Become a villager

Become a villager

In 1985, when I was studying at the IIM Ahmedabad, our Professor of Organization Behaviour (OB) Area was Prof. Pulin Garg. One day he told us a very interesting story which has remained in my mind all these decades. He told us that some years earlier Ford Foundation, the American NGO, did a project to help village farmers to enhance crop yields by using metal plowshares instead of their traditional wooden ones.

They adopted one village and set up their experimental and control plots. The experimental plots were plowed using metal plowshares, made from cast iron, while the control plots were plowed in the traditional way using wooden plows. They monitored the crops over three cycles and proved to the villagers that simply by using the metal plowshare, their yield would be enhanced by over 20%. I won’t go into the scientific details of why this happens here but will suffice to say that this benefit was made clear to the villagers. 

The day before they were to leave the village to return home, the Ford Foundation people called for a meeting with the village Panchayat and asked them if they were happy with the experiment and believed that the use of metal plowshares would benefit them. The Panchayat members and all the villagers agreed that they had watched this experiment and had no doubt about the benefit of the metal plowshare. The Ford Foundation people were delighted and as a parting gift, gave the village enough metal plowshares for all the farmers. The villagers were very grateful and thanked them profusely for their generosity.

Three years later, Ford Foundation returned to the village to assess their project to see how successfully it was functioning. To their complete astonishment they discovered that nobody was using the metal plowshares. They asked the Mukhya (head of the Panchayat) what had been done with the plowshares that they had gifted the village with. They were taken to a storage hut and shown the plowshares, wrapped in sacking, stacked in one corner.

 ‘They are safe Sir’, said the Mukhya.

‘But why are you not using them. We came all this way to teach you this better way of farming. We proved to you that this way is better and you all agreed. We gave you the plowshares as a gift so that you wouldn’t need to spend any money to buy them. But you are still not using them, why?’

‘Sir we are so grateful to you for coming all the way from America to teach us. You are big people. We are nothing compared to you. Yet you took all this trouble for us. You are Mahan (great) people. We are very grateful to you.’

The Ford Foundation project leader tried his best to get an answer out of the Mukhya but any Indian who knows our culture and the trouble we have with direct rejection or criticism will understand, he got nowhere. This is where my professor came into the picture. When he heard this story, he offered to go to the village and find out what was really going on. Ford Foundation needed an answer for their project report, so one afternoon Pulin arrived in the village. Let me tell you in Pulin’s own words, what he told us about this entire incident.

‘I arrived in the village and the Mukhya welcomed me. Naturally we don’t simply start asking questions as soon as we arrive. So, I drank the water they gave me, then tea. I was honored by being invited to stay with the Mukhya in his home, but opted for an empty house which they used for guests (usually Revenue Department officials) because when a stranger stays in a Jat home, it is a lot of hardship on the women, who are in purdah (veiled). I had a bath and changed into a new dhoti (Prof. Pulin Garg always wore a dhoti, even in the IIMA) and we met for dinner. We chatted about everything under the moon except the Ford Foundation experiment. They knew why I was there, but the propriety of the culture must be maintained. You don’t ask the guest any questions and the guest will not tell you why he is there until the basic hospitality is over.

After the evening meal was over, we sat and smoked a hooka when I opened the topic. ‘I believe the Americans were here to show you some new farming ways!’

‘Yes Sir, such nice people. They came all the way from America to teach us how to plow our fields.’

‘What did they do?’

‘They took two fields for their experiment………….(he gave Pulin a detailed description of the entire experiment and admitted that the yield was 20% higher with metal plowshares)
‘Are you happy with what they showed you and are you using the new plowshares?’

‘Sir, we are convinced that their method is superior but we can’t use the metal plowshares.’

‘Why can’t you use them? Is there any problem with the design? Is it difficult to use them? What is the problem?’

‘Sir, there is nothing wrong with the design and it is not difficult to use them. But we have another problem if we use them.’

‘What problem?’

‘Sir, we have a family of carpenters in our village. If we use the metal plowshares, they will lose their livelihood. So, we decided to remain with our traditional method because their well-being is our responsibility.’

Pulin told us, ‘Then I made the biggest blooper of my career. I spoke to them like a management consultant. I said to them, ‘But that is simple. You will get a 20% higher yield. Out of that just pay them what they normally earn by sharpening your wooden plows.

The Mukhya looked at him with a mixture of amusement and pity and said, ‘Sir you are one of us but you don’t understand us. Forgive me for saying it, but you are not in touch with your village. We can’t do what you said.’

‘Why not?’ Pulin was not one to accept defeat so easily.

‘Because Sir, they are artisans (Kareegar) not beggars (Bhikari). We can’t simply give them money and they won’t take it. It is not a matter of money. It is a matter of dignity and pride. Izzat ka sawal hai Sir. They are our brothers and we can’t do this to them.’

Pulin said to us, ‘This was one of the biggest lessons I learnt in my career of consulting about the importance of culture in acceptability and applicability of solutions.

The lesson for me when I heard this story over 30 years ago was even more importantly in the context of our interpersonal relationships. Over the years and decades this lesson has only become more and more clear, more and more urgent. That is why I believe that we all need to become villagers. Naturally I don’t mean that in a literal sense of going back to living in villages and farming the land, though let me say that it would be a wonderful thing to do if we could. I mean that we need to start thinking as villagers; at least like the villagers in this story. Thinking about others, as a part of us.

Let me explain. There are three principle differences between village and urban life. A village is a living being. It is whole. It functions by interdependence and understands how every element fits into the larger scheme of things for the whole village to prosper. In a village everyone has a place and every place is valuable and appreciated. The three elements of being a villager are to think in terms of:
  1.       Mutual responsibility
  2.           Mutual liability
  3.       Mutual accountability

This produces a sense of community which is expressed in terms of shared feelings and reactions i.e. Gaon ka beta ya gaon ki beti (child of the village), Gaon ki izzat (dignity of the village) etc. That is why it is only in a village that you have a Panchayat. Mutual decision making by a group of respected elders (not necessarily in age, though age does play a part in selection to the Panchayat, all other things being equal) who are trusted to consider the welfare of the whole village when deciding a matter.

I know that what I am saying here doesn’t cover the issues with caste discrimination but I beg your indulgence and request you to consider this as an example, which may differ somewhat from reality but still holds true. The difference in terms of caste privilege and discrimination is something to be addressed and eliminated to get to the true benefit of what I am describing here.


