Conversations with Two Muslim Friends in Lucknow
By Akhilesh Dixit
The following contains a gist of my experiences and conversations with two friends. They represent regular folks busy in their daily struggles, within which they observe and act in their societies.
Appointed by the Hon’ble Supreme court as a member of Panel on Rehabilitation of Sex Workers and a filmmaker focusing more on the cultural heritage of Awadh, Tariq Khan inhabits an important place in the social and cultural space of Lucknow.
It was the end of 1992, the year infamous for the demolition of Babri Masjid in Ayodhya, which permanently changed the course of age old Hindu-Muslim harmonious history, and constituted a new phase of communalism. Tariq Bhai, as he is affectionately known to his friends, was a disturbed, sleepless person as even his close friends and associates from other religious background were continuously asking the questions he had never thought about. Since he was born and brought up in a family, where religious practices were observed but without any kind of prejudice for others, he was free from any kind of stereotypes and illogical thoughts against other religions. It was his inner strength and belief in the power of modern education which helped him during the crisis as he observed, “My own community is so confused about the concept of religion and the lack of education adds more miseries by not allowing them to think rationally.” This prompted him to start an NGO, which led to the opening of a school for all with a special emphasis on Muslim girls as he firmly believes that educated women are the most important assets in a society. Being the family’s linchpin, an educated woman not only helps in educating children but also creates a space for logical and rational thinking.
Alongside his advertising business, Tariq Khan is deeply concerned with various social causes and believes that a person should give back to the society wherever s/he is able to. His office, in Hazratganj, is frequently visited by friends and people from various fields such as art, music, theatre, literature, filmmaking, and photography. In these gatherings, socio-cultural, politico-economical and communal issues are regularly discussed, sometimes heatedly, but always with a sense of camaraderie.
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He is the President of the Council for Minority Development, a non-profit formed in 1994, to deal with communal hatred and disharmony created by the fascist forces. This organization regularly organizes seminars and workshops on different subjects and issues related to national integration. He also runs a school and computer centre for underprivileged children with a focus on minorities, and imparts free education to hundreds of students every year. Tariq has helped more than 1000 Muslim students to continue their education in different schools around Lucknow, who are not able to carry on or are forced to leave school due to financial problems. He also organizes counseling sessions for students and parents as well as emphasizes the importance of modern education. He is associated with another organization, Ittehad-e-Millat, which works to bridge the gap between different sects of Islam by bringing the clerics of different sects from all over India under one umbrella.
Member of various cultural, educational, and social groups like Panel on Rehabilitation of Sex Workers, Rumi Foundation (Lucknow Chapter), Parvaaz Foundation, and Kalidas Ghalib Foundation, Delhi, a person of many visions, a human being par excellence, Mohd. Tariq Khan firmly believes in and looks forward to an educated society full of love, harmony, logical thinking, and free from religious biases.
“Dekhiye agar maluviyon, panditon aur netaon ko kam se kam 10 baras ki qaid-e-bamashakkat de di jaye to apna mulq bahut tezi se taraqqi kar sakta hai” (Look, if Muslim clerics, Hindu priests, and politicians are given ten years of rigorous imprisonment, then our nation can develop extremely fast). This is Salim bhai’s solution for the development of India. Living in Shahganj, Nakkhas for many generations and running a vegetable shop, started by his father in 1970, at Billochpuraha chauraha near Nakkhas crossing, he observes: “Ilm se dimagh ki nasein khulti hain bhai aur ilm se badhkar koi daulat nahin hoti” (Knowledge opens the arteries and veins in the brain, there is nothing more valuable than the wealth of knowledge).
His shop is a meeting point for people from all communities. His older customers, who have moved away to even far off places, still make sure to visit him at least once a week. But he is not a happy man as he laments, “Bataiye is mazahabi tassub ki wajah se kitne log yahan se chale gaye aur kitne naye aa gaye, ab naye logon se wo silsile kaise ban sakte hain. Bastiyon aur rihaishon ka mila jula hona nihayat zaroori hai is se kattarpan nahin aata. Ek doosre ki baton ko unki rawayaton ko behtar tariqe se jana ja sakta hai, aur tabhi to ek samajhdari paida hogi. Thos aabadi mein to kattarpan aayega hi. Ye baat koi samajhta hi nhai” (So many people have left this area because of the sectarian strife between the Shia and Sunni communities, others have moved in, and it is so hard to cultivate relations with the new immigrants in this neighborhood. It is critical that we have mixed neighborhoods so that everyone learns to respect and understand the culture and practices of other groups. Homogenous neighborhoods breed orthodoxy and fundamentalism. Alas, no one understands this).
