Urdu? What did I do?

A language, any language, is not simply sounds and script characters which represent thoughts. A language is the soul of the people. It is the vehicle which connects their past to their present, their present to their dreams. It is the means by which one generation leaves its legacy for the next. In my view the single most significant event in human development is the evolution of languages. It was this process that enabled human beings to preserve their thoughts, teach others, learn from history and talk to generations yet unborn. Language is the elixir of eternal life. Or as close to it as we are likely to come.

Among the many strange developments in our country is a resurgence of hostility against poor Urdu, which is wrongfully alleged to be the language of Muslims. And since Muslims are people non-grata their language is language non-grata. No matter that it has nothing to do with Muslims in the first place. It is seen as that and so it must become unseen. There is a long history to all this and for those who are interested in it, please read this excellent article:


While I lament the completely undeserved hostility to Urdu, which is in the nature of cutting your nose to spite your face; I must say that nobody and no government can kill a language that people want to use. The very birth and rise of Urdu is testimony to that. Farsi was the official language of the time. Yet Urdu eventually supplanted it without any official support, simply because the people wanted to speak it, wrote in it, transacted business in it and so on. When you read the history of the development of Urdu literature and poetry you can’t help being struck by the enormous vitality of the language, its ease of expression, it beauty of turn of phrase, which thanks mainly to the fact that it was understood by the masses, gradually and then rapidly supplanted Farsi. English was repressed in South Africa during the rule of Afrikaners and Afrikaans was strongly propagated to the extent that even today most South African people speak Afrikaans. Yet we know that Afrikaans is dying and will die, and English is alive and well and growing.

The same is true of English in this country which has seen its share of hostility yet all the Hindutva and other chauvinists, send their children to English medium schools for one reason only; because without it they will not have access to the global culture. Languages must cater to the aspirations of people. What happened with Urdu as well as with almost every other Indian language, is that they didn’t keep up with scientific development. Indeed, Urdu has some of the most beautiful poetry, especially love poetry in existence. As an Urdu speaker, I can’t tell you how it has the power to move me to tears. English poetry on the other hand leaves me cold. There is no other word to describe that. However, when I need to work, think, write my thoughts to an audience that spans borders, it is English that enables me to do so. When I am explaining any concept in science, psychology, sociology or politics, it is English that has the words to describe precisely what I need to say. With Urdu (or Hindi, Tamil, Malayalam and Telugu) I find myself translating the English to create cumbersome and ungainly expressions that make little sense.

Call it my lack of expertise in the Indian languages compared to my mastery of English, the fact remains that this is my experience. Talk to a million others like me and you will find that there are rather a lot of us around. Take that forward and ask how many like me are likely to teach Urdu to our children and you have the perfect diagnosis of the fatal ailment that besets Urdu. I was teaching a leadership course to a group of senior Muslim scholars in Urdu, simultaneously translating my material from English to Urdu when I realized, very painfully, this fact, that Urdu simply doesn’t have the words to translate the concepts I was talking about. I did my best and by explaining where I would have used a single word, I managed to do my job, but the fact was clear; Urdu no longer speaks to the modern person. It is like Arabic in a way that has more than twenty words for horse and camel, but not a single one for DNA, corpuscle, neuron or clavicle. Ask yourself, which is more important?

There are many Indian languages which have died over the years, not because someone actively prohibited them, punished those who spoke them and burnt all their literature and poetry, but simply because the people who spoke them, chose not to do so any more. Not a single one of them was spoken by Muslims. Not a single one of them was the target of any Governmental hostility. Yet they all died. Languages die because they no longer have words to express what people want to say. This doesn’t happen overnight but is a gradual process, where they fall into disuse. This is what is happening to Urdu. It simply doesn’t have the words to cater to our modern world or way of life. The world today has little value for the arts, for sublime thoughts or lofty ideals. It speaks in the language of the present, material, prosaic but real.

Gul o Bulbul kay fasanay hain bahut khoob magar

(Stories of the flower and Bulbul are beautiful but)

Roti tho kamana hi paday ga is mehfil kay baad

(I still have to earn my bread after this gathering)

This is the harsh reality of our life today. No matter how brutal or crass that sounds, language must be utilitarian first. Urdu seems to have lost that race. Incidentally I wrote that couplet just now to illustrate the dilemma of Urdu.

Today Urdu is dying in India, mainly because traditionally Urdu speaking people, Muslims and Hindus, have stopped speaking it. This is the inconvenient truth that those who complain about the impending death of Urdu choose not to face. Ask how many of those who talk of the need to protect Urdu, subscribe to Urdu newspapers? Ask how many children in their homes can read or write Urdu? Ask how many can quote, or even read or memorize Urdu poetry? I am not talking about Islam at all. The language of Islam is Arabic. Not Urdu. I am talking about Urdu literature and poetry; how many can read it, understand it or quote it? The answer is clear and visible before our eyes. But we like to blame the Government when we must look at ourselves first. The fact that Urdu is not the medium of instruction in schools or that it is not an ‘official’ language, is neither here nor there. Urdu’s history is witness that it was not the medium of instruction in schools nor was it the official language yet it supplanted Farsi which was both. It did that without governmental support and despite governmental neglect. It did that for one reason only; because people decided they wanted to use Urdu and not Farsi.

Languages die, not because of the aggression of enemies but the neglect of friends. Aggression may actually help a language which will go underground and remain alive and gain strength thanks to the dangers it faces above ground. This is how Arabic remained alive and well and was taught in secret to Muslim children to enable them to read the Qur’an during the more than eighty years of brutal repression of Islam and all its symbols in erstwhile Soviet Russia. Soviet Russia then became erstwhile. Not Islam or Arabic or the Qur’an.

The situation is not hopeless. Far from it. But the solution doesn’t lie in the hands of the Government. It lies in the hands of people. Our hands. The hands of those who claim to love Urdu. Start speaking it yourself. Subscribe to Urdu newspapers. Teach Urdu to your children at home, if schools don’t teach it. Listen to Urdu poetry and support Urdu poets. Read Urdu books and write in Urdu. No power on earth can stop you from doing any of this. You don’t need any money or time or resources to do any of these. Just the will to get up and do something instead of complaining and blaming the Government. This Government has much it must be held accountable for. But neglect of Urdu is the responsibility of Urdu speaking people. Not the Government.

Yes, the Government of India must support Urdu because it is a truly Indian language. It was born in India, is spoken my millions in India and is a part of the history of India. But before that, Urdu speaking people must support it. If people do it, what the Government does or doesn’t do, will not matter. If people don’t support it, no Government can keep any language alive. Sanskrit is the example to illustrate that. Politicians taking oaths of office in Sanskrit proves nothing. Ask how many speak Sanskrit at home or read Sanskrit papers. Much like Usha Utup singing Hindi songs.

Give a dog a bad name…

Give a dog a bad name…

I want to begin with a brief thumbnail view of global geopolitics since the collapse of the Soviet Union under President Gorbachev. This was an event that was widely applauded and rejoiced, including by Muslims worldwide. Little did they realize what it would lead to. For a military state, an economy based on war, an enemy is essential. When the Soviet Union decided to call it a day with playing sparring partner, the Military Industrial Complex (MIC) needed someone else to justify its existence and to continue to make money for those who run it. It is important to understand that the political entities we call nation states are incidental in this scheme of things. The people who run the show are not bound by any nationality. They are truly global in that they operate from anywhere and across all national boundaries. Laws that bind us and monitor our transactions don’t bind these people. This world is run by a handful of men, not countries and politicians. That is why I am not naming any country; not because of any reticence to do so.

