September 29, 2016

India: Justice for Akhlaq . . .(Editorial, The Times of India, 29 Sept 2016)

The Times of India - 29 September 2016


Justice for Akhlaq will demonstrate India can tackle communal crimes

The first anniversary of Mohammad Akhlaq’s brutal lynching, which shocked the conscience of the nation, has brought little cheer to his family. This is a test case of whether India can punish communally motivated crimes or not. Akhlaq was killed over rumours of his family having consumed beef by his neighbours in Bisada village of Dadri, just 50 km from the national capital. Progress has been very slow in the case filed against 18 accused. There have been eight adjournments out of a total of 18 hearings. Charges are yet to be framed even as some of the arrested suspects have moved Allahabad high court for bail.
The UP government must fast track this case to ensure the guilty are punished at the earliest. This is imperative to send a strong message of the state’s, and the country’s, ability to counter the growing menace of communalism. Rather than working to convict the guilty, UP police has been wasting time chasing red herrings. It has been investigating – and has finally cleared – Akhlaq’s family of a charge of cow slaughter.
This investigation has been mired in controversy from the start as the meat purportedly from Akhlaq’s house was found 500 metres away at a tri-junction. First the meat sample was declared to be mutton, later it was termed ‘cow progeny’ (sic). The police report claims to have seized 2kg of meat while the report prepared by the state veterinary hospital states it received about 5kg of meat sample – which, apparently, mysteriously grew in mass in the interim. All these antics appear designed to protect the guilty. Politics has complicated matters further. BJP leaders had jumped into the fray immediately after the murder, defending the accused and demanding action against Akhlaq’s family for allegedly storing beef.
But what’s astonishing is that even the ‘secular’ SP government has been dithering over the case and its police look like Keystone Cops.
The reason communal riots break out with such frequency in India is that the state is often unable to punish them. Politics intervenes before the law can take its course. But governments – both Centre and state – must decide whether they want to privilege religious sentiments or the rule of law. Else India will be going Pakistan’s way, with consequences similar to those already unfolding in Pakistan.

Announced new film Kairan, Surkkhiyon ke Baad...' (Kairana, After the Headlines...)

new film, 'Kairan, Surkkhiyon ke Baad...' (Kairana, After the Headlines...).

A lot of you must have read about the recent controversies surrounding Kairana (a small Western UP town).
The film is 27 minutes long and is an attempt to look at Kairna beyond the binaries of Hindu versus Muslim. (Detailed synopsis below). 
o o o


Kairana, a small town in western Uttar Pradesh's Shamli district has recently been in the headlines. In June 2016, Kairana's MP, Hukum Singh, who is from the Bharatiya Janata Party, claimed that there was an exodus of Hindus from Muslim-majority Kairana because of harassment by Muslims. To substantiate his allegation, he released a list of 346 Hindu families who had supposedly migrated from the town. It didn't take long, but the list was soon discredited. Many in the list were still living in Kairana, some had moved out over a decade ago for economic reasons, and while some did claim that deteriorating law and order was a serious concern, no one attributed their migration from Kairana to a Hindu-Muslim conflict.
'Kairana, Surkhiyon ke Baad...' (Kairana, After the Headlines...) – produced by Chalchitra Abhiyan and The Wire – attempts to look at the town and its politics, and the issues that affect it, beyond the binaries of Hindu versus Muslim. The film speaks to a range of voices from Kairana – from Muslim youth, to Hindus and Jains, the workers who have to travel far from the town for their daily wages, Dalits and women. The town, like many others in UP (and perhaps India) is today confronted with the grim reality of its real issues being glossed over under the shrill rhetoric of religious polarisation imposed on residents by influential politicians.
Even as the recent National Human Rights Commission report on Kairana gives credence to Hindu right wing claims that Kairana's Muslim men selectively molest Hindu women, my film tries to scratch beneath the surface of such claims to reveal the larger patriarchal assault on women of both religions, by men of both religions. The Dalits of Kairana speak of how they're at the receiving end of caste hierarchies upheld by dominant caste men of both religions. Muslim youth and workers speak of stark issues of unemployment in the town and the lack of any basic amenities – factors that are leading to growing criminalisation of the youth. A criminalisation that both Hindus and Muslims are victim to. The Hindus and the Jains of Kairana speak of how they've never felt vulnerable in a Muslim majority town.
In the midst of this despair, the film tries to look at the daily resistance of the people of Kairana and their struggles to bring back to the fore the real issues that afflict them.

