Solution For Our “Idiotic” Education System

By Zohra Javed,

“3Idiots” is a super duper hit. It apparently talks of how the education system is killing the creativity and burdening students. Does the film really serves the students with solutions or is it just another film is a matter of debate.

But talking of education system and the reforms it must undergo, I think a section of the entire education system that should actually be considered its strongest pillar is the most neglected. I am talking of the teachers. How often have we heard that teachers are poorly paid in most schools and colleges.

And that’s not all, government, who seems to be keen on bringing about the reforms, does not pay salary to its teachers for months together.

In such a scenario is it any wonder that most of the teachers at all levels are perhaps into the profession not because of their love to spread knowledge but simply because they “got the job”, and a little deeper look into their life would reveal that they actually did not like what they were doing, but have a family to feed and responsibilities they cannot afford to overlook.

In times when one hears so much about pursuing a career of one’s liking, how many are lucky enough to be doing so? Insecurities in life outdo every creativity that a person might posses. We do not have the courage to say “NO” when it really matters.

An education system should teach this virtue also!

Also an education system anywhere in the world that does not teach basic human values fails its very purpose. My mother tells us how difficult it was in her time for women from respectable Muslimfamilies in our native place to go to a school. But my grandfather, convinced his mother, saying education polishes the soul.

However can an education system that creates clones of job-seekers also contribute to bringing about an improvement in the values, morals and principles that should govern life and be at the base ofeverything that one does in life.

And how many of us want our children to take up teaching as a profession?

I would also like to make another point here since the film mentions the flaws in the country’s education system, let us not conclude it provides real solutions too. First of all it talks of only the above-90%-lot, those who have already qualified to be in a prestigious Engineering College. It is another matter that some of them did not like engineering.

Let us realize the fact that between the completely dejected and the enviable toppers lies the majority: The average student. They are in majority. And it is basically their problems that should be discussed.That would in all probability provide solace to those who are at the lowest rung of the ladder too.

The essence of it all, I think is, for us to realize that our children are not machines. Neither are they indebted to us so much as to be striving forever to fulfill the desires and dreams of their parents. They are human beings, with their own personalities and preferences. Guiding them to be good human beings and invoking in them the spirit of healthy competition should be our role as parents.

Too idealistic to be true?

I believe in aiming high!


This article first publised on

Indian Republic At 60- Am I Indian First Or Muslim First?

On the 60th anniversary of Indian Republic someone asked me a question; are you a Indian first or a Muslim first? The first thing I did was to thank him for asking this. Answer to this is sought by many “prominent” Indian Muslims and I am indeed honored to inadvertently sneak into this category. The latest ones in the list before me were APJ Abdul Kalam and Sharukh Khan!

I know it’s a very philosophical question ‘who am I’? However, without going any further, let me try to handle this. It’s like seeking answer to; are you child of your father first or your mother first? The answer is both. I am born in India and I am an Indian and it’s a geographical term. I am born in Islamic faith and so I am a Muslim, and it’s a religious term. I am an “Indian Muslim” is the short answer. Now let me elaborate my point.

Khan Abdul Wali Khan, the Pukhtoon leader was asked similar question; are you Pukhtun first or Muslim first? He replied; “I have been a Pukhtun for six thousand years, a Muslim for thirteen hundred years, and a Pakistani for twenty-five years. I am the one who is contained with all of these features.”

Now let me take you back to the history of this question that reverberated in the entire debate during the run up of India’s Independence and Partition. Many Indian Muslims were asked to clarify their position. They took pains to explain that religious and national identity is like two wheels of a cycle and both are essential for a ride. Multiple identities are inevitable and the individual, the society, and the polity have to adjust to such realities.

As per my knowledge this question was first asked to Maulana Mohmmmad Ali, one of the siblings of “Ali brothers” fame, who spearheaded the Khilfat movement in 1920 and credited to have imported Gandhiji to India from South Africa. Later, on when he fell out of the Congress, he was asked the same question; are you Indian first or Muslim first? What a sad commentary on one of the illustrious sons of India.

After independence this debate was suppose to have settled down with the creation of Pakistan and Bharat, that’s India. However, this has not. It continues to be tossed up to embarrass ordinary Indian Muslims and to create unnecessary tension in the society.

This question continues to be one of the smartest arrows in the quiver of the RSS establishment. They equate religion with national identity and by that token being a Hindu alone is an Indian and the people adhering to other religious faith are not second class Indian citizens and should not enjoy equal rights as those of the Hindu brethren.

My take on this is, to retort back; are you a Hindu first, or a Brahmin first, or an Indian first? If you move to Australial will you be a Hindu first, a Brahmin first, an Indian first or an Australian first?” How does a Hindu and an Indian reconcile to one’s religious and national identity if he or she is not living in the geographical boundary of India?

Religion is very personal thing to an individual. I am a Muslim and so also my other country men. They are Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, Jains, Zorashtrians, and many others in our plural society. I owe loyalty to my country India and its constitution and yet I practice my religion very freely and without prejudice to others’ views or faiths.

If we look at India’s canvass, Hinduism welcomed all religions with equal zeal when they knocked our shores and because of its openness, one finds a beautiful spread in terms of art, culture, architecture and music. The southern shores of India welcomed Judaism, Christianity, and Islam with open arms. We have a first synagogue, first church and first mosque in Kerala, a synthesis that is difficult to see in any other country. India therefore stands tall among the communities of nations where pluralism has come to stay. Even the most evolved societies of Europe are still grappling with the plural values.

I have always maintained, we could discuss any thing particularly religion with open mind and with sobering affect. But when we mix other agenda, a conflicting situation arises. Look at the passion that India- Pakistan cricket matches generated some time back. It was an unfortunate Muslim who had the audacity to clap when Pakistanis scored, and a quick label was fixed on him that he was anti India and a Pakistani. At the same time when a Indian who is settled abroad backs India in sports certainly, the people of those countries do not even pause or think this as an aberration to their citizenship or loyalty.

