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Rohith Vemula March: The Caste Turn for Student Delhites?

16 Jan 2020

First published on February 23, 2016



Rohith Vemula gives them the perfect point of departure

 
Delhi is a city that has naturalised caste: a gardener believes he is born to be a gardener; a maid believes she was born to be a maid. Its so called efficiency has something to do with this aspect. Even among academics and students, the understanding and discussions of caste stay at their abstract best. Most of them are well meaning to be concerned about the "upliftment of Dalits" but in the busy-ness of their own professional lives, they really couldn't do much. The city kept running on the shoulders of the Dalits. Caste was a matter to be encountered only in reservation debates and that was a sort polemics only the political class could go through with.
 
But Rohith Vemula's one-note altered the caste debates in the country, from asking, "How can discrimination against Dalits be stopped?" or, "How can Dalits be uplifted" to, "Why is our society so inhumanly casteist?" or, "When will upper castes improve?", making every one ask the question, "Why are we like this?". The fact that his suicide note did not have a single word about caste discrimination, it only spoke about the need to travel from "shadows to stars" and the impossibility of it, struck a code with Delhi's students. Now they knew it was not about Dalits alone; it was more about them. Or the impossibility of being themselves ethically in this system. Now the onus was on the academic community: to make sure that Rohith is the absolute last to be orphaned to death.
 
The huge march in solidarity with JNU (against the trending #ShutdownJNU) on February 18 had many posters of Rohith Vemula and slogans such as, "JNU to bahana hai, Rohith ka mudda dabana hai" (JNU is an excuse to distract from Rohith's issue) prominently demonstrated such a change. The straight-line from FTII through HCU and OccupyUGC to JNU that students kept drawing was quite in place: the central government doesn't seem to understand the ways in which students work or think.
 
The Narendra Modi government might be good at attacking known political or social formations but students are an evolving social category and it clearly doesn't have the tools. If FTII was a clear case of trying to show "we can, so we will", OccupyUGC was an unnecessary provocation and HCU was MHRD's flexing its muscles gone terribly awry and JNU its hurried conclusions riding on hyper sensationalist jingoism. The mass media debates on national/anti-national, continued on social media, made students realise their common sense and regular discussions were stuff that could be termed "anti-national" and they found themselves in a strange situation where they had to explain their very existence to friends and family in the "tax payer entitlement" narrative. Students who were not part of any existing political formation also felt alienated and they kept telling themselves and others: students have to fight as students. In fact, they found a student issue with a cosmic objective to fight for.
 
The "Chalo Dilli" march on April 23rd and its clarion call "Delhi for Rohith Vemula" became exciting not just because more than 5,000 people walked a kilometre together from Ambedkar Bhawan to Jantar Mantar, or because there was a representation from all parties other than the BJP for the rally, but because the students had found a new icon in Rohith Vemula. It was difficult to dispute him or reject him if you didn't have party obligations or social interests.

The speciality of this icon was in its social content: caste was becoming an issue of political debate in student lives. Some Delhi students whose encounter with caste as a political issue was rather new also kept shouting "Jai Bheem" in an event primarily organised by Dalit organisations. 
 
One of the limitations of the Indian student movements has been their being floated and managed by students who socially belong to the ruling elite of the country. This is quite different from the Western situation where student movements have been political, academic and cultural manifestations of social changes. The chemical change of thinking in the 1960s was a result of socio-economic changes that ushered in women, African Americans, refugees, third world students and homosexuals into academe in huge numbers.
 
In India, such a turn hasn't happened. Nationalism and universal class wars were the concerns of student politics in earlier decades. But now the organising principle of Indian society is their problem as students. It might be the caste turn for student discourses. 
 
Surely, unlike in the University of Hyderabad, where the number of Dalit students is huge and the discourse of caste is very strong, Delhi still doesn't have such a situation. But it must now emerge to address the huge blind spot they have now realised. And Rohith Vemula gives them the perfect point of departure. 
 

Rohith Vemula March: The Caste Turn for Student Delhites?

First published on February 23, 2016



Rohith Vemula gives them the perfect point of departure

 
Delhi is a city that has naturalised caste: a gardener believes he is born to be a gardener; a maid believes she was born to be a maid. Its so called efficiency has something to do with this aspect. Even among academics and students, the understanding and discussions of caste stay at their abstract best. Most of them are well meaning to be concerned about the "upliftment of Dalits" but in the busy-ness of their own professional lives, they really couldn't do much. The city kept running on the shoulders of the Dalits. Caste was a matter to be encountered only in reservation debates and that was a sort polemics only the political class could go through with.
 
But Rohith Vemula's one-note altered the caste debates in the country, from asking, "How can discrimination against Dalits be stopped?" or, "How can Dalits be uplifted" to, "Why is our society so inhumanly casteist?" or, "When will upper castes improve?", making every one ask the question, "Why are we like this?". The fact that his suicide note did not have a single word about caste discrimination, it only spoke about the need to travel from "shadows to stars" and the impossibility of it, struck a code with Delhi's students. Now they knew it was not about Dalits alone; it was more about them. Or the impossibility of being themselves ethically in this system. Now the onus was on the academic community: to make sure that Rohith is the absolute last to be orphaned to death.
 
The huge march in solidarity with JNU (against the trending #ShutdownJNU) on February 18 had many posters of Rohith Vemula and slogans such as, "JNU to bahana hai, Rohith ka mudda dabana hai" (JNU is an excuse to distract from Rohith's issue) prominently demonstrated such a change. The straight-line from FTII through HCU and OccupyUGC to JNU that students kept drawing was quite in place: the central government doesn't seem to understand the ways in which students work or think.
 
The Narendra Modi government might be good at attacking known political or social formations but students are an evolving social category and it clearly doesn't have the tools. If FTII was a clear case of trying to show "we can, so we will", OccupyUGC was an unnecessary provocation and HCU was MHRD's flexing its muscles gone terribly awry and JNU its hurried conclusions riding on hyper sensationalist jingoism. The mass media debates on national/anti-national, continued on social media, made students realise their common sense and regular discussions were stuff that could be termed "anti-national" and they found themselves in a strange situation where they had to explain their very existence to friends and family in the "tax payer entitlement" narrative. Students who were not part of any existing political formation also felt alienated and they kept telling themselves and others: students have to fight as students. In fact, they found a student issue with a cosmic objective to fight for.
 
The "Chalo Dilli" march on April 23rd and its clarion call "Delhi for Rohith Vemula" became exciting not just because more than 5,000 people walked a kilometre together from Ambedkar Bhawan to Jantar Mantar, or because there was a representation from all parties other than the BJP for the rally, but because the students had found a new icon in Rohith Vemula. It was difficult to dispute him or reject him if you didn't have party obligations or social interests.

The speciality of this icon was in its social content: caste was becoming an issue of political debate in student lives. Some Delhi students whose encounter with caste as a political issue was rather new also kept shouting "Jai Bheem" in an event primarily organised by Dalit organisations. 
 
One of the limitations of the Indian student movements has been their being floated and managed by students who socially belong to the ruling elite of the country. This is quite different from the Western situation where student movements have been political, academic and cultural manifestations of social changes. The chemical change of thinking in the 1960s was a result of socio-economic changes that ushered in women, African Americans, refugees, third world students and homosexuals into academe in huge numbers.
 
In India, such a turn hasn't happened. Nationalism and universal class wars were the concerns of student politics in earlier decades. But now the organising principle of Indian society is their problem as students. It might be the caste turn for student discourses. 
 
Surely, unlike in the University of Hyderabad, where the number of Dalit students is huge and the discourse of caste is very strong, Delhi still doesn't have such a situation. But it must now emerge to address the huge blind spot they have now realised. And Rohith Vemula gives them the perfect point of departure. 
 

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In a first, BJP leader, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi objects to the ‘Go to Pakistan’ slogan for Indian Muslims

Pakistan and ‘suspect loyalties to India’ have always been used by the supremacist right wing to beat and bait Indian Muslims with

09 Jan 2020

SloganImage Courtesy: newindianexpress.com

‘Go to Pakistan’ has probably been most often used phrase used against Muslims in India. Recently in yet another such incident the SP of Meerut, UP has been in the news and a video is circulating where he, Akhilesh Narayan Singh, is allegedly using the jibe ‘Go to Pakistan’. In the video he is seen shouting at protestors at Lisari Gate area in Meerut, “The ones (protestors) wearing those black or yellow armbands, tell them to go to Pakistan”. His seniors stood by him calling it ‘natural reaction to shouting of pro Pakistan slogans. Many BJP leaders like Uma Bhararti also defended the officer. Breaking ranks with fellow politicians, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi of BJP, criticised the said officer and asked for suitable action against him. Interestingly this is same Naqvi, who earlier when the beef related arguments were going on; had stated that those who want to eat beef can go to Pakistan.

Interestingly this is probably the first time that any BJP leader has opposed the use of this jibe against the Indian Muslims. True to the dominance of trolls who support divisive politics, Naqvi has been trolled on the issue. As such vibe ‘Go to Pakistan’ has been a strong tool in the hands of aggressive elements to demonise Muslims in general and to humiliate those with Muslim names. One recalls that when due to the rising intolerance in the society many eminent writers, film makers were returning their awards, Aamir Khan said that his wife Kiran Rao is worried about their son. Immediately BJP worthies like Giriraj Singh pounced on him that he can go to Pakistan.

