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Indian Press on Pakistan, Is Urdu A ‘Pakistani’ Language?, Indira Gandhi and Secular Liberals: New Age Islam's Selection, 21 November 2020

By New Age Islam Edit Desk

21 November 2020

• Pakistan: Where Fact And Fiction Come Together

By Rakesh Sood

• Is Urdu A ‘Pakistani’ Language? No. Here’s Why I Chose To Learn It

By Anwesha Sengupta

•  Did Indira Gandhi Help Shape ‘Anti-Pakistan’ Narrative?

By Farzana Versey

• Dilemma Of Secular Liberals

By Julio Ribeiro

• The BJP Does Not Want Owaisi, The BJP Does Not Need Owaisi

By Shivam Vij

• Bangladeshi Cricketer Shakib Says Sorry: Will It ‘Help’ Extremism?

By Saif Hasnat


Pakistan: Where Fact And Fiction Come Together

By Rakesh Sood

Nov 20, 2020

 Lt General (retd) Asad Durrani, who headed Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) in the early 1990s, is no stranger to controversy. Two years ago, along with AS Dulat, chief of the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) in late 1990s, he co-authored The Spy Chronicles: RAW, ISI and The Illusion of Peace. The slim volume, based on their conversations on the Track II circuit (he describes this as a circus), covered India-Pakistan relations, Kashmir and cross-border terrorism, and got him into trouble in Pakistan. The ISI hauled him over the coals, a court of enquiry suspended his pension and other retirement benefits and he was barred from leaving the country. He has since been pursuing lawsuits to get his entitlements restored.

He has authored a novel, Honour Among Spies that describes the travails of a Pakistani Lt General Osama Barakzai (Zirak branch of the Durrani tribe) who gets into trouble with his parent organisation (Guards) ostensibly for co-authoring a book with Indian ex-spy chief Randhir Singh. However, as he plays cat and mouse with his interrogators and engages in verbal duelling with colleagues from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and MI6, Osama finds other plausible reasons for his troubles, pointing the spotlight at the establishment (a popular euphemism for the Army and ISI). Despite the disclaimer that “though inspired by some real events, this is a work of fiction”, such a book would be explosive at any time in Pakistan. But appearing as the domestic political scene heats up for Prime Minister (PM)Imran Khan, Durrani may find that he has more than a bestseller on his hands.

Fiction:Osama Barakzai was appointed to head the Intelligence outfit in the Guards by the Chief Akram Moghul in 1990. Both came under a cloud in a case filed by Admiral Khan for using Yousaf Haseeb, a banker, for channelling slush funds to Naveen Shaikh to dislodge the incumbent woman PM. Part of the money is unaccounted for and Barakzai points the finger at Moghul who feels vengeful. The case lingers on through Pakistan’s courts and the current tribal chief, Jabbar Jatt, shares a sub-tribal loyalty with Moghul. He had been appointed by Naveen Shaikh (in power from 2013-17) but since switched loyalties to Khurshid Kadri.

Another thread in Barakzai’s ruminations leads to the female terrorist mastermind, Uzma bint Laden, who was living incognito in Jacobabad and killed in 2011 in a daring raid by United States (US) Navy Seals. Barakzai, who had long retired, and, after a couple of diplomatic assignments, is now active on the conference circuit and a sought-after commentator on TV channels, suggests on BBC about the possibility of complicity between the Guards and the US agency. The story passes as it absolves the Guards (under then Chief Raja Rasalu) of incompetence that they were unable to detect the incoming raid. The problem resurfaces as US investigative journalist Simon Hirsh uncovers a Pakistani mole, Baqar Bhatti, who had walked into the US embassy to inform them about the fugitive, indicating collusion.

Adding to this mix is the tricky relationship with India with the Narendra Modi government’s assertive policy of surgical strikes after Uri, the air strike at Balakot after the Pulwama attack and conversations between Barakzai and Randhir Singh to keep alive the hopes of the composite dialogue initiated by former Indian PM KL Gujjar and pursued by the opening up of Sardarpur shrine.

Fact:Lt Gen Durrani was DG(MI) and Gen Mirza Aslam Beg appointed him DG(ISI) in 1990. Both were interrogated in the case filed in 1996 by late Air Marshal Asghar Khan, accusing the Army of funding Nawaz Sharif in the 1990 elections against Benazir Bhutto through Younis Habib, CEO of Mehran Bank. General Beg and current chief General Qamar Bajwa both belong to 16 Baloch regiment.