When Pakistan President Parvez Musharaff clapped and appreciated Indian Cricketers victory in Pakistan, no one raised any hue and cry. In fact he went a step further to quip that the Indian Captain MS Dhoni looked cute in his long hair. His comments did not made him pro Indian and anti – Pakistani but it did made a difference to mellow down the debate; Indian first or Muslim first?
So folks at the end, it’s all in our heads. how we look at the glass of water, whether it’s half empty or half full. The only way for a decent survival in a plural society like India is to steer the path of secularism and democracy and strive for peaceful coexistence.

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

Folklore Sans Frontiers

As we crossed the blood lined Waagah, after three hours of soul-destroying bureaucratic tangles and multiple forms filled in by the guardians of our borders, nothing changed. It was an eerie reminder of how the two Punjabs are but one. The roads were dusty and rural life remains as time-warped as ever. The street vendors were selling dirty, unhygienic food items wrapped in a thick cover of flies; and the money changers and CD-sellers attacked you with a frenzy that one is used to back home.

I was part of a delegation from Pakistan that was driving to Chandigarh to attend the SAARC folklore festival organized by Punjab’s legendary writer Ajeet Caur. This was a motley crew: ten Punjabis of various stripes, and five Sindhis who have travelled all the way from Bhit Shah to Lahore. We were greeted with garlands and the usual Punjabi warmth by our hosts at the border. This was my first trip to India via land or, as they say on visa forms, “on foot”. One could not escape the strange sensation of striding across a “hostile” frontier.

The road was still called the Grand Trunk Road and the traffic was a little more chaotic than that on the Pakistani side. The over-loaded road space reminded one of the simple fact that India’s population is out of control There is simply an explosion of humanity in all directions. As we drove towards Jullandar, our stop for lunch at a roadside restaurant called “haveli”, the driver bumped into a motorcyclist who was driving on the main highway thinking that he was still navigating the fields of his village. Thankfully, he was not hurt and the Sardarji had to only report the incident at a nearby police-post. My companions and I stood on the roadside waiting for the Sardariji to return. However, the general comment was that the lost side of the Punjab was more developed; and the images of women riding on motorcycles and scooters were simply astounding for first time visitors to India.

Six decades have passed since rivers of blood were unleashed by the tragic events of 1947, where an unnatural division of a territory was imposed by a cabal of self-obsessed politicians of all varieties and faiths, in cahoots with their imperial masters. Humans are resilient, after all, and the Punjabis have coped with this trauma rather well. On our side they have captured the entire country, held it to ransom and have not shied away from undermining other nationalities when need be. On the enemy side, they have turned into mega-entrepreneurs, flourishing businessmen across North Indian urban centres and a huge diaspora with lots of money in the Western capitals. But the tragedy refuses to go away. The most revered shrines of Sikhs are in Pakistan and the oldest Shiva temple is in our Punjab. The Muslims, of course, have left their saints and shrines in the Hindu kingdom, not to mention traces of a seven-century cohabitation with the Indian gods.

At sunset, we were closer to Chandigarh – city beautiful – a city that had to be built anew to refresh the memories of Lahore. A project that Pundit Jawaharlal Nehru was extremely proud of, Chandigarh became the first prototype, well-planned socialist experiment. It is a shame that five decades later, it is nothing like Lahore, as it still gropes to find an identity and it has turned into a testament of India’s deep-seated inequality across class lines. Having said that, it is a model city, with big boulevards, wide pavements, multiple educational institutions and mercifully, lots of green spaces.

We arrived at Himachal Bhavan, a government owned rest house of sorts built like a socialist castle. Very soon, we merged into the streams of visitors from other countries. The bauls, fakir followers of Lalon Shah in Bengal, the singers from Nepal, Kashmir and dancers from tribes of Bengal and Maharashtra constituted the delightful mosaic of South Asian folk universe carefully assembled by the legendary Ajeet Caur.

Thus a packed festival commenced in sleepy Chandigarh which, not unlike Islamabad, is a quiet city. The performers started the day with public performances in educational institutions and public auditoriums. Concurrently, a seminar took place for four days with scholars, writers and researchers presenting papers on South Asian folk art and cultures. The afternoons were spent on sightseeing and every evening folk performances were held at the Tagore Theatre in the city.

There was little room for a traveler of my kind to explore the city. But the wide variety of people who attended the seminars and performances provided ample opportunities to speak to the residents of the lost Punjab. Countless stories permeated our conversations, jokes and periods of serious discussions. A Sardarji from Gujranwala district narrated his memories of Lahore and native village. Such are the machinations of nostalgia that it becomes a reality; a shadow that hangs over the present, sometimes strong and at other times muted and subtle. But it is there, all the time. A family that migrated from Lahore had named their business in Chandigarh after the mohalla that they had to leave in the frenzy of 1947’s mayhem.

Surinder Caur, the popular singer from Indian Punjab had visited Lahore a decade ago and she nearly broke down when she identified her house in the Chauburji area. Her talented daughter Dolly Guleria is continuing the traditions and she sang with gusto at the festival. Dolly has a majestic voice and is well-versed in Sufi poetry from the Punjab. Her rendition of Baba Farid’s verses and pieces of Heer left the audience swooning.

Dolly also wants to visit Pakistan again as her maiden trip with her mother left an indelible impression on her.

Perhaps the most soulful performances at the festival were those by the Bauls of Bengal and the fakirs from Bhit Shah who retained the essence of original performative features unlike the pop-folk that is in vogue now. The malangs from Madhoo Lal Hussain’s shrine in Lahore were a hit for their direct connection with the audience. The trance-like state and losing themselves attracted the spectators as each one of them may have wanted at some stage of their life to have entered oblivion. The dhamalis, as these resident malangs are known, dance each Thursday to remember the tradition of devotion that Madhoo Lal had started in the seventeenth century to honour his patron, teacher Shah Hussain. The syncretic roots of our folklore are difficult to miss.

As I narrated in my paper on the myths of Indus river that, even today in parts of Sindh, there exists the practice of wrapping the holy Quran in colourful cloth and cradling it, the way Hindus have worshipped the birth of Lord Krishna.

Scholars from all over the region lamented how folklore traditions were threatened due to rampant commercialisation and the globalised mono-culture where manners and lifestyles are all inspired by the dominant West. During the festival, I loved the dancers of Sherdukpen tribe from Arunachal Pradesh who performed the traditional Yak Dance. These tribals are engaged in farming for their livelihoods, while dancing provides a balance of their interaction with Nature and daily rigours of their lives.

