Saturday, January 19

Photo Essay: A panoramic London Rainy Skyline

I took this photo last week while on the 9th floor of a London City Building. The light was good but I did not have my good camera. This was taken with my mobile phone. Click on the thumbnail to get a bigger view.


It is a panoramic picture, 3 pictures.

On the left, you can see the spire of the Christ Church Spitalfields. In the far distance, just behind the angled crane, are the tall buildings of Canary Wharf and on the far right, you can see the Erotic Gherkin. What a miserable day!

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Nasrallah is keeping body parts

Now this was a bit puzzling to me, why on earth would you want to keep body parts under your bed? This guy is seriously sick. I quote:

"We have the heads, the hands, the feet and even a nearly intact cadaver from the head down to the pelvis," he said.

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Friday, January 18

Press Interview

Nai Duniya, Indore Edition, 26 December, page 1 and page 20. (Click on thumbnail to see full article). Interviewed at the IMS Alumni Silver Jubilee celebrations!

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Volume, liquidity, and liquidity risk

Interesting paper, made me go hmmm.

Timothy C. Johnson, Volume, liquidity, and liquidity risk, Journal of Financial Economics Volume 87, Issue 2, , February 2008, Pages 388-417.

Many classes of microstructure models, as well as intuition, suggest that it should be easier to trade when markets are more active. In the data, however, volume and liquidity seem unrelated over time. This paper offers an explanation for this fact based on a simple frictionless model in which liquidity reflects the average risk-bearing capacity of the economy and volume reflects the changing contribution of individuals to that average. Volume and liquidity are unrelated in the model, but volume is positively related to the variance of liquidity, or liquidity risk. Empirical evidence from the U.S. government bond and stock markets supports this new prediction.

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What happened to Buddhism in India?

I read this with great interest but also had many questions which arose and as I also received the same article in an email, I inquired about them from the sender.

The fact that Buddhism disappeared from India over a period of about 800 years is not in doubt. Starting right from the great days of Buddhism after Emperor Ashoka gave the most almighty push, a combination of incorporation within Hinduism, emergence of Jainism, the invasions of the Muslims, the sectarian splits between various Buddhists sects, etc. all meant that we do not see Buddhism in India as seen in other countries. But this theory that Brahmins and/or Hinduism eradicated Buddhism does not quite hold.

The theory by Naresh Kumar is quite an interesting story, but unfortunately not really catered for by valid references. I wouldn’t expect references in an opinion piece, after all it is not an academic journal article, but I would expect at least a nod given to the contradictory evidence as well.

For example, it was during the Buddhist times, around the 2nd century BCE, that the original Ashoka stupa at Sanchi was vandalized and then a bigger stupa built over it. I wonder who it was who restored the original Ashok Stupa? While, for example, it is well known that Pushyamitra Sunga was responsible for the destruction and had a hatred for Buddhists, this does not explain why his son would rebuild it. (Hint, check out Romila Thapar's work on this curious incident).

How about the White Huns and their impacts on Indian Buddhism? Their invasions had a huge effect on ancient Buddhism. As for welcoming Muslims as saviors, I am curious how he justifies the arrival of Mohammad Khilji and say for example the destruction of Nalanda, the premier Buddhist University?

And how about Harshvardhan, who was perhaps a bigger secular leader than Akbar himself with his tolerance and willingness to support multiple religions? Curiously, the author does not talk about say the Kalchakra Tantra (which can be said to have emerged as a reaction to the Muslim invasion) or even compare it to why Buddhism survived in Sri Lanka and not in India. Mind you, the argument can be extended to South East Asia as well.

Also, many Buddhist kingdoms were succeeded, especially in the west of the country, around the Gujarat and Malwa region, by Jain kingdoms.

How does that compute with the general overall hypothesis of the author? The author also seems to have ignored the rather large oral and written corpus over the concept of Buddha as a reincarnation of Vishnu. He talks about the Vishnu purana and says that the Buddha is the great seducer. Now this does not make sense, because according to the Vishnu Purana, Buddha is one of the 24 or 29 or 10 (depends upon which shloka you read) avatars. Now all I can presume is that because the previous avatar was Krishna, who was called as the great seducer, the author has gotten a bit confused between the avatars. I cannot understand how the author could say that the Buddha was said to be bad, when he is supposed to be an avatar of Vishnu.

I realize that the Buddhists and Dalits are trying to build up their own identity, but relying on wrongful views or misinterpretation of history will lead to two things. One is people chuckling at you and second is a weak identity. You don’t want either of these, so I would suggest that either the arguments about the disappearance of Buddhism in India be more factual or better researched, preferably both. And before you complain, I claim the Buddha as my own God as well, so don’t you tell me that it has nothing to do with me!

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Pirates board ship and claim to be from Greenpeace

So tell me something, if you board a ship, interrupt its business and create a safely issue, all about a ship which is going about its lawful business, you are a pirate yes? No? so what's the difference between these Greenpeace activists and these Somali Pirates? Not much difference, is there?

How about this? If the Somali Pirates climb on top of the Greenpeace ship and rob it, what will the headlines say? pirates robbing pirates? :)

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Who Are Pakistan’s Militants and Their Families?

More proof if needed that the brains behind terrorism are always those of educated people. The author surveyed 141 families of slain militants. Most died in Kashmir and I quote: seem to be ‘‘high
quality’’ militants in that they, like their heads of household, are well educated and not predominantly coming from seminaries, as is often claimed.

I further quote some interesting factoids from the paper:

  • Sampled shaheed households tended to be larger than Pakistani households on average. The mean shaheed household size was
    about 12 persons, whereas overall in Pakistan, the average household size is between 7 and 8 persons.
  • Together the 141 surveyed households yielded 200 members who became
    mujahids, averaging about 1.4 per household.
  • This survey found that generally, households were aware that their family member embraced jihad and most gave blessing/permission to the Shaheed!
  • The survey respondents were typically married, male, heads of household.
  • Only 17 (12 percent) respondents attended a madrassah among whom only 7 percent obtained a certificate (sanad) from the religious school. Generally, attaining such a
    certificate requires full-time attendance for at least two years. (The highest certificate requires at least 8 years of madrassah study.) This suggests that overall only about 4
    percent of the respondents attended a madrassah full-time.
  • While 27 percent had no formal education, 22 percent had less than a matriculation (a.k.a. ‘‘matric’’ or 10th grade), 22 percent had a matriculation but less than intermediate degree (12th grade), 16 percent had an intermediate degree but less than a degree (14 years, the equivalent of a BA), and 13 percent had some sort of post-secondary education. This suggests that overall, more than half of the respondents were matriculates.
  • In contrast, among Pakistani males generally, only 32 percent are matric graduates.Compared to these national standards, the respondents in the sample are considerably more educated than the average Pakistani male. This finding undermines the common aphorism that militants come out of environments of ignorance.
  • Overall, about 14 percent of the respondents in the sample had some form of military experience: 10 (14 percent) served in the army, 1 (1 percent) served in the navy; 2 (1 percent) served in a national guard component (e.g., Janbaz, Ansar, Mujahidin, Azad Kashmir Regiment, or Mehran Force); 1 (1 percent) served with the police and 5 (4 percent) served in some other (unspecified) security force. (BD note: this is way higher compared to normal security forces enrolment rates and goes to explain incidents such as this where retired army personnel are frequently found to be terrorists).
  • Sixty percent indicated that they are Deobandi, 22 percent indicated ‘‘Ahl-e-Sunnat’’ (which means simply ‘‘Sunni’’ and suggests an affiliation with Jamaat Islami), 11 percent indicated that they are Barelvi and 6 percent indicated Ahl-e-Hadith.
  • To further probe the religiosity of the households, the survey asked respondents whether any male or female members of the household attend (currently) dars-equr’an (Qur’anic study circles) or deeni majlis (religious gatherings). A significant number of respondents answered in the affirmative with 97 percent reporting that males attend such gatherings and 82 percent for females.
  • Overall the militants were young when they died. While the average and median age of death was 22 years of age, the youngest was 12 and the oldest was 52 years of age.
  • In sum, this suggests that religious gatherings (mosques, tabligh) account for about 44 percent of the shaheeds’ recruitment, 42 percent occurred through friends or family, and only 26 percent occurred through an educational institution (madrassah, public school)
  • some 58 percent of the shaheeds in the sample were matriculates and of those many had obtained further education. When one considers that throughout all of Pakistan, fewer than one in three males are matriculates and when one considers further that the bulk of this sample was derived from the NWFP where educational attainment is among the lowest in Pakistan, the males in this sample are extremely well educated, again underscoring the need to interrogate common assumptions that Pakistan’s militants are all uneducated, madaris products.
  • During author fieldwork in Pakistan over the last thirteen years, the author has also heard that families who have lost a family member to jihad enjoy better marital alliances for surviving sons and daughters. This can manifest in the form of marrying their children into higher status families than they would otherwise or it may take the form of increased dowry payments for boys (for those ethnic groups who practice dowry) and decreased amounts given in dowry when they arrange weddings for the daughters of a shaheed family. Contrary to expectation, only 17 (12 percent) households believed that their status in the community had improved as a consequence of becoming a shaheed family. Most (75 percent) respondents believed that their status in the community remained ‘‘about the same as before’’ and 10 households reported that their status was ‘‘worse off than before.’’
  • Respondents also reported any financial assistance they received from the community, shaheed’s tanzeem, and even the Pakistani government. While it was expected that most families would demur from answering this sensitive question, 19 respondents (13 percent) reported receiving financial support from the government and 61 (43 percent) admitted financial assistance from the tanzeem after the mujahid died in action.

Despite the obviously limitations of the study (small sample size, convenience sampling, leading questions....) the results are curious, eh? basically it shows that terrorism is well embedded into many sections of Pakistani society and it has become a profession. Just replace the word shaheed or terrorist with say an engineer or fireman, and no difference to the responses!.

Professionalism or what? The problem is not with the Madrassahs, but with the public schools of Pakistan, the Army and the general societal thought that jihad is perfectly fine as a profession. So it is not surprising when these medieval gits from Britain go off to Peshawar or elsewhere in Pakistan and then get trained as terrorists. Why are you surprised? there is a good household and welcoming society which supports this behaviour. When most terrorists are coming from public schools, what will you do to them? When a significant lot are coming from the Army, what will you do to them? When most terrorists have welcoming households, what will you do to them? When most terrorist households are rewarded financially by the government or the group, then what will you do?

Welcome to the home of terror.

JO - Terrorism and Political Violence
PB - Routledge
AU - Fair, C. Christine
TI - Who Are Pakistan's Militants and Their Families?
SN - 0954-6553
PY - 2008
VL - 20
IS - 1
SP - 49
EP - 65
AB - This article presents results of a survey of 141 Pakistani families of slain militants. This survey collected data about the militants and their households. While derived from a convenience sample, these data are unprecedented and offer a glimpse into the backgrounds of militants and the families who (mostly) supported their decision to join the jihad. Most militants served and died in Kashmir and seem to be “high quality” militants in that they, like their heads of household, are well educated and not predominantly coming from seminaries, as is often claimed. This analysis suggests that while the militants merit attention, so do the families that produce militants.

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From The Times of London: An open letter to readers of The New York Times

Fascinating! Freedom of speech, anybody? Specially in the heartland of Liberal thought?