The strategy of BJP combine has been on one hand to use this ‘go to Pakistan’ to humiliate Muslims on the other from last few years another Pakistan dimension has been added. Those who are critical of the policies of BJP-RSS have on one hand been called as anti National and on the other it is being said that ‘they are speaking the language of Pakistan’.

The use of Pakistan to label the Muslims and dissidents here in India has been a very shrewd tool in the hands of communal forces. One remembers that the ‘cricket nationalism’ was also the one to use it. In case of India-Pakistan cricket match, the national hysteria, which it created, was also aiming at Indian Muslims. What was propagated was that Indian Muslims cheer for Pakistan victory and they root for Pakistan. There was an unfortunate grain of truth in this as a section of disgruntled, alienated Muslim did that. That was not the total picture, as most Indian Muslims were cheering for Indian victory. Many a Muslim cricketers contributed massively to Indian cricket victories. Cricket legends like Nawab Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi, Irfan Pathan, and Mohammad Azaruddin are just the few among the long list of those who brought glories for India in the field of cricket.

Even in matters of defence there are legions of Muslims who contributed to Indian efforts in the war against Pakistan all through. Abdul Hamid’s role in 1965 India Pak war and the role of Muslim soldiers in Kargil war will be part of Indian military history. There have been generals in army who contributed in many ways for the role which military has been playing in service of the nation. General Zamiruddin Shah, when asked to handle Gujarat carnage, does recount how despite the lack of support from local administration for some time, eventually the military was able to quell the violence in some ways.

During freedom movement Muslims were as much part of the struggle against British rule as any other community. While the perception has been created that Muslims were demanding Pakistan, the truth is somewhere else. It was only the elite section of Muslims who supported the politics of Muslim League and later the same Muslim League could mobilize some other section and unleash the violence like ‘Direct Action’ in Kolkata, which in a way precipitated the actual process of partition, which was the goal of British and aim of Muslim League apart from this being the outcome of ‘Two Nation theory’.

Not much is popularised about the role of great number of Muslims who were part of National movement, who steadfastly opposed the idea and politics which led to the sad partition of the subcontinent. Few excellent accounts of the role of Muslims in freedom movement like Syed Nasir Ahmad, Ubaidur Rahman, Satish Ganjoo and Shamsul Islam are few of these not too well know books which give the outline of the great Muslim freedom fighters like Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Ansari Brothers, Ashfaqulla Khan.

Immediately after partition tragedy the communal propaganda did the overdrive to blame the whole partition process on Muslim separatism, this totally undermined the fact that how poor Muslims had taken out massive marches to oppose the Lahore Resolution of separate Pakistan moved by Mohammad Ali Jinnah. The whole Muslim community started being seen as the homogenous, ‘The other’ and other misconceptions started against the community, the one’s relating them to atrocities of Muslim kings started being made as the part of popular folklore, leading the Hate against them. This Hate in turn laid the foundation of violence and eventual ghettoisation of this community.

The interactive-syncretism prevalent in India well presented by Gandhi-Nehru was pushed to the margins as those believing in pluralism did not actively engage with the issue. The economic marginalization of this community, coupled with the increasing insecurity in turn led to some of them to identify with Pakistan, and this small section was again presented as the representative of the whole Muslim community.

Today the battle of perception is heavily tilted against the Muslim community. It is a bit of a surprise as Naqvi is differing from his other fellow colleagues to say that the action should be taken against the erring police officer. The hope is that all round efforts are stepped up to combat the perception constructed against this religious minority in India. 

Related :

Fanning the communal flames
10 worst hate speeches of 2019
“Muslims should sweep office floor if they want tickets”: BJP leader KS Eshwarappa
USCIRF raises concerns about CAB, seeks sanctions against Amit Shah

In a first, BJP leader, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi objects to the ‘Go to Pakistan’ slogan for Indian Muslims

Pakistan and ‘suspect loyalties to India’ have always been used by the supremacist right wing to beat and bait Indian Muslims with

SloganImage Courtesy: newindianexpress.com

‘Go to Pakistan’ has probably been most often used phrase used against Muslims in India. Recently in yet another such incident the SP of Meerut, UP has been in the news and a video is circulating where he, Akhilesh Narayan Singh, is allegedly using the jibe ‘Go to Pakistan’. In the video he is seen shouting at protestors at Lisari Gate area in Meerut, “The ones (protestors) wearing those black or yellow armbands, tell them to go to Pakistan”. His seniors stood by him calling it ‘natural reaction to shouting of pro Pakistan slogans. Many BJP leaders like Uma Bhararti also defended the officer. Breaking ranks with fellow politicians, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi of BJP, criticised the said officer and asked for suitable action against him. Interestingly this is same Naqvi, who earlier when the beef related arguments were going on; had stated that those who want to eat beef can go to Pakistan.

Interestingly this is probably the first time that any BJP leader has opposed the use of this jibe against the Indian Muslims. True to the dominance of trolls who support divisive politics, Naqvi has been trolled on the issue. As such vibe ‘Go to Pakistan’ has been a strong tool in the hands of aggressive elements to demonise Muslims in general and to humiliate those with Muslim names. One recalls that when due to the rising intolerance in the society many eminent writers, film makers were returning their awards, Aamir Khan said that his wife Kiran Rao is worried about their son. Immediately BJP worthies like Giriraj Singh pounced on him that he can go to Pakistan.

The strategy of BJP combine has been on one hand to use this ‘go to Pakistan’ to humiliate Muslims on the other from last few years another Pakistan dimension has been added. Those who are critical of the policies of BJP-RSS have on one hand been called as anti National and on the other it is being said that ‘they are speaking the language of Pakistan’.

The use of Pakistan to label the Muslims and dissidents here in India has been a very shrewd tool in the hands of communal forces. One remembers that the ‘cricket nationalism’ was also the one to use it. In case of India-Pakistan cricket match, the national hysteria, which it created, was also aiming at Indian Muslims. What was propagated was that Indian Muslims cheer for Pakistan victory and they root for Pakistan. There was an unfortunate grain of truth in this as a section of disgruntled, alienated Muslim did that. That was not the total picture, as most Indian Muslims were cheering for Indian victory. Many a Muslim cricketers contributed massively to Indian cricket victories. Cricket legends like Nawab Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi, Irfan Pathan, and Mohammad Azaruddin are just the few among the long list of those who brought glories for India in the field of cricket.

Even in matters of defence there are legions of Muslims who contributed to Indian efforts in the war against Pakistan all through. Abdul Hamid’s role in 1965 India Pak war and the role of Muslim soldiers in Kargil war will be part of Indian military history. There have been generals in army who contributed in many ways for the role which military has been playing in service of the nation. General Zamiruddin Shah, when asked to handle Gujarat carnage, does recount how despite the lack of support from local administration for some time, eventually the military was able to quell the violence in some ways.

During freedom movement Muslims were as much part of the struggle against British rule as any other community. While the perception has been created that Muslims were demanding Pakistan, the truth is somewhere else. It was only the elite section of Muslims who supported the politics of Muslim League and later the same Muslim League could mobilize some other section and unleash the violence like ‘Direct Action’ in Kolkata, which in a way precipitated the actual process of partition, which was the goal of British and aim of Muslim League apart from this being the outcome of ‘Two Nation theory’.

Not much is popularised about the role of great number of Muslims who were part of National movement, who steadfastly opposed the idea and politics which led to the sad partition of the subcontinent. Few excellent accounts of the role of Muslims in freedom movement like Syed Nasir Ahmad, Ubaidur Rahman, Satish Ganjoo and Shamsul Islam are few of these not too well know books which give the outline of the great Muslim freedom fighters like Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Ansari Brothers, Ashfaqulla Khan.

Immediately after partition tragedy the communal propaganda did the overdrive to blame the whole partition process on Muslim separatism, this totally undermined the fact that how poor Muslims had taken out massive marches to oppose the Lahore Resolution of separate Pakistan moved by Mohammad Ali Jinnah. The whole Muslim community started being seen as the homogenous, ‘The other’ and other misconceptions started against the community, the one’s relating them to atrocities of Muslim kings started being made as the part of popular folklore, leading the Hate against them. This Hate in turn laid the foundation of violence and eventual ghettoisation of this community.

The interactive-syncretism prevalent in India well presented by Gandhi-Nehru was pushed to the margins as those believing in pluralism did not actively engage with the issue. The economic marginalization of this community, coupled with the increasing insecurity in turn led to some of them to identify with Pakistan, and this small section was again presented as the representative of the whole Muslim community.

Today the battle of perception is heavily tilted against the Muslim community. It is a bit of a surprise as Naqvi is differing from his other fellow colleagues to say that the action should be taken against the erring police officer. The hope is that all round efforts are stepped up to combat the perception constructed against this religious minority in India. 

Related :

Fanning the communal flames
10 worst hate speeches of 2019
“Muslims should sweep office floor if they want tickets”: BJP leader KS Eshwarappa
USCIRF raises concerns about CAB, seeks sanctions against Amit Shah

Related Articles


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Let Us Strengthen the Idea of India and Defend Our Secular Constitution

03 Jan 2020

Secular


I wish you all purposeful days ahead. 2020 is here and we hope forces of social justice, secularism, pluralism, democracy, socialism, with deep respect to individual autonomy, will join hands, without attempting to become 'great leaders' but in a collective spirit. The past one decade has seen how over-ambitious, crooked forces joined hand in the name of corruption and ended up actually handing over the country on a platter to the Hindutva forces. The anti-corruption plank is the easiest and the best way for the religious right to get legitimacy.