Other groups from India presented amazing performances showcasing the vibrant cultural kaleidoscope of India. The Yakshagaan from Karnataka, Laavni from Maharashtra, Hafiz Nagma from Kashmir, and Ustad Qadri Sardar Ali’s Qawwali group from Punjab displayed the way folk traditions continue in these difficult times.

The festival aside, it was the Punjabi environs that pleased me the most. Indian Punjab is now divided into governable units of Himachal Pradesh, Haryana and the Punjab. In addition, Chandigarh is a Union territory that also happens to be the headquarters for Punjab and Haryana states. Nehru’s land reform, industrialisation and the spread of education at all levels have made these states distinctly different from their mammoth counterpart: the Pakistani Punjab. A large middle class has transformed the cultural ethos and democratic traditions have ensured that citizen voice is given its due in governance on the Indian side.

Chandigarh, for instance, has an impressive literacy rate of nearly 82% and its per capita income is also the highest for the service sector flourishes here. Guess who can boast of a parha likha Punjab? On the other hand we have a small, populous strip of central Punjab that has the promise of prosperity; otherwise, southern Punjab is the poorest of regions in Pakistan. The barani north is also impoverished with limited citizen services and entitlements. With our indoctrinated India-hatred, we often tend to overlook these developments in our immediate neighbourhood. How come the infidels, those scheming banias and stumbling Sikhs achieve this? A question that must be addressed by us all.

On my last day in Chandigarh, I visited the Punjab University to meet an old acquaintance from the international public administration network. Mr and Mrs Ghuman live in a peaceful house within the university, grow their own vegetables, and are raising two sons who are acquiring state of the art education. I was offered baisan ki mithai, kachorees and barfi with lots of affection for Pakistan and the Punjabis. I did not feel as if I was in a hostile territory and the conversation and its tenor reminded me of my family on this side of the border. Ironically, the same day another former Professor of Chandigarh, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, a son of Chakwal was trading allegations against Pakistan for spreading terrorism. Politics can deplete cultures and destroy common bonds. 1947 was this awful watershed when high politics dominated the lived and shared lives of the Punjabis.

Ajeet Caur-ji, who calls me her son, is a remarkable woman. She is relentless in her efforts in forging South Asian bonds and effecting literary and cultural exchanges. She has kept a flame ablaze in dark times. Let the light prevail. Ajeetji is not alone. The writers from all over South Asia are her family.
It will take years, perhaps decades, but the dream for a visa-less, peacefully coexistent countries of South Asia will be realized. We will wait, but not give up.

First published in The Friday Times.

Raza Rumi is a freelance writer from Pakistan is the founder and Editor of Lahore Nama.


Adolescent At 60

By Dr Mohammad Manzoor Alam,

At 60 human individuals start getting old, staring at retirement and slowdown in physical, mental and economic activity. Soon, they are pushed to the margins of life as “senior citizens”, who no longer have anything meaningful to contribute and have to make room for the next generation to take over. Happily, a republic’s life is longer, its lifecycle different. Our republic is 60 today, a strong, powerful pre-adult entity set to bloom into a global player within the decade. That is the good part, requiring celebration.

In fact, there are a whole lot of achievements to celebrate. For instance, a longer life expectancy (about 67 years), which is an addition of nearly two decades of life, largely due to better nutrition and health care.

Another major victory is sustained democracy in a world which still has a substantial number of countries where people’s participation in decision-making is negligible. Like in the United States or other mature Western democracies, the military is confined to barracks, away from levers of power and political authority. The military here knows its rightful position as paid government servant assigned to the defence of national borders, and some occasional work among civilians in emergencies. It never tries to become the people’s master by nudging away the elected authority.

Peaceful transfer of power and the right to dissent make India one of the most remarkable democracies. Respect for the right to dissent is not only a marker of democracy but also a marker of a mature civilization and a great society. Thank God, over the last 60 years, barring 18 months of the infamous Emergency, we have always enjoyed the right to say no to the most powerful in the land, including the Prime Minister. That is real democracy.

Democracy has matured in more ways: Now it is getting increasingly difficult for powerful classes in the villages to force Dalits and Muslims inside their homes and capture booths; there is greater transparency in bureaucratic transaction mainly because of the accountability enforced by the Right to Information (RTI) Act; greater vigilance and organised activism of NGOs makes it more difficult for bureaucrats and police officers to break law as easily as they did only a few years ago; politicians know today that they have to respect law as much as they can. That also is real democracy.
However, it remains a fact that so far not all corrupt politicians, bureaucrats are inside jails, although quite a few are there. Over the last decade the incidence of atrocities against Dalits has remained quite high, even in Uttar Pradesh, where a Dalit CM has been in power professing allegiance to the Dalit cause.

Even at 60, the republic has been helpless in enforcing its will in crucial areas where national integrity and public good is at stake. For instance, we have the mobocracy of Maharashtra. In the 60s, the newly cartoonist-turned politician Bal Thackeray made life hell for Tamilians and Keralites. Non-Tamilian and non-Keralite Indians never bothered to check the violence and hooliganism of Shiv Sainiks against helpless fellow Indians.

In the mid-80s Thackeray had another avatar. He forget about South Indians and began tongue-lashing Muslims. By the time the watershed events of December 6, 1992 happened Thackeray had started badmouthing Muslim Indians on a daily basis and his Shiv Sainiks had participated in the widespread anti-Muslim killings that preceded December 6 events.

In any other country where democracy had matured and rule of law was firmly established Thackeray would have been in jail long enough not to be able to start the round of anti-Muslim hooliganism leading to December 6. He was so contemptuous of rule of law and the authority of the state that he openly declared before the media that his Shiv Sainiks had demolished the undefended mosque. This was certainly not the way the Indian state should have allowed itself to be humiliated by a gang of law-breakers. Meanwhile, the non-Muslim segment, which is 85 percent of the population, largely kept itself aloof allowing the crime to happen and than go unpunished.

