Friday, January 28, 2022

Professional Muslim Women in India Face Growing Threats

By Amit Sengupta and Majid Maqbool 

Right wing groups in India are stirring nationwide outrage and international condemnation over the online harassment of Muslim women including prominent journalists, actors, politicians, and industry and civil society figures. The women have been targeted by extremist Hindu groups using two apps to secretly “auction” them online, collecting their photos from social media accounts and displaying them on the sites to humiliate them with lewd comments. 
The affair has attracted widespread worldwide criticism from journalistic and human rights organizations. It goes beyond that, however, to a widespread harassment that women say is becoming not only humiliating but dangerous. Mumbai-based Washington Post columnist and freelance journalist Rana Ayyub, on January 27 said she has received more than 26,000 tweets in response to her criticism of the Saudi Arabian government’s role in the ongoing Yemen crisis. Ayyub held a press conference to say she has long been a victim of online trolling and threats including many rape and death social media users who posted in support of the Saudi government and India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, which she has criticized in recent columns in The Washington Post. 

 “No journalist should have to suffer the intense online harassment and threats repeatedly directed against Rana Ayyub,” said Steven Butler, the Asia program coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists in Washington, D.C. “Indian authorities must take action against anyone who has threatened violence against Ayyub and ensure her safety.” 

Separately, the “auction” development, using the apps Bulli Bai and Sulli Deals, began in mid-2021 although authorities took no action, women say. It resumed in November, however, with police ultimately arresting five persons. Niraj Bishnoi, the 21-year-old creator of the Bulli Bai app, was arrested on January 6 by New Delhi police, who said the investigation is at a "very nascent stage."

“Bulli Bai” is a derogatory term used for Muslim women by India's right wing, the critics say. Police said Bishnoi disclosed during questioning that the app was developed in November 2021, and later updated in December. He had also created another Twitter account to talk about the app, according to the police. What is more ominous is that the practice is far more widespread and it reflects spreading concern over possible violence against Muslims. In December, hundreds of right-wing Hindu activists and monks at a conference outside Delhi were widely reported as taking an oath to turn India into a Hindu nation by killing as many Muslims as possible. The conference reportedly included influential members of Narendra Modi’s ultranationalist Bharatiya Janata Party. More than 200 million Muslims remain in India after millions fled at partition in a bloodbath that took hundreds of thousands of lives.

The educated and technologically astute youngsters, including a woman, who were subsequently caught by the police, are from various flourishing but small towns. According to researchers, they call themselves Trads – Traditionalists. Those who have studied the situation say their divine text is the ‘Manusmriti’ –an anti-woman, feudal, upper-caste text which is male-centric, violent and patriarchal. Their extremist viewpoint is often in contradiction even with the mainstream right-wing nationalist groups in India currently ruling in New Delhi. They are said to even hate the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, as they consider it hypocritical. 

Critics say the groups deploy hate as ‘humor,’ a tacit incitement to mass rapes and genocide. One of the youngsters behind both the apps had created fake and multiple twitter handles to pass lewd remarks on Muslim women, the police found during investigations. Three other youngsters from distant towns were said to be using Sikh community names as twitter handles with the aim of creating a rift between the Sikh and Muslim communities, according to the police. 

 A young Mumbai-based Muslim woman journalist who declined to be named said she has unknowingly been auctioned multiple times, adding that she was repulsed with what she called the “extremely vicious and humiliating online character assassination.” 

“I wasn't able to speak to everyone about this at home but I tried to speak about it through my writing because it was important,” said Quratulain Rehbar, an independent journalist based in Kashmir who was similarly shocked to find her picture was also being auctioned online. She said that it made her feel that she is now more vulnerable as her journalistic work in Kashmir already makes her vulnerable. The subsequent media focus also made her uncomfortable. She said she felt “unsafe and had concurrent negative thoughts.” 

 Another young woman whose photo was used by Bulli Bai is Ismat Ara, a New Delhi based journalist. Her tweet calling attention to the practice and objecting to it went viral. “Having written stories critical of the government for the last two years—dealing with attacks on members of the Dalit caste, crimes against women, COVID-19 mismanagement, and hate crimes against Muslims—I was no stranger to trolling,” she wrote. “In fact, I am one of the 20 most abused women journalists in India. But being auctioned?” 

“That an app auctioning women came up a second time after it was done last year clearly indicates that these men know that they have protection,” said Saimi Sattar, editor with the New Delhi-based magazine of The Pioneer. With the perpetrators of last year going unpunished, she said, it was bound to happen. “Then there is the radio silence from the government – the implication being that this has not been tacit but an action-replay of complete support,” she added. “And not just them, a lot of people around me refuse to speak or take a stand. Subconsciously they believe that their privilege as upper caste Hindu men/women keeps them safe.” 

