Reporters as police stenographers

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Reporters as police stenographersDelhi, September 27, 2012: As 16 terror cases end in acquittal the English press is guilty of giving in to the dubious claims of the infamous Special Cell. The writer wonders why reporters never question police claims.

Will the English press ever again report verbatim what the Delhi Police’s Special Cell tells them?

The Jamia Teachers’ Solidarity Association’s just-released report on 16 cases of terror filed by the Special Cell that ended in acquittal, is an indictment not just of the functioning of the Special Cell, but also of the English press. The report cites examples of reports in national newspapers such as The Times Of India, The Hindu, The Indian Express, and Hindustan Times, which carried verbatim, often without the use of the word “alleged”, the version given by the Special Cell at press conferences where often, the arrested innocents were produced as “hard core militants’.

Among the many paraded this way was 24-year-old Kashmiri Imran Kirmani, an aeronautical engineering graduate who had just landed a job in Delhi. His background came handy for the Special Cell to describe him as “part of an LeT module” planning to carry out a “9/11 plot”. “Prize catch” was the caption given by The Hindu to his picture on page one, surrounded by Special Cell plainclothesmen.

Four years later, the judge acquitted Kirmani. “And when I was released, there was no media, no cameras waiting to tell the world that I was innocent. It wasn’t a story,” Kirmani told the Kashmir correspondent of The Indian Express Muzammil Jaleel.

The JTSA report cites only the Express as having bothered to talk to Kirmani. But The Telegraph’s Muzaffar Raina did so too. The paper carried the story on page one.

Not that this in any way compensated for Kirmani’s trauma. “My dream (of becoming an aeronautical engineer) has died,” he said more than once to Jaleel. “Who will give me a job now?”

It wasn’t just Delhi’s Special Cell that ruined this blameless young man’s future. The English press also played a part.

This columnist has tried for years to find an answer to the question: why do reporters implicitly believe the police when they claim breakthroughs in “terror” cases? Because the police bear the authority of uniform? They are the ones who should know?

Even when the country’s first big terror strike took place on March 12, 1993 in Mumbai, there were doubts whether everyone picked up was part of the conspiracy. At that time, the lawyer of one of those arrested approached me with his client’s story. His client claimed that his only offence was that he had rented out a scooter, something he did everyday to strangers. How was he to know what it would be used for? (It was used to plant a bomb.) The TOI refused to publish the story, which was based entirely on the lawyer’s plea filed in court. The man was eventually discharged after spending three years in jail.

This was just after the 92-93 Mumbai riots, wherein the Mumbai police had shown just how aligned its men were with the Shiv Sena. The Times’ reportage of the riots had exposed some of this and earned it the abuse “Times of Pakistan” from the RSS. But riots were one thing, simultaneous bomb blasts across the city, killing random innocents, were a different kettle of fish. Would publishing that story have made the Times look like it was supporting the terrorists? Is that what stops newspapers from expressing doubts about police claims?

April 2006 should have been a turning point for investigations into bomb blasts. That was when the Nanded blasts took place and the RSS hand in the bomb blasts became clear. But even after Nanded, the police stuck to its only-Muslims-are-terrorists theory. Given the well-known anti-Muslim prejudice of the police, that was understandable. But what prevented the press from questioning this theory after April 2006?

Indeed, what prevents the press till today from picking holes in theories put out by our investigative agencies when it comes to crimes allegedly committed by Muslims? Why do reporters become “police stenographers” as the JTSA report calls them?

After the 2006 serial train blasts in Mumbai all newspapers faithfully reported the theory given out by the ATS. The seven bombs were assembled in a tiny room in a Govandi slum, open to all passersby. Then, from the north-east of Mumbai, they were carried to the north-west, to Bandra. They were kept in pressure cookers. These pressure cookers were kept in train compartments. Whatever you say, sirs. Never mind if the final charge sheet in the 2006 serial train blasts case has no mention of pressure cookers. Pakistan was involved, said headlines. Never mind that when it came to actually presenting evidence to Pakistan, the ATS developed cold feet.

The most bizarre aspect of the 2006 train blasts is that another branch of the Mumbai police, the Crime Branch, discovered in 2008 that quite a different set of persons were behind these blasts. The ATS had laid the blame on SIMI’s door. But an alleged Indian Mujaheedin member arrested for a series of blasts in 2008, reportedly “confessed” to the Crime Branch, headed by the legendary Rakesh Maria, that it was the IM that was behind the train blasts. Both police units stuck to their respective claims. In 2009, this man who “confessed”, Sadiq Shaikh, was discharged by the court on an application filed by the ATS which said he had no role in the train blasts, a crime to which he had reportedly “confessed”!

And these are the agencies we blindly trust. Among them is the Delhi Police Special Cell, as high profile as Maharashtra’s ATS, and, as the JTSA report shows, as dearly beloved of the Delhi press.


On September 23, 2007, The Times of India carried a news item titled: “Indian Intelligence informer spills the beans”. The report was sensational. It quoted a letter from Tihar Jail by an ex-IB informer detailing how IB, working with the Delhi Police’s Special Cell, plants its own “jehadi maulvis” to lure Muslim youth to commit terrorist acts. The CBI, directed by the Delhi High Court to investigate the case in which this informer was arrested by the Special Cell as an Al Badr terrorist, had corroborated the most important accusations made by the informer, said the report.

In November 2008, the CBI filed a closure report in the case, gave the two accused a clean chit and recommended legal action against three sub-inspectors of the Special Cell: Ravinder Tyagi, Vinay Tyagi, and Subhash Vats, for “fabricating and planting evidence to implicate” the accused “for an oblique motive.” In its closure report, the CBI revealed that the mobile phone records of one of the accused showed that he was in constant touch with IB officers.

