Marginalizing Muslims In Gujarat

History of Muslims in Gujarat is older than the idea of Gujarat itself, then how is it that Muslims now find themselves at the edge (both figuratively and literally) of the present day Gujarati society?

In the aftermath of partition when most of north India was burning, Gujarat remained peaceful. The first major post-independence Hindu-Muslim violence took place in Ahmedabad in 1969. But if we go back in history, from 1714 to 1969 there were only two incidents of communal violence – 1941 and 1946. The violence of 1969, in which more than 1100 people were killed, was the beginning of separation of Hindus and Muslims but it was 1985 riots that sealed Muslims’ fate in the state for years to come.

Erasing Muslims: Fatema Masjid, the only mosque on Ahmadabad-Gandhinagar highway was bulldozed in Dec. 2010

Since the formation of the state in 1960, Gujarat remained a politically unstable state. Between 1960 and 1990, Gujarat had eight assemblies, nine chief ministers, and 20 ministries. Only one, Madhavsinh Solanki was able to complete his term as chief mister. This was also a time of many political mobilizations and rioting.

In 1950s Mahgujarat movement led to the formation of the state of Gujarat. 1970s saw the anti-corruption Navnirman movement led by socialists and joined by Sangh Parivar, giving Sanghis their first lessons in mass mobilization. This came in handy during 1980s anti-reservation movement when it was hijacked by Sangh activists and turned into anti-Muslim violence. Ram janmbhoomi movement of 1990s and the genocide of 2002 was the pay off for the Sangh Parivar’s work of spreading hate over three decades.

Dr. Ornit Shani of University of Haifa has studied the communal violence of 1985 in details. She marks 1985 as an important point in the marginalization of Muslims in Gujarat. She writes in her book, Communalism, Caste and Hindu Nationalism:
“In the 1985 riots, conflicts around the reservation of places in educational and government institutions for backward-caste Hindus transmogrified into communal violence even though there was no prior religious tension between Hindus and Muslims, and local Muslims had no part in the reservation dispute between forward- and backward-caste Hindus. These riots marked the beginnings of the shift from several decades of Congress dominance to the triumph of the Hindu nationalist BJP in Gujarat as well as in Indian national politics.”

The violence of 1985 came just days after Congress rode back to power with a thumping majority under the leadership of Madhavsinh Solanki. Successful social engineering of KHAM (Kshatriya, Harijan, Ahir, and Muslim) alliance returned Congress MLAs in 149 seats with a vote share of 55.5% which still remains a record. A week after the formation of the new government, on March 18th, 1985, a Gujarat bandh was called by organizations opposed to the reservation policy. Muslims had remained aloof from the anti-reservation movement as it neither harmed nor benefitted them.

On the night of March 18th, while savarna Hindus were busy in sounding a death-knell to reservation as part of the day’s bandh, a stone hit a Muslim boy in Naginapol area of Ahmadabad. Soon, this turned into a major violence between Hindus and Muslims. Army was called in the next day and the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi paid a visit on March 23rd. Violence continued for next four months.

Amarsinh Choudhry replaced Solanki as chief minister on July 6th and soon after he agreed to the demands of the anti-reservationists. Reservation increase was rolled back and all those detained for violence released. From February to July of 1985, 220 people lost their lives. Only in Ahmadabad 662 anti-reservation and 743 communal incidents were recorded. Muslims were the main victims of the riots with 2,500 houses damaged, 1500 shops burnt, about 100 killed and hundreds severely injured.

Die was cast for Muslims, Hindus who have continued to live close to Muslims in old areas of Ahmadabad began to move out, forming a segregated city that continue to widen the gulf between Hindus and Muslims. “Physical separation between middle and upper middle classes grew to the point where young Ahmedabadis would be unlikely to encounter a Muslim. Few Indian cities have managed such a systematic separation based on caste, class and community,” writes Prof. Arvind Rajagopal.

Another image of Gujarat: grave of Wali Gujarati was razed in 2002 and road built over-night, it is yet to be restored. [Photo by Nasiruddin Haider Khan]

That physical separation was necessary for things to come in 1990s and especially the genocide of 2002. While the world watched with horror the violence unleashed in Gujarat in 2002, the man who presided the genocide was none other than Narendra Modi.

