Are our Highways safe? recent tragic death of Sahib Singh Verma brings one very important question which has been ignored so far.

Former Delhi chief minister and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) vice president Sahib Singh Verma, 63, was killed in an accident on the Delhi-Jaipur highway in Rajasthan.
Verma’s driver and security guard were also killed in the mishap when his Tata Safari car, carrying three more people, collided with a speeding truck on the stretch of the highway touching Shahjahanpur, close to Alwar. He was returning to Delhi from Sikar in Rajasthan.
“The incident occurred at around 2.20 pm, when a truck coming from the opposite side jumped the divider and had a head-on collision with Verma’s car. Three people have died in the accident,” Deputy Superintendent of Police (Alwar) Rajesh Gupta said.

How safe are the National Highways in India?

Even the External Affairs minister wasn’t spared.

The accident occurred Saturday night in Nadia district when a stone chip-laden lorry swerved out of control after a tyre puncture and overturned on the bulletproof car in which Mukherjee was travelling with party leaders.
The accident also hurt Congress leader Manas Bhunya who was with Mukherjee.
The incident has embarrassed the Communist government in West Bengal since the provision of Z-category security for VIPs must guard against such road mishaps. All vehicular movement on the road is generally brought under control 15 to 20 minutes before the VIP passes through a particular stretch, said senior police officials.

If our roads are not safe for people with Z-category security then forget about it being safe for common citizens. Being a frequent traveller on roads, I have seen badly damaged trucks/busses/cars lying on the side of highways. Such scenes are not rare on any national highway. The major cause of accidents are-

1. Drunk drivers- Bars are in myriad through out the stretch of National Highways, especially highways that pass through Delhi. The easy availability of alcohol entices the drivers to enjoy drunk driving. Sadly the government has not attempted in bringing this under control.

2. Common lane- Majority of highways in India don’t have a clear demarcation between traffic from both sides. Busses and trucks occupy 3/4th of the road and thus pushing the smaller vehicles to a small part of road. Often accidents are head-on collisions caused because of smaller roads. The government has, in partnership with private players, taken lot of steps. The 6 lane expressway between Mumbai and Pune is an example. This expressway is one of the best highways in India in terms of facilities. The cost involved is so huge that not many private players have the required resources. Plus the toll tax takes a while to recover the initial investment.

3. Villages/Settlements on the side of NHs- Sahib Singh Verma’s car collided with the truck because the truck driver tried to avoid hitting a cycle driver. Often villagers use the NHs for their commutation. They even take flocks of animals on the road, often causing traffic jams. Another major reason of accidents is their presence on the road.

4. Carelessness on the part of private operators- My bus once collided with a stationary truck in the night because the bus was moving without the headlights on! Bihar/Bengal/UP are worse when it comes to private buses. People are jam packed in it and every method to save fuel is deployed, many resulting in fatal accidents.

5. Unfenced roads in mountainous terrains- Roads that are built by carving mountains are often left unprotected thus exposing the vehicles to the risk of falling down the hills.

The maintenance of National Highways is an absolute must for India. The infrastructure has to be first developed and then maintained or else such incidents will keep happening.

The above incidents are shocking because no bullet proof car can sustain collision from a huge truck. The Indian security agencies often leave me bewildered at their ineptness in controlling such incidents. Its only after their vulnerability is exposed, they get into action. The death of Sahib Singh Verma is indeed tragic. I hope the government takes action to prevent such incidents in future by upgrading the existing infrastructure like a lane demarcator, building an alternative kachcha road for cycles, bullock carts and other non-powered vehicles. C’mon every road cannot be an Mumbai-Pune expressway!

For air flyers who want to taste ride on Indian roads, try Air Deccan.


Let Sania Play In Peace

The standards of journalism continue to get lower. They will report news where there is no news and create news when they need to do. Latest being the case of Sania Mirza parterning with Shahar Peer.