In their search; or I should say; as per their plan, they chose Global Islam (GI). I am coining that phrase to differentiate it from Islam as a religion. The religion of Islam is of no interest to MIC. What is of interest is the ability to take GI and project it in the space of the ‘Other’, which is critical to continued success even survival of the MIC. GI was ideal because it satisfied all the criteria necessary for an effective ‘Other’, which are:

1.      Mysterious:
a.     So that all kinds of lies can be attributed to it with impunity
2.     Different:
a.     ‘They’ are not white, not European/American, not Christian
3.     History:
a.     Bad memories of having been defeated by ‘them’ in the Crusades as well as ‘they’ having been the only opponent worthy of the name to European royalty and the Church for centuries
4.     Ineffective globally:
a.     I don’t think this even needs an explanation
5.     Compliant internal leadership:
a.     Well, since they were placed there by MIC and remain on their seats at MIC’s pleasure, what choice do they have?
6.     Immunity:
a.     If they are attacked, killed, countries destroyed, it is no skin off our nose
7.     Nebulous:
a.     No specific state for one to be accused of aggression. A nebulous cloud called by whatever name seems fit, Axis of Evil, Islamic Terror etc. So, attacking it is easy and no single or group of states can protest in the UN.
8.     Polarization:
a.     Is easy for all the reasons above and language was invented to legitimize invasion, murder and plunder.
9.     Internal conflict:
a.     They are divided amongst themselves and prone to being instigated against one another, so very susceptible to manipulation.
In the words of Fredrick Bastiat, “When plunder becomes a way of life for a group of people living together in society, they create for themselves in the course of time, a legal system that authorizes it and a moral code that glorifies it.” That is precisely what is happening today in the world and the Muslims are caught in the middle in the proverbial place between a rock and a hard place. There is an old adage, ‘Give a dog a bad name and hang him.’ It means that the poor dog didn’t do anything to be hanged but was the victim of a media campaign against him. Dogophobia got him and he was hanged. That is what those who spend their time and money behind demonizing Islam seem to want to do. Islamophobia is a multibillion dollar industry which like the pre-World War II, anti-Semitism of Germany and Europe is run by those who are trying to make hay while the sun shines.   
That is how the deaths of over a million civilians (plus half a million children under the age of ten) in the Iraq war is brushed aside, even though the entire war was based on lies. The massacre of civilians in Bosnia is a post script, the occupation of Palestine and the daily atrocities being heaped on the heads of an imprisoned population are acceptable and the ongoing genocide of the Rohingya people is not worthy of mention. These and many other instances of mass murder, carried out by the MIC military directly or their proxies, which I have not bothered to mention as my point is made, have only one thing in common; i.e. the victims are all Muslim. The mainstream media is the thought steering tool for the great unwashed and ignorant multitude which gets its knowledge exclusively from the TV screen. They are brainwashed to believe that when a Muslim (or many Muslims) dies, he had it coming. But if he fights back, he is an insurgent, terrorist and embodiment of evil.
They don’t have the intelligence to ask how a man fighting an occupying army for the right to live in his own home can be an insurgent? This is like the British judge, sitting in judgment on the last Moghul Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar, who had no answer when the King asked him by what right he was being judged by a foreign occupier in his own land. But when you are on the right end of a gun and the other on its wrong end, you can get away with anything, so Bahadur Shah Zafar was banished from his own land and his sons and grandsons were executed. Why? Because they were his sons and grandsons and the British believed in tying all loose ends. Same logic in Iraq, Palestine, Afghanistan and through proxies in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and many other places today. The same logic drove Vietnam and the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese at the hands of invaders, French and American.
I wonder how many Americans know the meaning of the term ‘Double Veteran’.

Rape of Vietnamese women by US troops “took place on such a large scale that many veterans considered it standard operating procedure.”  It was “systematic and collective”; an “unofficial military policy”.  One soldier termed it a “mass military policy.”  Indeed, rape followed by murder of Vietnamese women was “so common that American soldiers had a special term for the soldiers who committed the acts in conjunction: a double veteran”. Legitimizing of atrocity is a natural result of the process of dehumanizing the ‘other’ and believing that they are ‘vermin’ to ‘exterminate’ whom is the noble duty of the ‘brave and virtuous’.
In support of my contention I quote an article about the Jewish Holocaust which captures the entire process very well. It is a matter of wonder to this day, how the people of Germany not only watched in silence as 6 million Jewish and other people were systematically murdered, but helped in the process by constructing gas chambers, transportation systems and all manner of horrific methodologies which I will leave you to read about on your own.
I never tire of quoting Pastor Niemöller’s words about this, which exhort us to stand up before it is too late. Today the world is once again sitting in silence while the MIC juggernaut rolls on; not asking key questions that must be asked, not taking powerful stances for justice, imagining that by doing so, they are saving themselves.
As Pastor Niemöller says, that is what the Germans also thought, until at the end of the war, they contemplated their own devastated cities, lives and homes. Payment always comes.
Martin Niemöller
(14 January 1892 – 6 March 1984)
First, they came for the Communists, and I did not speak out,
because I was not a Communist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out, because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out, because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak for me.

This narrative of the ‘Other’ has today, legitimized any kind of atrocity as long as it is done to Muslims and has made hatred of Muslims acceptable everywhere. Just like it had legitimized every atrocity against the Jews in the last century and the Vietnamese (communists) in the 60’s and 70’s. It is necessary to see the signs and recognize them for what they are and not allow ourselves to be fooled by these age-old games.
That is why in India when a twelve-year-old Muslim boy is stabbed multiple times and killed in a train before his own younger brother, the entire carriage load of people looked on and cheer the murderers. Ask them what the crime of the boy was. Ask them if the boy had harmed them. Ask them why they did nothing. All these questions have only one answer; he was a Muslim. And so, all these things become legitimate and acceptable. In Myanmar, the Rohingya people are being systematically slaughtered, raped and burned alive by the Burmese army and the world watches in silence.
In India once again, in a gathering of upper class, educated people one man, on the topic of the Rohingya genocide, says that what is happening is acceptable and should happen. ‘Muslims need to be killed’, he says. Nobody protests. Nobody is shocked. Nobody is outraged. One person, not a Muslim, raises a voice protesting, asking if one should not be compassionate; asking if murder is not a crime, no matter who does it. No to all of the above because they are “MUSLIM”. What’s wrong with you? Why can’t you understand this simple fact? I can quote many more examples but I think this is enough. After all we all read the same papers and watch the same channels.
As you can see the narrative needs to be changed. But since that is linked to the well-being of the MIC, how can we, garden variety common people, do it? I am going to attempt to put down my thoughts about what I believe needs to be done for three reasons:
 1.      I will not allow what is not in my control to prevent me from doing what is in my control. I can’t influence the global narrative (or at least I don’t know how to do it at this point) but I can influence the local one, so I am going to try that and share my thoughts with you.
2.     No matter what the spin doctors want us to believe, the rule of the MIC can only result in more and more misery for common people, less and less safety and security for us and more and more hatred in society, all in order to make the 1% ever wealthier.
3.     No matter how powerful the Dons of the MIC think they are, ultimately their power depends on those who follow them. Without the unquestioning obedience of their followers, they are powerless. That is the reason we must ask questions; uncomfortable questions. Be it about climate change or about global dominance. That is why they spend a colossal fortune on mind steering through the media, films, social media and other means of communication. If George Bush and his gang were really powerful they would have been able to invade Iraq without telling a barrage of lies to the UN and the whole world, first. And if those who listened to the lies had asked the right questions, two million people would have lived. It is as important as that, to ask the right questions at the right time.

Please see my article for more on the need to accept our autonomy and understand that ultimately each one of us is personally accountable. The reality is that unless we decide to believe the false narrative and fall into its trap, nobody can force us into it.

A couple of questions that you may like to ask, even today:

1.      When Saudi Arabia is being held complicit enough in the 9/11 bombing incident for the US Congress to pass the 9/11 Lawsuit Bill, permitting victims to file suits against them, why did President Donald Trump sign an agreement to supply them with $110 billion worth of arms?

2.     If ISIS is really so bad, then how is it that despite the overwhelming presence of the US and Allied forces in that theatre, ISIS continues to have an uninterrupted supply of weapons and ordnance, fuel and supplies and cash funds? After all, if you tried to transfer $10,000 to Iraq or Syria, you would have everyone from the IRS to FBI to your neighbor’s dog, breathing down your neck. But there appears to be no problem with billions of dollars being freely transferred and payments for arms and ammunition being credited when it comes to the ISIS. So, who is the enemy and who is the friend?