Cities and urban living on the other hand are the embodiment of the modern individualistic society that we have created for ourselves, much to our own detriment. It is not to say that everything about a city is bad. It isn’t. But one sure characteristic of the city is that it is all about individualism. Of disconnect between people. Of people living on their own, without concern for those around them, imagining that they are free of them and owe them no responsibility. The biggest icon of this mentality are the thousands of expensive houses in cities surrounded by abject poverty. How can anyone build and live in a million dollar or billion dollar house in the middle of abject poverty, unless he feels no connection at all with those living in squalor all around him? This is not an indictment of the individual but of the urban mentality. The tragedy is that there are thousands of such houses in Mumbai, Dhaka, Johannesburg and almost every other city, which are far removed from their neighbors.  They are like fortresses in hostile territory and can’t exist without electric fences, guard dogs and security agencies. Huge disparities in wealth that don’t produce discomfort or compassion or concern for those who don’t have enough are a typical product of urbanization.

The reason I mentioned this is to draw your attention to my contention that the problems of our world today are the result of global urbanization. It is the ideology of urbanization, not so much about real cities. Even villagers seem to aspire for it. This is the outcome of urbanization in the mind, the unbridled growth of individualism without any concern for the other, the neighbor, even the family. Suicide is a very common cause of death of wealthy singles in America and Japan and the cause of that is loneliness – the other face of individualism.

We have all heard the term, ‘Global Village,’ which refers primarily to the fact that thanks to technology, distances have shortened and communication has become much faster. While this may be a way to look at things, in my view, it is more useful to look at the term ‘village’ in the more fundamental sense of what it is that makes a village, a village. It is not size, but identity, mentality and relationship. It is not affluence or size. I have stayed in very affluent villages in Northumberland in the UK and very small cities in the United States. I was the defacto ‘headman’ of a ‘village’ on the bank of the Berbice River in the Amazonian rain forest, in Guyana. It is how you think, feel, relate and see yourself in relation to others, that makes you a villager or a city dweller.


Globally speaking, if we look at our problems today, they are all related to lack of compassion, not lack of resources. We have enough wealth to ensure that not a single person goes to bed hungry, every child is guaranteed basic education, every home has clean water and electricity and every person has access to good healthcare. But instead we have 62 people whose net worth is more than the combined assets of 50% of the rest of the world. We have countries which over produce grain and dump it into the ocean while there are other countries which have millions living on the edge of starvation or starving. We have countries which are unable to produce food to feed their own people while we have others, where farmers are paid to leave their fields fallow so that the price of grain doesn’t fall due to over production. We know about EU’s butter mountain.

It is price, which drives decision making. Not compassion or concern for those whose need for survival must surely be more important than making money. We have countries whose defense (really offence, but called defense) budgets exceed their budgets for education, healthcare, elderly care, scientific research and housing, combined. This means that the country invests its assets in destruction instead of construction. That this is the case of even some of the poorest countries on earth, is an indicator of the individualistic mentality that I am talking about. Decisions are made to help the rich to get richer, not to alleviate suffering or develop those who need development.

I believe that it is necessary for us to become villagers.

You may say that this is easier said than done. That is the usual reaction I get when I say these things. But my response is very simple. I ask you, if I were to ask you, ‘Show me a way in which we can create a world where just 62 people will own more wealth and assets than 50% of the rest of the world’, you would say that I was crazy. You would say that this was absolute nonsense and simply couldn’t be done. Yet that is exactly what we have managed to create and that too in less than 100 years.

It is my contention that if we change our focus from individualism to concern for one another, reversing this situation is not difficult at all.

The change must begin in the home. It must be reflected in how we treat our neighbors, especially those not related to us directly or indirectly. It must be heard in our conversations. It must be seen in our manners. It must be a heading in our budgets; spending on others. It must be felt by anyone who comes into contact with us.

Being a villager begins by getting rid of strangers by making friends with them. In a village everyone knows everyone else. That is why there is very little crime in our ideal village. Crime is difficult because you don’t steal from friends and you can’t escape from those who know you. So, get rid of strangers by getting rid of strangeness. Make friends. Friendship is built on trust, so build trust. The nourishment of friendship is giving and in that everyone receives. So, give. Make it a habit, to give something to someone every day. It is not about money or material giving. A smile is a gift. Opening a door is a gift. Offering to help is a gift. Sharing food is a gift. Believing the best about your neighbor is a gift. Give gifts, because this brings hearts closer.

I submit to you that we need to see the term, ‘Global village’, not as a statement of what we are but of what we need to become. We need to go back to our beginnings and become villagers and shed our urban covering. We need to meet each other, recognize each other, appreciate each other and acknowledge how each one of us is essential to the other for him or her to fulfill their lives. This is not philosophy or wishful thinking. This is the reality. It is only when we understand how we need one another that we can hope for global peace and harmony. When the head pains, the whole body feels the pain. That is what we need to realize, that we are one body. It’s time we see this.
Arsonist or Fire Fighter

Arsonist or Fire Fighter

This world is a coin. It has two faces. Both joined together but both different; often the opposite of one another. I am speaking about social media, the coin which on one side has convenience, communication and companionship and on the other, lies, ignorance and hatred. Both made possible by technology which like all technology is value neutral. What we forget is that technology is a knife, which in the hands of a surgeon, can save a life, while in the hands of Macbeth, took one.


One of the plagues of our times is what is being called ‘Fake news’. News with a spin has been around for a long time. The days when journalists were the conscience of society, warriors for justice and the shield of the downtrodden, are long gone. Most journalists are today the willing slaves of their employers and news channels are really ad agencies creating sales spiel. Truthfulness, veracity, integrity and courage have all been sacrificed at the altar of TRP ratings or political leanings. Spin doctors rule the roost. Sales figures are the ultimate criterion for all decision making. Truth be damned.


I am reminded of the story of a farmer named Donaldwho had a donkey which was old, stubborn and lazy. The man got so sick of that donkey that he decided to sell it. Sunday was the market day and so he took his donkey to the market to sell it. As Donald was standing there, a man came and asked him, ‘How much for this donkey?’

Donald replied, ‘One hundred dollars.’

‘It looks like a fine donkey. Good, here’s the money. Let me have him.’

‘Please wait a minute’, said Donald. ‘I am an honest man. I must tell you about this donkey before you take him home. He is old, stubborn and lazy. If you still want him, he is yours.’

The man looked at Donald and said, ‘There are very few people like you in the world, who have the integrity to speak the truth even at their own cost. I greatly appreciate your honesty and will always remember this meeting of ours. Let me see if I can find another donkey. I don’t think I can afford this one.’

This story repeated all day. At the end of the day, Donald had a host of pleasant memories of the good things people told him but he still had his donkey. Sadly, he started to wind his way home with his donkey on its lead.

As he was about to leave the market area, a man came up to him and said, ‘Sir, I am an agent. I sell livestock. I have been watching you all day. I appreciate your honesty but please allow me to tell you that you, will never be able to sell that donkey. I suggest instead, that you allow me to sell the donkey and I will charge you a 10% commission. I am a professional and I have a very good track record. You can ask anyone about me.’

