Friday, September 29, 2006

Conversations With A Muslim Lady from Delhi

[Mrs Falak Khan is a young wife with two children. She lives in Gaffar Manzil, Jamia Milia Islamia - a Muslim-populated locality of New Delhi. The interview was done in Hindi.]

Falak, what is the meaning of your name?

Aasmaan. Sky. It is an Arabic word.

You are an Indian Muslim woman. Do you feel victimized in this country?

Don't you think that there are occasions when you are discriminated because of your name ... because of your religion?

Never. My daughter, Aital, is in the IVth standard. She was earlier studying at Summerfield School. I wanted her admission at KR Mangalam World School which is one of Delhi's best. Aital was a topper. She was instantly admitted to Mangalam. I know this happened because she was very good in her studies. We did not resort to any bribe. We did not depend on any sifarish [recommendation] by any influential person. Aital is a Muslim and there was no trouble.

So, you feel Muslims are not discriminated, after all?

Mayank, in India, if you are good, nobody can stop you. Isn't filmstar Shahrukh Khan a Muslim? What about (India's former cricket captain) Azharuddin? He is also a Muslim.

Then why are Muslims so backward? Why are they so uneducated?

It is because they don't study much. Schools are there but they don't send their children there. They are also very poor. They are tempted to put their children into work for extra income. Since parents are not educated themselves, they do not realize that a good education could change the lives of their children.

Falak, tell me about yourself. About your family, your husband, your childhood, your education.

(Smiles) ...From where to start? Ok. I'm from Kaimganj. It is a small town in North India. Papamian, my father, is a landlord there. Our great-grand father's grand father had come from Afghanistan and had settled there.

You are from Afghanistan? That is very exotic!

I'm from India. So I was saying that there are about two dozen Pathan families in Kaimganj. India's former President Zakir Hussain too hailed from Kaimganj. We are the two most renowned families there. We are distantly related, too.

Where did you do your education from?

I did my schooling in Kaimganj itself - in a all girls' school there. Later, I completed graduation in Political Science and Sociology from Aligarh Muslim University.

Being a young Muslim girl, do you think you had to face restrictions? How did your father let you live in Aligarh? Away from home?

There was no problem. Papamian wanted all of us four brothers and sisters to have good education. And then I lived in a girl's hostel in Aligarh. But now when I remember, there indeed were restrictions for being a Muslim girl. There were fifty advices of what-to-do and not-to-do once in Aligarh. And we were not allowed to visit the homes of our girl friends there. Dupatta (a scarf or covering for the head and upper body worn by women) was very important. We just could not go out without a dupatta. Our lives revolved around it. However inside the hostel, we were relatively free. We could even wear jeans!

Your description sounds so normal. It could be the life of any Indian girl. The general impression among the non-Muslims is that Muslim girls live behind black burqas and that their life is very tough. Perhaps you are an exception.

Well, I don't know. But yes, there are problems. Sometimes our religion comes in between. It restricts us. Sometimes there is confusion because of this. We get scared if we could be doing anything wrong. That it might be at variance with our religion. My younger sister wanted to be a dancer. She even wanted to become an actress. But Papamian did not allow it.

What about purdah?

It is a religious thing. But we are not forced to wear purdah. My husband has no problems. I go to gym, exercise on treadmill at home, and go for evening walks. It's fine. But when we go to Kaimganj, there things are different. If we go out there, we have to wear a chaddor. However now customs are relaxing. You know what Mayank: In Kaimganj, we do not feel comfortable outside without a chaddor...

Was yours an arranged marriage?

Yes, of course. (Laughs)

But were you consulted?

Yes if I would not have liked Avsaar Mian, my parents would had dropped the idea and looked elsewhere. But I liked him. He is very nice. I can shout at him for ever and ever but he has never raised his voice at me. Inshaallah.

Your life may be different, perhaps because you come from a wealthy family. But what about the general condition of Muslim women? Do you know a recent survey has revealed that only one in 101 Muslim women in India is a graduate?

Is it so? Very bad. But Islam doesn't stop women from doing all sorts of things. Take that famous bar dancer from Bombay - Tarannum. And then there is Tennis star Sania Mirza. And take me - a house wife. We all are Muslims. Only your religion can not define the life you chose for yourself.

What do you feel when you hear about the bomb blasts? It is believed that the Bombay blasts were carried out by Muslims. Do you think they could be justified?

I feel very bad. When I see all those dead bodies on TV ... Mayank, how can you distinguish a Muslim or a Hindu from those dead bodies? I feel terrible. That somebody somewhere must be waiting for those dead people ... it is horrible.

I still remember Rupin Katyal. You know him? He was a honeymooner who was killed during the plane hijacking by Muslim terrorists. I cried when he was shot dead by the hijackers. I know if I would have been in that plane, I would have prayed, pleaded, and impressed those terrorists with my knowledge of Koranic verses and would have bought the plane back with all the passengers alive and safe. My heart still bleeds for that poor man, and his parents and widow.