While we must protest against all the draconian laws, and in particularly the attempt to filter out Muslims in the NRC or NPR processes, these protests that we are witnessing today, all over the country, also give us hope that India's young want to do away with the divisive forces and work for an India which is as per the ideals of our constitutional forefathers, as defined in our Constitution. Baba Saheb Ambedkar has emerged as a mass hero of the youth of India It is not as if he was not a mass hero already. More than 20 crore Indians already considered him as their icon but it is heartening to see now that he has been embraced by the 'others' too. It is great as embracing Dr Ambedkar's revolutionary ideals will give us freedom from the age-old chains of the varnashram dharma. It may also be possible that all those who hold Dr Ambedkar's poster do not know much about him except as the Father of India's Constitution. I would advise friends to read him and you will find, refreshingly, a freedom waiting for you. You will get liberated. You will be able to understand what ails India.

The fact is that whenever movements emerge, most of them address the immediate needs of the people and avoid ‘controversial’ issues. We need to be careful because if we continue like this, we will not be able to fight against the powerful.

During Anna's period, we saw a huge number of 'civil society activists', who were visible on TV as well as elsewhere, attempted to create an 'alternative' and ended up in strengthening the Sangh Parivar immensely. At the moment, the country is really in a crisis and we need to democratise and secularise the political parties. Respect the diversity of these political parties and focus on alliance building. The civil society leaders must compel the political parties to democratise themselves. Movements, discourse, opinions, all of these will help us to build the environment for that.

The last decade saw the growth of fundamentalists and hate-mongers. How can we defeat them in this decade? With short term goals, where people fight each other for 'position' and entry on the stage? Can we really put the fight against caste discrimination and untouchability at the center of our 'revolution'? Baba Saheb is my hero not because there is a Constitution but because he identified and remedied the alternative to brahmanism. Will we rise up and speak the truth?

Fact of the matter is that growth of the religious right the world over is due to the fear of the success of the marginalised, immigrants and minorities. In India, the brahmanical forces are really afraid of the growth and success of the Ambedkarites and other shudra communities. They want to put a full stop to it, not allow children from the marginalised communities into schools and institutions of higher education. Destroy public institutions and universities so that education remains in the hands of the brahman-bania elite. And for this, they want to keep the poor continuously on their toes so that they do not have time to stand up and concentrate on other things. From what we have already seen, the manner in which the state is 'asserting' its power in our private domain and individual things, it is clear that in the name of 'digitalisation', an attempt is being made to control our lives and make us totally depended on state. But, more than that, it will be an easier tool to harass and humiliate the dissenters and the religious minorities.

Everyone says we must fight against hatred, but how? First, the reason behind this hatred in India has to be diagnosed. Any serious reader of India's social system can tell us that as the number of Dalit-OBC-Adivasi students were growing in the higher education, it became a threat. And that needed to be curtailed and controlled, because these segments were most assertive and proud on the legacies of Ambedkar, Phule, Birsa, Periyar. Hence, they became a 'threat'. Muslims, too, understood well, that their future lay with this segment and not with India's brahmanical elite, which come to them as 'patron' and gave themselves the 'satisfaction' of promoting their great faith of 'Vasudhaiv kutumbkam', but did not have the largeness of heart to give space to the 80% of the population, which they claim is Hindus but whom we call Bahujans. Political battles will be, and should be, fought by political parties and it is our duty to ensure they have a fair representation of India's diverse sections. It is our duty to ask for fair representation in all sectors of power, including India's police, paramilitary and armed forces. Our diversity must be reflected at all levels. Social movements must continue to focus on anti-caste agenda at the top, respecting the autonomy of the Adivasi life and livelihood, providing access to natural resources to Dalits and other marginalised communities. These resources, these days, are being handed over to a few cronies and social movements must oppose privatisation of public resources and call for a complete land and agrarian reform in India. You cannot democratise India unless you democratise our villages, and it is not possible if social conditions do not change there or power equations remain the same. Let political parties promise to do fair distribution of village land, implement the land laws honestly, get the Forest Rights Act implemented fairly and do not sell our water to profit making companies. The issues are bigger but let us not allow our natural resources to be grabbed by a few corporate cronies. Let us not allow our beautiful environment and life style to be damaged by cronies in the name of 'development'.

In the end, I would advise friends to protect themselves from the temptation of ‘being in the news'. Those who are not in print or air work, too, and it does not mean all those who are giving their 'expert advice’ on air are the best and only ones.

The best thing of the decade was the complete expose of the electronic media. Promoted by Babas and real estate agent, and now the party in power, most of these channels became a threat to the very idea of India. While I am happy that most of the people understand this, they still have the power to destroy, so it is still important to fight against this propaganda unleashed by such crooked corporate slaves, who are enjoying their 'slavery' by abusing others who disagree with the powers that be.

Let us connect, share and continue our struggle to democratise our society and fight to protect the rights of all the citizens of the country, irrespective of their identities. Let us hope that this new decade will bring all the people together, to strengthen our Constitution and build a strong, united, secular, republic of India.

 

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Let Us Strengthen the Idea of India and Defend Our Secular Constitution

Secular


I wish you all purposeful days ahead. 2020 is here and we hope forces of social justice, secularism, pluralism, democracy, socialism, with deep respect to individual autonomy, will join hands, without attempting to become 'great leaders' but in a collective spirit. The past one decade has seen how over-ambitious, crooked forces joined hand in the name of corruption and ended up actually handing over the country on a platter to the Hindutva forces. The anti-corruption plank is the easiest and the best way for the religious right to get legitimacy.

While we must protest against all the draconian laws, and in particularly the attempt to filter out Muslims in the NRC or NPR processes, these protests that we are witnessing today, all over the country, also give us hope that India's young want to do away with the divisive forces and work for an India which is as per the ideals of our constitutional forefathers, as defined in our Constitution. Baba Saheb Ambedkar has emerged as a mass hero of the youth of India It is not as if he was not a mass hero already. More than 20 crore Indians already considered him as their icon but it is heartening to see now that he has been embraced by the 'others' too. It is great as embracing Dr Ambedkar's revolutionary ideals will give us freedom from the age-old chains of the varnashram dharma. It may also be possible that all those who hold Dr Ambedkar's poster do not know much about him except as the Father of India's Constitution. I would advise friends to read him and you will find, refreshingly, a freedom waiting for you. You will get liberated. You will be able to understand what ails India.

The fact is that whenever movements emerge, most of them address the immediate needs of the people and avoid ‘controversial’ issues. We need to be careful because if we continue like this, we will not be able to fight against the powerful.

During Anna's period, we saw a huge number of 'civil society activists', who were visible on TV as well as elsewhere, attempted to create an 'alternative' and ended up in strengthening the Sangh Parivar immensely. At the moment, the country is really in a crisis and we need to democratise and secularise the political parties. Respect the diversity of these political parties and focus on alliance building. The civil society leaders must compel the political parties to democratise themselves. Movements, discourse, opinions, all of these will help us to build the environment for that.

The last decade saw the growth of fundamentalists and hate-mongers. How can we defeat them in this decade? With short term goals, where people fight each other for 'position' and entry on the stage? Can we really put the fight against caste discrimination and untouchability at the center of our 'revolution'? Baba Saheb is my hero not because there is a Constitution but because he identified and remedied the alternative to brahmanism. Will we rise up and speak the truth?

Fact of the matter is that growth of the religious right the world over is due to the fear of the success of the marginalised, immigrants and minorities. In India, the brahmanical forces are really afraid of the growth and success of the Ambedkarites and other shudra communities. They want to put a full stop to it, not allow children from the marginalised communities into schools and institutions of higher education. Destroy public institutions and universities so that education remains in the hands of the brahman-bania elite. And for this, they want to keep the poor continuously on their toes so that they do not have time to stand up and concentrate on other things. From what we have already seen, the manner in which the state is 'asserting' its power in our private domain and individual things, it is clear that in the name of 'digitalisation', an attempt is being made to control our lives and make us totally depended on state. But, more than that, it will be an easier tool to harass and humiliate the dissenters and the religious minorities.

Everyone says we must fight against hatred, but how? First, the reason behind this hatred in India has to be diagnosed. Any serious reader of India's social system can tell us that as the number of Dalit-OBC-Adivasi students were growing in the higher education, it became a threat. And that needed to be curtailed and controlled, because these segments were most assertive and proud on the legacies of Ambedkar, Phule, Birsa, Periyar. Hence, they became a 'threat'. Muslims, too, understood well, that their future lay with this segment and not with India's brahmanical elite, which come to them as 'patron' and gave themselves the 'satisfaction' of promoting their great faith of 'Vasudhaiv kutumbkam', but did not have the largeness of heart to give space to the 80% of the population, which they claim is Hindus but whom we call Bahujans. Political battles will be, and should be, fought by political parties and it is our duty to ensure they have a fair representation of India's diverse sections. It is our duty to ask for fair representation in all sectors of power, including India's police, paramilitary and armed forces. Our diversity must be reflected at all levels. Social movements must continue to focus on anti-caste agenda at the top, respecting the autonomy of the Adivasi life and livelihood, providing access to natural resources to Dalits and other marginalised communities. These resources, these days, are being handed over to a few cronies and social movements must oppose privatisation of public resources and call for a complete land and agrarian reform in India. You cannot democratise India unless you democratise our villages, and it is not possible if social conditions do not change there or power equations remain the same. Let political parties promise to do fair distribution of village land, implement the land laws honestly, get the Forest Rights Act implemented fairly and do not sell our water to profit making companies. The issues are bigger but let us not allow our natural resources to be grabbed by a few corporate cronies. Let us not allow our beautiful environment and life style to be damaged by cronies in the name of 'development'.