Durrani has been critical of General Pervez Musharraf’s role in the Kargil war (described as the Pir Panjal pass fiasco where Gen Gulrez Shahrukh keeps PM Naveen Shaikh in the dark). In 2011, Durrani told BBC that the Pakistani authorities probably knew about Osama bin Laden hiding in Abbottabad but would have preferred to be blamed for incompetence rather than complicity. Seymour Hersh’s disclosures in 2015 confirmed this, pointing at Gen Ashfaq Kayani and identifying the Pakistani informant as Brig Usman Khalid, subsequently resettled in the US.

Enough parallels to whet any conspiracy theorist’s appetite.

A strange reality:Nawaz Sharif may have begun his political career with the blessings of the establishment but differences grew after Kargil and Musharrafs coup in 1999. After returning to power in 2013, Sharif pressed treason charges against Musharraf. The Army was unhappy, Panamagate took its toll and Sharif was ousted in 2017, jailed, and has been in exile for a year. He has mounted a no-holds-barred attack on the selected PM Imran Khan and the selectors, General Bajwa and the ISI chief Lt Gen Faiz Hameed, holding them responsible for his ouster.

An Opposition front of 11 parties, combining Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) under Bilawal Bhutto and Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) under Maryam Sharif, led by veteran Maulana Fazlur Rehman who was close to the Army but currently unhappy, has begun a series of protest rallies last month culminating in Islamabad next month. It is a re-run of the process that ousted Sharif in 2017 with Imran Khan and the Maulana in the lead, with the tacit backing of the establishment.

Last year, Bajwa managed a three-year extension from Imran Khan, causing rumblings within the army. Into this mix comes a thinly-disguised novel calling out those manipulating democratic politics and hinting at internal differences within the establishment.

Only time will tell if Barakzai will reappear in a sequel — Honour Restored.


Rakesh Sood is a former diplomat and currently distinguished fellow, Observer Research Foundation

The views expressed are personal


Is Urdu A ‘Pakistani’ Language? No. Here’s Why I Chose To Learn It

By Anwesha Sengupta

19 Nov 2020

I had wanted to learn Urdu since I was a teenager. There were no political or ‘practical’ reason behind this desire. I found Urdu incredibly romantic. Gulzar, AR Rahman and Shah Rukh Khan were to be blamed for my romantic associations with the language. The day Shah Rukh Khan described his dream woman as someone who speaks like Urdu (Jiske Zuban Urdu ki Tara), my teenage heart associated the language with love. Almost two decades later, when I discovered Fawad Khan, the desire to speak his tongue came back.

The opportunity to learn Urdu came during the COVID lockdown. Association SNAP – a Kolkata-based NGO working for students and youth belonging to minority communities – begun an online course to teach basic Urdu. I enrolled.

The decision raised curiosity among some friends and family members: “Is it true that Urdu is written in the wrong direction,” asked someone innocently; “Are you the only Hindu in the class,” was the most common question that I faced. A well-meaning relative even warned me: “Be cautious, do not tell too many people. They may think of you as anti-national.”

Some did ask “whether I needed to learn Urdu for some professional reasons”. Couple of years ago, I had tried, unsuccessfully though, to learn Spanish. That attempt had generated no curiosity. Learning a European language was seen as a ‘good career move’, Spanish was chic. Learning Urdu, on the other hand, was deemed unusual: written from right to left, the language of Musalmans, with ‘no job prospect’. In every sense, it seemed the opposite of French, German or Spanish.

How does one explain such perceptions about Urdu? Why is it treated as an alien language in India, where, according to the Census of 2011, it is the mother tongue of 5.07 crore people? The answer perhaps lies in the chequered past of the language.

As Christopher King explains, in the second half of 19th Century, Hindi written in Nagri script and Urdu written in Urdu script became symbols of Hinduism and Islam in Oudh and the Northwestern Provinces. Initiatives were taken by the Nagari Pracharani Sabha of Banaras and Hindi Sahitya Sammelan of Allahabad to purge Arabic and Persian words from Hindi and replace them with Sanskrit.

In poems, tracts, plays, Hindi was imagined as the mother language, sometime as a mother goddess. Urdu, in this imagination, was the vulgar ‘other’, the erotic language of courtesans. Sometimes, Urdu was accused of being ‘effeminate’, sometimes it was seen particularly unsuitable for women. Urdu was also seen to be too close to the foreign Persian, and hence inadequate in expressing Bharatiya sensibilities.

Urdu received regular flak from Bharatendu Harishchandra to Arya Samaj educators to poet Mahadevi Verma. Such associations between language and communal consciousness became more widespread in the 20th century. Partition further marginalised Urdu in India. Urdu became associated with Pakistan, where it was declared the national language much to the agony of Bengali Muslims of its eastern wing. While the Bangla-Urdu conflict shaped the politics of East Pakistan in the decades after its creation, India witnessed the strengthening of Hindi at the expense of Urdu.