I got this interview last night to see if there is news here and saw not much news value therefore we decided to publish the whole interview in the sports section and not make a news item. She was asked about her pairing for doubles with Shahar Peer of Israel. She made no big deal about it and said it doesn’t matter where her partner is from and she is here to play. End of discussion?

Not quite, question got repeated and her answer remained the same. May be they were trying to agitate her into saying something that may create the controversy. Smart cookie that she is, she refused to fall in that trap.

Now, I see some news report that Sania played down her partnering with Shahar Peer. Ok, fair enough, I guess you can say that.

But look at the front page of Yahoo!

Sania and Peer on Yahoo

The headline on top says “Doubles religious trouble” now click on the news item and it takes you here.
Ok, there is mention that there was some criticism of their pairing in 2005. Now pay close attention to what yahoo mentions in the lower left side of the front page screen shot above.

It says “Wimbledon team stirs religious anger.” Ummm…. Excuse me! But I didn’t see any statement from anyone that says they are angry about this wimbledon pairing. Yes, may be now it may come since you have artificially created a controversy that does not really exist.

Let the girls play.

Game, set, and match… Mirza. Mirza defeats press with love. 😛

Madam President

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Pratibha Patil has made a slippery start to her presidential career. No one expects magic from her, well to be frank she appears to be another puppet Sonia Gandhi seems to have gotten under her supervision. Sonia Gandhi obviously wanted a person like her who can be wooed when it comes to formation of government. Does this also mean that Sonia Gandhi is gathering support for her Prime Ministerial aspirations in case the Congress manages to somehow stake claim to form the next government? Women at the 2 highest position of governance of India would create history and probably a feat no other country can boast off.

Coming back to Pratibha Patil, her first statement regarding the purdah system prevalent in Rajasthan and then the divine premonition. Not just her but her family members too are being accused of crime.

Prathibha has come under fire after allegations were labeled that her sugar mills had defaulted on loans and that she had shielded her brother in a murder case. Now, damning revelations coming in with documents with RBI proving that the bank set up by Pratibha Patil has been listed as a weak bank.
TIMES NOW has access to RBI’s report of 2003 that suggest irregularities in a co-operative bank led by the UPA’s presidential candidate Patil.
The fresh allegations against Patil pertain to a co-operative bank of which Pratibha Patil was the founding chairperson and later, along with a number of her relatives, was one of its directors. In fact the bank – the Pratibha Mahila Sahkari bank – is named after her. Its financial position was questioned by the RBI in 2003 and the bank was wound up subsequently.

Her personal remarks on purdah system seems to have suggested that the Mughals, indirectly Muslims, are responsible for the backwardness of women in India. Muslim leaders took strong umbrage at this allegation of hers. The premonitions thing gave her critics(the westernized media) another point to target her beliefs. She finally met Muslim leaders in Delhi to sort things out. She is having a tough time managing her heart, which wants her to be open/candid, but then she has responsibility to keep as the, expected, next president of India.

Is being so candid a characteristic peculiar to women? I was wondering why women, in spite of being progressing shoulder to shoulder to men in all fields, have not matched men in the Government of different countries. US, one of the most advanced nation in terms of modernity, never had a women president. Even Europe cannot boast of many. The situation is slightly better in third world countries; Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Philippines and other south American countries.

Is it because women lack the leadership skills? Or is it because they often end up in a mess by being candid? Or is it because they are not tough and are easily overwhelmed by emotions? All these are psychological questions which have to be answered in order to understand this general trend. But I must admit that the reasons mentioned above are definitely a factor in hindering the progress of women in the political arena.

Perhaps Pratibha need to control her emotions better.

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Muslims against terrorism

A picture, a link and some quotes

Muslims against terrorism

Seeds of extremism is in communal riots: Sayeed Khan

TCN: What was your focus when you established MY India – social work or an educational endeavor or politics?

