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Peace & Harmony Stories from South Asia

 

*When a Christian charity keeps a madarasa running, J. Kattakayam, The Hindu, Sep 24, 12
http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/tp-newdelhi/when-a-christian-charity-keeps-a-madarasa-running/article3930784.ece# 
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At a time of unprecedented violence and unrest in parts of the world over the anti-Islamic film Innocence of Muslims, a heartening example of communal harmony and respect for other faiths is being set in a nondescript galiat Sundar Nagari in East Delhi.

Three years ago, a madarasa for girls and the feisty nonagenarian woman who founded and ran it surmounting great odds, fell into tough times. The madarasa had to close down and Saleeman Bi was on the verge of destitution when a Christian charity, the St. Stephen’s Hospital community outreach programme, stepped in to help. The hospital’s Community Health Centre which performs door-to-door medical check-ups on people living in the vicinity found Saleeman in a pitiable condition. She was suffering from bed sores, her hair was infested with lice and there was no one to take care of her. She was also depressed that her madarasa had to shut down. From that day Saleeman became “Amma” to the centre’s doctors and nurses.

Saleeman claims she is over 100 years old; the deep wrinkles that run across her forehead and the shrivelled skin on her face suggest that she could be right. “I started the madarasa 30 years ago because I wanted forgiveness for any sins I have committed. I believed this would help me attain heaven after I die,” says Saleeman. Her husband had pronounced talaq on her nearly 80 years ago. She then accompanied a relative to Delhi and has lived here ever since. Saleeman worked hard to earn a living selling milk and oil, taking up weaving and even agricultural work.

Using her savings and the money donated by local Congress leader Razia Begum of Turkman Gate she expanded her jhuggi to accommodate the class and hire a teacher. Asked how she achieved this impossible task despite starting the institution at a comparatively late age, Saleeman points her index finger upward: “It was my kismet. Allah helped me. When teachers quit, I was able to find others to replace them. I had Allah’s blessings.” For the next several years she managed to find means and ways to keep it running until her health failed her.

Dr. Amod Kumar who runs the St. Stephen’s CHC came as a saviour then. “We considered it our religious duty to take care of Amma who was our neighbour. But we can’t love our neighbour until we give adequate respect to our neighbour’s faith too,” says Dr. Amod, who is appalled by the lack of this same quality that the makers of the controversial film exhibited.

Today, nearly 30 girls between 10 and 14 years of age come to the madarasa daily to study Arabic, Urdu and the Quran in the afternoon. Their teacher, Ruksana, is well-qualified and has completed an Alim course. Ruksana is paid a salary of Rs.2,000 per month by St. Stephen’s.

Though her mind keeps tripping and her memory fails, the vast reserves of faith help Saleeman recall and recite prayers and devotional folk songs learnt in childhood. The blessings she whispers into the ears of visitors are much sought after here in Sundar Nagari. “I am not sad any more. I am enjoying my life now. I get much happiness listening to the children reciting the Quran,” she says.

While Amma’s health and her hygienic condition are monitored daily, her food comes from an old-age centre that the hospital runs nearby. “I came to work at this locality 20 years ago. Amma was known as a tough, resourceful woman then. We attempted to get local Muslim community leaders to take over the madarasa but there were differences of opinion and that plan fell through. Finally we decided to help,” says Dr. Amod.

*Gujarat: Muslims marry off Hindu girl in riot hit village, PTI, May 24, 2012
http://www.rediff.com/news/report/guj-muslims-marry-off-hindu-girl-in-riot-hit-village/20120524.htm

In a heart-warming tale of communal amity, a Muslim youth performed 'kanyadan' of a tribal Hindu girl at a village ravaged during the 2002 post-Godhra riots even as her own relatives stayed away.

The members of the Muslim community living in the Soni locality of Panwad village in Kawant taluka in Gujarat extended a helping hand to Madhuben Rathwa, a tribal widow, making arrangements and playing the host at the wedding earlier this week.