Urdu departments were opened in universities and colleges; the National Council for the Promotion of Urdu was set up. But funds were paltry and that too they were often misused. In a 1999 essay, published in the Economic and Political Weekly, Syed Shahabuddin tersely wrote: “[the National Council] is meant not to promote Urdu but to put the Urduwallah's conscience to sleep.”

The mainstreaming of Hindutva politics in the first two decades of the twenty-first century has further ‘otherised’ Urdu. In Rajasthan, for instance, the previous BJP government merged Urdu medium schools and Hindi medium schools, stopped the recruitment of Urdu teachers, removed Ismat Chughtai from Class VIII text book and made question papers in Urdu unavailable.

In Uttar Pradesh, several members of the legislative assembly were stopped from taking oaths in Urdu. Several other examples are there to illustrate this point. This historical and the contemporary contexts perhaps explain, though not justify, the reactions of my relatives and friends to my learning Urdu.

In my class, however, I am not an exceptional presence. Seven of my classmates are Hindu by birth, and only one is a Muslim. Except one, we are all Bengalis. Five of us are women, and there are four men. It is, but, a remarkably heterogeneous group if we take age into consideration. The youngest of the lot is Bibhabori, a Class Six student. She just read a book on the magnificent Humayun’s Tomb. But it had a few Urdu words that she could not read. To solve this pressing problem, her parents enrolled her in this course.

Sukti Sircar, one of the senior members of the group, also has a definite reason for learning the language. She is learning Urdu to keep her mind active.

It was partly her children’s idea, she says: “My son and daughter have told me that learning a new language, engaging in Sudoku, taking up new activities help delay the onset of Alzheimer’s”.

Remaining mentally agile is Sukti’s priority, who has retired recently after working at a bank for almost forty years. But why Urdu and not any other language, I asked her one day. She told me that Urdu fascinates her as it is written from right to left. Urdu also belongs to her familiar universe because of the popular Bollywood songs. But learning the language in a systematic way will help Sukti comprehend the lyrics better. An avid reader herself, Sukti hopes to read Urdu fiction in the original after the completion of the course.

Why Many Chose To Learn Urdu Over Other Languages

While her other retired friends have taken up new hobbies like gardening, embroidering, and painting, she has decided to give Urdu a shot. Her son, a heritage consultant by profession, has also enrolled with her. Two of my fellow classmates are learning the language because their academic research involves reading Urdu sources. Rakesh, another classmate of mine, is a poet and a translator. He is well versed in Urdu literature that is written in Devnagari script. Learning Nastaliq script, he believes, will help him explore the treasures of the language further. For Srijanee, who has a master’s degree in English literature, the lockdown provided the much-needed time to learn a new language.

Urdu was the preferred choice for her because of her interest in postcolonial South Asian literature. Most of my classmates also have said that they find the Nastaliq script beautiful and they are aware of its rich literary tradition.

Urdu in its spoken form is comprehensible to almost all of them, but they want to read and write it as well.

The script is generally seen as a difficult one and there have been suggestions from some of the Indian Urdu experts to promote the writing of the language in Roman or Nagari. But Urdu without Nastaliq will probably lose its shine to a group like this.

The instructor, Dr Noushad Momin, also thinks that Urdu in Roman will be detrimental for the language. He, however, often tell us that there is a resistance from a group of Urduwallas in India towards the modernisation of the writing of the language. “In Pakistan, they do not put so much emphasis on joining the letters and that makes it easier for the new learners. In India there are people who are not ready to take that step,” he said one day when we were struggling to understand the joining rules.

Normalisation Of Urdu By A Few Brings Hope

Some of my classmates did face bizarre questions from their families and friends about their decisions to learn Urdu. Sukti and her son, for example, had to explain their decision to some surprised relatives.One of their acquaintances thought Urdu to be a Pakistani language, no longer used in India as such. The mother-son duo has been largely successful in clearing their doubts and misconceptions. One classmate of mine is yet to tell his family. Others’ families are mostly indifferent; but in some cases they are encouraging.

My classmates themselves do not see learning Urdu as an overtly political act. While they appreciate the visual beauty of it, they do not exoticize the language. To them this is a choice informed by several other considerations.

