.

This means a huge business for the apparel industry, firecracker, paint and household items and for sweets and gifts. According to an estimate, this year the budget of corporate “gift” alone is expected to touch Rs 3,200 crore, and the sale of firecrackers to Rs 500 crore. Industry sources estimate that India spends over 1000 crore rupees for the celebration of this annual event.

However, what does such a grand celebration mean to the environmentalists. Well there is no happy news, and if the will of the conservators is to prevail, they may like to scale down the celebrations to save the environment from the ill effects of this festival.

Excessive consumerism, high-energy consumption and air pollution through firecrackers, are the three major concerns of the environmentalists. They are campaigning for a green ‘Diwali’ so that the deliberate assault on the Mother Nature is stopped and at the same time, the spirit of the festival is not compromised.

As far as excessive consumerism is concerned, ‘Diwali’ is also a celebration of abundance and wealth - many people believe that it is a good time to buy and spend. Often, people go out and buy new items even when they don't need them. Advertisements and hoardings lure people offerings extravaganza sales, bargains, discounts encouraging buying more and more. All this entails a horde for increased consumerism during ‘Diwali.’

Have we realized the effect of such hyperactive consumerism on the environment? It has to be borne that all man made items are made out of materials that come from nature. Be it plastic, metal, paper or cloths - all of these raw materials are sourced from the nature. Those sources that are non-renewable, such as fossil fuels and metal ores, get depleted and will one day run out. The depletion of non-renewable natural resources is one of the most significant impacts of consumerism.

Another effect of consumerism is the creation of solid-waste, which is non-biodegradable. This has to be buried into holes dug up in the ground, but it is hardly done so, and what is being done is they are simply thrown away out of the homes. These 'landfills' as they are called may exist for centuries without completely integrating into the soil. According to the environmentalists, this is a huge assault on the Mother Nature.

Therefore, it is essential to reduce the amount of things we consume. We need to inculcate the habit to reuse the things we have in different forms until we have absolutely no use for them. We may also learn to recycle items that are no longer functional. We have to rethink the choices we make while buying and refuse things that we do not need at all.

The big question can we control our desires, can we stop the mad race of consumerism. It is just a matter of change of habit and adhering to the simple principles of environmental concerns. The choice is limited and we have to put the breaks on it now if we like to gift the space we live in to our posterity.

High Energy Consumption is another highlight of ‘Diwali’. The festival of lights puts a considerably load on electrical energy sources that are already overloaded. The use of electric lights to adorn homes, business establishments, monuments and roads requires a huge amount of electricity. In a power-starved country, can we afford such huge amount of electrical consumption? This mindless consumption of electricity has huge impact on global warming and to be checked.

The only possible alternative to electric lights is to use the traditional oil lamps for celebrating the festival of lights. Even though the use oil, too have its environmental implications, but since the duration of such lamps is shorter, this can be a possible alternative.

The most harm caused to the environment is due to the lighting of firecrackers, considered the most thrilling element in ‘Diwali’ celebrations. Hardly anyone realize the amount of pollution the temporary joy the firecrackers cause to the prelim of the environment. The toxic substances used in the firecrackers release toxic gases that are harmful to the health of human being, animals, birds, plants and trees.

The high level of noise that the firecrackers generate by cause immense sufferings and the sick and the ailing, literally dread them. Sudden exposure to loud noise could cause hearing loss, high blood pressure, heart attack and sleeping disturbances.

Crackers that make a noise of more than 125 decibels at four meters distance from the point of bursting are banned by the law but hardly any one abide by such a ruling.

More so hardly few realize that very young children mostly make the firecrackers and handle the substance that are extremely toxic; many of these child laborers get sick and die early. This is a matter of huge concern but hardly anyone is bothered about such issues, Even if there are some, their voices drowned under the drumbeat of religious festivities.

However, these are issues of serious concern, and have to be addressed with top priority. There is an urgent need to reinterpret the rituals and traditions of the country to become more sensitive to the environment.

Notwithstanding the fact that there is growing recognition of the impacts of ‘Diwali’ on the environment, the entire nation seems to be going whole hog for the extravagant celebration of the festival. They seem to be consciously being unconscious about the harm they are causing to the environment.

