Sunday, 12 September 2010

What is Islam to an Indian Hindu today?

This year, the majority of Muslims of the Indian sub-continent celebrated the festival of Eid on the ninth anniversary of 9/11 attacks on America; arguably a day that changed the world forever, especially inter-faith relations. Following, is the translation of an article by an Indian Hindu journalist Sushil Jha. The piece, published on BBC Urdu and Hindi news websites simultaneously, has generated a tremendous positive response especially from India and Pakistan.

 “These days no Muslim family invites me to their home for sewaiyan nor Delhi is my home town where I could go to a Muslim household to ask for sewaiyan.

As a child, I remember wandering around the house of my Muslim friend until his mother called me up for sewaiyan.

I miss sewaiyan because as a child Eid only meant one thing: The sweet dish made of boiled vermicelli called sewaiyan. Kids used to get boiled vermicelli with sugar and if you were a man you would get the same but boiled in milk.

When I went back home after my graduation, I got the milky vermicelli and I realized that I am a grown up man now.

I do not understand heavy words such as Islamic terrorism, religious fundamentalism or secularism. What I know is that I loved the vermicelli my Muslim aunty, who used to put surma (kohl eye pencil) in her eyes, the sophistication in speaking the Urdu language, the Qwali (sufi music) and most importantly the Molvi (Muslim cleric) who used to put taweez (talisman) around my neck to ward off the evil spirits.

My father is illiterate, not educated in the sense of classroom education and I do not think he reflects on religious tolerance, he just has so many Muslim friends. My father never ate meat in a Muslim home but he was game for the sweet dishes.

When the TV serial Ramayana (a Hindu deity) was at its peak, we did not have a TV so we used to go to our Muslim friend’s house to watch it. Ramayana is the ancient story of the Hindu God Rama but it never stopped us watching it in a Muslim household.

My elder brother’s favorite cricket player was always Wasim Akram and he wanted Akram to take wickets even against India. He wanted India to win the match but Wasim taking a few wickets was his top priority.

I am a huge fan of Shahrukh Khan and as a teenager I paid a whole lot of money to get my hair done like his.

I remember my friend Haroon who ran away to Mumbai to meet his idol Amitabh Bachhan (a mega bollywood star). When he came back with an autographed photo of Amitabh Bacchan he stayed at my home for two day while my father went to calm down his Dad; otherwise he would have gotten a proper beating.

For me Muslims are not different people with whom I have to become friends because religious tolerance is politically correct. They have been part of my upbringing; they have always been part of my life. I could not just forget about them even if I wanted to. Thinking about them or trying to understand their point of view in any way other than these memories is beyond my comprehension.
After 9/11, all over the world there is too much debate on Muslims. How should they behave, live and how should others behave towards them…I would feel disgusted if someone talked about me like this. Indeed, I would be angry if someone did talk about me in this manner and therefore I can understand their anger.

My Muslim friends are angry but they are not angry with me. They still call me at home and we still enjoy good food together. Even now, whenever I fall ill, my mother calls me and asks me to go to a Molvi. She thinks only a Molvi can cure me from evil spirits because they always have. I still go to a Sufi shrine when I need divine intervention or when I feel bad about anything.

I think the world should learn from India. Not the middle class India that has no belief or just talks about the importance of Hindu-Muslim co-existence while engaging in communal politics; but from the India where Muslims have lived peacefully with others for many centuries.

There have been many riots in India, but so far, there have been few instances of riots in villages. Riots always happen in cities where so-called educated and secular people live and those hungry for power, know how to incite communal violence for their benefit.

For me, secularism or religious tolerance look like a contrived idea to explain and understand a country which has been shaped by Muslims and Hindus for many centuries. Hence, the Hindu-Muslim relationship in India should not be judged on these ideas. For me it would be foolish to judge a more than thousand-year-old relationship on the basis of just a hundred year old concept.”

by Sushil Jha, BBC Delhi

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Sri Lankan MPs opt for their own “Mugabe”

“Sri Lankan MPs have approved proposals to let President Mahinda Rajapaksa seek an unlimited number of terms, in a move critics say could lead to dictatorship”. (BBC News Online, 8 September 2010)

It is not difficult at all to understand the euphoria of Sri Lanka’s Sinhalese majority after the army, under the presidency of Rajapaksa, ended the minority Tamil insurgency in May 2009 that ravaged the country for nearly 25 years.

Although there have been allegations of bribery and corruption, it is hard to dismiss this euphoria as the major factor behind the government securing a majority 161 votes in the parliament of 225. Only seventeen MPs voted against granting Rajapaksa an absolute control over the judiciary, police, and the civil service along with discarding the constitutional restriction of two terms in the office. In simple words, now Mr President’s second term, starting in November, will not be his last and he can contest the elections again in 2016, and if successful, can remain in power until 2022.

Rajpaksa’s efforts in providing his family a place into the exclusive club of South Asian political dynasties are not a secret. However, there are two significant aspects to this saga. The first is the lukewarm opposition to this constitutional amendment– both inside the parliament and on the streets; the second is General Sarath Fonseka’s words describing it to be “the last nail into the coffin of democracy”.

Mind you, the “wise words” are coming from the man who led the army in the operation against the Tamil rebels and subsequently contested the presidential elections against Rajapaksa. Again, it does not come as a surprise that the General eventually ended up losing both the elections and his freedom.

In Sri Lanka, the roles appear to be interchanging: The legislature does not seem to be too bothered giving away its sovereignty and the army General is shedding tears for the institution of democracy.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Something to get excited about!

After reading the first few lines of the introduction of my first ever blog – which I wrote only an hour or so ago – I have realised that I raised the bar too high for my own good. However, the following thought is something that has been bothering me since last week after I heard about a successful “Telemedicine camp” trial in Pakistan on BBC World Service. Your comments would be highly appreciated.

Khairpur Telemedicine camp- by Abrar ul Hassan

For Pakistan, I can see a possibility in providing flood-affected people living in far-flung areas the best specialist doctors advice, and treatment, on a long-term basis!

Because of the widespread communication infrastructure damage, on going security situation and other logistical issues, bringing in the doctors remotely seems to be the only way to realize this objective.

Telemedicine is a tested technology. In addition to that, a week ago two specialist doctors did a clinic from Karachi for 106 flood-affected men, women and children in Khairpur, a town about eight hours drive towards the north of the city. My initial asking around generated a significant interest from the doctors around the world.

All we need to do is to create an online portal where volunteer doctors – from all over the world – can register and leave information regarding their professional credentials, language skills and number of hours they intend to work. In addition to that, basic admin staff to manage the portal.

Upon having enough doctors on the portal, to do eight hours a day and four days a week clinic, for a month. Four clinics, in the poorest and the most difficult to reach flood affected areas, with broadband Internet connection and computers, could be open with the help of local NGOs and district management.

International donor agencies and big pharmaceutical companies would be more than happy to provide essential medicines for these four camps.

The national and international media coverage of the success of the initial four “Telemedicine camps” would not only help sustain the project but would also help in the creation of similar camps around the country, who can simply log-in to the “doctors’ portal” to avail the service. Only a fraction of the percentage of the specialist doctors of the world can run hundreds of similar camps, even if they only work 2 hours a week! The possibilities are limitless. What do you say?