The Economics of Hate


September 5, 2012

Mehreen Zahra-Malik.
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Allah-eser

Predictably, it began much before little Rimsha was accused of the incomprehensible – much before torn little pieces of religious paraphernalia were bandied about and their desecration decried.

Venal mullahs, jilted neighbours, greedy influentials – the usual cast of characters that surround most sordid tales of blasphemy are, unsurprisingly, on the set of the Mehrabad miasma also.

But how did a locality that has been home to Christians for over two decades, and where Muslims helped them build a church less than a year ago, turn an unlettered child into a blasphemer and allow her to be banished to solitary confinement for weeks? In one of the few slums in Islamabad where Muslims and Christians have always lived side by side, what compelled a prayer leader to scheme to “get rid of the Christians?”

Visits to Mehrabad reveal that the locality has been long scarred by mounting schisms – a confluence of personal, economic and political factors – that made Rimsha’s fate almost inevitable.

The most defining division affecting the Rimsha case is between the area’s landed Maliks and its clerics – a schism that predates the present controversy.

Malik Amjad’s family, the owners of Rimsha’s home, and other Maliks of the area, rent hundreds of run-down shacks to various Christian families. When the Christians first bolted from Mehrabad fearing violence after Rimsha was arrested, economic interests, above all, compelled the Muslim landlords to go after the fleeing Christian community and lure them back. For someone like Amjad, who makes about Rs300,000 a month just from rent, an exodus would spell nothing short of disaster. Amjad also runs what he calls a ‘servant provision agency’ through which he gets his Christian tenants work in Muslim homes and offices for a small commission. Ever since August 16, his phones have never stopped ringing, anxious clients calling to complain that their servants haven’t shown up to work.

In fact, so disturbed was Amjad by the idea of a mass Christian exodus that he brought up during the Friday sermon on August 24 a controversial case from last year when an Muslim boy “behaved inappropriately” with a younger Christian boy. “I’m asking them why, when that happened, we didn’t ask the whole Muslim community to leave for the unfortunate actions of one person,” Amjad said, the stress lines on his forehead deepening.

There’s yet another reason the Muslim landlords are even willing to stand up against the clerics to ‘protect’ their Christian lodgers: the downtrodden community makes for docile tenants. They’re quiet, they don’t complain, they do what they’re told. In fact, they even complied when asked not to hold church services except on Sundays. “Imagine if they were replaced by Pathan tenants. Rooz ka aazaab bun jaye ga (That would be everyday punishment),” Amjad sniggered.

But if the Muslim Maliks have spoken up for the Christians and against the clergy for reasons of economics, what compelled local prayer leader Khalid Chishti to do the opposite: intensify his efforts to expel the minority community from the area?

The clergy in Mehrabad, just like in other localities and religions, have much the same economic interests as their non-ecclesiastical counterparts. As producers of spiritual goods – as performers of marriage ceremonies, as whisperers of azaan in the ears of infants, as ministers of last rites, as preachers of sermons, and as expounders not only of theology but also of society’s basic political and legal doctrines – the clergy always needs constituents.

Imagine, then, the frustration of an Imam Chishti stuck in a predominantly Christian neighbourhood; imagine his prospects if the infidels could be expelled and replaced by a larger number of Muslims to do his bidding, to donate to his mosque, to help expand it, to consider him a spiritual leader?

So when all else failed – when complaints about Christians disrupting the Muslims’ prayers by playing music didn’t work and the committee formed to expel the community from the area didn’t find much support on the ground – what was Imam Chishti to do?

Plant burnt pages of the Quran in the bag of an unlettered, unsuspecting Christian child and cry ‘Islam in danger?’

Given that many of Mehrabad’s residents are migrants from Gojra, and have relatives there, no one was surprised when Christian families fled their homes the very night the accusations against Rimsha surfaced. Too close are Mehrabad’s Christians to the memory of the 2009 Gojra riots when a mere rumour of blasphemy led to over 40 Christian houses burnt and seven dead. Imam Chishti couldn’t have found better victims of a blasphemy-related fear campaign.

These starkest of juxtapositions – of Christian against Muslim, of the landed against the clergy, of the landed Muslim against the non-landed Muslim willing to side with the mullahs to break the power of the landed – only highlight in their desolate extremity what is commonplace everywhere: that economics and power, more than religious sentiment, may be behind campaigns of death and hate. In many ways, Mehrabad may just be microcosm of modern inequality, with all the pluses and injustices it bestows on those on different sides of the divide.

Two weeks ago, when Malik Amjad told me Chishti may have fabricated the entire case against Rimsha, I urged him to go on record with the information. But he said it was not yet time: “Let the issue be handled quietly. It will be better for everybody.”

Today, the Imam is in police custody for very same charge he levelled on Rimsha: blasphemy.

Hammad, Amjad’s nephew and the original complaint and accuser, has disappeared. And there’s another story there.

Some residents claim Rimsha’s older sister was proposed to by a neighbour – a Muslim. She turned him down. Weeks later, Rimsha was arrested for burning the holy pages.