It was no accident that Narendara Modi was at the helm of affairs. Modi a life-long member of RSS was a key organizer of Gujarat BJP in 1980s and early 1990s. He was the man behind Nyay Yatra in 1987, Lok Shaki Yatra (1989), Gujarat leg of Advani’s Somnath to Ayodhya Yatra (1989), and Ekta Yatra (1991). Gujarat was among the state that sent highest number of karsevaks for demolition of Babri Masjid in 1992. All these yatras and mobilization helped make Muslims as the “other” or the “enemy” in Gujarat.

Muslims, according to Sangh Parivar, have no right to exist, are not part of Gujarat, have no history worth remembering or contribution in making of Gujarat. Perhaps, this is best symbolized by the grave of Vali Gujarati which was destroyed during the violence of 2002, overnight a road built over it and a decade later the road still exists over a poet’s grave who sang high praises of Gujarat’s plural society.

Vahan sakin hain itne ahle mazhab
ke ginne mein na aawe unke mazhab
Agarche voh hai sab ibn-e adam
vale binish mein ranga rang aalam

[there live people of different religion, it is impossible to count them all
Although all are sons of Adam, they appear in all colors of the world]

The new Gujarat doesn’t believe in pluralism and it is better if a poet who sang about Gujarat and celebrated its pluralism and diversity remain buried in the ground and forgotten.

Arvind Rajagopal, Special political zone: urban planning, spatial segregation and the infrastructure of violence in Ahmedabad. South Asian History and Culture, 1947-2501, Volume 1, Issue 4, 01 October 2010, Pages 529 – 556.

Mosques Of Gujarat

Part 3 of series on Gujarat

If one has to choose one image to represent Muslims in Gujarat, it has to be the famous jali of Sidi Saeed Mosque in Ahmedabad. Look closely and you will see a banyan tree occupying the entire screen and enveloping a palm tree. In other words, Muslim presence in Gujarat is a story of an overwhelming acceptance of local culture and tradition while maintaining the Islamic core.

Muslim history in Gujarat spans more than millennia. Some of the oldest mosques of India are found in this region.

Watch Video:Mosques of Gujarat

Sanjan, a small town 150 km south of Surat is probably the site of the oldest existing masjid of Gujarat. Jami Masjid was built by the founder of short-lived Muslim dynasty [813-841 CE] of Sanjan. Fadl, the founder of the Mahan dynasty build a jama masjid where khutba was read in the name of Abbasid Caliph Mamun.

There is some confusion about the oldest mosque of Gujarat. While majority of scholars point to structures in Bhadresvar as the oldest Islamic structure, Maulana Hakim Syed Abdul Hayi author of Yaad-e-Ayyam: Mukhtasir Tareekh-e-Gujarat writes that Madrasa Maulana Ishaq in Bharuch was established in 1038 CE, and Jama Masjid of Bharuch built in 1065 CE.

Two mosques and a tomb in Bhadresvar in Kachh give us a peek into one of the earliest Muslim community of this region. A small community of Muslims built two mosques and a tomb that are one of the first examples of a uniquely Gujarati Islamic architecture. These buildings were probably made by same artisans and architects who were making temples in the region. Chhoti Masjid, Solahkhambi Masjid, and Tomb of Ibrahim were constructed in mid-1100s. These buildings borrow heavily from temple architecture theories but modified according to Islamic injunctions and practices.


Western wall of Sidi Saeed Masjid, last of the famous mosques built in Maru-Gurjara sytle.

Scholar Alka Patel in her book Building communities in Gujarat: Architecture and Society during the Twelfth through Fourteenth Centuries argues that architecture that thus developed by temple builders constructing mosques can be placed into Maru-Gujrara style of architecture.

Maru-Gurjara style was prevalent in Rajasthan and Gujarat region. By fifteenth century an architectural treatise Vrksarnava on Maru-Gurjara style included a chapter on construction of mosques or rahmana-prasada. Five hundred years of building mosques gives us some of the most beautiful examples of mosque in stone. Fortunately, most of these mosques have survived and one can easily see this flawless poetry in stones by visiting Junagadh, Cambay, Bharuch, Surat, Champaner, and Ahmadabad.