Sayeed: MY India aims at encouraging Muslim youth to get a good education in different fields. Our focus is socio-political, economical and education. We would like to foster good relations with people believing in and practicing other religions – Hinduism, Budhism, Christianity and Sikhism. We encourage Muslim youth to be both good practicing Muslims, as well as good Indians.

We would like to offer youth a platform to work for positive goals, and not be influenced by anti-Muslim propaganda. We particularly discourage behavior that is reactionary.

We believe social work helps bridge the gap between the two main communities – Hindus and Muslims. Making youth politically mature also helps ensure that communal forces do not win elections so as to wield power at the centre or state.

TCN: Would you ever consider entering the political system in order to guide your community, especially Muslim youth? Why?

Sayeed: Yes, I would because justice and a fair share in all fields for Muslims will only happen when we have active political representation. Otherwise, you may lead an agitation for months and years, but fail even after all your efforts. A single well-meaning legislation can achieve the same, more conclusively, in one day. At the same time, a single wrong legislation has the power to destroy decades of constructive work.

Earlier, the community was not interested in the political system. I trace this to a lack of understanding, born of prevailing illiteracy. In contrast, now educated Muslims who are middle aged and our youth understand the need to be a part of the system. However, sufficient representation will take time because politics is today still based on money power and muscle power.

Khushwant Singh on Babri Masjid

The bitterness created between communities by vandals who took part in knocking down the mosque still lingers becaue perpetrators of the crime remain unpunished.They strut about like peacocks, proud of what they did, and make no secret of their plans to return to power. Most of them belong to the Sangh Parivar: L. K. Advani, Kalyan Singh, M. M. Joshi, Uma Bharti, members of the RSS, Shiv Sena, Bajrang Dal, etc. Does anyone dare to take them on today?

We cannot get away from facts: the mosque was demolished, we knew who did the dirty job. We are also aware that these evil-doers have swept the dirt under the carpet in the hope that people will forget what they did. Justice has been delayed for 15 years because there was no one strong enough to enforce it. Now that Sonia Gandhi has acquired stature of the top leader of the country, is it too much to expect that they will see that justice is done?

Muslim India, April 2007.

Bhagalpur Riots: 14 Accused Convicted After 18 Years

Victims of Anti-Sikh RiotsIt’s official now. It takes approximately 20 years to make some sort of legal headway against perpetrators of riots in India. The victims of anti-Sikh riots of Delhi waited for 20 years before the Nanavati Commission submitted its report in February 2004 and claimed evidence against congressmen Jagdish Tytler, Sajjan Kumar and H.K.L. Bhagat for instigating the mobs to violence. Jagdish Tytler had to resign from his cabinet post but the victims are still waiting for justice even after 23 years. It took 19 years for charges to be framed against the PAC personnel responsible for the Hashimpura massacre of Meerut 1987. Victims, of course, are still waiting for justice. So, the news that 14 accused have been convicted in the Bhagalpur riots of 1989 after 18 years is indeed welcome. However, of the initial 32 accused, six died during the course of the trial. Many victims would have died too in the hope of seeing justice done. 18 years is a long time.

For the victims, riots are just the beginning of their sufferings. The beginning of a long struggle against the system. Frustration against the machinations that can be exploited with impunity to get around the system. Hell, the police personnel, accused in many riots, are part of the system. The ease with which evidence can be tampered. The threat of violence to silence the witnesses. The tendency of the polity to push things under the rug. The chalta hai attitude. The countless visits to the court to see the dates being pushed forward. The shameful excuses of the prosecutors. The expectations from the victims to just forget and get along with life. And if everything else fails, the straight-forward buy-outs. Zahira Sheikh, anyone?

More than 1000 Indian citizens were killed during the Bhagalpur riots. In a single village, 116 Muslims were killed, their bodies buried in a field. Cauli-flowers were grown over the bodies. Muslims would make for good manure. And all this in direct connivance of the local police.