When terrorist events take place, what is your first feeling? Do you think that 'oh now we Muslims will again be blamed', or something on those lines?

I just feel sick. Kasam Khuda ki. (I swear on Allah) My only plea to terrorists is to please stop all this. We are scared. I'm afraid even while going to cinema theatres. What if something happens to my children? How could a bomb planted by Islamic terrorists know that my son is a Muslim?

[After a pause]

Evertime a blast happens, accusations are pointed towards Pakistan-based terrorists, and then it is the turn of us Muslims. Why are we accused for their actions? It is so insulting. I feel so humiliated.

Hundreds of Muslims were killed in the Gujarat riots of 2002. Some people say that terror attacks like what happened in July 2006 in Bombay were a reaction to it. Muslims were not getting justice. So they were humiliated and they took revenge by killing Hindus.

Mayank, tell me how could you imagine that I might get any satisfaction by watching the dead bodies of Hindus on my TV?

My son's best friend is a Hindu. His name is Ankush. He makes our life terrible by calling Arbaaz at all the odd hours and talking non-stop for hours and hours. Can I derive satisfaction if Ankush is killed in a bomb blast?

How could I be happy by the killing of Hindus? What sort of a question is this? My best friend till the Vth standard was a Hindu. Her name was Anita. I still remember her. We were very close friends. I even used to get her clothes stitched from our family tailor. How can I hate Hindus? You are a Hindu yourself, Mayank. Why will I talk to you if I dislike them? How can I get pleasure by Anita's husband being killed by terrorists?

[Here we are joined by Khaleda Begum, Falak's mother, who is visiting from Kaimganj]

Falak: Mayank, here is Ammi (mother). You must talk to her. Her youth was very different.

In what way? Were you discriminated? Were the rules harsher in your time?

Falak: Mayank, she was very beautiful when young. A real diamond!

[Khaleda Begum laughs]

Khaleda Begum: Son, if my parents were not my own mother and father, I would have gone on cursing them till the end of my life. They did not let me study. All I wanted was education. But even to mention the word 'school' in front of our father was sin.

Oh, tell me about your life. How were you raised?

Khaleda Begum: It was very bad. We were locked inside purdah. We could not go out. We had to stay home all the time. Even if we had to go to meet relations, which was rare, we had to go in a tonga that had a purdah draped all around it. It was terrible. All we did was stay at home and talk about wedding proposals.

Did you see your husband before marriage?

Khaleda Begum: No. We were not allowed to.

Oh, that's sad.

Khaleda Begum: But he was a distant relative so I knew about him. It was not bad. I'm very lucky.

Tell me more. What did your parents think of Hindus? That Hindus are bad people? One must not sit with them? One must not mingle much with them? That they were Kafirs?

Khaleda Begum: Rubbish. Nothing like that. I never heard any bad thing being said about Hindus. My maika [mother's home] is in Lalpur. We used to live, and still live, surrounded by Hindus. We have some close relations with some of the Hindu families there.

And what is this about not sitting with Hindus, Mayank son. Aren't I sitting with you? My sister-in-law is a Hindu. Many years back I had certain silly notions about Hindus. But when (sister-in-law) Rekha came and when she started drinking water from my glass, I gave no second thoughts of using her used glass, too. Where's the difference?

Khaledaji and Falak, what do you think about the present environment? Isn't it has grown ugly? Isn't there a deep divide between Hindus and Muslims, now?

Khaleda Begum: It is all because of the politicians. They all are bad.

[After a pause]

Falak: Mayank, the problem with Hindus is they do not think deep. They think every bearded man with a skull cap is a terrorist. They do not understand that these are merely the symbols of our religion. Do you look upon every turbaned Sikh as Khalistani supporter?


Falak: Then why is it with our case? Hindus just do not know anything about us. Mayank, I know everything about Hindu rituals. I'm familiar with every little ceremony in their marriages. But I'm sure that if you query Hindu women about rituals in Nikah (Muslim wedding), they would be tongue tied.

Khaleda Begum: I really like some of their festivals, like Raksha Bandhan (a Hindu festival for borthers and sisters). It has nothing to do with Hindus or Muslims. It is all about heart.
Falak: If only Hindus know more about us, they will change their opinions.

Khaleda Begum: But Mayank son, you must also write that I do not view people as Hindus or Muslims. If I'll see a Muslim child and a Hindu child falling off from a cliff, I will rush to save both of them. I won't go first only to the Muslim. I will save them together.

Why, every time I come to Delhi I take Arbaaz's and Aital's old clothes and give it to the Bhurbhuriyas [Rajasthani gypsy tribes] living in our Kaimganj farm since 5 years. They all are Hindus. So what!

