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Indian Press ( 29 Dec 2020, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Indian Press on Two Sacred Spaces in Ayodhya, Balochistan and Indian Media: New Age Islam's Selection, 29 December 2020

By New Age Islam Edit Desk

29 December 2020

• A Tale Of Two Sacred Spaces In Ayodhya

By Apoorvanand

• Pak Moves Don’t Bode Well For Balochistan

By Tilak Devasher

• The Boot’s On The Secular Face

By Mathew John

• ‘Strong’ Govt Not Enough To Secure Consent

By Zoya Hasan

The Media Must Become The Voice Of The People Again

By Markandey Katju


A Tale of Two Sacred Spaces In Ayodhya

By Apoorvanand

Dec 28, 2020

Ayodhya, Dhamipur proposed Mosque


The unveiling of the design of the mosque which is to be built at Dhannipur, Ayodhya, has ignited a debate. This debate is not only about Muslims, but also about others and India as a civilised space. Also, about the idea of the relationship between the sacred and the worldly.

The ‘new’ mosque is located safely away from the site where Babri Masjid stood for more than 500 years till it was destroyed under the watch of the Indian state and judiciary. Twenty-eight years after that ‘crime’, its land was taken away from Muslims to be given to the aspiring masters of the ‘New India’. The Supreme Court very sagaciously thought that Muslims should not feel deprived and granted them five acres of land in lieu of what was taken away from them.

Cheated in 1949, violated in 1992 and humiliated in 2019, Muslims have been asking whether the generosity of the court should be accepted or not. There is a view that the land of a mosque cannot be bartered. The Muslims lost in the Supreme Court, justly or unjustly, and the matter ends there. There cannot be a mosque in lieu of the Babri mosque. But another view, articulated by the Uttar Pradesh Sunni Wakf Board is that this is a new mosque legally allotted and acquired by the trust after paying a stamp duty of Rs 9,29,400. There is another view that the land should be taken for a mosque that should come up there with a plaque telling future visitors about the cause of its creation. That would be the story of deception and destruction. This debate shows that Muslims think in diverse ways and speak in different voices.

That apart, the design of the planned mosque has been hailed as ‘futuristic’. It has three elements. The rectangular layout of the complex at Dhannipur village includes a multispecialty hospital, community kitchen and a museum housed in a multi-storied vertical structure. These will be metres away from the mosque and a century-old Sufi shrine will be in between. The designers have claimed, “This round-shaped mosque imbibes modernity, breaking away from the past, and will mirror the future in the truest spirit of Islam. We are also laying emphasis on hospital, library and other facilities to serve society.”

That it does not have a dome, which is stereotypically attached with mosques, has also been noted. It is, however, ironical that the design of the Ram temple to be constructed on the Babri mosque land has five domes. It boasts of being the first temple in the world with five domes. So, you have a mosque without a dome and a temple with multiple domes!

Another curiosity is that is a mosque without a dome safe, by being less ‘offensive’ to the non-Muslims? I recall Atali where poor Muslims were attacked even when they were attempting to build a mosque which was not to have any dome! Only a covered space! But that was not allowed.

The design attempts to address the anxiety to shed the baggage of the past and also prove to society at large that sacredness is entwined with service to the humanity, even beyond the Ummah, for the kitchen and hospital would be available to all irrespective of their religion. But mosques in the past and even in the present have served this purpose. It was not very unusual to the Muslims to attach education or scholarship and service with their sacred spaces.

The mosque or masjid is a shared space where people get together to mingle with the unseen, unfathomable, the Supreme. The aspiration to transcend is also because of the awareness of the limits or boundaries of the individual self. Being religious entails a ceaseless striving to free oneself of narrowness and smallness. You cannot do this without sharing what you think is yours with others. If you do not attend to the needy, your rituals go waste. The Quran keeps alerting its followers of their limitation: “Man is by nature timid; when evil befalls him, he panics, but when good things come to him, he prevents them from reaching others.” So, a constant reminder to the Muslims that the main objective is to reach out to others.

Feeding the hungry and tending the sick are therefore the first religious acts. The new design is essentially following the edict of Islam by attaching a hospital and a community kitchen to the mosque. The design is cosmic, wishing to impart a feeling of the whole earth by planting flora and fauna brought from all parts of the world, including the Amazon forests. Zero carbon emission and powered by solar energy are the other features which make this design modernistic.