Women Empowerment: A Different Perspective

By Shahidur Rashid Talukdar,

Here is the paradox. In one hand, we have ladies leading our countries and on the other hand, we are not even letting others see the face of the earth. Based on the declining sex ratio, a recent study has predicted that by 2020 India will experience twenty percent more males than females! This is the worst possible discrimination that we can inflict on women. We are denying them their right to be born!

From times immemorial, women have been at the receiving end of both joy as well as misery. In mythology, we idolize them and in our temples, some of us, worship them. At home, we love and respect them as mothers and sisters. In our youth, we dream about them. We admire them for their beauty and grace. The list goes on. However, the reality says, despite all these nicest feelings from our side, women are still oppressed! Our collective love, respect, and admiration fail to give them a place in the society they truly deserve! Is not it ironic? Individually, all of us seem to be or at least, pose to be, nice guys: quite benevolent to our female counterparts. Where is the mismatch, then?

Well, however, we pose ourselves but the truth is that the society has, by and large, been patriarchal. Over history of time, across the geography of the world, as I am not sure about the rest of the universe, policies have favored male supremacy. Encompassing all the frameworks of religious, social, and political spheres, we have devised policies that give us a greater pleasure, better position, more power, higher degree of freedom, and better share of opportunities. The consequences of our policies now we can see in our vicinity. I am not endeavoring to go for analysis of communities or scriptures, as it is none of my objective here to describe who did what, which religion suppressed women more and which gave them more rights.

Women in Islam

However, recently there has been considerable debates about ‘can Islam liberate women or not’, but the outcome, as usual, is blurred. Though the scriptures give a certain degree of rights, the practice of the followers i.e. the Muslims are significantly different from the scriptures. Although some of the greatest crimes against women such as female infanticide are less prevalent in Muslim societies, honor killings fill the gap. In practice, Muslims follow their scriptures fairly selectively. And above all, there has been little effort to look into the implied meaning of the scriptures rather than the literal. So ultimately, it becomes another phase of the same old story.

Women and the West

Although every society has had its share of discrimination against women, the west seems to be swiftly embracing the changing landscape of women’s participation in nearly all spheres of life, although with some if’s and but’s. Even though women are quite visible in the public arena, the participation is far from a true empowerment. In most offices, the ladies embellish the reception counters or fill the clerical posts while the men in the office occupy the powerful positions. For the same work, the females continue to receive significantly less salaries compared to their male counterparts. Women candidates are still not the best fit for politics. Leaving the west aside, the picture is quite bleak in India and much of the South East Asia.

However, we are making some small progress, at least. Now women have voting rights almost everywhere in the democratic world. They are quite visible in the streets, universities, and offices which was not the case in past. The progress is slow, though, as the age old menace can’t be solved in a day. So the process will take its time. Meanwhile, we should ensure that the progress is being made in the right direction.

Theoretically, we have moved upward from participation of women to empowerment via emancipation. But practically, can we say a lot has changed? The practical indicators such as domestic violence, eve-teasing, female feticide or infanticide, or dowry death do not reflect much of improvement in this regard.

Failed notions of women empowerment

The barest notion of empowerment would include dimensions such as Health, Education, Mobility, Financial Freedom, Political Space, and Freedom of Choice. But here is one question that pops up in my mind. Does these aforesaid suffice? And I find the answer, no. All these measures don’t give women the status they deserve. They need and deserve something more!


Let’s analyze why and how these measures fail to empower a woman. Education is supposed to address majority of these issues. However, an educated woman is also a woman, right! Can’t she be married with someone by everyone else’s choice regardless of whether she likes it or not? Yes, it can be. On the pretext of caste, religion, status or tribe, she can be sacrificed. Can’t she be confined within the four walls of her household? Yes, pretty much. Does education give her financial freedom? Only to a certain extent. She might get a job, but her salary may not be commensurate with her qualification. Studies have found that women, on an average, earn ten to fifty percent less than their male counterparts. Further, does she have the autonomy to spend from her earnings? Well, the in-laws might not like it! The financial freedom of women is not even welcome in many societies. The conservatives in Bangladesh grumble over their declining grip on the womenfolk because of the latters’ financial independence with the help of Grameen Bank.