Donald was happy to hear this but said to the agent, ‘I am happy to accept your offer, but I have one condition. You must tell the people about this donkey. I don’t want anyone to buy this donkey under any false impression. It is old, lazy and stubborn and I want whoever buys it, to know this. If you are willing to accept this condition, then I am willing to accept your offer.’ The agent agreed to the condition and promised to pick the donkey up the following Sunday.

Next Sunday the agent arrived early in the morning and led the donkey away to the market. A little later, Donald also decided to go to the market so that he could take the sale proceeds from his donkey and buy another one, because he needed a donkey for his work. As he arrived there, he saw the agent standing on a soap box, with many donkeys tethered behind him and a big crowd of people surrounding him. The man was auctioning the donkeys. Donald joined the crowd, standing at the back where he could get a place.

‘Ladies and gentlemen’, shouted the agent. ‘You saw those before you, buy some excellent donkeys. Many of you bid for them but couldn’t get them. But please don’t worry, I now have a donkey for you which excels them all. But before I open the bidding, please allow me to tell you something about this exceptional animal. He is so special that I hesitate even to call him an animal. He is the greatest donkey that I have ever known in my long years in this profession. He is a donkey with three very special qualities. The first quality is that he has a lot of life experience. He has seen life. He has seen its ups and downs, its joys and tragedies. He knows the morning mists and orange dusks, the turn of the seasons and the fall of rain. He has seen kings and kingdoms, rise and fall and through all this, he learned, he reflected and he accumulated wisdom. As I said, he has a lot of life experience.

His second quality is that he has a mind of his own. He is a willing servant, not a slave. If you say, ‘Jump’, he won’t ask, ‘How high?’ He will ask, ‘Why?’ But once you convince him, nobody can jump higher than he can. What is the good of wisdom if you don’t use it? That is the motto of this donkey; If you have it, use it. He has it and he uses it.

His third quality is that he knows the meaning of leisure. He knows that all work and no play make Jack a dull boy. Believe me, this donkey is anything but dull. He is spontaneous, humorous and energetic. He knows the importance of relaxation, of meditation and of sleep. There is much that you can learn about your own lifestyle by being in the company of this donkey. For this reason, because we have a very special donkey, I propose we start the bidding at $200.’

Donald was delighted. ‘How fortunate I am’, said Donald to himself. ‘I need a donkey and here is one that seems so full of great things that I must have him.’ The bidding was rapidly going on. Donald joined the bidding and finally the donkey was sold to Donald for $400.

When Donald went to pay the agent, and collect the donkey that he had bought, to his utter disgust, he saw that it was his own donkey that he had bought. He was livid. He said to the agent, ‘You deceived me. You didn’t speak the truth.’ The man replied, ‘But I did. I just said it differently. You said the donkey was old; I said that he was experienced. You said that he was stubborn; I said that he was wise and so needed to be convinced about the need to do your bidding. You said that the donkey was lazy; I said that he knew the value of leisure. How is that lying or cheating?’ Donald was stumped.


Just as our audience is stumped, when our journalists today, spin their yarns and tell their tales in ways that make history vanish and mythology real. They make numbers jump through hoops to show economic growth where there is only ruin and despair. They conduct investigations without police, trials without judges and executions without the hangman, all in their media rooms or newsprint. They are artists and their canvas is the lives of people and nations. Their paint is the blood of innocents diluted with the tears of children who don’t even understand what is going on. They win Pulitzer Prizes for photographs of the starving, the dying and the dead. They make millions, are applauded and toasted, while the starving, starve and the dying, die. Change is not on the agenda. Only TRP ratings and paper sales.

But I am not talking about this. I am talking about another kind of calamity that has befallen us, which is in the hands of everyone with a camera phone. The calamity of fake news. Videos are made and then attributed to others to convey a specific message. A message of hatred. Some of the videos are of real events but are attributed falsely; like the video of Pakistani boys rejoicing at the Pakistani team’s win in an India-Pakistan cricket match. This was spread on social media saying that it was Indian Muslims rejoicing at Pakistan’s win and so it proves that they are anti-national traitors.

Or another of a young woman who was beaten bloody and then set on fire, claiming that she was a Hindu girl who had married a Muslim boy and was being punished for that. Actually, it was a scene from Guatemala where the girl was a member of a motorcycle gang which murdered a man and ran away. The girl got caught and was summarily executed by a mob, with police standing mute witness. Despicable as it is, it was not something that happened in India at all. But it was used to ignite Hindu Muslim hatred. There are many others to the extent that this has become an epidemic which like all epidemics takes its toll. The resultant hatred that has spread all over India is cause of real concern. It is therefore time to sit up and take note.

https://youtu.be/-C0eEvRAyyw Here is someone who made a video about fake news.

What must be done to combat this epidemic of fake news? Here are the steps:

1.   Never forward anything until you have verified its source and are certain about what it really is. For this check http://www.snopes.com/ and http://www.hoaxorfact.com/ and http://altnews.in/

2.     If you still can’t find out if the message or video is fact or fake, DON’T FORWARD IT.

3.     Once you find out the truth, ask yourself why you want to forward it at all. What will happen because of your forwarding? What will happen if you don’t forward it?

4.     Then take a conscious, responsible and informed decision to forward or delete.

5.     Forwarding with the disclaimer, ‘Forwarded as received’, shows that at best you are highly irresponsible and at worst, a mischief maker. In both cases, not fit to associate with. So please think about this before blindly forwarding things.

6.     If you get fake news and have the time to check its veracity, then please inform all you can that it is fake and what the real news is. Let the liars be exposed.

Remember that fake news is a living media and your forwarding, is its oxygen. Stop forwarding and it dies. People who create or propagate fake news (and you may unwittingly be one of them) are like arsonists who go around setting fires. Remember that all fires burn and the result is always ash. It doesn’t matter who set the fire or why. Fire fighters are moral, sensible and responsible and put out fires. 

Ask yourself if you are an arsonist or a fire fighter.
We are living beings, not binary code

We are living beings, not binary code

In today’s world, one of the things that I am most conscious about is the need to connect with the land. In my case, that means forests. Urban living has ripped out the connection we all had with the earth and left us with a lifestyle which is deceptive and artificial. Millennials are addicted to tech gadgets, not to the sound of birdsong early in the morning. Many have never smelled the first rain on parched earth, a perfume which the Attars (perfume makers) of old captured in an Atar (perfume) called Atar-e-Gil or Mitti Atar. Many don’t know the feel of good loamy soil in their hands or the pleasure of planting a tree and then watching it take root, grow and flower, over the weeks. For many eggs come from the grocery store, not from chickens with a personality and clear likes and dislikes of places and people, which they don’t hesitate to make known. I can go on but this will suffice. I believe it is critically important for us to change that and get people to smell the earth, listen to the forest and feel a sense of companionship with those who inhabit the earth with us. As we are headed into global warming and environmental destruction, I can’t help but feel that this is because most of us don’t even know what we are losing or what an unspoiled environment looks and feels like. What we don’t understand, we fear and what we fear, we destroy.