The design looks magnificent. There are those who ask if the authorities would disapprove of the kitchen and hospital as these might seem like ‘inducements’ to people to come closer to Islam. There are others who think that at last Muslims have been coaxed to accept modernity. One knows that there is a temptation for the majority community in India to modernise Muslims and drag them out of their ‘backwardness’.

Ignoring these cynics, one might say that the design of the new mosque is an invitation to all Indians to feel affinity to the idea of the sacred in Islam, which they think is foreign or alien to them or at the very least very different. It would not be surprising if people compare the two ‘sacred’ places: one, a temple in the name of Ram which would come up at the land of the Babri mosque which disappeared in a serial act of wanton destruction. The other, a mosque which would always be a reminder of this injustice. One which points towards the infinity and unbeknown future and one which invents a mythical past, one which has been achieved by undoing the past and present of another community. One structure which thinks about human frailties and by addressing them seeks to touch the divine and is based on the idea of openness and sharing, the other which is exclusionary.

It can be said that despite its magnificence, the design of the Ayodhya mosque is not boastful. But it should not lead us to patronisingly applaud the designers for having moved on, for de-stereotyping the Islamic practices. It must be a reminder of the inability of the majority community to be at ease with the notion of sacred among other communities, of an impoverished imagination which cannot connect with any other, of a politics which has dug a chasm between two neighbours, and therefore the need to again reach out, extend hands and transcend. Because it is doing all this that defines humanness.


Pak Moves Don’t Bode Well For Balochistan

By Tilak Devasher

Dec 28, 2020

Several recent developments point towards an ominous plan that the hybrid army-sustained Imran Khan government has devised to further subjugate Balochistan in order to secure Chinese interests.

In 2015, English daily Dawn had talked about a fencing plan to protect Gwadar from attacks of Baloch nationalists whereby local residents would get residence cards while all outsiders coming into the city would be registered at entry points. An April 2016 article in the Wall Street Journal mentioned that the Chinese were pushing for a 65-mile fence around the whole town for purposes of security, with a special permit required by anyone— including locals— to enter.

The fencing that was earlier talked about has now been initiated. While details are scanty, it is believed that security fences with surveillance cameras would be laid around a major part of the city. Two or three entry and exit points will regulate the flow of people with residents being given a residence card, without which entry would not be possible. Such a procedure would be akin to the apartheid era system of passes that kept the native population of South Africa under control by regulating their movement.

Curiously, details of the Gwadar port are not in the public domain. A Senate panel was informed in November 2020 that the contract governing affairs of the Gwadar port was “confidential” and its details could not be disclosed publicly. The local Baloch perceive lack of transparency and the fencing as a conspiracy to displace them from the city, change its demography and ultimately separate Gwadar from Balochistan.

Then there is the use of the new term ‘south Balochistan’ to describe the Makran coast that has crept into the vocabulary of the federal government. On a visit to Balochistan on September 11, 2020, Imran Khan expressed his desire for development of the southern districts. In November 2020, the federal cabinet announced a Rs 600-billion package for development exclusively of the nine districts of south Balochistan over the next three years.

Prior to this, there was no geographical categorisation and for purposes of administration, ‘divisions’ and ‘districts’ were used. The army has a southern command based in Quetta that was earlier commanded by Lt Gen Asim (Papa John) Bajwa who now heads the CPEC Authority. The paramilitary Frontier Corps (FC) Balochistan was divided into North and South regions in 2017. The areas referred to as south Balochistan by the government are the same as those in the FC South.

Similar past development packages of 2009 and 2017 have had a dismal history of implementation. More than the fate of the package, however, the Baloch are concerned and suspicious because it could well be the beginning of a conspiracy to separate the coast from the rest of Balochistan in the name of development and security. As a former chief minister put it: ‘There is only one Balochistan and there can be no Southern, Northern, Eastern or Western Balochistan.’ Likewise, it is believed that the federal government would be in complete control of south Balochistan and the province as a whole would lose its precious coast and Gwadar port.