January 17, 2008

An open letter to readers of The New York Times

Dear Friends,
I understand that your newspaper of choice has asked William Kristol, the conservative commentator, to provide an opinion column for the paper.
Since I am the op-ed editor of what you Americans call The Times of London, I have followed the controversy that the appointment has caused with great interest.
And with my mouth wide open.
Apparently many of you are outraged to hear of this new columnist. You have been writing in. And the Public Editor has written a column criticising the appointment.
Excuse me, but what on earth is going on?
A quality newspaper should have columns reflecting a wide variety of opinions, even those uncongenial to the majority of its readers. While the bulk of a paper's columnists may reflect the publication's character and view, there must always be space for an alternative opinion.
Thus, for instance, while my paper supported the decision to invade Iraq (which happened to be my view too), many of our columnists (in fact probably a majority) did not concur.
It would never occur to me when selecting an individual columnist to be concerned that some readers might not agree with some of his positions.
And considering that Kristol represents a large strand of American opinion (even if it is a smaller strand of NYT reader opinion) it is entirely unremarkable that his columns should be commissioned.
A great national newspaper is not a reality television show, subjecting its columnists to a telephone vote before running their columns. Nor is being hired to write a column equivalent to being appointed to the Supreme Court, requiring Senate confirmation.
Even when the column appears, drumroll, in the The New York Times.
The most remarkable aspect of this bizarre controversy has been the performance of the paper's ombudsman Clark Hoyt. Well, it was remarkable to me at least. Mr Hoyt argued that Kristol should not have been appointed (or at least that he, Hoyt, wouldn't have appointed him) because Kristol had been a fierce critic of the NYT, and had argued, at one point, that the paper should be prosecuted for an aspect of its coverage.
The job of a reader's editor, surely is to defend the rights of its readers, all of its readers. It is not to start picking a "Fantasy Columnist" team to reflect his own politics. What of people who agree with Kristol? Do they not deserve the protection of the reader's editor?   
And as for Hoyt's statement that:
This is not a person I would have rewarded with a regular spot in front of arguably the most elite audience in the nation.
Isn't this the most pompous sentence you have ever read in your life?
Anyway, you are fortunate that The New York Times carries many great columns. If Kristol offends you I have a brilliant technological solution.
Turn the page.
I wish you well from this side of the Atlantic.

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More evidence of British corruption in Saudi arms deals

See? what was the benefit of actually paying those rotten corrupt Saudi's? the benefit that we are getting is to be knocked off as corrupt, our reputation is mud. So dont tell me that it was for jobs. Its like saying, I steal because I need food. No, you dont need to steal and no, you dont need to bribe. These Saudi's are thieves and perhaps in their culture or whatever, to be corrupt is ok and accepted. That's fine, that's their business. But how does that explain that we are paying bribes?

I quote:

Fresh evidence that the Saudi royal family demanded secret commissions on arms sales emerged yesterday raising further questions about the propriety of Britain's dealings with the kingdom and the government's defence of them.

Documents seen by the Commons export control committee reveal Whitehall's concern about Saudi demands that "appropriately discreet arrangements" should be made to secure defence contracts.

A full tank of gas for the price of an icecream

read and weep!

There is a world where oil costs $100 a barrel, where motorists wince as they fill up the tank and where energy efficiency is a mantra.

And then there is Venezuela. At a Caracas petrol station last week, Gloria Padron, a paediatrician, ticked off items that would cost about the same as the 60 litres of fuel gurgling into her Land Cruiser.

"Let me think. A Magnum ice cream. A cup of coffee. A cheese and ham arepa [sandwich]. Small stuff like that. Can't say I've ever really thought about the price. Why would you?"

When a litre costs 0.7p, and filling the tank of a 4x4 costs 42p, it is a fair question. Petrol is so cheap here - reputedly the cheapest in the world - as to be almost free. Even under the artificially overvalued official exchange rate, petrol is 45 times cheaper than in Britain.

Thursday, January 17

Stupid or Outraged!

I so feel like this.

All this to be taken with a grain of piquant salt!!!

As Islamic banking takes off, new courses are being set up in the universities

Good Stuff. I quote:

It’s the fastest-growing sector of the banking industry, yet few City boys know much about it and hardly any finance students are being taught it. But Islamic banking’s mysteries are now beginning to be unveiled and just this last month a business school and an accountancy body have announced new postgraduate programmes specialising in it.

Teaching the complexities of the markets and the Byzantine mass of Islamic scripture is impossible in a year, so Bangor’s course will balance finance and Islam, with the emphasis on the first. “You have people who take the religious approach, where a lot of the debate is about the semantics,” says Phil Molyneux, professor of banking and finance and head of Bangor Business School. “We won’t be spending a lot of time on that.”

The new course has already attracted applications and interest from the Muslim world and even from non-Islamic financial hubs such as Hong Kong. Still, it is a fairly daring move. Most students are expected to come from overseas and the university faces stiff, and cheaper, competition from courses elsewhere, in particular the International Islamic University Malaysia.

Is one module enough? “We are not saying that a course is enough, but a Masters is too much,” says Dr Marwan Izzeldin, course tutor at Lancaster. “A Masters will limit their chances. There are still more jobs in traditional banking than in Islamic banks.” The course will be sufficient, he says, for graduates to work in the sector, analysing Islamic financial products.

All this to be taken with a grain of piquant salt!!!

Wednesday, January 16

Italian Medieval Torture at San Leo

I recently had the pleasure of visiting San Leo which has a brilliant collection of medieval torture instruments in the castle. I have a rather gruesome interest in torture (I blame my mother and then my sister; both of who take the utmost delight in applying that to poor old innocent victim me!). Anyway, there is not a good tourist or overview of this place (the torture museum and the dungeon) so I thought of writing a photo essay on this!

1. Castle San Leo

But first some shots of the castle itself: It is up on a cliff and looks brilliantly. (Pictures taken by my son!)

Its the tiny angular structure on the top left.

another distant view of the castle

Back end of the cliff

The edge of the cliff.

The village of San Leo on the left, the castle on the top and you can see the road on the bottom (Picture taken by one of Luca's guests from the USA, sorry, forgot the name, but will put in as soon as I get it)

Here's the road itself, clinging to the side of the cliff.

2. Inside the Castle

The high walls of the castle.

2 kids entering the castle!

top view of the road into San Leo!

Looking back over to the Village Villarosa

North East View of the countryside

West view of the countryside, you can see the village at the bottom just behind the trees in the foreground.

View of the north, you can see San Marino on the far left. (another photo essay on it coming up later on!)

That's a telescope, not a howitzer!, another view of San Marino.

And I found a butterfly trapped inside the fortress.

3. The Prisoner Cells

First the cells!

something to peek through to check on the prisoners! The stairs go up to the upper storey

There was no door to this cell, the prisoner would be dropped into the cell from the trapdoor from the upper storey.

That's the view of the trapdoor from below (they created a door to allow tourists to get inside the cell)

The bed, notice the wooden pillow?

Some of the windows to the prisoner's cells!

This is how the cell looks from inside

And a very embarrassed prisoner in another cell! (he is wishing his Baba was inside the cell!)

4. The Torture Museum

There is a small museum inside the castle.

The barrel. You would be locked inside the barrel as the lithograph on the wall shows and then left like that, wallowing in your own filth, you could be hung from those iron rings as well. Here's is another example.

The bottom bit contains a pillory or a mobile stockade. The top shelf has a bit more business like stuff. It seems to be something that you fit over the head and screw in till the spikes on the inside of the ring start hurting your cranium. Pretty much guaranteed to give you a good sized headache. It also resembles a Scold's Bridle.

On the top, you have a leather belt, which was again tightened around your head till you squealed or if you didnt confess to your crime, would keep on getting tightened till the cranium imploded. The lower shelf contains bog standard anklets and bracelets. The anklets have inward pointing teeth!

Now this was guaranteed to give you a crashing headache as well. Pretty clear what it was supposed to do, shove your head inside the space between the base and the upturned base, and your friendly neighbourhood torturer would rotate the handle on the top till your head is cupped in the depressions. Eye popping, eh?

Some more examples of stockades but this time they have teeth and screws.

Your standard beheading block and saw, to either lop off or saw off bits of your body.

Then comes the Judas Chair whose photo did not come out properly but the lithograph shows what it was supposed to do.

Another lithograph of a stockade.

Various bits ranging from a Scavenger's Daughter (2nd shelf from top), clawed scratchers, pincers, forceps, iron implements, a modification of cat o nine tails at the bottom.

Catherine or Breaking Wheel. Pretty much self evidentiary.

5. The Dungeon

Then we enter the dungeon!

the hanging cage, your naughty boy would be put in here and then the cage will be hung from a nice convenient location where he can be seen by all and sundry. They took their punishment seriously, no?

Notice the spikes at the waist height? So that you could not lean against the walls

And the spikes at the bottom so that you could not stand properly.

Then the rack. You lock the hands or ankles into the right stockade. Notice the small spikes on the bed? Not sure what was the function of the triangular funnel but I guess you could use it for many things.

Then tie the hands/legs using the rope and then away you go with the handle and stretch till your joints pop. The embedded spikes would, of course, give you a nice scratch all this time.

This was not technically a torture device but more an execution device. You sit down on the small step and your neck is inserted into that round loop. Then the handle is turned and a screw emerges and presses against your neck till your neck is broken.

Then this is your bog standard spiked chair. Funny, I find these chairs in every bank! A variant of an Iron Maiden?


a fragment of the plaster where prisoners and executioners had scratched their names and thoughts!

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Tuesday, January 15

Zimbabwe judge bemoans exodus

More proof is you still need it that people are voting with their feet on the great paradise republic of Zimbabwe. I quote:

HARARE - Zimbabwe’s most senior judge has bemoaned a mounting backlog of untried cases because of a staff exodus, saying the high court in Harare now only had one stenographer to keep records of proceedings.

Makarau said the delivery of justice was further hampered by a shortage of court transcribers with only one serving the high court in Harare and a second in the main southern city of Bulawayo.

She cited a case where a judge was at a loss what to do with a man accused of killing his brother after a drunken brawl.

During the the lengthy time the man was on bail awaiting trial, he assumed responsibility for his deceased’s brother’s family and fathered two additional children with the widow.

"How does society expect us to respond in such circumstances where the delay is in the system and no particular officer or office is to blame?" Makarau asked.

This is a warning, when the legal system breaks down, the society and country will break down as well!

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Monday, January 14

Mum performs a successful Caesarean section on herself

HOLY CHRIST! This took guts!

Ines Ramirez Perez and her son Orlando Ruiz Ramirez, 4, gesture in their home in the town of Rio Talea, Mexico. In March 2000, Ines cut open her womb with a kitchen knife her husband used to slaughter animals and delivered Orlando in her rural home after problems developed during labour. Inset: the knife she used. Photos: AP

Alone in her one-room cabin high in the mountains of southern Mexico, Ines Ramirez Perez felt the pounding pains of a child insistent on entering the world.

Three years earlier, she had given birth to a dead baby girl. As her labour intensified, so did her concern for this unborn child.

The sun had set hours ago. The nearest clinic was 80km away over rough roads, and her husband, her only assistant during a half-dozen previous births, was drinking at a cantina. She had no phone and neither did the cantina.

So at midnight, after 12 hours of constant pain, the petite, 40-year-old mother of six sat down on a low wooden bench. She took several gulps from a bottle of rubbing alcohol, grabbed a 15-cm knife and began to cut.

By the light of a single dim bulb, Ramirez sawed through skin, fat and muscle before reaching inside her uterus and pulling out her baby boy. She says she cut his umbilical cord with a pair of scissors, then passed out.

That was March 5, 2000. Today the baby she delivered, Orlando Ruiz Ramirez, is a rambunctious 4-year-old. And Ines Ramirez is recognised internationally as a modern miracle: She is believed to be the only woman known to have performed a successful Caesarean-section on herself.