Now a sensitive question: do you cheer for Pakistan, or know anybody who does so in India-Pak cricket matches?

[Both burst into laughter]
Khaleda Begum: Save us from such questions.

But really, what do you think of Pakistan?

Khaleda Begum: We are better in all the respects than Pakistan. There are so many restrictions and control on women there. India is a much better place. Allah be grateful for making me born in India.

Falak: I think their women are too much into makeup and hair-dye. Too modern.

Khaleda Begum: Falak, the place where you took me yesterday evening! Tell that to Mayank.
Falak: We had taken Ammi to Barista coffee shop. She was so shocked to see the girls there.

Khaleda Begum: They were wearing almost nothing. No clothes. No looks. And no clue about education!

But the world is changing. Your grand daughter will roam around in micro minis when she grows up.

Falak: Mayank, in Islam they say: Aurat wohi bakshi jayegi jo sharamgaho ko chhupakar rakhegi. [Loosely translated: Only those women will be rescued who will carefully hide their assets from public gaze.] We believe that those Muslim women who expose their bodies will burn in hell.

In that case I'm nervous for the afterlife of your grand children, Falak.
[We all burst out laughing]

Khaleda Begum: We Muslims say that during the time of resurrection, buildings will be so tall that just looking up will make your topi fall down from your head...

Falak: And each boy will be surrounded by four girls...

It sounds delicious...

[A pause]

Let me change the subject. I see you have a Honda City car parked in your yard. You seem to be very wealthy. Then why are you staying in this locality? Do not misunderstand me please, but when I was coming here I had to cover my nose. The drains are open. It is stinking outside. You can afford to live in a better place. Why here?

Falak: I understand your point. But after so many communal riots we are just too careful. We want to live amongst our co-religionists.

My husband is a builder. Many wealthy people returning from Dubai and Saudi Arabia come to him looking for houses. Their only condition is for a Muslim locality. They have money to buy apartments in posh areas but nobody feels safe any longer.

Falak, any last word you would like to say?

[Long pause]

Mayank, I'm proud of being an Indian. I think Indian Muslims are the best Muslims in the world. Have you ever heard of any terrorist from India being caught in Kashmir? We are the most forward people. Our president is a Muslim.

Please tell for my sake that I do not like Pakistan. Neither have I any desire to go there. I love the freedom here. I love my India.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts.


Blogger hyderabadi guy said...