Making matters worse was the recent promulgation of an ordinance to set up a Pakistan Islands Development Authority (PIDA) for “development and management of islands in internal and territorial waters of Pakistan.” The people of Sindh and Balochistan have seen this as Islamabad muscling its way into their coast and taking control of their islands. Sindh is up in arms over the attempted takeover of two islands off Karachi and now the Baloch are concerned over the possible federal takeover of south Balochistan.

An important question is about funding. The federal government is not only broke but under massive debt and is seeking loans from all and sundry. It has just secured a $1- billion loan from ‘iron brother’ China to repay the ‘brotherly country’ of Saudi Arabia. So, the moot question is why announce a package when there are no funds unless the intention was not development but creation of south Balochistan?

These developments confirm one thing above all: despite what the government and the army have been saying, the Baloch insurgency is a major security challenge for Pakistan and for the Chinese investments. The challenge is being met by fencing Gwadar, the outlet for CPEC, and taking initial steps to divide Balochistan and assuming control of the southern portion. The justification that these districts are backward does not hold since all districts of Balochistan are backward too. Thus, the underlying reasons for this package are strategic — an attempt to pacify the Makran region that is believed to be the hotbed of insurgency and so allow the CPEC projects in Gwadar to fructify without hindrance.

Additionally, there are massive human rights violations being committed by the army that include thousands of Baloch who have been subjected to ‘enforced disappearance’ as well as the suspicious death in 2020 of at least two Baloch activists in exile — Sajid Hussain in Sweden and Karima Baloch in Canada. It is clear that the state has decided to go on an overdrive to impress the Chinese that their investments and citizens are safe. In the process, the Baloch are being pushed further to the wall.

Under these circumstances, a mere development package is unlikely to tackle the deep-rooted and festering political, economic and human rights problems of Balochistan. If anything, attempts to fence Gwadar and bifurcate Balochistan would only aggravate the feeling of alienation of the Baloch. The remedy can only be political, something that the army is unwilling to understand just as they were unable to perceive the political problem of the then East Pakistan in 1971 with disastrous consequences for the country.


The Boot’s On The Secular Face

By Mathew John


Insightful commentators on our politics have tried to make sense of the unyielding vishwas that people repose in the country’s leadership despite economic devastation, a humiliating military setback, the mauling of the institutions of governance, and policies that have impoverished and diminished us as a nation. The reason ascribed to this devotion is an undiminished belief in a charismatic leader who has sacrificed everything for the nation; who embodies a virile Hindu nationalism and seeks common good; a visionary who stirs the imagination and inspires trust even when the vision is flawed. This undying vishwas is shored up by an unrelenting propaganda helmed by a servile media and is further abetted by fanatical social media admirers. His invincibility has been reinforced by a clueless Opposition and by the dissipation of class, caste and regional affiliations.

This melange of explanations for the infinite faith in our supreme leader obfuscates the core determinant of this amaurotic vishwas. The cardinal inspiration for this unswerving devotion to the leadership stems from what George Orwell calls “an admiration for power and successful cruelty” against the perceived enemy. Those occupying the command posts of the institutions of governance have shown that they know how to deal with the ‘Muslim threat’. Devout bhakts cheer them on, in much the same way the Roman mobs in the Colosseum did when people were ripped to shreds by lions.

The last few years have seen a sustained, wanton offensive against a community that has been stigmatized like never before. The social terrorism manifested in lynchings, cow vigilantism, ghar wapsi and love jihad campaigns is the new normal and designed to consign Muslims to a ghettoized, pariah status. The abrogation of Article 370 and the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, apart from striking at the heart of our secular Constitution, deliver an unambiguous message that Muslims are second-class citizens who do not ‘belong’ to the idea of India crafted by the ruling dispensation.

The anti-CAA protests from December 2019 to February 2020 were a truly democratic upsurge spearheaded by women and students who stepped forward to reclaim the country’s egalitarian essence. The Preamble, the national flag and the national anthem were the overarching symbols of this mass movement. The unexpected solidarity across class and community rattled the government, which attacked anti-CAA protesters as anti-national, tukde tukde gangs fanning anarchy and endangering the rule of law.