That the culprits of December 6 are free to do as they will is not a matter of satisfaction for the Republic of India, or for any other republic caught in a similar situation. Just because the culprits were never penalised for their evil acts they went from one carnage to another. Mayhem against Muslims and Christians is still a frequently recurring phenomenon, tied neatly to electoral politics. Also, just because the mass murder of Muslims was condoned by the Indian state for decades, the massacre of Sikhs in 1984 was easy to be carried out. Out of hundreds of identified and unidentified killers those brought to book can be counted on the fingers of a single hand. Meanwhile, the criminals roam free enjoying power and prosperity. All this has not covered the republic with glory.

There could be a whole lot of judicial, legislative and administrative measures to establish rule of law in the country, but nothing worthwhile was done. For a more just and law-abiding future we have been pleading for judicial reforms, police reforms, legislation to establish an Equal Opportunity Commission, actionable laws against hate speech and hate crimes.

As Muslims we are also concerned about the falling representation of Muslims in Central and state legislatures, meagre presence in other bodies of decision-making and governance, hubs of power and influence.

Democracy would be meaningless until neglected sections of society are empowered through targeted education, economic aid, job quotas and other interventions. We had vainly been asking for better representation of Muslims in government commissions, committees, sub-committees and other niches of power through nomination and co-option. We have been asking for meaningful policing to prevent anti-Muslim violence by Hindutva hooligans and gangs like Shiv Sena, MNS, Sanathan Sanstha and Abhinav Bharat. Every plea has gone unheard, apparently.

Fair play and better participation of all classes of Indians are essential for a just and durable order. Hopefully, our republic will mature within the current decade to eliminate hunger, illiteracy and injustice. Let us all work towards that goal.

(The writer is Chairman, Institute of Objective Studies, and General Secretary, All India Milli Council)

Poverty And Wealth

By A. Srinivas,
Among the developing countries, India stands in the second position, since six decades, on which way is this Indian Democracy moving? Answer to this is, on one side increase in poverty and on the other side increase in assets being centralized in the hands of few, this is our democracy.

United Nations Organizations (UNO) has long back reported as, “The absence of income is not the only reason for poverty, but non-availability of facilities such as education, health, proper employment, absence of peoples’ participation in politics is also poverty.” But in India caste is also one of the undeniable reasons for poverty.

United Nations Organizations (UNO) has long back reported as, “The absence of income is not the only reason for poverty, but non-availability of facilities such as education, health, proper employment, absence of peoples’ participation in politics is also poverty.” But in India caste is also one of the undeniable reasons for poverty.

The World Bank did research in various countries considering the peoples earning of 1.5 dollars per day as norm for the study of poverty, but in the past only 1 dollar was considered as criterion but later it was revised to 1.5 Dollars. The estimation of Indian poverty data is based on this study. There are 140 crores of people world wide, whose daily earnings are less than 1.2 dollars (approximately 55 rupees). Wherein, Indian population is more than 100 crores, 45 crores 60 lakhs of these kinds of people are found in India. According to Arjun Sen Gupta committee, 80% of the people live depending on Rs. 20 per day. Due to the drastic increase in the rates of essential commodities from 2005 onwards, the life has become burden to the lower middle class and middle class people as well. 20 crores of people sleep with empty stomach everyday because they do not have anything to eat. To eradicate hunger, India is in the 94th position, and is backward than the neighboring countries such as China and Pakistan.

In India out of 100 new born infants, 67 of them die within a year, 93 of them die within 5 years. One of the reasons according to 2004 report is, out of Gross national Income, only a small percentage is spent on peoples health.

Another thing is out of 194 countries, only 4 countries are spending less than us on health. We are not even in the position of spending 2% of GDP on health.

One, out of five children dying world wide, within five years of age is from our country. According to UNICEF report, ten lakhs of children die every year. In our country 5 lakhs of infants die within 28 days, 60% of women deliver at homes; 78 thousand of women die during pregnancy and delivery.

India is in top position in the case of child labour. 12.6 million Children’s childhood is being destroyed, who are working in various sectors. Poverty is seed bed for child labour. Among them children of rural areas are working as agricultural labour and bonded labour. In urban areas 58% of children are working in hazardous industries. In the education field, among the 100 children admitted in 1st class, only 53% of them reach till 10th class, and 38% reach till degree level. Only 7% of the students are studying higher education (IIM, IIT, MBA).

In fact where did the development and wealth go which was achieved in 60 years? What happened to the efforts, resources and wealth earned by crores of people? A new group of upper middle class emerged in India, which is in 2nd position among the developing countries. Multi storied buildings appeared in big number. Salaries are increasing, therefore consumerism also increased.

IT, BPO sectors created jobs on big scale. The things seen such as resorts, hotels, corporate hospitals, shopping malls, international schools, foreign tours, modern cars, mobiles are only the assets.

The biggest exploitation known in the Human history which got publicity during the time of 2009 elections is of the black money hidden in Swiss bank. 1,50,000 crores dollars i.e. Rs.75,00,000 (seventy five lakhs of crores) of Indian black money is in Swiss bank. This lakhs of crores of money, which is earned in illegal ways by political leaders, corporate, business sectors and corrupted higher officials, is hidden in Swiss bank since many years. Apart from this, still thousands of crores of black money is in our country itself. Our foreign loan is more than 12,50,000 crores, which means the black money in Swiss bank is 5 times more than that of the Indian foreign loan. In this lakhs of crores of money more than 100 crores is of Indians. It was pretended that the efforts are being done to bring back money from Swiss bank. But it seems the UPA government is not interested in doing so.

Our constitution builders clearly stated that the wealth should be decentralized; if wealth is consolidated then the rights provided by the state will be violated. Contrary to this, all the money went into the hands of few people. According to the Forbes Magazine, (Millionaires list) in this list not only Indians names got place but their number as millionaires also increased.
Ours is a starvation country, where more than six lakhs of farmers and weavers attempted suicide and died country wide, who is responsible for these deaths? Who is responsible for this poverty? The statistics clearly visible to us are in the form of declining faith of people on electoral political system. The reason for all this is, if The World Bank, American policies are one aspect; in the matter of destructive development, all the parties possess same type of political acceptance in our country. Party agenda are different, faces are different, but the policies are the same. There is an urgent need to make people aware of their rights and to make people conscious of the importance of the constitutional values and benefits.

