November 22, 2006

Not people like us: 3rd prize

Zakia Jowher of Ahmedabad won third prize in the recent Citizens for Peace/Indian Express essay competition, on the theme: "Not People Like Us: A Citizen's Dilemma".

Here is Zakia's essay.

(First prize: My colleague Kadar. Second prize: India Works).


I am so happy and content and proud to be an Indian. I love my freedom and individuality and my right to be what I am. And yet something has changed in the last two decades of my life of over forty years. It has affected me and it has in some way or the other changed everyone around me and everything in my world. Everyone around me and all circumstances concerning me are increasingly being governed by that one fact of my life, that I am born a muslim.

I have multiple identities and I hate the fact of this one identity being so dominant and over-riding all other identities. It has compelled me to think: who am I ? I am a student of life, a mother, a woman, a friend, a concerned citizen, a social being, a lover of Indian music, an admiring reader of Premchand and Ghalib and above all, an Indian like scores of others who love their country. And yet, I am not allowed to be myself. Everybody wants to see me and understand me and asses my worth and approach me and like me or reject me or at times hate me as a muslim. Why not let me just be!

India is my country. All Indians are my brothers and sisters. And so on goes the Pledge at the beginning of every textbook. My day at the school began with this pledge daily. Little did I understand the significance of this pledge then. And today it is all the more valuable for every Indian to reaffirm.

We have been seeing incidents of communal violence ever since independence. But these were largely aberrations and large sections of society were not affected by this poison. The hindus and the muslims continued to live together in harmony all over the country. The Babri Masjid demolition in 1992 changed the situation completely. The Bombay bomb blasts, the rathyatras by the BJP and the communal riots in different parts of the country started affecting the entire Indian society. What happened in Gujarat in 2002 was appalling not just for the muslims but brought shame to every Indian. The Bombay train blasts are the latest in the series to leave a deep chasm between the two communities.

When the country is plagued by events of a communal nature no Indian can stay unaffected. The core values of secularism and peace are challenged by the mindless violence. It affects the psyche of every Indian and it has affected mine certainly.

I want my fellow Indians to understand that just like them I am also an ordinary being struggling with my day-to-day life; trying to come to terms with realities of my mundane existence; struggling with my sorrows and my pains; seeking small happinesses; trying to find meaning in trivial things of life. That, like all of them, I too have to face all the issues of a middle class living. I too am struggling with a housing loan, I have concerns about my child's education, I have problems concerning my parents, I have professional responsibilities which keep me on my toes. How am I different from most upper middle class Indians living in any of our cities?

And yet I am different is the feeling I get daily. I value the plurality and diversity and the richness of the many peoples of India. I want my child to learn a bit of all the different religions, languages and dialects of our country. I want him to have a taste of all the hundreds of cuisines: from yakhni to macher bhat to rasam to dhokla. I want to participate in the customs and traditions of the marathis, bengalis, punjabis, gujaratis, kannadigas, andhras and all other Indians. In winter I want to wear the himachali topi sometimes and the kashmiri shawl as well. Do I have to be necessarily a hindu or a muslim or a christian or a sikh to do any of these or I can do all of these no matter who I am? No matter which part of India I belong to, no matter which religion I belong to, no matter which language I speak. Isn't it my right and my privilege as an Indian to be able to do all of these without any difficulties and complications. It is also my pleasure to be able to do all of these. This is what truly makes me an Indian. This is what makes me happy to  be born into this unique country. This is what makes me so fortunate!

But sadly something has changed in the last few years which comes in my way. It prevents me from living out my Indianness in the fullest sense. I want to live in a housing colony which is a little India; where people like me from different parts of the country live. Where they all practice their different religious rituals, speak their different languages, practice their diverse food habits and yet are one people. It pains me that how can the picture be complete without me! I want my child to be able to study in a school along side other children who are from different religious backgrounds. I want him to get modern education – science, maths, history, geography. I want him to learn about the freedom struggle where all Indians – hindus, muslims, sikhs, christians,  ordinary men and women struggled unitedly to throw out the British rulers. They were all united by the fact of being Indians. I want my child to know everything about the world's most vibrant democracy that is India. I want him to know how the freedom fighters laid their lives in order that future generations breathe free air. I want him to learn about the Constitution of India. I want him to imbibe the values of justice, equality, freedom, liberty, fraternity that form the core of our Constitution. I want him to learn that the values of truth, peace, justice, humanity, fairness and equality overweigh all differences of religion, caste, region, language, food, dress. I want him to be a true Indian. Because being Indian is being respectful to all religions, being respectful to all cultures, appreciating the value of all languages, enjoying the differences of food and dressing. I want my fellow Indians to allow him the opportunity to meet and interact with children from all the diverse backgrounds. But this looks increasingly difficult. If housing colonies refuse to allot me a house, if schools refuse to admit my child, if neighbours refuse to visit me on Eid how do I become a full being? How do I live out my Indianness fully? How do I connect with my fellow Indians? How do I fulfill my dreams as a proud citizen of the world's greatest democracy?

