Issues

Haj subsidy gone, India needs to do alot more to prove it is secular

Now that the government of the day has withdrawn the Haj subsidy, it ought to take another step forward and withdrawn subsidy and support it provides for all the pilgrimages and yatras and melas associated with any religion. After all, in a democracy, religion ought to be kept away from governance. In our country, there is a blatant mix and match, more so in these recent years. There ought to be a complete and immediate halt of this.

Whilst on the Haj pilgrimage, I’m of the firm view that it ought to be undertaken from one’s own personal earnings or savings. In fact, it’s amply writ large in the Quran that Haj should be undertaken by those who can afford it. After all, its a connect between you and your Creator, so what’s the role of rulers and their doles!

Let’s see whether the Right-Wing government will withdraw subsidy and support it doles out for the pilgrimages, activities and institutions associated with other religions practiced in the country. Very slim chances of this because of the political rulers’ blatant biases and tilts and prejudices. And all this talk of the Haj subsidy money to be now used for Muslim girls’ education is again one of those political façades; bogus speeches and more and more of those hollow words polluting the atmosphere!

Meanwhile the AAP government’s recently announced decision to send senior citizens of Delhi for free or subsidized ‘tirath yatras’ to the various religious destinations in the country ought to be not just questioned but scrapped.

Afzal Guru's letters from prison

As news came in that Ghalib Guru, son of Afzal Guru who was executed in 2013, has passed the Class XII board exams with distinction, securing 88 per cent marks. I’m reminded of his father Afzal Guru’s correspondence with his lawyer, author Nandita Haksar. She had published his letters in her book The Many Faces of Kashmiri Nationalism –From The Cold War to the Present Day (Speaking Tiger).

In my view, the very forte of this book is focus on Afzal Guru and with that focus on the ongoing conflict in Kashmir. Nandita has deftly weaved in Afzal’s correspondence with her and this includes a 10-page long handwritten letter which he’d written from his prison cell. Nah, none of his long and short letters tucked in the pages of this book carry terrorizing offloads or thoughts or sentiments . On the contrary, they come across as not just philosophical but humane and emotional, written with raw emotions…

To quote Nandita from this book, “Though Afzal Guru had lived in the closed and claustrophobic cells of the Tihar Jail, his mind was open, and he continued to read extensively. Tabassum said after Ghalib was born, Afzal would complain ‘Waai Pyaari mye mileha kanh goaph’ (O pyaari , I wish I could find a cave to read in). After his imprisonment, Tabassum would tease him ‘Goaph mileye?’ (have you found the cave now?), to which he would respond ‘Zabardast goaph (Incredible cave!)… Afzal wrote long letters to friends. Sometimes he would make copies and give me one or send it to me through his channels. Most of these letters were in English. In the letters he discussed his ideas about religion and nationalism. Like many other Kashmiri Muslims, Afzal too had become disillusioned by the idea of nationalism and had taken refuge in Islamist ideologies. For Afzal, both India and Pakistan had betrayed the Kashmiris. He was worried about the radicalization of the new generation. He called it indoctrination and expressed his concern in a letter written from Jail No 2 in Tihar to a fellow Kashmiri: Our home is in a state of ANARCHY (morally, politically, socially etc.) sandwiched between two antagonistic forces. One country is simmering other on indoctrinating the highly volatile kids mobilizing the noble feelings of these uneducated and unaware youth for their own existence and survival. They want to engage the huge army stricture with huge budget by a handful of highly motivated people. On the other side, the Army wants to rest and to have a highly luxurious life. It is this hypocrisy that made few people to change the state of simmering of the pot into a boiling state. It got boiled but unfortunately these two countries do not learn, rather they do not want people to live in peace. They are living on the threshold of the same boiling stage. I was not alone nor am I. I do not belong to any org. I belong to feelings and ideas (felt globally) by those who are being humiliated and silenced unwillingly.”

In fact, Nandita’s focus on Afzal through his letters makes him stand out as a well-read man who was introspecting and questioning ever so constantly. To quote her from this book, “Afzal was wrestling with the ideas of religion and nationalism. In a long letter written to me on 8 January 2008, he asked: Respected Nandita, when Naga conflict is not Christian, why conflict in Kashmir is branded Islamic. Fundamentally, it is political, social and historical in nature. Robert A Pape’s book, Dying To Win, has given a sophisticated analysis of 300 suicide attacks (from 1980 to 2003) out of which 76 were executed by the LTTE .The common cause, he says, “is political and social injustice, oppression and brute policies of the political establishment and occupational powers.”

In this book, Nandita also focuses on yet another of his letters in which Afzal Guru writes on the “state’s senseless policies – The constant humiliation and trauma will ignite the heat of conflict. These policies will cultivate the militant and radical culture towards irreversible end. Police stations have become terror and slaughter houses. Families of killed people do not go to police stations because it is the police station which is spreading the sense of terror into the hearts and minds of people. You may be feeling this exaggeration of state terror but this is a bitter fact of constitutional colony that is Kashmir.”

She also focuses on yet another letter of Guru wherein he reasons out why economic packages alone will not solve any of the problems in Kashmir – “Jesus son of Mary (Maryam) (Peace be on them) says man cannot live by bread alone. Economic packages cannot bring peace in Kashmir. The people who are constantly living in the flux of humiliation and fear do not need bread which Allah has given every person for a single mouth. What people need is a political framework in which they don’t feel themselves vulnerable, humiliated or terrorized …The closure of all democratic means and vents will naturally push the educated youth towards radical wall. Noam Chomsky says if we do not believe in the Freedom of expression for the people we despise we don’t believe in it at all. RSS’s philosophy and its political, social and militant offshoots and offsprings are communalizing and polarizing whole of political and social fabric and this culture of hatred is penetrating the other local institutions as well and don’t exclude Tihar Jail. There is no doubt ISI is also playing its role in this process through its devices of hatred. In fact, is nurturing anti-India rhetoric.”

In fact, this 335 page book ends with a 10-page handwritten letter which Guru wrote to Nandita (which she received on 8 January 2008) and the sentiments and thoughts contained in this letter makes one sit up, questioning the very concept of death penalty, of State hangings! Because of space constraints I cannot quote extensively from it; just these last lines from his hand written letter: “In the end, I request you don’t colourize or dress my words in any colour or dress except a purely responsible human concern for humanity… I am in Universe in such a way that I am myself Universe. I live in a space but I am spaceless.”

As I’ve mentioned right in the beginning, this focus on Afzal Guru letters is the very forte of Nandita’s book. It’s through these, the reader is aware of not just the ground realities but also of the role played by the State and its Agencies in implicating innocents…well, implicating them to such an extent that they are imprisoned and hanged!

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