Friday, January 16, 2009

"VIBRANT" GUJARAT - LIES, HALF-TRUTHS AND ILLUSIONS...."The Gujarat Reality Today" - Fr. Cedric Prakash sj *

"The  Gujarat  Reality  Today"
-  Fr. Cedric Prakash sj *
It is January 14th 2009.....Makarsakranti, the only feast of the Indian calendar which is not observed  on a particular day of the Lunar month.  It is generally believed that on this day, the sun enters the constellation of Makar (crocodile) and begins to move towards the north.  In Gujarat, it is known as Uttarayan, the day on which thousands of kites dot the skies in order to propitiate the Sun-God.  The newspapers today (as those of yesterday) are filled with stories of 'Vibrant Gujarat'... of how the biggest  industrialists  of   the  country  have  "promised"  to  invest  thousands  of  crores  (millions of
dollars !) in Gujarat.  Overnight, the problems of the State seem to have been solved  !!  Some have decided that Gujarat can now take on China and a couple of industrialists have even anointed the CM of the State as the next Prime Minister of India !!!
Visitors and dignitaries who came to Ahmedabad were welcomed by posters and banners, by floodlights and illuminations, with newly paved roads and a city which was cosmetically  spruced up for the "mother of all events" to flaunt what is termed in Government propaganda, as "Vibrant Gujarat".
The local (and some national) media went "gaga".....showcasing how Gujarat is more than India, how the "whole world" had come to invest in this one State during the two-day affair know as 'Vibrant Gujarat Investors' Summit'.  The Government and their cronies flag-waved all's the Number One State in the Country !   The hype put forward by the well oiled propaganda machinery was so compelling that even the most diehard critics of Gujarat  fell into the trap,  and joined the chorus that "all is well".
Very few dare ask uncomfortable questions.  Everybody  knows the truth about who is doing the "flag-waving !".  There are voices who  say that ' the "emperor" has no clothes on ! ',  but at this moment, there are not too many listening.  The plain truth is that the cosmetic has stifled the reality.  If one scratches the surface a little, the bubble of euphoria will surely burst.  Let's look into how "Vibrant", is Gujarat.
Violent :
For a State that should have had 'Ahimsa' as its cornerstone, violence has in fact become institutionalized.  The  State  presided over the killing of hundreds of Muslims during the Carnage of 2002.  Trigger-happy policemen have eliminated several Muslim youth in 'encounters'. (One high-ranking police officer is now  in jail for such an 'encounter'.)   Innocent boys are killed in an ashram of a well known Guru, and, no one can do anything about it !  Young girls studying to be teachers  are raped in Government Hostels by their teachers for the sake of better grades.   Female foeticide is rampant.  One only has to skim through the daily newspapers to realize how violence has become a perfected art in the State. 
Intolerant :
There is a sophistication in the way intolerance has been mainstreamed.  One can experience it in the chaotic traffic on the roads.  If one is a Muslim,  one is denied to right to buy a house or a shop in the up-market areas of Ahmedabad, Surat and other cities.  One is forced to live on the periphery of many villages.  The Freedom of Religion Law prevents any one from embracing another religion, without permission from the civil authority.  Couples in love, are forcibly prevented from marrying if the partner belongs to a different religion or caste. Movies like "Parzania" and "Fanaa" are not allowed to be screened in the State – one, because it exposes the Truth, and the other, because the lead actor asks that the tribals who were dispossessed because of the Narmada Dam,  to be justly rehabilitated.
Bluffing :
The art of lying  seems to have taken a new meaning in Gujarat.  This is obvious when even a sheer Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) is regarded  as "Mission accomplished !".  This bluff was called, when recently, under an RTI query, the Government of Gujarat  admitted that just about 25% of the  MoUs of the last three years  were actually in the pipeline !!  The waters of the  Narmada Dam is being utilized  by the rich and powerful of Ahmedabad.  The parched lands  of North Gujarat, Saurashtra and Kutch still harbour illusions of the water reaching them !!!   State Government advertisements highlight projects and programmes which are in fact undertaken and executed by the Central Government, like the expressway, the airport, the railway system and the 108 ambulance service.    