"We decided to help Alpa (Madhuben's daughter) as she has no brother and her widowed mother is an 'anganwadi' worker. Theirs is the only Hindu tribal family in the Muslim-dominated Soni locality of the village," a villager Farid Soni said.

With fellow villagers Vallibhai Patel, Rehman Soni, Rasul Tailor and others, Farid shouldered the responsibility of taking care of the 'baraatis' who came from Vav village for Alpa's marriage with Rajesh Rathwa.

"We also presented her jewellery and other household items. The entire expenditure over these was borne by members of our community," he said.

Acknowledging their generosity, Madhuben said, "The marriage ceremony of my daughter could not have taken place without the help from the members of the Muslim community as my own relatives stayed away. This may be due to my staying in this locality of the village," she said.

"It was a most enjoyable event and we were very excited about Alpa getting married. Members of our community wholeheartedly participated in it," said Rehman, delighted at the ceremony passing off smoothly.

The village was torn by communal strife in 2002 after the Godhra train carnage and several Muslim families had to flee the frenzy when tribals caused heavy damage to their properties.

Though no one died in the communal flare-up in Panwad, the wounds took years to heal.

About 100 houses, shops and kiosks had allegedly been looted and set ablaze as tribal hordes, armed with bows and arrows, unleashed violence.

A decade after the conflagration, members of the minority community consider Alpa as their sister and played the role of her brothers at the wedding.

The Muslims of Panwad had voted for Alpa and got her elected as a member of the village panchayat some time ago.

Sukhram Rathwa, a former Congress MLA from Kawant, under which Panwad falls, told PTI, "The incident shows that normalcy has returned to this village, which has set a good example of communal harmony." http://www.rediff.com/news/report/guj-muslims-marry-off-hindu-girl-in-riot-hit-village/20120524.htm

In a heart-warming tale of communal amity, a Muslim youth performed 'kanyadan' of a tribal Hindu girl at a village ravaged during the 2002 post-Godhra riots even as her own relatives stayed away.

The members of the Muslim community living in the Soni locality of Panwad village in Kawant taluka in Gujarat extended a helping hand to Madhuben Rathwa, a tribal widow, making arrangements and playing the host at the wedding earlier this week.

"We decided to help Alpa (Madhuben's daughter) as she has no brother and her widowed mother is an 'anganwadi' worker. Theirs is the only Hindu tribal family in the Muslim-dominated Soni locality of the village," a villager Farid Soni said.

With fellow villagers Vallibhai Patel, Rehman Soni, Rasul Tailor and others, Farid shouldered the responsibility of taking care of the 'baraatis' who came from Vav village for Alpa's marriage with Rajesh Rathwa.

"We also presented her jewellery and other household items. The entire expenditure over these was borne by members of our community," he said.

Acknowledging their generosity, Madhuben said, "The marriage ceremony of my daughter could not have taken place without the help from the members of the Muslim community as my own relatives stayed away. This may be due to my staying in this locality of the village," she said.

"It was a most enjoyable event and we were very excited about Alpa getting married. Members of our community wholeheartedly participated in it," said Rehman, delighted at the ceremony passing off smoothly.

The village was torn by communal strife in 2002 after the Godhra train carnage and several Muslim families had to flee the frenzy when tribals caused heavy damage to their properties.

Though no one died in the communal flare-up in Panwad, the wounds took years to heal.

About 100 houses, shops and kiosks had allegedly been looted and set ablaze as tribal hordes, armed with bows and arrows, unleashed violence.

A decade after the conflagration, members of the minority community consider Alpa as their sister and played the role of her brothers at the wedding.

The Muslims of Panwad had voted for Alpa and got her elected as a member of the village panchayat some time ago.

Sukhram Rathwa, a former Congress MLA from Kawant, under which Panwad falls, told PTI, "The incident shows that normalcy has returned to this village, which has set a good example of communal harmony."