India: NHRC Report on Kairana Prejudiced and Partisan (Press conference announced: 29 Sept 2016, New Delhi)



NHRC Report on Kairana Prejudiced and Partisan

WHAT: Press Conference to share the truth about Kairana, demand apology and withdrawal of NHRC Report

September 29, 2016 at 4pm

WHERE: Indian Women Press Corp, Ashoka Road

The findings of NHRC’s investigation into the so-called ‘exodus’ of families from Kairana, Shamli District (UP) because of increasing crime, was made public in a Press Release of Sept 21, 2016. We are deeply dismayed and shocked, as this report is based on dubious facts and makes prejudiced and communally charged assumptions, blaming the very riot-victims it should seek to protect.

We therefore call upon the NHRC to provide evidence for these ‘findings’ and, failing to do so, to apologize and withdraw this prejudicial report, which amounts to labeling and stigmatizing of an entire community.

Muzaffarnagar Riot Victims living in Kairana,
Harsh Mander (Aman Biradari),
Farah Naqvi (Independent Writer and Activist),
Akram Chaudhury (Afkar India),
Madhavi Kuckreja (Sadbhavana Trust) and others

For more information please contact Zafar- 8826621950

September 28, 2016

'unfortunate that the prime minister of India, Narendra Modi, decided to invoke the idea of purification in a speech' - Editorial, The Telegraph (28 Sept 2016)


Breach of faith

The word, 'purification', has many rather unpleasant resonances. It suggests, straightaway, the notion of impurity. It is unfortunate that the prime minister of India, Narendra Modi, decided to invoke the idea of purification in a speech delivered to the national council of the Bharatiya Janata Party. He did this by way of the writings and beliefs of Deendayal Upadhyaya, one of the principal ideologues of the BJP and the entire sangh parivar. Upadhyaya, and Mr Modi quoted him with approval and aplomb, believed that Muslims in India were in need of cleansing and purification. They were unclean because, even though they were originally Indians, they had been polluted by Islam. The Muslims in whose veins ran, according to K.S. Sudarshan, another ideologue, the blood of Ram and Krishna, had to be cleansed so that they could reclaim their Hindu origin. The obvious, and dangerous, implication of such beliefs is that it sees a very large section of the Indian population as being 'impure', and further sees the faith to which they subscribe to be a polluting agent. It is ironic that Mr Modi was using Upadhyaya's arguments with the purpose of showing that the BJP and the sangh parivar do not treat minorities as inferior entities. Upadhyaya's views, in fact, have the opposite effect. They reinforce the idea that the sangh parivar and the BJP have a deep-seated prejudice against the Muslim community.
Mr Modi's reiteration of the beliefs of Upadhyaya does not come as a surprise. All his life, he has been a loyal and devout member of the sangh parivar. A prejudiced view of the Muslim community is an integral part of the mindset of all sanghis. Many would argue that it is part of their DNA. It should also be remembered that Mr Modi was speaking at the BJP national council, and so to the converted he said what the converted wanted to hear. What he overlooked, willingly or otherwise, is that since he is the elected prime minister of India, his identity as a loyal member of the sangh parivar has become secondary.
Mr Modi's primary, and most important, identity is that he is the prime minister of India and, therefore, he represents all Indians, irrespective of creed. By speaking about the minorities through the words and ideology of Upadhyaya, Mr Modi no doubt won applause and support from his party members - it was, indeed, music to their ears. But to a wider audience, his words were appalling. As the prime minister of India, Mr Modi cannot view Indians through the filter of purity and impurity. India has no such filter.