I am sure you have all read the famous poem “The Charge of the Light Brigade” an 1854 narrative poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson about the Charge of the Light Brigade at the Battle of Balaclava during the Crimean War and its very famous line: “Ours is not to question why, ours is to do and die.” This is the philosophy that keeps hatred of the ‘Other’ alive, enables genocide, sacrifices the poor and empowers the 1% to remain secure and become wealthier. 

Imagine a world where the soldier questions why he is being ordered to kill innocent people. Imagine a world where the person manufacturing weapons of mass destruction questions what value he is adding to society by working in such a place and what legacy he is leaving behind for his family. Imagine a world where people manufacturing cigarettes and alcohol see films on lung cancer and alcohol related car crashes and then make a choice whether to go to work or not. I can imagine more scenarios but will instead leave you to do this on your own. Sit with your children and make a game of it. Imagine a world without war. Imagine a world without the 1% but instead with their wealth shared by those who share the dream of global prosperity. Not global dominance by military might. Wars happen for one reason only and that is because they make profit. Take that away and you would have taken away the reason for war. That is the road to peace. Not attempting to silence all opposition to the dominance of the 1%.

If you are ready to sacrifice your life and happiness to put more caviar and champagne on the tables of the 1%, go ahead but count me out. I want a world where my family, friends and I are safe, can live peacefully together, earn a decent living and leave behind a legacy for the next generation. If you don’t like this idea, then you should stop reading this right away. We don’t live in little compartments in this world. We live in a world connected in far more powerful and meaningful ways than social media. This doesn’t simply mean that we can go from place to place faster or communicate across great distances instantaneously but that what happens to one, affects everyone. 

The Butterfly Effect of Chaos Theory is not restricted to weather. It affects us in all aspects of life. Those who refuse to recognize it and insist on living as if they live alone in the world, will become its victims.

It’s time for all butterflies to start flapping their wings to create a hurricane of world opinion that will drive out all injustice and oppression, no matter where it may be. 
Negative or positive, the choice is ours

Negative or positive, the choice is ours

Negative people look for things to complain about and find them. 
Positive people look for things to be grateful for and find them. Make your choice
I’m sure you’ve heard this before that every day we wake up, we have a choice. We can choose to see the day as positive or negative. And guess what, the way we choose is the way it turns out.
This is not magic.
The reality is that the way we expect the day to be drives our own behavior and that produces the positive results for us.
I had a friend who was my mentor and continues to be an inspiration every time I feel that life is tough. He was my manager, my first manager when I lived in Guyana in 1979; my boss, my friend and as I mentioned, my mentor. In Guyana, he was the BOSS. He ran the whole Kwakwani Mining Operation and I was his assistant. New, foreigner, wet-behind-the-ears, first job, zero experience. Yet in the five years that I worked for him, he made me a man. He took what I came with – the training and upbringing of my parents, the mentoring of Aunty Mohini and Uncle Rama, of Nawab Nazir Yar Jung and Nawab Habib Jung and K. Kuruvila Jacob and my teachers in school and life – and gave it a finish. Learning is never finished but it goes through stages. One of the major thresholds that I crossed was when I worked with Mr. James Nicholas (Nick) Adams. I have written about these years in my book, ‘It’s my Life’, so if you are interested, please read it there. I left Guyana in 1983.
I returned to Guyana in 1997 when I was invited by the Prime Minister, Mr. Samuel Hinds, who was an old friend from my days there when all of us worked in the same company. My dear friend Arjun Reddy and I spent a very pleasant week in Guyana as guests of the Prime Minister. God bless Sam and Yvonne’s hospitality. Nick by then had retired to Linden and we spent some lovely days together. Nick told me that he was planning to migrate to the US as his family was there. I didn’t think that was a great idea because he had his own house in Linden and had a very nice and comfortable life. But life has its decision points and only those who live it can make those decisions.
I next met Nick in 2009 when I was in New York and discovered that he had a job as a doorman in an apartment building in Brooklyn, New York. I almost wept, until I saw the big smile on his face and he said to me, ‘You know Yawar, I am so fortunate. I sit in a cool air-conditioned lobby all summer when New York is sweltering and in a nice heated lobby when it is freezing. I get paid just to be here. I am so grateful to God for this because at my age I still need to work and if this job wasn’t there, what would I do?’ I took a deep breath and said to myself, ‘Boss, this is about you. Not him. This is Allah telling you something. Nick is the means by which this message is coming to you.’ In the course of conversation, he said to me, ‘There is an old Jewish lady who lives in a small but very nice flat on the top of this building. She lives alone. Every once in a while, especially in winter, she calls me and requests me to get her a sandwich from across the street. She is old and it is difficult for her to wrap herself up and go across the freezing and often slippery street, so she asks me. I always do this for her. My colleagues, other doormen, object. They tell me that I must not do it as it is not part of my job description. How to get the sandwich is her problem, not mine. But I don’t listen to them. I just do it because that is the right thing to do.’
I am listening to him and saying to myself, ‘This is what he taught me all his life – that life is a bank account. Deposit into it when you don’t need it and you will have it when you need it.’ Here was a man who radiated positivity in situations where others would have given up and curled up, ready to die. At the age of seventy-five, he lost his job due to cancer and had hip replacement surgery and so couldn’t work any longer. His lovely wife Kathleen was working but they needed a home. Then the old lady in the apartment died. A couple of days later, her son comes to Nick and says, ‘My mother wrote in her will that you should live in her apartment as long as you live. I have come to inform you and to make a request.’ Nick says to me (on the phone, when I called him as I did from time to time), ‘I was overwhelmed with thankfulness for what God did for me. I needed a house and He gave me an apartment in Brooklyn in one of the best apartments, rent free for life. So what was the man’s request. The man says to me, ‘My mother had her furniture. I don’t know what to do with it. I don’t need it and to store it would be prohibitively expensive. So, can I please leave it in the flat and you are most welcome to use it?’ Nick says, ‘Every time you think God gave you something and are grateful, He gives you more. I needed a home. He gives me a furnished home, free for life.’
I am saying to myself, ‘Here is a man who is living the Ayaat of the Qur’an where Allah said exactly the same thing – if you are grateful to me I will enhance my blessing.’ Nick’s cancer continued and towards the latter part of his life it became very painful so he was mostly sedated. But on the occasions when I could talk to him and asked him how he was feeling, he always replied, ‘I am very well. I can’t thank god enough for what He has done for me.’ I thought to myself, ‘Here is a man who has the option to think of so many negative things that have happened in his life, but he chooses to think of the positives things and is grateful for them and not a negative or ungrateful word from him.’

Allah appreciates those who appreciate His blessings and refuse to complain about the trials that are also part of life. I saw that in the life of Nick Adams. Two weeks before he passed away, he accepted Islam and died a Muslim. His memory illuminates my own life, especially when things are difficult. And his mention and story do the same to many others all over the world. May Allah who gave him Islam, give him Jannah.
When the voiceless get a voice

When the voiceless get a voice

If there’s one overwhelming sign that numbers mean nothing and organization means everything, it is the plight of Dalits and Muslims in India. Dalits and Muslims are officially 17% and 13% of the population. That means that together one in three Indians is a ‘Dalim’ – Dalit Indian Muslim (my coinage today – in case it ever makes it to the Oxford Dictionary like Ayya and Ayyo have done). Yet these two are the most powerless and oppressed communities in the largest democracy in the world. That sounds like an oxymoron because in a democracy where one man may not have food, clothing or shelter, but he has one vote (and so does every woman); how can it be that the most populous segments of citizenry are the weakest? But so it is. Like snake charming and the Indian Rope Trick, this is also the essence of being Indian.