All through my childhood and youth, 1960’s & 70’s, I spent as much time in the forests as I could which enabled me to indulge my deep and abiding interest in wildlife and ecology. I had three of the best teachers that one could hope for to learn jungle craft from. People who loved the forests, had a wealth of knowledge about them and had the patience and affection to convey it to a young boy. They were Capt. Nadir Tyabji, Nawab Nazir Yar Jung and my dear Uncle Rama (Venkat Rama Reddy). All were more than twenty years my senior but that has always been my situation, friends who are older and wiser from whom I learn all the time. I owe them a debt of gratitude and remember them with boundless respect and love. They invested countless hours in me for no material return and taught me lessons which fall into place to this day, fifty years later. It is a very rare privilege to have mentors like them and I am forever grateful.

From Nadir uncle I learnt to observe quietly without disturbing what I was looking at. I learnt from him the amazing variety of living beings that live in harmony with one another in a small little pond. I learnt a lot about birds, their nesting habits, their camouflage techniques and that the term, ‘free as a bird’ is a figment of the imagination. Birds are often so tied down to their environment, often a single species of tree, that if that tree dies, so does the bird. Out of this, I learnt to appreciate not one or two selected creatures but the whole spectrum of trees, insects, birds, reptiles and mammals that make up our environment. This was at a time when to get to the nearest pond with some undisturbed rocks and bush around it, took all of ten minutes walking.

I was able to appreciate the importance of not upsetting this balance and what happens when in our endless greed we thoughtlessly destroy our environment. I saw that pond, the rocks and scrub forest around it, listened to the cooing of doves in the trees, saw the jacana with her chicks skipping on the lily pads. I saw the mongoose come out of her den in the rocks and look at me, unafraid because she had seen me so often and knew that I posed no threat to her babies. I heard the cawing of crows and the endless chatter of sparrows. I saw the hoopoe swoop down from the sky onto a patch of grass and dig for worms with his sharp beak, raising his crown from time to time, to remind the world of who he is. Some years later when I returned to Hyderabad, I tried to visit that pond. I say tried to visit because to be able to visit, the object of your visit needs to be there. It wasn’t. The rocks had been blasted to make concrete. The pond had been filled in, the trees cut, the grass ground underfoot into dust. The mongoose, the jacana, the doves and hoopoe, even the crows and sparrows, all gone, never to return. What I saw was a tar road, a concrete high-rise building with climate control (meaning, no windows) and the whir of traffic. Was that the worst of it or was it that there was nobody to mourn their passing?

From Nawab Nazir Yar Jung (we called him Nawabsab) I learnt the basics of self defense, shooting, training dogs and horses and jungle craft. He taught me how to train dogs for tracking, retrieving and guarding. I was learning from a man who had an international standing in his art and I was very conscious of it. What I was also learning in the process of training dogs and horses, which I was not conscious of then, was about myself, my strengths, weaknesses, fears, hopes and emotions. Dogs react to facial expressions and unconscious movements and mannerisms and their performance depends on the clarity with which a command is given. To the man, it may appear that the command is the word alone. But to the dog it is a combination of sound, expression and the slightest movement all together as one. So, if you are not conscious of yourself, then your dog will always be confused because your command comes across to him differently each time. Today, when I teach presentation skills or facilitate meetings I recall these lessons in self-awareness and the power of synchronizing yourself in thought, word and action. Dogs taught me how to deal with people.

Uncle Rama taught me more than I can possibly list here. He taught me the meaning of responsibility and accountability. He taught me to take care of myself in a hostile environment. He taught me to be at peace with the forest, to connect with the stars and to respect the animals we occasionally shot for the table. Hunting was not a sport. It was something you did only for necessity and with a sense of deep thankfulness for the fact that the animal gave its life for you. Hunting was a contest between man with his weak senses and a good rifle and the animal with his speed of response, his highly tuned senses, his intuition and his enormous knowledge of his environment. It was not only an equal contest but was usually in favor of the animal. That is when you played fair. This means that you tracked the animal on foot, in daylight. Not when you used a high-powered searchlight to blind it in the night and then did target practice. That I was taught, is the most despicable, dishonorable and shameless thing that you could do. And so, I never did it.

All these were ostensibly lessons in anything but work. But in reality, they were lessons in character building, life skills, influencing, social dynamics, self-awareness and understanding which have stood me in very good stead all through my life and which are the backbone of my profession of leadership training.

I became very skilled in jungle craft and could stalk game in silence over long distances. I could camouflage myself and stay hidden and unobserved and walk a trail and tell the signs of creatures that had walked that path ahead of me. The more I knew about an animal the more likely I was to be able to track it down and shoot it. So, I studied, talked to people who were knowledgeable, and observed. My observation became very good and so did my ability to listen to and analyze sounds. In the Indian forests, home to large and potentially dangerous mammals, this knowledge can often mean the difference between life and death. As I learned more about forests, I enjoyed my time in the forests even more and looked forward to the holidays when I would get on a bus and travel to Nirmal, change buses for Khanapur and Pembi and then walk the last four kilometers to Sethpalli.


Uncle Rama was like a father to me and he would give me a royal welcome. He used to call me Nawab and treated me like a king. That I was a fifteen-year-old schoolboy meant nothing to him. To him I was his friend, who he treated as an equal. As soon as I arrived, covered in dust, I would go off to the well at the edge of the Tamarind trees, which shaded the house on the riverbank. There I would stand in my underwear and one of the farm workers (usually Shivaiyya, my Gond tracker friend) would draw water in a bucket from the well and pour it over my head. Lots of soap, more water flooded over my head, and I would be clean as two whistles. Dressed in a lungi and banyan, I would sit on the charpoy opposite Uncle Rama under one of the Tamarind trees and he would tell me all that had happened since my last visit. While this was going on, his cook would bring a huge bowl of fried Chital meat and I would eat and listen to him. I had a vast capacity for eating meat and tender Chital was my absolute favorite. Uncle Rama knew that I was Muslim and would not eat anything not slaughtered in the Islamic way. So, he used to take one of his Muslim workers, Noorullah, with him when he went hunting. Once the animal was down, Noorullah would go and slaughter it by cutting the throat and saying: Bismillahi Allahu Akbar. Such was the consideration we were taught to observe for one another.

I loved jungles. I loved hunting and I loved Uncle Rama above all else. So, every holiday I would go off to Sethpalli. Sometimes Uncle Rama would be in town (Hyderabad) at the time my holidays were about to begin. He would call and say, “Kya Nawab, chalna hai?” And off we went. He had a BSA motorcycle (350 cc). He would ride with a .12 bore shotgun slung across his chest and a bandolier of cartridges and I would ride behind him with a .22 bore rifle slung across my back.