In an interview at her isolated home, she described her experience in halting Spanish, accented by her native Zapotec language.

"I couldn't stand the pain anymore," she said. "And if my baby was going to die, then I decided I would have to die, too. But if he was going to grow up, I was going to see him grow up, and I was going to be with my child. I thought that God would save both our lives."

Although there were no witnesses available to confirm her account, the two obstetricians who examined her 12 hours after the birth are wholly convinced.

Dr Honorio Galvan and Dr Jesus Guzman were so stunned by what they saw that they told Ramirez's story at a medical meeting the following year. But the birth got little attention until it was reported in March in the International Journal of Gynecology and Obstetrics.

The doctors relied on the testimony of the village health assistant, Leon Cruz, who initially was summoned to help Ramirez and who described in detail what he saw when he arrived.

Ramirez said she thinks she operated on herself for about an hour before extricating her child and then fainting. When she regained consciousness, she wrapped a sweater around her bleeding abdomen and asked her 6-year-old son, Benito, to run for help. Several hours later, Cruz and a second health worker found Ramirez alert and lying beside her live baby.

Cruz sewed her 17-cm incision up with a regular needle and thread. The two men lifted mother and child onto a thin straw mat, lugged them up horse paths to the town's only road, then drove them to the clinic over two hours away.

KAC / Kashmir Center Announced the Results of International Essay Contest on Kashmir

Washington, D.C. June 30, 2006. Dr. Ghulam-Nabi Fai, Executive Director, Kashmiri American Council / Kashmir Center announced that the panel of judges of the International Essay Contest, namely, Professor Stanley Wolpert, University of California, Los Angeles, [Chair], Mr. Ved Bhasin, Editor-in-Chief, Kashmir Times [Member] & Dr. Mumtaz Ahmad, University of Hampton, Virginia [Member] declared the final results of the essay contest on Kashmir. The theme of the essay was "South Asian Stability Post President Bush's Visit” and essayists were assigned to incorporate any one of the following sub-themes: Kashmir: New Hopes and Aspirations; Is Self-Governance a means towards Self-Determination?; Demilitarization: First step towards setting a stage for settlement; and Kashmir: Human Rights Dimension.

Dr. Fai reported that the Chairman of the Panel, Prof. Stanley Wolpert, included the following comments along the final results to the Executive Director of the Kashmiri American Council/Kashmir Center "I hope you agree, and congratulate you on your scrupulous care and complete fairness. Please convey my heartiest congratulations and thanks as well to Judges Ved Bhasin and Dr. Ahmad, and to each of the brilliant prize-winners for their inspiring work in helping all Kashmiris find the elusive road leading to a just and lasting Peace."

Here are the results:

Undergraduates: First Prize: Hyder Syed, (United States); Second Prize: Ousman Noor (United Kingdom); Third Prize: Iqbal Hussain Mir, (Kashmir)
Graduates: First Prize: Gazala Paul, (India); Second Prize: Bhaskar Dasgupta, (United Kingdom); Third Prize: Ahmed Nazeer Motta, (Kashmir)
Professionals: First Prize: Amit Chakraborty, (India); Second Prize: Falendra Kumar Sudan, (Jammu); Third Prize: Nasir Hussain Munshi, (Ladakh)

Dr. Fai explained that the Panel of Judges considered all perspectives and viewpoints, regardless of the inclinations of the writers. There were 27 essays submitted in total, out of which 12 were for the Undergraduate Category; 7 for the Graduate Category and 8 for the Professional Category. The contestants consisted of 20 males and 7 females. The contestants were from various countries including the United States, United Kingdom, India, Pakistan, Jammu, Kashmir, Ladakh, Kenya, and Malaysia. Dr. Fai emphasized that winners of the essays of the three categories had clearly addressed the theme and sub-themes as stated above, and that they constructively complemented their arguments through the usage of proper objective criteria in support of their positions.

Dr. Fai pointed out that winners of the top nine essays would receive cash prizes as follows: Undergraduate students [US$ 500.00], Graduate students [US$ 800.00], and Professionals [US$ 1,000.00]. In addition, the top winners in the three categories, namely, Mr. Hyder Syed, Ms. Gazala Paul and Mr. Amit Chakraborty will be invited to read out their winning essays at the Sixth International Kashmir Peace Conference to be held on July 20-21, 2006 at the Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.

For more information, please e-mail or


Here's the essay in question (this was written 12 June 2006):

What next for the Kashmir Conflict?

The Kashmir conflict is one of the most stubborn geopolitical challenges in the world, akin to the Israeli–Palestinian crisis. The conflict has antecedents going back sixty years, with roots of the issue planted hundreds of years ago. While it would have been difficult to resolve in 1947, each subsequent political and military step by the various parties has pushed the issue into even more stubborn territory. Though the background to the conflict is public, it is useful to review some key points before we can explore some short and medium term initiatives which can possibly decrease the severity of the conflict if not offer a resolution.

Background to the conflict

It is difficult to generalise the background to the Kashmir conflict because of the bitterness of the fight and the deep divisions among the various parties involved. A cause which may be trivial to a particular party is of importance to another. But most parties agree on the following:

· Kashmir, a Muslim majority state ruled by Hindu kings, contains: Gilgit and Baltistan in the north; a block of land ceded to China in the north-east; Leh and Kargil in the east; Kashmir Valley and Jammu.

· The principle behind the post partition division of geographical units to India or Pakistan was based on the religious majority in geographical areas and will of the state ruler. That said there were princely states where this principle did not hold, such as Junagarh, Hyderabad and of course, Kashmir. A promised plebiscite on the future of the state never took place. India claims the Jammu Kashmir State Parliament voted on this issue, so a plebiscite was needless, while Pakistan does not believe the state parliament vote adheres to the spirit/letter of the original plebiscite. Some Kashmiris say the original plebiscite is wrong, as it only offers accession to India and Pakistan without mention of independence.

· Major ethnic units in Kashmir are Shia and Sunni Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and tiny minorities of other ethnicities (Christians and Sikhs).

· India and Pakistan have fought three wars (1948, 1965, and 1999) over this territory.

· Kashmir was an indirect reason for the 1971 war.

· A militant campaign has been raging in the state since 1989.

· Since 2002, a ceasefire between India and Pakistan has held, although terrorism has not ended. Intermittent talks took place between the three main groups, India, Pakistan and Kashmiri groups with some Confidence Building Measures (CBM) performed.

What do the main stakeholders want?

Given the long history of the conflict, a polarisation and fragmentation of the various groups (with a direct or indirect stake) in the conflict happened. Before we talk about various solutions, it is important to know the direct groups involved:

· Pakistan: Created as a homeland for Muslims, distinct from that of Hindu Majority and Secular India. Kashmir is the last unfinished business of the Partition. Until Kashmir is part of Pakistan, Pakistan’s raison d’être is incomplete. The letter K in Pakistan stands for Kashmir, so attainment of Kashmir is core to the identity and ideology of Pakistan. The Kashmiri cause gives the army reason to grab disproportionate state resources. In addition, because of the religious based foundation of the state, non-state actors, namely the religious parties, are a major and vocal stakeholder in the Kashmir issue.

· India: A strongly democratic secular country, the presence of a Muslim majority state within the ambit of the Indian constitution gives strength to the secular state (both the central government and the local Jammu and Kashmir state government) ideology. The central and state government are not always 100% aligned in their objectives, but both work together. A big security force is present in the state, comprising of regular army troops, paramilitary forces, counter–terrorist forces, state police forces and a myriad of intelligence agencies. The security forces are accused of many human right abuses, but the situation is slowly improving.

· The Kashmiri’s. There are many groups involved and while it is impossible to mention all of them, broadly speaking, we can classify them as follows:

o The militants belong to three groups: the secular independence seeking terrorists (rapidly dwindling in number and influence); the native Kashmiri militants (slowly reducing under diminished Pakistani support and better Indian counter-terror measures) and the foreign militants (usually Pakistani but also from the international jehadi brigades). These militants are not aligned to the Kashmiri political parties and the Pakistani state shows strong yet sporadic control over them.

o The Kashmiri Hindu’s are the largest state minority, despite ethnic cleansing from Kashmir proper since the latest uprising. They are either in refugee camps in India, the Jammu region or have subsumed themselves in India proper. They have little political power and suffer from the flip side of secular India’s objectives (Secular India cannot be seen to provide any major relief to Hindus for fear of being seen as partial to the Hindu majority)

o The Muslims in Kashmir consist of Shia Muslims in Pakistan Kashmir, who resent the pogroms by the hardline Sunni militia and the Sunni Muslims in Indian Kashmir, who criticise Indian rule.

o The Buddhists, a small but significant minority, are mostly present in north-east Kashmir in Laddakh and Leh. Despite their usual non-involvement in the issue, tensions are rising between them and the Muslim population as their sympathies lie with Secular India.

o The Political parties (in Indian Kashmir only, as the political parties in Pakistani Kashmir are not real political parties as we know them, but rather nebulous Pakistani state sponsored groups) include the Indian aligned groups such as the Congress I, National Conference (and variants), People Democratic Party, the secular groupings such as the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front and the Pakistani aligned breakaway grouping of the Hurriyat Conference, such as headed by Syed Ali Shah Geelani. Though they have a following within the Valley itself, it is difficult to know their support base, as only the Indian aligned political parties have contested municipal, state and central elections.

o The general populace is, of course, tired of the decade’s long fight and yearns for normality and economic growth. The local state economy is growing (but not as much as it should) after huge central government funding, the India-Pakistan ceasefire and increasingly efficient counter-terror measures.

The external indirect stakeholders are a motley collection of organisations and countries noted for their ineffectual role in resolving this crisis. For example, while the United Nations was present in Kashmir since the first ceasefire in 1948, it is, for all practical purposes useless and ignored by all. Similarly, Pakistan uses the Organisation of Islamic Countries to raise the Kashmir issue regularly and is repeatedly ignored or diplomatically managed away by India. The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation cannot resolve bilateral issues.

The United Kingdom retains a role by dint of its colonial history, the presence of large number of Kashmiri origin immigrants and groups in the UK itself and London being one of the world’s diplomatic capitals. America, on the other hand, has kept a low-profile in Kashmir, although it has much more influence and depth inside Pakistan (witness the role of President Clinton during the aftermath of the Kargil War). China is another strange participant. On one hand, it controls Kashmiri territory as well as supports Pakistan’s Army. It has provided funding and materials to build the Karakorum Highway connecting Pakistan with China. While difficult to draw independent conclusions about the influence coefficient of all these organisations and countries, clearly international organisations will simply never be able to play a big role in resolving the Kashmiri issue. The only two countries which have some influence on Pakistan are the USA and China. India, on the other hand, is prickly about its international standing and has not and never will accept any form of public intervention by any other country.

What is the solution?

The BBC ( has put together a set of pages with various solutions such as Kashmir accedes to Pakistan; Kashmir accedes to India, Kashmir becomes independent and variants of the status quo by adjusting the Line of Control (the 1948 ceasefire line) up and down, etc. The site briefly explains each proposed solution and mentions the challenges and difficulties of each. An interested and independent observer would note that none of the solutions are palatable to all direct stakeholders and the important point is that none of the stakeholders will agree to compromise on the key issues.

