Muslim Women And Change

Mostly people think Muslim women are oppressed and forced to wear veil and confined to the four walls of their houses. This is mainly because we read every day in papers that Taliban force women into veil, burn down girls schools and always portray them wrapped completely in black cloth from head to foot. This image of Muslim women was further reinforced by the burqa controversy which erupted in France.

This image would be justified if all Muslim women followed the strict dress code propounded by Muslim theologians which was evolved in medieval ages and which they keep on justifying even today. But there is big difference in what is theologically projected and ground reality. It may not be wrong, if I venture to say, Muslim women have been defying theological code for more than a century now.

And now a century later, Muslim women have gone even further in their public achievements. It is true even today some Muslim theologians debate whether women are naqisul aql (defective reasoning power) or not but many Muslim women have superseded even Muslim men in several fields. In Saudi Arabia where women are not even permitted to drive cars, a woman became a licensed pilot and has been flying aircrafts.

Now we got news from Malyasia that Farah al-Habshi, an engineer by profession, has been appointed deputy of weapons and electrical officer in spanking new Malaysian warship KD Perak. Today she is donned in white and blue Royal Malaysian Navy uniform. What is interesting is that she also wears hijab to cover her head though not her face. She feels her hijab in no way comes in the way of performing her duties.

Maylaysia is an Islamic country and orthodox ulama exercise great deal of control over people’s lives. Recently even the Government of Malaysia chickened out when Ulama took stand that Christians in Malaysia cannot use the word Allah in their religious literature or in their newspaper. Muslim women face several problems in that country at the hands of conservative ulama in respect of family laws.

It is in the same country that a woman has been appointed naval officer on combat duty. Even in India women have not won the right to be on combat duty in navy or are not permitted to fly fighter planes or serve in combat arms. They are also not allowed seafaring in warships. Ms. Farah al-Habshi, on the other hand, recently participated in Milan naval exercise along with some other women.

Ansari- the first Muslim women astronaut

Ms. Farah is also highly articulate and answered all the questions put to her by the journalists. And it is not only one example out of many. There are several other examples. Many Muslim women have excelled even in theological fields and quite independently of the traditional theologians. They have shown courage to challenge orthodox ulama. Here I can give example of Amina Wudud of USA who teaches Islamic Studies in Washington.

She believed women can lead mixed congregation in prayer and she led around 100 persons, men and women in prayer a few year ago and that too on Friday and delivered Friday khutba (sermon), quite unthinkable in traditional Muslim world. It raised storm of controversy and even Yusuf Qardawi, otherwise a moderate theologian from Qatar, wrote an article, opposing a woman leading nixed congregational prayer.

Some Kuwaiti women, elected to Kuwaiti parliament after great deal of struggle, refused to wear hijab and fought for their right to go to parliament sessions without wearing one and fought their case up to Supreme Court of Kuwait and won. Many more examples can be cited of Muslim women daring authorities for their rights.

But media, which is interested in sensationalizing issues, refuses to highlight Muslim women’s achievements and continues to portray them as submissive to traditional authorities and meekly accepting their situation. This image of Muslim women has to change and reality, which is much more complex, has to be understood.

This is not to deny that in many countries Muslim women are facing difficult problems and their liberation is not a foregone conclusion. However, it is also true that many of them are fighting and refusing to submit meekly. What gives us hope is their continued struggle and defiance of traditional authorities.

It should also be mentioned here that many ‘ualam and jurists also have realized that medieval shari’ah formulations about women cannot be enforced easily any more and some of them like Muhammad Abduh of Egypt, Maulavi Mumtaz Ali Khan of India and Maulana Umar Ahmed Usmani of Pakistan have expressed their serious reservations about traditional theological formulations on women. The determined struggle on the part of Muslim women will force many more theologians to revise their position and take Qur’an, and not medieval theology, more seriously on women issues.

Ahmedabad Turns 600: Day To Recall Vasant-Rajab Sacrifice

By Nikhat,

Vasant and Rajab lived together, breathed together and died together for a noble cause but death separated them. They will never be separated. The spirit of both Vasant -Rajab will remain with us — Hemalata Hegishte, Vasant’s sister on their martyrdom.

26 February 2010

26th February 2010 marks 600 years of Ahmedabad, the largest city of Gujarat and sixth largest in India, the land of Gandhi, Patel and Wali symbolized by Sidi Syed ki Jali wali Masjid, Jumma Masjid, Sarkhej Roza, Teen Darwaza, Jhulta Minar etc. Ahmedabad got its name from its founder ruler Ahmed Shah in 1411 AD, just six century back from this day. Ahmedabad was built in an open and spacious plain in the immediate vicinity of Ashaval city (now Asarwa) on the east bank of river Sabarmati. It was then comprised of a small fort known as the Bhadra Fort (now Bhadra Temple, Court and Government Library). Later, in 1487, during the reign of Mohammed Begdo, the grandson of Ahmed Shah, the city was enclosed by a fort wall six miles in the circumference with 12 gates (viz. Lal Darwaza, Teen Darwaza, Khanpur Darwaza, Astodia Darwaza etc.), 189 bastions and over 6000 battlements, to protect it from outside invaders.

Since then Ahmedabad and Gujarat has progressed several folds back and forth. It has seen Medieval Monarchy, imperial colonial period, partition, post-Independence democracy and separation of Gujarat from Maharashtra.