To know what the meaning (linguistic) of Dalit is, please see the website of the NCDHR http://bit.ly/2e5Kcso
Do notice the ticker tape at the top which gives you an idea of what being Dalit means in real life terms, not merely linguistic. But to understand what it means, there is only one way; be reborn as one. I believe that it is literally impossible to understand what it means to be Dalit (untouchable) unless you are born as one. I have had the privilege of living off and on with my Gond friend, Shivaiyya (his photo graces this article and I have written about that in my book, ‘It’s my Life’ (it’s on Amazon and Kindle). I would spend every waking hour with him all my summer and winter holidays which I spent with my dear mentor and friend Venkat Rama Reddy. Shivaiyya belongs to the Gond tribe (forest tribals are also Dalits) and was my hunting partner. He and I would walk about the forests of the Aravalli hills in search of game. In that process we would share food, time and stories. Especially on cold nights sitting by a small fire trying to keep warm and alive. When you are in that situation what you have a lot of, is time.

Once we became friends, Shivaiyya talked freely about his life and circumstances to the 17-year-old boy from another planet who was his friend. This story doesn’t have a happy ending; quite common in Dalit stories. The last I saw of Shiviyya was in the 70’s when I went off to Guyana. Then in 2012 more than 40 years later I visited Sethpally village in Adilabad District where Shivaiyya lives and went looking for him. I found two things; one changed and one the same. Shivaiyya now had cataract in both eyes and no money to have it operated. And Shivaiyya still had the smile that I remembered so well.

All the rest was the same. Same mud and grass huts, emaciated cattle walking into the forest to graze every morning and little Gond children (3rd generation from the ones I walked with) still following them collecting dung because that was the main produce of those cattle, not milk. Too many more details to go into here. Read my book. That’s my tribute to Shivaiyya and his people and all those who walked into my life. The purpose of this story is to tell you that despite having lived so closely with Shivaiyya (and with many more over the years) can I say that I ‘understand’ what it means to be Dalit? The answer is, ‘NO!’ It is not possible to understand that unless you are born one. And that it is because until then you don’t understand what it means to be born into a cage. There is a difference between visiting prisoners and being a life convict where only death can set you free. That is what it means to be a Dalit in India.

I am a Muslim from one of the so-called Ashraf castes of Indian Muslims. Then there are the Ajlaf and the Ardhal (which consists basically of Hindus of lower castes who converted to Islam thinking that they would now be treated as human). How sadly they were disappointed to find out that what the Prophet of Islam declared (absolute equality of all people irrespective of race or origin) and what Indian Muslims practice are two opposite things. Please see these two articles which explain the situation very well. Same situation in Christianity with even graveyards segregated.

Masood Alam Falahi’s excellent book, Zaat-Paat aur Musalman deals with the caste system among Indian Muslims in detail but to the best of my knowledge it has had as much effect on the Indian Muslim caste system as the many anti-untouchability laws have had on the situation of the Dalits in Hindu society. The caste system among Muslims in India goes back to the time of Qutubuddin Aibak, the founder of the Delhi Sultanate in the 13th century and the politics of convenience. Like all kings he was interested in ease of administration and so did nothing to change the social order amongst his subjects. He realized that if he tried to abolish caste, it would raise all kinds of conflicts with the powerful Brahmins and Kshatriyas which he could neither afford nor was he interested in. Islam came a far second as it does to this day with all manner of politicians and political groups all over the world. Sultanate scholars (Ulama) declared that the invaders were superior to the locals (not surprisingly) but they went on to declare that they were also superior to local Muslims (Hindus who converted to Islam). It didn’t end there. They also declared that among local Hindu converts, those upper caste Hindus who converted to Islam would retain their class superiority over lower caste Hindus who also converted to Islam. The Prophet of Islam declared that all human beings are equal. Indian Ulama starting with Qutubuddin Aibak’s Court Muftis declared that some human beings are more equal than others. 

Please see Falahi’s interview below.  http://bit.ly/2ebngLY 

Muslim kings, and the Muslim ruling elites more generally, in collaboration with so-called upper caste Hindus, supported the caste system and the oppression of the so-called ‘low’ castes, both Hindus and Muslims. As Mullah Abdul Qadir Badayuni’s “Muntakhab Al- Tawarikh”, Maulvi Sayyed Ziauddin Barni’s “Tarikh-e-Firoz Shahi” and Kunwar Mohammad Ashraf’s “Hindustani Maashra Ahd-e-Usta Main” make amply clear, they refused to allow so-called low or razil castes, both Hindus and Muslims, to be educated or even to enter their courts, which was preserved as a monopoly of the ‘high’ caste Hindus and Muslims. 

In fact, Muslims’ caste-consciousness runs so deep Allama Iqbal reprimanded them in a couplet: “Yun to Syed bhi ho, Mirza bhi ho Afghan bhi ho/Tum sabhi kuchch ho batao ke Musalman bhi ho? (You are Syed, Mirza and Afghan/You are everything but tell me are you Muslim?)”.

What is tragic is that this caste system didn’t end with the Delhi Sultanate but continued to be supported by the Ulama of India all through the history of Muslim rule in India, into the period of British rule and to this day into post-independence free India. Free from the British, but still chained by caste. Falahi has quoted from the published works of Indian Ulama and I was shocked to see some of the names. May Allah have mercy on those who tried to change the religion that He sent and who denied to the people what Allah had promised and who contradicted His Messenger Muhammad. Truly these people have some serious answering to do before Allah who many have met and all the rest will meet. The greatest disservice to Islam and Indian Muslims was that it took away from Islam one of its cardinal benefits, equality and non-discrimination; all for the benefit of ruling elites. Everyone else be damned.

This is my own history of how I came to be interested in Dalit affairs. The result was that when I returned home from America in 2000 and was invited by Chindu, a newly formed organization to promote Dalit art and Dalit human rights to help them in leadership development, I gladly agreed. It is a matter of honor for me to be listed among their teachers http://www.chindu.org/teachers.html I was also honored to be invited to be on their Board of Directors, on which I served for five years before I left due to other engagements.

So what is this article about? Rather late in the day to ask this but it is neither about Dalit history nor my own. It is about what I believe needs to be done today and done at the level of a national emergency to bring about measurable change in the situation of Dalits (and Muslims for that matter) so that 33% of the population comes into the mainstream of productive employment. It is suicidal for any nation to have one third of its population living in and subject to conditions which won’t stand the light of day. They can only be a drain on the economy and add little value while breeding all kinds of extremism as anger grows at the situation they find themselves in for no fault of theirs. So what is necessary to bring this about?

There are two things which are required to remove caste discrimination:

1.    Changing religious sanction for discrimination and bringing up a new generation which believes in and lives by the new ideology of equality.

2.    Create a level playing field where irrespective of caste the historically oppressed can compete on equal footing with the historically preferred.

I am an idealist. But I am also a realist. So while advocating the first with all my heart and soul, I admit that it is beyond my capability to bring this about except in my own life. That I have always done but to try to change people’s beliefs is at best a long term matter and can’t be done by force. Laws must be passed and have been passed. Equality must be and is a guaranteed right in our Constitution. But as everyone knows, there is a huge gulf between what the law dictates and what happens in practice.

It is not in the scope of this article to go into how the anti-discrimination laws actually work when it comes to implementation especially where cases of discrimination are sought to be redressed. I will leave you to lose some sleep over this research if you are interested with the guarantee that the amount of sleep you will lose searching, will be far less than what you will lose once you find what you are looking for. I hope then you will join the ranks of those who are trying to bring about this change and together we can hope to achieve something in our lifetimes.

It appears that to discriminate, to look down upon others is such a powerful need of the human being that even where religion decrees the opposite as in the case of Islam and Christianity, people who claim to follow those religions seem to find ways to discriminate and legitimize it by creating convenient self-serving arguments in the disguise of theology. The fact remains that Allah made people equal and no argument or Fatwa of any so-called A’alim can change that Hukm (Order or Ruling) of Allah and His Messenger. Class inequalities have always been prevalent in all societies but what is particularly heinous about caste inequalities is that there is no escape. Class inequalities also have this element to various degrees in different societies. But when caste comes into the picture, religion sanctions it and so the force is much more powerful. Mobility out of your caste is practically non-existent and when such people are faced with the same situation even when they try to escape the oppression by changing their religion then the situation appears truly hopeless.
For the record Islam doesn’t recognize any caste or class inequality at all. 