Bhagalpur riots took place in the ‘secular’ government of Congress. For the next 15 years, there was another ‘secular’ government of Lalu Prasad Yadav in Bihar whose main selling point to Muslims was not allowing another Bhagalpur to happen. And what about the justice for the victims? Well, the victims were given pittance in the name of compensation. So much so, Rabri Devi in 2001 stopped the process of identification of riot victims who were denied compensation previously. Lalu promised to arrest the rioters within three months of assuming power. The truth is totally different:

On the contrary several police officers involved in the Bhagalpur riot were rewarded by Laloo’s government. For example Mr Dohra (IG) was promoted to DGP and Mr. Dwedi (SP) was promoted to DIG. Similarly Major Om Prakash, who was accused of killing 20 Muslims, went without punishment and Chunchun Yadav; accused of killing 12 Muslim families, got Laloo’s party ticket to contest elections in Bhagalpur! The most regrettable matter is that out of 1486 persons, 1383 Muslims were killed but it is the Muslims who were punished during Laloo’s regime. Muslims of Bihar wept when on 18 April 1996 Daily Hindustan published on its front page: ‘Bhagalpur ka fasaad: ek to umar qaid aur giyarah ko dus bras ki qaid.’ (Bhagalpur riot: life imprisonment for one and ten years imprisonment for 11 persons). Beside this, two dozen Muslims had earlier received similar punishments. [Milli Gazette]

The story of Malika Begum is heart-wrenching but unfortunately similar to many victims of other riots:

Malika BegumMalika Begum, a brave helpless Muslim woman, was then a 14 years old unmarried girl when, on 27 October. 1989, her parents were slaughtered first and later burnt to death alongwith 70 Muslims at the locality of Chanderi in Bhagalpur. Luckily she escaped having witnessed the horror with her own naked eyes. She ran at break-neck speed in order to escape the clutches of the rioters. She knocked at many doors to get shelter. She cried at the top of her voice for help. But she couldn’t get any help. The rioters finally caught her and managed to cut off one of her legs with their sword before she could jump into a dirty pond and hid herself there. Later an army officer rescued her and brought her up as his own daughter. When she regained her senses she said: “I know everyone. I am the only eyewitness of 70 persons’ murder. Dumariya Yadav, Shushil Yadav, Chaguni Yadav, Hare Ram Pandey, Ranjit, Prakash Mukhiya, Muthu Mukhiya etc burnt my parents alive. They should be punished. I am ready to go to every court for justice, although I am left with only one leg now.’ [Milli Gazette]

Nitish Kumar, in his election manifesto, promised justice and compensation for the victims. He formed a judicial commission in May 2006 to review the compensation awarded to the victims. The commission met with the victims and their relatives on 31st May and 1st June this year in Bhagalpur. I don’t know if Nitish Kumar did anything to expedite the judicial process but I do know that he could have done a hundred things to delay the process. But he didn’t and all credit to him for that. Lalu Prasad Yadav could rule Bihar with Muslim support just on the promise of not allowing another Bhagalpur to happen during his tenure. And he delivered on that. Nitish Kumar promised more and he is delivering on that. Muslims, like everyone else, want not only safety (shouldn’t that be a given anyway?) but education and prosperity. Muslim preference for ‘secular’ parties is grossly over-estimated.

So, for the victims of the riots and for the Indians who want justice to be done, 27th June 2007 is an important date. On this day the court will hand out sentences to the 14 convicted of Bhagalpur riots. It has been a long wait. Let us hope and pray that it has not been futile.

Also read: Plight of the victims and Bhagalpur riots at a glance.

Save your belongings with a 100 thousand lock

This post is meant to advertise a new lock which is unique. It doesn’t have the latest technologies like bio-medical techniques like finger print reader or a face recognition (this technology can also recognize faces other than Saif’s) and nor it is made of titanium/gold/diamonds. It is a simple lock with something so unique that makes it worth 100 thousand INR. Please click here for the picture.