Amidst Celebrations and Joy

The entire Gujarat government and Ahmedabad are feeling good on this day and maybe the people also. Gujarat is feeling more vibrant today and a huge public event is organized at the site of half finished River Front Project at the bank of Sabarmati. Radios running musical slogans of ‘happy birthday Ahmedabad’, newspapers bringing good memories from history of Ahmedabad and Gujarat, TV channels are also keeping the same colorful and musical pace with this vibrancy. Shows of Katha-E-Amdavad are also on the charts which is featuring city’s story starting from Ahmadshah Badshah to BRTS (Bus Rapid Transit System).

I am also enjoying the spirit of it by sitting in front of my TV and watching the preparation of children, girls and boys from my neighborhood. Amidst celebrations and joy of Ahmedabad’s six hundredth birthday, my heart sometimes sinks into despair and pain as I see deeper and deeper, the over-all socio-political condition of this state and my country. The divide, social, economic, political, is visible and real in one’s day to day affairs and life. My heart also trembles because of my apprehension rather fear that this event like many others would not become just another propaganda celebration and we would not forget to celebrate some important chapters from the history of Ahmedabad in the zeal and passion of celebration. Like history of any place, the history of Ahmedabad is also full of learning; learning from our love, success, joy, hope, pain, scars, helplessness and failures.

And therefore, today I wish to highlight one of such chapters, which is very real, sad though joyful. Many, like me, see it as a milestone, which needs acknowledgement, respect and cherishing.

Vasant Rao and Rajab Ali: Icons of Hindu-Muslim brotherhood

It is the story of two friends called Vasant Rao Hegishte and Rajab Ali Lakhani, who sacrificed their lives to save the people in the Jamalpur area from the raging communal flare.

Vasant Rao Hegishte was born on 16th May1906 at Ahmedabad. At the age of 15 he left school and joined Bapu’s Gujarat Vidyapeeth. Gujarat Vidyapeeth was tempered in the spirit of patriotism and social service, which became the credo in his life. He joined in Dandi March up to Aslali (outskirt of Ahmedabad) with Bapu and took active participation in Salt Satyagrah in 1930 and was jailed. Thereafter he joined Seva Dal .He took active participation in 1932, 1940 and 1942 movements for Freedom as he considered himself wedded to the country and society and decided not to marry. As a youth, he was a disciplined volunteer ready for the utmost sacrifice. His youthful zest, cheerfulness, readiness to act was always a source of inspiration to all. He was fondly addressed by all as ‘Dada’.

Rajab Ali Lakhani, a Khoja Muslim, was born in Karachi in 1919. Their family hailed from Limbdi of Saurashtra. The Lakhani family came to Limbdi in 1935. Rajab Ali matriculated in 1936 and joined Shyamal Das College at Bhavnagar and studied B.A. He refused to appear at the examination; because he was convinced that mere degree in life was of no use and that may lead to service under the British, which was not palatable to his independent mind. He was imprisoned several times during the freedom struggle. He was a devout reader and his thirst for knowledge was unquenchable. He adhered to progressive views and was known as Marxist in the Seva Dal and Congress circle. He was more attracted towards social reforms and as a result he was often in conflict with his father and their religious priests. He wanted to be known as a human and not by any religion or caste. In later years, he was shocked to observe that the top leaders of Congress and freedom fighters were not free from conservatism. He joined the Rajkot Satyagrah led by Gandhiji and did not appear for his B.A. examination. In the college, he formed a democratic group of students. He joined the famous Limbdi Satyagrah Hijarat (Exodus) against the Darbars (The then powerful landed gentry). That was the time of people’s uprisings in Saurashtra against the Kings in Princely States. Rajab Ali joined the movement in full spirit in his brief period of his life; he was imprisoned in 1938, 1941 and 1942.

Both Vasant and Rajab were members of Seva Dal, where both came close and became good friends.

It was July 1, 1946, a day of Rath Yatra in Ahmedabad, when the entire city of Ahmedabad was engulfed with the fire of communal riots. This city had faced ghastly riots during the Rath Yatra. Usually the day of Rath Yatra is very often known as the ‘Blood Yatra’. The whole city was up in communal flame, badly engulfed in arson, looting and killings. The riot was beyond control. The peace loving people were trying their best to calm down the communal

Vasant and Rajab throughout the day of the Rath Yatra were saving Hindus and Muslims. They saved a Muslim driver from the rioting Hindu mob and a Hindu owner of a washing company from the Muslim mob.

In the evening, both Vasant and Rajab were in the Congress office at Khand -ni- Sheri, when the news from Jamalpur arrived that Dalit families were being surrounded by the frenzied mob. Vasant and Rajab ran to the spot on foot and tried to pacify and appeal to the conscience of the blood thirsty rioters. Nevertheless, the rioters were frenzied and not in a mood to concede.

They threatened Vasant-Rajab of life but Vasant-Rajab did not left the ground and embraced death by laying down on the way of the rioters to protect the Dalit families. The diehards killed Vasant-Rajab.

After their Martyrdom, Vasant Rao was cremated at Dhudheswar Ghat and Rajab Ali was buried at Gomatipur Kabrastan. Hemalata Hegishte, Vasant’s sister once said that both Vasant and Rajab lived together, breathed together and died together for a noble cause but death separated them. But they will never be separated. The spirit of both Vasant-Rajab will remain
with us.

Famous Gujarati progressive poet Zaverchand Meghani had edited Vasant-Rajab Smarak Grantha, published on December 17 in the same year of their Martyrdom. A memorial was also made in the Khand Ni Sheri, which is popularly known as Vasant-Rajab Chowk.