How can I describe the excitement as I rode behind Uncle Rama with the wind in my face? Those were the days before helmets were invented; before there were any Naxalites in those forests and before it became illegal to hunt. So off we would go from Hyderabad to Sethpalli, via Nirmal and Khanapur. All names that conjure up wonderful memories of a childhood that today no child can even dream of. This is the price we have paid for what we like to call ‘development’.

As we went along, Uncle Rama would stop by a road side water tank. These tanks were an integral part of the irrigation network of Telangana, which does not see too much rain. Every village had its tank. When maintained, they harvested rain water, enhanced the water table in the village and provided water to irrigate the fields so that in most years people were able to harvest two crops. The tanks had fish and attracted water birds, both of which added to the villager’s diet. And they were very beautiful. Today they have been allowed to silt up. The dams are ruined. The entire irrigation system has been allowed to collapse with nothing else to replace it. Some of them have been encroached upon and people have built houses and shops on the tank bed, which is illegal of course. Alas, when the grease hits the palm in India, anything is possible. The result is drought, uncultivated lands and in years when the monsoon fails, starvation, and farmer suicides.

Uncle Rama would park his motorcycle by the roadside and we would get off, un-sling the guns and sneak up the embankment of the nearby water tank. There, sure enough, we would find, Brahminy, Pollard, Comb (Nakta) ducks, or Teals. All floating in the reeds and feeding in the shallows. Uncle Rama was a master tracker and I learnt from him. We would crawl along the bank, just below the top, careful not to show a silhouette and when we were in range, I would fire first and he would take the flying shots as the ducks rose in flight. Usually, we would get our dinner before we reached home. We would arrive at the farm with the motorcycle festooned with ducks on either side.

The villagers also hunt ducks. The difference is they do it without firearms. In this part of the world, they don’t even have any bows and arrows, catapults, or any other throwing weapons. What they do is to take a round pot with a mouth big enough for the head of the hunter to go through and make two holes in it to see through. They then seal the holes and the mouth of the pot and float it among the reeds where ducks take shelter in the night. After a couple of days, the ducks get used to seeing the pot in their midst. Then on a moonless night, the hunter creeps up quietly, enters the water and inserts his head into the pot, making sure that his body is completely submerged. He looks through the holes in the pot and breathes the air trapped in the pot. To the ducks, it is still the same pot floating among the reeds. Then the hunter very quietly and gently approaches a duck and grabs its legs under the water, yanking it down below the surface. Done expertly, the duck simply disappears without trace. The man transfers the duck to his other hand and then approaches the next duck to yank it to its watery end. The only thing limiting him is the number of duck legs he can hold in one hand. On a good day, getting five or six ducks is not difficult. Some hunters wear a belt to which they attach all underwater ducks which considerably increases their game bag. These ducks were a valuable addition of protein in their diet as well as a means of earning some money. Human ingenuity is truly the best resource we have.

Khanapur was the first watering hole. The first serious one that is. We would stop for tea at one of the many road-side Dhabas and Uncle Rama would have fun talking to the owner in fluent Telugu only to see the look of total surprise on his face. Uncle Rama, due to his English mother, was himself white with blond hair. So, people naturally took him to be British. And when he spoke colloquial Telugu and Urdu fluently, they were shocked.

In Khanapur we would stop at his house which he never actually finished building. He’d started it in the hope that his family would live there with him. But his wife, a wonderful, cultured lady did not fancy the village life, so he never finished the house. It was still livable though and we would stop there for lunch. After lunch he would pull out a big bottle with a viscous liquid that looked like old engine oil. What it contained was the most delicious honey that I have ever eaten. Fifty years later that statement still holds true. It was so black and viscous because it was so old and high in sugar content that it was practically solid. This honey with butter was the dessert…blissssssssssssssssssss, which was followed by two hours of sound sleep. The idea was to wait for the heat of the afternoon to lessen before travelling. In summer the temperatures there would be in the high forties (north of 115 F), even though we were in the middle of the forest. To travel in that heat (especially on a motorcycle) was a good way to get sunstroke. All life comes to a standstill at midday and then people start to move again once the sun is on its way to rising in America.

In the evening, after a cup of tea we would leave for Sethpalli, our final destination, sometimes in the Jeep that Uncle Rama used to cache in Khanapur, or on the motorbike. This drive was the most exciting part of the whole trip as the road went through thick forests. Much of it teak plantations. Some original forest. A lot of bamboo thickets and Ber bushes; favorite haunts of wildlife ranging from Jungle Fowl who eat the berries and seed, to Gaur which graze on tender bamboo shoots to tigers who like to lie up in the shade of the bamboo which is not deciduous and remains green in the summer. A good place to look for tigers is bamboo bordering any small creek or even a dry stream bed (Nalla). Tigers love to lie in the relatively cool sand or in the water all through the heat of the day, shaded from the sun and prying eyes by the thick bamboo fronds.

The semi-deciduous forests of the Satpura Range are relatively open without much undergrowth. One of the reasons for this is also the annual burning that happens even though it is illegal. Shepherds and others set fire to the undergrowth and this burns off all the dry leaves on the forest floor causing minor damage to the large trees. That leaves the place open for the growth of new grass and shrubs. Deer and Gaur love this new growth as also the ash from the burnt logs which they come to eat. The ash is also excellent manure for the new growth and it grows lush and thick. As we drove through the evening, rapidly turning to night, we would often see herds of Chital, Nilgai, the occasional Sambar (they usually start moving much later after moonset) and Gaur lying or feeding in the open forest glades. Most were so used to the sound of traffic that as long as the vehicle was moving, they would simply look up to see what it was and then continue on with whatever they were doing. But if the vehicle stopped, they would immediately be alarmed and start to move away.

Uncle Rama used these trips to teach me from his vast knowledge of jungle lore. I learnt to distinguish between a male and female animal. To recognize one that was pregnant or nursing. To recognize their different moods and what the calls meant. Some raised in alarm, the belling of a Sambar; the barking of the Cheetal, hooting of the Langur sentinel who sees the danger before anyone else and on whose vigilance, they all depend. I learnt the meaning of a deer staring in concentration at one thicket and then stamping his fore hoof a couple of times before barking alarm. By listening to the belling of a Sambar in the night, I learnt to tell which direction he was looking in and how far he was from me. In forests that had many tigers and leopards, this was a very useful skill indeed.

So many things to learn. I learnt. I learnt. I learnt. And I loved every minute of it.