The silver linings among the dark clouds is, several groups that have sprung up with ecological sensitive initiatives around ‘Diwali’ but are in a minuscule minority. The day when the people of the country get attached with such initiative and celebrate the festival in an eco-friendly way, it would be a big relief to the environmentalists.


Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at syedalimujtaba@yahoo.com

India ’s Muslim Social Welfare Schemes Revisited

India ’s Muslim Social Welfare Schemes Revisited
Syed Ali Mujtaba

In wake of the recommendations made by the Sachar Commission report for the economic upliftment of the poor Muslims in India , both central and state government have launched several schemes for their welfare.

One such scheme launched by the Tamil Nadu government is Muslim Women’s Aid Society (MWAS), to help the destitute Muslim Women in the state. MWAS was established in 2007 as a pilot project first in Chennai and after its success in the state capital, the government extended this scheme to all the 32 districts of the Tamil Nadu in 2008-2009.

The state government has sanctioned seed money of Rs.1 lakh to each of the 32 MWAS branches in the state for the infrastructure facilities and releases matching grant to them equal to the donation collected by such societies.

The MWAS is supposed to raise funds from the public that is deposited into the bank and then the society applies for a matching fund from the government. The maximum fund that can be deposited is Rs. 10 lakh per annum and MWAS can avail a matching fund of Rs.10 lakh from the state government. The funds so availed have to be utilized only for the development of the destitute Muslim women.

The District Collector acts as the President of the MWAS, the Project Officer of Women Welfare as Vice-President, and the District officer for Backward Class and Minority’s Welfare as Treasurer, besides there are six women members from Muslim community in this self-help group.

MWAS is rendering a yeomen service to the needy Muslim community providing them vocational training, sewing textile garments, women’s beauty parlour, computer education, driving school, silk embroidering, destitute widow’s pension, interest free loan, loans for auto rickshaws in lowest interest possible, financial aid to disabled persons, home for Muslim deserted women, free medical service etc.

As far as the functioning of the MWAS is concerned, few issues need attention. The foremost among them is the fund allocated by the government remains unutilized due to gross ignorance of the Muslim community. There is little awareness among the community members of such initiative being made for their welfare. They have hesitation, shyness in coming forward for utilizing the funds as it involves dealing with government officials.

Few MWAS, which have collected funds and deposited them in the bank, are struggling for the release of the matching funds supposedly promised by the government. The funds raised remains stuck in official red tapes and the government releases no matching fund.

The other issue is; fund raising itself is quite a difficult task. Individual or institution donors remain unconvinced about the proper utilization of their funds and do not like to come forward to patronize such a self-help group.

In order to address such anomalies, a sympathetic watchdog body called Federation of Muslim Women’s Aid Societies (FMWAS) has sprung up in the state. Its job is to launch public awareness campaign for the MWAS. It also guides the MWAS to avail the seed funds allocated to them.

The FMWAS also liaison between the MWAS and the district government officials for the early release of the matching funds. It has been campaigning that the government provide the office space for the MWAS within the collectorate campus to ensure speedy action so that amount collected by the MWAS do not remain dormant in the banks.

The FMWAS appeals for public support in the form of individual charity and its team meets Muslim philanthropists and elicit their support. The Federation also approaches Muslim institutions for donations. It calls upon Muslim organizations to donate a fraction of the Zakath Funds, estimated to be Rs. 1.5 crore, in the state.

Notwithstanding the MWAS initiative in Tamil Nadu, there are multiple schemes, initiated by the government for the welfare of the Muslim community all over the country. The need is to develop a greater synergy between Muslim community and the development sector for actualizing the dream of socio-economic development of the Muslim community.

It is the duty of the Muslim community to come forward and form NGO’s and work among the community and help realize the goal. This has to be done with utmost importance; else, various schemes of the government of their socio-economic development may remain unimplemented.

Having said that, the responsibility of the welfare of the Muslim community is not an issue confined to the leadership of the community alone; the government too has a major responsibility towards addressing their problems.