The anti-CAA protests filled Muslims with fleeting optimism of a more just tomorrow but, tragically, this fight for equal citizenship rights was snuffed out by the communal riots in Northeast Delhi that coincided with the deadly pandemic that ended all protests. The restraints imposed by the pandemic have been used by the government to tiptoe around its constitutional commitment to the democratic values of freedom, equality and justice. Using the pandemic as an excuse, the governing elite has done everything possible to discredit, delegitimize, even silence the voices speaking for the dispossessed. Draconian laws like the NSA and the UAPA have been used with devastating effect to stifle dissent.  The transformation of the peaceful anti-CAA protests into a ‘secessionist’ movement propagating ‘armed rebellion’, as portrayed in the police charge sheets on the Delhi riots, is Kafkaesque in its distortion.

The first reports and reactions to a conflagration are often the most telling pointers to what really happened. The graphic videos and reports of those nightmarish days in February clearly suggest that the Muslims suffered far greater losses to life and property than their Hindu neighbours. Three former Supreme Court judges who visited the riot-hit areas for a personal assessment came away with the impression that “Muslims seem to have been targeted in the riots.” Official figures bear this out: around 75 per cent of those killed were Muslim and 85 per cent of properties damaged belonged to Muslims. Fourteen mosques and a dargah were gutted. The home minister’s initial observation noted “that the professional assessment is that the violence in the capital has been spontaneous.” This statement was seen by many as a defensive feint against allegations that the riots were the upshot of an insidious right-wing plot. However, after the spin doctors had conjured up an alternative narrative, the home minister informed Parliament that the riots were “pre-planned”. The bloodletting had by then mutated into an anti-Hindu riot that was the handiwork of an ‘Urban Naxal-jihadi’ network.

Muslims are subjected to everyday harassment, denigration and discrimination. They are stigmatized as purveyors of corona jihad; they are stopped from selling their goods in non-Muslim localities; the chief justice of the Telangana High Court asks in exasperation why only Muslims are pulled up for violating lockdown rules — the list of woes is endless. Worryingly, the justice system has often failed to respond to these depredations.

In a truly egalitarian society, Muslims would fight for justice. But in the face of institutional bias and a pathological social hostility, this is easier said than done. Some optimists hope for our own ‘George Floyd moment’, but seeing the ground realities today, I keep visualizing Orwell’s grim prognosis: “If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — forever.”


‘Strong’ Govt Not Enough To Secure Consent

By Zoya Hasan

Dec 29, 2020

THE past few years have witnessed unprecedented opposition on the streets from students, farmers, workers, women, Dalits and Muslims. Farmers’ protests against amendments to the Land Acquisition Act (2014); student protests against unrelenting interference in universities (2016); protests against mob lynching of Muslims (2015) and against the dilution of SC/ST Act (2017); the countrywide protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) in 2019-20; and the ongoing farmers’protests against the three agriculture Acts — all of these provoked by controversial policies have generated mass demonstrations and unrest.

While public protests seem to have progressively increased in scale and intensity, the government’s response has been predictable — ranging from reluctant accommodation of some to largely ignoring others or brutally suppressing a few with the help of heavy-handed crackdowns to branding opponents as anti-nationals. The month-long farmers’ protest is the biggest so far and poses the most serious challenge to the government’s economic agenda. But these too have drawn a predictable response from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders and its spokesmen in the media and from its troll armies. However, neutralising these protests through the usual tactics of divide and rule hasn’t worked, unlike the anti-CAA protests, which were brutally curtailed through such tactics.

The massive mobilisation of farmers rocking Delhi is different from most other protests in recent decades. While the most visible face of the protests are Sikh farmers from Punjab, they have been joined by farmers’ unions and trade unions from various states. It is clearly not an identity or regional protest; it is a protest about farmers and their concerns expressed through their singular demand to repeal the three controversial farm laws.

Farmers from India’s granary are indubitably unhappy with these laws passed hastily in the middle of the pandemic without proper consultation. Pleas for consultation were brushed aside before the ordinances were converted into laws by short-circuiting established processes and voting procedures. Above all, these laws weren’t discussed or debated in any meaningful and sustained way with the groups who stand to be affected by them. This undemocratic approach has precipitated the present crisis compounded by the manifest intent to make far-reaching changes in Indian agriculture by removing the State from the equation and encourage corporatisation which many farmers fear will ultimately drive down crop prices, devastating their livelihoods.