Last year, Firoze Khan, a Sanskrit scholar, was appointed as an assistant professor in the Sanskrit Vidya Dharma Department of Banaras Hindu University. Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the students’ wing of RSS, organised a massive protest against this appointment. A Muslim, they said, was ineligible to teach in a department which combines the study of Hindu religion and Sanskrit language. A colleague of Khan was harassed because he condemned ABVP’s position. But a month-long protest forced the Sanskrit scholar to resign and join the arts faculty of the university to teach the language. In a world of shrinking diversity and reductive understanding of faith, Sukti, Bibhabori, Srijanee, Rakesh and others’ “normalisation” of learning Urdu brings hope.


Gupta, Charu. ‘The Icon of Mother in Late Colonial North India: 'Bharat Mata', 'Matri Bhasha' and 'Gau Mata'’, Economic and Political Weekly (EPW), 36:45, 2001, pp. 4291-4299.

King, Christopher. ‘The Hindi-Urdu Controversy of the North-Western Provinces and Oudh and Communal Consciousness’, Journal of South Asian Literature, 13: ¼, 1977-78, pp 111-120.

Shahabuddin, Syed. ‘Urdu and its Future in India’, EPW, 34:10/11, 1999, p.566.

Haque, Shahzaman. ‘India’s War on Urdu’, The Diplomat, July 15, 2019.


Anwesha Sengupta teaches history at the Institute of Development Studies Kolkata. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author’s own.

The New Age Islam neither endorses nor is responsible for them.


Did Indira Gandhi Help Shape ‘Anti-Pakistan’ Narrative?

By Farzana Versey

19 Nov 2020


She encouraged coteries without seeming to court anyone. She took away the privy purses, but kept the princes. She spoke about rationality, but a hedonistic sadhu was a close confidante. She spoke about ‘social democracy’ but blatantly gave a fillip to the license permit raj.

When Indira Gandhi was voted as the woman of the millennium by a BBC online poll in 1999, leaving Mother Teresa and Madame Curie behind, the general opinion was that India was the flavour of the season. And, like the Miss Worlds facilitating a consumerist market, it seemed like a politically-correct move to prop up an Indian.

Did Indira Gandhi deserve such an honour that declared her the most important woman in a thousand years?

103 years ago to the day, Indira Gandhi was born (19 November 1917). And 36 years ago, on 31 October, when Indira Gandhi was shot dead, we were stunned and genuinely sad. She seemed imperishable.

She had mastered the art of playing both ‘victim’ and ‘rescuer’ – post-Emergency, after her son Sanjay’s death, even after death as her spirit hovered around when her politically-disinclined son was pulled out to save India.

As I look back at the three major unfortunate events she was responsible for, we can see how her actions shaped post-Partition politics and that continue to echo today in more insidious forms.

Indira Gandhi thrived on strife. This is how she came to support the Mukti Bahini in what was then East Pakistan.

A little-known aspect of that time remains a blip. In a 13-day war, 54 of our men in uniform went missing. In 1971, we were too elated as cries of ‘Jai Bangla’ rent the air. In that charged atmosphere when 93,000 Pakistani prisoners were handed over, India ‘forgot’ to ask for our men in exchange. The prime minister apparently had no time for it.

Back in 1992, I had met some of the families. They had produced evidence before successive governments – letters, notes from emissaries. But nothing came of it. These families were waiting for news, good or bad, for closure.

In her book ‘The Bhutto Trial and Execution’, BBC correspondent Victoria Schofield mentioned how Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto could not sleep. Every night he heard cries wafting towards his cell from the other side of the barracks. One of his lawyers made enquiries and was told by the jail authorities that they were Indian prisoners held after the 1971 war. As she wrote, “When the time came to exchange POWs, the Indian government did not accept these lunatics as they could not recount their place of origin. And thus, they were retained at Kot Lakhpat.” Bhutto was hanged to death in 1979, eight years after the war.

In July 2019, Minister of State for External Affairs V Muraleedharan admitted in the Lok Sabha that 83 Indian Prisoners of War (PoW) were taken into custody during Indo-Pak wars, including the 54 soldiers and officers who were either missing or killed in action during the 1971 Indo-Pak War. No conclusive search has been undertaken.

Politicians use the armed forces, and when victory is declared the dead, missing soldiers are either forgotten or manipulated to score points within the country.

Atal Bihari Vajpayee may or may not have called Indira Gandhi a ‘Durga avatar’, but that is what she was perceived as in the public imagination. It is no wonder that the western media thought of her as the ‘empress of India’; she had learned well the divide and rule policy, a legacy that Indian politicians continue to pay respects to by their actions.

It is her role in the creation of Bangladesh that brings to the fore India’s ambitions of being the region’s ‘bully’, if not a superpower. It also set up a concrete anti-Pakistan narrative.