A. Srinivas is  Human Rights Activist.

Courtsey: Civil Liberties Monitoring Committee India

Muslim Women Of Malabar

In various towns of Malabar, it is not uncommon to see Muslim women on the streets, bazaars, and schools. They can be easily identified with their traditional mode of clothing. Young girls wear long colorful skirts and long sleeved blouses and heads covered in dupatta or a hijab. Older girls, it seems, prefer shalwar qameez. Married women wear saris or abayas.

However they may be dressed- traditional, modern, or religious- Mappila women cannot be ignored. Until recently, a section of ulama were opposed to women’s education but people’s attitude changed and now the same group of traditional ulama have set up an engineering college with a women’s hostel attached. Times have changed.

Mother and daughters- moving forward

This change, however, has come through with the tireless work by reformers like Makthi Thangal and Kunhahammed Haji. Haji encouraged women’s education and sent his daughters to school to set an example. C.H. Mohammed Koya, as the Education Minister of Kerala, introduced a scholarship for Muslims girls. The Mujhahid movement and the Jamaat-e-Islami also encouraged the education of girls.

These days, girls not only top various exams, but also more girls are enrolled in professional colleges than boys. Muslim women can now be seen taking full advantage of educational and employment opportunities available to them in Kerala. One Fathima benefitted from these opportunities and became the first women to be a Supreme Court judge. Justice M. Fathima Beevi also served as the governor of Tamil Nadu.

An unintended consequence that has occurred due to the large number of men from Kerala that are now working in Gulf countries, is that women of Kerala have taken on new responsibilities. To realize who really makes financial decisions here, just take a look at the thousands of billboards that you will encounter on the ever winding roads of Kerala. Among the thatched roofs, mosques, new buildings, and lush greenery, dotting the sides of the roads you cannot miss billboards advertising clothing, jewelry and home construction & furnishings. And suddenly when you see an ad for a scooter, asking the girls of Kerala – Why should boys have all the fun?- the question and the billboard doesn’t seem so out of place.

Watch: Counselling Kerala Society

Watch: Munambath Bivi Dargah

Wearing Burqa Will Now Be A Crime?

Now a draft bill is under consideration of French Parliament imposing a fine of Euro 700 on any woman wearing burqa covering her whole body in any public place and her husband twice as much if he forces hear to wear burqa. This is for the first time that women would be penalized for wearing burqa. Earlier France had banned Muslim girls wearing hijab in schools. It argued that these religious symbols interfere with its commitment to secularism and its secular culture.

In fact nothing happens without political ideology being behind it. This measure is being championed by rightwing politicians who are exploiting anti-Islam feelings in France among a section of people under the cover of secularism. However the socialists are opposed to any ban on burqa though they are also not in favour of women wearing burqa. They feel women should be discouraged rather than banning burqa (which includes covering face).

The Socialist spokesman Benoit Hamon announced that wearing burqa is not desirable but is not favourable to legal ban which would amount to an inconsistent ad hoc ban. Mr. Hamon said on RTL Raido “We are totally opposed to the burqa. The burqa is a prison for women and has no place in the French Republic”, he said. “But an adhoc law would not have the anticipated effect”.

The stand taken by Socialists appears to be quite logical. One cannot stop women from wearing burqa through a legal ban. It is quite undemocratic to punish one for wearing certain type of dress. It is anti-democratic and anti-secular for a multi-cultural society. Let it be very clear that to cover entire body including the face is not necessarily an Islamic way.

The ulama hold different views on the subject. Majority of them hold that covering face and hands is not prescribed by Qur’an or Sunnah. Only very few theologians and jurists want women to be fully covered. To compel women to so cover their bodies and face is indeed against women’s rights and dignity. And a woman should be a free agent to decide for herself what to wear within decent limits and cultural ethos.

However, this freedom also includes right of women to cover their face, if thy so desire and if they think it is requirement of their religion. When I was lecturing in Bukhara University among a class of women students all of whom were wearing skirts and their heads were uncovered, two women came fully covered including their faces. All other women demanded that these two burqa clad women should be thrown out.

I said imagine burqa clad women were in majority and two women had come wearing skirt and uncovered head and majority of burqa clad women had demanded those two women being thrown out, what would you feel. I, therefore, argued that let us not get violent because someone dresses unlike us. We should dialogue with them and persuade them, if we can, not to wear such dress fully covering themselves.

There could be number of reasons why one prefers to wear certain kind of dress. May be there is coercion by parents or husband which is undesirable. Or may be one thinks it is religious requirement and one tries to assert ones right. Or may be one is trying to fight cultural alienation. Certain dresses also become identity markers. Many Muslims who migrate from Asia and Africa experience cultural shock when they see French or other European women wearing scanty dresses, even wearing bikinis. Thus they feel all the more compelled to wear their traditional dress.

Also, in France and several other European countries migrants are marginalized and have feeling of alienation which pushes them into practicing their own cultural norms. And then it is also to be remembered all Muslim women in France do not wear such dress covering themselves fully. In fact many Muslim women have integrated themselves into French society by taking to western dress.

Thus legal ban will only build up resistance among traditional Muslim women and they would try to defy the law resulting in social tensions. It would be far better to resort to persuasive ways to discourage traditional Muslim women not to wear all covering burqa. And persuasion alone will not work unless backed by other measures economic as well as social to fight alienation of religious and cultural minorities.

Thus one needs multi-pronged measures to contain this problem. Muslim Ulama and intellectuals living in France also have to adopt creative ways to reinterpret Islamic traditional sources to suit new conditions. It is quite necessary to revisit traditional sources rooted in medieval feudal culture.

Interview: Nasr Abu Zayd On A Humanistic Reading Of The Islamic Tradition

Nasr Hamid Abu Zayd is a well-known Egyptian Islamic scholar. In 1982, he joined the faculty of the Department of Arabic Language and Literature at Cairo University.