 

*'Pune 4 Kashmir' to bring the two cities closer, Rediff News, April 05, 2012
http://www.rediff.com/news/report/pune-4-kashmir-to-bring-the-two-cities-closer/20120405.htm

Breaking barriers, one man has reached out to a community that has been alienated through conflict and strife.

It all started when Sanjay Nahar started working among Kashmiri children when militancy in the region was at its peak. He realised that the kids would not be able to study in such an atmosphere. Since he already had his own school in Pune, he spoke to parents and encouraged them to send their children to Pune to study. Today there are a total of 105 Kashmiri students, some studying in his school, others in college and some other working with his help in Pune. His NGO, Sarhaad, works among Kashmiri children.

Pune and Kashmir seem to have an emotional bonding.

Srinagar has been a fledging city. The municipal corporation there was started in 2003. The then chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed had invited the Pune mayor and corporators to visit Kashmir and make suggestions for its improvement.

Sanjay Nahaar suggested that they should cooperate in a way to benefit both cities. The mayor of Pune and his 36 corporators visited Srinagar and interacted with their counterparts.

They assured the Srinagar municipal corporation that they would help them design their drainage, water supply, roads and garbage disposal. They said they would provide all technical support.

At that time there were two Mughal garden in the country. One was in Kashmir and the other in Delhi Pune decided to make its own Mughal garden and started planning it in 2005. It will be completed in 2012 and opened to the public. This would make it only the third one in the country.

A square in Pune called 'The Pune Kashmir Maitre Square' was named so to show the bond between the two cities. There is a hoarding at the square that shows a Maharashtrian girl with a Kashmiri girl and in the background is a Chinar and Peepul tree.

On May 20, 2012, Sarhaad will be organising the Pune festival in Kashmir.

Similarly, every year, Kashmir festival is held in Pune during December or January. Popular cultural troupes and artistes from Kashmir come to Pune to perform.

In July, 2008, the mayors and commissioners of the two cities signed an agreement of cooperation and called themselves sister cities. Lately, when Srinagar needed a garbage disposal machine they bought it through the Pune municipal corporation.

They have now invited the Commissioner of Srinagar Dr G M Kasba to visit Pune to take the relationship to the next level. Sarhaad is the coordinating agency for this cooperation.
Sanjay Nahar calls this project, 'Pune 4 Kashmir'.

 

*More seeds of peace needed for abumper crop, W. Gillani, Aman Ki Asha, March 21, 2012
http://www.amankiasha.com/detail_news.asp?id=672

When she learnt that her granddaughter was going to visit Lahore, Shershah Chadhar's face broke into a huge smile, followed by spontaneous tears."You cannot imagine her facial expressions at that time. She was so emotional and nostalgic because she grew up in Bhati Gate inside Lahore's Walled City. Her family left Lahore after the Partition," says Mumbai-based Ira Chadhar Sridhar, a young student of St. Xavier's College. She visited Lahore for the first time last week as part of a six-member student delegation facilitated by Seeds of Peace (SoP), an international non-government rganization working to build bridges among the youth in the conflict zones like Pakistan-India and Palestine-Israel.

Ira's mother's family, including this grandmother (her mother's mother, Nani) moved to Rampur after Partition and later permanently shifted to Bombay (now Mumbai). Ira's Nani's father had been the manager of Lahore's then popular Minerva cinema and had a big family in Bhati Gate. Ira first learnt of the famous proverb Jinhay Lahore nai dekhia o jamia e nai (The person who has not seen Lahore has not been born) from her Nani."She was initially a little apprehensive because of what we hear about the security situation in Pakistan but then she was okay," Ira said.