Despite the Times following this story, these sensational findings were not widely reported in the English press. Even the Times did not do any larger article based on this “mind-numbing” report. (This phrase was used by the Times to describe one of the many so-called terror conspiracies solved by the Special Cell.) However, subsequent developments in the case were reported, including a complaint by CBI officer Santosh Kumar that one of the indicted Special Cell men had threatened him. So it can be safely said that the entire English press was aware of the CBI’s findings against the Special Cell.

In February 2011, Additional Sessions Judge Virender Bhat, acquitting seven alleged Kashmiri terrorists, ordered an FIR to be registered against the Delhi Police Special cell’s Sub Inspector Ravinder Tyagi and three other sub-inspectors for framing the accused. He also ordered the Delhi Police Commissioner to
Hold an inquiry against the four policemen, who he said, had “brought shame and disrepute to the entire Delhi police force”.

Both the Asian Age and The Indian Express reported this judgment, with the latter even interviewing the Kashmiris who were acquitted. But again, there was no follow-up on this indictment by the court against such high-profile policemen. By this time, Ravinder Tyagi had won a President’s medal; his name had also figured in the infamous Batla House encounter.

In January 2012, Amir Khan was acquitted after spending 14 years in jail for a total of 19 cases foisted on him. Almost every paper published the story of his frame-up by Delhi’s Special Cell and his acquittal in 17 of them.

Yet, despite being aware of all these indictments and irregularities, when the Delhi Police Special Cell arrested journalist Syed Kazmi in March this year for the bomb attack on the car carrying an Israeli diplomat’s wife in Delhi, all newspapers faithfully reproduced the police version with the word “alleged” featuring occasionally–the moped left in Kazmi’s house by the bomber; the $ 5000 first installment received by Kazmi from the bombers… The team in charge of the case included many familiar names whose earlier cases had ended in acquittal. But no scepticism was voiced.

Kazmi’s son’s version was of course reported a few days later.


Again, in December 2010, when two alleged Hizb-ul-Mujaheedin members were arrested from Dehradun, reports speculated whether the Indian Military Academy was the target. None of the reports bothered to mention that not even a year earlier, four youth arrested for allegedly planning a terror strike on the IMA had been honourably acquitted.

There appears to exist a marked sympathy towards the Special cell, which emerges in the frequent use of words such as “Special Cell dealt a blow” or “Special Cell resurrects with triple hit” (this from TOI). This report rejoiced at the return of ACP Sanjeev Yadav to the Cell. Yadav features in many of the cases documented by the JTSA report.

When courts and respected investigative agencies accuse the same police unit more than once of framing innocents, and the press, instead of highlighting these indictments, plays them down, how can the victims so framed get the publicity they deserve? Two cases cited in the JTSA report on the acquittal of Ayaz Ahmed shah, an alleged Kashmiri terrorist, are important here.

An acquittal does not mean that the accused is innocent. However, only after going through the judgment can you conclude whether the acquittal was based on technicalities or there was just no case against the accused. Quoting the judgment, the JTSA report shows that Ayaz Ahmed Shah was acquitted after the prosecution’s story was found riddled with holes. The depositions of Inspector Mohan Chand Sharma, the inspector gunned down in the Batla House encounter, and other members of the Special Cell team who arrested Shah, were found riddled with discrepancies and contradictions. Shah had been picked up on the basis of a tip off from an informer. But under cross-examination, the policemen admitted that the informer had neither revealed the suspect’s name nor description!

Yet, Midday reported on Shah’s acquittal with this headline: “Another terrorist goes free”, while The Telegraph described Shah as an “outlaw” who “slipped through”.

However, newspapers do follow-up on acquittals. Tehelka specially, does so regularly. Doing so is neither compensation nor a favour to those released. What is needed is simply news exposing the way our police have made it their dharma to frame innocent Muslims with terror charges.

Post Script:

The Delhi Police Special Cell in a rebuttal to the JTSA report claims that “six cases out of 16 referred to in the compilation have actually ended in conviction, while one case is still pending trial”.(Reported in The Hindu, September 20).

However, responding to this, the JTSA has listed out each of the 16 cases and pointed out that only in one of them were four out of the ten accused convicted of terror charges. The convictions that have been secured in other cases have been under the Arms Act or the Explosives Act, not on the charges of terrorist conspiracy or waging war against the State. “Courts have clearly held that there was nothing to prove that the accused were members or activists of terrorist organizations, or that they intended to carry out terror attacks,” says the rebuttal.

– tcn

Why calls for a global blasphemy law must be resisted

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Why calls for a global blasphemy law must be resistedSeptember 27, 2012: Violent protests against the anti-Islam film Innocence of Muslims have sparked renewed calls for an international law banning the defamation of religion, chiefly Islam.

These have come from unsurprising quarters, such as Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. On Tuesday 25 September, Pakistan, speaking on behalf of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), which comprises 56 Muslim-majority states, called for expressions of “Islamophobia” to be curbed by law. Erroneous comparisons are being made with laws that criminalise anti-Semitism; these rightly protect individuals from prejudice purely on the basis of their racial identity, as opposed to protecting beliefs and ideas from criticism or challenge. What the OIC is seeking is in no way to be equated with, for example, Britain’s archaic and toothless blasphemy law; rather it is a privileged and protected status for Islam.

This is not a new campaign by Muslim leaders. For twelve years, the OIC campaigned for a “Defamation of Religion” UN resolution. Support began to diminish as Western nations realized the consequences for freedom of speech, and in 2011 the OIC moderated its demands. The latest resolutions have shifted focus, seeking to protect individuals from discrimination or violence rather than protecting particular religions from criticism.