In the end, I would advise friends to protect themselves from the temptation of ‘being in the news'. Those who are not in print or air work, too, and it does not mean all those who are giving their 'expert advice’ on air are the best and only ones.

The best thing of the decade was the complete expose of the electronic media. Promoted by Babas and real estate agent, and now the party in power, most of these channels became a threat to the very idea of India. While I am happy that most of the people understand this, they still have the power to destroy, so it is still important to fight against this propaganda unleashed by such crooked corporate slaves, who are enjoying their 'slavery' by abusing others who disagree with the powers that be.

Let us connect, share and continue our struggle to democratise our society and fight to protect the rights of all the citizens of the country, irrespective of their identities. Let us hope that this new decade will bring all the people together, to strengthen our Constitution and build a strong, united, secular, republic of India.

 

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One Country, Many New Years

As we enter the year 2020, let us explore the unique New Year traditions across different parts of India and appreciate the strength of our diversity.

02 Jan 2020

Indian Cultures

The big 2020 is finally here, and as the world crosses this milestone, India will celebrate various New Year festivals in the months to come. Though the exact dates may vary, most of these festivals fall in March/April of the Gregorian Calendar. The regions which follow a Solar Calendar consider New Year as the ‘Sankranti’ of the first month of Solar cycle commonly known as ‘Vaisaakh’. Generally, this day falls during 14th or 15th of the month of April. Those following Lunar calendar consider the period between two ‘Purnimas’ (full moons) as one month and the month of Chaitra (corresponding to March-April) is considered the first month.Local calendars in India fall under both these categories like Nanakshahi calendar, Parsi calendar, Hindu calendar, Islamic calendar, and many more.

Most New Year days correspond with the harvest season as India has historically been an agricultural country. Vaisaakhi is one of the biggest festivals celebrated in North India to mark the New Year. For Sikhs, it holds added significance as this was the day chosen by the tenth Guru- Guru Gobind Singh Ji- to establish the ‘Khalsa Panth’. Vaisaakhi is celebrated with much aplomb, dancing, singing, wearing new colourful clothes and attending kirtan in Gurudwaras like the Golden Temple. Vaisaakhi celebrations also remind us of the sombre history of Jallianwalah Bagh massacre which happened on this day in 1919.

Maithili New Year (also known as Jude Sheetal or Pahil Boishakh) is the celebration of the first day of the Maithili new year. It is celebrated in Bihar and parts of Nepal that fall under a common region known as Mithila. This day usually falls on 14 April on Gregorian calendar and Maithils celebrate by cooking Hilsa fish and rice. This is also called Nirayana Mesh Sankranti and Tirhuta new year. The occasion is celebrated in keeping with the Maithil Panchang, a calendar used in the Mithila region. This coincides with Pohela Boishaakh celebrated in West Bengal. Colorful displays of arts and crafts, along with music shows mark the ‘Nobobarsho’ (New Year) celbrations.

The famous Bihu dance is performed to celebrate Bohag Bihu (Assamese New Year) which lasts for seven days usually beginning on 14th April. This festival also adheres to the marking of a New Year by the harvest season and coincides with Vaisaakhi. The same day is also celebrated as Vishu festival in Kerala, Mangalore and Tulu Nadu (the regions where the language Tulu is spoken) where the first month of the year is called Medam. The day is celebrated with fireworks, wearing new clothes (Puthukodi), and the eating a special meal called Sadhya which is traditional meal prepared with multiple sweet and savoury dishes, typically served on a Banana leaf.

Ugadi or Yugadi is the New Year celebration of Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Karnataka. It is observed in these regions on the first day of the Hindu lunisolar calendar month of Chaitra. Traditional sweets and 'Pachadi' (sweet syrup) – made with raw mangoes and neem leaves – are served with the Ugadi meal. On the same day, the Marathis celebrate the New Year asGudi Padwa by decorating Maharashtrian households with ‘Gudis’ which literally means flags erected around the household. Gudi Padwa is also associated with the arrival of spring and the harvesting of Rabi crops.

Nowruz (also known as Navroz/Navroz) is the Iranian and Persian New Year, which is celebrated worldwide by various ethno-linguistic groups. In India- Parsis, Kashmiri pandits, Zoroastrians, and some Muslim communities, celebrate Nowruz. Nowruz is the day of the vernal (spring) equinox (equinox occurs when the center of the visible Sun is directly above the equator) and marks the beginning of spring in the Northern Hemisphere. It marks the first day of the first month (Farvardin) of the Iranian calendar.It usually occurs on March 21 or the previous or following day, depending on where it is observed. On equinox, the day and night become exactly equal in terms of number of hours. On this day, families gather to observe the rituals and celebrate the coming of spring together.

The Islamic New Year (Arabic: Raʿs as-Sanah al-Hijrīyah), also called the Hijri New Year or Arabic New Year, is the day that marks the beginning of a new Hijri year, and is observed by Muslims on the first day of the month of Muharram. Since the Islamic calendar (which follows the lunar cycle) is usually 11 or 12 days shorter than the Gregorian calendar year, the date of Islamic New Year can vary. In 2020, the day will fall on 19th-20th August.

Sindhis mark the New Year with the celebration of Chetri Chand (also known as Cheti Chand). The festival date is based on the lunar cycle of the lunisolar Hindu calendar, it being the first day of the year and the Sindhi month of Chet (Chaitra). It typically falls on or about the same day as Gudi Padwa, Bohag Bihu, and Ugadi. The festival marks the arrival of spring and harvest, but in Sindhi community it also marks the birth of Uderolal in year 1007, after they prayed to Hindu god Varun Dev to save them from the persecution by the tyrannical ruler Mirkhshah. Uderolal (also known as Jhulelal) confronted and reprimanded Mirkhshah and became the champion of the people in Sindh, both Hindus and Muslims. Among his Sufi Muslim followers, Jhulelal is known as "Khwaja Khizir" or "Sheikh Tahit". Uday Chand, Amar Laal and Laal Sain are a few other names Jhulelal is addressed by.

There are many traditions with different names that mark the New Year for Indian people in various regions. Though the calendars, the languages, the rituals and their significance may be diverse, many festivals overlap, and so does the celebration. As we enter 2020 according to the Gregorian calendar, let us feel excited in anticipation of our very own local New Year festivals coming up in a few months and hope to celebrate together without the boundaries of caste, class and religion. Everyone deserves a ‘Happy’ New Year, let’s make it happen with compassion and love.

One Country, Many New Years

As we enter the year 2020, let us explore the unique New Year traditions across different parts of India and appreciate the strength of our diversity.

Indian Cultures

The big 2020 is finally here, and as the world crosses this milestone, India will celebrate various New Year festivals in the months to come. Though the exact dates may vary, most of these festivals fall in March/April of the Gregorian Calendar. The regions which follow a Solar Calendar consider New Year as the ‘Sankranti’ of the first month of Solar cycle commonly known as ‘Vaisaakh’. Generally, this day falls during 14th or 15th of the month of April. Those following Lunar calendar consider the period between two ‘Purnimas’ (full moons) as one month and the month of Chaitra (corresponding to March-April) is considered the first month.Local calendars in India fall under both these categories like Nanakshahi calendar, Parsi calendar, Hindu calendar, Islamic calendar, and many more.

Most New Year days correspond with the harvest season as India has historically been an agricultural country. Vaisaakhi is one of the biggest festivals celebrated in North India to mark the New Year. For Sikhs, it holds added significance as this was the day chosen by the tenth Guru- Guru Gobind Singh Ji- to establish the ‘Khalsa Panth’. Vaisaakhi is celebrated with much aplomb, dancing, singing, wearing new colourful clothes and attending kirtan in Gurudwaras like the Golden Temple. Vaisaakhi celebrations also remind us of the sombre history of Jallianwalah Bagh massacre which happened on this day in 1919.

Maithili New Year (also known as Jude Sheetal or Pahil Boishakh) is the celebration of the first day of the Maithili new year. It is celebrated in Bihar and parts of Nepal that fall under a common region known as Mithila. This day usually falls on 14 April on Gregorian calendar and Maithils celebrate by cooking Hilsa fish and rice. This is also called Nirayana Mesh Sankranti and Tirhuta new year. The occasion is celebrated in keeping with the Maithil Panchang, a calendar used in the Mithila region. This coincides with Pohela Boishaakh celebrated in West Bengal. Colorful displays of arts and crafts, along with music shows mark the ‘Nobobarsho’ (New Year) celbrations.