In 1995, he was promoted to the rank of full professor, but  controversies about his academic work led to a court decision of apostasy  and the denial of the appointment. A hisbah trial started against him Islamist groups and he was declared a heretic (Murtadd) by an Egyptian court. Consequently, he was declared to be divorced from his wife, Cairo University French Literature professor Dr. Ibthal Younis. This decision, in effect, forced him out of his homeland and seek refuge in the Netherlands, where he now works. In this interview with Yoginder Sikand, he speaks about his work and reflects on his efforts to promote a humanistic reading of the Islamic tradition.

Sikand: You have been writing on the question of human rights in Islam for a long time now. What are you presently working on?

Nasr Abu Zaid: I am presently working on a project that explores and develops the notion of the rights of women and children in Islam. The aim of the project is to promote knowledge of the traditional sources of Islam, such as the Qur’an, the Sunnah or practice of the Prophet and fiqh or Islamic jurisprudence, within Muslim communities so as to help promote general awareness of these rights. Alongside this, the project also seeks to critically look at aspects of tradition that might appear to militate against these rights.

In the course of your work how do you relate to those aspects of the historical Islamic tradition which you think might be opposed to the notion of women’s and children’s rights?

Every tradition has both negative as well as positive aspects. The positive aspects are to be further developed, while the negative aspects need to be discussed closely, to see if they are indeed essential elements of the faith or are actually simply human creations.

How does this work relate to what you have been previously engaged in?

I see it as part of my long interest in Islamic hermeneutics, the methodology of understanding the Qur’an, the Sunnah and other components of the Islamic tradition. Of particular concern for me are certain assumptions in popular Islamic discourse that have not been fully examined, and have generally been ignored or avoided. Thus, for instance, Muslim scholars have not seriously reflected on the question of what is actually meant when we say that the Qur’an is the revealed ‘Word of God’.

What exactly does the term ‘Word of God’ mean? What does revelation mean? We have the definitions of the Word and revelation given by the traditional ‘ulama, but other definitions are also possible. When we speak of the ‘Word of God’ are we speaking of a divine or a human code of communication?

Is language a neutral channel of communication? Was the responsibility of the Prophet simply that of delivering the message, or did he have a role to play in the forming of that message? What relation does the Qur’an have with the particular social context in which it was revealed? We need to ask what it means for the faith Muslims have in the Qur’an if one brings in the issue of the human dimension involved in revelation.

Are you suggesting that the Qu’ran cannot be understood without taking into account the particular social context of seventh century Arabia?In other words, are there aspects of the Qur’an that were limited in their relevance and application only to the Prophet’s time, and are no longer applicable or relevant today?

What I am suggesting is that in our reading of the Qur’an we cannot undermine the role of the Prophet and the historical and cultural premises of the times and the context of the Qur’anic revelation. When we say that through the Qur’an God spoke in history we cannot neglect the historical dimension, the historical context of seventh century Arabia. Otherwise you cannot answer the question of why God first ‘spoke’ Hebrew through his revelations to the prophets of Israel, then Aramaic, through Jesus, and then Arabic, in the form of the Qur’an.In a historical understanding of the Qur’an one would also have to look at the verses in the text that refer specifically to the Prophet and the society in which he lived. Some people might feel that looking at the Qur’an in this way is a crime against Islam, but I feel that this sort of reaction is a sign of a weak and vulnerable faith. And this is why a number of writers who have departed from tradition and have pressed for a way of relating to the Qur’an that takes the historical context of the revelation seriously have been persecuted in many countries. I think there is a pressing need to bring the historical dimension of the revelation into discussion, for this is indispensable for countering authoritarianism, both religious and political, and for promoting human rights.

Could you give an example of how a historically grounded reading of the Qur’an could help promote human rights?

Take, for instance, the question of chopping off the hands of thieves, which traditionalists would insist be imposed as an ‘Islamic’ punishment today. A historically nuanced understanding of the Islamic tradition would see this form of punishment as a borrowing from pre-Islamic Arabian society, and as rooted in a particular social and historical context. Hence, doing away with this form of punishment today would not, one could argue, be tantamount to doing away with Islam itself. By thus contextualising the Qur’an, one could arrive at its essential core, which could be seen as being normative for all times, shifting it from what could be regarded as having been relevant to a historical period and context that no longer exists.

If one were to take history seriously, how would a contextual, historically grounded understanding of the Qur’an reflect on Islamic theology as it has come to be developed?

As I see it, Sunni Muslim theology has remained largely frozen in its ninth century mould, as developed by the conservative ‘Asharites. We need to revisit fundamental theological concepts today, which the Sunni ‘ulama, by and large, have ignored, for there can be no reform possible in Muslim societies without reform in theology. Till now, however, most reform movements in the Sunni world have operated from within the broad framework of traditional theology, which is why they have not been able to go very far.

How would this new understanding of theology that you propose reflect on the issue of inter-faith relations?

When I suggest that we need to reconsider what exactly is meant by saying that the Qur’an is the ‘Word of God’, I mean Muslims must also remember that the Qur’an itself insists that the ‘Word of God’ cannot be limited to the Qur’an alone. A verse in the Qur’an says that if all the trees in the world were pens and all the water in the seas were ink, still they could not, put together, adequately exhausted the Word of God. The Qur’an, therefore, represents only one manifestation of the absolute Word of God. Other Scriptures represent other manifestations as well. Then again, many Sufis saw the whole universe as a manifestation of the ‘Word of God’. But, today, few Muslim scholars are taking the need for inter-faith dialogue with the seriousness that it deserves. Most Muslim writers are yet to free themselves from a rigid, imprisoning chauvinism.

How does this way of reading the Qur’an deal with the multiple ways in which the text can be understood and interpreted?

The Qur’an, like any other text, can be read in different ways, and there has always been a plurality of interpretations. The text does not stand alone. Rather, it has to be interpreted, in order to arrive at its meaning, and interpretation is a human exercise and no interpreter is infallible. As Imam ‘Ali says, the Qur’an does not speak by itself, but, rather, through human beings. True, Muslims from all over the world, do share certain rituals and beliefs in common, but their understanding of what Islam and the Qur’an are all about differ considerably. It is for us to help develop new ways of understanding Islam that can promote human rights, while at the same time being firmly rooted in the faith tradition.