This is a real auction going on ebay. Well if you have any money left after buying this 100 thousand lock then you can do a little more shopping and ensure safety of your bought underwear and handkerchiefs.

Pratibha Patil, Purdah And Prejudice

Black and GreenTo start with, credit where it is due. The picture of a veiled woman I posted a few days back was taken by Mirjam, a fine photographer from Netherlands who visits India regularly and has a great photo-gallery at Flickr. While scouting for pictures that could be used as header images for this blog, I chanced upon a picture Mirjam calls Black & Green. I requested for his permission to use it at the blog but his answer was quite a surprise for me. And that is why I posted the image here to get comments from the readers. In retrospect, I think the question I asked was too ambiguous and that is why there were very few responses.

Coming back to the woman in the picture, she is not Rani Mukherjee (though her eyes definitely suggest so as one reader pointed out). She is not any other actress wearing a Muslim dress. The fact is that she is not even Muslim!

Her name is Papu and she is from the Bhopa community in Rajasthan. She even has her own website, the Papu Photo Project, made by Mirjam and his friends. A little about her from the website:

Papu is a member of the Bhopa tribe, and lives with her family in the desert state of Rajasthan (India). Accompanied by her husband Chotu, who plays the Ravanhatta, a type of violin, they roam the streets of Pushkar, singing their traditional songs. []

and this important objective of the project:

Basically, the thought behind our Papu Photo Project is this: on the one hand we have the beauty of Papu, who sustains her family (last year she gave birth to a fourth child) as an impromtu photo model. On the other hand, we have nameless women who forever lost their beauty through violence inflicted upon them by their husband and mother-in-law. Women who, because of insufficient dowry, have been purposely set afire and are killed and mutilated for life.

The Papu Photo project is meant to support the work of Duniya Foundation, which among many other things, provides reconstructive surgery for dowry victims (see photos left column), circulates information, organizes educative street theatre and public debate etc. Moreover, we run a small health clinic cum social centre in Nagwa, a low income area in the city of Varanasi. This building serves as a refuge for women in distress as well. []

After finding so much about the picture I realized how much we are governed by stereotypes. As soon as I saw a woman with her face covered with black veil, I immediately presumed that she is a Muslim woman! That partly explains the distasteful and factually incorrect remarks made by Pratibha Patil, UPA nominee for President, about the purdah system in India. Speaking at a function organized to mark the 467th birth anniversary of Maharana Pratap Singh, she said that the purdah system was introduced to the Indian society to protect women from Mughal invaders. She also added:

Now that women are progressing in every field, we should morally support and encourage them by leaving such practices behind. Today we are citizens of free India. There is need to put a stop to such practices. That alone will ensure real respect for women. []

There are two issues here:

  1. She has got the history wrong.
  2. She has got her issues mixed up.

As expected, the criticism of her remarks has been severe, both from the academicians and the politicians. The voices coming from the Indian Muslim community have been too confrontational though. A lot has already been written and discussed about the historical inaccuracies inherent in her statements. Just a couple of quick points:

  • Purdah system was already in place in the Hindu society before the Muslim invaders
  • Mughals were not really invaders in the true sense of word as they settled here and were much different from Ghazni et al who came to loot and plunder
  • There was a Muslim rule in India for 400 years before Mughals
  • The purdah system in the Hindu society was mostly internal between house patriarchs and daughter-in-laws

The most troubling aspect of her remarks is the confusion between hijab and purdah (may be I will write a separate post on this one) and suggesting that it should be done away with to help women progress in the 21st century. This point is being protested by the Muslims the most and even they seem to have confused the issue. I am not sure why she chose to make such sweeping statement but I can surmise. She is seen as a the establishment’s candidate and is widely perceived to have no standing of her own. But she is a woman and the first woman ever to have a serious chance of being the President of India. Therefore, since day one she has marketed her nomination as a big step for women empowerment. May be she got a little frustrated with all the negative publicity she has been receiving and wanted to make a point. I think what she was trying to say was that women should not be forced into seclusion as it devoids them of many opportunities that the new India has to offer. The real message, however, got lost in the ensuing brouraha.