For instance, the conditions imposed by Tamil Nadu Minorities Economic Development Corporation Ltd. (TAMCO) to avail loan one has to give surety from two persons who are in government service, has to be modified to ensure poor Muslims avail the credit facilities being sanctioned by the Corporation. Such loans, as in other cases, should be given through nationalized banks.

At the all India , level the role of the government in implementing ‘Prime Minister’s New 15 Point Programme for Welfare of Minorities’ is seminal. This includes enhancing opportunities for education, equitable share in economic activities and employment, improving the conditions of living of minorities.

However, when it comes to dealing with the welfare of the Muslim minority there are certain issues in the new 15-point programme that needs consideration by the government.

The government should ensure that the poor Muslim families be given BPL cards as many Muslim families living below poverty line a re being left out. The works implemented under National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) should be culturally sensitive so that Muslim community could also get benefit from such a scheme.

In the field of education, the government should provide recognition and support to Muslim minority educational institutions. It should provide adequate number of scholarships for Muslim students particularly for girls. The government should give permission for more educational institutions in minority-dominated area with priority for residential schools for girls. It should also give permission to open technical institutes in Muslim concentrated areas and ensure equitable admission to Muslim girls.

The government should provide equitable bank loans to Muslims in priority sectors as well as commercial and business sectors and ensure that they get a fair share of these loans. It should create easy credit facilities for Muslim Women, crafts women and women involved in petty trade and commerce and provide a marketing network to women employed in this sector.

The government should ensure better representation of Muslims in government jobs and public sector units and see that at least one Muslim representative is there on all recruitment boards.

Government should prepare a sub-plan for the socio-economic including educational, health and other development activity of the Muslim community. It should set up a separate department at the state level exclusively to deal with Muslim affairs and allocate adequate budget for schemes aimed at Muslims welfare. The office bearers of the Muslim welfare schemes should comprise persons from NGOs working among the Muslim community.

The government should set up a database, collect, and compile data on the socio-economic and educational status of Muslims on a regular basis to monitor the progress of the welfare of the welfare schemes

Finally, the last thought. The developmental goals of the country have to be inclusive and the government has to play a seminal role in the social development of the country. However, it is being seen that the government is absolving from its responsibility of creating a welfare state. It is delegating its role to the Non Governmental Organisations. This developmental paradigm shift of the government does not auger well for creating a welfare state in India . It negates the principles of the word ‘Socialism’ enshrined at the preamble of the constitution of the country.

Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at syedalimujtaba@yahoo.com

Underreported Facts of ‘Azaadi’ Meeting at New Delhi

Underreported Facts of ‘Azaadi’ Meeting at New Delhi
Syed Ali Mujtaba

Even as the chorus to book the Hurriyat leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani and writer Arundhati Roy on sedition charges, for their statements made at the meeting held in New Delhi on October, 21, 2010, is gaining currency, there are some underreported facts about the meeting that needs to be put into circulation so that the popularly held views of it do not become a gospel of truth.

One of the speakers, Shuddhabrata Sengupta, who was present at the meeting, titled ‘Azadi: The Only Way,’ on the situation in Jammu and Kashmir, gives a blow by blow account of the meeting that has not been reported in the so the called mainstream Indian media.

Sengupta writes that Syed Ali Shah Geelani said, “He wants to see a strong and resurgent India. I heard him say this. And was this reported by anyone? NO. Was it reported that he was cheered when he said this? NO”

Was it reported, when Geelani said; “he personally stands guarantee for the safety and security of all minorities, Hindu, Sikh, Buddhists, Christians and others in a future free Kashmir. He implored the Pandits to return to Kashmir, and said; they are an integral part of Kashmiri society.” NO

Was it reported, “when he spoke of the need for ensuring that a free Kashmir was a just Kashmir, and that justice meant that the freedom, safety and security of all minorities, of their property, their places of worship, and their freedom of conscience be given the utmost importance.” NO

Was it reported, “when Geelani reminded the assembled people that throughout these turbulent months, the people of Kashmir have continued to be hospitable to Hindu pilgrims, have set up ‘Langars’ (Kitchens) for them, and have cared for them when they have fallen sick, despite being at the receiving end of the violence of the Indian state. NO