Yoginder Sikand works with the Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy at the National Law School, Bangalore

Muslim Organizations Of Kerala

There are about 8 million Muslims in Kerala and the experts will tell you that it will be difficult to find anyone who is not already attached to a Muslim organization. Kerala is full of competing Muslim religious, social, and political organizations that are very active in the state.

Kerala has long history of Muslim organizations. Many organizations were formed during the turn of the last century when community leaders realized that the community was lagging behind in social and economic front.

Samastha office in Calicut

Some of the prominent Muslim organizations are:

Samastha Kerala Jam’eyyat ul-Ulama : Popularly known as Samastha is the largest Muslim organization of Kerala. It was established in 1924 by Kerala Muslim Aikya Sangham. This organizations represent the traditional ulema of Kerala who are fiercely opposed to the ‘Wahabi ideology.’ It runs an excellent system of Madrasa education throughout Kerala and a few outside the state as well.
Indian Union Muslim League: IUML also has its origin in Aikya Sangham. Sangham leader K.M. Seethi Sahib was the founder leader of Muslim League in Kerala. Seethi sahib was the leader of Congress but by 1934 he was in Muslim League camp. He brought with him many of his supporters to the ML. Since winning a seat in 1934, Muslim League has firmly established itself in Kerala politics.

IUML banner for the Lok Sabha 2009 election

Muslim League never indulged in communal politics in Kerala and even though it championed the cause of Muslims but always positioned itself as a secular party.

Jamaat-e-Islami Hind: JIH’s Kerala unit is the most active unit of the organization established in 1941 by Syed Abul Ala Maududi. JIH runs a number of organizations in the state- Students Islamic Organisation, Girls Islamic Organisation, Solidarity Youth Movement. Jamaat publishes Madhyamam, a prominent daily newspaper in Malayalam, Prabodhanam, a weekly magazine among others. Jamaat also has a very active women’s cell in the state.

Kerala Nadwathul Mujahideen: This organization also find its origin in Kerala Muslim Aikya Sangham. It was officially formed in 1950 and is affiliated to the All India Ahl-e-Hadith. Mujahid movement runs a number off madrasas and Arabic Colleges. Mujahid group was one of the first Muslim organization to encourage education of girls.

Popular Front’s ad in Malappuram

A number of new Muslim organizations have come up recently showing the restlessness among the Muslim youth. Political conservatism of Muslim League has led to the establishment of new groups e.g. Political Front of India, Abdul Nasser Madani’s Peoples Democratic Party(PDP).

Though these organizations are bitterly competitive but always come together for the benefit of the community on issues affecting the Muslims. A globalized Islamophobia is also affecting the thousand years old inter-community relations in Kerala and Muslims here are feeling the heat. Hindutva groups are very active here and making inroads in Kerala society.


Iqbal Ahmad Ansari, 1935 – 2009


Professor Iqbal Ahmad Ansari, a researcher and a theoretician as well as a fieldworker of the human rights movement in India, died an activist discussing violations of minority rights on Gandhi Jayanti (October 2) and holding consultations with PUCL activists in the national capital on the evening before his death in Aligarh on October 13, 2009. In December 2007 he was honoured by the Jawaharlal Nehru University’s Centre for Promotion of Human Rights Teaching and Research for his largely unheralded contributions in the area.

He was a unique Muslim intellectual who spoke with reason and in a language understandable to non-Muslim jurists, secular intellectuals and rights activists, Muslim clerics and even international jihadis. He was a self-confident Muslim writer of substance who was immune to denial and conspiracy theories. He also saw justification in the media hyping of “Islamic terrorism”, as, of all the violent groups fighting against oppression worldwide, it was only the Muslims whose war cry was religious, paying no heed to the theology, and axiology, of the use of force in Islam.
“Muslim passivity and the urge to blame the media,” he wrote, “should be replaced by an objective assessment of the rise of the cult of violence in the name of armed Islamic jihad in Jammu and Kashmir, Pakistan and lately in Bangladesh.” He discounted Islamic terrorism, which he preferred to call anti-Islamic, on both counts: its legitimacy as well as its strategic viability. While speaking of Islamic terrorism in the wake of 9/11, he counselled Muslims worldwide, “wherever they find themselves oppressed, to explore new techniques of effective peaceful struggle, of passive resistance, which was evolved by, among others, Gandhi.”

Ansari was most eloquent in his enunciation of the principles of legitimate violence, a term that he carefully avoided, favouring instead the phrase “use of force”, even in the context of non-state actors. Unlike most Muslim writers who emphasised the spiritual jihad, he spoke directly, and most often solely, on armed jihad, which was, as he put it, the legitimate use of force for a specified just cause. He was not one of the many Gandhians who disallowed the use of force for all causes even if just, and even in self-defence. “The pacifists preaching the religious doctrine of absolute non-violence,” he maintained, “could not generally remain consistent for any length of time, as was the case with Gandhi on Kashmir in 1947.”

He was a Gandhian with a difference. He believed that it was more important, while pursuing the noble quest for a state of everlasting peace in the world, to seek universal observance of humanitarian laws of armed conflict whenever force was used so that all non-combatants, especially women, children, the old and the disabled, enjoyed protection of life and dignity during hostilities. This realistic Koranic position on the legitimacy of force is not only similar to that of Gandhi’s Gita but has also been endorsed by the world community in modern times under the United Nations Charter (1945) and the humanitarian laws of war codified under the four Geneva Conventions (1949).

Whenever he spoke on the issue of legitimate use of force, he invariably addressed the militant groups alongside the governments and “all the militarily powerful nations of the world, led by the United States of America”. In fact, Ansari’s discourse of the legitimate use of force has the potential to engage even the Maoist Naxals in a dialogue of reason. “In Islam, peace is accorded a fairly high ranking in the hierarchy of values but so is justice. A kind of militancy defined as a vigorous struggle directed towards establishing a just order was inherent in the ideological orientation of Islam. Internal insurgency and rebellion can enjoy legitimacy if any section or group feels persistently oppressed and other peaceful methods of redressal have been exhausted.”