Sattar says such perversion, reflected by these coordinated online actions to silence and shame Muslim women, won’t stop in the current communal atmosphere prevailing in India. “So should we step back and stop speaking? It was not us who committed a crime. So why should we not speak up and fight back?” 

“What has happened is a vicious mix of objectification of women combined with the desire to silence Muslim voices,” said Saba Naqvi, a journalist and television commentator based in New Delhi. Hana Khan, a commercial pilot from Uttar Pradesh, also a victim, told the BBC that her photo was taken from Twitter and it had her username. “This app was running for 20 days and we didn't even know about it. It sent chills down my spine,” she said. “People were bidding five rupees (67 cents; 48 pence) and 10 rupees, assessing women and their body parts, describing sexual acts and threatening rape.” 

Hasiba Amin, a social media spokesperson for the Congress party, said several such accounts routinely attacked Muslim women in an attempt to degrade and humiliate them. On May 13 last year, as Muslims celebrated the festival of Eid, she said a YouTube channel ran an "Eid Special" – a live "auction" of Muslim women from India and Pakistan. 

Sanjay Kapoor, General Secretary of the Editors Guild of India said the idea of auctioning of articulate Muslim women on the internet is reprehensible and distressing, suggesting a collapse of the rule of law in the society. “The first time the issue came up, the police and judiciary didn’t take immediate action against the criminals, encouraging other round of symbolic internet auction of high-achieving and successful Muslim women,” said Kapoor. “Quite evidently, they got support from the ideology that has built this ecosystem that sustains and legitimizes violence against the minorities.” 

Sayema Rehman, a New Delhi based popular radio presenter for more than a decade, was also targeted. She is one of the vocal, liberal, progressive voices on social media, especially on Twitter. “I was one of the targets of Bulli Deals, the second version of the Sulli Deals,” said Sayema. “When the Bulli Deals happened, all of us raised our voices and made a lot of noise, so the Delhi Police were forced to register an FIR.” 

 But in the first instance they never reacted or acted, she said. But “when the Bulli Deals happened (again), there was no choice left for us and there was no point in keeping quiet anymore. With the kind of communal frenzy all around, with genocidal conferences happening, and people coming out and brazenly talking about the economic boycott of Muslims, silence was no longer the option,” she emphasizes. 

“We will continue to speak out. We wanted to explore all legal ways of dealing with this – from lodging police complaints, to raising our voice on social media, letting the world know what is happening to us,” she says. “The intention was to scare us. We have decided to respond in just the opposite way. Mumbai Police has set a very good precedent by nabbing the culprits and making arrests. There is a message that is going out and hopefully it is being received by the youth of the country,” she adds.

“This is outright communal bigotry and misogynistic. There is no choice but to fight back. And we will.” 

(First published in Asia Sentinel:

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Memoriam In Cricket

Memoriam In Cricket

By Majid Maqbool

As a young boy Fayaz Ahmad Gashoo was passionate about sports, particularly cricket. An all-round cricketer all through his high school and college years, he could bowl as fast as the West Indian fast bowler Malcolm Marshal, earning him a nickname “Fayaz Marshal” in Baramulla and “Fayaz Fire” in Srinagar.

Fayaz was selected twice to play in Ranji trophy. On a Saturday afternoon of May 19, 1990 he was waiting near a court complex in Sopore to board a bus to reach his home in Baramulla. A CRPF convoy that was passing by swooped on him and picked him up. Fayaz has never been seen since.

His family is unable to reconcile with the loss. Fayaz has disappeared but his family believes he has been killed.

At their residence in Khawaja Bagh, Baramulla, Fayaz’s elder brother opens a grey briefcase - a briefcase full of memories, containing certificates, photographs and documents related to his disappearance. In one envelope - “yadien” written on its cover – pictures of Fayaz holding trophies he won in different cricket tournaments before he disappeared in CRPF custody in 1990.

In some pictures, he is smiling in the company of his college friends and teammates. Other pictures show Fayaz in a skiing gear on a snowy slope with his friends in Gulmarg. In other pictures he is receiving the man of the match trophy and shaking hands with dignitaries. Surrounded by his teammates, he is jubilantly holding up the trophy. One envelope from the briefcase reveals a newspaper cutting of Fayaz, mentioning his achievement in the caption:

“Fayaz Ahmad, B.A part 1 - All round best player of the year, 1987.”