"She stressed that I must visit Bhati Gate and try to find the place where they lived, and of course, take lots of pictures for her memories. My grandmother loves Lahore and is always very nostalgic when she talks about Bhati gate and Lahore's culture."Ira, along with the other students of her group, felt at home in Lahore. All of them found the people, food and environment here to be very similar to what they were used to in India. The Seeds of Peace visit by the Indian students was aimed at improving people to people contact between the two countries and sharing experiences through this programme, explained Sajjad Ahmad, SoP country director. The cross border trip provided both Indian and Pakistani students a rare opportunity to interact with one another on a human, individual level, by sharing conversations, meals, as well as making each other aware of their respective cultures and countries.

"We should encourage people to people interaction between Pakistan and India which can only lead to improved relations between the two nations," said Ahmad. He said that Seeds of Peace Pakistan really appreciated the cooperation and hospitality of the host families of Pakistani children who were also Seeds of Peace alumni, adding that they hosted the Indian students during their week long stay "despite the fact that their children were in the midst of exams". The visit provided the Indian students with a unique first-hand experience about life in Pakistan while staying with their host Pakistani families. They ate out, went sightseeing to Lahore's historical buildings and gardens and witnessed the flag ceremony at the Wagah border from the Pakistani side. They also had the opportunity to interact with students other than their hosts at various government, semi-government and private schools in Lahore, where they learned more about the Pakistani education system.

The trip provided the Indian students with great memories. "We enjoyed spicy Lahori food and found many similarities, and much more variety than India," said Gaurav Bhawani, another student of St. Xavier's College. She said she now felt that Lahore was like their second home.The Indian students felt loved here and their visit served to shatter the stereotyped image of a country full of terrorism, she added. "We came to Pakistani with pretty open minds and wanted the maximum exposure to this society and culture. We have lot of to share when we go back."
"I wish that the visit could have been much longer and that the Pakistani students weren't having their examinations. It would also have been nice to stay at least until the (last) Sunday when India and Pakistani were playing a match in the Asia Cup," said Jay Shah of KC College Mumbai.

"It has been a great experience. I am so happy to be part of this peace process here. It is amazing. It is also catharsis for all of us," said Mehreen Arif, a Pakistani Seed host."It has been very surreal to be here in Lahore. This is an experience that I will never forget; I will carry it with me wherever I go. I found many stark similarities between the home of my host family and my own home; I felt like I was at home all over again and having that feeling of being loved," Ira said.

The writer is a reporter with The News on Sunday. Email: vaqargillani@gmail.com
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Pakistan and SoP

The Seeds of Peace is a non-profit, non-religious and non-political organization dedicated to preparing teenagers from areas of conflict with leadership skills to promote co-existence and peace.

At its annual international summer camp SoP brings together children from several countries to spend three and a half weeks interacting with people from all over the world and particularly with their 'enemy'. Pakistani teens first attended the SoP international camp in the summer of 2001. Since then a small delegation of students have attended these camps each year. The NGO works towards conflict resolution in many regions of the world, including Pakistan, India and Afghanistan. SoP recently held an interfaith harmony camp with Pakistani Sikh, Christian, Hindu and Muslim students in Lahore.

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*The story of ‘Hindu’ father and ‘Muslim’ son, Niloofar Qyreshi, Rising Kashmir, Feb 7, 2012
http://www.risingkashmir.com/news/the-story-of-hindu-father-and-muslim-son-21763.aspx  

The inspirational examples of humanity transcending man-made religious dogmas have never been considered for inclusion in text books or quoted by religious preachers in their discourses

This is story has been already told. Yet, it deserves to be narrated once again for two reasons- the first, because it is a ‘happy’ story with all the ingredients of a fairy tale and a fable rolled into one, the type we grew up listening to. The second reason for it to be retold is more important because in a world afflicted with the rapidly spreading cancer of religious intolerance, this story reinforces our hope that humanity still prevails over blind communal passions.