The big challenge we have today is to teach our children these lessons and help them to connect to the earth, to its inhabitants and to each other. We are living beings, not binary code. The earth is not at our mercy but waits and watches to see what we do. Then it will do what it has done in the past, to protect what is beneficial and to heal itself by ridding itself of that which is harmful. Our call to define ourselves.
It’s not my fault

It’s not my fault

 
On April 13, 1919, the 9th Gurkhas, 54th Sikhs & 59th Sind Rifles, on the orders of Col. Dyer, fired on an unarmed, peaceful crowd gathered to celebrate Besakhi at the Jalianwala Bagh in Amritsar. As a result, 1000 people died and perhaps three times that number were injured. Even though, the crowd was overwhelmingly Sikh, one of the platoons firing on them was the 54th Sikhs. The interesting thing is that Col. Dyer himself didn’t fire a single round. An even more interesting thing is that if one were to ask each of those soldiers why he fired, he would have given the same answer, “It’s not my fault. I was only following orders.”
 
The same thing happened to the Germans that led to the deaths of 6 million Jews and others on the orders of Hitler who personally perhaps never killed even a chicken. Stalin’s orders resulted in the deaths of 20 million Russians, not one of whom had the honor of meeting his Maker at the hands of Stalin. Today, as we watch in shameful silence, thousands of Rohingya Muslims are the victims of a genocide which is the latest in the long list of genocides with which the human race visits itself. Poor lemmings get the rap for being suicidal. Nobody is more suicidal than human beings. We are constantly engaged in attempting to send each other into the pages of history and so should be renamed from Human Beings, to Human-Were. That would also explain our inherent brutality and barbarism, which we have been taught to believe is an animal tendency and not worthy of humans. Mercifully no animals went to my school and so no loud protests were heard at this singularly blatant lie.
 
It is humans and only humans that kill for no reason, torture, rape and devise ever more innovative ways of causing harm to each other. I don’t think we should so easily give up this differentiator of our species to mere animals. No wonder that Hitler apart we have always glorified the perpetrators of genocide, like Alexander the Great (why The Great?) who slaughtered his way all the way from Macedonia to India. Julius Caesar who slaughtered a million Gauls fighting for their land, trying to keep it from being civilized by Rome and said, “Today was a good day.” Or Genghis Khan who did far more than these two genocidal maniacs put together, just for fun. Then we talk about the importance of peace. This is a bit of an aside but when you are writing your own articles which you publish on your blogs and don’t care who reads them, you can take this liberty without the fear of your article being returned by a recalcitrant editor.
 
To return to my theme, ask any of those who actually do the killing and you will get the same answer, ‘It’s not my fault. I was only following orders.’
 
You can observe the same attitude of ‘learned helplessness’, with those who fall into negative patterns in life, alcohol, smoking, narcotics or other addictions. They all have the same refrain, ‘It’s not my fault.’ But ask them who is suffering? Who is getting cancer and worse? Who is paying for it from his pocket as well as in more painful ways and you get reactions ranging from the sheepish look to anger directed at you, not recognizing that it is really directed at themselves. This is what leads to my hypothesis, which is that people don’t like to grow up.
 
We all follow the same life cycle. We are born, naked and helpless. If we were to be abandoned at that stage, we would certainly be dead in a few hours at the most. There is nothing we can do to help, defend or support ourselves. We are a piece of living meat. Nothing more. It is our external environment which protects us, sustains us, takes care of our every need and does so at its own cost. We learn to simply take it all as our birthright (sic!) without a word of thanks; firstly, because we are too little to say it and then later, because, well, it is my birthright, right? Our job as babies is to feel sad, glad, bad, mad and yell like hell if we don’t like it, content in the knowledge that someone will come to our aid. The fact that you are reading this is proof that they did. At this stage in life, that is the best strategy and frankly the only one as you are truly helpless. We also learn another lesson; that the external environment determines my happiness and so if I am not happy, it must have to do with the external environment. Also since the external environment is so critically important to my survival, I must obey, or I will perish. These are the lessons of childhood that we all learn.
 
I am reminded of the time when I went to an elephant training camp deep in the forest in the Indira Gandhi National Park in the Anamallais. There I saw an enormous bull elephant, tethered with a coconut fiber rope, to a stake driven into the ground. What I noticed about this animal, apart from his huge size and very dark color (I have never seen a bigger Asian elephant and he was almost completely black) was not only that it was tethered by this ridiculous rope which couldn’t possibly hold him, even if he simply decided to start walking away, but that the leg with which it was tethered didn’t move at all. It was as if it was paralyzed. The elephant, like all elephants, rocked back and forth as he stood, swaying to a tune only he could hear in his heart. In that process, he lifted his other feet. But the foot which was tethered stayed in the same place.
 
I knew the answer, but decided to check with the keeper, his Mahawat. I asked him if the elephant couldn’t rip out the stake or snap the rope and walk away if he wanted. The Mahawat laughed and said, ‘Of course Dorai. That silly rope can’t hold him.’
 
‘Why doesn’t he do it then?’ I asked.
 
‘Because he believes that he can’t. He believes that the rope is too strong for him to break.’
 
‘Why is that?’ I asked.
 
‘You see, when he was a young calf, we would tether him to the same stake with the same rope. At that time, he would fight with all his strength against the rope and squeal with rage when it wouldn’t snap and the stake wouldn’t yield. He was too small to break the rope then. Gradually over a few weeks, he learned a very valuable lesson. Valuable for us, otherwise we would never be able to train him. The lesson he learned was the rope is too strong to break and that we are stronger than he is. That lesson remains with him all life long, even when he is not a calf anymore. As I said, that is a very good thing for us. The day he realizes that his strength, which he uses to push down a full-grown tree to get at a succulent bunch of leaves on top can also be used against this rope and us, he will be free and we will have to run for our lives. But not to worry, he will never realize that. He will always be our slave.’
 
In the same way, it would have been no problem if our condition remained the same and we continued to remain one-year old all through life. But we don’t. We grow up physically, our environment changes, we change physically but the problem is that many, if not most of us, don’t change mentally and emotionally. So, we have forty-year-old bodies with four-year-old minds. That is why they say, ‘The difference between men and boys is the price of their toys.’ This is where the problem begins, not at forty years of age, but because we don’t learn the lesson that with a change in environment, new skills must be learnt, if you want to survive and grow. But our conditioning of decades comes in the way because we have learned to like this dependence on the external environment, the fact that we can blame everything on it, feel free to do whatever we like without taking responsibility for it and go through life imagining that as long as we have someone to point a finger at, we are not accountable.
 
Emotional maturity is the process whereby we break the cycle of infancy and accept the fact that we are adults. Not just physically but mentally and emotionally. This means that we accept responsibility for ourselves and our well-being as well as the responsibility for those whose lives we touch. We are aware of our strengths and of the fact that we are a fractal, the coming together of which, with others makes society whole.
 