Financial advancement

Not only that women’s financial advancement is not just envy-free, it has its associated cost. In most cases, the working women are not free from their household responsibilities. So they have to shoulder a double burden. Even after that do they get their due? Usually not. The story is pretty similar among the rural and poor women as well. They work both in the fields and at home. But, being women, they remain sub-credited in both. The marginal gain in credit is less than the additional burden of responsibilities they have to carry out. Thus education and earning capacity do alter the situation but does not necessarily ameliorate it for the women. In some cases, these improvements have positive effects in women’s lives whereas in some other cases, ironically, the situation is exacerbated by multiplying the burden of work for them and not earning the womenfolk enough of credit.


As far as women’s mobility is concerned, surely the educated and independent women enjoy a greater mobility than others but do they enjoy a sense of security as well? There have been reports of harassment of the members of the very team formed for the prevention of eve-teasing! So practically nothing can bring immunity to women’s insecurities and sufferings in public places. Can we call it empowerment?

Freedom of choice

Last but not the least, freedom of choice remains yet another void in the social space for women. From the choice of school to the choice of subject, from the choice of dress code to the choice of life partner, nearly everything is decided by others. If the choice of others reflects the preference of the lady under consideration then it’s well and good but the problem is when the choice of others goes against her will and she is bound to accept that too. Unfortunately, the latter happens quite often regardless of the girls’ educational and financial status.

This is something so deeply ingrained in our societies that we hardly can notice it. In some cases, women are forced to cover themselves up, while in other cases, the man made, established norms make them reveal, ensuring enough access into their body parts to the male eyes, what they would not have revealed otherwise. Flashing in sleeveless and shorts during cold winter is a part of the norm for women when men are cozying wrapped in warm cloths. Is it liberating? Quite often the reverse also happens. When women chose not to reveal themselves, we force them to reveal. We go even to the extent of making it illegal for them to pursue their choice. So we end up curbing the very freedom we claim to ensure. Both these enforcements hinder the freedom of choice. And hence, both deserve equal condemnation. However much is achieved, if the basic freedom of choice is not provided, women will remain far from being empowered.

Political empowerment

The political empowerment is viewed as an empowering tool for women. However, this can also go against them. The parliamentary bill by the Government of India to ensure that at least one third of the parliamentarians would be female has been experiencing a bitter sweet welcome. While many have welcomed the bill, there has been some legitimate opposition to the bill per say based on its political repercussion that it will enervate the representation of minorities in the parliament even further. But I see the problem from another perspective. For a long time, there has been such reservation in local administration, i.e., village panchayats and municipalities. One of the bitterest experiences of such a compulsory reservation is that in many cases, the women are compelled to take part in the political processes, which is not necessarily their choice.

The concomitant byproduct of this policy is that the male members of the women’s family become leaders de facto irrespective of their fitness. These ‘leaders by chance’ pay little heed to the public sentiment or to the actual elected representatives’. A glaring example of such an outcome has been successfully portrayed in the Shyam Benegal movie “Well Done Abba”, where the elected lady representative “Bal Amma” only signs the papers, and the result is “bawdi chori”, stealing of the well on a massive scale! Thus, a measure to empower the women may result in the community getting poorer leadership. Empowerment of women yet remains a distant dream, in many such cases.

Missing link between measures of empowerment and their outcome

Thus it is evident that all these components of empowerment individually fail to empower women and so do they do collectively also. The parts together fail to make the whole! Why is it so? Where is the missing link? How to bridge the gap between the measures for women empowerment and their outcome? We have considered all these dimensions ignoring the most basic one – a respectful attitude towards women from the society.

In order for the women to lead a good life, I suppose this is the ultimate goal of all status equality and empowerment; we must change our attitude towards them. And that alone has the potential to make their life easier, sufferings smoother, contributions significant, efforts worth and their existence meaningful. Without this fundamental component of respect for women, no religious scriptures can ensure their rights, no volume of feminist activism would bring them security and peace in life, no job can compensate them enough, no amount of education can actually liberate them. Through the measures of liberation we can end up increasing their miseries, through legislations of freedom we can actually bind them to our frames of references. A true freedom of choice can only follow from a profound sense of respect towards women.