Allah says: Hujuraat 49: 13. O mankind! We have created you from a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may recognize (honor, appreciate) one another. Verily, the most honorable of you with Allah is the one who is the most pious. Verily, Allah is All-Knowing, All-Aware.
Rasoolullah  said in his last sermon of Hajj, popularly known as Khutbatul Wada (Farewell Sermon):

All mankind is from Adam and Hawwa (Eve). An Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor does a non-Arab have any superiority over an Arab. A white has no superiority over black nor does black have any superiority over white except by piety (Taqwa) and good action. 

Let nobody blame Islam or its Prophet  for what people do in its name.

Discrimination comes out of a lack of self-confidence and self-hate where a person feels confident and good about himself only when he compares himself to someone else and feels superior. You can’t talk about equality of Dalits until you remove all inequality of all the Varnas. For it to work, you have to dismantle the entire system, which is not easy to do when it is sanctioned by religion. The reality is that you either have caste or you don’t. Like pregnancy you can’t have it partially. In 1933 Dr. Ambedkar said, “There will be outcastes as long as there are castes, and nothing can emancipate the outcaste except the destruction of the caste system.” So either there is no inequality between Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vysyas and Sudras or you can’t say that Dalits are equal to…to whom?? Gandhiji made this mistake when he was unwilling to talk about dismantling the Varna system but wanted the Dalits to be included into it as the 5th Varna. For this he invented the term Harijan (Children of God). However, that was not a solution because even if it had come about, it would have meant that the Dalits would still be the lowest and have to be beholden to those who deigned to recognize that they were at least human.

The second matter has also sought to be addressed firstly by creating ‘Reservations’ in education and jobs for Dalits by lowering the standards of entry (not Muslims who are equally discriminated against but since they are not part of the Hindu caste system, they don’t qualify. I consider this poetic justice for their having joined the discriminators when they had the upper hand and so I say, ‘Jolly good.’). The purpose was to try to help those who had been discriminated against for centuries and so didn’t have the advantage that wealth and education brings by making it easier for them to enter institutions of higher learning and to get jobs.

This action, irrespective of the good intentions behind it, created more problems than it solved. It had a reverse effect by retaining discrimination in another form and actually increasing hatred against the historically deprived people who are seen as ‘stealing’ the rights of others. That others stole their rights in broad daylight for centuries is neither here nor there because logic, historical data and reason have no place in emotion based hate mongering which is standard political strategy in our country. Xenophobia ennobled by affiliation to a higher cause (religion) supported by gross, deliberate ignorance always works wonders.

American politics today is a classic example of the efficacy of this time-tested method. Historical data from the Affirmative Action movement in the United States of America where after its official beginning in 1961 http://bit.ly/1U1f509 decades in time and billions of dollars in Federal funding notwithstanding, has not resulted in achieving even a fraction of what it was supposed to do. To this day there are more African American young men in prison than at university or in the higher echelons of the corporate world and Donald Trump is the Republican nominee for President in 2016. Truly fact is stranger than fiction.

So what works and how can we bring that about?

What works is quality. So create quality. Focus on creating quality and the rest will follow.
Here is what I believe we should do.

1.    Create world class primary and secondary schools in Dalit areas but open to everyone. Let anyone who wants a world class education send their children to these schools. However, what happens to this day even in government schools our villages, segregation of children based on caste, will not happen here. All children will be treated as children should be treated, equally with love and compassion. They will sit together, study together, eat together, rest together, play together and be trained to the highest standards in education.
There are numerous instances where upper caste children will not sit with Dalit children in government schools and Dalit children are relegated to a separate seating area. When the government insists that this kind of discrimination will not be allowed, upper caste Hindus don’t send their children to these schools. However, it is interesting to note that everyone goes to the Christian schools in the area and sits in the same room without demanding segregation. The reason is that the quality of education which those Christian schools provide is incentive enough to put caste considerations on hold.

Of course if the anganwadi cook is Dalit, upper caste children won’t eat the food he or she cooks and teachers may discriminate against Dalit children, but at least there is no ‘official’ discrimination against a child because he or she was born in a particular family.

2.    Create a Vocational Training Center in each school with vocational training as a part of the curriculum. To learn a trade and work with your hands must be a compulsory part of education. This will teach children dignity of labor and give them the joy that you only get from creating things with your own hands. It will give them also training in systems, quality, time management, leadership and teamwork; all of which are excellent life skills that one needs and which are not part of our standard school curricula. The centers will also provide employment for artisans and experts in different arts and crafts who are scrounging for jobs today and in the process many are even losing their skills.

3.    Create a Center for Entrepreneurial Development where students of these Vocational Training Centers (and others) are trained in setting up small businesses. All kinds of training in hiring, organizational development, selling, raw material procurement, product development and organizational leadership can be provided so that new businesses have a good chance to succeed. The Center will also run a mentorship program where new entrepreneurs will be mentored by experienced entrepreneurs and will have access to consultant services through the Center.

4.    Create a Venture Capital Fund which will offer interest free loans to entrepreneurs. These will be given after a rigorous annual selection process where hopefuls will have to present their business plans and pilot projects to a team of experts who will decide on the viability of the project. This is to ensure that businesses funded actually succeed and the process can continue ad infinitum. 

http://bit.ly/2dHP5YZ is a very interesting TV show about venture capitalist/entrepreneur interaction. I know that reality is not exactly so neat and neither do decisions to fund always get taken so fast but it is a very good example of participation of haves and want-to-haves which can lead to everyone-has-more.

In short what I am suggesting is that while we need to continue to work to change our beliefs and ideology to promote justice, we need to do something that is more easily doable and can show results and will hopefully also result in a change of heart which must eventually come. The world wants quality products and services. If we prepare people well by enhancing the standard of education, then they will be respected when they gain entry beating others over the same high entry standards. More importantly it will enhance their own confidence and self-respect which is more critical than anything else. That will be real service. That will truly add value and will take away discrimination over time because when people can stand on their own feet, they don’t need others to affirm their humanity. Those who provide quality will automatically get clients, customers and friends and will not be beholden to anyone.

In time, it is my hope that we can completely dismantle the caste system in all religions. Any religion which considers one human being superior to another because he was born into a certain caste is not a religion that I recognize as coming from the Creator. 

Caste prejudice is a shame on our honor as human beings, which we must remove.
Interpreting Reality

Interpreting Reality

Where and how do I begin? To speak from the heart, yet not reveal the grief, confusion and anxiety that it is filled with. Grief at the rapidly deteriorating situation all over the world where human life seems to have lost all value. Confusion as to why this sudden (or is it sudden at all?) collapse of all that I grew up holding valuable and precious? And anxiety, not for myself as much as for the human race in general and Muslims in particular. I have been troubled by all the killing and destruction of life that has been happening in the past few years with increase only in one thing – its rapidity and magnitude. But it was the massacre in the café in Dhaka which forced me to try to write something to clarify my own thinking and share some thoughts with those who would like to respond. If you would like to share in the reflection and add your own, I will be most grateful.

The situation globally is as follows:

1. As my friend Biju Abdul Qadir defined the situation: “In my understanding, there are two scenarios playing out almost all over the globe, in general, and in the ‘Muslim’ world, in particular. One is the very clear and present injustice being perpetrated through the physical invasion, occupation and devastation of ‘Muslim’ countries for the greater interests of the power-and-arms lobbies within certain governments, thus leading to extremism and calls for blind vengeance among the thousands so traumatized.
The other possible scenario is the devilish execution of an insidious strategy of setting up bogeymen organizations and individuals projected as Islamic forces but which do everything – spectacularly and horrifyingly – against the spirit of Islam, so that, ultimately, the negative tarnishing of Islam and ‘Muslims’ happen effectively, with little blame on the real plotters and script-writers behind the scenes. In both these scenarios – whether the open, or the hidden, one – the loser is the ‘Muslim’ nation.”