A film called Vasant-Rajab was also made on their iconic contributions for communal amity for which Hridaynath Gharekhan has won an award for his debut role in the film.

Vasant-Rajab became the Martyr and a symbol of communal harmony and amity.

‘My Fear’ and ‘The Irony’

On seeing the canvas of the recent communal divide, the divide of “us and them”, their contributions and sacrifice seem now just confined to events only and their message is far forgotten and lost in the crowd of interests and conflict of interests. Today, their names can be seen on the dusty boards hanging on the gates of few schools, one housing society, Public Park and Health Centre.

After 2002 Gujarat Genocide, few organizations have started commemorating their martyrdom as Communal Harmony Days, indeed a good effort.

But the bottom line seems that we don’t feel to care, cherish and follow the message of these two immortal heroes of the history.

Today, after more than 60 years of their Martyrdom, a chapter on Vasant-Rajab was withdrawn from the school curriculum on one hand and on other the textbook of state curriculum included a chapter on Hitler. This isn’t ironical.

There may be so many Vasant-Rajab throughout the country who might have died for the cause of communal harmony. Recalling the spirit of Vasant- Rajab like Heroes may create a social and cultural movement against communalism and fascism.

‘My fear’, which I mentioned earlier, is actually ‘the irony’ of our present time — that is the way we remember our martyrs and their message.


Talibans: Thugs Or Torch-Bearers Of Islam?

By Dr. Shah Alam Khan,

The news of beheading of two Sikh youth in the Peshawar region of Pakistan has not come as a surprise to the world. What more can we expect from a rabid race of Talibanis, born and brought up on the fodder of hate and violence. The news in fact brings to light the hollow rhetoric of the Pakistani establishment when they claim to have contained the menace of Taliban.

What surprises me is the eerie silence of the Muslim ulema in the subcontinent (particularly in India) in their condemnation of this cowardly act of appalling brutality. Where are those who leave no opportunity to condemn what is inconvenient to them, no matter how comfortable it might be to Islam in general and Muslims in particular? What happens to all those voices which grow louder at times of trivial issues which they think place Islam in danger? What more danger can await a religion than accusation of the kind which we see after such heinous atrocities? When can the Islamic ulemas realize that acts such as these are the ones which actually put Islam in danger.

The blood of innocents in Palestine is mourned. The brutalities of Narender Modi’s pogrom in Gujarat were mercilessly damned. Then what happens when it’s time to condemn the most bigoted and rabid of Muslims? By being mum to the brutalities of Taliban the Muslim ulemas are giving voice to those who perpetrate violence. What justification can we give to the condemnation of the likes of Modi and Sharon in future? What message is passed on to those who stand and fight for the cause of underprivileged and minorities in this country? Shouldn’t this usual tale of the ‘victim becoming the perpetrator’ be put to rest once and for all?

The threat from Taliban is not confined to Sikhs, Jews or Hindus. They are running amok with a real danger to the spirit of Islam. Non Muslims across the globe can secure themselves against any Talibani attack. They can build fences, walls and iron shields. But what happens to the global Muslim community? What fence can stop the condemnation of Islam in global drawing rooms? What wall can prevent the filtration of pure hate against Islam and its proponents amongst Sikhs? Where do we buy an iron shield to repel the cutting suspicious look against a bearded Muslim at an airport?

There are many who argue that Taliban does not represent true Islam. Definitely yes, they do not represent the common Muslim of the subcontinent. But unfortunately they have been made to appear as the face of real Islam in this polarized world. They are the ones who get the media attention and most unfortunately they are the ones who think that THEY represent Islam in their own brutal way. How much we may argue, for an innocent Westerner, Taliban is the face of Islam.

There is a war between moderation and fanaticism, between love and hate. The esoteric Islam of the subcontinent faces a monster in the new, cruel definition of the religion. It’s time we realize this danger before the monster grows too large to restrain. The means to contain this ogre are many. Physical force, debate, condemnation, every weapon in the armamentarium should be used. We are already fighting a losing battle. The tacit support of the Pakistani and American establishment at one time has fed the Taliban strong. It requires real commitment of the moderate Muslim forces in the region to come out and take the bull by its horns.

My heart aches for Jaspal Singh, who was murdered by a group of thugs who are the so called torch bearers of Islam. Can we imagine his pain and fear as he would have been finally dragged to the altar amidst a sea of drolly dressed men chanting “Allah-o-Akbar”? What all might have gone through his head in his final moments? How detestable he would have been to Islam and its followers? His pain, his trepidation, his final gasps for breath, all for perpetrating the cause of Islam? I am sure that day, it wasn’t Jaspal Singh who was beheaded, it was the teaching of Islam that was beheaded in Peshawar and we all should mourn this death.

My Name Is Carmichael And I Am Not A Terrorist

By NM Sampathkumar Iyangar,

My name is not Khan and I am no Bollywood celebrity. So, the Indian media will not go into overdrive when an American airport staffer lets me in only after a couple of hours of wait. There was a huge uproar about a ‘national insult’ when a superstar of that name was not cleared in a jiffy; the immigration official got suspicious due to his host’s wheeler-dealer background and gave him the discomfort of queuing up to see his boss.

Obviously, there can be no big outcry in my case when minions at the airport of India’s capital city detain me for days for no reason – that too let me out. My detention is supposed to be “on suspicion” but the Indian media is free to front-page it as “Checkmated at Security Counter!”