The danger now is that, in the face of intensifying and widespread Muslim violence in response to perceived offences to Islam, Western states will give in to fear and sacrifice vital freedoms in the interests of global security.

Sadly, a number of senior Anglican leaders have already surrendered. In a letter to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon dated 15 September, four bishops called for a UN declaration to outlaw “intentional and deliberate insulting or defamation of persons (such as prophets), symbols, texts and constructs of belief deemed holy by people of faith”.

Their appeal came, they wrote, “in view of the current inflamed situation in several countries in response to the production of a film in the USA which evidently intends to offend our Muslim brothers and sisters by insulting the Prophet Mohammed, and in view of the fact that in recent years similar offensive incidents have occurred in some European countries which evoked massive and violent responses worldwide”.

These Anglican leaders (the Most Revd Mouneer Anis, President-Bishop of the Episcopal Church in Jerusa­lem and the Middle East, the Rt Revd Michael Lewis, Bishop in Cyprus and the Gulf, the Rt Revd Dr Bill Musk, Area Bishop for North Africa, and the Rt Revd Dr Grant Le­-Marquand, Area Bishop for the Horn of Africa) are no doubt well intentioned, attempting to protect their vulnerable churches from Islamist violence and even their eradication. But in the same way that paying the ransom demands of hostage-takers only encourages kidnappings, giving in to Islamist violence will only strengthen the hand of extremists.

While Barnabas Fund absolutely condemns Innocence of Muslims and indeed any use of language, images or media that is abusive towards the leaders of other religions, the violent Islamic response that has caused dozens of deaths and the destruction of property is entirely unjustifiable and reprehensible. The charge of “blasphemy” or “offence” should not be used either as a reason to engage in violence or as a reason to curtail freedom of speech and conscience.

A global blasphemy law must be firmly resisted for a number of reasons. Firstly, it directly contradicts existing human rights law. Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states:

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression. This right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media regardless of frontiers.

It is quite proper for the law to protect individuals from discrimination or violence on account of their beliefs, but it is not the role of states to protect beliefs per se.

Secondly, a law against the defamation of religion would in reality protect Islam more than other religions. The fervency that drives the extremists and the fear that grips their targets, as recent events have evidenced, would see to that. While Christians try to follow Christ’s command to “turn the other cheek” in response to insults and attacks, Muslims are called instead to restore their honour when it has been taken from them, and doing this is more important to them than life itself.

Christianity is one of the most maligned religions in the world; Christ is routinely abused, ridiculed and misrepresented in films, television programmes, adverts and articles. Christians have had to learn to bear the pain this causes them in order for the full freedoms that form the basis of any civilized and democratic society to be upheld.

As the debate over the conflict between Western freedoms and Islamic sensitivities continues, it is essential to understand that Muslims believe power and honour rightly belong to them. The Quran says:

“But honour, power and glory belong to Allah and to His Messenger [Muhammad], and to the believers.” (sura 63, verse 8 )

Thirdly, a global blasphemy law would put Christians and other religious minorities in Muslim-majority contexts in a position of increased marginalization and danger. One has only to look at the effect of “blasphemy laws” in specific countries such as Pakistan, where Christians and other non-Muslims are extremely vulnerable to false accusations. Many people spend years languishing in prison and are sometimes even murdered over the flimsiest accusation of blasphemy. Criminalizing blasphemy in Pakistan has not resulted in greater harmony between religious groups; it has given the full force of the law to Islamic sensitivities, which has only served to exacerbate tensions between Muslims and minorities.

Finally, the calls from Muslims for protection and respect for Islam are outrageously hypocritical given the treatment of Christians and other religious minorities in most Muslim-majority contexts. Christians are routinely and systematically discriminated against, persecuted and violently attacked; in some countries, especially in the Middle East, there is a deliberate Islamist campaign to eradicate Christianity altogether.

While there remains such demonstrable lack of respect within Islam for other religions and their followers, demands for a global blasphemy law cannot and should not be taken seriously.

And those who may be prepared to sacrifice vital freedoms in the misguided belief that this will afford protection from extremist violence would do well to remember Benjamin Franklin’s famous words:

They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.

– barnabas edit

On the need for inter-religious dialogue

March 20, 2012 by  
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International Dialogue Islam

International Dialogue between Islam and Oriental Religions was organized in New Delhi in Feb. 2010 (TCN Photo)

New Delhi, March 17, 2012: Today’s world is highly diverse. There is not a single country in the world which is homogenous and without diversity. Though in the past too diversity existed but colonization, scientific progress and faster means of transpiration has increased diversity in the world and globalization has further added to its intensity. In the past generally people moved for better prospects within the country, today people seek jobs, even education, in far off countries or even across continents.

Also, it is Allah’s will to create diversity among His creation. ALLAH SAYS IN Qur’an, “And if Allah had pleased He would have made you a single people, but that He might try you in what He gave you. So vie one with another in virtuous deeds.” (5:48) Thus diversity is Allah’s will and it is trial for us if we can live in peace and harmony with each other despite this diversity. Also, Allah wants us not to assert our superiority but to vie one with another in good deeds.

Also, if there is diversity there is likely to be misunderstandings and misconception about each other which often lead to conflict and breach of peace. This applies to both: interfaith and intrafaith communities. Interfaith conflict is also widespread like between Shi’ahs and Sunnis or Bohra or non-Bohra Muslims or between Barelvis and Deobandis. The only way to remove these misconceptions is to have dialogue with each other.

Thus three Ds become quite important: democracy, diversity and dialogue. Democracy and diversity is complimentary to each other though many people think homogeneity is strength, it is not. Homogeneity can result in dictatorship whereas diversity becomes life-line for democracy. Experience shows that greater diversity results in stronger democracy.