In other words, it has become a question of “izzat” (honour) and of a perception of identity and survival to the various parties involved. If India accepts a plebiscite, then it is certain that it will lose and no Indian central government can accept that, in addition, it will violate the secular ideology of India. If Pakistan accepts the LoC as the international border that means denying the core ideology of Pakistan. For the Kashmiri jehadi’s to accept political control by India over Kashmir (in any form) is to violate their religious precepts. Given the identification of the other competing stakeholders as the enemy, any compromise is simply not possible. Once you factor in the degree of militancy and the possibility of murders of leaders who dare even suggest a compromise, talk of a solution is plainly impossible as compromise is labelled as selling out to the enemy and leading to the extinction of national/group identity.

A political solution involving territory between two parties is usually only reached after a war, where one party is defeated and thus has to accept the solution, or else, a third-party or parties force/mediate between the two to accept some territorial swaps. Kashmir, as we have seen, does not have a defeated party and no external party has enough leverage to force neither Pakistan nor India into a political solution. Once we include existential reasons such as national survival/identity, religious or secular ideologies, the chances of a lasting political solution are near zero if not negative. Negative in the sense there is a strong chance the current peace process (if the desultory talks and halting steps can be considered as such) can get derailed after some dramatic terrorist attack on a high-profile target or a serious and public human rights violation.

Pushing for a solution now will be useless due to deeply entrenched political positions based on maximalist objectives of all the parties involved. A solution has to be a win-win one, but because of this maximalist perspective, no party is willing to give up any positions/points for the greater good. In other words, everybody is out to get all they can get and damn the rest. None of the solutions will be acceptable because of the intransigence of all the parties involved in the current climate.

If no solutions are acceptable, then what?

One looks at the entrenched positions, the history of the conflict and simply fails to think of a good, reasonable solution acceptable to all concerned. For sake of brevity, one can lessen the challenge to trying to reconcile three mutually incompatible objectives, wish for independence by the Kashmiris, wish to keep Kashmir within India for secular reasons and wish to get Kashmir for Pakistan for religious reasons. Given a limited territorial space and incompatibility of the objectives, there can be no solution. But if no solutions are acceptable to all parties right now, that does not mean there can be no mutually acceptable solutions in the future. So the ground rules have to change.

How can we change ground rules?

When a state gets subsumed into a supranational state, then territorial conflicts change character and become more diffuse, examples such as Northern Ireland, Scotland and Cyprus within supranational European State spring to mind. These conflicts have lost much potency once the idea of states fighting over territory got included into the overarching European identity. They have not been resolved, but the maximalist positions became much less. Another example is to convert hard, fenced, land mined borders into soft ones. When men, material, money and machines can move freely over borders, then hard nationalistic or identity politics lose much of their edge. There is, of course, the violent alternative of having an all-out war, where one party defeats the other and essentially removes it from the equation, but no sane person would agree to the last alternative. Irrespective of which option is selected, the objective remains the same, namely to try moving people and parties away from their entrenched positions into fertile soil to allow a solution to emerge in time.

This means that instead of just aiming for a final solution, slow interim steps should be taken to change the ground rules. Of course, for communication and public appetite, a constant reassuring stream of high-quality messages must be transmitted by all senior leaders. Some of the Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) that can be launched:

1. Economic measures: A Free trade agreement between India and Pakistan would be valuable. Special attention can be given to Kashmir, so Kashmiri made products can be given tax exceptions, for purchase and sale in both India and Pakistan as well as for export. Tourism also provides great optimism, as Indians going to Kashmir for tourism can be allowed access to say the northern areas for extending their stay. Subsidies and tax exemptions can be given to foreign investors.

2. Social measures: Allowing greater movement of citizens across the border will be worthwhile. The bus, truck and train CBMs notwithstanding, greater openness is suggested. Security can be a concern, but the movement (not only for Kashmiris) has to be intensified. In addition, cross regional marriages should be encouraged, educational opportunities – such as reserved seats, scholarships, etc. opened to people from both sides of the border.

3. Cultural measures: Exchange of music, drama, film and other mediums should be strongly encouraged to highlight the overarching theme of a common identity and Kashmiriat..

4. Politics and Governance: Political parties should be governed under a code of conduct which stresses peaceful resolution of issues, renounces violence, etc. On both sides of the border, true local governance has to be set up. For example, on the Indian side, other than the border areas, all security forces should be brought under local political control. On the Pakistani side, a true local Kashmiri polity should be allowed to develop rather than being led from Islamabad.

5. Law & Order: The judiciary on both sides should be strengthened. An independent body will review reported human rights crimes by all parties (security forces and militants). An independent Kashmir wide Human Rights Council (with possible observer status to Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International etc.) granted powers and wide participation from both sides of the border.

6. The media: The media must play a big role, and open transparency is essential. Allowing private channels in radio, TV and internet will help to provide a diversity of opinions. Internet and mobile communications to be increased in penetration and improved.

7. International Relations between India and Pakistan. India and Pakistan can take many steps on the diplomatic side to allow commonalities to rule rather than differences to divide. Such as a public announcement that both India and Pakistan’s WTO working groups will work together. Or announce that India and Pakistan will work on commonalities such as a joint UN peacekeeping force (perhaps not peace enforcement initially); technical aid to poor countries; law of the sea, environmental issues and the Kyoto treaty; water management; etc.

What are the risks and how to mitigate them?

As mentioned earlier, even these small interim ground rule changing steps can be threatened by many events. There are three major possible events (with a reasonably high probability of happening over the next 3-5 years) which can seriously put the peace process into reverse.

1. A big terrorist strike in Kashmir or India

As noted before, the militant groups in Pakistan are not under the full control of the Pakistani Army and intelligence services. In other words, for this peace process to work, the militants have to be reined in to allow social and economic life to begin. This is not easy as the jehadi toothpaste, once squeezed out, is difficult to return into the tube. While not impossible, the Pakistani Army will have to increase the pressure on these militant groups to reduce their activities. It is, of course, impossible to imagine the groups can be made to disband; dialling down their activities will allow the CBMs to launch and take root.

2. A big human rights issue emerges in India because of the security forces

While the Indian armed forces are improving their control over human right abuses, there is indeed a chance that a serious incident might happen which can seriously risk the CBMs. The militants could take up arms again, rebelling against the Pakistani Army authority, and ordinary folks turn off the entire peace process. The current human rights management process within the Indian security forces has to be strengthened and made transparent to the public.

3. Change of government in India

Although both the BJP and the Congress led coalitions are committed to the peace process and are determined to find a solution, it is not inconceivable that a hardline government takes power after the current one. This new government may roll back the peace process, halt it or even embark on a full war, especially if a big terrorist strike happens (or for example, a high-profile political leader is assassinated). While mitigating actions against such an eventuality are difficult to note, the best defence against it is to let a thousand CBMs flower. More CBMs will lessen the chance of all of them being rolled back. Also, the more of India is involved (by greater tourism, economic links, educational links, etc.), the more difficult it would be for the hardline government to roll back the process.

4. Change of government in Pakistan

While currently General Musharraf is in charge of the Pakistani Army, there is a possibility of an internal army revolt/coup where a hard-line officer takes over. Or there is a national movement by the Pakistani religious parties which forces the army to hand-over power to the civilians as has happened before. In either case, the peace process can be rolled back and the jehadi reins loosened. Given the democratic deficit and tradition of autocratic rule in Pakistan, even an increase in the number of CBMs is no defence against all of them being stopped. The only possible mitigation is American pressure and for this, USA can be asked to be a discreet and unofficial guarantor of these CBMs.


It will take political will, persistence and mainly dedication to seek a true peace and stability across all sections of the stakeholders. It will require patience and understanding to deal with mistakes and mistakes will be made. Given the current leadership of Pakistan and India, there is hope that by carrying out some or all of these CBMs, the first faltering steps towards resolving the horrendous Kashmir Conflict can be taken.

Submission by:

Bhaskar Dasgupta,

Graduate PhD student,

Department of War Studies,

Kings College London, UK

My experiences with Vogue

I spend a considerable time at the vet, sorry, the hospital today. And as sod's law had to have it, I forgot to take a book. And as further poxy sod's law would have it, the only magazine I could lay my hands on was Vogue. After I managed to look guiltily around to see everybody was busy coughing, sneezing or dying to notice what I was reading, I pulled the magazine towards me.

It was the December 2006 UK edition with a lady called as Sienna Miller spread over the top. My first impression was that it was heavy, quite heavy. How on earth are women supposed to either carry it around, read it in the bath or what have you when it weighs a brick?

Ok, so opened it up. I stared blankly at the editor's page. It was English but I could not understand it. It was like I was slightly out of phase with the editor. It was supposed to be the Glamour Issue and page after page, it showed women in glamorous clothes and the reason for being so. For example, the Queen Elizabeth entry said that she was glamorous because of her jewels. Another lady's glamour coefficient was attributed to her legs. That supermodel who goes about tonking people on their heads with her mobile phone was apparently glamorous because of her clothes.

I realised something, none of the women, the featured or the women in the advertisements, had any breasts. Glossy hair, long giraffe like neck, knobbly back, legs up to the armpits, lovely eyes, but no, no breasts. I didnt understand that. Must be some kind of a deep women's secret. Mind you, pick up a guy's magazine and all you see are breasts! But back to Vogue.

So I wanted to check what's in Vogue. Well, seems like balloon or hoop skirts are in. They look like you have a 6 feet diameter ring at the bottom (or anywhere actually) of the skirt. I was amazed at the engineering involved. How would they climb on a bus or go shopping for potatoes in a normal supermarket aisle with that skirt? Or is this another of those secret women things (see breast note above).

Oh! there was another thing. These absolutely gorgeous women seemed to seriously get drugged up by sniffing some organic chemicals in seriously good looking bottles. If you look at any advertisement for any perfume, all the women look seriously drugged. Why would that be attractive to women? To actually douse yourself with chemicals which make you jump over water hydrants, poke your fingers down some guy's pants, clutch a bottle as if it contains your last peg of gin, undress in the living room....?

And the guys. The guys in the advertisements are plastic dolls. I am sure of it. Where's the beer? where is the beer gut? where is the chest hair? yes, question. What happened to the chest hair? you are not a man if you don't have hair emerging out of your nostrils, ear, armpits, chest, back, etc. etc. And why are all these men lazing around? They are all draped over some bloody thing. They should get some cold showers and buck up, all this draping is bad for the posture and spine.

By this time, the doctor came to take me away and then when I got back, the magazine was still there. I was waiting for my prescription to be delivered so flipped through the rest of the magazine to read some more, but didnt get much chance. Kate Moss and Naomi Cambell were apparently telling people how to become stars or how to have star quality. Its quite easy, no? become a coke head or be foul mannerly?

Ah! well, I was driven to write this note after reading this note.

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Breastfeed your male colleague in the office!

I nearly died laughing, just thinking if this was rolled out in London! :)

Read and giggle!


(ANSAmed) - CAIRO, SEPTEMBER 21 - An Egyptian professor who sparked national debate when he issued a fatwa (religious edict) permitting women to breastfeed their male colleagues has been dismissed. The decision was taken by the disciplinary committee at Cairòs Al-Azhar University, the world's centre of Islamic scholarship and education. The edict by Professor Ezzat Attiya was released as a means to segregate men and women in the work place. It stated that if a man and a woman worked together alone in an enclosed work place, the woman must breastfeed him to avoid any sexual relationship between the pair, since the man would become like a son to the woman. The Islamic religion bans a person from being in private in the same room with a person of the opposite sex, unless they are married or have close relations (parents and children, brothers and sisters, and so forth). The fatwa provoked huge controversy among religious scholars, and on the internet. Al-Azhar authorities condemned the religious edict, which sparked huge controversy among religious scholars, and on the internet, saying that it portrayed a negative image of Islam. Others said it would have the "opposite effect", of promoting sexual interaction and sexual harassment in a work place instead of diminishing it. In any case, Attiyàs insistence that his edict was correct was one of the reasons of his dismissal, Al-Azhar authorities told English-language newspaper The Egyptian Gazette. The dismissal decision is harsh and cruel punishment and was too excessive for the act committed, "but it will prevent fatwas from becoming a business not a science as it should be", Sheikh Mahmoud Ashour, former deputy of Al-Azhar and member of the Islamic Research Centre, told The Daily News Egypt, another local English newspaper. (ANSAmed)

2007-09-21 14:49

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Islamic Banking on the UK High Street!