Although not highly educated, I was a reasonably prosperous farmer in Jamaica where I could raise my children comfortably. I always taught them that there is but one God and made them stand on their feet. As I moved back to New York in my native country, one of my kids rose to be a decathlon athlete, prominent enough to carry the Beijing Olympic torch, while another went to work at the Wall Street.

My ‘encounter’ with India’s ruling dispensation started after I had completed my corporeal duties in the world. I set out to fulfill the ultimate duty of every able-bodied Muslim who can afford to do so. Yes, I am a Muslim though my name doesn’t include a Khan or Mohammad or Madni. I am called Winston Marshall Carmichael, which does not automatically ring warning bells in people brought up on a staple feed of hate.

I had embraced Islam in my early twenties, which was four decades ago. I never imagined that it would amount to such a grave offence in arguably the “largest secular democracy of the world” when I would visit it. Mercifully, my ‘encounter’ was not as dramatic as the ones that are often faced by local citizens dubbed as aliens.

I could afford a package tour to the Orient for going on Hajj and went to Mecca and Medina in September 2009. I had heard a lot about majestic mosques built by historic figures built in India, the land for which Columbus had set out. It has been a long-cherished wish to go on a pilgrimage to these holy places. It is God’s will that India is what it is today – just a segment of the India that Columbus wanted to reach. The India, currently going by that name, considers the other segments of India as dens of terrorism.

If I am held as a suspected terrorist at Lampur Detention Center run by Foreigners Regional Registration Office, it is again by God’s will. An army of security people mill around me asking all sorts of questions. I am tired of answering the same questions again and again. They made me put my signatures in some documents with lots of fine print in typical poor quality stationary of the Indian government.

After completing Hajj, I came to Delhi from Abu Dhabi. I proceeded by bus to what now is Pakistan along with a group of Indonesians I came to know in Hazrat Nizamuddin area. From there, I flew to Dhaka, the capital city of another segment of the original India going by the name Bangladesh. I came back to Delhi via Kolkata, the one-time capital city of British India. I had the good fortune to stay in several mosques during the trip. It was while boarding the outbound flight by Qatar Airways that my ordeal began.

The X-ray machine showed up some opacity in my baggage. It was a packet of resinous rock called shilajit that I was carrying for my wife. It is peculiar to the subcontinent and is believed to have medicinal properties; it was wrapped around a tin sheet, which apparently looked like a deadly weapon to the security man. No wonder, Delhi’s premier newspaper reported that I was “checkmated” by the sophisticated security machinery of India. However, the metal piece – first hyped out to be a knife – could not be manipulated to fall under the category of any weapon.

Newspapers of India tell me that I am linked to one David Coleman Headley accused of conspiring terror attacks in India. I don’t know any Headley. I have never seen anyone with that name. Again, the Indian media informs the world that the country’s authorities are working hard to find out where all I went in India.

An ‘anonymous’ senior police officer reportedly disclosed to his media ‘connexion’ that they will obviously take time to verify my credentials. Hopefully, the Delhi Police would not be asked to dispatch me to a dozen states for investigation of cases remaining unsolved so far. Hopefully, they would not take their own sweet time – as much as they take for ‘suspects’ arriving from Bangladesh or Nepal who are taken from place to place. The intelligence people will possibly harass all the people whom I met in Delhi and other parts of India – even those who offered a glass of water to me. Maybe some of them will be kept in jail and implicated in incidents they are keen to ‘crack’.

Another newspaper that has “sources” in the government learnt that enough material is available to the establishment to hold me “undesirable” in India – apparently my beard and skull cap! But mercifully, they are not enough to dub me a terror suspect. However, its ‘innovative’ news reporter informed his readers that US agencies have informed India (represented apparently by this journalist) that I have criminal cases related to drugs and robbery registered against me. Authorities have assured Indians at large through this newspaper that once I am deported to the US after verifying all details about me, Indian agencies might issue a look out circular; after the issuance of LOC, I understand that details of my passport will be provided at all entry points and I will not be allowed to enter India again. I can only hope that God does not will that fate to me yet again!

I can’t understand why god has willed 160 million people of India – a number more than the entire population of Japan – to come to such a pass in the hands of their own government. I dread to imagine the disastrous consequence of frustration among the younger generation at the plight their elders face. I hope that god will let good sense to prevail before the trashing subjugation triggers a catastrophe. I hope my country’s Special Representative for Muslims will not wink at the sad plight.

[The author is NOT Winston Marshall Carmichael of New York. Iyangar is an unattached policy analyst based at Ahmedabad, India]

Mallika Sarabhai Writes To Amitabh Bachchan

My dear Bachchanji,
Greetings from a Gujarati.

You are indeed a fine actor. You are an intelligent man and a shrewd businessman. But should I believe in your endorsements?

Let’s take a brief look at what you proclaim you believe in (albeit for huge sums of money). BPL, ICICI, Parker and Luxor pens,Maruti Versa, Cadbury chocolates. Nerolac paints. Dabur, Emami, Eveready, Sahara City Homes, D’damas, Binani Cement and Reliance.

And now Gujarat.

I wonder how you decide what to endorse. Is your house built with Binani Cement? Do you really like Cadbury’s chocolates or do you have to resort to Dabar’s hajmola (whose efficacy you have earlier checked) after eating them? And having endorsed two pens, one very upmarket and one rather down, which one do you use? Have you, except perhaps for the shooting of the ad, ever driven or been driven in a Versa? Do you know whether the Nerolac paint in your home ( you do use it don’t you?) has lead in it that can poison you slowly as it does so many people? Or are the decisions entirely monetary?

