Thursday, May 26, 2016

Tales from Secular India Azhar, Banvari and Rabani….

Tales from Secular India  Azhar, Banvari  and Rabbani…. 
Syed Ali Mujtaba

Interfaith relationship or Hindu-Muslim relationship is a topic that often remains in circulation for wrong reasons. However, there are stories of communal harmony that are happening silently and re mains unreported by the so called vibrant media.

Recently I traveled to my native village ‘Manay’ in Chakandra, Panchayt Chewara Anchal of Shekhpura in Bihar. I like to chronicle my first hand account of observation of peaceful coexistence that is being practiced in that part of the world.

There is a Muslim priest named Hafiz Azharuddin who is in charge of the mosque in the Manay village. He is about 20 years of age and his job is to call give ‘Azan’ or call for prayers five times every day. After that he lead the prayers those who come to the mosque to pray.

Hafiz Azhar gives the first call for prayer at dawn called ‘Fajir’, second in the afternoon called ‘Zohar’, then evening called ‘Asar,’  the dusk prayer called ‘Magrib’ and finally  the night prayer called ‘Isha.’

Azhar has become Hafiz or the one who has memorized all the thirty chapters of the holy Quran by heart at the age of 16. Since then he has taken up the job of pesh-imam or priest at the mosque in Manay village.

Hafiz Azhar also runs a ‘Madarsa’ in the mosque teaching the Muslim boys and girls to read Quran and the way to pray. He has made a number of children to read the entire chapters of the holy book.
Hafiz Azhar, is a popular figure in the entire village. Every one seems to be friendly with him and they respect him for being a priest.  Every evening during the dusk prayers, a number of Hindus will be seen lining up outside the mosque, with a glass of water, that Hafiz Azhar, would ‘pooh’ after reciting some verses of the holy Quran.

This water will then be carried to the sick person in the house and would give for medicinal purposes. It is said that such faith healing medicine brings relief, therefore people queue up to the mosque each day.

The other side of Hafiz Azhar is, he is also a cricketer and member of the village cricket team. He is star batsman of the village team and no matches are played without him.
Hafiz Azhar’s date of birth coincides with the reign of the iconic Mohmmad Azharuddin who captioned Indian team.  The guess is, this village priest, when he was born, was named after the cricketing legend.  

The village boys usually line up in front of the mosque to take Hafiz Azhar to play the matches that happens in the empty paddy fields during summers.

During the afternoon or evening prayers, if the match is going on, the boys will take Hafiz Azhar on the bike to the mosque to perform his religious duty. The cricketer will have a bath and then call the ‘Azan,’ lead the prayer and again change to cricket gears to be back in to the play ground.

 ‘If the match finishes, early then I am relaxed for the prayers but then sometimes when it prolongs, I have to perform the duel task,’ said Hafiz Azhar smilingly in a leisurely conversation.

Well this is a fine example of interfaith harmony working on ground. The Hindu zealots may like to rupture this harmony through their bigotry, but it appears denting such peaceful coexistence is not an easy task.

The counterpart of Hafiz Azhar, in the village Manay is Pandit Banvari the Hindu priest at the temple. He is a pious man and commands respect from all the people in the village. He is highly religious but equally a secular person.

The 72 year Hindu priest begins his day at the dawn when he takes bath at the village pond and then enters the temple and does its cleaning and other religious activity.

I engaged Banvariji in a conversation on Hindu – Muslim relations. I asked him what he thinks about this subject. He was candid saying its too deep bond and cannot be broken easily.

‘Here Hindus pray to the local deity (devta) called ‘Miaji’ who is a Muslim and on ceremonial occasions they sacrifice goats in this devta’s name.’

‘Even this temple is built on personal land and money given by the Muslim landlords of the village’, Banvariji said giving examples of communal harmony.  

 He goes on; ‘the Harijan locality in this village is on the personal land of the Muslim landlords. When they lived far away from village, they were chased away by the thieves and it’s the Muslim landlords who gave them shelter and allowed them to make houses on their land. Even they constructed the village road that connects with the main road at Kamalgarh on their personal land.’

I drew Banvariji’s attention to the caste and religious based politics practiced in Bihar and asked him what he thinks about BJP’s brand of politics. He said, ‘I do not endorse the religious exclusiveness idea of politics. This may work for short term gains, but its results in long term could be freighting’, Banvariji who reads the daily Hindi newspaper said.

I asked Banvariji, about the last assembly election in Bihar and the reasons of the defeat of the BJP and the victory of the caste based parties like RJD and JDU.

‘Actually the last assembly election was a referendum on supremacy of religion over caste Banvariji said and added; ‘the BJP had put every thing on stake to establish the supremacy of religion, they put every thing on the electoral mat, even their ‘langot’ (inner wear) for winning the election. The results, proved them wrong and they had to run showing their back.’

The other tale in this series is of Gulam Rabbani who was a contestant at the gram panchayt election that was being held. He was a candidate for the ‘Mukhiya’s post.

This is the most coveted post in the local body election because there is about 5 crore rupees of fund that the government gives to each Mukhiya for the doing the development activities of the villages in the Panchayat.  No wonder, the battle for the lions share for Panchayt head is fiercely fought.

There were fourteen candidates for the ‘Mukhiya’ post and among them was Gulam Rabani.  Rabani is a highly popular candidate who has been contesting this post many times unsuccessfully. This time too he tried his luck but failed.

However, the most spectacular part about Rabani is he is highly popular among young boys who have not even reached the voting age.  Once Rabbani comes to the village, the young lads runs out of the village to greet him. They carry him on their shoulders to give him an entry like a celebrity in the village.

The young boys will gather around him and  shout the slogan; ‘Rabani – Rabani - bijli (electricity), paani (water) – Rabani, - thanda  panni ( cold water) – Rabani – Rabani  – our beloved leader Rabani- we all love Rabbani’, and so on...

It’s quite a spectacle. I have never seen such kind of enthusiasm for any candidate and all that seem to be selfless, without any material gains. I asked Rabani the reasons of his popularity among the youth.
He said, ‘I am the only candidate who work 24x7 365 days a year. Whenever anyone calls me, I am there on the spot. When this village had problem of electricity because its transformer got conked off, I took immediate steps to get it replaced, Rabani said when he came to me for canvassing.

He goes on; when there was scarcity of water in the village I got the hand pumps installed in each of the locality of the village. Now they drink the cold water from the hand pump and can take bath. They all like me because no one bothers to visit the village till the next election, Rabani concluded his boasting.

The sad news is, Rabani has lost the election again. The candidate who won had more numbers of his caste vote. Rabani undoubtedly was the most popular candidate but elections are not won on sheer popularity as other factors too count as well.

However, the fact remains is that characters like Rabani, reminds nature of Indian society that is based on communal harmony. Its people like him who are holding the flag of secular India aloft.

Well these are some tales of silver linings in the otherwise growing atmosphere of communal strife in India. These anecdotes are pointers that interfaith harmony is still being practiced in some parts of India.

Such positive stories needs to be told to remind that peaceful co existence is the only way to make India internally strong and move forward.

Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He hails from Bihar and recently had visited his native place Shiekhpura and based on his observation prepared this report. He can be contacted at

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