Revengeful :
In Gujarat today, anyone standing up for Truth and Justice is at the receiving end.   The Government pulls out all stops (to stop School Grants, to impound Passports) to ensure that voices of dissent are silenced.  A few months ago, when the Times of India did an expose on the Police Commissioner of Ahmedabad, sedition charges were filed against some of those who ran the newspaper.  Honest and objective police officials and bureaucrats are transferred to insignificant postings; Government agencies like the Collectorate, the Police, the Charity Commissioner are used to intimidate and harass individuals and groups that work for the betterment of the poor, the vulnerable and marginalized.  Prominent citizens are kept under constant surveillance and many live under the veil of fear. 
Arrogant :
A sense of arrogance seems to have puffed up the chests of a few who try to control the lives and destinies of others.  Such arrogance was very visible in the hey day of  Nazism when Hitler brutally trampled on those who were "not like him".  Key people in the State roam about with immunity and impunity and are also elected to positions of power.   The underlying message that is conveyed is that "no one can touch them".    One needs to look at the judgments that are given from the Lower Courts and the High Court of Gujarat,  in order to experience the subjectivity and partiality that has permeated the system. 
 Negligent :
Large sections of society in Gujarat are totally neglected.  Systematic efforts are made to snatch the forests from the hands of the adivasis.   A recent study says that more than thirty-five thousand families will be displaced from the banks of the River Sabarmati because of the Sabarmati River Front Development Project.  Development-induced displacement is also the lot of several poor and marginalized farmers and others.  Fisher-folk along Gujarat's vast coastline, continue to be marginalized.  Dalits are at the receiving end and many of them continue to live in inhuman conditions.  The status of women in Gujarat is way down in comparison to several other States of the country.    Children are denied their rights:  a large percentage of them constitute the labour force; the textbooks dished out by the Gujarat State Secondary School Board is a clear violation of the rights of children – full of  errors, inaccuracies, myths and  distortions; only about 59.6% of the rural children of Gujarat can read Std. I text as against the All-India average of  66.6%.   The Indian Express of December 21st 2008, has this to say :  According to International Food Policy Research Institute's 2008 Global Hunger Index, Gujarat is ranked 69th alongwith Haiti, the nation infamous for food riots.  The State is placed in the 'alarming' category.
Terror-filled :
Gujarat State is truly terror-filled !   For almost  seven years now, the principles of democracy have been thrown to the wind.  Right-wing Hindu groups can put up bill boards almost anywhere proclaiming  a  "Hindu Rashtra".  Places of worship have sprung up on public space and they are given full protection by the law and order mechanism.  The Constitutional rights and freedoms of an ordinary citizen are not safeguarded.  In fact, in several cases, when a victim approaches the system for help, he / she is made the perpetrator of the crime  !!!   The diversity which has been characteristic of this State, has been totally decimated as communities are forced into ghettoization.  There is palpable fear all over. 
What  "Vibrant  Gujarat"   then,  does  one  talk  about ?    The   truth  is  that   Gujarat  as  a   State  is  
"Violent",  "Intolerant",  "Bluffing",  "Revengeful",  "Arrogant",  "Negligent"  and  "Terror-filled". 
Let's not live in lies, half-truths and illusions. 
Gujarat, wake up, before it is too late !!    Satyameva Jayate  !
(* Fr. Cedric Prakash sj is the Director of "Prashant", the Ahmedabad-based Jesuit Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace)
' PRASHANT '  (A Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace), 
Near Kamdhenu Hall.  Drive-in Road,
 Ahmedabad   380 052,  Gujarat,  India  
Tel:   79 66522333 /27455913    Fax:   79 27489018   
14th January 2009