Some people are still not sure about the prevalence of Islamic Banking in the west. Well, here's a photo I took of the high street at Leicester. See the far left hand side building? That's Islamic Bank of Britain.


More on Buddhism in India

My post on Buddhism in India seems to have struck a minor chord, Two responses from Professor Farida Majid are pasted below.

       This is not a very satisfying piece being choppy and superficial. Let me give you a more probable picture of what happened in the eastern India -- in Bengal, or Bangladesh where there is still, probably the oldest continuous Buddhism in the world. The following comes from a professional historian. Richard M. Eaton is as professional as they come:
"Even while Indo-Buddhist civilization expanded and flourished overseas, however, Buddhist institutions were steadily declining in eastern India. Since Buddhists there left life-cycle rites in the hands of the Brahman priests, Buddhist monastic establishments, so central for the religion's institutional survival, became disconnected from the laity and fatally dependent on court patronage for their support. ...[F]rom as early as the seventh century, Brahmanism, already the more vital tradition at the popular level, enjoyed increasing court patronage at the expense of Buddhist institutions.  By the eleventh century even the Palas, earlier such enthusiastic patrons of Buddhism, had begun favoring the cult of two gods that had emerged as the most important in the newly reformed Brahmanical religion -- Siva and Vishnu."
---  Richard M. Eaton, The Rise of Islam and the Bengal Frontier: 1204-1760. U. of California Press. 1993.
          That short paragraph, dense with useful, provable facts, should teach my india-unity friends not to refract every glimmer of history through the prism of 'evil Brahmin and oppressed shudra'.  What you get here is quite contrary to your dearly held theories of 'religion imposed from the top'.  It is the laity where religions thrive and vibrate.  Buddhism probably withered on the vine in India, besides one or two other influencing factors affecting its decline.


                  Please spread the good word as widely as possible. At the root of all forms of communalism is the colonial depiction of history of our own country. The descriptions of Hinduism (and its caste system), Islam, Buddhism, etc are all dumbed down versions as the British chose to describe them for the service of the Empire. The present stage of vicious communalism in India rests on nothing but these colonial depictions.
           Moududi of India and Syed Qutb of Egypt created a vision of a counter-Empire, a trans-national Islam that is at the root of all Islamic fundamentalism today.
           Hindu fundamentalism also stems from a desire for a counter-Empire -- wanna-be like them mentality.
            My way of countering this envy of empire is to dig in and re-discover the glorious history of our own country out of self-respect and self love, not out of an ingrained inferiority complex.
            You can quote me by name if you like since the studies of language, literature, history and culture (that includes religion) belong to my field.
             Thank you for your interest.

                     Farida Majid

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Arun Gandhi's opinion on Israel and Jews

As I said to a fellow denizen of the net, Arun Gandhi got into this pickle because he is unable to calibrate a principle "non-violence" against place/public policy. For example, he himself agreed that nonviolence can only work against a liberal society such as the UK. In other words, if he had practiced this non-violence principle against say Beria or Stalin, well, I wouldn't bet on that principle working.

In this case of Jews and Hitler, Mahatma Gandhi suggested that they all go happily to their deaths as part of non-violence and belief in god. Well, they did, millions of them. (even if this "happily" is debatable!) And? It still took a war to get rid of Hitler. So that kind of public policy advice is rather silly. (Mind you, his suggestions to the Arabs was even more silly!)

And now this is even sillier. Also it shows the lack of understanding of the religion by concentrating so much on the holocaust. While I am not an expert on Zionism, I do think that while the holocaust did play its part, one forgets the civilisational and religious drive behind Zionism going back to the slavery in Egypt and and exile in Babylon millennia ago. So the Zionist philosophy is based upon much deeper, longer and broader factors than just the Holocaust. It borrows and rests on a very hard set of religious facts and emotions. So resolving the Palestinian question cannot be done by just looking at the Holocaust.

Before his apology, yes, his statement could be construed as anti-Semitism, but I am giving him the benefit of doubt (to use a cricketing metaphor!) and accepting his apology and explanation.

As for his statement about thousands of people marching across the Jordan River in a non-violent protest, actually that is a good tactic because Israel will not be able to resist it, but Palestinians, for a variety of reasons, will not be able to do this. See here for a more detailed debate about the applicability of this principle. But, unfortunately, Arun Gandhi tried to parlay his family name and all he managed to end up doing was to commit the same mistake that the Mahatma committed with respect to this issue.

How end came to Nalanda

Thanks to Yashwantji!

How the glorious tradition of Nalanda came to an end is descrobed vividly by historian Sukumara Datta in his Buddhist Monks and Monasteries of India, 1962.

Here are some extracts from the book.


The end of Buddhist institutions in North India

To this long and varied history of the Sangha in India, there was an end - swift and sudden, full of terror and pity, like the denouement of a tragic drama. The Sangha did not survive perhaps more than a decade the storm and violence of Muslim inroads and conquests in northern India. Lapsed into complete quiescence elsewhere in India, its last accents were still being whispered from the monastic towers of Bihar and Bengal, while round the north of the region, the Khiliji hordes were gathering as for a cloudburst. They were fast sweeping down south. These mid-Asian tribesmen had seen no edifices in their desert home-land and knew but little about architectural styles and distinctions. The tall towers of the monasteries, soaring above the circuit-walls, arrested attention; they easily caused the buildings to be mistaken for military fastnesses: so the monasteries became targets of fierce attack.

After the razing of the Odantapura monastery in AD 1199 by Ikhtiyar Khiliji's soldiers, it was discovered by the marauders that inside were only heaps of books and no hidden arms or treasures and that the place was merely a madrdsa (educational establishment) and not a fort. But all the monks had been killed and there was no one to explain to the victors what the books were about. Wholesale massacre was the order of the day; monks and monasteries perished together in a terrible holocaust.

Yet a handful of survivors was left in the trail of the general destruction. They dispersed and fled with their cherished treasures- a few bundles of holy texts hugged in the bosom and concealed under the sanghati (monk's outer robe). They wandered away to remote, secluded monasteries, far out of the invader's track; or to the nearest seaports to take ship and sail away to Arakan or Burma. But most of them wended their way northwards towards the eastern Himaalayas. Danger dogged their footsteps until, crossing the Himalayan foothills or stealing farther north along the high wind-swept mountain-passes, the hunted found security at last in the more hospitable countries of Nepal and Tibet.

Thus came about the final dispersal of the Buddhist Sangha in India. The Moving Finger wrote finis to its history round the turn of the thirteenth century and, having writ, moved on.

The Last Days of nalanda

We know on historical evidence that Odantapura Mahavihara was sacked and razed to the ground round 1198. Round 1234, when Dharmasvami visited it, Odantapura was Muslim military head-quarters.2 Nalanda, only about six miles off, may have been after the sack of Odantapura a target of attack by roving bands of Muslim soldiery. But this mahavihara was not demolished like Odantapura and Vikramasila, though, as Taranatha says, much damage was done with the result that many monks deserted it. But the very last report about its condition after the worst had been done by the ravagers, coming from an eye-witness, the Tibetan monk Dharmasvami, shows that Nalanda, though doomed to death, was fated not to die, for teaching and learning was going on here over at least four after-decades.

But what a Nalanda it was! like the strange nightmare of Hsuan-tsang six centuries back when Nalanda was in all its glory brought up by the whirligig of time.

Yet even then the ghost of past magnificence loomed darkly over the desolation. There were still to be seen -seven great lofty pinnacles (Sikharas)- and out to the north, fourteen.3 Eighty small viharas, damaged by the Turaskas and deserted by monks, were still there and, beyond, as many as eight hundred. The guess could not, however, have been numerically precise. It is impossible to say when this crop of small viharas had gone up; Dharrnasvami says only that a Raja. and his queen had built them - probably not very long before the Turaska threat descended. Archaeologists have discovered no trace of them: they were probably of flimsy construction.

But somewhere in this melancholy mass of decayed and deserted buildings, a lingering pulse of life feebly went on.

Somewhere here a nonogenarian monk-teacher, named Rahula Sribhadra,5 had made his dwelling and taught Sanskrit grammar to seventy students. He was in the last stage of poverty and decrepitude. He lived on a small allowance for food given by a Brahmana lay disciple named Jayadeva who lived at Odantapura. Time and again came threats of an impending raid from the military head-quarters there. Jayadeva himself became a suspect. In the midst of these alarms, he was suddenly arrested and thrown into a military prison at Odantapura. While in captivity, he came to learn that a fresh raid on Nalanda was brewing and managed to transmit a message of warning to his master advising him to flee post-haste. By then everyone had left Nalanda except the old man and his Tibetan disciple. Not caring for the little remainder of his own life, the master urged his pupil to save himself by quick flight from the approaching danger. Eventually, however the pupil's entreaties prevailing both decided to quit. They went the pupil carrying the master on his back along with a small supply of rice, sugar and a few books to the Temple of Jnananatha at some distance and hid themselves. While they remained in hiding, 300 Muslim soldiers arrived, armed and ready for the assault. The mid came and passed over. Then the two refugees stole out of their hiding place back again to Nalanda.

Dharmasvami says that the Tibetan pupil could after all complete his studies and, after a brief stay, left the place with the teacher's permission. The libraries had perished long, long ago; Dharmasvami could not get a scrap of manuscript to copy, though some of the monks there possessed a few manuscripts.6


Dharmasvaynt mentions Odantapura in his travel-record twice as the residence of a Tnraska military commander (see Biography of Dharmasvarnin, Intro., p. xlii.)

3 Roerichs Biography of .Dharmasvamin (pub. by K. P. Jayaswal Research Institute, Patna, 1959), p. 91.

4 Dharnaasvami's reference may be to Raja Buddhasena of Magadha who is said by him to have fled from Gaya into a jungle at the time of Turaska raid on Gaya and returned when the raid was over. He is said to have been a patron of the Nalanda teacher and his pupils (see Biography of .Dharmasvjmin, p. 90).

5 Rahula _Sribhadra's name was probably known in Tibet through Dharrnasvamis narrative, for Taranatha gives precisely the same information about Sribhadra and states the number of his pupils as seventy, as told by Dharmasvami (see Biiogr'phy of Dharmasvamin, Altekar's Intro., p. vi).

6 This thrilling account of the last days of Nalanda is taken from a Tibetah text kept in a monastery of central Tibet of which a photostatic copy was brought by Rahula Sankrityayana and left to be edited and translated with the K. P. Jayaswal Research Institute of Patna. The text is entitled Biography of Chag lo-tsa-ba Chos-rje-dpal-the Tibetan name of Dharmasvami. It was evidently written by a disciple under his dictation. This Tibetan monk-pilgrim visited some districts of eastern India and was in Bihar in 1234-36. He records in the work his experiences in the country. The work has been edited with an accompanying English translation by Dr G. Roerich (Moscow) and published by the Institute. Dharmasvami's account of Nalanda is contained in Chapter X (pp. 90 ff.).