The famous Bihu dance is performed to celebrate Bohag Bihu (Assamese New Year) which lasts for seven days usually beginning on 14th April. This festival also adheres to the marking of a New Year by the harvest season and coincides with Vaisaakhi. The same day is also celebrated as Vishu festival in Kerala, Mangalore and Tulu Nadu (the regions where the language Tulu is spoken) where the first month of the year is called Medam. The day is celebrated with fireworks, wearing new clothes (Puthukodi), and the eating a special meal called Sadhya which is traditional meal prepared with multiple sweet and savoury dishes, typically served on a Banana leaf.

Ugadi or Yugadi is the New Year celebration of Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Karnataka. It is observed in these regions on the first day of the Hindu lunisolar calendar month of Chaitra. Traditional sweets and 'Pachadi' (sweet syrup) – made with raw mangoes and neem leaves – are served with the Ugadi meal. On the same day, the Marathis celebrate the New Year asGudi Padwa by decorating Maharashtrian households with ‘Gudis’ which literally means flags erected around the household. Gudi Padwa is also associated with the arrival of spring and the harvesting of Rabi crops.

Nowruz (also known as Navroz/Navroz) is the Iranian and Persian New Year, which is celebrated worldwide by various ethno-linguistic groups. In India- Parsis, Kashmiri pandits, Zoroastrians, and some Muslim communities, celebrate Nowruz. Nowruz is the day of the vernal (spring) equinox (equinox occurs when the center of the visible Sun is directly above the equator) and marks the beginning of spring in the Northern Hemisphere. It marks the first day of the first month (Farvardin) of the Iranian calendar.It usually occurs on March 21 or the previous or following day, depending on where it is observed. On equinox, the day and night become exactly equal in terms of number of hours. On this day, families gather to observe the rituals and celebrate the coming of spring together.

The Islamic New Year (Arabic: Raʿs as-Sanah al-Hijrīyah), also called the Hijri New Year or Arabic New Year, is the day that marks the beginning of a new Hijri year, and is observed by Muslims on the first day of the month of Muharram. Since the Islamic calendar (which follows the lunar cycle) is usually 11 or 12 days shorter than the Gregorian calendar year, the date of Islamic New Year can vary. In 2020, the day will fall on 19th-20th August.

Sindhis mark the New Year with the celebration of Chetri Chand (also known as Cheti Chand). The festival date is based on the lunar cycle of the lunisolar Hindu calendar, it being the first day of the year and the Sindhi month of Chet (Chaitra). It typically falls on or about the same day as Gudi Padwa, Bohag Bihu, and Ugadi. The festival marks the arrival of spring and harvest, but in Sindhi community it also marks the birth of Uderolal in year 1007, after they prayed to Hindu god Varun Dev to save them from the persecution by the tyrannical ruler Mirkhshah. Uderolal (also known as Jhulelal) confronted and reprimanded Mirkhshah and became the champion of the people in Sindh, both Hindus and Muslims. Among his Sufi Muslim followers, Jhulelal is known as "Khwaja Khizir" or "Sheikh Tahit". Uday Chand, Amar Laal and Laal Sain are a few other names Jhulelal is addressed by.

There are many traditions with different names that mark the New Year for Indian people in various regions. Though the calendars, the languages, the rituals and their significance may be diverse, many festivals overlap, and so does the celebration. As we enter 2020 according to the Gregorian calendar, let us feel excited in anticipation of our very own local New Year festivals coming up in a few months and hope to celebrate together without the boundaries of caste, class and religion. Everyone deserves a ‘Happy’ New Year, let’s make it happen with compassion and love.

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Kerala kids show the way to solidarity and harmony

They dressed in an Islamic ensemble at a carol service to show their support for the anti-CAA protestors

31 Dec 2019

X'mas carol service in solidarity with Indian Muslims

People all over the country are protesting against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and students have come to the fore of the movement taking charge and leading the struggle against the fascist Act.

But last week, youngsters too expressed their solidarity with the minorities and the marginalized, when at a Christmas carol service in Marthoma Church, in Kozencherry, Kerala, they came wearing Islamic attire to stand by protestors fighting against the CAA and National Register of Citizens (NRC).

Six youth wearing Muslim attire – skull caps; and eight girls wearing the hijab participated in the carol service.

Speaking to the Deccan Herald, Father Daniel T Philip of the church said that Mary and Joseph went to Bethlehem as refugees and even Jesus Christ had to be a refugee. “Theology should always be contextual. Hence the carol song was composed based on a theme to express solidarity with the refugees,” he stated saying that no one at the parish expressed displeasure about the decision.

 

 

While some did suggest that it would have been better if the dress code had a mixture of all religions, the gesture and the stand taken by the church was appreciated by many.

MP for Thiruvananthapuram Shashi Tharoor took a dig at the Prime Minister’s comments about identifying protestors from their clothes in a tweet. He said –

 

 

The video posted by @jijoy_matt has garnered over 70,000 views, over 2,000 likes and has been re-tweeted around 900 times by tweeple all over India. Though this isn’t the first time that members of different religious communities have expressed solidarity for one another, the current step by the church comes as a huge support for the minorities who are set to be affected gravely if the CAA and NRC are implemented nationwide. It is a welcome step towards solidarity, especially when the minorities fear being left ‘stateless’ by the CAA.

Kerala has been very vocal in its refusal to toe the line and ply with the Centre for the implementation of the Act and the NRC. There have been massive rallies throughout the State condemning the government’s decision to impose the same on the citizens of the country.


Related:

New Year’s resolution: Defend the Constitution
They came wearing clothes of harmony: Mumbai's Dec 19
Resistance, revolution and resolve: How Indian students led the anti-CAA protests

Kerala kids show the way to solidarity and harmony

They dressed in an Islamic ensemble at a carol service to show their support for the anti-CAA protestors

X'mas carol service in solidarity with Indian Muslims

People all over the country are protesting against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and students have come to the fore of the movement taking charge and leading the struggle against the fascist Act.

But last week, youngsters too expressed their solidarity with the minorities and the marginalized, when at a Christmas carol service in Marthoma Church, in Kozencherry, Kerala, they came wearing Islamic attire to stand by protestors fighting against the CAA and National Register of Citizens (NRC).

Six youth wearing Muslim attire – skull caps; and eight girls wearing the hijab participated in the carol service.

Speaking to the Deccan Herald, Father Daniel T Philip of the church said that Mary and Joseph went to Bethlehem as refugees and even Jesus Christ had to be a refugee. “Theology should always be contextual. Hence the carol song was composed based on a theme to express solidarity with the refugees,” he stated saying that no one at the parish expressed displeasure about the decision.

 

 

While some did suggest that it would have been better if the dress code had a mixture of all religions, the gesture and the stand taken by the church was appreciated by many.

MP for Thiruvananthapuram Shashi Tharoor took a dig at the Prime Minister’s comments about identifying protestors from their clothes in a tweet. He said –

 

 

The video posted by @jijoy_matt has garnered over 70,000 views, over 2,000 likes and has been re-tweeted around 900 times by tweeple all over India. Though this isn’t the first time that members of different religious communities have expressed solidarity for one another, the current step by the church comes as a huge support for the minorities who are set to be affected gravely if the CAA and NRC are implemented nationwide. It is a welcome step towards solidarity, especially when the minorities fear being left ‘stateless’ by the CAA.

Kerala has been very vocal in its refusal to toe the line and ply with the Centre for the implementation of the Act and the NRC. There have been massive rallies throughout the State condemning the government’s decision to impose the same on the citizens of the country.


Related:

New Year’s resolution: Defend the Constitution
They came wearing clothes of harmony: Mumbai's Dec 19
Resistance, revolution and resolve: How Indian students led the anti-CAA protests

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Christmas is for Everyone

A Sikh girl recounts what Christmas means to her and how observing Christmas this year means looking for hope in these dark times of strife.

25 Dec 2019

Christmas

Growing up, my parents had one goal- to send their children to the best schools possible, sometimes going out of their middle-class means to accomplish that. My brother and I studied in convent schools as a consequence because they had the best teachers. I remember our parents tried to get us to go to a more elite school once but I ran out of there because all the kids had ‘pagers’ (communication devices used in the 90’s before cellphones arrived).

So, we stayed at the convent school with fellow middle-class students, from the ages of 3 to 16. We attended the Moral Science lectures, we learnt about Jesus, we learnt all the prayers and parables, and we celebrated Christmas as the biggest festival of the year. This tradition continued when I went to study in Manipal University. We would have Secret Santa gift exchanges, sometimes a faculty member would surprise us by dressing up as Santa and distributing sweets, and our Christian friends from the local community in Mangalore would invite us home for a delicious feast.

Christmas was also an elaborate event at all the workplaces I have been with over the years. There would be excel sheets for Secret Santa, Google forms, wish-lists, and the joy of finding your name in the huge pile of gifts in the cafeteria. More than anything, Christmas was a reminder that good things are possible in the world.

Last year my spouse and I took a scooter ride to Mount Mary Church in Bandra, Mumbai, on Christmas Eve. The streets were filled with people in festive clothes- singing, laughing, exchanging gifts, and inviting each other to Christmas parties. As I hummed along Christmas carols, a Sikh woman sitting behind her Hindu partner, celebrating a Christian festival, it was the most normal thing in the world. Celebrating Christmas has never been subject to one’s religion.