Was it reported that Geelani said, “the people of India and Kashmir are tied together by the bonds of insaaniyat (humanity), when he quoted Gandhi, or spoke of the necessity of conducting a non-violent struggle that was devoid of hatred, or even when he said that he wished to see India rise as a great power in the world, but as a power that felt no need to oppress others.” NO

Was it reported that Geelani said; “he is not against dialogue, provided that the five point formula put forward by him is being considered. 1. Acceptance of the disputed nature of the territory of Jammu and Kashmir, 2. repeal of AFSPA and other black laws, 3. release of political detenues and prisoners, 4. withdrawal of the disproportionate presence of the armed forces and 5. punishment to those guilty of taking life in the past few months. He requested the government of India to think ‘outside’ the framework of the Indian Constitution and accept them as the basis of the dialogue? NO

“Geelani said, all that they are asking for is the right to self determination, promised by India, before the United Nations, to be freely enacted through a plebiscite, in conditions of peace and liberty, without the presence of armed force, for the inhabitants of every part of the undivided state of Jammu and Kashmir – regardless of whether the results of that plebiscite are in favour of India, Pakistan or an independent, united, Jammu and Kashmir that can live in peace with all its neighbors in South Asia,” writes Sengupta.

Reporting about writer Arundhati Roy, Sengupta says, ‘I recall that the author, while endorsing the demand of ‘Azaadi’ for Kashmir, reminded the audience of the need for the people of Kashmir not to be selective about justice and injustice, that they must find methods to forge webs of solidarity with all the suffering and oppressed peoples of India. She unambiguously spoke about the fact that she considered the situation of Kashmiri Pandits to be a tragedy, writes Sengupta.
These statements were wholeheartedly and sincerely applauded, by the majority of people present in the auditorium, regardless of whether or not they were Kashmiri, write Sengupta.

He adds, these statements should have been the big news considering the fact for its gentleness, for its consideration, for its moderation, even for its liberality and open heartedness. However, this has not happened and what is reported is in public domain

Writing about the reportedly charged atmosphere of the meeting, Sengupta says; “the atmosphere, for the several hours that I was present, was absolutely electric. The vast majority of the audience was warm and appreciative of all the speakers. They were patient and respectful and despite grave provocation from a section that repeatedly tried to interrupt the meeting and heckle speakers, and on one occasion even tried to throw an object at the dais, did not stoop to be provoked by these pathetic attempts at disruption of a peaceful gathering.”

“No provocative, sectarian or hateful slogans were raised by the majority of the people present. The only provocative posturing that I witnessed was undertaken by a section of the crowd, who was not stopped from having their say, but was requested simply not to disrupt the proceedings.”

“When their behavior crossed the limits of public decency, they were escorted out of the premises by representatives of the Delhi Police. The Delhi Police, to their credit, did not act against the majority of the audience, simply because the majority of the audience conducted themselves in a completely civil and democratic manner.”

Sengupta writes, “the meeting was a historic opportunity for the Indian mainstream media to report and take cognizance of the fact that there is a section of Indian public opinion that is actually in favor of ‘Azaadi’ in Kashmir.”

He qualifies his statement saying, “I am not suggesting that this section constitutes an overwhelming majority at present (that might change) but, that it does exist, and that it presents, cogent, precise arguments, that cannot be dismissed.”

Shuddhabrata Sengupta is a media practitioner, filmmaker and writer with the Raqs Media Collective. He can be reached at shuddha@sarai.net.

His report "Azadi: The Only Way – Report from a Turbulent Few Hours in Delhi" can be accessed at; http://kafila.org/2010/10/22/azadi-the-only-way-report-from-a-turbulent-few-hours-in-delhi/

Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at syedalimujtaba@yahoo.com

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Illicit owl trade casts shadow on 'Diwali' Festivities

Syed Ali Mujtaba

India is currently buzzing with the jovial anticipation of Diwali, the Festival of Lights, that will be celebrated with fervor starting on November 5, 2010.