It has been reported that no direct fee will be paid to you for being my Brand Ambassador. So, with no monetary decision to guide you, how did you decide to say yes? Did you check on the state of the State? I doubt it, for the decision and the announcement came from one single meeting. And I somehow doubt that you have been following the news on Gujarat closely.

So, as a Gujarati, permit me to introduce my State to you.Everyone knows of our vibrancy, of the billions and trillions pouring into our State through the two yearly jamborees called Vibrant Gujarat. But did you know that by the government’s own admission no more than 23% of these have actually moved beyond the MOU stage? That while huge subsidies are being granted to our richest business houses, over 75000 small and medium businesses have shut down rendering one million more people jobless?

You know of Gujarat’s fast paced growth and the FDI pouring in, you have no doubt seen pictures of the Czars of the business world lining up to pour money to develop us. To develop whom? Did you know that our poor are getting poorer? That while the all India reduction in poverty between ’93 and 2005 is 8.5%, in Gujarat it is a mere 2.8%? That we have entire farmer families committing suicide, not just the male head of the household?

You have heard of how some mealy mouthed NGO types have been blocking the progress of the Narmada project, how the government has prevailed, and water is pouring down every thirsty mouth and every bit of thirsty land. But did you know that in the 49 years since it was started, and in spite of the Rs.29,000 crores spent on it, only 29% of the work is complete?

That the construction is so poor (lots of sand added to the you- know- which cement perhaps) that over the last 9 years there have been 308 breaches, ruining lakhs of farmers whose fields were flooded, ruining the poorest salt farmers whose salt was washed away? That whereas in 1999, 4743 of Gujarat’s villages were without drinking water, within two years that figure had gone up to 11,390 villages ? (I can not even begin to project those figures for today – but do know that the figure has gone up dramatically rather than down.)
With our CM, hailed as the CEO of Gujarat, we have once again achieved number one status – in indebtedness. In 2001 the State debt was Rs.14000 crores. This was before the State became a multinational company. Today it stands at Rs.1,05,000 crores. And to service this debt we pay a whopping Rs7000 crores a year, 25% of our annual budget.

Meanwhile our spending on education is down, no new public hospitals for the poor are being built, fishermen are going a begging as the seas turn turgid with effluents, more mothers die at birth per thousand than in the rest of India, and our general performance on the Human Development Index is nearly the first – from the bottom. One rape a day, 17 cases of violence against women, and , over the last ten years, 8802 suicides and 18152 “accidental “ deaths of women are officially reported. You can imagine the real figures.

You have said that you are our Ambassador because we have Somnath and Gandhi. Somnath was built for people. Gandhiji was a man of the people. Do the people of this State matter to you? If they do, perhaps your decision will be different. I hope you will read this letter and decide.

In warmth and friendship,


Challenges To Central Banking In The Context Of Financial Crisis

After global financial crisis the central banks around the world are facing unprecedented challenges to provide stability in financial sector along with needs to offset the side effects of bailouts and stimuli packages. Latest challenges are different from earlier ones because by now the liberalized capital account has more shares in money stocks whereas central bank’s regulatory access to international market has not increased to that level. So, it is high time that besides identifying the root causes and remedial measures for the financial crisis, we should find best possible practices for future and also develop enhanced coordination and cooperation at international level.

It is prudent that global financial crisis occurred due to unmanageable extravagant practice of shifting the financial risks through instruments like Credit Default Swaps (CDS) derivatives instead of sharing the risks by the investors. Attempts by financial sector champions to evaluate financial risks involved with monetary instruments like credit and mortgaged assets and thereafter trading those risky instruments caused the collapse of highly developed credit market. They failed to read the total risks generated in the market by their own trades of risky instruments. Central banks were mere spectators in the market.

Ideally ‘Money’ is meant to measure value of goods and services so as to facilitate economic transactions. Value of money or risk of monetary instruments cannot be measured by any monetary instrument itself. With development of monetary systems, various financial products have been invented, but allowing trade of financial products like mortgaged asset and credit risks etc. started building risky tower which was bound to collapse after a certain period of time.

There were alarms before financial crisis but was not noticed. Before financial crisis, the growth rate of financial institutions was higher than other industries and trades. That was an alarm for central banks. Unfortunately the theory of debt finance taught us that higher credit GDP ratio is sign for developed financial market and thus the central banks failed to read the financial risks associated with higher credit GDP ratio.

The central banks are supposed to be in line with the local governments to stabilize financial sector and stimulate the economy. For central banks of developed countries like US and UK etc. the major challenge is to restore stability in the financial sector with bail out packages, while the major challenge for central banks like Reserve Bank of India is to manage the impact of stimuli besides offsetting impact of voluminous capital account transactions. It is not easy to be banker of a government who need more finance to bail out financial institutions or to stimulate the economy because the debt burdens may go beyond capacity of the banker. While financing government debts adds pressure upon banks, the shortage of credits for private sector increases inflationary pressure on the economy.

After failure of CDS instruments, the central banks should think to promote a system where financial risks could be shared among stakeholders instead of selling the risks to others because risks beyond capacity cannot be borne. If Lehman Brothers fails to tackle the financial risks, the central banks should draw a lesson that risks cannot be shifted but has to be borne by anyone. If risks are not being born by investors, at last the losses have to be born by the tax payers. So, it is better that financial risks may born by investors.