When I look around increasingly I find a chasm which appears so wide. And yet I have faith. I cannot forget the visuals and the stories of muslims in Bombay rushing the injured to the hospital after the bomb blasts. I cannot forget the stories of ordinary hindus saving the lives of muslims in villages of Gujarat. I cherish what is essentially mine as an Indian. The values of equality, religious freedom, cultural liberty, pluralism and justice which are at the core of our Constitution are also the values dear to Indians. The Constitution gives fundamental rights to every citizen irrespective of birth, religion, caste and gender - upholding equality and freedom for all. And I have faith that these values will triumph. The communal forces will fail ultimately and the essential human values will prevail. Upholding democratic values of religious freedom, cultural diversity, secularism is extremely important to save the soul of India.


Anonymous said...

dear sir,
everyday while taking the pleadge of unity, integrity, brotherhood towards all our countrymen in school i also felt proud to be indian....a secular indian who never discriminated against anyone on the basis of his caste, religion, region etc...however now i fail to understand that why my fellow countrymen who are affluent, rich but belong to backward class wants reservation for their wards and themselves in almost all possible spheres of life. I fail to understand why someone belonging to backward community and caste, who has slogged for 3/4 years to graduate just like a general category student requires the further support of reservation to study in a masters degree programme. why these people dont question the government for killing the right to education bill in the parliament in the last session instead of asking for more and more reservation because if that bill would have passed than every backward cast boy and girl of this country would have had basic primary education instead of just few 1000 ones who would benefit from reservation.

well if the recent developments continue i feel we will soon have a country divided and reserved on the basis of religion, caste, region, language etc

Sidhusaaheb said...

I would've rated this one even higher than 'My colleague Kadar'.

I admire Zakia's optimism. I often find myself despairing. After all, it has been 60 years since independence, there are no British to 'divide and rule' and yet India stands more divided than ever along the lines of religion.

How can it not be when those who who practise communalism in politics are highly incentivised by election victories by huge margins (e.g. Narendra Modi-led BJP in Gujrat in 2002 and Congress (I) in the Lok Sabha elections in 1984)?

Anonymous said...

---> there are no British to 'divide and rule' <---

I think the divisions pretty much were there already, they were not created by the British. They exacerbated these fissures to suit their own ends, but I think you agree we own these problems now.

Even just w.r.t housing, other than the religious discrimination highlighted by Zakia we have several other biases flourishing- caste, language etc.

It is sometimes true that somebody who is at the receving end on one of these counts will themselves discriminate on other grounds. We have mostly internalized this.

Wanted to put in something similar even with the previous piece "India works" but didnt want to put a damper on that uplifting tone there.


Surya said...

write something against BJP, ignore atrocities on Hindus an ise of Muslim ghetos/talibanism in Muslim dominated areas, good template, win the essay award.

Sidhusaaheb said...

I hope Surya would write a blog post on the 'atrocities on Hindus' some day, for the popular media doesn't seem to be covering these. Or is it that not too many are taking place really?

Judging by the number of votes that the BJP gets by raking up anti-Muslim sentiment, the post should turn out to be quite popular, I would expect.

Er...I don't recall reading anything against the BJP, in particular, in the original blog post i.e. the award-winning essay, by the way.

Hyderabadi guy said...