But diversity also poses a challenge and this challenge has to be met through proper understanding of each other through dialogue. Dialogue, it should be noted, is not a modern or contemporary concept including inter-religious dialogue. In medieval ages Sufis and yogis often used to have dialogue in India. Also, Sufis on one hand, and, Christian mystics and Jewish saints on the other, had mutual dialogue. Some of them spent years understanding others religious tradition. Dara Shikoh or Mazhar Jan-i-Janan, for example, had thorough knowledge of Hindu traditions. Dara Shikoh even translated Upanishad from Sanskrit into Persian and called it Sirr-e-Akbar (The Greatest Mystery). I have seen its manuscript in Darul Musannifin, Azamgarh. He also wrote a book called Majma’ul Bahrayn (Co-mingling of Two Oceans). It is a great book of dialogue between Hinduism and Islam.

However, there are some rules to be observed if dialogue has to succeed and produce required result. The very first requirement is that none participating in the dialogue should have attitude of superiority over the other. It goes against the very spirit of dialogue. Secondly, dialogue should be on certain concrete issues like women’s rights or war or non-violence and so on. Today there is a lot of misunderstanding about these issues. Most of the non-Muslims, especially Westerners think that Islam gives no rights to women and subjugates them thanks to certain practices among Muslims like hijab or polygamy or honour-killing and so on.

Similarly, there is widespread misunderstanding about the concept of jihad thanks to certain fatwas or statements of Usama bin Laden justifying his attack on New York Towers as jihad. In fact there is a great misconception among Muslims and Muslim Ulama about these issues like polygamy and Jihad. There is great need for dialogue with them too. And much more need to have dialogue with non-Muslims.

The dialogue process should include religious functionaries, scholars who have in-depth knowledge of the issues, journalists (who write and spread misconceptions) and lay people as well as these people are often victims of misconceptions. Secondly one should have humility to learn rather than argue on the basis of ignorance rather than knowledge. But participants must have right to raise questions to remove doubts.

Thirdly, one must be firmly rooted in one’s own faith tradition and should be able to explain the reasons for certain practice or rationale of the teaching. Any doubt or ignorance may harm the spirit of the dialogue. Also one should be able to remove all the doubts raised during discussion through one’s own thorough knowledge and conviction and clarity.

Fourthly, one should have tremendous patience and capacity to listen and understand others situation and try to remove doubts express and not try to silence the other through debating skill or try to use polemics. It will destroy the very idea of having dialogue. There is fundamental difference between debate and dialogue.

Also while being firmly rooted in one’s own faith tradition one also has to accept the other with his/her otherness without being critical of otherness. Dialogue is to promote understanding and not to reject other’s faith or finding fault in others faith. Dialogue should never be directed to convert the other but only to understand the other. Both or the multiple partners in dialogue should throw light on the concerned issue in the light of one’s own faith tradition and handle the question with tact and delicacy they deserve.

Dialogue so conducted can really work wonders and promote real understanding about one’s own faith while understanding others faith. I have been a part of dialogue process for more than 40 years and can say with confidence that dialogue plays very important role in a diverse society. Knowledge, conviction and clarity and appreciation for others points of view are very useful tools for dialogue.

– tcn

Model of India’s biggest mosque unveiled *Muslims help build temple in Bihar

February 20, 2012 by  
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Jama Masjid DelhiKerala, January 30, 2012: The model of what is billed as India’s biggest mosque — accommodating 25,000 in its courtyard — was unveiled here Monday.

The mosque is to come up in a 40 acres near here and the complex will also house a heritage museum, convention halls, and a media centre, according to the Jamia Markazu Ssaquafathi Ssunniyya headed by Muslim scholar Kanthapuram A.P. Aboobaker Musliyar, who unveiled the model here.

“The heritage museum is for the protection and exhibition of all such holy remnants of prophets and men of Islamic importance, and this will surely add a new dimension to the cultural life of Kerala,” said Musliyar.

Speaking to IANS, an official of the Markaz said that the work on the mosque is expected to begin in April and would be completed in 18 months time.

“The cost of the project is estimated to be Rs.40 crore and will come through public contributions. The feature of the mosque is that initially it would be an open one and would more or less resemble the famed Jama Masjid in Delhi,” said the official who did not wish to be identified.

Musliyar heads the popular social, charity and educational organisation based here, which has taught more than 30,000 students from various states in the country in the last three decades.

Three years back, the Markaz was in the news when more than 100 children from Kashmir were brought here for basic education.

Delhi’s Jama Masjid is currently India’s biggest mosque.

– ians

Muslims help build temple in Bihar


Muslims help build temple in BiharBihar, February 6, 2012: A shining example of communal harmony.

In a heart-warming gesture, Muslims donated money and supervised the construction of a temple in the communally-sensitive Gaya district of Bihar. The temple dedicated to goddess Durga was opened for worship last week. “There was active help from Muslims, all of whom are railway employees, to construct the temple. It is a symbol of Hindu-Muslim unity…”said Ashok Kumar, a resident of Loco colony in the district, where the temple is situated. Suresh Prasad, another resident, said “Muslims have not only donated money for the temple’s construction but were also involved in it like us.”

Tauhid Alam, one of the Muslims who helped in the building of the temple, said, “we have been living here for years and taking care of each other. It is a gesture of communal harmony.” He said the foundation of the temple was laid in 2010 and after that Muslims and Hindus of the locality worked together to construct it. “We joined Hindus to collect donation for the temple construction and also supervised construction work,” said Mohammad Rafiq, another Muslim resident.