However, the use of force by any such group would be governed by the same principles as a declared war under a unified political command and could seek Islamic legitimacy only under strict conditions both while defining ends as well as means. During any declared hostilities and armed conflict led by a political command, if the destruction of military power and potential of the enemy required any operation wherein death of the attacking soldiers was certain, suicide bombing of purely military targets may be considered permissible but not in situations where civilians could be victims. He also rejected the validity of the contention that civilians were legitimate targets because they were taxpayers and supporters of a tyrannical government.

In this context, he further emphasised the shades within each category of ‘justice’ and ‘peace’ (or ‘equality’ and ‘freedom’) requiring discrimination, that is, tolerable inequality reconciled to larger freedom and tolerable injustice reconciled to pervasive peace and vice versa. “On occasion it will make us choose peace under an order which is not perfectly just while continuing to struggle peacefully for a more just order.” That is where intercommunity peace initiatives and intercommunity/state conciliation are to be most relevant.

In his perennial pursuit of conciliation and human rights, he appears to have arrived at his own definition or interpretation of “Islamism” (or what is alternatively called “political Islam”) as being a struggle for justice and he urged Islamists worldwide “to engage in research and activism in the area of prevention and peaceful resolution of conflicts and in developing effective techniques for peaceful struggles for the right of self-determination and for fighting political and economic injustices that they are faced with”. To the question: Will it succeed, his answer was: Has terrorism succeeded?

He noted with satisfaction the fact that in spite of being subjected to recurrent organised violence with state collusion, Indian Muslims were not associated with any international terrorist organisation. On occasion stray Muslim individuals have taken recourse to terrorist acts because, as explained by Justice Srikrishna and others, they despair of ever receiving justice from the system. Ansari however did not think that periodic post-event condemnation of such acts was an adequate response from Indian Muslim leaders, as he was alarmed by the rise of what he called “anti-Islamic terrorism” in India’s neighbourhood.

“Targeting lawyers and judges for administering secular laws instead of Shariah in Bangladesh is the latest example of jihadi acts committed by self-proclaimed Islamic groups,” he said, and urged Muslim religious leaders and intellectuals to engage their counterparts in Jammu and Kashmir, Pakistan and Bangladesh in a community dialogue on the legitimacy of force in Islam (as well as its efficacy) and the ethical and legal code governing armed hostilities.

Born activist that he was, he addressed a ‘Memorandum To PM HM CMs’ (2005), ‘An Open Letter to Muslim Ulema and Intellectuals’ (February 2006) and, in a meeting at the Gandhi Peace Foundation in New Delhi (February 2007), launched a campaign entitled ‘Shanti Pahal’ for the advocacy of intercommunity peace initiatives. He visited Jammu and Kashmir on several occasions, alone and along with others. During his last visit, in September 2006, he sought the consent of Kashmiri leaders to a ‘Citizens’ Declaration on Protection of Uninvolved Persons During all Situations of Use of Force’. He also visited Islamabad and Karachi in 2008 and, with the help of old Aligarians there, managed to get endorsements from Pakistani ulema and intellectuals for the declaration: ‘Towards a Riot and Terror-Free Indo-Pak Region’.
Ansari was a rare intellectual and a great negotiator of theologico-political issues, combining the best traditions of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, Muhammad Iqbal and Mahatma Gandhi. He held that durable peace in “traditional societies like those in the subcontinent” required basic reform of the police and justice system for the state to uphold the rule of law and also called for intercommunity/interstate conciliation through dialogue, especially on emotive ethno-religious issues like cow slaughter, conversion, Ayodhya and Kashmir. He bracketed Kashmir with the range of Hindu-Muslim issues because, seen from a broader historical perspective, it was part of the history of unresolved Hindu-Muslim conflict leading to partition. “Any overall religio-cultural conciliation between Hindus and Muslims in India may be expected to lead to a qualitative change in the attitude of Kashmiris.”

Pursuing a Gandhian insight on cow slaughter and conversion, he urged Muslims to declare a voluntary ban on cow slaughter and hoped that such a voluntary declaration would go a long way in earning the goodwill of the Hindu community, especially its elite. “Banning cow slaughter by a central legislation may come into conflict with the demands of secularism,” he argued, “but its coming into effect through a compact will not pose any problem so long as other animals are available for sacrifice and for food. Several Muslim monarchs, ulema and leaders, including Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, adopted such a conciliatory attitude in the past.”

He felt that the major source of opposition from the Hindu elite to Muslim-specific affirmative action was their fear of mass religious conversion and emphasised the need to accommodate these concerns about national disintegration through the proposed mechanism of an independent, statutorily empowered Community Relations Commission. He also urged Muslims to voluntarily declare that there was no political design to induce the conversion of weak and vulnerable groups of Hindus. Interestingly, he followed Gandhian wisdom even on the issue of Muslim-specific reservation in the sense that he supported special action in favour of the weakest while, and as a way of, maintaining the unity of the community.

Given the right perspective, he argued, it should not lie beyond the realm of the possible to amicably resolve the Ayodhya issue, if Muslims could be reasonably assured that compromise would yield permanent peace dividends guaranteeing the rule of law, securing their due share in the socio-economic and political life of the nation and ensuring that they fully enjoyed their right to a distinct identity as a religious minority.

However, it is a pity that though his intercommunity peace initiative enjoyed the moral support of large sections of intellectuals from all communities as well as of leading ulema, his effort to prevent Ayodhya II, for which he observed a one-day token fast at Rajghat, New Delhi, in 2001, did not have the desired effect. For this the primary blame, in his own view, attaches to “non-Sangh Hindus who did not come forward with any fair compromise solution and thus allowed the sangh parivar to be the sole spokesmen of the Hindu community”.

(Dr Nazeer A. Majeed has worked as literary-cum-administrative assistant, in 1999-2000, for Human Rights Today, the bulletin edited by Iqbal A. Ansari.)


PUCL Bulletin, November 2009.

‘Terror in the name of Islam’, The Times of India, January 6, 2006.

‘Terrorism Cannot Work’, The Times of India, October 17, 2001.

‘Minority rights and responsibilities’, The Hindu, December 31, 2005.

‘Hindu-Muslim conflict – need for conciliation’, The Milli Gazette, January 1-15, 2001.

Position paper: ‘Islam and Use of Force’, 2004,

‘Human Rights: A Struggle for Justice & Peace’, February 2008,…human_rights