Even though the two protests are dissimilar, commentators have drawn comparisons between the farmers’ protests and the Anna Hazare movement which contributed to the collapse of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA). The Anna movement was dominated by the urban middle class and promoted by the media while the farmers’ protests which cut across caste, class, and religious identities is not backed by the mainstream media. The Anna movement was much smaller in scale. Yet, it had a major impact on the political fortunes of the UPA government and in shifting the political discourse to the Right.

The Anna movement had apparently positioned itself in the non-political space, denying its platform to any politician. But it’s evident that it had the backing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and its affiliates and sympathisers. The movement helmed by India Against Corruption (IAC) was propped up by the RSS-BJP to finish UPA-2. They succeeded despite Manmohan Singh conceding to all of Hazare’s demands — Joint Drafting Committee (JDC); holding a special Parliament session; and passing the Lokpal Bill. The JDC comprising Hazare’s nominees and ministers for drafting the Bill was termed by the UPA government as an ‘extra layer of consultation’ and a ‘new experience’, thus according unelected activists the same legitimacy as elected representatives. Additionally, the UPA government sent its emissaries to the Ramlila Maidan for mediation with Team Anna and senior ministers, including Pranab Mukherjee, went to the Delhi airport to meet Ramdev in a bid to persuade him to call off his impending fast.

The salient difference between the response of the two governments relates to their fundamentally different approach to dissent and protests. The space for dissent is much narrower under the present dispensation. Thus, the BJP has tried to weaken and defame the agitation by labelling it as anti-national, Khalistani or ultra-Left and blamed political opponents, namely Congress and Left leaders, for their bid to ‘mislead’ farmers. This government is generally not inclined to concede political space and will not allow its opponents to gain an upper hand. Whereas there was no attempt by the previous government to institutionally subvert the Anna movement, in fact, the latter faced no obstacles in bringing the corruption issue to the political centre stage which crystallised public opinion against the UPA and ultimately hastened its downfall. The BJP is also not bothered as it believes alienating farmers is unlikely to dent its winning spree in elections.

However, because people in large numbers support the position taken by the farmers, the centrality of agriculture to the Indian economy, not to speak of the huge numbers involved in agriculture, the farmers have managed to compel the government to hold talks with them. A ministerial panel has held negotiations with the farm leaders, whereas nothing of the sort happened during the anti-CAA protests which suited the BJP politically in polarising and consolidating its Hindu vote bank. But even while engaging with farmers, the government has insisted that it will talk to them mainly to remove their ‘misconceptions’ about farm laws, and not to repeal them. The farm unions, on the other hand, are unwilling to settle for anything less than complete repeal. This is a gridlock the government had not bargained for when rushing through the farm laws.

The downside of an insensitive and unyielding government which functions through fist and force is obvious. That the BJP’s moves so far have failed is also evident. That’s why it will not emerge unscathed from this crisis even as people who are struggling will gain strength from the resilience of this historic protest. The sizeable pushback from farmers and other groups over the past few years shows that ‘charismatic’ leadership and a ‘strong’ government are not enough to secure consent, leave alone support. The refusal of farmers to budge in the face of structural, physical and symbolic violence from various quarters indicates the limits of ‘majority rule’ and ‘dominance without hegemony’.


The Media Must Become the Voice of the People Again

By Markandey Katju

29 December 2020

The Fourth Estate in India must attack feudal forces like casteism, communalism, religious bigotry and attempts to polarise society

Today a large part of the Indian media has lost its voice and the trust of the people, too. It has become a “godi media.” Instead of being the Fourth Estate and serving the Indian people, it has largely become part of the First Estate, as stated by eminent journalist and Magsaysay Award winner Ravish Kumar. This brings us to the key question: What is the role of the media?