September 27, 2016

India: Protest Call Against Communally Motivated Proposed Amendments to the Citizenship Act, 1955 - [29 Sept, New Delhi]

The proposed amendment to India’s Citizenship Act, 1955 has raised grave concern among democratic circles in Assam and in other parts of the country. The proposed amendment reads that “persons belonging to minority communities, namely, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, who have been exempted by the Central Government by or under clause (c) of sub-section (2) of section 3 of the Passport (Entry into India) Act, 1920 or from the application of the provisions of the Foreigners Act, 1946  [. . .]


September 25, 2016

India: Kaushik Dasgupta on Communal politics around the biryani

The Indian Express

A Moveable Feast

Communal politics around the biryani has scant respect for its fabled history or diversity. Is it the Persian pilao, improvised and transformed? Is it the result of avant garde experiments in royal kitchens? Or is it a plebeian dish, shaped, like India, by trade and cultural interaction?

Written by Kaushik Dasgupta | Published:September 25, 2016 1:01 am
Food historian Lizie Collingham believes that “biringe” mentioned by Manrique is what is today known as biryani. Food historian Lizie Collingham believes that “biringe” mentioned by Manrique is what is today known as biryani. “This city of tents contained market-places, filled with delicious and appetising eatables… Among these dishes the principal and most substantial were the rich and aromatic Mogol biringes and Persian pilaos of different hues… many tents held different dishes of rice, herbs and vegetables, among which the chief place was taken by the Gujerat or dry biringe,” the Portuguese Catholic priest Sebastian Manrique wrote around 1640. The friar’s memoirs of his travels in India are replete with the usual tribulations of the Europeans in India. But the account, abounding with lament about the difficulty of terrain and the venality of Mughal officials, acquires an ineffable zest whenever there is a reference to food. The Catholic priest was fascinated with the variety of breads and rice dishes eaten by the Mughal royalty. Food historian Lizie Collingham believes that “biringe” mentioned by Manrique is what is today known as biryani.
The Portuguese priest visited India during the reign of the fifth Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan. According to one legend, biryani was first cooked during his reign. It is said that during a surprise visit to the barracks, the emperor’s wife, Mumtaz Mahal, found the troops to be malnourished. She asked the royal cooks to devise a nutrient-rich dish, and, thus, was born the biryani.
This is one of the many theories of biryani’s origins. Another theory has it that the Persian pilao was improvised, and ultimately transformed, into what is today known as biryani in the kitchens of the Mughals. The word biryani, according to this account, derives from the Persian word biryan, or frying.
Around 200 years before Manrique visited India, Shah Jahan’s great grandfather Humayun lost his throne to the Afghan chief Sher Shah. The fugitive prince found refuge in Persia, where the ruler, Shah Tahmasp, was a generous host.
Humayun’s stay in Persia was to inaugurate a history of cultural interaction whose footprints are evident to this day. The Persians loved rice dishes and the cooks in Humayun’s retinue regaled the Shah with a dish of rice and peas. Writes Collingham, “the piece de resistance of Persian cuisine was pilao”. Rice was imported from India, and “the Persians would soak it in salted water to ensure that it was gleaming white, when cooked”. “Their cooks developed numerous variations: Fruit pilaos, turmeric and saffron ones, chicken pilaos for special occasions,” writes Collingham.
What was once a dish that shepherds devised by combining barley or broken wheat with meat cooked on campfire became exotica of sorts when the Persians started importing rice from India. The pilao, then, travelled to different parts of the Islamic world: it Turkey, it became the pilav, in Spain, it became the saffron-flavoured seafood-and-rice dish, paella, and in India, it became the pulao. Here, it acquired another twist.
“The delicately flavoured Persian pilau met the pungent and spicy rice dishes of Hindustan to create the classic Mughlai dish, biryani. One of the most distinctive Persian culinary techniques was to marinate meat in curds (yogurt). For biryani, onions, garlic, almonds, and spices were added to the curds, to make a thick paste that coated the meat. Once it had marinated, the meat was briefly fried, before being transferred to a pot. Then, following the cooking technique for pilau, partially cooked rice was heaped over the meat. Saffron soaked in milk was poured over the rice to give it colour and aroma, and the whole dish was covered tightly and cooked slowly, with hot coals on the lid and around the bottom of the pot, just as with pilau. The resultant biryani was a much spicier Indian version of the Persian pilau,” writes Collingham.