To do this there is a critical step that one needs to take which is to understand his/her autonomy i.e. freedom to act according to our will. Simply put, that is not such a big deal. We are all happy to consider ourselves free to act according to our will. What some of us have trouble with, is to recognize that we are free to choose but every choice has a price tag. If we make a choice, we automatically pay the price. In the Vietnam war, American soldiers committed all kinds of horrific atrocities, napalmed entire villages and burned the inhabitants alive, dropped bombs like confetti at a party and did other things, too horrible to be written about here. All following orders. But the tragic fact is that it was not only the Vietnamese who suffered, but that after safely returning home, almost the same number of American Vietnam War Veterans died of PTSD, Agent Orange and other war stress related problems and suicide, as the number killed in Vietnam. The Vietcong didn’t kill them. They paid the price of obeying orders in Vietnam. A price which they didn’t consider when obeying those orders. But a price that was rung up at the till nevertheless. We must pay for what we buy. Always.
 
Autonomy is to understand this and to be very careful about what you buy, because sometimes the price is far higher than we can afford.
 
Truly it is said that all wars are the poor of one country killing the poor of another for the benefit of the rich of both. Only when soldiers understand this, will we have a world without war. The ‘excuse’ I am usually given when I say these things is, “Well if they shoot you and use their army to kill you, what choice do the poor people have?” I say that poor people, including you and me still have the choice of standing up and dying. Not lying down and dying. For dying, we will all do one day. The choice is how. It is not important whether you win or lose a battle. What is important is which side you fought on. The reality is that if enough of us choose to take positive, courageous stances this world will change.
 
Oppressors can’t function without supporters. Those fighting oppression, can. 
 
Even one person standing up for justice inspires a million others. Recall the iconic pictures of the one person standing before the tank in the long-forgotten Tiananmen Square. Yes, that still didn’t stop the massacre which the US, UN, U&Me have all chosen to forget. Yet that image lives on and inspires me at least. And I am sure many more. It is a tribute to people of courage that this was not the only such instance, photographed or not. So, to repeat myself, ‘Oppressors can’t function without supporters. Those fighting oppression, can.’
 
Autonomy is to understand that we, each one of us individually, is incredibly powerful. That all change begins with the individual person, man or woman. It is only when one person stands up, that others join. As in the case of Spartacus the Hollywood movie about the slave who fought the Roman Empire and eventually lost. When the slave army was defeated and surrounded, the Roman Commander announced, ‘If you give up Spartacus, your lives will be spared and you can go back to your former jobs (as slaves). If not, every one of you will be crucified.’ There was silence.
 
Then one man stood up and said, ‘I am Spartacus.’
 
Then another stood up and said, ‘I am Spartacus.’
 
Then a third and a fourth until the entire slave army stood up together and proudly shouted, ‘I am Spartacus.’
 
That is because Spartacus had changed, from being a person, to being an ideal, a goal worth dying for, a legacy worth leaving behind.
 
That is the power of autonomy.
 
I know that what I described above is Hollywood’s rendering and a liberal dose of imagination, but nevertheless it makes the point of what I am saying here, that when people choose to exercise their autonomy, good things happen, change happens, human dignity is restored and the world is a better place to live in.
 
And the alternative?
 
Keep blaming the world for your failures, your laziness and your inertia. Keep watching as someone just like you, is dragged off a United Airlines flight and tell yourself, ‘It’s not my fault. I am helpless. It is not the fault of those dragging him off either. They are only following orders. Nothing will change even if I stand up and walk out. Nobody will stand up with me. I will only miss my flight. Etc. etc.’
 
And United is not the only one. Other airlines are not to be left behind in ensuring the best customer service. https://tgam.ca/2fDfnAz
Stand in a queue at a bank in India and watch as an old man standing in the same queue ahead of you, falls dead. As they take the body away, move one place ahead. Do it quietly as if nothing happened. Don’t draw attention to yourself. Just move forward. After all, what can you do if someone just drops dead? What can you do when you also need to get into the bank to get your money out because your government decided to play games with your life’s savings? What can you do when you finally do reach the teller, he tells you, ‘Sorry we have no cash. We have run out of notes.’ It is not his fault, is it? It is certainly not yours. So, whose fault, is it?’ Stop asking stupid questions. Go home and come earlier tomorrow. After all you can’t rely on someone to conveniently die every day to give you a place ahead, can you?
 
Sit on your sit-upon, in your nice seat in the UN General Assembly and listen to the soul stirring speech of the President of the United States (no less) declaring that he is prepared to evaporate North Korea and wipe it off the face of the map. Try to imagine what the world map will look like with a blank space where North Korea used to be. Try to imagine what the world map looks like today with North Korea where it is. North who? Try to imagine the effect of nuclear weapons today that make the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, look like party crackers. Remember that they were dropped also on the orders of another President of the United States of America – not ISIS. Try to imagine what will happen to Japan and China and Russia if North Korea is the target of a nuclear strike.
 
Ignore the voice which is whispering in your ear, “What do you think you should do now?”
 
“Who? Me?”
 
“Yes, you.”
 
“I have no orders from my government to do anything. Do you know who this is? This is the President of the United States of America. Even more importantly, it is Donald Trump, Esq. What will I do? Nothing. It is not my fault. I have to follow orders. I need my job. I am not here to change the world.”
 
“Then why are you in the United Nations General Assembly?”
 
Ignore it. Say nothing. Do nothing. Gradually it fades away. Gradually it dies. You will feel it in your heart. You will feel the dead weight. But not to worry. You will get used to it.
 
Just like those who sent children to gas chambers in Nazi Germany got used to it. Just like those who shoot a pregnant Palestinian mother in the belly and say, ‘Two in one’, got used to it. Just as those who are raping pregnant Rohingya women, then ripping open their bellies and throwing their unborn children into the fire, got used to it. Just like those police officers in India who shoot under-trial prisoners and call it an ‘Encounter Killing’ and are extolled in the Indian press and media as ‘Encounter Specialist’, got used to it.
 
That killing an innocent person is murder according to the IPC and CrPC which the same police officers are sworn to uphold, is a mere detail, best ignored. More important to ‘solve’ cases and save the State time and money which otherwise would be spent in tedious investigation, collecting evidence, producing it before the judge, arguing the case and waiting for the judgment; anxious all the while that it may go against you because your evidence was manufactured and not discovered. Meanwhile, the State pays for the prisoner’s housing and food (so what if that is in prison?). So much easier and cheaper to use one single bullet in the back of the head. And announce the next day to the ever-ready press, ‘Prisoner was killed in an encounter.’
 
After all, just like you, Mr/Ms. UN Delegate, all these people are also following orders. They also need their jobs. Strange, that they also have their own wives who they love very much. They also have children they dote on. Yet they don’t see the faces of those they love in those they oppress, rape and murder. To them, it is only their own flesh and blood who have names. Others are merely numbers, labels and objects of hate. If you don’t believe me, raise a chicken as a pet, give it a name that it responds to and then one day, try to slaughter it for dinner.
 
