Volume 15-08 No:176
My first meeting with Omar Khalidi was on a shivering morning of Delhi’s winter when he barged into our small office. Two years later we met in Boston on a pleasant summer evening, took a long stroll in the small town of Framingham and later spoke to a mixed gathering of Muslims from India and Pakistan in Bayland Mosque. So it was a pleasant surprise when he called me last month from his hometown Hyderabad. I visited him a week later.
Omar Khalidi is few among the Muslim scholars that Hyderabad has produced in the post-independence era. Though a lot of Hyderabadis work in the Gulf, a lot more have migrated to the US, but few among them can think. The city has grown intellectually sterile with hardly any book or research work emerging out that could be worthy of notice. Most Hyderabadi Muslims who left the City for the West have retained only filial contacts with the City. To them bygone Hyderabadi culture is symbolized by its foods, clothes, or at the most verses from Suleman Khateeb’s poetry. But not Omar Khalidi.
Omar is currently working as an independent scholar at the Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture at MIT and Harvard Universities in Cambridge. Having studied in Hyderabad and Delhi, he took a Ph.D. in Islamic Studies from the University of Wales. Aga Khan Award Program for Islamic Architecture is run through a corpus of fund for which Prince Karim Aga Khan IV gave a grant of $ 14 million. The program funds Masters and Ph.D studies in Islamic architecture through fellowships. At least a hundred students have been funded through this program during the last 22 years.
During the one decade of my interaction, Omar has maintained a hectic pace in research and investigation and produced four books. His first book Hyderabad After the Fall is the saga of merger of the Nizam’s state into the Indian Union. It is graphic portrayal of vacillation of the Nizams in taking the final plunge and the sentimental hype that blinded the community from seeing the writings on the wall. It carries as yet unpublished accounts of atrocities as contained in the Pandit Sunderlal Committee report appointed by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru in the aftermath of the ‘Police Action’. The study is an eye opener. In his second book, Indian Muslims Since Independence, Khalidi charts a course for socio-economic uplift of Muslims by say ‘mercantilization’ or in his words ‘Bohraization’ of Indian Muslims and a few other success models. As for political empowerment, he proposes ‘consociational’ democracy as it exists in Switzerland and Belgium. To me it appears a utopia, but Khalidi says all concepts begin from a utopia. Third book, Romance of Golconda Diamonds was a surprise. I could not imagine him spinning a coffee table presentation. Nevertheless, it made interesting reading. And the fourth is a recent one and in Urdu, titled Suqooth e Hyderabad, basically a translation of the first book but with a few additions here and there.
Khalidi is back in Boston. His next intellectual offspring is awaited.
The Western model of development is city-centered and exploits the nature to the maximum. But is there anything that we can do to replace that model? Gandhiji wanted the planners of independent India to focus on villages. One village where Gandhiji’s vision is being realized is Ralegan Siddhi in Maharashtra. It has almost assumed the character of a pilgrim town where visitors come to see how nature could be conserved and every drop of rain saved to regenerate life. My scientist friend A. A. Mulla drove me to Ralegan last fortnight, which is situated, at a two hour drive south of Pune. The high point of visit was a two-hour meeting with soft-spoken Gandhian, Anna Hazare with whom we shared the lunch, the only time Hazare eats during the day.
Twenty five years ago, villagers were leaving Ralegan for towns to take up menial jobs. It had turned parched dry. Cattle were dying for want of fodder. Water table had gone down and the one crop that the villagers were able to raise were not enough to feed them. People had become indebted to moneylenders from nearby Parner town. In fact, liquor brewing had become an easy source of livelihood. It was at that time that Anna Hazare returned to the village on retirement from army. Plight of villagers moved him. He put all his pension money into welfare schemes for the village. Motivated by his unselfish work, villagers helped him in raising check dams on the hilly nullah that ran through the village to conserve water. The rainwater trapped behind the small bunds and percolation tanks recharged the ground. Water table rose in the wells, life came back to borewells. As Hazare told me even after constructing 49 nullah bunds, 19 gable bunds and five check dams, the village was saving only half the water the rains were bringing. They added few more of these and now the village is saving 70 per cent of the rainwater. (The area has only 12 inches rainfall in an average year.) They grew fodder on 250 acres and cattle are not allowed to graze elsewhere. The area under the watershed management is about 1150 acres in Ralegan.
Today Ralegan Siddhi stands transformed. It is a village sheathed in lush greenery, water gushes in streams at all hours of the day. Nearly three lakh trees cover its hill slopes and purify air. Now the village exports 250 lorries of onions to Bangalore and Davangere every day during the crop season. The per capita income has risen from Rs. 200 to Rs. 2200 per annum. The cattle owners supply 3,000 litres of milk to the local dairy everyday. Water, fodder and grains are available for all the people year round. Number of wells has gone up from 33 in 1975 to 125 today. The yield has risen from 3 quintals to 15 quintals per acre. I saw 70 bags of foodgrains stored in the village temple. It was meant for those people who cannot afford to buy. Village youth do not go out for work in cities. Rather workers from Bihar and UP are seen in the village. Anna’s inspiration has motivated villagers to contribute labour and build schools, hospital, panchayath building and the percolation tanks. Sale of bidi and cigarettes is prohibited here.