This was explained by Justice Hugo Black of the US Supreme Court in The New York Times vs. US, 1971 (the Pentagon Papers case) in these stirring words: “In the First Amendment, the Founding Fathers gave the free Press the protection it must have to fulfil its essential role in our democracy. The Press was to serve the governed, not the governors. The Government’s power to censor the Press was abolished so that the Press would remain forever free to censure the Government. The Press was protected so that it could bare the secrets of the Government and inform the people. Only a free and unrestrained Press can effectively expose deception in Government. And paramount among the responsibilities of a free Press is the duty to prevent any part of the Government from deceiving the people and sending them off to distant lands to die of foreign fevers and foreign shot and shell. In my view, far from deserving condemnation for their courageous reporting, The New York Times, The Washington Post and other newspapers shoud be commended for serving the purpose that the Founding Fathers saw so clearly. In revealing the workings of the Government that led to the Vietnam war, the newspapers nobly did precisely that which the Founders hoped and trusted they would do.”

Historically, the media arose in England and France in the 17th and 18th centuries as an organ of the people against feudal oppression. At that time all the organs of power were in the hands of the feudal authorities (kings, aristocrats and so on). Hence,the people had to create new organs which would represent their interests and the media (apart from the Parliament), was one of these new organs. In Europe and America, it represented the voice of the future, in contrast to the old, feudal organs which wanted to preserve the status quo.

Great writers like Voltaire, Rousseau, Thomas Paine and so on used the media (which was then only print media and that, too, not in the form of regular newspapers but pamphlets and leaflets) to combat feudalism, religious bigotry and superstitions.

Thus, the media was of great help in transforming European society from the feudal to the modern age. India’s national aim is to transform itself from an underdeveloped to a highly developed and highly industrialised country. If we don’t do so, we will remain condemned to massive poverty, record unemployment, appalling level of child malnourishment, almost total lack of proper healthcare and good education for the masses, among other things.

Our media must play an important role in this historical transformation, as the European media did. But for that it must stop behaving like a mouthpiece and serve the governed, not the governors (as Justice Black said in his judgment). The Indian media must attack feudal forces like casteism and communalism, condemn religious bigotry and attempts to polarise our society. It must promote scientific ideas, social harmony and the unity of our people. It should stop diverting attention from real issues and focusing on relative non-issues like the lives of film stars and cricketers (e.g. the suicide of Sushant Singh Rajput, allegations made by Kangana Ranaut, Kareena Kapoor’s second pregnancy and Virat Kohli’s decision to take paternity leave and so on), petty politics, astrology, among others, and instead focus on the real issues, which are mainly socio-economic. This includes the problems of unemployment, malnourishment, lack of healthcare, price rise, the agrarian crisis and so on.

For years, the Indian media  turned a Nelson’s eye to the large number of farmers’ suicides in our country, until a brave journalist, P Sainath, revealed the sad truth through his persistent reporting. It was only then that the rest of the media began reporting the agrarian distress in the country.

Some years ago, a fashion show was held in Mumbai during the Lakmé Fashion Week in which the models wore cotton outfits. This event was covered by over 500 fashion/lifestyle journalists while the farmers who produced that cotton were committing suicide just an hour’s flight away, in Vidarbha. No one covered those suicides except for a few local journalists.

Many TV anchors forget their journalistic ethics and just indulge in propaganda. To give an example, some time ago an organisation called the Tablighi Jamaat was lambasted by the media as spreaders of the Coronavirus. They were even given despicable names like “Corona jihadis” and “Corona bombs.” I made a personal investigation into this and found that the allegations against the Tablighi Jamaat were false. The Tablighi Jamaat is a religious organisation which meets at its Markaz in Delhi once or twice a year, where Muslims come from several countries. This year, too, many people came from Indonesia, Malaysia, Kazakhstan, the United Arab Emirates and so on. Some of them were apparently infected with the virus, without being aware of it. But to say that they knowingly brought the disease with them to spread it in India, as propagated by certain sections of the media, was patently false (as indeed the court has now found).

Another example of the partisan behaviour of the “godi media” is the way they have characterised the  ongoing farmers’ agitation as a movement of Khalistanis, Pakistanis, Maoists and anti-nationals. Countless examples of this kind of biased reporting can be given.

One can only hope that the Indian media will some day get over its sorry plight and emerge as a champion of the people instead of being, to use US President Donald Trump’s words, “an enemy of the people.” Only then will it earn the people’s respect.


Markandey Katjuis a former judge of the Supreme Court of India. The views expressed are personal.


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