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Muslim response to Mumbai terror in sync with the national mood, but what is wrong with our intellectuals?


Muslim response to Mumbai terror in sync with the national mood, but what is wrong with our intellectuals?
From the very moment it became clear that the terrorists who attacked India recently in Mumbai were Pakistanis, Indian Muslim anger against Pakistan and the godfathers of terror in that county has been expressing itself in a variety of ways.  They are particularly angry that these marauders have been maligning the fair name of Islam and its image as a religion of peace. They seem to instinctively understand that Indian Muslims' peaceful co-existence and continued integration in the national mainstream is not in the interest of Pakistan's permanent establishment. It negates the Two-Nation Theory on which their country is ideologically based. They keep trying - and, fortunately for us, failing - to instigate communal violence on any pretext that may become available to them. They did that in the aftermath of Bombay riots in 1993. Dawood Ibrahim-organised serial blasts took 250 civilian lives and caused 700 injuries alongside massive economic disruption but India refused to fall in the Pakistani trap. Our country is displaying the same commitment to secularism now and thanks God for that.
Muslims recognise the reasons behind Pakistani desperation to attack our secularism, our tolerance and national cohesion, our growing prosperity. India presents a complete contrast to their divided house, virtually every ethnic community seeking to secede, every sect bent upon destroying every other sect, killing its members in as large numbers as possible. Only the day before yesterday a Sunni suicide-bomber killed 20 Shias in a mosque in an event that has become routine in that country. Hence the Mumbai Muslims' refusal to bury the Pakistani dead in their graveyards, refusal to mourn the loss of Babri Masjid on December 6 this year, which has become an annual event, a sort of another Muharram since 1992. Muslim fury at a clear Pakistani attempt to foment wider violence against them resulted in their participation in large numbers in fellow-citizen's efforts to show solidarity with the families of those who had died in the latest invasion of our territory – 40 out of 172 killed were Muslims – and condemn the barbaric atrocities while paying homage to those brave policemen and commandos who laid down their lives in the service of nation.
But as we open the Urdu newspapers on 6 th of December, we find the editorial pages recycling the same material they keep doing every year on this Moharram II day, the same bemoaning of the "shahadat"(martyrdom) of the Babri mosque, without explaining how can bricks and mortar become "shaheed"-  will they go to Jannat, one naturally wonders. You won't  find any of these newspapers ever bemoaning the "shahadat" in Saudi Arabia of Islam's holiest shrines and greatest heritage buildings, that were living proofs of the historicity of many events in Islam's and Prophet Mohammad's life (PBUH).
Then you find Rashtriya Sahara reproducing historian Amareesh Mishra's conspiracy theories about Mumbai terror being the work of Israeli and Hindu Zionists' handiwork. You open your mailbox and find several Muslims enthusiastically lapping up Mishraji's theories and circulating them. Just sample one sentence of what a widely-circulated e-mail by convenor of the Mumbai-based Muslim Intellectual Forum, Firoze Mithiborwala, reads: "As far as the terrorists who attacked Mumbai are concerned, they are in all likelihood… controlled by the American CIA, the Pakistani ISI and the Israeli MOSSAD."

As Zulkif Manzoor, a Ramanujan Fellow at the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore has been quoted in The Hindustan Times as saying: "Such poisoned opinion has only helped to strengthen prejudices (against Muslims)." Clearly our intellectuals are forgetting that Amareesh Mishra is a Kanyakubaja Brahmin and can say what he will, but we can't, not at this time.
Now does this mean that we are second class citizens; we don't have the same rights as Brahmins or others? No it doesn't mean that at all. We are and have been free to express ourselves in whatever way we will; our newspapers have been spreading venom for long - part of the reason why we have alienated ourselves to a certain extent from some sections of society and also injected cynicism in the minds of some of our youth. Mercifully, not many non-Muslims read Urdu newspapers. More mercy, not many of our own youth read Urdu newspapers either; that would have poisoned their minds beyond redemption perhaps.
We have been free and have misused our freedom to the hilt. What is different this time then? Well, as theatre personality Amir Reza Khan explained in a NDTV discussion, right now WE ARE AT WAR. And this war has been declared by a country inhabited by fellow-Muslims and not only in our name but also in the name of our religion. They have been posing as saviours of Indian Muslims and practitioners of Islam. Rules of the game are different in a war. We do, therefore, need to wear on our sleeves not only our patriotism but also a few verses of the Holy Quran preaching peace and opposing violence. As actor Shah Rukh Khan pointed out in his interview with Barkha Dutt on NDTV, it is not only Muslims in India, but all over the world who are being called upon to explain that Islam is not a religion of violence.
To those who love to spread conspiracy theories here is one that is more grounded in reality and common sense. Backed by US Imperialism, Christian crusaders and Israeli Zionism, Saudi Arabia has for decades been damaging Islam, not only destroying Islam's heritage buildings, but also spending billions of dollars to spreading a view of Islam that says that Muslims should not only kill all non-Muslims but also those Muslims who do not believe in this murderous version of Islam. Like the known enemies of Islam from the time of the first crusades, this Saudi Islam believes that Islam spread with the power of the sword that the Prophet and his successors wielded. Now use your imagination and you can easily surmise what the Crusader, Zionist game is in protecting the Saudi regime and promoting Saudi Islam, even after 9/11, while they destroyed the only bastion of secular and tolerant Islam in the Middle East, Saddam Hussein's Iraq, on a manifestly false pretext, and turned it into a Saudi or Iranian version of sectarian and intolerant Islam.
Fortunately the common Muslim understands the need of the hour that some of our intellectuals and journalists do not. I would appeal to Muslims to continue to walk the extra mile in condemning the Mumbai attacks and distancing themselves and their religion from Osama bin Laden's or Hafiz Saeed's version of Islam that has spawned Al-Qaeda, Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and similar scourges.
Sultan Shahin, editor,