Fayaz’s mother has been in a state of shock since the day he disappeared. She cannot stand the sight of cricket matches shown on television. She cannot bring herself to talk about her son, her elder sons say. Fayaz’s elder brothers have to conceal all his photos, clothes and other belongings from her. They can not talk of Fayaz in front of her. She never passes from the college cricket ground where Fayaz used to practice. She avoids places Fayaz would frequent.

On a cold day in December, 1989, Fayaz Ahmad left home. He told his brothers that he was going for skiing in Gulmarg. He was 19 then, a teenager. That year armed rebellion had broken out in Kashmir against the Indian rule, and many of Fayaz’s friends had crossed the LoC. Fayaz, too, crossed the border without informing his family. He returned after three months. “We didn’t know that he had crossed the border as he never told us,” says his elder brother. “Those who had gone with him sent some of his belongings home and that is how we came to know about it.”

After he returned in March 1990, his brother says, Fayaz came home only three times. “He would stay at home for a brief time and wouldn’t talk about what he did during those three months.”

A second year commerce student in Baramulla Degree College, Fayaz resumed studies in college after his return.

On May 19, 1990, Fayaz was waiting for a vehicle near a college in Sopore. Notebook in hand, he was headed home. Eyewitnesses later told the family that a CRPF convoy that was passing by made a brief halt, some troopers came down, and he was taken away. His notebook dropped on the street.

Fayaz’s family came to know about his arrest four days after his disappearance. Another young man, who was detained along with Fayaz in a CRPF camp, had somehow escaped. He later sent a message to the family that Fayaz was held by the 50 battalion of CRPF in their camp in Sopore.

“The officer in charge of that camp Kripal Singh denied having arrested Fayaz,” says his brother. Months later, another friend of Fayaz, who was also held in the same camp had more bad news for the family. He was later sent to Tihar and after his release from there a few months later, he told the family that Fayaz was tortured inside the CRPF camp in Sopore.

“He had heard cries of Fayaz in the camp,” Fayaz’s brothers recalled. “He told us later that Fayaz was abused by a CRPF officer who was interrogating Fayaz inside the camp.” After an altercation, he heard a few gunshots. And then there was silence, his friend had told Fayaz’s family.

“If they have killed our brother, we don’t know where they kept his dead body,” says his brother, his eyes brimming with tears. “If he is dead, they should at least have handed over his dead body to us.”

After the custodial disappearance of Fayaz, his brothers approached CRPF and army camps all across the valley. They searched in every jail in the valley. They also went searching to jails in Rajasthan. But there was no trace of Fayaz.

“If someone spoke of having seen him in some jail, we would immediately rush there,” says his elder brother. For three months in 1990, the brother hired a taxi and went to every CRPF camp and approached every CRPF officer stationed in the valley.

Fayaz’s family says the CRPF and Army kept harassing the family in the years after his disappearance. They would ask for the gun of Fayaz. Every time the family told them that they don’t know anything about the gun. They had never seen Fayaz carrying any weapon.

One evening in 1994, a group of soldiers raided their house. “They asked all the men to come out. But we told them that the women will also come out and then they can search the house,” says Gul Mohammad, the elder brother of Fayaz. The army men got angry on this. “They beat all of us, including children, old men and women,” the brothers recall.

On the same day one of their younger brother, Bashir Ahmad Gashoo, was taken away by the army. “He was released after 10 days in half-dead condition,” says his elder brother Gul Mohammad Gashoo. “He was severely tortured in the nearby army camp. He could not even stand after his release and he was unable to talk for months.”

Gul Mohammad has kept pictures showing torture marks on his brother’s body. “He had to be hospitalized and was brought home after 3 months of treatment in SKIMS.”

As a teenager Fayaz was fearless. He wouldn’t tolerate any curbs on his freedom. During his high school student days, he was walking on a curfewed road in Baramulla. His brothers say a police officer, who was driving by in a police gypsy, stopped Fayaz in his tracks and rebuked him. He asked Fayaz to get lost and stay at home. “Fayaz got so angry on this that he slapped the police officer,” recalls his elder brother. “He told the police officer that he cannot stop him from walking on the road.” Fayaz had to be kept in hiding for a month to prevent his arrest.

Fayaz’s brothers remember him as a brave young boy who loved playing cricket. Endowed with the physique of an athlete, he was the tallest among all his three brothers. At 17, Fayaz was selected twice to represent J&K state in Ranji trophy in 1987 and 1989.

One day Fayaz had gone to Srinagar to play in a tournament. “He had no money to return home,” recalls his elder brother. “He slept beneath a Chinar tree in the same ground where he played during the day. Next morning, he got up and played in another match in the same ground,” his brother recalls his enthusiasm for cricket with a smile.