This respect towards women must be inculcated both in letters as well practice. We have it in letters for ages, but now it is high time that we show it in practice. For the younger generations, and the generations to come, we need to show and make them feel that girls are individuals just as boys are, they are free to chose from the available options about their lives, that they have an equally important say in the family matters and in communal affairs, and that women are respectable members of the society. It starts from our families. If we are respectful to our wives, mothers and sisters, our children will also be respectful to their mothers, sisters, and wives. And ultimately, a meaningful transition – from oppression to empowerment will be possible.

(The writer is a PhD student at Texas Tech University, Texas. He originally hails from Assam, India)

Baba Ramdev: Yogi or Commissar?

Baba Ramdev has been probably most successful of God men of recent times. He claims to have a following of over a billion people. There are an infinite number of people claiming that his yoga therapy and medicines work wonders for their health. Baba in a short span of time has built a multi million empire, his Trust is owning series of Ashrams, ayurvedic drug factories, yoga training centers and many such things, in India and abroad. Overall the medicines prescribed-marketed by him are selling like hot cakes. He himself adorns the divine status and his followers also regard him so, a saint, above the worldly matters. His saffron robes are a symbol of renunciation as such. All this is remarkable, good of both the Worlds, as he is not only wearing divine halo but is also presiding over the empire running into hundreds of crores of rupees built in last decade or so and now entering politics too.

In our country where currently rational thought and scientific thinking has been pushed to the back foot, the claims that his methods are scientific go unchallenged by and large. As per him he can cure Cancer, AIDS and what have you. He also states that homosexuality is a disease, something for which he has a yogic cure. Earlier he had a spat with Brinda Karat, on the issue of contents of the medicines, powder of animal bones in the samples from his factories and on the issue of wages for the workers. Baba claiming to base his Yoga on scientific ground angrily dismissed the issues raised by Brinda Karat, and one does not know what happened to the wage issue of the workers of his factory.

Baba Ramdev

There are not many who can dare to raise legitimate question in the public domain about what is science? What is the method of science and whether mere reading and following of scriptures can be called as scientific? The issues related to the role of double blind trials, biochemical analysis, pharmaceutical composition and their side effects cannot be raised, as in doing so one can be easily labeled as anti Hindu-Anti religious deviant. The garb of Holy clothes is the best defense against all the legitimate questions. So what is projected to be working successfully can also be asserted to be a scientific practice. One would expect that the tall claims like curing cancer and AIDS, need to be questioned as many may get misled and loose the precious time which a medical intervention can play in a positive way.

One concedes that there must be some benefits due to things practiced by Baba and the likes of him, but these need to be regulated and peer reviewed to avoid their misuse in the society at large. Science is not a monopoly of anybody and peer review and evaluation is the best regulator for decisions about medications-practices for society. This is indispensable to avoid the harm, in short term or long term sense. Divinity should not be permitted to protect the real social issues involved.

Lately Baba has been in the news not for divine or yogic reasons, but for the profane issues related to corruption, and his forming a political party which will fight the elections. While the crusade against corruption is welcome as such, one observes that his sayings about corruption are restricted to one political party. This is a partisan view, an attempt to hide the corrupt practices of other political parties and other actors involved in the issue of corruption. He is scathing against Congress on the issue of corruption and is silent about BJP’s corruption. He is vocal about something and quiet about the corruption of rich who are equal partners in this social evil. This may indicate that the saffron clothes are being used for the goals of helping the communal party and the rich.

As such corruption has more to do with unbridled power, absence of transparency and lack of social audit on the economic transactions and policies. To link it with few political actors is an attempt to hide those who give the bribes to get their work done. A principled stand will also be to ensure that all the donations coming to the Ahsrams of Baba and his types belong to the category of what is ‘accounted money’! Hope Baba has already taken care of this point before starting his campaign against corruption.