Oh, by the way, Papu wears a veil to protect herself from sand.

Hindu Hafiz and Muslim Pundit

Strange as it may sounds, this is the two stories that we saw in this month of June. Strange because in the environment of hate that has filled India and the Western world stories like these are hard to find.

A Muslim woman who is a scholar of Sanskrit and a Hindu girl who wants to memorize Quran.

Why are we surprised? Two religions that have lived together for hundreds of years will have people who will want to learn about their neighbor’s religion. In some cases, they may even want to master it.

In early years of Islam in India, there was lot of translation of Hindu religious and literary texts in Persian, which means they must have required commands over Sanskrit to able to do a proper translation. Interestingly enough, there is less translation of Islamic texts into Sanskrit or the regional languages. In fact, even first Urdu translation of Quran came much later.

This brings me to the point that Hindus of India have not made much attempt to understand Islam. Early Muslims in India spent much time in understanding Indian culture, religion, and language. Hindus who learned Farsi or Urdu were mainly people who were looking for a job in the government of that time. I am not aware of much intellectual or literary work by Hindus to understand Islam or Muslims. Unfortunately, very few Hindus even now can claim to understand Islam.

I believe there is more understanding of Hinduism by Muslims than Hindus understanding Islam. For a peaceful co-existence awareness and respect need to be two-way street.

Work like Historical Role of Islam by M. N. Roy is few and far between. Its mostly ignorant comments like the future President of India, Pratibha Patil or deliberate misinformation by Sangh propagandists that we see on a regular basis.

The Salmanic Verses: Knighthood For Salman Rushdie

Salman RushdieSalman Rushdie might have become Sir Salman Rushdie courtesy his recent elevation to knighthood but unfortunately he will always be remembered by his middle name: Controversy. It is unfortunate because Salman Rushdie has been one of the most famous Indian exports to the West before they discovered outsourcing. He has influenced and even subtly mentored a whole generation of Indian writers in English and can be called Mir Taqi Mir of contemporary English literature in India. Like every good Urdu couplet, no matter who the author is, belongs to Mir, every contemporary writer in English in India owes something to Rushdie. Like Mir, who wrote:

Mir ke diin-o-mazhab ko, kyaa puuchte ho unne to
kashkaa kheNchaa, dair meN baiThaa, kab kaa tark Islam kiyaa

What to say of the faith and beliefs of Mir?
He has put a tilak on his forehead, sits in the temple and has given up Islam.

Rushdie, willingly or unwillingly, invited the wrath of all the reactionary forces of the Muslim world through his novel The Satanic Verses. Mir might have died in penury, unattended and desolate, but at least he died a free man. Rushdie, on the other hand may not have such luck. It is sad, really sad, and tells us something of the intolerance that has come to define our modern society.

Ban On The Satanic Verses:
Ayatollah Seyyed Khomeini, Supreme Leader of Iran, signed the death warrant of Salman Rushdie six months before his own death. Iranian government, till this very day, refuses to recant the fatwa issued by Khomeini Ayatollah Khomeinisaying that only the one who issues the fatwa can repudiate it. This is a bit of hogwash and the truth is that no Iranian government, not anytime soon at least, can afford to take back the words of Khomeini. The fact that the recent Iranian governments have indicated that they will not actively pursue the enforcement of the fatwa doesn’t nullify the stupidity of it all. India, the country of birth for Rushdie, the land that provided him the inspiration and characters for his novels, was the second country in the world to ban the book after Singapore. The ban still holds good and one can’t buy the book in India. The fact that Salman Rushdie was not allowed to even visit India for over a decade by successive governments of every denominations says something about their absolute timidity vis-a-vis confronting intolerance. People who demanded a ban on the book, and quite successfully too, haven’t even read the book.