Anna Hazare told me that the famine can be exiled from India if villages are made the centrepoint of development. Anna Hazare sleeps in the village temple, has remained unmarried, is a teetotaler and above all does what he says. While departing he recited me a couplet of Hindi poet Raheem Khankhana:
Kathni meethi khandsi,
Karani vish ki loi
Kathni chhor, Karni kare,
to vish ka amrit hoi
As I could understand this means: One should concentrate on action rather than talking sweet. Action could turn even the poison into elixir (amrit).
Anna’s words still ring into my ears. The diminutive man from Ralegan has done what cannot be described in ream of paper. I recommend all those in quest of an alternative model of development to visit Ralegan Siddhi, spend a few hours with that Gandhian to understand how India’s maladies could be cured.
The Centre and several States have enacted or revived old and draconian laws that are reminiscent of the colonial days
The Central Government has resurrected certain orders of the past that had fallen into disuse. One such is the revival of Foreigners(Report to Police) Order 1971, made under the Foreigners Act 1946 (31 of 1948), a legacy of the colonial regime and arbitrariness of Indira Gandhi that has been seized by the BJP with alacrity. This order makes it obligatory for every “householder and other person” to inform the police about the arrival in his house or premises of a foreigner. Failure to comply with this order can invite imprisonment up to five years with or without fine. This applies to all citizens, it could be applied selectively to minorities as seen in the case of TADA. This notorious order wants people to do a part of the policing work. No wonder, The New Indian Express in its editorial dated May 26 titled it as “Every one as spy” with the sub-title, “Home Ministry’s order is a throwback to the Stalinist era” and demanded its withdrawal. All votaries of civil rights must add their voice to this demand. The Ministry of HRD and the Home Ministry have issued orders on January 18, 2001 and September 1, 2001 respectively. The former states under B that international Conference/Seminar/ Workshop requires approval/clearance and the latter states where the subject matter is political, semi-political, communal, religious, human rights with participants from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan or Sri Lanka, prior clearance is needed from Home and External Ministries. When the People’s Union for Civil Liberties challenged the latter order in a writ petition in the Supreme Court, it was dismissed without giving any reasons.
This latter order is a blatant violation of article 19(A) of the Constitution which says that the citizen’s right to impart and receive information is a part of his fundamental right to speech and expression. This in turn is upheld by Article 19 of International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights, which India ratified in 1979, which speaks of the right to information “regardless of frontiers”. As pointed out by Justice Rajinder Sachar, former Chief Justice of the Sikkim High Court, this order is not a “procedure established by law” vide Article 21, hence it is null and void. This order must be withdrawn too and social activists must oppose this tooth and nail. Finally there is the most atrocious Control of Organised Crime Act which is operative in Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and shortly in Karnataka. It suffices to say that it has all the obnoxious features of the hated TADA and the victims are likely to be the minorities and all those who dissent in protest against bad governance. This needs to be fought too till it is repealed. In view of these lawless orders, incidents of custodial violence will mount with so-called encounters, torture leading to custodial death. It is imperative that every citizen should be aware of the guidelines given by the Supreme Court vide D. K. Basu vs. West Bengal writ No. (CRL) 539196. They are as follows: The police officials arresting or detaining for questioning must wear badges bearing their names and designation. The day and hour of arrest must be recorded by the police, attested by a member of the family or a reputable citizen in the vicinity. The detainee’s friend or relation must be informed of the arrest and place of detention at the earliest. In case, this friend or relative lives outside the district, he must be informed within 8 to 12 hours through the Legal Assistance Cell.
The detainee must be made aware that he has the right to inform his arrest to others. The place of detention and who has been informed must be entered in the police diary, and also the name of the policeman in charge. If desired by detainee, any injuries small or big must be recorded and signed by him and the policeman and a copy of this should be given to the detainee. The latter has to be examined by a doctor assigned by the Director of Health Services (DHS) every 48 hours and doctors have to be assigned at district and taluk levels for this duty. Detainee has the right to have his lawyer while being questioned. A police control centre has to be set up in all the district and state headquarters and these centres have to be informed through legal cells cases of arrests, within 12 hours. Notice of detention and related details must be given to the District Judge. Evidence of arrest must be put up on notice boards in these centres.
Violation of any of these guidelines amounts to contempt of court and attracts prosecution of police officials. Information is empowerment and every citizen must challenge any arbitrary exercise of power by the state and its minions and hence armed with this, citizens could usher democratic governance and hold the state accountable for all its actions.