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Aman Ki Talaash Mein

Thursday April 16, 2009, Dr Syeda Hameed


The mother, the child, the mechanic, the rag-picker, the shopper.

Violence is in hot pursuit of everyone. Where does the whole

world run, asks Planning Commission member.




Mehmood Madni Addressing the press after visiting Malegaon that was rocked by a bomb blast on September 29, 2008 two days before Eid Al Fitr


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Two weeks ago I was in Orissa. At the very moment I was standing in the Leprosy Ashram of Reverend Graham Staines in Mayurbhanj, in my own neighbourhood of Jamia, two alleged terrorists Atif and Sajid were being gunned down. On the wall of Staines’ cottage was his smiling photograph in a kurta pyjama, his arms wrapped around two small boys, his sons Philip and Timothy. Someone handed me a small paperback called Burnt Alive. Outside there was torrential rain. It was as if the universe was awash with tears at the tandav of violence which had been unleashed on innocents; violence which knows no boundary, no season, no reason.

Kandhamal, had spawned copy cats all over the country—Koraput, Chikmanglur, Jabalpur, Mangalore. Watching the horrible atrocities against Christians, I thought of the Grey Nuns who were my first teachers in school. I thought of my professor, Sister Marion Norman from Chicago University, a Loreto nun under whose watchful eye I completed my PhD.

A tsunami of violence hit my country, taking with it the little area I call home. It is a small basti of ordinary Muslims known as Batla House. It was being described in the news as the epicenter of terror.

The month was Ramadan, a month reserved for fasting, prayers, peace and alms giving. This Ramadan has been the hardest. Fasting has its own sense of hardship and achievement. But this Ramadan has brought violence to the doorstep of all Indians.

In Jamia, I live in a house built by a man who had a deep commitment to the University, my father. In the early years of the 20th Century, three young men, Zakir Husain, Mohd Mujeeb and Abid Husain, had dreamt of creating Jamia while they were students in Germany. As a child I was brought here from Lutyen’s Delhi by my parents who wanted to instill in me the Gandhian values which Jamia lived and breathed. At the time there was no bijli or pani in this basti. Water had to be drawn with hand pumps and oil lanterns were lit at night. Everyone slept early and woke up at dawn to take maximum advantage of daylight. Over 58 years I have seen the changing face of Jamia—from a small band of teachers and students where everyone knew everyone else it became a big university in every sense of the word; a happening place where the academic and cultural world of the capital began to converge. Around it grew bastis to which Muslims moved from all over Delhi; sometimes by choice sometimes because fearful landlords forced them to do so. Its gullies and mohallas became too numerous to count. Densely populated, in some quarters it began to be called mini Pakistan. Civic amenities remained next to nil. Private schools and private clinics began mushrooming. Public institutions lagged behind.

There was another transition. From an area of peace and learning, it started transforming into an area of struggle and strife. Strikes by students, rioting at road accidents, agitations for bijli-pani, and now gunfights with police.

Jamia is a microcosm of the macro turbulence. I have tried to put myself in the place of all the actors in this global tragedy. The government, beset with terrorism and manypronged violence anchored in communalism, caste, and ethnicity. The political parties, which have a single agenda and their clock is ticking. The beat constable with all his past baggage who has a job to do. The youth, the mother, the car mechanic, the street vendor, the rag picker, all victims of terror. Violence is in hot pursuit of everyone. Where does the whole world run?

In societies of inequity, exploitation and oppression, violence has been the only known way to maintain social order. That has been our inheritance for hundreds of years. Violence or threat of violence is used by rich against poor, master against slave, patriarch against family, men against women; they know of no other device to wield power. And when the weak and the poor get a chance they use the same device; they know no other language except that of violence. The chief perpetrator of violence in social orders such as ours, in India and South Asia, is the state. Having authority to rule is having authority to unleash violence. Authority is the antithesis of liberty, the more the authority of the state the less the liberty of citizens.


The power of the state to perpetrate violence has to be reduced to a minimum. And that can be done when each one of us raises a voice against violence, against this dissemination of hatred, which is being carried out in the gullies, mohallas and villages of our country, sometimes overtly and sometimes, covertly.

To remain a mute spectator when someone spews hatred against another community or spreads misinformation is no longer an option. At social gatherings, in colleges, in offices, we have to, in our own way, fight the little nuances that can amplify differences and divisions. Groups of people have to stand together—writers, lawyers, academics, software professionals, students, housewives, reporters—and spread the message of peace, of tolerance. It is time for us to counter the propaganda of hate with propaganda for peace. Each one of us will have to struggle to establish a just society, to bridge the digital divide, to reject a world in which the vast majority lives on less than one dollar a day. Remember what Dylan Thomas said:
Do not go gentle into the good night
rage, rage against the dying of the light.


(Planning Commission Member Dr. Syed Hameed)






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