The normalcy of syncretic Christmas celebrations in India extends back to the Mughal era when Emperor Akbar was introduced to Christianitythrough the Jesuit missionaries he invited to his court from Goa. Around the same time, there was also a large thriving community of Armenian Christian merchants, jewellers, and bankers living in the Mughal capital of Agra and when the Jesuits expressed a wish to build a church here, Akbar obliged and donated generously for a chapel which is still known as Akbar’s Church. Christian influence found its way into paintings and Sufi literature of the era. Christmas themed artwork had been found in the Mughal court as well.

For the Christian community in India, this year’s celebrations are sombre at best in light of the Anti-CAA/NRC protests and ensuing police brutality across the country. Navin W Noronha, a comedian who runs the ‘Keeping it Queer’ Podcast says, “It's going to be a sad Christmas. My partner and I decided not to decorate the house. We'll be doing lunch with my family, who are also not decorating their homes or making a big celebration party this year. It's simple- if people can't pray in their mosques (referring to police entering mosque in Jamia, Delhi), I don’t see how it's okay to go on acting like everything is okay.”

Everything is not okay, and this year, as I ride to Mount Mary Church on Christmas eve, I know that I will see many of the samefaces on the streets in forthcoming protests. The Christmas spirit will give us strength, hugs will be exchanged, healing will be gifted, and the singing of Christmas carols will light us up with warmth.As we wish each other on Christmas this year, maybe the gift of peace is all we need to believe that good things are possible in the world.

Christmas is for Everyone

A Sikh girl recounts what Christmas means to her and how observing Christmas this year means looking for hope in these dark times of strife.

Christmas

Growing up, my parents had one goal- to send their children to the best schools possible, sometimes going out of their middle-class means to accomplish that. My brother and I studied in convent schools as a consequence because they had the best teachers. I remember our parents tried to get us to go to a more elite school once but I ran out of there because all the kids had ‘pagers’ (communication devices used in the 90’s before cellphones arrived).

So, we stayed at the convent school with fellow middle-class students, from the ages of 3 to 16. We attended the Moral Science lectures, we learnt about Jesus, we learnt all the prayers and parables, and we celebrated Christmas as the biggest festival of the year. This tradition continued when I went to study in Manipal University. We would have Secret Santa gift exchanges, sometimes a faculty member would surprise us by dressing up as Santa and distributing sweets, and our Christian friends from the local community in Mangalore would invite us home for a delicious feast.

Christmas was also an elaborate event at all the workplaces I have been with over the years. There would be excel sheets for Secret Santa, Google forms, wish-lists, and the joy of finding your name in the huge pile of gifts in the cafeteria. More than anything, Christmas was a reminder that good things are possible in the world.

Last year my spouse and I took a scooter ride to Mount Mary Church in Bandra, Mumbai, on Christmas Eve. The streets were filled with people in festive clothes- singing, laughing, exchanging gifts, and inviting each other to Christmas parties. As I hummed along Christmas carols, a Sikh woman sitting behind her Hindu partner, celebrating a Christian festival, it was the most normal thing in the world. Celebrating Christmas has never been subject to one’s religion.

The normalcy of syncretic Christmas celebrations in India extends back to the Mughal era when Emperor Akbar was introduced to Christianitythrough the Jesuit missionaries he invited to his court from Goa. Around the same time, there was also a large thriving community of Armenian Christian merchants, jewellers, and bankers living in the Mughal capital of Agra and when the Jesuits expressed a wish to build a church here, Akbar obliged and donated generously for a chapel which is still known as Akbar’s Church. Christian influence found its way into paintings and Sufi literature of the era. Christmas themed artwork had been found in the Mughal court as well.

For the Christian community in India, this year’s celebrations are sombre at best in light of the Anti-CAA/NRC protests and ensuing police brutality across the country. Navin W Noronha, a comedian who runs the ‘Keeping it Queer’ Podcast says, “It's going to be a sad Christmas. My partner and I decided not to decorate the house. We'll be doing lunch with my family, who are also not decorating their homes or making a big celebration party this year. It's simple- if people can't pray in their mosques (referring to police entering mosque in Jamia, Delhi), I don’t see how it's okay to go on acting like everything is okay.”

Everything is not okay, and this year, as I ride to Mount Mary Church on Christmas eve, I know that I will see many of the samefaces on the streets in forthcoming protests. The Christmas spirit will give us strength, hugs will be exchanged, healing will be gifted, and the singing of Christmas carols will light us up with warmth.As we wish each other on Christmas this year, maybe the gift of peace is all we need to believe that good things are possible in the world.

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A Mahim Dargah revered by Mumbai Police

As Mumbai celebrates a 10-day mela at Mahim Dargah to honour the death anniversary of Sufi Saint Makhdoom Ali Mahimi, Mumbai Police offers the first chaadar at this shrine, keeping alive a centuries old syncretic tradition.

14 Dec 2019

Mahim Dargah

As the residents of Mahim gear up for the annual 10-day mela held in honour of Sufi saint Makhdoom Mahimi entombed at the Mahim Dargah, the Mahim Police is the first to pay obeisance at the Dargah by offering the first “chaadar/sandal chadhaava” honouring a tradition which started almost a hundred years ago. The precedent was set by a 1911 Gazette that mandated police officers of the area to offer the first Chaadar/sandal (decorative cloth covering for tomb) at the 10-day festival. According to local residents, Mahimi has been the patron saint of the Mumbai police since the 15th century.

Makhdoom Ali Mahimi Shafi'i (1372–1431 A.D) was a saint and scholar of international repute. He lived during the time of the Tuglaq dynasty and that of Sultan Ahmed Shah of Gujarat, and was married to the Sultan's sister. He is widely acknowledged for his scholarly treatises, liberal views and humanitarian ideals. He was born into a family of Arab travellers from Iraq who settled down on the island of Mahim (which is one of the seven islands which later combined to form the present city of Mumbai). He was later appointed the Qazi (Head Muslim cleric) by the Sultan of Gujarat.

Mahimi was the first Indian scholar to write a critical explanation/commentary of the Qur’an called ‘Tafsirur Rahman’, in addition to writing over 100 books of which only a small number are available in libraries today. Mahimi is said to have been a man of great intelligence and sound legal knowledge who would often offer consultation to the local police in solving cases in the 15th Century. He was revered by both Muslims and Hindus during his lifetime and was buried in Mahim after his death in 1431. The burial site became the holy Mahim Dargah where devotees from all over the country come to offer prayers regardless of their religion.

The mela which started on December 8th this year, marks the death anniversary or Urs of Makhdoom Ali Mahimi. The Mahim police station, about 200 metres away from the dargah, was built in 1923 on the site where Mahimi is said to have lived. A green steel cupboard in the Senior Inspector's room is said to contain some of the saint's possessions. During the ten days of the fair held each year to honour Mahimi, the office is thrown open for devotees.

“The full Mumbai police follows Makhdumi Baba,” said Basheer Baba, 55, who is among the dargah officials overseeing the festivities. “Nobody can break that bond. There should be more chances like this of Hindu-Muslim love.”

In true Mumbai fashion, the processions and devotees flow towards the Dargah while speakers blare out loud music. Noise Pollution activists and local residents, including the Dargah committee, have made appeals to keep the noise levels to the permissible 55 decibels during the day and 45 decibels during the night. The security arrangements include 120 volunteers alongwith officers from police, railway, traffic police and BMC, and 40 CCTV cameras.

While Muslims comprise only around 2% of the police force in Mumbai, it is heartening that they revere Makhdoom Ali Mahimi and have kept up the hundreds of years of tradition at the Urs mela at Mahim Dargah.

The question of Muslim under-representation in the police force lingers. According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) figures of 2013, there are about 1% Muslims in the Maharashtra police against the national average of 4%. The police is meant to be the first step of outreach for citizens, and it can also be the first barrier. The gender/religion/caste- compositions do matter in determining accessibility and sensitivity.

Whether the faith of Mumbai police in the Mahim Dargah translates into their sensitivity to handle communally charged situations, or if it promotes internal camaraderie- may not be clear, but what is clear- is that an example is set for the people to see and follow. To see these examples of syncretic traditions followed by the authorities, is rare and thus important. If you are a Mumbai resident, do try and visit the mela, to offer prayers, or to enjoy the various stalls and entertainment sections. Either way, you will witness an event of communal harmony every year, God willing, for years to come.

A Mahim Dargah revered by Mumbai Police

As Mumbai celebrates a 10-day mela at Mahim Dargah to honour the death anniversary of Sufi Saint Makhdoom Ali Mahimi, Mumbai Police offers the first chaadar at this shrine, keeping alive a centuries old syncretic tradition.

Mahim Dargah

As the residents of Mahim gear up for the annual 10-day mela held in honour of Sufi saint Makhdoom Mahimi entombed at the Mahim Dargah, the Mahim Police is the first to pay obeisance at the Dargah by offering the first “chaadar/sandal chadhaava” honouring a tradition which started almost a hundred years ago. The precedent was set by a 1911 Gazette that mandated police officers of the area to offer the first Chaadar/sandal (decorative cloth covering for tomb) at the 10-day festival. According to local residents, Mahimi has been the patron saint of the Mumbai police since the 15th century.

Makhdoom Ali Mahimi Shafi'i (1372–1431 A.D) was a saint and scholar of international repute. He lived during the time of the Tuglaq dynasty and that of Sultan Ahmed Shah of Gujarat, and was married to the Sultan's sister. He is widely acknowledged for his scholarly treatises, liberal views and humanitarian ideals. He was born into a family of Arab travellers from Iraq who settled down on the island of Mahim (which is one of the seven islands which later combined to form the present city of Mumbai). He was later appointed the Qazi (Head Muslim cleric) by the Sultan of Gujarat.