2. Blatant dichotomy that the Western world applies to itself (read ‘White’) versus the rest of the world (read ‘non-white’) where it supports the opposite of the principles it holds sacred and inviolable in its own society. Take freedom, human dignity, human rights, sanctity of human life, child care and protection, justice, equity and compassion – and you will find that Western powers support the opposite in all those places where they have an economic interest. Western countries support, fund and supply the worst dictators and totalitarian rulers with all that they need to keep their populations enslaved and turn a blind eye to the torture, violation of human rights, unlawful imprisonment and killings that those rulers do, all the while claiming the high moral ground of being ‘global policemen’ to ensure justice.

The daily reports of Israeli troops using pregnant women for target practice, imprisoning children without reason, legalized torture of political and war prisoners; proxy wars fought in Muslim lands at the expense of the lives and hopes of local people; drone killings legitimizing murder by using remote control technology; Rohingas being slaughtered without pause, the list is endless. Muslims see this as a global conspiracy to annihilate them and wipe Islam off the face of the earth. This leads to a siege mentality and a sense of helplessness and desperation. The thundering silence of Western leaders in the face of all of the above, especially when compared with their frenzy when a white person is killed by alleged ‘Islamic militants’; is a study in hypocrisy. As a friend said to me on the deaths of Mohammed Ali and Abdul Sattar Eidhi, “Whenever a great Muslim dies, he is anything but a Muslim. But whenever a Muslim kills, he is nothing but a Muslim.”

The latest is the revelation (as if it was a secret) of the Chilcot Report that the Iraq War was a fabrication of lies led by the Bush-Blair combine which resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Muslims, looting of an entire country and destruction of their nation. Question is, what is going to happen to those who are now seen for what they are i.e. murderers and bandits of the worst kind, responsible for genocide of an entire population of innocent people. A rather humorous analysis of it is here

The report itself is on the internet and you are welcome to read it. If some action is taken on this report and Bush and Blair are impeached, then it will restore some trust in global justice. As it is cynicism far outweighs hope and that is very dangerous. The key question to ask is what every Muslim asks daily, ‘What if the situation had been reversed and it was Iraq which had invaded Europe and America?’ How would the world have reacted? Are lies alright for white people and not alright for non-white? Sorry to keep talking about skin color but that is the reality of the world. 

3. The Muslim world demographically has a very young population which has all the same aspirational goals, attractions and hopes that any average Western youth aspires to but without the ability to reach them because they are living under conditions that prevent them; thereby condemning them to a fate of poverty and deprivation. Add to this the fact that Muslims (and all people with a mind and a conscience) are very angry at the rapidly tightening grip of the Military-Industrial Complex (read Western countries) on their lands and resources either directly through military occupation (Palestine, Iraq & Afghanistan) or through proxy rulers (too many to list) and at the blatant disregard for loss of Muslim lives. Not only that but the fact that in films like American Sniper, killing Muslims is celebrated; can only be viewed as crass and hugely provocative to put it politely. The extremist statements of people like Trump in America and similar myopic leaders in other countries adds to the anger.

A young population that is unemployed, poor, has time on its hands, has access to global media, has nothing to lose and is very angry – is a combination that is more dangerous than sitting on a powder keg with the fuse lit. Alienation born out of poverty and dearth of choices, that a vast majority of Muslim youth faces in almost every country that they live in; is their reality. 

As another friend, Khadeeja, put it, ‘The Dhaka killings were, according to media reports, perpetrated by youth from affluent backgrounds.  They went to posh international schools. While economic poverty is a lurking phantom that feeds the cycle of desperation and resulting violence, there is also another kind of poverty among young Muslims be they from affluent or non-affluent families- a poverty of hope that they can change the world.   As a result, what we see is an insular way of thinking because of fear/hatred of the Other, of being ridiculed about their idea of Self by their own fellow ‘secular’ Muslims.   This kind of insularity or perhaps even victim mentality in thought adds fuel to the fire of helplessness.’

4. Take away everything from a person and you have just created the most dangerous creature on earth – one who has nothing left to lose. A feeling of ‘nothing to lose’ has nothing to do with the material possessions that a person may have. People from affluent backgrounds are as prone to this as those who have little. So also hope; it resides in the heart and has to do with the individual’s faith in his future. That is what has happened to a large section of Muslim youth. They seem to have fallen into despair. They have aspirations like everyone else but the means of fulfilling those dreams are denied to them either because they are too poor to get the skill training or because of discrimination (official and unofficial) which shuts the doors for those who have gained skills with great sacrifice and determination. So like a lot of African American youth, they are footloose and susceptible to anything that gives them the illusion of empowerment and recognition. This is where recruitment for all kinds of things, from drug dealing to petty and more serious crime to religious extremism comes in. And they fall into the laps of the recruiters and the vicious cycle starts.

So there you have it. That is the problem definition. The challenge therefore is also twofold: 
1. Dealing with global aggression, invasion, demonization, blatant injustice and discrimination and the psychological impact it creates
2. Dealing with the helplessness, lack of self-esteem, lack of opportunity and the negative impact of free time and loneliness

Life is a precious gift only for the one who has the means (not only money) to enjoy it. For those born in circumstances where life is a burden (material or psychological), it is not a gift but something that must be borne willy-nilly. For some of them (very few perhaps) the chance of a moment of glory, of power, where those they envied, cringe before them and are at their mercy; is a moment for which they are glad to give up a life that is in any case worthless and meaningless in their eyes. They are not afraid to die because to live means nothing to them. They have nothing to lose. Thanks to their circumstances they have suffered (real to them) indignity all their lives. They have carried resentment in their hearts against those who poured that indignity on them; the ‘haves’ of society and the establishment which they blame for their fate. And so when someone offers them a chance to hit back, they take it. That is what’s happening today. People are hitting out blindly, out of frustration, without thinking of the effect of their actions. Disastrous.

So here is my proposal for a solution:

1. Dealing with the effects of global aggression:

I recall going to a Vipasana (Yoga) academy in Bangalore many years ago to learn a relaxation technique called Shavasana. As I was in the class I overheard a conversation between the teacher and a middle aged man who was also in the class.

Man, ‘I have a problem with acidity. I like to eat chilly and fried things and every time I eat them; I suffer all night with high acidity. Is there a Yoga technique that can help me?’

Yoga teacher, ‘Yes. Stop eating chilly and fried things.’

It is really as simple as that. If we, the people of the world, are really tired of dying and losing our lives and livelihoods, then we have to get up and say, ‘Stop this shit.’ As long as we keep electing leaders who are subservient to the war machine; weapons manufacturers, oil companies, banks, rapacious business people, we will remain condemned to die. We have to elect leaders who commit to shutting down weapons companies, commit to alternate energy and environmental protection, who commit to spending on education, food and public health instead of on amassing weapons of mass destruction. The solution is simple and clear. To implement it will not be easy as we have given up our freedom and have made ourselves enslaved to immoral political leaders and their handlers – the 1% of the world who run the world because we allowed it. I know some of you are going to say, ‘This is not practical.’ But I invite you to reflect that having 1% owning 75% of the world’s resources and deciding the fate of the 99% is even less practical. But it is happening, right? And it is happening because you and I allowed it. So take it back, if you don’t like what is going on. 
We’re seeing a sudden surge of dictatorial fascistic leaders around the globe. People give the example of good governance as Singapore, or Malaysia under Mahatir, or India under Indira Gandhi by saying that the national leader was a CEO. My point is that yes, they were great CEO’s and that’s precisely what was wrong with them and their style. The fault of the rest of us was that we accepted this situation without understanding what was behind it and were happy that the trains ran on time in exchange for our freedoms which were quietly taken away.

Every time anyone protested the State-Corporation reacted like its business model; put down revolts mercilessly; interpreting dissent as treason and punishing it accordingly. That’s why I don’t see Brexit, Arab Sprung (not a typo) and similar things as winds of change but as incipient rebellions which will be crushed. Sorry for the jaundiced opinion but I don’t like to fool myself or anyone else. The Arab Spring is a case in point. Those who want change will have to do a lot more than marching in the streets. Today the biggest crime is not what The Empire commits daily, openly and blatantly but to criticize the Empire. The saddest/funniest thing is to see this new morality being enforced; not by agents of the Empire but by stupid little slave leaders who don’t even realize what they’re doing. The victims are enforcing their own victimization. How convenient for the oppressors…you get what you want without the bad name that should go with oppression.

