‘Walihana’ is an Urdu word which means ‘passionate’. Two days ago, in the front-page of an Urdu newspaper, I read this word in the context of the emotion with which the prime minister of Egypt, Mustafa Kamal Madboli welcomed the Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi, at the Cairo airport.
There was more.
President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi conferred on Modi the Order of the Nile Award, a rare honour reserved for royalty.
The Indian prime minister then visited 11th-century Al Hakim Mosque built with help of India’s Bohra community; which has recently been fraternising with him. One community member Shujauddin Tambawala said the visit was like one big family meet.
Finally, Shawki Ibrahim Abdel-Karim Allam, the Grand Mufti of Egypt, and Modi met to talk about ‘increasing communal harmony’ and curtailing extremism.
That was not the only news item on the front page.
On the opposite side of the page were two news items.
Dateline: Chamba, Himachal Pradesh.
K. Eshwarappa, former deputy chief minister of Karnataka, at a gathering, ordered Muslims to leave the state within 30 days. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal took out a massive rally at which Eshwarappa demanded that mosques should be razed and temples constructed in their place. He said, ‘The court will study [the] survey report on mandirs. As we saw in Ayodhya so also we will see in Kashi Vishwanath and Krishan Mandir in Mathura.”
Another news item below it said that in Nasik a ‘jhund’ of cow protectors or gau rakshaks beat one youth to death on suspicion of beef smuggling. The man Ramzan Ansari was travelling with his friend Nasir Shaikh. Both were from Kurla in Mumbai. While one is dead, the other is fighting for life in a nearby hospital.
PM Modi began his foreign tour the day Manipur started burning. Wherever he reached, whether at the White House or in lesser places, ordinary people raised deep doubts and probing questions. He may have received the award for insaniyat or humanity from the hand of President El-Sisi – the award has been described as a ‘bar of khalis sona or pure gold’ – but front-page news over nine years illustrates this so called insaniyat.
Burning, lynching, razing, mutilating. While one precious albeit small part of the country burns, questions are raised about these across the world in global media. World leaders rise in disdain, former presidents condemn. But the show goes on.
In 2004 I was appointed Member of the Planning Commission by then prime minister, Dr Manmohan Singh. It was two years after the Gujarat carnage in which as per official figures more than 1,000 Muslims, women, children and men were massacred. Muslim homes and shops were singled out and burnt.
Bilkis Bano, who was gangraped during the 2002 Gujarat riots, addresses a press conference in New Delhi on April 24. Photo: PTI
A group of six women, including me, travelled on the devastated roads of Ahmedabad and nearby places as a fact-finding team. We were there when Bilkis Bano dragged herself out from a barn in Limkheda leaving dead bodies of 17 family members including her baby girl.
Two years was not enough time to heal the wounds inflicted on millions of us by the carnage of 2002. Sitting across from the chief minister of Gujarat during Annual Plan discussions was agonising, for all the 10 years that the Gujarat team appeared before us, 2004 to 2014. Then a new government was voted in and we withdrew, carrying with us lifelong memories of annual meetings.
The BBC documentary captured the 2002 events with clinical accuracy. There was Ehsan Jafri, Member Parliament who was killed along with 69 ‘refugees’ in Gulberg Society, Meghaninagar, a posh colony of Ahmedabad. There was the small mazaar of Wali Gujarati, the Sufi poet, which was razed at Shahibaugh Road. It was next to a police station.
The whole world saw the entire phantasmagoria, a form of horror theatre. Except it was not theatre. And now many Islamic nations are singing paeans to the person who sat at the helm of this destruction.
Today as we commemorate Eid and think of the supreme sacrifice of Prophet Abraham, we pray that the Muslim Ummah across the world lives by his edict and not by opportunism. As Indians we pray that sisters and brothers of all religions restore the rooh of our country, the rooh that was breathed into us by Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Maulana Azad, and countless women and men who laid down their lives so we could wake up in the dawn of freedom.
I think of an Indian poet who in 1947 wrote the first national anthem of Pakistan. His name was Jagan Nath Azad, he was a professor at the University of Jammu. For him and for many others, then and now, borders and boundaries were never relevant.
Apne watan ka aaj badalne laga nizaam
Apne watan mein aaj nahin hai koi ghulam
Ab itr-bez hain jo hawaein thein zehr naak.
(‘The establishment is changing in our land
Today in our land there is no servant
The poison laden breezes are imbued with perfume’)
May our breezes expel the poison and become life giving, once again.
Syeda Hameed is a writer and the founder chair of the Muslim Women’s Forum.