Mahimi was the first Indian scholar to write a critical explanation/commentary of the Qur’an called ‘Tafsirur Rahman’, in addition to writing over 100 books of which only a small number are available in libraries today. Mahimi is said to have been a man of great intelligence and sound legal knowledge who would often offer consultation to the local police in solving cases in the 15th Century. He was revered by both Muslims and Hindus during his lifetime and was buried in Mahim after his death in 1431. The burial site became the holy Mahim Dargah where devotees from all over the country come to offer prayers regardless of their religion.

The mela which started on December 8th this year, marks the death anniversary or Urs of Makhdoom Ali Mahimi. The Mahim police station, about 200 metres away from the dargah, was built in 1923 on the site where Mahimi is said to have lived. A green steel cupboard in the Senior Inspector's room is said to contain some of the saint's possessions. During the ten days of the fair held each year to honour Mahimi, the office is thrown open for devotees.

“The full Mumbai police follows Makhdumi Baba,” said Basheer Baba, 55, who is among the dargah officials overseeing the festivities. “Nobody can break that bond. There should be more chances like this of Hindu-Muslim love.”

In true Mumbai fashion, the processions and devotees flow towards the Dargah while speakers blare out loud music. Noise Pollution activists and local residents, including the Dargah committee, have made appeals to keep the noise levels to the permissible 55 decibels during the day and 45 decibels during the night. The security arrangements include 120 volunteers alongwith officers from police, railway, traffic police and BMC, and 40 CCTV cameras.

While Muslims comprise only around 2% of the police force in Mumbai, it is heartening that they revere Makhdoom Ali Mahimi and have kept up the hundreds of years of tradition at the Urs mela at Mahim Dargah.

The question of Muslim under-representation in the police force lingers. According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) figures of 2013, there are about 1% Muslims in the Maharashtra police against the national average of 4%. The police is meant to be the first step of outreach for citizens, and it can also be the first barrier. The gender/religion/caste- compositions do matter in determining accessibility and sensitivity.

Whether the faith of Mumbai police in the Mahim Dargah translates into their sensitivity to handle communally charged situations, or if it promotes internal camaraderie- may not be clear, but what is clear- is that an example is set for the people to see and follow. To see these examples of syncretic traditions followed by the authorities, is rare and thus important. If you are a Mumbai resident, do try and visit the mela, to offer prayers, or to enjoy the various stalls and entertainment sections. Either way, you will witness an event of communal harmony every year, God willing, for years to come.

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Humanity over hate: Muslims lay to rest destitute Hindu woman

Daulatiya Devi, 70, whose body was found in a dilapidated house was cremated with traditional Hindu rituals

09 Dec 2019

hindu -muslim unity

Hope is the antidote to despair it is said. Re-affirming faith in the doctrine, at the time when silent tension is simmering in the Hindu and Muslim communities after the Ayodhya land dispute verdict, an uncle and nephew pair from Maner, Patna have displayed another example of humanity and communal harmony.

Chandu Khan and his nephew Javed Khan, members of the Muslim community, cremated an elderly Hindu woman, Daulatiya Devi, not just according to Hindu customs and rituals, but also prepared for ‘Dashkarma’ and ‘Brahmbhoj’.

Daulatiya Devi, who stayed alone in Meera Chak area after the demise of her husband, did not have any children or relatives to look after her. She used to survive on alms gathered from people in the area, after she could no longer run the small grocery shop due to old age. She passed away last week, and her body was found in a ruined house, orphaned.

The news of her death spread to nearby areas. That is when Chandu Khan from Qazi Mohalla stepped up to the occasion and decided to conduct her last rites. He called his nephew Javed to help with the funeral. Given that she was Hindu, Javed was cautious at first, but got reassured after visiting the Ward Councilor Amol Bajaj with his uncle. They performed the funeral and rituals as per Hindu customs at the Ganga Ghat in Haldi Chhapra. Chandu Khan lit the funeral pyre. This move by was appreciated and supported by everyone from the community.

This humane act by Chandu and Javed has reignited the ‘sufiyana tehzeeb’ that India is known for.

But this is not the first incident where communities pitted against each other (as per popular narrative) have come to each other’s rescue. In Ahmedabad this year, three Muslim brothers in Gujarat laid to rest their father’s friend, a Brahmin, as per Hindu rituals.

In Assam’s Kamrup district, a group of Muslim villagers performed the last rites of a Hindu man who had stayed at his Muslim friend’s residence with his family for the past 25 years.

There is no dearth of incidents in India that portray Hindu-Muslim harmony and communal respect. It is only due to fascist propaganda that the harmony spread at the grassroots does not make its way to us so as to portray the reality that humanity has continued to pervade over hate.

The right wing regime has always demonized the minorities – be it by making them targets of lynch mobs or bringing about amendments to the law to weed them out of the country altogether. Chandu and Javed’s act has not only shown their tolerance and benevolence, but has also chipped away a little at the undignified story spun around them by practicing humanity over hate.


Related:

Ganga-Jamuni tehzeeb: Muslims help with Guru Nanak Jayanti celebrations
Building Harmony: Sikh gives 900 sq. ft. land for mosque in violence hotbed of UP
Hindus and Muslims help renovate a gurudwara in Pakistan
Why Mohammed Kaleemulla is the ‘go-to- person for temple restoration

Humanity over hate: Muslims lay to rest destitute Hindu woman

Daulatiya Devi, 70, whose body was found in a dilapidated house was cremated with traditional Hindu rituals

hindu -muslim unity

Hope is the antidote to despair it is said. Re-affirming faith in the doctrine, at the time when silent tension is simmering in the Hindu and Muslim communities after the Ayodhya land dispute verdict, an uncle and nephew pair from Maner, Patna have displayed another example of humanity and communal harmony.

Chandu Khan and his nephew Javed Khan, members of the Muslim community, cremated an elderly Hindu woman, Daulatiya Devi, not just according to Hindu customs and rituals, but also prepared for ‘Dashkarma’ and ‘Brahmbhoj’.

Daulatiya Devi, who stayed alone in Meera Chak area after the demise of her husband, did not have any children or relatives to look after her. She used to survive on alms gathered from people in the area, after she could no longer run the small grocery shop due to old age. She passed away last week, and her body was found in a ruined house, orphaned.

The news of her death spread to nearby areas. That is when Chandu Khan from Qazi Mohalla stepped up to the occasion and decided to conduct her last rites. He called his nephew Javed to help with the funeral. Given that she was Hindu, Javed was cautious at first, but got reassured after visiting the Ward Councilor Amol Bajaj with his uncle. They performed the funeral and rituals as per Hindu customs at the Ganga Ghat in Haldi Chhapra. Chandu Khan lit the funeral pyre. This move by was appreciated and supported by everyone from the community.

This humane act by Chandu and Javed has reignited the ‘sufiyana tehzeeb’ that India is known for.

But this is not the first incident where communities pitted against each other (as per popular narrative) have come to each other’s rescue. In Ahmedabad this year, three Muslim brothers in Gujarat laid to rest their father’s friend, a Brahmin, as per Hindu rituals.

In Assam’s Kamrup district, a group of Muslim villagers performed the last rites of a Hindu man who had stayed at his Muslim friend’s residence with his family for the past 25 years.

There is no dearth of incidents in India that portray Hindu-Muslim harmony and communal respect. It is only due to fascist propaganda that the harmony spread at the grassroots does not make its way to us so as to portray the reality that humanity has continued to pervade over hate.

The right wing regime has always demonized the minorities – be it by making them targets of lynch mobs or bringing about amendments to the law to weed them out of the country altogether. Chandu and Javed’s act has not only shown their tolerance and benevolence, but has also chipped away a little at the undignified story spun around them by practicing humanity over hate.


Related:

Ganga-Jamuni tehzeeb: Muslims help with Guru Nanak Jayanti celebrations
Building Harmony: Sikh gives 900 sq. ft. land for mosque in violence hotbed of UP
Hindus and Muslims help renovate a gurudwara in Pakistan
Why Mohammed Kaleemulla is the ‘go-to- person for temple restoration

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Half and Half: A community that is both Hindu and Muslim

The Cheeta-Merat(Kathat)community of Ajmer, Rajasthan practice a unique syncretic religion combining Hinduism and Islam

07 Dec 2019

RajasthanImage Courtesy: theindianfeed.in

With a population of almost 400,000, the Cheeta-Merat a.k.a. Kathat community is spread across 160 villages in Ajmer and Bewar towns of Rajasthan’s Ajmer district. The Cheeta and the Merat are two separate clans who intermarry with each other. Most of them are small peasants and landless labourers. They call themselves Chauhan Rajputs, and identify their religion as ‘Hindu-Muslim’, or either ‘Hindu’ or ‘Muslim’ or simply ‘Cheeta-Merat’. The community supposedly descended from Prithviraj Chauhan. The popular theory about the Cheeta-Merat is that their ancestor Har Raj voluntarily converted to Islam at the hands of the renowned Sufi, Hazrat Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti of Ajmer. This is why, it is argued, he is also known as Pir Har Raj, having received the honorific title of Pir, which is used for a Muslim saint.