For one who rode the human rights horse in another country, Indira Gandhi had scant respect for it at home. On the midnight of 25 June 1975, without consulting her Cabinet or even the law minister, Mrs Gandhi declared a nationwide emergency. Her ‘rubber-stamp’ President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed invoked Article 352 to suspend democracy.

The sheer insecurity, and pettiness, that prompted it was a group of young leaders questioning her violation of the electoral laws. Those who had called for ‘Sampoorna Kranti’ were arrested.

Like all frightened people, Mrs Gandhi ‘camouflaged’ her theories – about others trying to plot against her government and stall its functioning – beneath a cloak of self-righteousness, declaring that democracy was not more important than the nation. It is the sort of statement our rightwing ‘nationalists’ would love.

She could not even tolerate a peaceful resistance movement. Jayaprakash Narayan wrote to her several times from prison, and an open letter in February 1976 in the ‘Far Eastern Economic Review’. The Indian press was muzzled.

His words were stinging: “You have accused the Opposition of trying to lower the prestige and position of the country’s Prime Minister. But in reality, the boot is on the other leg. No one has done more to lower the position and prestige of that great office than yourself. Can you ever think of the Prime Minister of a democratic country who cannot even vote in his Parliament because he has been found guilty of corrupt electoral practices?”

Indians are attracted to tragedy queens and kings, their flaws forgotten the moment they are seen as suffering for the acts they made others suffer for.

The Congress published a book, ‘Congress and the Making of the Indian Nation’, that, in LK Advani’s words, was “a ridiculous attempt to make Sanjay Gandhi a scapegoat for all the misdeeds the country had to suffer during the Emergency.” Advani’s observations, of course, were rooted in his own understanding of what constitutes democracy, for he referred to Sanjay’s deeds as “worthwhile causes such as slum-clearance, anti-dowry measures, and literacy”.

Nevertheless, it was clear that Mrs Gandhi had not muddied her own hands.

Indira Gandhi’s ‘Reluctance’ To Engage With Minority Aspirations

If Sanjay Gandhi was the ‘scapegoat’ of the Emergency, then Rajiv Gandhi became the ‘scapegoat’ of the anti-Sikh killings following Indira Gandhi’s assassination. At worst, he could be accused of extreme insensitivity at the time.

It was Indira Gandhi who had given orders in June 1984 for the Army to attack the Golden Temple and 40 other gurdwaras in Punjab.

For one who had actively participated in Mukti Bahini’s separatism in Pakistan, Indira Gandhi was not even ready to engage with minority aspirations.

At least 2733 Sikhs were killed over three days, as supporters of the Congress party went on a rampage. Sikhs had suffered a great deal during the partition of the country. In 1984 they were uprooted again, and this time the enemy was at home.

An official apology came only in 2005, when Dr Manmohan Singh said: “I have no hesitation in apologising not only to the Sikh community but the whole Indian nation because what took place in 1984 is the negation of the concept of nationhood and what is enshrined in our Constitution.”

Anti-Minority Sentiments Have Only Worsened Since Indira Gandhi Era

Expansionism dreams, anti-minority-ism, and scant respect for the right to dissent against political crimes have peaked and are far worse now, and I don’t see any leader today utter words such as these: “Even if I died in the service of the nation, I would be proud of it. Every drop of my blood... will contribute to the growth of this nation and to make it strong and dynamic.”

I’ll quote Ghalib here:

“Rag-E-Sang Se Tapakta Woh Lahu Ki Fir Na Thamta

Jise Gham Samajh Rahe Ho, Ye Agar Sharaar Hota”.

(The blood that drips from the veins of stone will not cease / What you think of as grief should have been a spark.)


Farzana Versey is a Mumbai-based writer. She tweets at @farzana_versey. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author’s own.

The New Age Islam neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)


Dilemma Of Secular Liberals

By Julio Ribeiro

Nov 20, 2020

A Muslim lad from Dehradun wrote to me: “Mr Julio F Ribeiro, may Allah’s peace be upon you. Yesterday, I saw a video in which a class teacher in France assigned the class to make a caricature of Prophet Mohammed (Saw). A Muslim student, wondering what to do in such a circumstance, finally wrote Mohammed on the notebook. Prophet Mohammed (Saw) lies in our hearts and Muslim ummah loves Prophet Mohammed (Saw). They also love Jesus, Moses, David, Isaac, Ismail, Abraham and Noah. They are ordained to respect deities of Hindu as per directions of the Quran. Other relations are meaningless if that eternal bond with Mohammed is disregarded by anyone in any way. A Muslim cannot bear that assault. Why Europe and especially Denmark and France think that they can go on insulting Prophet Mohammed (Saw) like they insult Prophet Jesus and others in the name of freedom of speech? Why a pitch is being created to demonise a loving Muslim ummah?