Most of the matches he played Fayaz would win the man of the match award. “He is the only player in Baramulla who once hit a ball so hard that it landed on the street outside the Baramulla degree college,” recalls his brother. He says when people would come to know that Fayaz is batting or bowling, they would assemble in huge numbers inside the college ground just to watch him play. “People would even come from far off villages in buses to cheer him on.”

After Fayaz’s custodial disappearance, his brothers kept his memory alive. They started an annual cricket tournament “Fayaz Memorial” cricket cup in 1997. It was a tribute to a promising young cricketer. Every year some of the best cricket teams in Baramula compete in the memorial tournament. Fayaz’s elder brothers give out trophies to the best teams and the most promising players. Had he been allowed to live, his brothers say, he would have brought more laurels and made his homeland proud.

“Whenever I see a dream, I see Fayaz playing cricket in his college ground,” says Gul Muhammad. His room is adorned with all the trophies of Fayaz. He has even preserved one of the worn out cricket balls Fayaz played with.

“Whatever respect we have earned among people here, it is because of Fayaz,” his brothers say in unison. “We’re known more as Fayaz’s brothers.”

“And we will never forget what was done to our brother.”

The Right Thing to Do

The Right Thing to Do

Even during Kashmir’s worst years of insurgency, says Ghulam Mohammad Malik, a retired Muslim teacher who has been protecting a temple in Srinagar for over a decade now, no one ever raised an eyebrow at his presence there

I have lived in this locality all my life. A lot of Kashmiri Pandits used to live here earlier. I remember, during my childhood, there used to be an annual festival, Kande-vurus, in which both Kashmiri Pandits and Muslims would take part. Sweets would be distributed among the people. Thousands of Kashmiri Pandits from across the Valley would come here to take part in the festive gathering. Those were happy times...



They are driven by curiosity and armed with creativity. From harnessing everything from the sun to the ground below, Majid Maqbool reports on Kashmiris who are inspired by the belief that one bright idea can change their world.

Creative Twins:

Refaz Ahmad Wani and Ishfaq Ahmad Wani, 17-year-old twin brothers, are unlike other youngsters in their neighborhood. They look alike, think differently, and work together as a team. Fascinated by innovative ideas since childhood, the inquisitive brothers always wanted to make new things. Hailing from the remote Wandewalgam village in Kokernag town of south Kashmir, some 80 kms away from Srinagar, the twins have more than fifteen innovations to their credit.

Refaz and Ishfaq were awarded for their innovations by the National Innovations Foundation (NIF) recently, at an event held at the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad. While giving away the award to the twins, former president APJ Abdul Kalam called them “creative twins.” The brothers study in 11th in a government high school.

Out of the total 4104 entries received from across India, NIF shortlisted 32 entries, and finally 23 innovations were awarded. NIF had received 160 entries from J&K, and only the twin innovations of Refaz and Ishfaq won the award from the state. They stood second at the all-India level in the high school category.

When the twin brothers arrived at IIM to receive the award, they were delighted to see one of their innovations—the two-in-one spade and hoe—manufactured by an Ahmadabad-based company. Their innovation was presented to them at the event. The two-in-one spade and hoe, they have been told, is ready to make a debut in the market. The brothers say this concept came to them when they went shopping for a spade and a hoe that they needed in their field. “We had to buy a spade and a hoe from the market and it cost us Rs 1000,” says Ishfaq. “And when we were working in the field, we thought of making a two-in-one spade and hoe which is easy to carry around and also saves the cost of buying two items,” says Ishfaq.

Another award winning innovation made by the brothers is a foldable water bottle. Its size can be reduced by folding it in, based on how much water is left in the bottle. Additionally, the brothers have come up with several other innovations in the past which have been accepted and registered at the National Innovation Foundation (NIF), Ahmadabad.

As young children, Ishfaq and Refaz would make mud sculptures of animals and birds. One day, when they were in 5th standard, they saw a JCB vehicle on the road outside their home. Fascinated, they wanted to make a similar model at home.

“We thought of making one at home but since we didn’t have the required material, we made a mini model out of clay,” says Ishfaq. “Then we made it using wood as it was readily available and inserted some springs in the model,” recollects Refaz. It took them twelve days to make a wooden road roller.

With maturity came creativity, and their experiments continued.

Ishfaq and Refaz say their parents have been incredibly supportive. Their father, a vegetable seller in Jammu, is a diabetic. The news of his sons being awarded brought him some relief. “Whatever he earns is spent on his treatment there,” says the mother of twin brothers. “We have to depend on our relatives to run our home,” she says. The brothers, aware of their financial limitations, are worried about their father. Their innovations have not yet yielded monetary gains. They want to come up with more innovations, with the hopes that it will support their family financially.