Was Hammad that jilted neighbour? Some neighbours think so. Others say it may be the boy who runs the shop opposite Rimsha’s house, ‘Sharjeel CD and Video Point.’ As each day in the Rimsha saga brings new information and new scandal, perhaps this twist too will be confirmed in the days to come. We may also get clearer answers to why senior Muslim clerics like Tahir Ashrafi have spoken up for Rimsha. Some suggest Ashrafi has a child with Down’s Syndrome – a condition that has become attached to Rimsha’s very name.

For now, the nightmarish thought that Rimsha may be killed in prison is never far.

(From The News, Pakistan)

© 2012, Mehreen Zahra-Malik. This article may not be reproduced in any form without providing an active attribution link/ reference to The Pakistan Forum. All attribution links within the article must also be retained.

The author Mehreen Zahra-Malik Mehreen Zahra-Malik is assistant editor, The News International. She may be reached at mehreen.tft@gmail.com

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Happy Teachers’ Day


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Myself By T.V. Antony Raj

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Happy Teacher's Day

But be warned. Your teachers can trim, shape and mould or maul your minds the way they want. Ha Ha … I was a teacher too and I know.

In present times, in many countries, Teachers’ Day is a unique day for appreciating the services of teachers. It may include celebrations to honour them for their special contributions within the field of teaching or for their service in their community.

During the 20th century, the concept of celebrating Teachers’ Day took root independently in many countries. Unlike many other International Days, on Teachers’ Day people celebrate a local educator who is or was an important milestone in education.

Since 1962, India celebrates Teachers’ Day on Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan’s birthday on September 5 – a philosopher, statesman and the second President of India from 1962 to 1967; and since 1915, Argentina commemorates the death of activist, intellectual, writer, statesman and its seventh President, Domingo Faustino Sarmiento on September 11. This is the primary reason countries are celebrating this day on different dates.

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Sri Lankan Catholic Pilgrims Attacked by Pro-LTTE Outfits in Tamilnadu


Shrine Basilica of Our Lady of Health, Velankanni. Photo: J.T. Leo Fernando
Shrine Basilica of Our Lady of Health, Velankanni. Photo: J.T. Leo Fernando

On Monday, September 3, the government of Sri Lanka issued the following advisory for its citizens visiting Tamilnadu:

“The Government of Sri Lanka is constrained to request Sri Lankan nationals in the interest of their security to desist from undertaking visits to Tamilnadu until further notice.”

The Sri Lankan Government posted the advisory after a group of 184 Sri Lankan Catholics who included 75 women and 36 children, were inconvenienced during their annual pilgrimage in Tamilnadu, India.

On Monday evening, members belonging to pro-LTTE Tamil outfits mobbed the pilgrims worshiping at the Poondi Madha Catholic shrine near Thanjavur. The pilgrims took refuge in the church. The protestors were members of Naam Tamizhar Iyakkam headed by film director Seeman, Tamizhar Desiya Poduvudamai Katchi led by P. Nedumaran, and the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi led by Thirumavalavan. They raised slogans and asked the pilgrims to go back to Sri Lanka, immediately.

Early Tuesday, the group of pilgrims arrived at Velankanni to offer worship at the holy Shrine Basilica of Our Lady of Health. After prayers, they left for Tiruchirapalli airport, to board a special flight home. Then, once again, they faced the rage of pro-LTTE groups. Their convoy of buses was once again blocked and attacked by the protestors who used two wheelers to block the road. The protesters shouted, “Sinhalese go back”.

A tire of a bus got punctured and the convoy halted. The protesters attacked three buses. Windowpanes of some buses were shattered in the attack; however, no passenger suffered any major injury.

Police personnel on security duty for the ongoing annual festival at Velankanni rushed to the spot. They arrested nine activists of the Naam Tamizhar Iyakkam and brought the situation under control within a few minutes.

The pilgrims later proceeded to Tiruchirappalli safely from where they are expected to leave for Sri Lanka.

The government of Sri Lanka has assured its citizens that all steps had been taken through the government of India to ensure the safety of the pilgrims.

The Sri Lankan government has also said in its advisory that if anyone has a “compelling reason to visit Tamil Nadu, such a visit should take place following prior timely intimation to the Sri Lanka Deputy High Commission in Chennai.”

The External Affairs Ministry of Sri Lankan says it regrets the growing number of incidents of intimidation of Sri Lankan nationals visiting Tamil Nadu for the purposes of tourism, religious pilgrimages, sporting and cultural activities, and professional training.

Meanwhile, the ruling AIADMK, DMK, and other political parties in Tamilnadu have joined hands in opposing the training of Sri Lankan military personnel in India. These parties allege that during the last phase of the war against LTTE, the island Republic’s forces had committed “war crimes” against Tamils.

Last Friday, a football team from Sri Lanka played a friendly match against the Chennai Customs Department. On Sunday, the Tamilnadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa gave orders to send the team back to Sri Lanka. She criticized the Central Government for allowing the Lankan football team to come to India.

Ms. Jayalalithaa also gave orders to send back the students from a Sri Lankan school and their coach, who had come down to Chennai for a tournament with a city-based school, to their homeland.

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