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Mainstream, VOL LI, No 10, February 23, 2013

A Truly Courageous Woman, Hindutva Terror

Tuesday 26 February 2013, by Humra Quraishi


Qamar Azad Hashmi passed away recently. She was Shabnam, Safdar, Sohail, Sabiha and Shehla’s mother and ‘ammaji’ to the rest of us … I had interviewed her on earlier occasions. She spoke fearlessly and one could discuss just about anything with her—right from politics prevailing in the continents across the world to that barbarism unleashed by the American-Allied forces, to the horrifying violent eruptions taking place, to those personal upheavals. And, yes, even the educational patterns. Not to overlook the fact that as a trained Montessori teacher, she had been teaching in nursery schools set up by the NDMC. Then, she’d done her Masters when she was 70 years old!

She had been through some definite turning-points in her life coupled with some trying phases; yet her grit ongoing … When her activist son, Safdar Hashmi, was murdered by political goons on the outskirts of Delhi in 1989, she did not cave in; instead had come up with these words: ‘Wipe your tears, comrades. Lift your torches, light the flames... the leaping flames of the mashaal tear away the veil of darkness. Light spills into the streets. Run out into those streets and sing the songs he loved so well. We will not mourn Safdar. We will remember him...’

In fact,she wrote her first book—Panchwaan Chirag—after Safdar’s death. ’The book is a mother’s attempt to come to terms with the loss of her son. It is also a personal account of the times from the early decades of the 20th century to its last decade—an account of shattered dreams, defeats, despair, and also of hope and determination...’

The Partition had brought along with it upheavals. Like thousands of others even her family was severely affected by the Partition. Overnight they had to shift out of their home and live in a refugee camp near Humayun’s Tomb… And when they reached Pakistan, Qamar did not want to stay there and returned back to India. Returning after a year, she got married here to Haneef Hashmi whose own family had moved to Pakistan but he was determined to stay put here. And he did. Even though his once flourishing furniture business in Delhi suffered tremendously after Partition. With that the couple had to go through trying times. And though the financial strain got some-what better from the mid-1950s—when Haneef Hashmi took up a job in the Aligarh Muslim University’s History Department’s Archaeology section and then later moved to New Delhi and began working for the Soviet Land magazine—he passed away in 1976, battling with cancer. And Qamar described the pain of losing a companion: ‘His passing away was so painful that it took me two years for that reality to sink in, to realise that he’s gone … I was in a trance, for I had lost a companion I loved. I respected him. He was a man who stood for principles and never ever gave in … we were there for each other all these years.’

Bringing up their five children in financially tight circumstances—in the midst of those phases with no electricity and no running water in their home, making do with the bare basics in the kitchen. Such were the financial lows that there were days when she sold wood pieces from her husband’s ruined furniture business to keep the kitchen going and also those phases when she’d walked several miles everyday to save a few rupees, so that she could buy some fruit for her children…

And when I’d asked her that amidst all the financial strains how did she raise their five children, she’d detailed: ‘When they were young, I’d read out to them stories from Chinese and Soviet literature every night. I’d also told them how, despite the difficulties and struggles their father had to go through, he never compromised or gave in … I suppose the atmosphere at home leaves a definite mark on the children and we taught our children never to accept injustice and zulm/tyranny … Besides, I never imposed any restrictions on them and allowed them to pursue their passions. Safdar was a quiet child. He did his early schooling in Aligarh, college at St Stephen’s and later taught English at the Kashmir University in Srinagar. He quit the university job because it did not offer any scope for theatre. He then joined the West Bengal Government. The 1984 anti-Sikh riots in Delhi really affected him. For days, we were witness to the horrifying carnage. It was shocking to see the brutality of it all.’

And when I’d asked her views on the present-day scenario, she’d commented: ‘Never before we have seen this sort of loot-maar, murders taking place, violence, women being raped and burnt alive … As for the fate of minorities, you have already seen what’s happened in Gujarat… Gujarat mein Musalmaan dara sahma baitha hai/Muslims sit scared and apprehensive in Gujarat … some years back even in New Delhi two of my children couldn’t get a house on rent in the Rajendra Nagar locality because of their Muslim names. The minute the landlords heard their Muslim names, they told them rather bluntly that they would not rent their homes to Muslims … and it’s unfortunate that the political leaders from the minority communities haven’t asserted themselves. There’s decline on every front. And then there is so much of corruption. I think things couldn’t get worse than what they are today. If we want our country to be saved, we cannot sit quietly and be indifferent to the political mess.’

The Home Minister Ought to go Further

Received this ‘Joint Statement on Hindutva Terror’ relaying rather crucial observations by the country’s well-known activists and academics—Ram Puniyani, Manisha Sethi, Sukumar Muralidharan, Mahtab Alam, Shabnam Hashmi and several others. I quote from it—“While one may or may not agree with the terminology employed by the Home Minister in his recent speech at Jaipur, we feel that for long prejudice has ruled investigations, obscuring the role of organisations and their multiple affiliates in planning and executing of attacks and bombings in the country. The veneer of ‘nationalism’—narrow, exclusionary and based on hatred for minorities as it is—cannot hide the violence that the Sangh and its affiliates beget and peddle. Civil rights groups have been arguing for long that the investigations into bomb blasts and terror attacks have degenerated into communal witch-hunts. Bomb blasts are followed predictably by mass arrests of Muslim youth, raids in Muslim-dominated localities, detentions, arrests and torture; media trials, charge-sheets and prosecution based on custodial confessions and little real evidence. It has been assumed, and accepted widely, that no further proof of guilt need be offered than the fact that the accused belonged to a particular community. Leads which pointed to the hands of groups affiliated to Sangh organisations and their complicity in planning and executing acts of terror were ignored, never seriously pursued. The agencies, showing their abject bias, instead chose to pursue the beaten track of investigating Islamic terrorist organisations a such—despite clear evidence pointing in the opposite direction. This was true of the Nanded blasts in 2006, as well as of Mecca Masjid and Ajmer Sharif bombings…

“The only exception was Maharashtra ATS chief Hemant Karkare, who had, as far back as 2008, conclusively brought into the public domain the nefarious designs of Abhinav Bharat and its foot soldiers of hate: (Sadhvi) Pragya Singh of the ABVP, serving Army officer Col. Purohit, and Sunil Joshi, Indresh and Swami Aseemanand belonging to the RSS. Karkare had communi-cated to the Hyderabad Police the sensational claim by Col. Purohit that he had procured RDX from an Army inventory when he was posted in Jammu and Kashmir in 2006. The Hyderabad Police, however, ignored his messages, having already detained close to 70 youth belonging to the Muslim community…

“Although the Indian Government has belatedly acknowledged the heinous terrorist acts of the Sangh groups, we feel that a genuine probe must also perforce encompass a thorough enquiry into the terror nexus straddling Abhinav Bharat, RSS, VHP, BJP and Bajrang Dal leaders together with sections of the Indian intelligence and security agencies who delibera-tely subverted the probes as well as the due process of law… It must also be investigated whether the network of Hindutva terrorists has been provided not just political but also financial and logistical support by various governments … There must be a thorough investigation into the foreign sources of funding of the Hindutva organisations… We hope that the acknowledge-ment of Hindutva terror will not remain a statement only but that the investigations will be seriously and sincerely pursued.”

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