I hope you will be writing against the injustice meted out to Muslim ummah in the name of freedom of expression.”

I replied: “Does the Quran say that the depiction of the Prophet is not to be made and, further, if anyone does it, he or she should be killed? I would like to see this line in the Holy Book (with English translation as I do not know Arabic). This is essential if one has to write on the subject.”

The young man’s feelings reflect those of his co-religionists across the globe! I am willing to respect such feelings if those who harbour them also respect the Quranic injunctions not to kill. Secular liberals cannot take sides and condone injustice meted out by one side only.

When cattle traders, butchers and beef eaters are lynched or young students and old women are hauled up under draconian laws like the UAPA for protesting against discriminatory laws like the CAA and NRC, secular liberals take up cudgels for the victims. But if extremist Muslims take to terror because they are too weak to take on the might of the State or, like in France, choose to behead a teacher for showing cartoons from a magazine that pictured the Prophet, the same secular liberals are squarely against these extremists.

The French President condemned the killings of his compatriots. It would have been unacceptable if he had failed to do so. Our PM Modi was the first world leader to condemn the killing of the Paris teacher by Muslim hotheads. But in India, we keep waiting for our popular PM to react when Muslims are lynched!

Well, it was good and wise of Modiji to convey his support to Macron at that moment of French national grief. Secular liberals in our own country would have appreciated his gesture even more if he had been consistent with his rejection of terrorism by also condemning lynchings in BJP-ruled states from where alone they have been reported. Secular liberals, like me, roundly condemn all extremists of any persuasion. Fundamentalism, whether Hindu, Muslim, Christian or Sikh, is anathema to them.

Secular liberals were overjoyed when Javed Anand, husband of that intrepid warrior Teesta Setalvad, and his group of Muslims for a Secular Democracy came out boldly on the side of the French President and against their French co-religionists responsible for the barbaric act of beheading. Imagine our disappointment when the very next day, hordes of Muslims came out on the streets of Mumbai and other cities of India to voice their anger against the French President for stating what the world already knew — that the French national ethos is irreverence towards religion as such and not to Islam, in particular. Instances of rejection of firmly held Christian beliefs like the Virgin Birth or the Chastity of Christ were shown in films like The Da Vinci Code, which were released in French cinema halls without any violent reactions.

So, the French are even-handed about their attitude to religion, any religion, including the one which the majority of worshippers in their country profess and follow. But followers of Islam, who, subsequent to the demise of colonial rule, account for a substantial percentage of the population of France, are very touchy about their Prophet.

Zakia Soman, one of the best known Muslim women fighting the mullahs in the ‘triple talaq’ matter, has also come out openly against her co-religionists responsible for the barbarism in France. She will be ‘persona non grata’ with the majority of Indian Muslims! Yet, she has spoken out in a newspaper column. I salute her.

There are many obscurantist practices that my fellow humans who follow Islam need to ponder and discard. Their marriage and divorce laws, the place of women in their scheme of daily living, should be principal points of debate and discussion. The reversal of the Shah Bano judgment by the Congress government of Rajiv Gandhi shocked the conscience of even those sympathetic to Muslims in India. It spelt the eclipse of Congress rule and the rise of the BJP.

There is another decision of the mullahs that shocked me even more. An Indian soldier was captured by the Pakistanis in the war of 1965 or 1971. He was a Muslim. Since his whereabouts could not be established for more than seven years, his wife remarried. She had a son from that marriage and was happy. Suddenly, the soldier was freed by his captors and returned home. The mullahs ordered the woman to cohabit with the soldier, abandoning her happy marriage! She was not even consulted. No attention was paid to the child who had not been accepted by the soldier.

I am willing and even eager to take up issues for my Muslim brothers and sisters when they are unjustly targeted and I do that often. But certainly not when practices that are uncivilised are defended as Quranic precepts. How can any Supreme Being condemn women to ‘slave’ status in their own home and in their own community? How can a Supreme Being sanction murder? My secular liberalism just cannot accept such inequality and injustice!


The BJP Does Not Want Owaisi, The BJP Does Not Need Owaisi

By Shivam Vij

20 November, 2020

The Bharatiya Janata Party will do anything it needs to win elections, we are often told.