An Angel and a Lost Boy

It was a cold winter evening in 2003. As darkness fell, the children who were playing in the park adjacent to the Safed Baradari in Lucknow started dispersing. Soon the playground was empty but, Aiku Lal Sandil a tea vendor, noticed that a small boy was still there- all alone and crying. The only information Aiku Lal could extract from this seven year boy was that his name was Akbar. Aiku Lal took the boy to the Police Station, but found that there was no report of any missing child which matched Akbar’s description. So, assuming that the boy would be from the same locality which has a sizeable Muslim population, Aiku Lal decided to provide him shelter for the night and took him home.

The next day, Aiku Lal commenced his search for the parents of Akbar with a missionary zeal. He solicited the help of his neighbours, requested the maulvi to make public announcements in the local mosque after the Friday Namaz, placed advertisements on TV and in the newspapers, but no one came forward to claim the child. And so Aiku Lal, the tea vendor, who was a bachelor, took two unusual decisions. The first, that despite his meager income, he would keep Akbar with him and raise him as a son; the second, that since Akbar was born a Muslim, he would bring him up as one.

In a New home

And this was how destiny brought Aiku Lal and Akbar together. He did not use the boy to assist him in running his tea stall. Instead, Aiku Lal, who himself had never attended school, decided that his ‘son’ Akbar would. So while Aiku Lal continued to run his tea stall, Akbar attended school and Aiku Lal ensured that Akbar never missed going to the mosque every Friday for offering namaaz. The care and attention Aiku Lal showered on Akbar was phenomenal and soon the locality accepted them as a model father and son duo, albeit from different religions. Aiku Lal ensured that Akbar never felt out of place. Though himself vegetarian, Aiku Lal did not curb Akbar’s liking for non vegetarian dishes. On the contrary, he himself went about learning how to cook the meat dishes his ‘son’ was fond of, so that he could prepare and serve him the same.

As time passed, Aiku Lal took the third and most usual personal decision of his life- that of remaining a bachelor; the reason of which is best explained in his own words, “I can’t pinpoint the day when Akbar became my son. But once I realised our relationship, I decided not to marry. A Hindu wife might object to mothering a Muslim child. I will not let anyone come between us or separate us.” Just when it seemed that it was the typical ‘and so they lived happily thereafter’ story, there came a turbulence which had the potential of shattering the bliss of Aiku Lal and Akbar!

The Set Back

This unbelievable story of a Muslim ‘son’ and a Hindu ‘father’ was picked up by the media and featured on a local TV channel in 2007. Soon a couple from Allahabad came forward and claimed that Akbar was their son, who had gone missing in 2003, when his father left him unattended while he was drinking at a local liquor vend. Though no could explain as to how the boy ended up in Lucknow, DNA profiling confirmed their claim. The parents sought custody of their son, but Akbar refused to go back and so the biological parents filed a case in the Allahabad High Court. Besides accusing Aiku Lal for exploiting the boy as a child labourer, the counsel of parents cited another major reason that since Akbar by religion was a Muslim; his being raised by Aiku Lal would “create dichotomy and disharmony in the social sphere and in their relationship.”

The judge was however not impressed by the arguments put forward by the counsel representing Akbar’s parents, who themselves had not even taken the pains to lodge a police complaint regarding their missing child. Noting that Aiku Lal had taken good care of the boy, enrolled him in school as well as not even changed his religion, Justice Barkat Ali, in January 2008 gave a landmark judgment which read, “We are after all a secular country and consideration of caste and creed should not be allowed to prevail. If there can be inter-caste marriages, which is not uncommon, there can also be an inter-caste father and son relationship and that need not raise eyebrows.”

The mother of Akbar challenged the High Court decision. After hearing the case and observing Akbar’s insistence on staying with Aiku Lal, the Supreme Court bench ruled that, “Let the child attain majority and himself decide the question.”