The very meaning of autonomy is to take a stand. To stand up and say, ‘No matter what orders, no matter that I need the job, no matter what anyone says, I will not be a part of injustice.’
 
It is to stand up and say, ‘There is a price to pay for standing up and a price to pay for keeping silent. I will stand up because I know that the price to pay for remaining silent is far higher.’
 
Remember the words of Pastor Martin Niemoller (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.”
 
Living is about choosing. To take a stand is a choice. To do nothing is also a choice. 
And all choices have price tags.
 

 

That is why I ask myself, “If not now, then when? If not me, then who?”
Walk the talk because people listen with their eyes

Walk the talk because people listen with their eyes

I listened and watched all that has been happening with respect to Nouman Ali Khan with great pain but in silence. Hoping that I would see justice prevail. Even more so because of those involved in this ‘duel’, if I may be allowed to use the term. Naturally the expectations of lay people like myself are higher when it comes to those who are defined as people of knowledge.

But what do I see, days after the breaking news headlines?

Allegations, insinuations, ‘advice’ which pretends to be objective but which is insinuation in disguise with only the name of the alleged offender missing. As a stupid, ignorant old fakir without any big name Islamic universities to my name, I must object. I have seen and listened (forcibly as people send me all kinds of ‘news’ items from FB of which I am not a member) enough.

On the authority of Abu Sa’eed al-Khudree (RA) who said: I heard Rasoolullah  say, “Whosoever of you sees an evil, let him change it with his hand; and if he is not able to do so, then [let him change it] with his tongue; and if he is not able to do so, then with his heart — and that is the weakest of faith.” [Muslim]

Rasoolullah didn’t leave us with an option. It is hand or tongue. Simply sitting by and watching the fun, even if you hate it, is not an option as that is a sign of a fatal spiritual sickness; the weakness of faith which Rasoolullah called, ‘weakest of faith.’ So, here is my two cents worth – not for you, the reader (you can take it or leave it), but as my witness to my Rabb to show that I didn’t simply sit and watch.

What is happening – my take on it.

A person, a teacher of Qur’an, is being accused of ‘inappropriate’ behavior with female students.
  1. What is the nature of this inappropriate behavior? Not known.
  2. What is the proof that it happened? Not known. I say this because whatever I saw is not evidence admissible in law.
  3. Who raised the complaint? Not the alleged victims. But someone else.
  4. Why did the one who brought the complaint in public, do so when the alleged victims didn’t? Not known.
  5. Was the complaint raised with any competent authority to deal with such complaints? Not known.
  6. What is the purpose of making public statements on FB and other social media? Not known.

I think this list is enough for the present.

What should have happened?
  1. The victims should have raised their complaint with the competent authority i.e. police, courts of law, Shari’ah courts, council of senior scholars, human rights authorities and so on. There are plenty of them available and the matter should have been raised with them.
  2. Evidence of wrong doing should have been presented to them.
  3. Action should have been initiated by them, if the allegations were proved right.’
  4. Reparations, compensation and punishment should have been awarded.
  5. Instead what happened and continues, we all know and so I won’t insult your intelligence and waste your time by listing it.

What must you (everyone other than the victims) do?

SHUT UP! And fear the Day when you will meet Allah.

What must the victims do? Please read what I have written above.

What should absolutely STOP right away?

Facebook posts, social media gossip, WhatsApp forwards and all the mudslinging that is going on, even though some of it is sought to be camouflaged as ‘good advice’.

Please remember that in Islam there is a law. And it is not to condemn and damage a person without proper evidence. In this case, the damage is done already. Whatever happens now can’t undo that damage, especially if it comes out that the accused was innocent. Those who caused this damage may like to contemplate on how they are going to answer Allah when they meet Him.

Please note that I am not defending anyone. I am talking about the methodology of dealing with complaints. Justice must not only be done but it must appear to have been done. I am sure you will all agree that in the case in point, justice has neither been done, nor is that any appearance of justice in this whole sad and sordid scenario. What is evident is loose talk at best and an evil intention to cause harm at worst. Allah knows what it is best.

What is also evident is the incalculable harm caused to the image of Islam, Muslim scholars and the whole work of Da’awatul Islam by the way in which this whole matter has been dealt with, by those who should have known better and by their mindless followers in forwarding messages and gossip. Everyone has been harmed, whether they were associated with this matter or not. Suspicion has been cast on the entire brotherhood of Ulama and the whole work of teaching Islam. Everyone has been tarred with the same brush. And the biggest tragedy is that we still have no evidence that the ‘prime accused’ actually committed any crime. Yet, he has been tried and condemned and punished and everyone like him by the actions of those who call themselves his ‘close friends’ and their followers.

Abu Hurairah (RA) said that Rasoolullah said, “Beware of suspicion, for suspicion is the greatest falsehood. Do not try to find fault with each other, do not spy on one another, do not vie with one another, do not envy one another, do not be angry with one another, do not turn away from one another, and be slaves of Allah, brothers to one another, as you have been enjoined.”

And Allah said:

Hujuraat 49:10. The believers are brothers (in Islam). So, make reconciliation between your brothers, and fear Allah, that you may receive mercy.

I know that I am preaching to the choir here, because there is not one single thing that I have said above that you don’t already know. I am still saying it because I think this reminder is necessary. I ask Allahto be my witness. Ask your heart because Rasoolullah told us that the heart of the Muttaqi is the best Mufti.

I don’t say that abuse of authority is not happening. It is and that too more widely than we like to admit. The victims of abuse are often shamed into remaining silent. The argument, ‘Allah will reward you and punish the offender’, is used to prevent them from going to the authorities. Offenders (Ulama) also misquote and misuse the Shariah to justify their wrong doing. I recall a case where a married man (A’alim) who used to teach at a Muslim school married a fifteen-year-old student. When he was confronted, he said, ‘Multiple marriages are permitted in Islam and the girl has attained puberty and is a consenting adult.’ I consider this a gross abuse of privilege and a distortion of Islam and its laws to suit the carnal desires of the man. The fact of the matter is that the girl’s parents didn’t send her to the school for her to be targeted by her teacher in a sexual way and even if he married her, that is not why she was sent there. His behavior violates all rules of decency, safety and privilege even if he can find some law in the Shariah to misquote to support his wrong action.

I totally agree that abuse of authority must be punished and in an exemplary way. But to do it like this, without proper evidence and by rumor mongering, only strengthens the hands of the offenders because when the evidence is not forthcoming or is not admissible, then they will claim that they had been wronged, when in fact they were the predators and not the victims.

Subverting justice can never serve the cause of justice. ⁠⁠⁠⁠