The minority community collected nearly 500,000 rupees towards the temple’s construction. Mohammad Sahab said some of the community members helped by way of funds while others helped in the construction work. Muslims constitute 16 per cent of the 105 million population of the state with over a dozen Muslim localities in the district. Lalji Prassad, a social activist in the district, said this move by the Muslims in the construction of the shrine would send a strong message of harmony and peace. Earlier, Mohammad Fakhrool Islam, a Muslim, had donated his land in Bachwara village for constructing a temple in Begusarai district. Over three decades ago, some Hindus had donated a piece of land for the construction of a ‘mazar’ in the same village.

– ians

Tourism ministry plans seven religious tourist circuits

January 26, 2012 by  
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Taj Mahal PanoramaNew Delhi, January 25, 2012: Ancient churches in southern India will be part of seven tourist circuits the federal Tourism Ministry plans to develop across the country.

“India is home to a number of religions and there is a huge scope in terms of boosting tourism to religious places,” Tourism Minister Subodh Kant Sahay told reporters Wednesday in New Delhi.

The ministry said his ministry is preparing a detailed project reports to identify religious places where people can visit and stay for spiritual nourishment.

The aim of the project, he added, is facilitate a packaged tour like experience for people who visit religious places. “We have already engaged consultants to work on these circuits and hope to engage state governments in the project,” he added.

The ministry will identify Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jain, Sikh, Sufi and Sarva Dharma places.

While the Christian circuit will have the churches of Goa, Kerala and Tamil Nadu, the Sufi circuit will include Islamic places in Delhi, Haryana, Jammu and Kashmir, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh.

The Sarv Dharma Circuit, to promote national integration, will be aligned along Tirupathi-Chennai-Velankanni-Nagoor and Vaishnodevi – Golden Temple-Sacred Heart Church (Delhi)-Nizamuddin.

The ministry has taken up the matter with industry stakeholders and some Sufi exponents.

It has identified 35 destinations for Phase I and will cover another 89 in Phase II.

The ministry has proposed a required outlay plan of 94.5 billion rupees for the 12th Plan. It plans to raise 280 billion rupees from private partners for such project.

– indian express

Tribals make case for use of herbal medicine

January 11, 2012 by  
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HerbalMaharashtra, January 09, 2012: A few days before Christmas, a group comprising 150 tribal women wound its way around Byculla. Drawn from mofussil parts of the state, the participants confidently

hit the streets of Mumbai to make a case for return to traditional roots in primary health care. They have been using herbal remedies to cure minor ailments in their villages, thereby avoiding the side effects of allopathy.

The women are members of a special initiative by the Catholic church’s archdiocese of Mumbai that seeks to promote natural therapy among tribals. The health promotion trust (HPT) programme is the brainchild of Fr Rocky Banz, parish priest of Gloria Church in Byculla. “Although native tribals were once the repository of natural remedies, they are gradually losing this knowledge with the advent of modern medicine,” Fr Rocky says.

He points out that traditional Indian systems of medicine reigned supreme until the 19th century when the British introduced allopathy. “However, allopathy has its side effects. People have begun to realise it is better to revert to simple home remedies for minor ailments like the common cold, diarrhoea as well as aches and pains.

“The HPT staff is working in 15 centres across the archdiocese to reintroduce ayurveda, yoga, unani, homoeopathy and naturopathy,” Fr Rocky said. Dr Maitrayee Bhattacharya is helping to implement this initiative. “We are handing simple tips on diet and health to women health workers in tribal areas while keeping in mind that they belong to the low income group,” she says. “Already, the outreach has expanded to Tembhipada in Bhandup, Powai, Gorai and Dongri Uttan as far as Kalyan, Karjat, Panvel and Kolad.” HPT has tied up with Ayush, an initiative by the Centre’s health and family welfare department.

– timesofindia

Congress betrayed Muslims: Mayawati

December 19, 2011 by  
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Congress betrayed MuslimsLucknow, December 18, 2011: Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati Sunday accused the Congress of betraying Muslims, saying the party had failed to check communal riots during its rule at the centre.

Addressing a ‘Muslim, Kshatriya and Vaishya Mahasammelan meeting’, Mayawati said Muslims had considered Congress their benefactor but the party had “betrayed them”.

“It made promise after promise but gave nothing (other) than assurances. The Sachar panel report has mentioned about the condition of Muslims. Several riots have taken place in Meerut and Moradabad (in Uttar Pradesh), Bhagalpur (Bihar), Mumbai, Bharatpur (Rajasthan), it had deep impact on the Muslim psyche,” Mayawati said.

She alleged that Muslims had been forced to live under fear during Congress rule.

She also accused the Congress of being soft towards the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). She said organisations like the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Bajrang Dal had become “quite active” in the country.

Mayawati condemned the Babri mosque demolition at Ayodhya in December 1992. “The Dec 6 incident, the more it is condemned, it will not be enough,” Mayawati said.
The chief minister said that while her government had taken several steps for welfare of Muslims, the Samajwadi Party had virtually no achievements to its credit.

– ians

Rahul Gandhi woos Muslims with quota promise

December 13, 2011 by  
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Muslim ReservationUttar Pradesh, December 11, 2011: Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi on Saturday tried to woo Uttar Pradesh’s Muslim population ahead of the 2012 assembly elections by assuring them that a new reservation policy would soon be in place for them.

“We will keep our commitment of providing reservation to minorities in the state,” Gandhi told a gathering of party office-bearers at the state Congress headquarters here.

“We will do it soon,” he declared amidst applause.

Gandhi is on a two-day visit to the state capital to interact with party functionaries as well as candidates handpicked for the forthcoming polls.