The British author Salman Rushdie says he feels hurt and humiliated by India, the country of his birth, because of its actions following the publication of his book, The Satanic Verses.

In an interview with an Indian magazine, Sunday, Mr Rushdie says he cannot visit India or even enter Indian buildings overseas.

Reflecting on the price he has paid for writing The Satanic Verses, Salman Rushdie says in the interview that the biggest loss has been the damage to his relationship with India.

He accuses the Indian government of banning the book without having read it, and of preventing him from travelling to India, even though he was born in the country and has property here. [BBC News 1998]

Just because some ailing mullah decides to score brownie points with his increasingly agitated population by issuing a fatwa, it becomes a life and death question for Muslims the world over. It is the insecurity and sheer intellectual bankruptcy throughout the Muslim world that leads them to believe that a mere book can threaten their very existence.

Why Banning Books Doesn’t Works?
It is a famous saying in marketing that there is no such thing as bad PR. By The Satanic Versesbanning a book, the government is unintentionally providing a big fillip to what might have been a totally worthless piece of literature. Taslima Nasreen is a case in point. I have asked many of my Bengali friends about their opinion of Nasreen as a writer and most of them have been pretty disappointed by her literary skills. By banning her books, the Bangladeshi government made her a martyr to the cause of freedom of expression. Her books have now been read by millions of people world-wide and are now available in over 20 languages. Nothing guides a man like curiosity does. Not many people would have cared for The Satanic Verses but for the reactionary fatwa of Khomeini. When I couldn’t find the book in India, I looked for it in Korea just to figure out what the whole fuss was about. To be very true, I found it to be profoundly boring and couldn’t get beyond a few pages. May be it would have remained such but the whole controversy gave it a cult status. Banning things generally don’t work. Be it alcohol, movies or books, people don’t like to be told by some higher authority what they should or should not do. And then it goes against the very notion of freedom of expression. It is this intolerance that has forced India’s best known painter, MF Husain, to leave his mother-country and live in self-imposed exile in Dubai

What Should Be Done?
If you don’t like a book, don’t read it. If you want to do more, write a better book. Internet coupled with globalization hasRushdie Controversy made it impossible to suppress flow of ideas. You can’t ban the internet, can you? May be you can but still people would find novel ways to get their message across. Internet has also provided a place for people to spread their propaganda. Make no mistake, there will be attempts by individuals to attack religious beliefs and symbols, Islam included, just to create trouble. Incendiary books will continue to be written but banning them should not be an option. The choice should be either a dignified silence or an intellectual rebuttal.

So what if Salman Rushdie wrote a few fictional incendiary passages against Prophet Muhammad? Can it belittle his achievements through which he was able to transform a brutal society and provide a way of life to millions and millions humans over centuries? Would Prophet have sanctioned all the violence and intolerance that goes on in his name? What about the scores of innocents who were killed throughout the world, and many still live in fear, because of the ban on The Satanic Verses? And as I wrote previously, what would that old lady, who used to throw rubbish on the Prophet, think of the acts of violence of his followers? Would she accept Prophet’s message now as she did at that time? If you don’t fan the flames, the fire will die out eventually. The Muslims protesting violently and calling for death are actually playing into the hands of trouble mongers. And the fence-sitters, their curiosity stimulated by controversies, when decide to explore more about the whole issue, there is nothing for them to read and understand the Muslim perspective. So, it reinforces their belief of Muslims as intolerant, violent people who have nothing to say but everything to shout.

Banning books, threatening authors, blackening houses have all been a recent phenomenon and should have no place in modern society. The fact that poets like Mir and Ghalib could write pretty much anything during the 17th and 18th 18th and 19th centuries and get away with it provides us a mirror in terms of freedom of expression. And the picture in the mirror is not pretty.