Generally the ‘divine’ people have to be standing for peace and harmony. One recalls that in the wake of 26/11 Mumbai terror attack, Baba had exhorted Indian Government to attack Pakistan, and that he will fund the war against Pakistan. One shudders to think of war mongers and that too with those having divine claims leading our political affairs. The current times have been the one where the politics has been wearing the clothes of religious identity. Baba is going one step ahead. He is trying to ride on two horses, the one of spirituality-religion and the other of entrepreneur-politician, at the same time. His association with those who have done politics by abusing religious identity, the communalists, is very clear. That may be the reason as to why he is creating hysteria around corruption by one political party rather than against corruption as a phenomenon related to our socio-political structure.

Photo: vijay koul

Height Of Absurdity: Take Education Sportingly, But Treat Sports Like War

By Soroor Ahmed,

India has, of late, joined the leading nation of the world in making school education somewhat easy and simple. Though the Human Resources Development minister, Kapil Sibal, has brought about some radical changes and removed the Class-X board examination of the CBSE it is still a long way to go. Efforts are on to adopt playway system of education at the lower-level of schooling.

These steps are largely appreciated as unnecessary pressure on children was wreaking havoc among them and reportedly driving many teenagers to suicide.

But may one ask as to what has prompted sports to become more serious than war––not to speak of education. After all games are best form of entertainment and people play or watch them to get relaxed. But, in this age of capitalism sports are causing more tension and rancour not only in the mind of players, but all those involved in it as well as those who watch it in the field or television sets.

If two teams play, one is bound to lose. This is the only logical conclusion. Sometimes it may end in draw (tie-up), but that is not possible in one-day version of cricket. This is not because one of them played badly but because another one played better. With Cricket World Cup going on in Indian sub-continent the corporate media, like always, has turned the entire country mad––no, crazy would sound as euphemism.

The Indian media has debated and criticized Indian captain Mahinder Singh Dhoni’s decision to give last over to Ashish Nehra against South Africa so much that there is every reason to suspect that there is certainly some ulterior motive behind this whole sinister campaign. Now the BCCI too had asked Dhoni to explain this action, when the truth is that many of the Board officials have hardly any idea about cricket. Like Sharad Pawar they only play politics.

This is height of absurdity. Those who have half-baked knowledge of cricket and its history have started using this game as their tool to promote their respective business as well as agenda. Their agents in the media––commentators, experts, reporters and ex-cricketers––are all paid to fill round-the-clock space for discussion on all the TV channels just for the sake of advertisements and related business. This sheer wastage of time and energy of the people, especially the youth and children need to be questioned.

Scoring 13 runs in the last over to win the match is not at all an impossible challenge. When One-Dayers were not so popular in 1980s and rules not so much in favour of batsmen England––most of the time considered weak team in comparison to Australia––scored 18 runs to snatch a match from the arch-rival. Alan Lamb, the English batsman, in fact scored these runs in just five balls.

Even in the first World Cup in 1975 West Indian wicket-keeper Dereck Murray and last batsman, Andy Roberts, shared the last wicket partnership of 60 runs to win the match against Pakistan with just one ball to spare. Roberts, known for his poor batting skill, went to score 26 not out and cross the target of 266. Would you believe that at one stage the West Indies of that great era was 166 for eight.

Pakistani batsman Javed Miandad hit last ball six to ensure victory for Pakistan in 1986. Not only that, Pakistan won this match by one wicket when they were eight down for 137, still 100 runs away from victory. The bowler, who was hit for six was Chetan Sharma, who continued to play cricket even after that eventful delivery. Sometimes he is still hired as expert.

Not only that India won the first Twenty-20 World Cup Final by defeating Pakistan in the last over. Misbah-ul-Haque, the man in form, was caught at deep while repeating Javed Miandad’s performance. He chose to hit out relatively new bowler, Joginder Sharma, who after a few months sank into oblivion. A couple of years later nobody knows him. Had that catch been taken Pakistan would have won. Similarly, had Miandad failed to hit that six in 1986 India would have won.

This is sports and should be treated as such. But the corporate bosses, the match-fixers and betting mafia, who actually play the matches without taking to the field, have made the whole business extremely nasty, especially in the sub-continent. They have hijacked the game of cricket. It is at their instigation that mob turn violent and start targeting houses of players when the country loses any match.