“You must understand that the Congress was getting back to the main arena of elections in the state after a gap of nearly two decades; we were virtually out of the political battleground between 1991 and 2007, after which we got down to re-building the party from a scratch,” he said in a reminder of his active involvement in state affairs in 2007.

He called upon party members to work hard for victory in 2012. “If you all take a vow and have the determination to win the coming election in Uttar Pradesh, I am sure nothing can stop you from attaining your goal,” he said.

Gandhi also warned against infighting. “We must fight the election unitedly,” he said.

“Let it be very clear that action would be taken against those who fail to work together – no matter how high and mighty the person be, he would not be spared,” he said.

He described the ruling Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Samajwadi Party (SP) as the potential opponents and dismissed the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as a spent force.

“Successive governments of the Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party were largely responsible for the rampant corruption and crime in the state, so we have to go all out to fight them,” he said.

Criticising the opposition parties’ objection to Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in retail, he said: “We wanted to bring in FDI as a solution to the unabated price rise; but the entire opposition – the BSP, the BJP and the SP – joined hands to stall the move.”

Gandhi would be in Lucknow till Sunday evening before returning to Delhi. He would be back in Uttar Pradesh for a five-day mass contact programme commencing Dec 13.

Demand for Muslim quota gathering momentum in UP


Demand MuslimUttar Pradesh, December 11, 2011: Giving a new twist to the ‘letter politics’ between Chief Minister and Prime Minister over reservation to Muslims, Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh declared that if his party comes to power in UP it would give reservation to dalit Muslims akin to dalit Hindus.

“If Congress comes to power in UP our government will give reservation to dalit Muslims,” Singh said while speaking in Dalit Muslim Reservation Convention held at Jyotiba Phule Park here on Sunday.

He said the state governments have the right to give reservation to religious minority. The states like Kerala, Karnataka and Andhara Pradesh have given reservation to Muslims. “Our Government in UP would take a leaf out of these states and introduce reservation for Muslims in UP,” he said.

Mayawati and Dr Mamohan Singh had recently exchanged letters over giving reservation of religious minority – especially Muslims. Prime Minister has clarified that Union Government has no right to introduce reservation for Muslims but states can do if they desire so.

The demand of giving reservation to Muslims is gaining ground in wake of forthcoming assembly elections in UP. It is believed that Union Government might introduce reservation of Muslims within OBC and this declaration could be made before UP elections.

“Dalit Hindus are enjoying the benefits of reservations through article 341 but Dalit Muslims are deprived of it, which is complete injustice with them. This issue will be resolved soon,” he said.

Singh said Congress was committed for welfare of Muslims and therefore the party had mentioned in its Lok Sabha manifesto about implementation of Sachar Committee’s recommendations.

Also present on the occasion, renowned social activist, Teesta Setalvad lashed out the politicians not considering this issue of Social Justice.
She said that today all went to Anti-corruption movement taking place at Jantar-Mantar in New Delhi but none of them came for being part of this cause. This issue of reservation is much bigger than corruption issue.
“The central government has not shown their interest for the betterment of Muslims, that’s why they were not serious about implementation of recommendations made by Sachar Committee, amendment in article 341 and several other issues including security,” she added.

She told that several riots which took place since independence were the root cause for the backwardness of Muslims, yet no strong step was taken over the issue. The central government has prepared the draft of Communal Violence Bill but not presenting it in parliament for discussion, it should be tabled as security is also major concern for Muslims. “After the discussion on bill begins, it will reveal the true face of all those political leaders who call themselves secular,” she said.

Later, President of All India United Muslim Morcha, Dr MA Siddiqui handed over a memorandum to Digvijay Singh addressing Prime Minister.
“We have been agitating since past 18 years for reservations of Dalit Muslims and Christians due to which National Minority Commission, Constitution Review Commission, Sachar Committee and other commissions recommended for the reservations.

“Not only commissions but in year 2000 Bihar’s Legislative assembly and legislative council, in year 2006 Uttar Pradesh Legislative Assembly and Andhra Pradesh’s Government in year 2009, after passing proposal for reservation of dalit Muslims has sent to Central Government,” he added.
– faisal fareed

UK Islamic schools flourish to meet demand

December 3, 2011 by  
Filed under Co-operatives, Economics, Inter-Religious, newsletter-world, USA, USA, World, World

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Muslim SchoolUK, November 28, 2011: At about eight o’clock on a dull autumnal morning, a mother is preparing breakfast for her young son in the kitchen of an unassuming private house on a little modern estate in Leicester. The doorbell rings. Outside, a series of people carriers and estate cars are rolling up one by one; out of them tumbling a succession of children in twos and threes, all in traditional Islamic dress.

By 8.30, 26 children – some of them only just old enough for school, some almost grown – are sitting in tight rows on the floor of a little inner room, reciting morning prayers in Arabic and in English. By 9.30, the conservatory has become an infant classroom, the dining room has been taken over by the juniors and in the living room, year 7 and 8 girls are preparing to spread their geography projects across the laminate flooring.

By now, the mother has vanished – she doesn’t want her name or address to be used, she says, because already families are turning up at odd hours asking to look round the “school” – and Fatima D’Oyen, director of Manara Education, has taken charge with her small team of staff.

There’s no doubting that the Manara academy is a most unusual educational institution. But it’s also part of a national trend. Although the number of Islamic schools is still small – around 140 at the latest count, just 12 of them state-funded – it is growing fast. About 60 of these schools have opened in the last 10 years; several in the last couple of months. And the demand from parents seems to be huge – one school in Birmingham recently attracted 1,500 applications for just 60 places. At least five Islamic schools have recently applied to be free schools, although so far only one has been approved.