Some of their innovations that have already been registered by NIF include an injection breaker, apple catcher and clipper, easy meat cutter, a geometrical pen, bread thrower, egg breaker, and a lighting pen. The brothers say they created these and other innovations based on the need for them, and they believe their creations are beneficial for all people. “The injection breaker idea came when I went to a medical shop for an injection. I saw that when they would break the injection, the glass would fall on the floor and it could even injure people,” says Refaz. “When I came back, I shared the idea with my bother and we started working on the injection breaker,” he says. “It can be a useful device for doctors and nurses,” says Ishfaq.

Similarly, the idea of an apple catcher and clipper struck them when they had gone to a nearby apple orchard in their village. They saw people struggling to bring down apples from distant branches. At their home, they brainstormed about the idea of making an apple catcher and clipper to solve this problem. “Our apple catcher and clipper has a long stick and a clipper which can pluck apples from even distant branches, which cannot be otherwise reached by hand,” explains Ishfaq. “When the apple is clipped, instead of falling down, it falls in a pouch which is attached to the apple catcher,” he says.

The enthusiasm for doing something different has also rubbed off on their sister Runcy Jan, also studying in 11th. Last year, when Runcy was washing dishes one day in the kitchen, an idea of making a plate washing machine came to her. She shared it with her brothers. “She told us that she wants to make a machine which can wash dishes, and then we helped her to make a model which has been accepted by NIF as well,” says Ishfaq. “But it needs money to make the machine,” Refaz points out.

The brothers have converted a store in the second storey of their modest home into a small science lab. It’s filled with used electrical devices and other locally acquired equipment. All their certificates, clay and wooden models made over the years, and their paintings are on display in this room. They have named it “Science Innovation Club.” On the door hangs a simple white paper, with these words written on it: “Welcome to my life!” Whenever a new idea strikes them, they start working on it in their humble science club.

The brothers say they’re upset that they’re studying arts subjects, when all they really want to study is science. They hope they will be allowed to study science in 12th next year. “We didn’t get any support from our state government,” says Refaz. “Even our school is unaware of the award we recently received. Some teachers even discourage us from asking questions,” says Ishfaq.

The brothers are hoping to develop their Science Innovation Club into a learning center for other children who are interested in making innovations. “If this club is registered and the government helps us with funds, we could encourage many other students to come up with innovations,” says Refaz. “We want to help students who are interested in practical science and innovative ideas,” adds Ishfaq.

The brothers say they have many innovative ideas which they want to work on in future. “We have 71 innovative ideas in our files, and out of them, we have sent 37 ideas to NIF for reference and registration,” says Refaz. “The scientists at NIF often tell us that the ideas that come from us are excellent,” quips Ishfaq.

Despite their poverty, the inquisitive brothers are rich in ideas. They’re driven by a passion to do something different. New ideas come to them all the time; sometimes, in the middle of the night. “When a new idea comes, we work hard on its execution in our science club,” says Refaz. “We look at the market viability of the innovation and how it can be beneficial to people,” he says with maturity. “As we grow up, more ideas will come to us,” says Ishfaq.

Methane-Collecting Dairy Farm:

A few years ago, Zulfqarul Haq—who is presently pursuing his Masters’ in veterinary from the college of veterinary science, MHOW in Indore—came up with an innovative idea of a “methane collecting dairy farm” to reduce the greenhouse effect. His proposed dairy farm can collect methane burped by cattle. Each cattle burps about 250 - 500 liters of methane per day, which is 25 percent more potent than carbon dioxide in trapping atmospheric heat, a cause of worry as far as global warming is concerned.

“This hypothesis is given on a scientific basis, using chemical properties of methane,” says Haq. “I attempted to establish new ideas to reduce methane, which has caused an alarming concern.”

The heat-trapping gas could dramatically accelerate global warming. The dairy farm has two phases, closed phases and open phases. “It is closed when methane production reaches peak level (2-3 hours after feeding). Animals respire through specially designed Tobin tubes open at their manger. The rest of the dairy farm is kept open as usual,” says Haq.

As methane is lighter than air, he explains, methane will rise up and will be sucked by a pump and deposited in the methane collecting chamber which is surrounded by liquid nitrogen, to provide critical temperature for methane and critical pressures is applied. “Air will not liquefy as its critical temperature and pressure are not attained. Thus the collected methane will be used as fuel to meet the energy crisis and also reduce green house effect,” he says.

Zulfiqar presented the methane collecting dairy farm hypothesis at the Annual Conference and National Symposium of IAAVR (Indian Association for Advancement of Veterinary Research) early this year in Jaipur, where he awarded a certificate of merit for the best innovative idea.