Another important lapse by central banks is that they did not monitor appreciation of real estate prices with increased flow of credits to real estate compared to other sectors. If real estate prices increases in accordance with growth in financial sector, keeping other sectors below, the situation alarms for crisis.

There should not be short cut method to offset the financial crisis. The central banking may be protected from challenges if we properly answer the following questions:

  1. While giants like Lehman Brothers failed to deal with financial crisis, how safe to rely upon credit rating agencies and to allow trade of instruments like CDS derivatives?
  2. Have central banks drawn any lesson from the sub prime crisis to fix a maximum limit for credit flow to real estate so that in future appreciation of real estate prices may not be dangerous for the economy?
  3. Is there any desired rate of interest to keep economy free from inflation?
  4. What bank credits to GDP ratio would be ideal for sustainable economic growth?
  5. How to reduce debt burden of central government when they would be in more need of financial resources to bail out financial institutions and to stimulate the economy?
  6. Have central bank thought about fixing limit of interest over deposits to GDP ratio?
  7. After financial crisis what should be ideal mechanism to determine the currency exchange rates for different countries?
  8. Should US dollar be continued as standard international currency when debt finances are alarming at US economy?
  9. How to maintain stability in stock market prices with boom in capital inflow for emerging countries like India?
  10. How to ensure adequate and affordable credits for private sector when government needs more resources to finance welfare schemes or to stimulate the economy?
  11. What should be priority based industries / trades to attain maximum possible inclusive growth with available resources in developing country like India?
  12. What total consumption to GDP ratio is desirable for sustainable economic growth?
  13. What Reserve Bank of India has done to ensure financial inclusion of such Muslims who face religious hindrances due to interest based banking mechanism?
  14. What proportion of GDP should be considered as ideal for Gross Capital Formation?
  15. It has been observed that in recent past growth of Islamic Finance has been fairly good as compared to interest based finances. Should Islamic financial instruments be considered as better alternatives to CDS for economic growth?
  16. It has been observed that broad money in proportion to GDP has increasing multifold during last 50 to 60 years. Does it not pose any threat on monetary regulation for central banks to keep inflation under control?
  17. Do Islamic banking poses any threat to conventional approach of central banking when it is observed that interest based instruments are creating inflation and debt burdens?
  18. Does RBI find scope of sovereign Islamic bonds to raise financial resources for infrastructure development in India?
  19. Though RBI succeeded to protect banks during financial crisis, but has so far failed in controlling the inflation. Is RBI not finding any monetary reasons for higher inflation?
  20. What RBI is doing when we are observing excess of bank credits for investment than planned target and banks are facing short of credits for private sector?

Communal Violence Bill – How Useful To Victims?

The Government has got clearance from the Cabinet for introducing the Communal Violence Bill in the coming session of parliament. The Bill was drafted originally in 2005 after 2004 elections in view of the Gujarat carnage of 2002 under the BJP Government headed by Narendra Modi. It was because of Gujarat carnage that Muslims voted for the Congress massively as a result of which NDA was defeated.

The Congress party had promised in its manifesto that it would bring the bill to prevent Gujarat like carnage against minorities. It did draft the Bill in 2005 which we, along with several other NGOs, human rights activists and legal experts, studied and found it wanting in many respects. We organized number of consultations and suggested number of amendments to make it really serve the purpose for which the Bill was drafted.

Mr. Shivraj Patil, the then Home Minister also held number of consultations in few cities and promised to consider various suggestions given by various NGOs and individuals but he did not incorporate these suggestions when final draft was presented. The present draft after going through standing committee and Cabinet too, is hardly better than the original draft. One wonders what Government wants. I would say this cure suggested is worse than the disease.

The present Bill already cleared by the Cabinet, seeks to give more power to the police. In fact police has always been the part of the problem, rather than part of the solution. Had police been fair and impartial, no communal riot can last for more than 24 hours. Those governments which have intended to control communal violence do nothing but ask the police to control violence within 24 hours else office in charge would be suspended. And communal violence stops before 24 hours.

All those who have investigated communal riots know what role police plays in communal riots from remaining spectators to actively helping the rioters instead of controlling it. In Gujarat and Kandhamal, to give two latest examples, but for the role of police, communal violence would have been controlled in no time. In all major riots police have played openly partisan role. In some cases they have even led rioting mobs.

And if you empower police more in such circumstances, as the present Bill seeks to do, one can very well imagine what havoc it is going to cause. It is victims who need to be empowered, not the police. In a consultation held in Delhi on 12-13 February by ANHAD, Institute of Peace Studies and Conflict Resolution, Mumbai (part of CSSS) and several other organizations. They all unanimously rejected the present draft.

Also, another provision of the present draft Bill is to declare an area as disturbed area, if communal riots are not controlled. This is even worse than giving the police more power. It means to give police absolute power. Even when curfew is declared, it is enforced only in minority areas and police hardly enforces its provision in majority areas. Vibhuti Narain’s writings and his novel Shahar Mein Curfew brings this in sharp focus. Vibhuti Narain was a top police officer in the U.P. cadre.

If an area is declared disturbed area police will have powers to shoot anyone at its will. In Kashmir and in North Eastern states people have demanded repeal of disturbed areas act. The victims, instead of getting relief, would feel totally helpless. Any law which gives police more powers without making it accountable cannot be acceptable to those who care for human rights of victims.