Manara is one of two Islamic schools that have opened in Leicester this autumn – although in its case, the word “school” can only be used loosely. Manara operates just three mornings a week, and its pupils are registered as home-educated.

Because Manara operates on a part-time basis, it does not need to register with the Department for Education as a school. But the rise in the number of Islamic schools has raised some concerns. Leicester City Council has called for national guidance to ensure that parents who send their children to “flexi schools” like Manara can be sure the staff have criminal record checks and their buildings are safe. And in some areas, full-time schools have opened without registration – meaning that there are no checks on the suitability of their staff or the quality of their curriculum.

D’Oyen aims to open a fully registered, full-time school next year. Until recently, she was the headteacher of another Muslim school in Leicester, but left earlier this year – and decided to start her own school. She quickly found that the formalities required were much more cumbersome than in her native US, where she had previously helped to set up an Islamic school in New Mexico.

“The Department for Education wanted everything done six months in advance; they wanted a plan of the building, they wanted to come and inspect,” she says. “They wanted to see our curriculum plans in detail – a lot of rigmarole. And we wanted to be open in September. So legally we are a private tuition service – like a supplementary school, but during the day.”

Despite its unconventional setting – D’Oyen was invited to tea with the family who live here and seized on the idea that the house could be turned into a school – the children seem contented and the curriculum varied. Manara is experimenting with Montessori teaching methods, and religious education includes moral and personal discussions as well as study of the Qur’an. The time spent by many children learning the Qur’an at madrasas – often 10 hours a week or more – can rob them of their childhood, D’Oyen believes, and she hopes to provide a more humane alternative. The pupils will learn about gardening and alternative technologies, and have access to the garden, which is used as an outdoor classroom.

“We’d like to teach a long morning, which would include some Islamic education, and then in the afternoons children would have more choice of activities – arts, crafts, PE,” D’Oyen says. “We want the children to have creativity in their lives, and to follow some of their interests.”

She foresees no problems at all in finding pupils – another Islamic school in Leicester already has five applications for each place. The demand from Muslim parents for an education outside the mainstream is growing, she says.

Others in the Muslim world agree with her. Dr Ghayasuddin Siddiqui, founder of the Muslim Institute thinktank, says there is a growing feeling among Muslim parents that mainstream schools are not serving their children well: “If schools are focused on raising standards and on ensuring that there is discipline, I think most people are happy with that,” he says. “But more and more parents are concerned about the quality of education, and about discipline.”

Yet in some areas, situations have arisen that have caused concern. A headteacher in the north of England, who asked not to be identified, described how an Islamic school had opened up two years ago without permission opposite her own primary school. “It operated for about six months without registration, and then it was forced to close. It didn’t take long before it was registered and reopened again,” she says. “Some lovely ladies came to see me and they invited me and my deputy to see what was happening there. But I have to say I found the whole thing very worrying indeed – it’s just so divisive.” She had been trained as an Ofsted inspector, she said, and did not believe that the school would have been allowed to operate in the state sector. Its buildings, even after renovation, were unsuitable, she said, and its curriculum was too narrow, with every lesson being linked in some way to the Qur’an or the life of the Prophet Muhammad.

The Association of Muslim Schools, set up 20 years ago to support a then-tiny band of institutions, acknowledges that in response to a growing demand for Islamic education, a number of full-time schools have opened without proper formalities.

“The Department for Education is in constant contact with us, and they do tell us if someone’s operating without registration,” says Shazad Mohammed, the director of the association. “Then we visit to stress the importance of registering – the local authorities have to know where the children are, for safeguarding purposes. We strongly discourage this – it is illegal to operate without registration.”

But it is hardly surprising that there should be some breaches, he adds – the UK has two and a half million Muslims, and the number is rising fast. The majority are aged between 13 and 25. One highly regarded Muslim school, the Al-Hijrah school in Birmingham, has introduced a lottery system to allocate places because up to 25 parents are competing for each one.

In Leicester, the city council says it is anticipating a rise in the number of “flexi schools” like Manara, and it has asked the government to address the issue. “It is anticipated that this form of education may become more common, and the local authority has asked that the Department for Education consider producing national guidance for parents and providers around the quality of provision, including criminal record checks, health and safety and planning permission,” it said in a statement.

The DfE welcomed Leicester’s commitment to working with home educators, but did not respond to requests for a comment on whether there should be more regulation of the sector.

But for Fatima D’Oyen, the road ahead seems clear. Leicester’s home education inspector paid her a visit this month, and was apparently impressed. Attempts to regulate the sector further would be counterproductive, she argues. “My perspective is that 95% of parents can be trusted to do what is best for their children,” she says. “I don’t believe it is either possible or desirable to try to regulate, especially if the desire to do so comes from racism or misplaced paternalism. The reality is that most Muslims setting up or working at Islamic schools, whether part-time, full-time, supplementary or otherwise, do so out of a sense of altruism and wanting to help children get a good education.”

– fran abrams

A new govt. report reveals more startling facts about Muslims in West Bengal

December 3, 2011 by  
Filed under India, Inter-Religious, newsletter-india, West Bengal

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Muslims in Westbengal

People geting weekly food relief from Charity Alliance in Ghoshpara, Murshidabad

West Bengal, December 01, 2011: This November, the Sachar Committee Report completed five years of ‘shelf life’. While some debate and more politics on its findings about socio-economic and educational condition of Muslims in the country have been on all these years, a new report has come out with more startling facts about the minority community in West Bengal.

The Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta (CSSSC), an autonomous body equally funded by both central and West Bengal government, recently published report of its baseline household survey on the state of Muslims in 12 Minority Concentration Districts (MCDs) of West Bengal. The CSSSC had conducted the household survey in 2008, two years after the Sachar Report made public, with an aim to build on and supplement, wherever necessary, the findings of the Sachar Report to ensure overall growth and development of the MCDs.