Recently, Zulfiqar also stood first in his university and third at an all-India level competition of Vetoquinol Vijeta champ, which was organized by Vetoquinol India across 20 renowned veterinary colleges of India.

Unsung Innovator:

When Abid Hussain Nagoo was 12, he would work as a mechanic after school and repair tippers in Athwajan. His father was a daily wager and Abid needed to financially support his family. Fiddling with things came naturally to him. After dropping out of school in 11th, Abid started experimenting with electrical devices and other spare parts at his home in Rainawari. And before he knew it, Abid, now 26, was on his way to becoming an innovator.

As a kid, Abid was fascinated by how solar-powered calculators would work. “I became interested in things that work on solar energy,” he says. Soon after dropping out of school, he made a small solar lantern, which he later sold to a roadside hawker. “I pulled out the base of kerosene lantern and instead placed a battery and a nine volt bulb,” he says. Soon, he started making solar lanterns.

Abid wanted to explore the market for his handmade solar lanterns. He went to Khayam and placed his handmade solar lantern inside a store. “The store owner started asking about how I made this lantern and if he can buy one,” says Abid. But Abid sold it to a roadside hawker for Rs. 500. “I gave it to him since he sold things on the roadside, and the lantern would be seen by many people,” says Abid. Some days later, the same hawker approached Abid, asking him to make more lanterns. The hawker now wanted to sell his handmade solar lanterns. “I asked a friend for some money to buy some kerosene lanterns,” says Abid. Then I converted them into solar lanterns at home,” he says. “I made ten lanterns in two nights, and all of them were sold by that hawker in one day.”

Abid has come up with around 15 innovations since then, including a high intensity solar light, a mini solar inverter which can give a six hour backup. “I have also made a high pressure air blower, which can be used on roads to clear heavy stones,” says Abid. He is also working on a solar water purifier, which will convert dirty water into drinkable water.

Abid does not have a regular job. He earns his living by repairing streets lights for the tourism department and installing solar lighting systems at homes. “I approached the bank for a loan to set up my own workshop and I also applied for many government schemes but no one helped me,” laments Abid.

Abid claims that he is the only person who can repair the solar power plant in Kashmir. “In government departments here, there are employees who take huge salaries, but they don’t even know the difference between a diode and resistance,” he says. The government departments often approach him whenever there is any technical fault in big electrical and solar devices which their employees are unable to repair.

Abid is bitter about the fact that one of his innovative ideas was stolen from him by an engineer he knew. He says he had come up with the idea of an electric jacket three years ago, which he had subsequently submitted in the USIC department of Kashmir University in 2009. “But that engineer stole the idea from me,” says Abid. “He approached me once and told me that in winters one can’t travel on a bike, and I told him that I have made an electric jacket that can keep the biker warm,” says Abid.

“Then he told me to develop it and I made the jacket in three days and showed it to him, but later I read in newspapers that he is claiming to have made the electric jacket which is not true,” says Abid who holds the university responsible for the theft of his idea. “My jacket was lying in the university for two years and they didn’t bring it in the market,” he says. “That man is now bringing the jacket to the market in his name, but he knows that it was my idea which he stole,” adds Abid.

Although disappointed by the theft of his innovation, Abid has not stopped working on other innovations. He is presently at work on a solar shikara, which will run on solar batteries. The idea came to him when he was sent by the tourism department to install solar lights at Char Chinar in Dal Lake. “An old man was rowing the shikara I was in. I saw him struggling for one and a half hour from the Nehru Park area to reach the Char Chinar,” says Abid. “Then I thought, why can’t we have a solar shikara that will be powered by solar batteries? It will save both energy and time,” he says.

In the backyard of his Rainawari residence, Abid started working on the concept. He had to buy equipment from Delhi, spending money from his own pocket. “I also hired a shikara on rent for a couple of days to test drive it on solar light,” he says. Once the solar shikara is functional, Abid says it will take only 15 minutes to reach Char Chinar from Nehru Park. “But I needs money to buy motors and others equipment,” he says. “I wish I had a lot of money to buy all these equipment.”

Abid has received recognition from USIC department of Kashmir University, and he has been sent several letters from the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research in New Delhi. However, Abid says no financial help came his way. He was not provided any employment, either. “The government science departments from Delhi would write in their letters that they will financially support my innovations only if I send them documents like a work plan and test certificates,” he says. “But who will give me a test certificate here?” He says the paperwork should have been done by the university itself, as he had registered his innovations with them. “Most of my innovations are gathering dust in the university,” he says. “But nothing is done to bring them to the market.”