Like any other official Bill, there is not a single clause to make administration, police or politicians accountable for their failure to control communal violence. If so, you don’t need any fresh law at all. Human rights activists have always maintained that present laws, if enforced sincerely, can very well take care of any situation. After all the Left Front Government in West Bengal and the RJD in Bihar successfully prevented and controlled communal riots for more than three decades in WB and one and half decade in case of Bihar.

If only state governments enforces section 153-A of Indian Criminal Code in right earnest and arrests all those who make hate speeches and vitiate communal amity, there will be no communal disturbances. No politician would like to go to jail for three years. My experience shows that right from Jabalpur riot in 1961 to Gujarat riots in 2002 to anti-Christian riots in Kandhamal, Orissa, not a single politician was arrested for openly and blatantly provoking communal violence.

Also, no standard and objective method has been laid down for working out reparations and relief measures. It all depends on the whims of chief minister today. Narendra Mody Government offered ridiculous amounts of Rs.500/- and Rs.300/- for houses completely damaged and defying public opinion closed down relief camps much before any concrete measures to rehabilitate the victims were made. Thanks to the private agencies that these camps could be run for a longer period.

Also, there is not much in the present Bill for investigations and successful trial of cases and launching of FIRs. It is well known that police is extremely reluctant to register FIRs and even when it does, it refuses to enter the names of the accused. And less said about the subsequent investigations, the better. The investigation is so shoddy that courts often dismiss the cases against the accused.

In most of the cases the police close them down saying not much evidence is available. In the case of Gujarat the police closed down hundreds of cases which could be reopened only under the Supreme Court orders. Despite all this the present Bill supposedly drafted to help the victims, make no provisions for all this.

It is, therefore, highly necessary to make drastic changes in the present Bill before it is discussed in the Parliament and if the Government is unwilling to introduce necessary changes, the M.P.s should study the Bill carefully and force the Government to bring about necessary amendments in the Bill. All the eminent participants of consultation in Delhi felt that the 59 amendments proposed by the government are nothing but mere tinkering.

The participants felt that neither do the proposed amendments make any structural changes to the Bill nor has the government factored in any of suggestions made by the civil society. The national consultation in Delhi on 12-13 February found fault even with the definition of the communal violence in the Bill. The consultation suggested the definition as “any targeted attack committed on the persons and property of individual or a group of persons on the basis of their religious identity, which can be inferred directly or from the nature or circumstances of the attack.

The consultation also felt that the government’s proposal to declare certain areas as “communally disturbed” was rejected. In fact it demanded that the Chapter II of the Bill be dropped completely arguing that the State already has sufficient powers vested in it by law and further empowering the State and Central governments would, therefore not remedy the situation. The Consultation felt that co-relation between crimes and disturbed area is false, dangerous and untenable, and must not find place in a law on communal violence.

The consultation also felt that instead of doubling the punishment which courts would be reluctant to apply anyway, it noted that other forms of punishment – disqualification from public office, debarring from professional associations or running from public office – should be included in the case of culpability of public officials.

The good example of such disqualification form contesting elections etc. is from Mumbai High Court Judgment delivered by Justice Suresh in late nineties when Bal Thackeray of Shiv Sena made provocative speech in Vile Parle and won the seat for his candidate. Justice Suresh disqualified him for 6 years from voting in any election or contesting any election or even campaigning for his party.

It had restraining effect on him. But this was one instance which was exceptional. If politicians are made to meet such punishment, it would indeed have great effect on them and would desist from temptation to provoke communal violence to win elections in an easy way. The reason why some political leaders are tempted to provoke communal violence, more than ideological reasons, is to win elections by polarizing the voters.
It takes us to yet in another field i.e. that of electoral reforms. In highly diverse country like India with so much religious, linguistic and cultural diversity, the first past the post method which we have blindly copied from England which was then a mono-religious and mono-linguistic society, is highly problematic. We need to either introduce 51% votes for winning or proportional voting or combination of both to remedy the situation. Such electoral method would lead to inclusive rather than exclusive as it is today. Candidates win elections by excluding certain class of people rather than including everyone.

Well until then this Bill needs to be drastically amended to give relief from communal violence.

Islamophobia At Work In Indian Media

By NM Sampathkumar Iyangar,

A 61-year-old passenger was getting his personal baggage checked at the security check booth of New Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport on February 10. The security man found a knife in the baggage and reported the matter to his officer. A spokesman was not able to specify the type or size of the ‘knife’ but could only tell the media, “We found a knife in his baggage. When we questioned him, he could not give any reason so he was detained and handed over to the police.”

The incident may not ordinarily be considered to be newsworthy. However, the passenger Winston Marshall happened to be an American national. It was natural that it immediately attained some news value.

While an online TV blog flashed it as “Delhi police detain a US National at IGI airport”, a more ‘enterprising’ one focused on the resident of New York and said: “US terror suspect held in Delhi.” The police were checking if he had any terror links after finding from his passport that he had travelled to Pakistan and Bangladesh recently, according to another media circus that said: “American detained at Delhi airport for suspected terror links” Press Trust of India, whose ticker is frequently picked up and quoted in the big ‘national’ press as well as the vernacular press across India, had other news peg about the incident. PTI is considered to be the Xinhua of India, and not without basis. Ever since the Agency got nationalized through the backdoor and lost its independence soon after independence, it disseminates the news as desired by government authorities.