The findings of the CSSSC survey could be categorized under the broad headings of: Basic Amenities; Education; Health; Infrastructure; Occupational conditions; Existence and Efficacy of Government Schemes. But before we go into the detail of the findings about each MCD of West Bengal, let’s have a quick look at the summary of the findings.

Summary of CSSSC findings about West Bengal Muslims

1. Most of the Muslims are far behind in literacy, education
2. Dropout rate higher among Muslims than Non-Muslims
3. Electricity, drainage, sanitation facilities less in Muslim areas than non-Muslim areas
4. Muslims are holding most of kuccha houses.
5. Indira Awas Yojana (IAY) provided home to Muslims in negligible number
6. Vocational training of Tailoring is higher among Muslims
7. Muslims need more Technical School.
8. Muslim females engaged in house more than the Non-Muslims
9. Engagement in professional work: Muslims far behind than Non-Muslim
10. Most of the public hospitals are not located in close proximities
11. Child birth at home higher among Muslims
12. Muslims not aware of government projects in village like SGSY, IAY, NREGS, Swajaldhara etc.

Survey in the MCDs

The MCDs in West Bengal are: Uttar Dinajpur, Dakshin Dinajpur, Malda, Murshidabad, Birbhum, Nadia, South 24 Parganas, North 24 Parganas, Bardhaman, Cooch Behar, Haora and Kolkata.

Household survey had not been conducted by the government in West Bengal since long. Throughout the 34 years rule of the Left Front, Muslims demanded such survey, but the state government always rejected. But after the Sachar Report uncovered the truth, the Central Government initiated to conduct the household survey in MCDs of West Bengal. CSSSC was asked to conduct the survey.

The CSSSC team was headed by renowned economist Prof Sugata Marjit while other members were Prof. Partha Chatterjee, Dr. Pranab Kumar Das, Dr. Sohel Firdos, Dr. Saibal Kar and Dr. Surajit C. Mukhopadhyay. The team also sought cooperation from several Central & State Government departments like National Sample Survey Organisation (Kolkata), Minority Affairs & Madrasah Education Department of West Bengal, West Bengal Minorities Development & Finance Corporation besides District Magistrate of each MCD.

The CSSSC survey covered 30-50 villages in each MCD as a pilot project: 30 villages of 10 blocks in Cooch Behar; 30 villages of 17 blocks in Murshidabad; 29 villages of 11 blocks in Malda; 30 villages of 7 blocks in Dakshin Dinajpur; 28 villages of 8 blocks in Uttar Dinajpur; 29 villages of 21 blocks in South 24 Parganas; 30 villages of 18 blocks in North 24 Parganas; 30 villages of 20 blocks in Bardhaman and 30 villages of16 blocks in Birbhum district.

Demography of MCDs

Murshidabad is classified as ‘A’ category district of this project for which both the sets of religion specific socio-economic and basic amenities indicators are below the respective national averages with the values being 35.4 and 17.8. Muslims share 63.72% population (as per Census 2001).

Uttar Dinajpur as Muslim minority district belongs to category ‘A’ of the MCD districts with 47.36% Muslim population and religion specific average socio-economic indicator value 29.7 and average basic indicator value 9.2. The SC and ST population of the district are 27.71% and 5.11% respectively.

Dakshin Dinajpur as Muslim minority district belongs to category ‘A’ of the MCD districts with 24.02% Muslim population and religion specific average socio-economic indicator value 44.9 and average basic indicator value 11.6.

Malda is marked as Muslim minority district and belongs to category ‘A’ of the MCD districts with 49.72% Muslim population and religion specific average indicator value 38.2% and average basic indicator value 16.2%. The minority population is roughly about 51% while the Hindus constitute 49% of the total population.

South 24 Parganas as Muslim minority district belongs to category ‘A’ of the MCD districts with 33.24% Muslim population and religion specific average socio-economic indicator value 36.6 and average basic indicator value 21.2.

North 24 Parganas as Muslim minority district belongs to category ‘B’ (sub-category B1) of the MCD districts with 24.22% Muslim population and religion specific average socio-economic indicator value 40.9 and average basic indicator value 47.2.

Birbhum as Muslim minority district and belongs to category ‘A’ of the MCD districts with 35.08% Muslim population and religion specific average socio-economic indicator value 38.7% and average basic indicator value 16.9%.

Nadia as Muslim minority district belongs to category ‘A’ of the MCD districts with 25.4% Muslim population and religion specific average socio-economic indicator
value 35.3 and average basic indicator value 24.

Haorah as Muslim minority district and belongs to category ‘B’ (subcategory B1) of the MCD districts with 24.4% Muslim population and religion specific average socio-economic indicator value 41.6 and average basic indicator value 47.4.

Cooch Behar as Muslim minority district belongs to category ‘A’ of the MCD districts with 23.34% Muslim population and religion specific average socio-economic indicator value 40.2 and average basic indicator value 10.49.

Bardhaman is a Muslim minority district for this project and belongs to category ‘A’ of the MCD districts with 20.36% Muslim population and religion specific average socio-economic indicator value 43.2% and average basic indicator value 35.52%.

Basic Amenities in MCDs

As for basic amenities, the CSSSC found Muslim households far below than those of non-Muslims. Whether you talk about in-house toilet, pucca houses or electrification, more Muslim houses have no such facilities compared to the majority community. Not only this, government schemes also bypass Muslims, like Indira Awas Yojna. More non-Muslims have got benefited from the IAY than Muslims, found the survey.

– zaidul haque, tcn

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