He further elaborates his point by saying that when people from as far as Alambagh come here to buy vegetables, it is his responsibility to honour their love for him. Salim has ensured that his daughter studies well. She is presently pursuing her Masters in Education. As for his two sons, who were more interested in doing business, he told them once, “Karobar bhi padh likh kar karoge to zyada izzat aur samajh se kar paoge” (Education is critical even if you want to do business respectfully and with wisdom).
Salim bhai has a clear stand about all kinds of religious and sectarian conflicts. He says, “Meri samajh mein nahin aata, are bhai apne khuda ko manao, doosre ke khudayon ya bhagwano ko bura kahne se kya haasil hota hai. Ibadat mohabbat ka hi to doosra naam hai magar nahin, bura bhala kahne se baaz nahin aata koi. Bahut jahalat hai bhai” (I just don’t get it why someone has to abuse the gods and revered persons from other faiths. Why don’t people just praise their own gods. Isn’t worship the same as love? But no one desists from provoking others. Its just ignorance everywhere). When Babri Masjid was demolished in 1992, his neighborhood was under police curfew, and he had distributed vegetables among people, especially those who were not able to go out to earn a living. Similarly, during other such clashes and curfews, he plays a very important role in restoring peace and normalcy. While sharply increasing costs of living are a challenge, he ensures that he himself helps others and by harnessing support from others.
Salim firmly believes that politics and the wrong interpretation of religion by maulvis and pundits is the main reason behind all kinds of communal hatred. Also, people disabled by illiteracy fall prey to such jugglery. People realize it after such incidents have occurred in a frenzy and then are left with nothing but repentance. He tries his best to make people understand the toxic mix of religion and politics and how one can stay away from it. After all, brotherhood, love, and harmony are the best friends of all human beings. He says, “Ab agar tanav ke mahaul mein kisi aise shakhs se koi gadbad ho jati hai jo hamesha se achchha hai to sab use bura kahne lagte hain. Sab ko milkar uski ghalati ka ahsas pyar se baat kar ke karwana chahiye jis se wo dobara aisa na kare aur doosron ko bhi roke” (When tensions persist, even a minor mistake by an otherwise good person makes him bad in the eyes of others. We should instead talk to that person with affection, so that he acknowledges his mistakes, doesn’t repeat them, and even stops others from making those mistakes).
Salim often narrates an incident in support of the tradition of communal harmony. Once in 1980, he was going to Malihabad and stopped near a small temple on the roadside for namaz. The pundit of the temple asked him to come inside the premise and perform the namaz. He also offered Salim jaggery and water before he continued on his journey. He sounds hopeful, “Babri masjid tootne ke baad jo mazahabi pagalpan logon pe sawar hua thaa wo ab dheere dheere kam ho raha hai kyonki log sazish samajhne lage hai aur iske peechee talim ka aham role hai” (The craziness that engulfed people’s mind after the Babri Mosque demolition, is now waning. People now understand the conspiracies behind it, and it is education that has brought about this change). Salim’s eyes nurture the dream of a secular India in the real sense of the term.
A strong supporter of education, Salim bhai keeps on asking vegetablesellers and other small shopkeepers to send their children to school rather than let them loiter at their shops. He believes that once educated, these kids will have the ability to question the misdeeds of our political and religious leaders who have turned the community into a mere vote bank. He sums up, “Ab main maulviyon ke ilm ki to izzat karta hoon magar unki nahi” (Now I don’t respect the clerics. I just respect knowledge).
Akhilesh Dixit is a cultural activist. He has taught dramatics, composes music for theatre, and performs in music programmes across India. He is a wandering cosmopolitan rooted in Lucknow.