In preparation for this occasion, India’s most important, there is brisk buying of many things http://www.groundreport.com/Business/Festival-of-Lights-Diwali-Environmentalists-Nightm_1/2930656 and homes are carefully cleaned. During the five-day celebration, candles and lamps are lit as a greeting to Laksmi, the goddess of wealth. Gifts are exchanged and festive meals are prepared.

Meanwhile, most people are unaware that during this time of the year, the country’s owls are perhaps more in peril than ever. The exact number of owls that are illicitly traded each year countrywide is unknown, but according to a report released Tuesday, entitled Imperiled Custodians of the Night, http://www.traffic.org/species-reports/traffic_species_birds12.pdf it certainly runs into thousands.

Even though, hunting of and trade in all Indian owl species is banned under the Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972 of India, the study by TRAFFIC, a wildlife trade monitoring network that is a joint programme of the World Wildlife Foundation, reveals that out of the 30 owl species recorded in India, 15 have been found in the domestic live bird trade.

TRAFFIC blames superstition and taboos as one of the main reasons for the covert owl trade and warns of a possible increase in trade around Diwali as sacrifice of this bird is considered to be auspicious.

Owls with ‘ears’ (tufts) are thought to possess greatest magical powers, and ‘tantriks’ or black magic practitioners frequently prescribe the use of owls and their body parts for ceremonial rituals.

“Diwali should be a time for celebration across our nation, not one when our wildlife is plundered to feed ignorant superstition. India's wildlife already faces many pressures; the additional burden of being killed out of ignorance and fear is not one that has any place in our modern society,” said Jairam Ramesh, India’s Environment and Forest Minister at the launch of report in New Delhi on Nov 2, 2010.

“Owls are as important to our ecosystem as the tigers or any other better known charismatic species. It is important that the threat to owls is brought to light during the festival of Diwali and concrete ground action is undertaken to curb such trade,” he added.

More than a theme

The TRAFFIC investigation also finds that in addition to their main use in black magic, owls are also trapped and traded for use in street performances; killed for taxidermy and for their meat; their parts are used in folk medicines; even their claws and feathers are sometimes used in headgear. Live owls are also used as decoys to catch other bird species.

The report’s author, Abrar Ahmed, had owls on his mind for years but was ultimately inspired by a strange incident to write the owl report. In the study’s preface, he recounts how a wealthy friend’s wife made repeated requests for him to arrange for an owl as a gift for her son’s birthday party — the theme of which was Harry Potter.

“This was probably one of the strangest demands made to me as an ornithologist,” he writes.

The story had a happy ending however.

“In the end, I did bring three white owls to the theme party. I drew owl pictures resembling Hedwig and hung them at appropriate vantage points on the lawn,” Ahmed recounts.

“Later in the evening, I heard an owlet calling, and to everyone’s delight a real Spotted Owlet sat on an electric pole at the gate of the venue. I thanked God and took this opportunity to show everyone ‘their’ owl.

“The children clapped their hands with delight and the owl soon flew off. Several of the partygoers have subsequently joined bird watching groups.”

Farmer’s friend

A variety of owl trapping techniques are documented in the TRAFFIC report, which also says that there are approximately 50 active wild-bird selling points/localities in India where any bird trader is likely to be able to procure owls, although the birds are rarely on open display.

“Birds like owls are sold at a premium, brought in only following a specific request by a customer for use in black magic. Often they are delivered to the client’s doorstep,” Ahmed recounts.

Twenty one of these are major bird markets with an estimated annual turnover of between ($) 20,000 and ($)50,000 wild birds, including owls.

Ahmed’s investigations into the owl trade were conducted during nationwide studies of the bird trade undertaken between1992-2000 with additional information gathered between 2001 and 2008.

In light of the report, TRAFFIC is calling for measures including better law enforcement to curb the trade in owls immediately. The organization also wants to see awareness raised regarding the beneficial and vital role of owls in the ecosystem. Owls should be considered a farmer’s friend due to their predation of rodents and other crop pests.

“Imperiled Custodians of the Night” can be downloaded at: http://www.traffic.org/species-reports/traffic_species_birds12.pdf (PDF, 7.5 MB)

Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at syedalimujtaba@yahoo.com