Yet, there is one thing the BJP does not do, particularly the BJP of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah. It rarely ever gives tickets to Muslims. That costs it a few Muslim-dominated seats. If the BJP’s single-minded purpose was to win seats, it would happily give tickets to Muslims.

By giving some representation to Muslims in their ticket distribution, the BJP could, perhaps, have won state elections in Rajasthan, Delhi, Karnataka, and Madhya Pradesh. You can find Muslims who are all too willing to engage with the BJP at a time when the party has a monopoly over winning elections. Like most communities, Muslims don’t mind being on the right side of power.

It is the BJP that does not respond to Muslim aspirations, because there are things the BJP values more than winning elections, such as ideology. In its post-2014 phase, it has been clearer than ever that the BJP’s ideological purpose is to marginalise Muslims to the point of making them invisible. The Muslim must shut up and stay at home. The Muslim must not be MLA, MP, minister or leader. Muslims must not speak or be heard.

What was such a big deal about blocking traffic on a road or two over the anti-Citizenship (Amendment) Act protests that it caused riots in Delhi? Was the blocking of a road in east Delhi that nobody was really noticing that big a problem for commuters? That is how unacceptable the Muslim political voice is to the BJP.

The BJP doesn’t want Owaisi

It is facetious to say that the BJP wants Asaduddin Owaisi around in politics. The BJP doesn’t want the Muslim beard or cap. My understanding is that it doesn’t want a Muslim standing up in Parliament — because why should Muslims be present in Parliament of a ‘Hindu Rashtra’ in the first place?

For the first time in the history of Bihar politics, the treasury benches do not have a single Muslim MLA. The BJP did not give a single ticket to a community that is nearly 17 per cent of Bihar’s population — every sixth citizen. It is the only party that seeks to actively exclude an entire community from the corridors of power. Do you think they enjoy the sight of five MLAs from the All-India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) in the assembly?

The five seats won by the AIMIM have led to the usual hand-wringing about how Owaisi’s rise is just what the BJP wants. The BJP wants Muslims to vote for a Muslim party just as it wants Hindus to vote for a Hindu party. This is a misreading of the BJP’s agenda. The BJP-RSS have gone out of their way to make secular parties apologetic about seeking Muslim votes. This has been done to silence the voice of the Muslim community in Indian politics and public life. If Indian Muslims now get a voice through Owaisi and the AIMIM, no, that doesn’t serve the BJP’s purpose.

The BJP would rather that Muslims don’t have a vote at all— which is what might be eventually achieved by the ‘chronology’ laws of NPR-NRC-CAA, which could strip many Muslims of citizenship. One look at the attempts in Assam to repeat the National Register of Citizens (NRC) exercise again and again, flogging a dead horse until it comes alive, shows you how the BJP wants to reduce the number of Muslim voters from the electoral rolls. That’s how the absence of Muslim representation from not just the treasury benches but even the opposition benches might be achieved.

The BJP doesn’t need Owaisi

The BJP does not need Owaisi for polarisation because the BJP has anyway maxed the polarisation game. All that fake news against Muslims — like the Palghar lynching of sadhus immediately blamed on Muslims even though there was no communal angle whatsoever — doesn’t need Owaisi. If anything, Owaisi’s nuanced assertion of constitutional nationalism comes in the way of the BJP leaders and supporters’ efforts to portray the Muslim as the Hindu-hating, Pakistan-loving, cow-slaughtering devil.

The larger misreading here is that the Hindu voter votes only on account of religion. If religious identity was enough, Prime Minister Modi wouldn’t need to sell ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ or whatever the latest hollow slogan is. The sort of voter who would vote for the BJP because they are repulsed by Owaisi’s face will anyway vote for the BJP. Owaisi’s presence or absence isn’t going to affect the Hindutva-minded voter’s affinity for the BJP.

Who needs Owaisi?

If anyone needs Owaisi, it is the Indian Muslim. The Indian Muslims who are being deprived of a voice in public discourse because the ‘secular’ parties who claim to uphold their interests have also gone silent. In fact, they’re going beyond silence to active collaboration with Hindu fundamentalism, if you see the recent actions of Priyanka Gandhi, Kamal Nath, and Arvind Kejriwal.

At such a time, Owaisi is a force for good in Indian politics. He’s not going to become chief minister or prime minister and he knows it. What he will achieve is the creation of some competition for Muslim votes, which will force the ‘secular’ parties to acknowledge that, yes, India has Muslims and they must be treated with the same dignity by all political parties as any other voter.


By Shivam Vij is contributing editor to ThePrint. Views are personal.


Bangladeshi Cricketer Shakib Says Sorry: Will It ‘Help’ Extremism?