Abid remembers calling the director of a scientific research institute in Delhi once last year. Since some of his innovations were registered with them, he wanted to know about their progress. “Abid, aap pehlay wahan pathrav khatam karo, phir dekhengay,” the director told him, and hung up.

“At times I feel had we been with China, we would have progressed,” says Abid. “They would surely valu skilled people like us,” he says. “India only wants to exploit grassroot innovators of Kashmir and exploit our innovations in their market without giving any benefit to the Kashmiri innovators,” he says.

No Support:

Prof. G. Mohiuddin Bhat, the Director of University Science Instrumentation Centre (USIC) in Kashmir University, says the state government is not yet sensitized about our grassroots innovators who are in need of financial support for their innovations. “Several times, I have met ministers and even the Chief Minister in this regard, but nothing happened on the ground, despite their promises,” he says.

Prof. Bhat says 80 percent of innovators that come to their centre are from rural areas. “I see innovators who are mostly poor people, and they come up with their innovations to solve problems they face in rural areas,” he says. Bhat says in USIC, since 2008, they have patented more than 20 innovations coming from grassroots innovators, and four of them were awarded.

He says the state government should come forward with a detailed program to financially support Kashmiri innovators. “The central agencies take time to release funds and there is a lot of delay and paper work involved,” he says.

Researchers say local innovators require state government support as only one institute at the university is not enough to cater to the increasing number of grassroots innovators emerging from the valley. “Unemployment is rising. These innovators are coming up with new ideas. The government should recognize them. They should help them in reaching out to the market as these innovators cannot do it on their own,” says S. Fayaz Ahmad, a researcher and author of the book “Unsung Innovators of Kashmir” that was published this year. The book profiles grassroots innovators from across the valley.

Fayaz says the patent system is not proving to be beneficial for Kashmir’s grassroots innovators. “The patent concept works for bigger corporations and will not benefit our grassroots innovators,” he says. “Also when you get a patent, you have to maintain the patent and for that they have to pay a regular fee which these innovators can’t afford.” He says instead of patent system, there should be a reward system for local innovators. “The state government should recognize these innovators and take their innovation to the market,” says Fayaz.

Innovators, he says, should be allowed to explore their local market first, as their innovations are essentially created keeping in mind their local needs and concerns. “They didn’t come up with innovations so that they will be taken outside the state and exploited in other markets,” says Fayaz. “And even if their innovation is exploited in markets outside the state, the actual benefit should come to the local innovator, but that is not happening at present,” he points out.

(Originally published as cover story in Kashmir Life news magazine)



A cold wave spreads over frozen lakes
foggy streets heave
with disappeared people
Unrecognized soldiers struggle to resist
biting cold, that enters, unchecked
between gaps of sandbag bunkers.
The promise of summer
Arrested in a long, harsh winter
Occupied by colder nights
Brief days; imprisoned sunshine
longing to breakaway, and pierce
the dark vigil that looms over a city
struggling to breathe freely.
In the winters of captivity
People wait…awake
In labored, visible breaths
for the end of curfewed nights.
“…till the soldiers return the keys
and disappear.

By Majid Maqbool

Friday, April 8, 2011

A call from home

A call from home

“Card chukha seath thavaan?”
(Do you carry the ID card with you?)

Mother worries over frequent phone calls
Away from home, home enters questions
‘Identity’ printed on a piece of paper
cuts through her voice; a discomforting lullaby:
“Card gase hamashe seath thavun”
(always carry the ID card with you)

Home leaves a permanent imprint…
On scattered notes, stamped on memories

At home, mother would tiptoe after me
At the door, before endless blessings, she always asked -
That question mothers have for their sons -
“Card tultha seath?”
(are you carrying your ID card?)

From Delhi now, your question settles on my unrest
Identity – detached from the card – hangs heavy

This is not Kashmir, mother
“Toete gase card seath thavun…. “
(Still you must carry the card with you...)
The line dropped on this insistence

I kept redialing, to rest her concerns,
her unfinished questions, unanswered
Hello..heloo… mother
Can you hear me?

I left the card at home, mother
In the back pocket of my worn-out jeans
Find: a fading photograph, scrutinized edges
And no trace of those unrecognized questions
forever inked on my memory

For troops to question my absence
The proof I left behind is not enough
That frisked ID card remains
like a festering wound, pocketed pain
I carry everywhere

By Majid Maqbool

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Tortured in custody

Ten days of torture

For Altaf Hussain the year 1994 is a painful memory of 10 days of torture. Sixteen years ago Altaf was subjected to torture for 10 days in a BSF camp in Handwara. Now a father of a two-year old son, Altaf is in his mid 30s and spots a medium sized beard. The unforgettable memories of those torturous 10 days haunt him to this day: the humiliation of everyday stripping, frequent beating, of being hung upside down, electric shocks to private parts, and that unbearable pain every time his finger nail was pulled out.