Five of the Leaves from an Ashtasahasrika Prajnaparamita Manuscipt

Click here if you cannot see it

India, Bihar, Nalanda monastery; Pala period (c.8th - 12th century)
Ink and opaque watercolor on palm leaf
Each, approx., H. 2 7/8 in. (7.3 cm); W. 22 3/8 in. (56.8 cm)
Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Acquisitions Fund
The Buddha Shakyamuni's life story was codified by artists and philosophers into eight standard scenes which both encapsulate the Buddha's biography and provide a model spiritual life for the devotee. Known as the "Eight Great Events," the scenes depict (from left to right, excluding the central deities): the Buddha's miraculous birth from the side of his mother, Maya; his victory over Mara, the god of death and desire; his first sermon; a miracle he performed at Shravasti in which he multiplied himself; his descent from the heaven of thirty-three gods; his taming of the rampaging elephant Nalagiri; the offering of honey by a monkey; and finally, his death. The central images of each leaf represent specific deities (from top to bottom): the goddess Prajnaparamita, the Bodhisattva Manjushri, the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, and the goddess Tara. This manuscript is particularly important because of the inscriptions on leaf E, which record, in Sanskrit and Tibetan, the history of the manuscript from its creation at the famous Nalanda monastery in India through its use in Tibet by the compiler of the first Tibetan canon of Buddhism, Buton, to its dedication for the benefit of a Tibetan nobleman as part of his funeral rites. These inscriptions illustrate how Buddhist manuscripts helped spread both Buddhism and its imagery from India to other parts of Asia.

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Rival Egyptian families agree to end 'mustache war'

I have a close association with my mustache although it just hangs about. Despite my previous post, I was concerned about this development that people have been grabbing other people and forcibly shaving off their mustaches. Too damn right it lead to war, it is bloody serious!

Two families in southern Egypt that captured and forcefully shaved each others' leaders earlier in the year have agreed to end their dispute, the Al Ahram daily reported on Friday.

Over 7,000 citizens of Mahrusa, a town in the Qena province near Luxor, gathered on Thursday to witness the heads of the Al-Arab and Fallaheen families sign a final reconciliation pact.

Back in July the families abducted each others' leaders and shaved off their mustaches, beards, hair and eyebrows. In the region, a man's mustache represents his honor.

The dispute escalated into a series of violent clashes in which the families fought each other with sticks and clubs.

Fearing that the situation could further deteriorate, police and local authorities intervened, calling on the sides to resolve their conflict.

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Sunday, January 13

Indian Muslim Community Discourses: Continuities, Changes and Challenges

An interesting email again from Yogi Sikand. And yet again, since there is no link, I have to paste the entire document in here. It is long but I believe very important for people interested in Muslim affairs to read this as Indian Muslims are perhaps one of the major poles of World Islam and what happens with them and what they do is perhaps equally important to what the Arab Muslims (broadly defined) do.

Read and ponder.

Indian Muslim Community Discourses: Continuities, Changes and Challenges

Yoginder Sikand

This paper is not a rigorously argued or academically-grounded presentation. Rather, it seeks to lay out some stray thoughts that come to the mind as I reflect on my involvement in writing about issues related to Muslims and inter-community relations in India over almost two decades.

This paper is divided into three broad sections. The first section deals with the ways in which the highly contentious notions of the ‘majority community’ or, simply, ‘the majority’, and the ‘minority communities’ have been constructed and have evolved historically in India. Here I look briefly at how these reflect specific agendas of well-entrenched social, economic and political elites, specifically Muslim and Hindu elites. I then turn to the specific case of the Indian Muslims, looking at how Indian Muslim organisations (often with claims, whether real or otherwise, to ‘All-India’ status) have articulated their concerns and demands on the state and on the wider Indian society, using the logic of ‘minority’ rights. I then look at the ways in which particular marginalised groups within the larger category defined as the ‘Indian Muslims’ (which itself can be regarded as marginalized as compared to what is defined as the Hindu ‘majority’) are beginning to stress their own identities and concerns as a means to press demands on the state and on the wider Muslim and Indian community. The concluding part of the paper briefly reflects on the ways in which the Government has responded to demands made by various Muslim groups and organizations that claim to represent them.

‘Hindu Majority’ and ‘Muslim Minority’: Are They Indeed Meaningful Categories?

A general and widely-held assumption is that India is a largely ‘Hindu’ country, that Hindus form the country’s ‘majority community’ and, consequently, that Hinduism is the religion of the ‘majority’ of the Indian people. Hence, non-Hindus are described as ‘minorities’ and the religions that they claim to follow are considered as ‘minority religions’. This, what is now ‘commonsensical’, assumption is reflected in most writings about India, in the country’s politics and by the Indian state. However, as numerous critics as well as social activists have pointed out (notwithstanding the fact that their pleas continue to fall on deaf ears), the assumption that Hindus are the ‘majority community’ in India and that Hinduism is the ‘majority religion’ is actually fallacious.

Numerous scholars have pointed out that what we understand as ‘Hinduism’ today is a relatively recent historical construct. There are no common or basic beliefs, dogmas and practices that can be said to be central to ‘Hinduism’. One can worship a million or more gods or none at all, regard the cow as divine or eat it, revere the Brahmins and mock the Dalits or the other way around, and still be considered a ‘Hindu’.
If textbook definitions of ‘Hinduism’ are regarded as the criteria to define what it really is, the beliefs and practices of a substantial proportion of Indians who are otherwise defined as ‘Hindus’ could hardly qualify to be part of ‘Hinduism’. If the Brahminical and neo-Hindu (Gandhian, Arya Samajist, etc.) definitions of ‘Hinduism’ are said to lay down what it is all about—such as belief in the divinity of the Vedas, the sanctity of the Varna system, belief in metempsychosis etc.—many people defined by the census as followers of ‘Hinduism’ can well be said to fall outside its pale. In other words, ‘Hinduism’ is not a single religion. Rather, it can be said to be a collection of religions, cults and traditions, some of which uphold beliefs and practices that others included in the broader ‘Hindu’ fold would find obnoxious or heretical, or, to say the least, greatly objectionable. Hence, to argue that ‘Hinduism’ is India’s ‘majority religion’ is fallacious, there being no clearly-defined and universally accepted empirical referent for the term.

If ‘Hinduism’ is thus an ‘imagined religion’, the associated notion of ‘the Hindu community’, too, is obviously misleading, and, indeed, meaningless. As Babasaheb Ambedkar mentioned in his critique of ‘Hinduism’, a community is a group of people united by a strong sense of we-feeling and brotherhood. This can hardly be said to be the case with the people who are arbitrarily defined as constituting the ‘Hindu community’, who are deeply divided among and against themselves, particularly on the basis of caste and ethnicity. The very edifice of the ‘Hindu’ social order is itself a complete antithesis of the strong ‘we-feeling’ that defines a community. Indian law implicitly admits this in defining the term ‘Hindu’negatively, rather than positively—as a group of people who are not something else, rather than as a group possessing certain attributes that they share in common. Hence, according to Indian law, a ‘Hindu’ is an Indian who is not a Parsi, a Muslim, a Christian or a Jew. It is merely enough to follow a religion, cult, sect or religious tradition that had its birth within the Indian subcontinent to be regarded as a ‘Hindu’ by Indian law, although the disparate groups that are defined as ‘Hindus’ in this arbitrary way might have very little in common, and can, therefore, in no sense, be said to represent a single community, leave alone ‘the majority community’.

It can safely be said that, owing to the lack of any strong ‘we-feeling’ among the groups arbitrarily defined as ‘Hindus’ (originally a geographically-defined term used by Arab or Persian Muslims to refer to all non-Muslims living in the subcontinent to the east of the Indus river), sustained efforts have historically been made by elites who claim to represent the ‘Hindus’ to generate this feeling in a negative way: by fanning hatred and violence against ‘non-Hindus’, in this way trying to build a solid ‘Hindu’ bloc, defined negatively, as against non-Hindus, particularly Muslims. As a Hindutva ideologue once quipped, ‘If India did not have Muslims, they would have to be invented’—for stoking anti-Muslim hatred and thereby uniting (or, more precisely, creating) the ‘Hindu community’ is the principal way in which entrenched ‘Hindu’ elites have consistently sought to project the notion of ‘Hinduism’ as India’s ‘majority religion’ and ‘Hindus’ as India’s ‘majority community’.

In contrast to ‘Hinduism’, Islam, as a textual or scriptural tradition, does indeed have a certain set of defining beliefs and ritual practices. The Quran and the Prophetic Traditions give great stress on the unity of the believers, as exemplified, for instance, in the notion of the universal ummah that transcends boundaries of geography and ethnicity. Be that as it may, what is often described as ‘the Indian Muslim minority community’ is not actually a single community as such in the true sense of the term. Indian Muslims are divided into numerous sects (firqas), and almost each sect claims that it alone represents the true Islam of the Quran and the Prophet’s Tradition (sunnah), critiquing the other sects as deviant, or even, as is often the case, as ‘un-Islamic’ or ‘anti-Islamic’. Hence, at the purely theological level, obviously the various groups labeled together as ‘Indian Muslims’ cannot be said to represent a single category. At the social level, too, in many parts of India, Muslims, like Hindus, consist of a number of endogamous caste-like groups, and are not a single unit. This further raises the question of the usefulness of the monolithic category ‘the Indian Muslim minority community’.

In recent years, a considerable number of studies have appeared that deal with the historical evolution of the notion of ‘Hindus’ and ‘Muslims’ as categories in the Indian social and political landscape. This growing body of literature looks at colonial policies, as reflected, for instance, in the decennial census started in 1871, the efforts of Orientalists, their ‘native’ informants, Christian missionaries, and particularly, the role of Hindu and Muslim religious, social, political and economic elites (who, in seeking to shore up their own fortunes, claimed to be the ‘natural spokesmen’ of their respective ‘communities’, as defined by a reified notion of religion), in creating and shaping the categories of ‘Hindus’ and ‘Muslims’, ‘majority’ and ‘minority’ simply on the basis of religion.

In the case of both Hindus and Muslims, this appears to have been a careful strategy to bolster the authority of entrenched elites in the name of ‘community’. In the Hindu case, ‘upper’ caste elites, a relatively small but immensely powerful minority among the Hindus, used the logic of ‘Hindu majoritarianism’ to maintain, promote and justify their hegemony, both within the ‘Hindu’ community (vis-à-vis the ‘low’ caste majority) and in the country as a whole (particularly vis-à-vis the Muslims). Likewise, Muslim elites presented themselves as spokesmen of the ‘Muslim minority’, using the logic of minority rights to garner privileges and concessions for themselves albeit in the name of the Muslim community as a whole.

The immense and continuing valence of social categorization on the basis of religion (as opposed, for instance, to region, language or caste), one that continues to be backed by the Indian state, must be seen as reflecting the efforts of Hindu and Muslim elites, minorities among their ‘co-religionists’, to promote their own respective fortunes using religion and religious-based identities as a means for this.
Yet, social categories, once they come into circulation and become part of the social ‘common-sense’, exercise their own influence and have their own real consequences, no matter how stiffly socially-engaged academics and activists might critique them. The same is true for the notions of ‘Hindus’ and ‘Muslims’ as representing the ‘majority’ and the single largest ‘minority’ community in India respectively.