Epilogue

Though I have never met Aiku Lal the small time tea vendor who earns about Rs 100 a day, I know for sure that his meagre income and fragile financial position would certainly don’t allow him to indulge in the luxury of acquiring social recognition or seeking moral salvation by adopting an abandoned child and willingly forgo the basic human desire of to start one’s own family. So, what was it that motivated Aiku Lal to do what he did? For the answer, we will have to travel back in time.

About 35 years ago, a person named Chaudhary Mujtaba Hussain, an employee of the governing body that looked after the Safed Baradari found a small boy wandering aimlessly. On learning that he was an orphan, Mujtaba took him home and brought him up ensuring two things- one, that he would treat him just like his own son and the second that the boy who was a Hindu would retain his religion. Though Mujtaba’s wife did have her initial reservations as she had to ensure that whenever meat was cooked, a substitute would have to be made for the new comer, she subsequently got used to the idea. Though Mujtaba could not afford to send his adopted son to school, he nevertheless taught him English, Hindi and Urdu.

This boy was none other than Aiku Lal and he never forgot his ‘father’. He says, “I am a Hindu brought up by a kind Muslim man. When I found Akbar, it was like God telling me that it is time to return the love and care I got from his people. I was never forced to change my religion and having got that education from my guardian, it was my duty to take care of the child and bring him up as per his own religion.”

Tailpiece

This story was widely reported in the press, thanks to the court case. Yet, this inspirational example of humanity transcending man made religious dogmas has, to the best of my knowledge, never been considered for inclusion in text books or quoted by religious preachers in their discourses. Though the real reasons for this omission are not known, I would not be surprised that at a time when communally oriented strategies have become the source of gaining and retaining power, this example of religious harmony may prove detrimental to the vested interests of such elements.

Bulleh Shah, the famous Sufi poet had said that while God gave us religion which being based on love, brotherhood and humanity was all encompassing, men ‘created’ temples and mosques in their minds with a conditional, (if not a non existence) space for these virtues. And it was these mental blocks which he preached should be demolished when he said:

“Break the mosque, break the temple,
Break all that which divides.
But break not the human heart
For in that heart does God reside”
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Writer resides in New Delhi and can be mailedniloofar.qureshi@yahoo.com

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*Cross-border diaries boost campus ties, Aman Ki Asha, January 6, 2012
http://www.amankiasha.com/detail_news.asp?id=619

MUMBAI: In its journey from Mumbai to Lahore and then Karachi, it did what should have been long done. But nonetheless, the end was more than a bunch of just thoughtful diary entries, they were definitely more than powerful words strung together.

Beginning September, a diary was passed around on campuses of the large colleges in Mumbai. Another exactly similar diary travelled around institutes 550 miles away in Karachi and then to campuses in Lahore. When the diaries were opened, some things were pretty clear: the young citizenry of the two nations are on one page when it comes to peace.

Titled 'Ummeed-e-Milaap', the diaries recorded the thoughts of students on creating peace between India and Pakistan. The initiative is part of the IIT-Bombay's annual technical festival, Techfest. "Years of war and ensuing tension have distanced the two neighbours and amplified the misunderstanding between them.

The last couple of years have seen the emergence of prominent organisations and initiatives like Aman Ki Asha to unite the citizens and bring in them a sense of brotherhood and improve relations on a personal level," said Ronnie Philip, manager (media and marketing), Techfest 2012.

Some of the thoughts from the diary include pictures, poems, short notes. In Hindi, Sneha Sharma writes, "Na hum hindu, na hum musalman. Hum do dil, ek jaan." Akhil Paliath says something similar. "Separated by a line of control. It's time to correct our fates."

On a lighter note, there were requests like these. Nisa from Pakistan wrote, "India you have SRK. Please send him here. We love him.'' Techfest will also have an Ummeed-e-Milaap wall for visitors to pen their thoughts. The diary will travel to Pakistan and would be displayed at the LUMS Annual festival PSIFI from the 18-21th January 2012.

Courtesy: Times of India

 


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