Altaf was a 16-year old vivacious teenager in 1994. After successfully passing his 10th standard board exams, that year he had dreams of a better future. He had made plans to move to the Srinagar city to pursue further education. However, one day would change the rest of his life.

One morning in the summer of 1994 he found himself dragged out of his home by BSF troopers from a nearby camp in Handwara. Along with a few more boys from his locality, Altaf was taken to a BSF camp located in his village. Then the torture began in custody.

“They wanted to know about the whereabouts of the militants in our area,” he says. “But I knew nothing about it”. Altaf kept telling them that he’s innocent and knows nothing about the whereabouts of the militants they had spotted in the village. The BSF troopers began torturing him to extract some information. But Altaf repeated the same thing. “From day one I told them that they can’t get any information from me as I know nothing,” he says.

The pain in Altaf’s voice comes through as he recalls those 10 days of torture. He points at different spots on his body where wires would be attached for giving electric shocks. The few minutes before the electric shocks were applied were the most frightening. Beyond a point, when the torture became unbearable, Altaf says he at times felt no pain, only a numbing sensation.

Like a testimony of his painful past, the torture marks are still visible on his body. “Besides beating, they would pull out the skin from sensitive spots of body,” he says while showing torture marks on his fingers. Small patch of pale skin has come to replace the skin pulled out during torture. All over his body the torture marks have not disappeared completely, only aged with years. The memories of those 10 days, he says, are as fresh as yesterday. He can never forget those 10 days.

Altaf remembers the minute details, the small talk, the jokes his captors would make about his miserable condition while he writhed in pain on the floor at the end of a torturous day in custody. Altaf particularly recalls a day when he was separated from other boys, and taken to another room, where some food had been specially kept for him on a table. After he had food that day, the reason for this special treatment became evident. A BSF trooper went up to him, and asked, “Tell me how many girl friends you have?”. When Altaf said he had none, the trooper didn’t believe him, and said he was lying. One of the BSF troopers, who was particularly friendly towards him that day, then asked Altaf to arrange some ‘girl friends’ for him. In return, Altaf was promised a quick release from the camp.

Altaf says he lost his cool at that moment and flew into a rage. For declining the offer he received a severe beating for many hours that day. “Kash bea easehe paez peath militant, beae lagvehae temes goel,” he says angrily. (I wish I had a gun that time, I wish I was a militant, I would have shot him there only)

Altaf says during those 10 days of interrogation inside the BSF camp, he kept repeating the same thing to the BSF troopers who were torturing him — that he was innocent and knew nothing about the whereabouts of the militants. After they failed to get any information from him despite days of torture, Altaf recalls some of the BSF troopers grudgingly acknowledging his truth, and calling him, “yae jo sach bolta hai, is ladko ko idhar laeo (get this boys here who speaks the truth.)

When the BSF troopers failed to extract any information from Altaf, he was dropped in a half conscious state on the roadside after ten days in custody. The family couldn’t believe that he was still alive. “Some of the boys who were arrested with me were found near a stream,” he recalls.

Altaf says some 74 boys from his native village in Handwara have been killed in fake encounters, enforced disappearances and targeted killings over the years by the troopers. Four of them, he says, crossed the border and were killed in encounters after they returned.

Altaf was bed ridden for over a month after his release. He says he is yet to reconcile with those torturous memories that keep haunting him. He eventually went on to become a forest range officer. The physical and mental scars of torture, however, are yet to heal.

Altaf says he had difficulty at the time of his marriage as the electric applied to his private organs during those 10 days of torture had an adverse impact on his health. Doctors had told him to take some time and delay marriage for some years as the torture had taken a toll on his sexual health. “I had to delay my marriage for a few years to recover fully,” he says. “It was a very painful phase for me as I couldn’t share my pain with family and friends.”

Altaf doesn’t want to hide his past from his children. “When my son will be a teenager, I will tell him what the Indian soldiers did to me when I was a teenager,” he says. He doesn’t want to forget his past. Forgetfulness is more painful for him.

Every today when Altaf encounters an Indian soldier on the street, he shudders and immediately takes a detour. This fear is compounded by the memories of his torture. The sight of an Indian trooper, or even a police man, he says sends shivers down his spine. “Even when I see a Kashmiri policeman on the road, I get to see frightening nightmares,” he says. “And all those memories of 10 days of torture rush back as flashes in front of my eyes.”