True Nehra’s over cost 13 runs but after all it was not a semi-final or final match. If at this stage unnecessary pressure is being created then the players are bound to lose heart. After all in the last couple of years Nehra had ensured three victories in the last over and has been playing for the last over a decade.

The big question is if education can be regulated, controlled and given direction why is it that sports have been left unbridled. The Sports Minister has no role except to build stadiums. He cannot even check the illegal betting and match-fixing. The main stake-holder of the Royal Challengers Bangalore, Vijay Mallya, can pull up Rahul Dravid after he lost an IPL match but the Prime Minister of the country cannot dare to say anything on any illegal business going on in the name of sports. This is not democracy but plutocracy where the stranglehold of the rich corporate bosses over the games have rendered even powers that be powerless.

The rulers of the country are simply playing into their hands as was quite evident during the recent Commonwealth Games. In the electricity-starved country the government has been compelled to build huge floodlights for day-night matches for months together. No this is not for the occasional events like CWG or World Cup. We witness sheer wastage of electricity for months together for the IPL matches every year, yet our farmers would cry for power to irrigate land and school children would go to bed without studying as they have no light after the sunset. But if you have some money watch boring matches of IPL, most of them said to be fixed by the criminals and mafia-gangs.

After all sports is more serious than education.

Is Bhoomi Puja by state a Secular Act?

It is a common sight to see the statues, photos and symbols of Hindu Gods and Goddesses in different Government owned public places like police station and other buildings. Similarly state run buses also have the photos of Hindu Gods and Godesses. We have stopped thinking whether it is right. It is a common observation that most of the time Hindu rituals are performed while the construction of state projects, buildings etc are undertaken. The practice has become a sort of routine to which not many people give a thought. We remember that after independence serious scholars criticized the government for not being secular enough. Around that time when Pundit Nehru was the Prime Minister, the Central Cabinet not only turned down the proposal of building Somanth temple with state money but Dr. Rajendra Prasad, the then President was also advised not to inaugurate the temple in his capacity as the President of India. The visits of public functionaries to the holy places were a strictly private matter, away form the glare of media.

Times seem to have been changing. The politicians are competing with each other to seek the divine blessing through different well advertised visits, the inaugural ceremonies of state sponsored buildings have the Brahmin priest supervising laying of the foundation stone and undertaking a bhoomi puja (Worship of Earth) and doing his best to get the approval of the supernatural powers though the chanting of Mantras. In this scenario, the move by Rajesh Solanki, a dalit activist from Gujarat to file a Public Interest Litigation against the bhoomi pujan and chanting of mantras performed at the time of foundation stone laying ceremony for the new building for the High court, came as a move to set the things on secular grounds. The function was performed in the presence of the Governor of the State of Gujarat and the Chief Justice of the State amongst others.

The Former Union Minister for Civil Aviation Sharad Yadav at Bhoomi Pujan Ceremony for the “Construction of New Terminal Building” at Civil Enclave, Pathankot on June 29, 2001. The Former Union Minister for Consumer Affairs, Food & Public Distribution Shanta Kumar, the Former Minister of State for Civil Aviation Chaman Lal Gupta and the Chief Minister of Himachal Pradesh Prem Kumar Dhumal are also seen.

Solanki’s plea was that a secular state should not perform the religious rituals. Such an act of worship violates the basic principles of the Indian Constitution, which is secular and lays the boundaries between the state and the religion. Solanki argued that the puja and chanting of mantras by Brahmin priests would make the judiciary loose its secular credentials.

Rather than upholding his rational and secular plea, the court went on to dismiss the petition and also fined the petitioner Rs 20000, doubting his bona fides. The judges went onto say that the Bhoomi puja is meant to seek the pardon of the Earth to graciously bear the burden of the damage to make the construction, to make the construction successful. And since this is for the welfare of all it fits into the Hindu values of Vasudhaiva Kutumbkam (All beings on the planet are one family) and Sarvajan Sukhino Bhavantu (For the good of all).

There is a lot of mix up in different arguments being put forward. To begin with to regard that for making a construction the Earth has to be worshipped is a purely Hindu concept. The people from other religions will do different things to start their construction work, like sprinkling Holy water by Christian priest for example. The atheists will be more concerned about the preservation of ecological balance and to see that the geological and
architectural aspects have been fully taken care of.