By Saif Hasnat

21 Nov 2020

Bangladeshi cricketer Shakib Al Hasan found himself in hot water after his recent participation in a puja ceremony in Kolkata, India. Shakib, the best-ever cricketer that Bangladesh has ever produced, along with scoring ample runs and taking many wickets on the field, he also always seems to be very good at courting controversy. But this time around, he fell prey to growing radicalism and intolerance in Bangladesh.

Shakib went to Kolkata for a short visit on 12 November. He attended a Diwali Opening Ceremony as an ‘Honourable Chief Guest’ and came back on 13 November.

This mere 24-hour-visit created unprecedented chaos on social media which was inundated with the news — Shakib had inaugurated a puja in Kolkata despite being a Muslim.

Hundreds of people started criticising Shakib for doing so. Some declared that Shakib was no more a Muslim. Some started changing Shakib’s name to ‘Sri Sri Shakib’ saying that he was now a Hindu. At one point, a man in his thirties from Sylhet, a city in eastern Bangladesh, streamed a live video on his social media profile with a machete in his hand and announced he would cut off Shakib’s head even if he needed to come to Dhaka having walked a hundred kilometres.

Shakib went completely silent after returning from Kolkata. But receiving a death threat made him speak up. On 16 November, he appeared on his YouTube channel and issued an apology for a ‘mistake’ he had never made. He claimed to be a ‘proud Muslim’, and surprisingly, denied what he had done in Kolkata.

Right after that, the Bangladesh Cricket Board (BCB) had to appoint an armed guard to ensure his safety in his own country, where thousands of people chant his name in the stadiums.

This incident is a fresh example of growing radicalism and intolerance in Bangladesh, which is putting the founding principles of Bangladesh — democracy, nationalism, secularism and socialism — in a deep crisis.

In the last two decades, Bangladesh has seen many incidents of extremists killing rationalists like writers, bloggers and targeting other minorities. There have also been some fresh incidents of this nature which have taken place over the last two months.

On 29 October, a man was killed and his body was set on fire at Lalmonirhat district, situated at the northern border of Bangladesh, upon a false accusation of desecrating the Holy Quran. The police investigation revealed that the deceased, Shahidunnabi Jewel, was a practising Muslim. On 1 October, a video went viral on social media, which showed a mob attack on a few Hindu households at Muradnagar in Cumilla district. And on the eve of this year's Durga Puja, the biggest religious festival for Bangladeshi Hindus, there were reports of vandalising of Hindu idols in temples. So, the death threat of Shakib came as another incident of growing intolerance in Bangladesh.

A ‘Wrong’ Message Sent To The World

“I’m a proud Muslim, and I can’t inaugurate Puja,” Shakib said while seeking for an apology to the people who “might have been hurt for his doings”.

Shakib claimed that he “went to Kolkata to join a programme”, and that was not a Puja. He says: “I went to a programme on the invitation from Paresh da (Paresh Paul is an MLA in West Bengal), and people were performing Puja nearby. I needed to pass by that Puja because many roads were shut off due to the crowd. And, when I was passing, Paresh da requested to light a diya. I did that. Some people also came and took photos — that’s it. I didn’t inaugurate Puja, and I didn’t go there for that.”

But, an invitation card came to the fore which contains Shakib’s name as the ‘Honourable Chief Guest’ for the ‘Diwali opening ceremony’. But one understands that Shakib felt the need to issue a public apology due to fear of extremists.

A Missed Diplomatic Opportunity For India & Bangladesh

While Bangladesh and India’s governments always talk about strengthening social and cultural harmony, Shakib could have been an appropriate ambassador for this cause. It was his ideal chance to do so, but his apology and denying what he really did – after receiving death threats – has ruined this diplomatic opportunity.

A Dhaka-based journalist said, preferring anonymity:

“I don’t know what prompted Shakib to go there. Did he get a good amount of money to be presented there? I don’t find anything wrong even if he did so. I also don’t see anything wrong if Shakib inaugurates a Hindu ceremony. In Bangladesh, we often see Muslim politicians participate in Hindu festivals. If there is no problem, why do some people get hurt by Shakib’s participation in such programmes?”

“Intolerance is growing in Bangladesh. From now on, Muslims will think twice before participating in a Hindu ceremony in the country. While a celebrity like Shakib had to apologise for attending a Puja, what can happen for the random Muslims? Shakib’s apology sent a wrong message to society. The authorities should take stern action to tackle this challenge,” he added.


Saif Hasnat is a Dhaka-based journalist. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are the author’s own.

The New Age Islam neither endorses nor is responsible for them.



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