The Indian Muslim Community: Discourse of ‘Muslim Community Leaders’

In Muslim circles, one often hears the lament that the community suffers from a lack of a proper leadership.
Those who claim to be Muslim community leaders and/or are projected so by the state and the mass media need not necessarily be accepted as such by many Muslims.
Yet, because of their access to the corridors of power and to the media, the ways in which they shape what is seen as the discourse of the ‘Muslim community’ have important consequences for the community at large—both internally, as well as externally, in terms of its relations with non-Muslim Indians and the Indian state.

The ‘Indian Muslim leadership’ can be understood and studied in many ways. Firstly, in terms of educational background, there is a clear division between madrasa-educated ulema and ‘modern’ educated, often middle-class, Muslims. Many Muslim organizations that claim an ‘All-India’ character, and hence that claim to represent all or most Indian Muslims (notwithstanding the fact that this claim may well be questionable), are led or consist mainly or entirely of ulema. These include organizations such as the All-India Muslim Personal Law Board, the Jamiat ul-Ulema-i Hind, the Jamaat-i Islami Hind, the All-India Milli Council, the All-India Muslim Majlis-i Mushawarat, and so on. All of these have their headquarters in Delhi.

There are certain particular features of these ulema-led bodies that claim to represent the Muslims of India, and whose claims are generally accepted by the state and the media, notwithstanding the fact that these claims may not be substantiated. Most of their leaders are from north India, particularly Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Most of them have Urdu as their first language. The vast majority of them are of so-called ‘upper’ caste or Ashraf background. These peculiar features, as I would seek to explain below, have indelibly shaped Muslim community discourse in a particular way, although, as I also seek to show, the situation is now beginning to change.

That these organizations are led and mainly consist of ulema is reflected in the fact that they see the problems and issues of the Muslims primarily through a religious lens. Viewing Muslims simply in terms of religion is a reflection of the fact that education in most traditional madrasas remains confined to study of the Islamic normative scriptural tradition, with no space for social sciences, and largely ignoring contemporary social reality. This reflects the general understanding that religion should be of the foremost concern to the individual Muslim and to the Muslim community as a whole, for it deals with ultimate truths and the eternal life after death, which is naturally seen as far more important than the short-lived life on earth. It also reflects the ulema’s understanding that if Muslims were to truly follow Islam (itself diversely interpreted by different ulema-led sectarian groupings) they would win the pleasure of God, who would thereby put an end to their worldly woes or else would permit them to suffer as a test of their faith, for which they would be blessed in the after-life.

Defining Muslims simply on the basis of religion, without considering other crucial social identities (such as caste and class) can also be said to suit the interests of the Muslim religious and political elites, whose internal hegemony would obviously be threatened if caste-class identities of marginalized groups within the larger Muslim community were to come to the fore. This would also fracture the notion of the idealized monolithic ummah that they cherish.
Hence, for many, though by no means all, of the ulema-led groups that claim to speak for all Indian Muslims, issues concerning Muslims that relate to their religion and religious identity are of paramount concern, and this is reflected in their activities as well as the demands that they make on the state. Thus, the work of most ulema-led organizations (‘All-India’
ones, as well as those that operate at the state and local levels, many of which are affiliated to the ‘All-India’ organizations) focuses mainly on religious education and religious institution-building—setting up maktabs, madrasas and mosques, publishing Islamic literature, organizing Islamic seminars and conferences and so on. (This, of course, is also due to the fact that many Muslims see their religion and religious identity under threat).  In addition, some of them are also engaged in relief work, such as in the event of anti-Muslim violence and natural calamities.

The demands that these groups make on the state also mainly relate to issues defined in religious terms:
Babri Masjid, Urdu, Muslim Personal Law, permission to pray in mosques presently under the Archaeological Survey of India, subsidy for the Haj pilgrimage, naming buildings after Muslim personages and so on, to name a few. These sorts of demands are implicitly encouraged both by the state and by anti-Muslim Hindu groups. For governments, these constitute minimal demands in terms of resource allocation to Muslims, and an easy way for political parties to garner Muslim votes. For Hindutva groups, these demands further reinforce the notion of Muslims as ruled by ‘obscurantist’ mullahs, of Muslims being ‘backward’ and ‘obsessed with religion’. At the same time, such Hindu groups, too, continue to raise similar sorts of demands on the Hindu side, often those which involve conflict with Muslims, in order to extend their support among Hindus. This, in turn, forces Muslims to be on the defensive, and for the agenda of community to be defined in exactly the same narrow way as the Hindu right wants it to, leaving out of Muslim community discourse vital questions related to Muslim economic, educational and political disempowerment, conditions which Hindutva supremacists wish to reinforce.

The modern middle-class may be regarded as a crucial motor of change, but, overall, for various historical reasons, the Indian Muslim middle-class is relatively small, particularly in the north, where the bulk of the Indian Muslim population is concentrated. The lack of a substantial and influential middle-class has meant that, in many cases, the ulema have taken over the leadership (or claims to leadership) of the community. In some places where a noticeable modern Muslim middle-class exists, it may, in contrast to the ulema, lack strong organic links with the bulk of the Muslims, who live in slums in urban areas or who, in rural areas, are mainly small farmers, agricultural labourers and artisans. Often, due to widespread and growing anti-Muslim sentiments, middle-class Muslims might seek to downplay their Muslim-ness in public as they seek to ‘integrate’ into the largely ‘upper- caste Hindu Indian middle-class milieu. Overt displays of religiosity or concern with the plight of the Muslim masses might bring on them the (misplaced) charge of being ‘communal’, ‘obscurantist’, or ‘fundamentalist’ from their ‘upper’ caste and middle-class Hindu colleagues and neighbours, whom they seek to ‘integrate’ with. Besides, like the middle-class among other communities, their prime concern may not be the pathetic conditions of the Muslim masses but their own quest for consumerist delight. Further, as in the case of numerous Dalit organizations, their demands on the state might concern issues that relate largely to their class alone, such as the demand that the state declare Muslims as a whole a ‘Backward Class’ eligible  for reservations, a move that would, obviously, benefit essentially them.

For these and other reasons, relatively few middle-class Muslims do take an active interest in the concerns of the Muslim poor. This is reflected in the fact that there are just two Muslim magazines in English (the language of a large section of the Muslim middle class) in the whole of the country that deal with Muslim community issues (as distinct from specifically religious issues), relatively few NGOs run by middle-class Muslims working economic and educational issues (most Muslim trusts and societies being religious institutions run by the ulema), and just a single Muslim-run institution in the entire country that does research work on Muslim empirical issues and problems.

True, numerous politicians, members of various political parties, are of Muslim background, and several of them stress their Muslim-ness in public too, and not always simply to garner Muslim votes.
However, the fact that most of them are members of parties that are not only not just exclusively Muslim, but are also ‘upper’ caste Hindu dominated, means that their ability or even willingness to speak about Muslim economic, educational and political problems is limited, for they are primarily answerable to their parties and only then, if at all, to the Muslim community. For many such ‘Muslim’ politicians, raising issues of symbolic or emotional import, often those that are geared to stir public passions, while ignoring bread-and-butter issues of the Muslim masses, is a sure means to win popularity for themselves and perhaps electoral victories, too. It is oft-lamented that such Muslim ‘leaders’ (like their Hindu counterparts among the Hindus) have a vested interest in raising just such issues and framing Muslim political discourse and demands on the state in precisely this way, thereby, in keeping the masses ‘backward’, so that they can, as the Urdu/Hindi saying goes, ‘bake their own political rotis’.

The scope for Muslim political leaders not aligned with any non-Muslim-dominated political party to sincerely and consistently champion Muslim demands related to issues of economic, social and educational marginalization is limited. Independent political mobilization by Muslims is considered to be a ‘dangerous’ move, for it quickly invites charges (unsubstantiated, generally) of being ‘anti-national’, ‘communal’, ‘fundamentalist’ and ‘divisive’. Muslim political activists who have risen from the ranks of the deprived and articulate their economic and educational problems, as distinct from concerns related to religion and religious identity, are few.
Some of them appeared promising when they started out but later succumbed and were co-opted and corrupted by one political party or the other. Some others veered round to a form of communalism that actually proved determinately to Muslim interests, particularly in matters relating to Hindu-Muslim relations.

Recent years, however, have witnessed a considerable stirring for change in the Muslim community. This can be attributed, in part, to growing literacy, a gradually expanding Muslim middle-class, and  growing political mobilization across religious lines at the same time as India witnesses the growing challenge of Hindutva, which has also forced Muslims to realize the importance of educational and economic empowerment if they are not to be turned into the ‘new Untouchables’.
Some of this is also attributable to work by some NGOs, who, although belatedly, are now gradually waking up to the realization that Muslims are a marginalized community and that they need to work with them, too.

This change is manifested and visible in different forums and in different ways. In some places, such as in parts of urban south India, middle-class Muslims have formed small associations and institutions, including schools, colleges, technical institutions, hospitals and so on, and have lobbied with state governments for community causes, with various degrees of success. In the north, some ulema-led organizations now work closely with Muslim (and, sometimes, leftist and ‘progressive’ non-Muslim) professionals, such as lawyers, economists and journalists, as well as social activists and politicians in organizing awareness drives or demanding that the state give Muslims their due, in terms of resource allocation, jobs and protection from anti-Muslim violence. This indicates a considerable shift in the discourse of an important section of the ulema. However, these efforts often suffer from a lack of professionalism, this having to do with the different cultural capital of the ulema as well as the often misplaced hostility or indifference of many middle-class Muslims towards even those ulema who seek to step out of the confines of their mosques and madrasas and engage in issues concerning the community at large.

Little of this work of ulema-led groups, however, is reported in the non-Muslim or the so-called
‘mainstream’) media, because large sections of this media do not find such activities ‘newsworthy’ (they often reporting on Muslim issues only in the light of some controversy or sensational event or the other, almost always negative) as well as because press releases and publications of ulema-led groups are almost invariably in Urdu, in most parts of the country a language that, mainly due to discriminatory state policies, has now become, for all practical purposes, a solely ‘Muslim’ one. 

The recently-released Report of the Sachar Committee has acted as a major catalyst in promoting these new stirrings for change within the Muslim community.Despite the widespread cynicism in Muslim circles about the willingness and seriousness of the Government in implementing the recommendations of the Report to address some of the crucial causes of Muslim marginalisation, the Report itself has given a great fillip to forces within the community who wish to steer it’s political discourse beyond what they see as obsessive concern with religious issues, as narrowly defined, and with controversies and polemics which sections of the Muslim leadership, Hindutva forces and the state are seen as having been jointly complicit in reinforcing.

A perusal of the Urdu press reveals that many Muslims remark that the fact that the Report, the first of its kind, was prepared by a government-appointed team, and not by a Muslim institution shows what they regard as the lack of seriousness and commitment of the Muslim leadership, by and large, to the concerns of the Muslim masses, the argument being that if this leadership were truly concerned about the masses, it could have generated such a study on its own much earlier and used it to press for Muslim demands to be heard. Now, however, since the Report is out, Muslim groups (some led by ulema, others by ‘lay’ Muslims) in different parts of the country have organized (and continue to organize), local level meetings to conscientise the community about the findings of the Report, and to press upon political parties to take up the issue of the implementation of its recommendations. The Urdu press, long considered to have been mired in the politics of grievance and sensationalism, has also taken up the issue of the Sachar Report in a major way. Muslim groups in several states have now come up with their own reports on the conditions of the Muslims in their respective states.
Some Muslim organizations have also translated the Sachar Report in local languages. This possibly indicates that political, economic and educational issues of the Muslims, rather than simply issues related to religion and religious identity, as narrowly defined, are likely to assume greater salience in Muslim community discourse.