The legal defense of the practices of one religion for state function is nothing short of violating the basic principles of Indian Constitution, which ensures that state keep its distance from all religions and then treats them all on the equal ground, reaffirmed in S. R. Bommai case. Secularism, as understood in S.R. Bommai is that (1) the state has no religion (2) the state stands aloof from religion and (3) the state does not promote or identify with any religion.

It is true that moral values of many religions can be accepted by the society at large, like Vasudhaiva Kutumbkam (Hinduism), or ‘all men are brother’ (Islam) or ‘Love thy neighbor’ (Christianity) but as far as rituals are concerned it is a different cup of tea. The core of religions is not rituals but moral values. In popular perception and practices it is the rituals which are identified with the religion. This is a matter of social understudying and different streams will go by different opinion on this.

The core point is that the saints of the genre of Kabir, Nizamuddin Auliya, and Gandhi harped on the moral aspects of the religions. As far as practice of religion is concerned people have no restriction in following their social and personal practices, which are so diverse between different religions and even within the same religion as different sects follow different religious practices.

Such a judgment goes totally against the Article 51 (A) of the Constitution also, which directs us to promote the rational thought in the society. The promotion of rituals of one particular faith by the State is against the spirit of our Constitution. Again in many instances there is just a thin borderline between faith and blind faith. Blind faith will push the society in the retrograde direction. Today we know that unless the location for a
construction is selected properly, geological and construction aspects are taken care of scientifically, accidents do happen. That’s why state has developed many a norms of construction which are necessary to be cleared and we have witnessed that violation of such norms have led to accidents.

Our courts have to promote these aspects of Constitution rather than to prove in a convoluted way that practices of one religion should be accepted as the state practices. Father of the Nation Mahatma Gandhi had gone on to state that “In India, for whose fashioning I have worked all my life, every man enjoys equality of status, whatever his religion is. The state is bound to be wholly Secular” (Harijan August 31, 1947) and, “religion is not the test of nationality but is a personal matter between man and God, (ibid pg 90), and,” religion is a personal affair of each Individual, it must not be mixed up with politics or national Affairs”(ibid pg 90).

Last few decades identification of Hindu religious practices has been accepted as the state norms and this needs to be given a rethinking. (Issues in Secular Politics III March 2011

[Photo: PIB]

India After Gandhi

THE word ‘Gandhi’ in a google search results in some 40 million pages. He is a world figure and undoubtedly the best known Indian. Any study of India is incomplete without him. Ramachandra Guha acknowledges the fact by naming his book on the history of the country as “India after Gandhi: The history of the world’s largest democracy”. Continue reading India After Gandhi

Am Not An Expert On Minority Affairs, Al-hamdu lillah

By Dr Wasim Ahmad,

Thanks to God Almighty, I don’t have the latest data on Indian Muslims. I don’t have the statistics about each constituency and the population of Muslims in it. I do not have the data about the Muslim MPs and MLAs who have fought and won or lost elections so far. I don’t know which constituencies witnessed the splitting or non-splitting of their votes and how and why. Continue reading Am Not An Expert On Minority Affairs, Al-hamdu lillah

No Head-I-win-tail-you-lose Situation For Muslims

By Soroor Ahmed,

On April 25 every year thousands of men and women from Australia, New Zealand and other western countries would converge to Gallipoli to commemorate the failed expedition to Turkey during the World War-I. In the year 2000 the then Australian Prime Minister, John Howard and his New Zealand counterpart Helen Clark landed with 15,000 strong pilgrims from English-speaking world. Continue reading No Head-I-win-tail-you-lose Situation For Muslims

The Making Of Gujarat

Part 2 of series on Gujarat

Sultans of Gujarat ruled the region for over a period of 160 years but the marks that they left on the ground helped shape Gujarat for centuries to come. Gujarat was at its widest spread under the Sultans who governed a vast area which forms now part of Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, and Rajasthan. Gujarat as a state of Independent India was founded only on March 1, 1960 but its identity as a separate region with distinct language and culture was established under Gujarati sultans. Continue reading The Making Of Gujarat