The Kathat community is said to follow the footsteps of Pir Har Raj who accepted three rules of Islam- khatna (male circumcision), dafan (burial after death), and eating Halal meat. The Kathat people have mixed Hindu-Muslim names, follow Hindu as well as Muslim traditions, celebrate all festivals, and even have weddings with both Nikah (Muslim wedding ceremony) and Pheras (Hindu wedding ceremony) as rituals.

A majority of the community is dedicated to maintain the syncretic Hindu-Muslim traditions, citing the promise that their ancestor, Pir Har Raj, is said to have made to a ‘Muslim Sultan’. To abandon the Islamic customs that their ancestor had adopted, they believed, would be to go against his wishes. However, things began to change from the mid-1980s, when both Hindu and Muslim revivalist organizations entered the Cheeta-Merat belt in order to win the community to their respective folds.

In an eye opening documentary shared by PSBT India, the confusion and dilemmacreated by Hindu and Muslim organizations is as clear as it is disturbing. As Radhika Saraf, a young photographer from Mumbai who spent time with this community, puts it, “It seemed as if the Kathat community were elastic, being stretched on both sides until it would finally break. This community is on the edge, under attack and soft target to accomplish what Hindu and Muslim sectarian groups seek- power and mass.”

So, on one side, as children are educated about the Quran in Madrasas, slogans of “Dharamaantaran band karo (stop religious conversion)” erupt from the schools funded by Vishwa Hindu Parishad. The children of the community have been reduced to pawn pieces in this decades-long chess game of religious divide.

The core Kathat community is adamant to hold on to their syncretic and harmonious ways. “We say Ram-Ram to Hindus and salam to Muslims. We hold a laddu in each of our hands”, says resident Salim Khan commenting on the contradictory appeals of Hindu and Muslim revivalist groups competing with each other.

For some Cheeta-Merats a new, more distinct Hindu, particularly Rajput, identity is also a means for asserting a claim to upward social mobility and a quest to be more accepted by the surrounding Hindu community. The pressure exerted from VHP and the Muslim Jamaat organizations is tremendous- with bribery, coercion, social banishment, all in play.

What is happening to the Kathat community can almost be used as a small-scale primer to understand the overall communal tension in India. In fear of losing their identity, most factions cling even closer to the radical and aggressive beliefs of their respective religions because any ambiguity hurts them. Religion becomes more than their personal choice as it determines social standing and ties to their community, also enabling them to feel accepted and secure in their immediate society. Religion brings people together in a unit which can defend them against external attack. With the possibility of literal or figurative attacks rising, everyone feels the need to belong to a team to feel safe. If they were all to follow the example of the Kathat community and practice traditions from two religions, they would end up being a battleground too. So what results is overcompensation and a sense of competition from religious groups borne out of fear, to ‘preserve’ their numbers.

In the Cheeta-Merat community, while the VHP conducts “Shuddhi (purification rituals)” and “Ghar waapsi (returning home)”, while reciting ‘Dharamaantaran band karo’ in the same breath, logic and irony take a blow. The Madrassas meanwhile influence the children to accept Islam exclusively and cut ties with families who have aligned themselves to Hinduism by not getting their children circumcised. Confusions come to a head when the offspring reach marriageable age and they realize no family is willing to wed their daughter to them unless they are circumcised and then last-minute circumcisions are carried out before the wedding.

It is not easy to polarize a tightly knit community but the fundamentalism from both sides has made a dent over the last 30 years. As the Kathat people struggle to retain their simple and harmonious lives, the tug of war rages on. Resident Buland Khan states simply, “Some of us are Muslims and others are Hindus, like me and my nephew here. But still we live together in harmony. We interdine and we intermarry. Religion is a personal issue and does not affect our relations.” If only this could become every Indian’s mantra!

Related:

Hindus and Muslims help renovate a gurudwara in Pakistan
Ganga-Jamuni tehzeeb: Muslims help with Guru Nanak Jayanti celebrations
“Allah and Ram are one”: Muslim youth who cleans mosques and temples
Maulvi inaugurates temple that Muslims helped restore after demolition
In Tamil Nadu, Hindus observe ‘Allah Festival’ on eve of Muharram

Half and Half: A community that is both Hindu and Muslim

The Cheeta-Merat(Kathat)community of Ajmer, Rajasthan practice a unique syncretic religion combining Hinduism and Islam

RajasthanImage Courtesy: theindianfeed.in

With a population of almost 400,000, the Cheeta-Merat a.k.a. Kathat community is spread across 160 villages in Ajmer and Bewar towns of Rajasthan’s Ajmer district. The Cheeta and the Merat are two separate clans who intermarry with each other. Most of them are small peasants and landless labourers. They call themselves Chauhan Rajputs, and identify their religion as ‘Hindu-Muslim’, or either ‘Hindu’ or ‘Muslim’ or simply ‘Cheeta-Merat’. The community supposedly descended from Prithviraj Chauhan. The popular theory about the Cheeta-Merat is that their ancestor Har Raj voluntarily converted to Islam at the hands of the renowned Sufi, Hazrat Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti of Ajmer. This is why, it is argued, he is also known as Pir Har Raj, having received the honorific title of Pir, which is used for a Muslim saint.

The Kathat community is said to follow the footsteps of Pir Har Raj who accepted three rules of Islam- khatna (male circumcision), dafan (burial after death), and eating Halal meat. The Kathat people have mixed Hindu-Muslim names, follow Hindu as well as Muslim traditions, celebrate all festivals, and even have weddings with both Nikah (Muslim wedding ceremony) and Pheras (Hindu wedding ceremony) as rituals.

A majority of the community is dedicated to maintain the syncretic Hindu-Muslim traditions, citing the promise that their ancestor, Pir Har Raj, is said to have made to a ‘Muslim Sultan’. To abandon the Islamic customs that their ancestor had adopted, they believed, would be to go against his wishes. However, things began to change from the mid-1980s, when both Hindu and Muslim revivalist organizations entered the Cheeta-Merat belt in order to win the community to their respective folds.

In an eye opening documentary shared by PSBT India, the confusion and dilemmacreated by Hindu and Muslim organizations is as clear as it is disturbing. As Radhika Saraf, a young photographer from Mumbai who spent time with this community, puts it, “It seemed as if the Kathat community were elastic, being stretched on both sides until it would finally break. This community is on the edge, under attack and soft target to accomplish what Hindu and Muslim sectarian groups seek- power and mass.”

So, on one side, as children are educated about the Quran in Madrasas, slogans of “Dharamaantaran band karo (stop religious conversion)” erupt from the schools funded by Vishwa Hindu Parishad. The children of the community have been reduced to pawn pieces in this decades-long chess game of religious divide.

The core Kathat community is adamant to hold on to their syncretic and harmonious ways. “We say Ram-Ram to Hindus and salam to Muslims. We hold a laddu in each of our hands”, says resident Salim Khan commenting on the contradictory appeals of Hindu and Muslim revivalist groups competing with each other.

For some Cheeta-Merats a new, more distinct Hindu, particularly Rajput, identity is also a means for asserting a claim to upward social mobility and a quest to be more accepted by the surrounding Hindu community. The pressure exerted from VHP and the Muslim Jamaat organizations is tremendous- with bribery, coercion, social banishment, all in play.

What is happening to the Kathat community can almost be used as a small-scale primer to understand the overall communal tension in India. In fear of losing their identity, most factions cling even closer to the radical and aggressive beliefs of their respective religions because any ambiguity hurts them. Religion becomes more than their personal choice as it determines social standing and ties to their community, also enabling them to feel accepted and secure in their immediate society. Religion brings people together in a unit which can defend them against external attack. With the possibility of literal or figurative attacks rising, everyone feels the need to belong to a team to feel safe. If they were all to follow the example of the Kathat community and practice traditions from two religions, they would end up being a battleground too. So what results is overcompensation and a sense of competition from religious groups borne out of fear, to ‘preserve’ their numbers.

In the Cheeta-Merat community, while the VHP conducts “Shuddhi (purification rituals)” and “Ghar waapsi (returning home)”, while reciting ‘Dharamaantaran band karo’ in the same breath, logic and irony take a blow. The Madrassas meanwhile influence the children to accept Islam exclusively and cut ties with families who have aligned themselves to Hinduism by not getting their children circumcised. Confusions come to a head when the offspring reach marriageable age and they realize no family is willing to wed their daughter to them unless they are circumcised and then last-minute circumcisions are carried out before the wedding.

It is not easy to polarize a tightly knit community but the fundamentalism from both sides has made a dent over the last 30 years. As the Kathat people struggle to retain their simple and harmonious lives, the tug of war rages on. Resident Buland Khan states simply, “Some of us are Muslims and others are Hindus, like me and my nephew here. But still we live together in harmony. We interdine and we intermarry. Religion is a personal issue and does not affect our relations.” If only this could become every Indian’s mantra!

Related:

Hindus and Muslims help renovate a gurudwara in Pakistan
Ganga-Jamuni tehzeeb: Muslims help with Guru Nanak Jayanti celebrations
“Allah and Ram are one”: Muslim youth who cleans mosques and temples
Maulvi inaugurates temple that Muslims helped restore after demolition
In Tamil Nadu, Hindus observe ‘Allah Festival’ on eve of Muharram

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