The grip of the Majlis-e-ittehadul Muslimeen on the community remains strong, despite minor dents.
WITH A Member representing Hyderabad in the Lok Sabha, five members in the Andhra Pradesh Assembly, 40 corporators in Hyderabad and 95-plus members elected to various municipal bodies in Andhra Pradesh, the All-India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen is one of the foremost representatives of the city’s Muslims and the most powerful Muslim party in India and one can see the partys strenghth if it goes to Hyderabads Old city everywhere u look u can see MIM written on walls ,lightpoles and buildings leaving aside flags and posters of its Leadership. The Majlis has brought lot of development to the Old part of the city even after it is said it hasnt done anything by its opponents who are mostly Ex Majlis workers.
The Majlis was formed in 1927 “for educational and social uplift of Muslims”. But it articulated the position that “the ruler and throne (Nizam) are symbols of the political and cultural rights of the Muslim community… (and) this status must continue forever”.
The Majlis pitted itself against the Andhra Mahasabha and the communists who questioned the feudal order that sustained the Nizam’s rule. It also bitterly opposed the Arya Samaj, which gave social and cultural expression to the aspirations of the urban Hindu population in the Hyderabad State of those days.
By the mid-1940s, the Majlis had come to represent a remarkably aggressive and violent face of Muslim communal politics as it organised the razakars (volunteers) to defend the “independence” of this “Muslim” State from merger with the Indian Union.
According to historians, over 1,50,000 such `volunteers’ were organised by the Majlis for the Nizam State’s defence but they are remembered for unleashing unparalleled violence against Hindu populations, the communists and all those who opposed the Nizam’s “go it alone” policy. It is estimated that during the height of the razakar `agitation’, over 30,000 people had taken shelter in the Secunderabad cantonment alone to protect themselves from these `volunteers’.
But the razakars could do little against the Indian Army and did not even put up a fight. Kasim Rizvi, the Majlis leader, was imprisoned and the organisation banned in 1948. Rizvi was released in 1957 on the undertaking that he would leave for Pakistan in 48 hours. Before he left though, Rizvi met some of the erstwhile activists of the Majlis and passed on the presidentship to Abdul Wahed Owaisi, a famous lawyer and an Islamic scholar who also was jailed for nearly 10 months after he took over the Majlis leadership as the then govt wanted to abolish the Majlis party but Owaisi refused to do so and was seen as a person who had financially supported the party when it was a bankrupt and weak one after the Police Action in Hyderabad State.
Owaisi is credited with having “re-written” the Majlis constitution according to the provisions of the Indian Constitution and “the realities of Muslim minority in independent India”, according to a former journalist, Chander Srivastava. For the first decade-and-a-half after this “reinvention”, the Majlis remained, at best, a marginal player in Hyderabad politics and even though every election saw a rise in its vote share, it could not win more than one Assembly seat.
The 1970s saw an upswing in Majlis’ political fortunes. In 1969, it won back its party headquarters, Dar-us-Salaam — a sprawling 4.5-acre compound in the heart of the New City. It also won compensation which was used to set up an ITI on the premises and a women’s degree college in Nizamabad town. In 1976, Salahuddin Owaisi took over the presidentship of the Majlis after his father’s demise.
This started an important phase in the history of the Majlis as it continued expanding its educational institutions,Hospitals,Banks, including the first Muslim minority Engineering College and Medical College. Courses in MBA, MCA ,Nursing, Pharmacy and other professional degrees followed and now a daily newspaper known as Etemaad Daily. The 1970s were also a watershed in Majlis’ history as after a long period of 31 years, Hyderabad witnessed large-scale communal rioting in 1979. The Majlis came to the forefront in “defending” Muslim life and property Majlis workers could be seen at these moments defending the properties of Muslims in the wake of riots and these workers were very hard even for the police to control them even now it is a known fact that there are nearly about 2500 units of strong members who only act if there is a seirous threat to the Owaisi family and these members are under the direct orders of the Owaisi family which leads the Majlis party leaving aside thousands of workers and informers throughout the State and even outside the country far away till America and the Gulf countries.
Salahuddin Owaisi, also known as “Salar-e-Millat” (commander of the community), has repeatedly alleged in his speeches that the Indian state has “abandoned” the Muslims to their fate. Therefore, “Muslims should stand on their own feet, rather than look to the State for help’’, he argues.
This policy has been an unambiguous success in leveraging the Majlis today to its position of being practically the “sole spokesman” of the Muslims in Hyderabad and its environs.
Voting figures show this clearly. From 58,000 votes in the 1962 Lok Sabha elections for the Hyderabad seat, Majlis votes rose to 1,12,000 in 1980. The clear articulation of this “stand on one’s feet” policy in education and `protection’ during riots doubled its vote-share by 1984. Salahuddin Owaisi won the seat for the first time, polling 2.22 lakh votes. This vote-share doubled in the 1989 Lok Sabha elections to over four lakhs.
The Majlis has since continued its hold on the Hyderabad seat winning about five-and-a-half lakh votes each time.
Despite remarkable economic prosperity and negligible communal violence in the past decade, the hold of the Majlis on the Muslims of Hyderabad remains, despite minor dents. And despite widespread allegations of Majlis leaders having “made money”, most ordinary Muslims continue to support them because, as one bank executive put it “they represent our issues clearly and unambiguously’’. An old Historian Bakhtiyar khan says the Owaisi family was a rich family even before entering Politics and he says he had seen the late Majlis leader Abdul Wahed Owaisi in an American Buick car at a time when rarely cars were seen on Hyderabad Roads and the family had strong relations with the ersthwhile Nizams of Hyderabad and the Paighs even now the family is considered to be one of the richest familes in Hyderabad.
A university teacher says that the Majlis helped Muslims live with dignity and security at a time when they were under attack and even took the fear out of them after the Police action and adds that he has seen Majlis leaders in the front at times confronting with the Police and the Govt.
Asaduddin Owaisi, the articulate UK educated barrister son of Salahuddin Owaisi and Former leader of the Majlis’ Legislature party and now an MP himself who has travelled across the globe meeting world leaders and organizatons and even in war zones compares the Majlis to the Black Power movement of America.
The Majlis that emerged after 1957 is a completely different entity from its pre-independence edition, he says adding that comparisons with that bloody past are “misleading and mischievous”. “That Majlis was fighting for state power, while we have no such ambitions or illusions”.
He stoutly defends the need for “an independent political voice” for the minorities, which is willing to defend them and project their issues “firmly”.
“How can an independent articulation of minority interests and aspirations be termed communal,” he asks and contests any definition of democracy which questions the loyalty of minorities if they assert their independent political identity. “We are a threat not only to the BJP and Hindu communalism, but also to Muslim extremism,” Asaduddin claims. “By providing a legitimate political vent for Muslims to voice their aspirations and fears, we are preventing the rise of political extremism and religious obscurantism when the community is under unprecedented attack from Hindu communalists and the state’’. He can be seen in his speeches speaking against terrorism in the Country and says if the time arises Majlis will stand side by side in defending the Nation

6:34 PM  

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