The Hegemony of the North Indian Ashraf and Challenges From the Periphery: The Emergence of Alternate Muslim Voices and Implications for Muslim Political Discourses

In theory, Islam is an egalitarian religion. The Quran stresses that the sole criterion for judging one’s superiority is piety. Neither wealth nor caste count in God’s eyes. Despite this, Indian Muslim society is, on the whole, divided into numerous largely endogamous caste-like groups (for which various terms, such as zat, jati, biraderi, qaum and qabila are used). They are generally ranked in a hierarchical fashion, similar in some ways to the Hindu caste system, although the rigidity of this system of ranking differs across the country.

Indian Muslims who claim West or Central Asian descent, such as the Syeds, Shaikhs, Pathans, and Mughals—the so-called Ashraf or ‘nobles’—generally regard themselves as superior to Muslims of indigenous origin, who form the vast majority of the Indian Muslim population. This owes to several factors: the geographical proximity of West and Central Asia to Arabia; the fact that the putative ancestors of the Ashraf arrived in India as conquerors and ruled most of the land for several centuries; the ‘refined’
Indo-Persian culture of the Ashraf and their historically closer association with scriptural Islam, Arabic, Persian and Urdu; and a feeling of racial superiority on account of differences in skin colour.
Historically, the centuries of what is often, but mistakenly, described as ‘Muslim’ rule in India was the rule of the Ashraf (in association with sections of the Hindu ‘upper’ castes). It was from their ranks that rulers, judges, landlords, governors, and famous Sufis and ulema emerged. Like ‘upper’ caste Hindus, many Ashraf tended to look down on the indigenous Muslims (mostly of ‘low’ and ‘middle’ caste origin), who remained tied down to their ancestral professions despite the process of Islamisation that they had undergone to various degrees.

The historical base of the Ashraf coincided with the Hindu Aryavarta or the ‘cow-belt’, what is now Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and parts of Bihar. This is where many important Ashraf-built Muslim institutions are located, some set up in pre-colonial times, and many others during the period of British rule and thereafter. This was the base of the Deobandi, Ahl-e Hadith and Barelvi ulema, the Tablighi Jamaat and the Jamaat-e Islami, and the Muslim League and the ‘nationalist’ Muslims. This was also a region which witnessed fierce competition between Hindu and Muslim elites, being also the bastion of Hindu revivalist groups. All this had important consequences for the evolution of Indian Muslim political discourse from the colonial period onwards, whose effects continue to be visible even today.

The Ashraf of Aryavarta dominated Muslim politics in the British period, and continue to do so today, seeing themselves as ‘natural leaders’ of all the Muslims of India. Steeped in a culture shaped heavily by the feudal traditions of their ancestors, and hailing from a region that witnessed sharp Hindu-Muslim polarization and conflicts from the turn of the nineteenth century onwards, the Ashraf of Aryavarta saw the Muslims of India in their own image.
Inevitably, issues of particular concern to them were projected as issues that concerned all the Muslims of India. (Likewise, ‘upper’ caste Hindus from Aryavarta presented these issues, which related principally to them, as issues that concerned all the Hindus of India). These ranged from the Hindi-Urdu and cow-slaughter/cow-protection controversies in the late nineteenth century, to wrangling between Hindu and Muslim elites for patronage under the colonial system and then the Pakistan movement in the years before Partition, to issues such as discrimination against Urdu (the language the Ashraf of Ayavarta cherish as their own, but which they tend to project as the language of virtually all Indian Muslims), threats to the minority character of the Aligarh Muslim University (once the bastion of the ‘modern’-educated Aryavarta Ashraf middle-class) and the Babri Masjid-Ramjanambhumi controversy. The Aryavarta Ashraf (as with the ‘upper’ caste Hindus of Aryavarta in the Hindu case) thus saw, and continue to see, themselves as ‘natural’ spokesmen of all the Muslims of the country, thus seeking to hegemonise Indian Muslim political discourse.

This has had crucial consequences for the ability of other Indian Muslim voices to be heard at the ‘All-India’ level. Thus, for instance, South Indian Muslims, who, on the whole, have fared considerably better than their north Indian counterparts in terms of economic and educational development, and whose relations with their Hindu neighbours have been marked by considerably less controversy, hardly find any representation in the numerous Muslim organizations, mostly based in Delhi, that claim to speak on behalf of all the Muslims of India. This problem is not unique to the Muslims, however. Aryavarta Hindu elites, too, see themselves as the arbiters of the destiny of all the Hindus of India. Perhaps this stems, in large measure, to the historic Aryan-Dravidian divide and the deep-rooted prejudices among many north Indians against South Indians, mainly on account differences of race, colour and language.

Likewise, non-Ashraf (or so-called Ajlaf or ‘low’
caste) Muslims from Aryavarta and other parts of the country find little or no presence in the Muslim outfits that claim to speak on behalf of the Muslims of India, despite the fact that they heavily outnumber the Ashraf. This owes to a long tradition of caste prejudice, and the fact that, by and large, the so-called Ajlaf historically did not witness any significant upward social mobility despite their conversion to Islam. Consequently, issues of pressing concern to the majority of the ‘low’ caste/class Muslims, such as rampant poverty, landlessness, illiteracy and unemployment, caste discrimination, rapid economic marginalization due to the ‘liberalisation’ of the economy that is fast destroying the resource base of Muslim artisan communities, and the meager representation of ‘low’ caste Muslims in government services, rarely, if ever, find mention in the discourse of Ashraf politicians.
Nor are they often reflected in the activities engaged in by many Ashraf-led organizations or in the demands that these make on the state. Indeed, on some counts, several of these organizations and leaders have taken positions that explicitly harm the interests of the ‘low’ caste majority, such, as for instance, in opposing reservations for Dalit and OBC Muslims, using the specious argument (which resonates with that of Hindutva ideologues in the Hindu case) that this would allegedly divide the Muslim community against itself.

Another section of the Muslim community whose voices and concerns have merited little attention in the discourse and demands of the ‘All-India’ Muslim organizations, led by the Aryavarta Ashraf, are Muslim women. This, of course, must be understood in the backdrop of pervasive patriarchal traditions that Indian Muslims share with other Indians. In almost all these organizations, women find no representation at all. In some, such as in the All-India Muslim Personal law Board, they enjoy merely a token presence. In none of these organizations are women in any major decision-making capacity. Not surprisingly, these organizations have not paid sufficient attention to the particular issues of Muslim women. In fact, on some occasions, many of them have even taken positions that militate against even the rights that Islam grants to women.

Although for long subdued, the voices of non-Aryavarta Muslims, non-Ashraf Muslims and Muslim women are now gradually beginning to be heard, thereby helping the issues and concerns of minorities (in terms of power, not in terms of numbers) within the larger Indian Muslim community to be publicly articulated and heard.
For many entrenched male Ashraf elites, these voices, that directly or otherwise challenge their hegemony, are seen as disruptive of an imagined monolithic and firmly united Muslim community of which they claim to be the ‘natural spokesmen’. Often, these voices are denounced as being motivated by ‘anti-Islamic’ sentiments, and those who articulate them are branded as ‘agents’ of the ‘enemies of Islam’, described variously as the ‘West’, ‘Christians’, ‘Jews’, ‘Zionists’ and ‘Hindu fascists’. Demands by ‘low’-caste Muslims for reservations on the basis of caste are quickly denounced as going against Islam because, it is argued, Islam does not recognize caste.
Ironically, at the same time, the Ashraf rarely, if ever, marry with the non-Ashraf, and many Ashraf ulema continue to misinterpret Islamic jurisprudence to seek to justify the caste system. Demands for Muslim women’s rights, in matters of matrimony, divorce, education and inheritance, based on alternate readings of the Quran, are often dubbed as a ‘Western’
conspiracy to seek to lead Muslim women astray and thereby to destroy the community from within.

Yet, despite the odds that they face, in recent years spokespersons for marginalized groups within the larger Muslim community, such as non-Ashraf and Muslim women activists activists, have become increasingly more vocal and visible. This owes to several factors, which need not be discussed here. Most of them work at the local and state level, often along with other similar groups (including, for instance, Dalit and largely ‘Hindu’ women’s groups, in the case of ‘low’ caste Muslim groups and Muslim women’s groups, respectively). Some of them have started NGOs, or caste-based Anjumans, of their own; others have launched magazines and newspapers and even websites.
The demands they make on the state, and on the community at large, have essentially to do with the particular legal, social, cultural and economic problems of these marginalized sections within the Muslim community, in marked distinction to the overwhelming focus of male Ashraf-led organizations on issues related to religion and religious identity, narrowly construed.

Not all of this effort, however, may be laudatory. Some of these groups are letter-head organizations, used as launching pads for promoting the interests of their leaders or for attracting funds from (often Western) funding agencies, who have their own particular agendas (sometimes diversionary and divisive) to promote. Yet, on the whole, these newly emerging voices seek, in their own ways, to fracture the hegemony over Muslim political discourse that the Ashraf male elites, particularly those based in Aryavarta, have sought to impose on the Muslims of India. In this way, they seek to bring new issues to the fore, helping to shift the political agenda of the community as well as the demands that the community makes on the state away from what they see as an obsessive concern with issues of religion and religious identity (as defined by male Ashraf elites) to also incorporate crucial social, economic and political problems and concerns of the Indian Muslims.

The State and the Muslims

The ‘upper’ caste-Hindu dominated Indian state, like its colonial precursor, also categorises and defines the Indian population according to religion, thus further reinforcing the notions of the ‘Hindu majority community’ and the ‘religious minorities’. It is obvious how this strategy serves the interests of the ‘upper’ caste Hindu ruling establishment—categorizing the Indian population otherwise, say in terms of caste, class, language or ethnicity would directly undermine the overall hegemony of the ‘upper’ caste Hindu minority.

Since the Muslims come to be defined by the state mainly, if not entirely, by religion, the ‘Muslim question’ is generally framed by the state, political parties and politicians in terms of religion and religious identity. This is why, for instance, sops offered by governments and political parties to Muslims (periodically, generally just before elections) have mainly to do with questions of religion or Muslim religious identity: Haj subsidies, schemes for madrasa ‘modernisation’, renovation of mosques, appointment of Urdu teachers (Urdu being projected as a ‘Muslim’ language), preservation of Muslim Personal Law and so on. This politics of tokenism and symbolism resonates with the demands of many ‘All-India’ Muslim ‘leaders’. These sorts of ‘concessions’ are also a cheap way for the state and various political parties to garner Muslim votes, entailing minimal diversion of resources to Muslim communities. For this reason, too, they suit the interests of anti-Muslim Hindutva forces, who use these ‘concessions’ to press their argument that Muslims are being ‘unfairly appeased’, a trump card in their propaganda to win Hindu support.

Even when, as in the case of the Sachar Report, state-appointed commissions highlight the pathetic overall economic and educational conditions of the Muslims, and appeal to the state to live up to its Constitutional obligations vis-à-vis the Muslim citizens of India, the response of the state has been lukewarm, if not actually wholly indifferent. Such recommendations, like such demands made from time to time by various Muslim organizations, threaten to shift the terms of public discourse about the ‘Muslim question’ from religion and religious identity to issues of economic, educational, social and political marginalization of Muslims.

Little wonder, then, that Hindutva forces have so very vociferously condemned the recommendations of the Sachar Committee Report and that the Congress-led government at the Centre, which itself had appointed the Committee, has done next to nothing on the lines suggested by its authors. That, however, only points to the need for Muslim (and secular) forces to further galvanise efforts to bring issues relating to Muslim social, economic and educational marginalization to the centre of public discourse about the ‘Muslim question’.

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