As it stands that means, supporting leaders like Justin Trudeau, Angela Merkel, Jeremy Corbyn, Arvind Kejriwal and other such people who appear to have kept out of the net of global capitalism. It means also holding leaders accountable. The Chilcot Report is a good test to see if there’s any change in standards in the offing. If there isn’t we mustn’t lose hope. Just try harder. It is a life and death issue in a very literal sense. Ours and our children’s. And we will be held responsible by history.

2. Dealing with alienation and despair

The second problem: Dealing with the effects of global injustice; alienation and despair; is really rooted in the first i.e. removal of injustice. If that is done the second one will go away by itself. But unless that is done, it can’t really be solved. So what I am about to outline is really a symptomatic cure to the systemic cancer that we are plagued with; the greed of those who already own 75% of global assets. I submit to you that this is not a problem of Muslims alone, but a problem that faces 99% of the world – because it is the 1% which is the cause of the problem. The Muslims simply happen to be on the front, suffering on behalf of the rest of the world. I submit to you that if the world doesn’t come together to establish justice and put an end to the global military-industrial complex and the economics of weapons manufacture and dealing, every single one of us will succumb to this cancer. The model of the 1% enslaving the 99% can’t be sustained. Indeed, why should it be?

What is the solution? Give them something to lose. I believe this has to be done in two ways, simultaneously:

1. Vocational training and entrepreneurial development leading to self-employment.
2. Ideological dialogue to refute the extremist philosophy that is being projected as Islam.

Eradicating Poverty – the most Critical Need of the Hour

A vibrant middle class is essential to the health of any economy and a measure of it. The bigger the middle class the bigger the market for goods and services and more money flows into the economy and is available for public services like healthcare, education, transport and so on. Contrary to the myth of trickle down, money doesn’t flow down from the superrich or from global multinational corporations into local economies. The superrich don’t use local services, live in ivory tower isolation and are generally unaffected by local conditions as they are surrounded by cordons of insulation. Multinational corporations are answerable to their shareholders who don’t live in local communities and so they don’t care what happens in local economies. Many don’t even employ local people, except in menial jobs because locals may not have the education and skills that they need. 

So skill development is the key to poverty eradication. For this we need to:
1. Set up vocational training centers in every local school. Every child must mandatorily learn some marketable skill, whether or not he/she uses it later. Working with your hands, working with tools, creating things, fixing broken machinery and such activities are very therapeutic and inspirational. There is enough flex in the timetables of our curriculum to permit this and if there isn’t then that time must be created. Every child must graduate with a marketable skill. The vocational centers can become self-funded by selling their products and services to local communities with the education being provided free of cost. That way you will provide employment to local artisans as well as pay for the facility. The infrastructure already exists in the form of the school building. And if necessary vocational training can also be done after hours when the school has let off.

2. Children must also be taught the basics of entrepreneurship in an easy application oriented way covering the following topics:

  • Writing a business plan
  • Budgeting – P&L accounting
  • Risk taking
  • Team Building
  • Selling skills

3. Institute special prizes for entrepreneurial initiatives in key areas like poverty eradication, alternate energy, education, food production, transportation, health management and other high need areas. Prizes must take into account, innovativeness, social consciousness, creativity.

4. Set up a Venture Capital Fund to provide prospective entrepreneurs with interest free loans. These must be given after a rigorous selection process of examining business plans and ensuring that they have a high likelihood of success. The capital for this fund can come from major multinational companies as part of their CSR. I know this is being done by some progressive CEO’s but it must be hugely boosted. I believe that the way to do that is by creating a full-fledged Venture Capital Fund that is available to all aspiring entrepreneurs. Business CEO’s will recognize the value of such a fund and will fully support it. Invite them to sit on the Board and run it.

5. Pair new entrepreneurs with established businessmen and women who can coach and mentor them. This will break the economic/social barriers which have taken the place of feudal barriers of old but have the same negative effects. Wealthy people must see how the poor live. It touches the heart. It makes us human and above all, grateful for what we have and the desire to share it with others.

Ideological support

It is a given today that there are people on the internet, who are spreading hatred and recommending all kinds of violence in the name of Islam. It is a redundant discussion in my mind about whether these are false flag operations or genuinely misguided Muslims who are spreading this message. The fact remains that they are spreading this message and there are some Muslim youth who are attracted to the message enough to wreak havoc. 

What happened in Dhaka was not done by an army. It was done by a few people and rocked the world. That is the aim of the anarchist. Hit soft targets that are almost impossible to defend and create disruption in society to further their own aims of regime change. Society’s reaction; be it police brutality, media hysteria or racist and fascist statements by politicians are all blessings for the recruiter as they only help to reinforce the anti-establishment message that he wants to convey and enhance the feeling of being persecuted that the potential recruits feel. The situation therefore needs extreme maturity, patience, fortitude and wisdom to handle. Like the economic strategy, this must also be seen as a long term investment. Changing hearts is a notoriously difficult thing to do. Ideological conflicts are the worst and most difficult to resolve, but resolve we must. Our lives, quite literally depend on it. I suggest the following steps:

Restore confidence in Government and in the Justice System

I won’t go into the reasons why this is perhaps at an all-time low. The reasons are clear to everyone who has eyes and ears and a mind that can think. I want to focus on what we can do to change that situation. And change it we must, if we want to achieve anything at a national or international level. We can’t influence people who don’t trust us and so trust must be built. We must decriminalize legitimate dissent. Else, we risk having the bottled-up anger and frustration unleashed through violent means. When governments suppress legitimate forms of political dissent often violently, they risk radicalization and people resorting to violence for their voices to be heard. We have seen many examples of this all over the Middle East in the recent past.

Enforce Transparency in all law enforcement

To correct this situation transparency is essential. Follow due process and be transparent and treat people with dignity. I won’t describe what happens today when someone (especially a Muslim) is arrested on suspicion and his family go to the police station to enquire. I know that those who will read this are fully aware of what happens. The problem is what this has done to the image of the police in particular and of the justice system in general. People have lost hope in both. Radicalization starts with this and is fed by every incident where justice is perverted and denied by those who have authority. Transparency is essential. Justice must be seen to be done.

I propose that when someone is to be arrested on suspicion, there must be enough incriminating evidence before the arrest warrant is issued. Then this evidence must be shown to the family of the individual and his lawyers and credible members of his community so that it becomes clear to everyone that the person being arrested is indeed guilty. The fact remains and must be recognized that thanks to social stigma and irresponsible reporting, a person who is arrested is already tried and condemned before he reaches a court of law. So even when he is found to be innocent, his life is effectively destroyed. He loses his job, he and his family face a social boycott and sometimes have to move to a different town. All this not because he was guilty at all, but because the police made a mistake. Having others suffer because of your mistakes is not justice, is it? Transparency is key to restoring confidence. Involving the public through good communication is essential to good policing, especially in fighting terrorist activity. 

Believe me, we the people are even more interested in fighting terrorist activity for the simple reason that we die when it happens. So involve people and don’t treat them like potential criminals. Muslims know what is happening in their community far better than any policeman can ever know and will gladly help in preventing and solving crime if they are taken into confidence, are trusted and treated with dignity. All three are sadly missing in police public interaction at a grassroots level. Our police have become used to behaving in a highhanded, arrogant manner because they can get away with it. People suffer in silence because they have no alternative. But trust is destroyed, which is our current situation. This must be built with great patience and wisdom.

Police – Public Communication & Sensitization

The police have become used to being the coercive arm of government. While this role may always be there, the primary role of the police officer should be as a partner of the public in keeping them safe. The two roles can’t happen simultaneously. So we need to choose. If police public partnership works, coercion will become unnecessary except in exceptional circumstances which will be understood by all concerned. Communication is key for this to happen. 