Although supposed to be autonomous and ‘free’, it often propagates the views of the reigning rulers more than the news of incidents. Naturally, PTI is considered across the world as the State-owned or ‘official’ news agency of India. Its ticker: “61-yr-old American national detained at IGI airport.”

The style of the report accurately reflects the current status of Islamophobia in India. It explains the actions of the rulers in New Delhi, such as on Batla House fake encounter, eyewash retrials on post-Godhra pogrom, ban on SIMI, etc. In fact, PTI seems to stand for Press Tarnish of India to brand anyone professing the religion of Islam as a terrorist. No wonder, the ‘staff reporter’ of PTI highlights some “juicy details” not obvious to unbiased observers.

1. The passenger was flying to Doha, in the Arab heartland.
2. He preferred to take a Qatar Airways flight.
3. He changed his religion some 40 years ago (PTI described him as Kensinghton Carmichael, a convert from Christianity to Islam)
4. He travelled to various parts of the national capital
5. He had multiple tourist visas and had visited Pakistan and Bangladesh earlier.

Maybe, the passenger would not have made news for PTI had he opted for a major airline carrier such United Airlines, KLM Royal or British Airways; had been destined for London or Amsterdam, had he desisted from converting to another religion; if he had remained confined to Delhi airport while in India; and had he not visited Dhaka, Karachi etc, with due entries in the passport!

It is not odd that the PTI staff reporter found the presence of a knife or whatever “reminiscent of the case of terror suspect David Headley, arrested in Chicago in October last for allegedly plotting terror strikes in India!”

Incidentally, the mischief comes close on the heels of preventing an elderly couple from attending a marriage in Dubai. The Emirates flight with some 400 passengers, in which the 71-year-old and his wife suffering from a heart condition were traveling, was called back from the runway just before takeoff. While the detention of the ‘terror couple’ hogged the limelight, not many media businesses cared to inform viewer/readers the outcome: There was nothing that could incriminate the senior citizens and the whole airport drama was based on a hoax call warning about the “Islamic terrorist” in the flight.

[The author is an unattached policy analyst based at Ahmedabad, India]

The Significance of ‘My Name is Khan’

My Name Is Khan

In the last few years there have been various movies coming out of Bollywood trying to tackle the issue of terrorism and often claim to ‘remove’ stereotype about Muslims.  But they miserably fail to do that.

The central point of their failure is in the characterization of the key players in the movie. The issue of Islamist terror is linked with Islam.  The terrorists or the extremists base their justification by their twisted interpretation of Islamic teachings and the Islamic critics point out that since the motivation of the extremists is from Islam, hence Islam inherently has a violent streak.  Continue reading The Significance of ‘My Name is Khan’

Murder Of Shahid Azmi, Assault On The Heart Of The Indian Democracy

Thirty-two years old, Shahid Azmi, the defense counsel to the accused, framed by the police in the Malgaon case in Maharashtra, was gunned down in his office by a five member assassination squad in broad daylight. In his very young career he became the voice of the downtrodden and defenseless, because he had suffered the heavy hand of the corrupt state police as a young boy of fifteen.

He reported to the police, many times, to no avail, about the threats he received from those who manipulate the justice system for sectarian purposes and kill those who get in the way.

Shahid Azmi, the defense attorney’s murder is more detrimental to the Indian democracy than many other terribly egregious murders that are in themselves the bane of Indian democracy and civil society.

All injustices, particularly murders are injurious to the functioning of a civil society. Even more detrimental to the functioning of democracy is state terrorism or the state turning a blind eye to the murder of citizens who try to keep the state honest.  Injustices and mayhem perpetrated by the state against the minorities, as in Gujarat, under Chief Minister Mr. Modi, is almost universally known. There are many other states where political heavy weights run a parallel government through open intimidation, irrespective of the political party in power. Mr. Bal Thakery of Maharashtra is well known to wield such evil supra-state power.

The tribal people in Orissa and Chhattisgarh, Dalits in Bihar, Muslims and Christians in many states, particularly in Gujarat have suffered grievously. It has been well documented. The military and police have often been oppressive and brutal in states rife with long term ubiquitous rebellions. They end up feeding the cause that feeds the rebellion rather than being about a solution in states such as Kashmir, Nagaland and Mizoram as well the as the tribal belt of Central India.

Yet, with all these pitfalls and lamentable inadequacies, the Indian democracy has made great strides, because many brave and principled Indians have made great sacrifices to stand up and expose the corruption of power. Such efforts occasionally gather wider support and come to the notice of the Supreme Court of India. The Apex court occasionally feels obliged to intervene for the cause of justice, when the state government apparatus and the lower courts are completely overwhelmed by the sectarian attitudes, as in the case of Gujarat under Mr. Modi.

Indians owe a great debt of gratitude to these brave citizens, journalists and lawyers, the conscience keepers of the Indian democracy. They risk their safely to take up the cause and cases, to uphold the constitution of India that guarantees justice to the hapless accused, boxed in by the corrupt judicial system at the lower rungs of the justice system.

The murder of Shahid Azmi is not a murder of an individual only, it is a brazen effort to intimidate and ultimately obliterate the idea of justice and silence the voice of the Indian conscience. The central government of India should do its utmost to bring the murderers to justice, because it is an assault on the soul of the Indian constitution and state, much more grave than the terrorist that kills individuals or the thief that prowls in the darkness of night.


Mirza A. Beg can be contacted at or