Asaduddin Owaisi Discussion regarding Communal Violence in different Parts of the Country in Parliament
ASADUDDIN OWAISI Mp (HYDERABAD) : Sir, at the outset I would like to compliment the hon. BJP Member for being the devil’s advocate. I happened to go to Vadodara on the 8th of this month. I have even gone to the place where this Dargah stood once. If the municipal authorities were doing a work, why was there a need for the Mayor and the concerned MLA to be there? Why was there a need that all of them had to clap, all of them had to raise religious slogans when this Dargah was demolished? I fail to understand that.I went to the Government SSG hospital to see the 24 injured patients. Out of them, 23 belonged to the minority community. All of them had bullet injuries above the waist. I even went to the houses of the deceased. I do not know whether any of the hon. BJP Members had gone or not. What crime did Mohammad Rafiq Vohra had committed that in front of his house he was first attacked by swords, killed and then burnt? When his family telephoned the local police, the police asked them to go to Pakistan. It is there on record on NDTV. What crime had Ashfaq Ahamed committed that he was shot in the head? He used to work in a night showroom. What crime did Mohammad Ayaz - a boy of 17 years, a brother of three sisters - had committed? All this clearly shows the complicity, connivance, conspiracy, and open support by the Gujarat Government. But for their active support, this incident would not have happened. In the name of development, minorities have been destroyed.Under the Central Wakf Act of 1995, all Muslim places of worship, mosques, dargahs and graveyards are protected. How can any Government go and eliminate a wakf property? Has the concerned State Government conducted any proceedings? Has any order been issued? Nothing has been issued.We are talking about Gujarat only here. At the same time, on April 14, a bomb blast took place in Jama Masjid. I have a complaint here with the Government also. So far, not even a single person has been caught. A bomb blast took place in Benaras. Within 48 hours two youths were killed in an encounter in Delhi and one person was killed in Uttar Pradesh. After 25-30 days’ time, Maulana Waliullah and his associates were caught. Whenever a majority place of worship is attacked, immediately within 48 hours or even ten days five to six Muslim youths are killed in encounters. It happens as if you have a buffer stock of Muslim youths who can be killed any time. When Jama Masjid bomb blast took place, why was this not done? Who is responsible for the bomb blast in Jama Masjid? Why did Delhi Police have to say that it was not a terrorist act when it was a terrorist act? It is not found out as to who was behind that act.The next point is about Uttar Pradesh. We are talking so much about secularism over here. Fifty Muslim youths were hit above the waist in Aligarh. The National Minorities Commission has demanded a judicial inquiry. What action is the Government going to take?I was hearing the hon. Member from Shiv Sena. The hon. Home Minister represents that area, Nanded area. On 6th of April, 2006, a bomb blast took place in the house of Laxman Rajpodwar. They are known Bajrang Dal activists. It was a single bomb blast. Later on, Surya Pratap Gupta the Inspector General of Police of that area said that they were manufacturing bombs. The police confiscated a live IED bomb with a timer attached to it. It was a timer similar to the one that is used in the Jama Masjid bomb. So, who is responsible? Those people are known Bajrang Dal activists. Why is the Maharashtra Government not imposing the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crimes Act? What is stopping the Maharashtra Government from imposing that Act on them? Why is the Government of Maharashtra not requesting for a CBI inquiry so that the truth comes out? I am very surprised. Who is going to pay the price? In Ghatkopar bomb blast, Gateway of India bomb blast, all the people have been exoneratedI am really surprised that some upper caste chocolate boys do the demonstration in Mumbai; police do lathi charge; and an inspector is suspended.What about Ghatgopar bomb blast incident? Accused were exonerated. What about Nanded bomb blast incident? How many police people have been suspended? It shows that there is no value for a Muslim life over here.The UPA Government was formed to stop the obscurantist forces. It was a verdict against the communal forces. My main grievance and grudge is with this Government. We know what RSS stands for? Maybe, the Sangh Parivar is celebrating the centenary celebrations of Golwarkar and to pay huge tribute to him, they are indulging in all these activities.In Mahasamud district of Chhattisgarh, on April 23, 2006, a mosque was demolished. In fact, burnt. Koran scriptures were burnt over there. Who is responsible? But for the Sikh community, nearly 20 families would have been killed over there.Not only that, in Rajasthan, in Pali Town, Saint Milad-Un-Nabi procession was attacked. On 11th of April, in Kandura in Madhya Pradesh, Milad-Un-Nabi procession was attaked. There is an end to it.I would like to bring it to the notice of the hon. Minister that in Karnataka, in Budkal, Jagannath Shetty Commission has come out with its Report. There is a huge tension over there. I am bringing this to the notice of the hon. Minister that the Government should take immediate steps to ensure that this tension does not lead to communal riots.I would demand from the Central Government that it should pay compensation to the victims of Baroda. This Government should immediately come to the rescue. I know that it is a State subject. But people are asking that when Sikhs were killed, three lakh rupees were given as compensation, why not to Muslims. What is stopping the Central Government in giving monetary compensation to the people? I think, it is a very important issue.Justice Srikrishna Report is there. Secular Government is there in Maharashtra. The same person who used to say that if Justice Srikrishna Commission Report is implemented, Mumbai would burn. That man is in your Congress Party. Why do you not implement the Justice Srikrishna Commission Report. Nanded incident led this Government to pressurise the State Government there. Let them ask for a CBI inquiry in the Nanded incident. Bajrang Dal activitists were involved. These same people have committed crimes in Parbani and Jalna. I had been to the mosque over there. Unless and until the lives and liberty of minorities are safeguarded, this country cannot progress. If the feeling of insecurity is there, Sir, it is very bad for the nation. I hope the Government will take some corrective action.