The pulao- biryani difference is one of the hottest debates of Indian culinary history. The food historian K T Achaya wrote that the recipes “in the Ain-i-Akbari show little distinction between pulao and biryani”. But in a few centuries, the difference was much sharper. Food historian Coleen Taylor Sen quotes the 19th century playwright and historian of Lucknow, Abdul Halim Sharar: “To the uninitiated palate, both are the same but because of the amount of spices in biryani, there is always a strong taste of curried rice, whereas pulao can be prepared with such care that this can never happen”.
Sharar believes that during the 18th century, when the Mughal Empire was in its last gasp, the aristocracy in Delhi preferred biryani, while the Lucknow nawabs loved pulao. When the fourth Nawab of Lucknow, Asaf-ud-Daulah, built the city’s famous Bara Imambara as a famine relief measure, he ordered rice and meat to be slow cooked in large cauldrons for the construction workers. Legend has it that during one visit to the construction site, the Nawab was struck by the aroma of the meal and ordered his cooks to bring it to his kitchen. There, it was tweaked to create the Lucknow version, the pakki biryani — meat cooked with spices layered over cooked rice and then slow cooked in a sealed vessel.
A meaty role: The Kolkata biryani substitutes some of the meat with potatoes and eggs. A meaty role: The Kolkata biryani substitutes some of the meat with potatoes and eggs. When the British deposed the last Nawab of Lucknow, Wajid Ali Shah, in 1856 and exiled him to Calcutta, the banished ruler’s cooks accompanied their master. The kitchen, though, had none of the past opulence and poverty forced the royal cooks to cut down on the quantities of meat. They innovated with the potato instead and that is said to be the origin of the Calcutta biryani, where the tuber substitutes some of the meat. Another successor state of the Mughal empire, the Hyderabad Nizamat, developed its variant of the biryani. Taylor Sen quotes a French soldier stationed in the princely state as describing a rice dish, “boiled with quantities of butter, fowls and kids with all sorts of spicery”.
In his India Cookbook, food scholar Pushpesh Pant describes the Hyderabadi biryani recipe as raw meat tenderised with unripe papaya cooked in a pan along with the rice, the kachchi biryani. “The art of cooking biryani is in its perfect timing: the marinated meat must cook in the same time as the part-cooked rice when the two are sealed together in a pot. The grains of rice should remain unbroken and separate and should have absorbed the flavourful stock,” writes Pant. Sidiq Jaisi, a poet from Lucknow, who found employment at the Hyderabad Nizam’s court in the 1930s, is quoted by Taylor Sen as describing each strand of rice “in the biryani to be filled with ghee”.
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In culinary history, ascribing origins is a fraught enterprise. That holds true for the biryani as well. Despite biryani’s royal lineage, there is something very basic about the combination of rice and meat. Achaya talks about references to similar dishes in the Tamil literature of the early centuries of the Christian era. Oon soru, a rice dish made with meat, ghee, pepper, bay leaf and turmeric, for example, is said to have been the staple of warriors of the Chola kingdom around the second century AD. In fact, one theory holds that the pilao itself is an ancient dish that derives from the Greek word, pilafi.
The relative ubiquity of its ingredients also makes it plausible that biryani was not solely a royal innovation. One theory has it that while the pulao was a product of courtly culture, the biryani was the plebian fare. It would be safe to say that while the more exquisite varieties of the dish are products of kitchens that had the leisure to experiment with cuisine, biryani, perhaps, owed as much to the activities of merchants, traders and pilgrims.