For a start as a test of my claim that police officers maintain an intimidating distance from the people which discourages participation here is a checklist that you can give to the SHO of any Police Station to fill out. The results will be enlightening, I hope and encourage the seniors to do something about this by presenting an example of behavior. Juniors usually imitate seniors and we have plenty of examples to show of pompous seniors who won’t even answer a phone, let alone talk politely to a civilian. So send this checklist to all SHO’s and see what they say:

1. How many prominent local people do you know personally?
2. How many of them without political affiliation and from minorities or Dalits?
3. How many of them do you visit socially at least once a year?
4. Do you invite them to any function at the PS – e.g. Independence Day flag hoisting? 
5. If not, why not?
6. Do you participate, even if by simply wishing, in any festival not your own?
7. If not, why not?
8. Do you visit any schools, hospitals, NGO’s, places of worship in your area?
9. If not, why not?

You can add any more questions as you wish but I believe the results will be the same. Police don’t have a relationship with the public because they don’t want to. If Indian Police really want to be partners with the public, then they have to define who they are and what their role is. You can’t run with the hare and hunt with the hounds. You have to decide where you belong and act accordingly.

Sensitivity Training for the Police

One of the first courses I taught at the SVP National Police Academy was for IPS Probationers of the 1991 batch on Police Public Sensitization. This was a course mandated at the time by the Home Ministry and I believe it was one of the best initiatives of government which must be reinstated. A nation can’t progress when it lives in a state of war with its own people. There are over 200 million Muslims in India who are all good, law abiding and peaceful citizens who love their country and are committed to its wellbeing to which their own wellbeing is attached. Sadly, they have been put into the insulting position of having to declare this over and over again and yet not be believed. Especially in officialdom, the police usually being its first encounter, they are viewed with suspicion – guilty until proven innocent – though there is no evidence that this is the case. Committing crimes is not the copyright of any community. Crime must be treated as crime. Not as proof of collective evil of any community. Fairness is the foundation of justice. It is therefore essential to educate the police about Islam’s fundamental beliefs and tenets so that they are not susceptible to propaganda that Islam is somehow the cause of violence. They must also be trained in behaving with sensitivity and in treating the civilian population as partners in solving crime. Bridges must be built and policemen and women need to be trained in how to do this. If anyone is in doubt about this, let him go incognito to a police station disguised as an ordinary Muslim father of a son arrested on suspicion and experience the fun. The dignity of the individual must always be respected.

The law can’t be upheld by those who break the law. Police must uphold the law in letter and spirit and the use of torture and so-called 3rd degree methods must be outlawed and their perpetrators punished. It is good to remember that our legal system doesn’t permit these reprehensible methods in any case. But the police have become so accustomed to using them that it may sound strange to some to remind them that their actions as policemen are illegal.
Finally, the media and press leaders must also be educated in this because ‘trial by media’ which is another name of character assassination has become the norm. Media anchors and writers believe that they can say whatever they want, hiding behind terms like ‘alleged’, ‘reported’, ‘believed’ and proceed to destroy the life of someone just because it helps them to get good TRP ratings or sell a few rags. This is despicable and shameless. Journalism has lost its position as the conscience of civil society and its defender, just to make a little money. It is high time that journalists are reminded of their respected position so that they understand the need to regain it. The media is the last defence of the innocent civilian. If the media persecutes that person for the sake of cheap popularity, then it is a case of Jab manjhi nayya duboye usay kaun bachaye? मांझी जो नाव डुबोये उसे कौन बचाये 

Imam Development Program

The influence of the local Imam is huge. He is seen as a confidant who has knowledge of Islam and so is often listened to with great attention. Sadly, many if not most Imams are not trained to lead. Their knowledge is restricted to a very small section of Islam and the Imam does not have the perspective or tools to interpret current events or to guide his congregation. He can’t admit that openly as he needs to maintain his aura of being knowledgeable to retain his job. 

The challenge is to handle this with great empathy, sensitivity and understanding, working with mainstream scholars who the Muslim community trusts. You have to first win over these scholars and then make them the ambassadors for this program. There is a huge suspicion among Muslims for anything that seems to come from government, police, foreign agencies etc. All born out of their own bitter experience in the past. To win them over will not be easy but without that nothing can be achieved. Scholars will be very wary of associating with any program that the government runs for fear of losing their own credibility with their constituencies. To try to force them would be suicidal. What we need is a lot of patience, perseverance and genuine sincerity which I am sure will help them to see the value of the Imam Development Program. 

I suggest using the Minorities Commission or a respected NGO as the front for this program as they have better credibility and to do it without fanfare and flashbulbs. It is necessary to handle this with great care because if it loses credibility with the community then nobody will enroll and nothing can be achieved. We can’t force this.
Create an Imam Development Program (must be funded) free for students over a duration of 3 – 6 month part-time course covering the following areas:

1. Understanding current events (no propaganda – just honest appraisal)
2. How to make the masjid a window into the Muslim life & culture
3. Cross cultural sensitivity, interfaith dialogue, community service
4. Refuting the message of the extremist from the Islamic ideological angle
5. Answering questions about current challenges in an Islamic context
6. Counseling skills
7. Public speaking skills

Finally, we have to answer the question for the potential student – the Imam who we hope will come to this program – WiiFM? What’s in it for me? The reason I say this is because in India at least (my guess is this will be the same more or less, elsewhere), Imams are paid very poorly by the masjid where they serve. Most congregations have little money and so they pay the Imam what they can and he makes up the balance by giving private tuitions, teaching children to read the Qur’an. 

So he goes from house to house and teaches for 45 – 60 minutes per class. All these have to be scheduled around the five daily prayers where the Imam is mandatorily required to be in the masjid as well as his student’s school hours. So he leads a very stressful life. For him to take time out to attend a course is very tough, maybe even impossible especially if he doesn’t see any financial benefit accruing from it. It will be necessary to give the candidates a stipend and to try to keep the course as near and accessible to them as possible and where they have to travel, give them a travel allowance. A certificate from the government, Department of Education or some such department will be an added attraction.
Establish Justice

Discrimination against Muslims must end. Punish criminals, but first establish the crime. Unlawful arrest, torture and imprisonment without due process which have all become routine must end and those indulging in them must be punished. Crime must be dealt with according to the law. Police action has traditionally been so unjust and biased that the police have lost all credibility. Nobody believes what the police say and view every police initiative with suspicion. Well intentioned police officers with integrity who want to genuinely do good must be prepared to face suspicion and rejection because of the sins of their predecessors until they win the confidence of local people. The life and property of a Muslim is not less valuable than that of a non-Muslim. Muslims have lost hope in the justice system. They don’t believe they will ever get justice. They have plenty to evidence to support their belief. This must be refuted by acting against those who participated in killing Muslims or harming them in any way. Muslims are also human. Killing them is called murder. And murder is a crime, no matter who commits it. If a Muslim commits it, hang him. But if someone kills a Muslim, hang him also. Unless justice is seen to be done, trust can’t be built. Transparency is critical. 

All criminals must be punished but only criminals must be punished. 

It is as simple as that. Give people a door to legal redressal and they will not take the law into their own hands. Help criminals believe that they can’t get away with their crimes because of their caste, tribe or political affiliation. That is the meaning of justice. One law for everyone irrespective of who he or she is. This will restore confidence and go a very long way to wean people away from extremist ideology. Take away the reason for resentment. Take away his desperation. Take away his hopelessness and despair. Or be prepared for them to burst into flames, consuming all those around them. 

It is essential that governments don’t officially support those (especially Muslims) who criticize Islam, mock the Prophetﷺ or mock religious scholars. If this is not done, then anything run by the government will be rejected. Suspicion is a hurdle that will have to be surmounted in any case for any government funded program and can only be done by winning the confidence of scholars that people trust. That can only be done if there is genuine respect. Acting cannot be sustained and trust lost can never be regained. People are entitled to their opinions and if someone wants to criticize Islam they are welcome to do so but governments must be neutral. That way people don’t feel persecuted. Equality means equal protection. 

This is our choice. Our time is running out. We must act. We must act in concert because this concerns us all. We are all in it together.