The spice trade on the Malabar coast is one such example. The availability of rice varieties, the profusion of spices and the cultural spinoffs from trade combined to produce a rice-and-meat dish, somewhat different from the ones devised in the courts of the Mughal emperors and their successors in Awadh and Hyderabad. The Malabar biryani too relies on slow cooking, but it’s this, and not long hours of marinating, that gives the fall-of-the-bone quality to the meat. Compared to the delicately-spiced biryanis of the royal kitchens in the north, and in Hyderabad, the Malabar biryani has a robustness that could possibly owe to its association with a community that made its mark by trading in peppercorns and other spices. The biryani uses the short-grain rice and has varieties in which the meat is substituted by fish or prawns.
The Bohras on India’s west coast use tomatoes and potatoes. The dish, though, is far milder than the Malabar biryani. The Sindhi biryani is another variant of the rice-and-meat dish that uses potatoes.
The dish devised in the kitchens of the royals and the camps and caravans of soldiers, traders and pilgrims has recently become embroiled in India’s recent conflicts over religion, caste and national identity. Perhaps, that has something to do with biryani’s propensity to transcend barriers of class. Street vendors in Delhi sell a version of the dish, the Moradabadi biryani. It uses the kaccha variety of the basmati rice, whole spices and has none of the aroma and resplendence associated with the dish that has claims to royal pedigree. But for anything between Rs 60 and Rs 100 a plate, the Moradabadi biryani is a hearty meal, replete with proteins and carbohydrates.
Biryani’s arrival as a cultural-political trope was, perhaps, announced by the Congress leader, Mani Shankar Aiyar, in the late 1990s. Piqued by his DMK opponent’s constant arraigns about his caste, Aiyar decided to prove his anti-Brahmanical credentials by challenging his rival to a chicken biryani-eating contest. Aiyar won the elections — it’s debatable, though, if his appetite for biryani had any role in his victory.
But it’s only in the last decade or so that politics has threatened to overtake the gastronomical qualities of the dish. Last year, public prosecutor Ujwal Nikam admitted to cooking up a biryani fib to build up a case against the 26/11 accused Ajmal Kasab. The public prosecutor had remarked that Kasab had demanded mutton biryani in jail, but went on to retract his statement.
Tagging Muslims and biryani ignores the fact that non-Muslim communities have their versions of the dish. The biryani of the Syrian Christians in Kerala, for example: unlike the Malabar biryani, this dish uses long-grained rice and is closer to the pulao. The rice-and-meat dish cooked by the Kayastha community in north India too has affinities to the pulao. Food writer Anoothi Vishal notes that Yakhni pulao cooked in Kayastha homes demanded that, “each grain of rice had to be coated with enough flavour from the ghee in which it was roasted and then the stock in which it was boiled”.
Communal politics around the biryani has scant respect for such culinary nuances and diversity. It has become sharper in the last two months with the Haryana government targeting stalls selling the dish in Mewat in the run-up to Eid. Livestock is known to yield more meat compared to goat and is, thus, a comparatively inexpensive source of protein for poorer communities. In its mass avatar, the dish, once the culinary artifact of the royalty and the affluent, uses ingredients that are staples in the kitchens of the poor.
In Hyderabad, for example, the Kalyani buff biryani is far from the dish that originated in aristocratic kitchens. It does not use fine rice and is not suffused with spices. The beef-and-rice dish is said to be the creation of the erstwhile cooks of the Kalyani nawabs of Bidar, the underlings of the Hyderabad Nizams. After independence, when the fortunes of the Nawabs dwindled, some of the cooks moved out and started small food outlets. Gradually, the hole-in-the-wall joints that sold the Kalyani biryani began to be frequented by the city’s strugglers — the unemployed, auto-rickshaw drivers, students, rickshaw-pullers. Today, there are several such joints in the city, where the dish can be had for less than Rs 100. At the Cheemalapadu Dargah in Andhra Pradesh’s Krishna district, biryani is a dish for the indigent. Here, 80-year-old Attaullah Shariff Shataj Khadiri Baba has been feeding biryani to the poor for more than four decades.
Biryani today is as much about nondescript joints, pilgrim fare – even charity – as it is about gourmet cuisine. It’s a hearty meal rich in carbohydrates and protein. The politics over the dish has little appreciation for this aspect of culinary culture.

India: How the state nurtures the gau rakshaks of Haryana (Ishan Marvel's report in The Caravan)

In the Name of the Mother

How the state nurtures the gau rakshaks of Haryana

By ISHAN MARVEL | 1 September 2016