In The News



by HUMRA QURAISHI December 23 2023, 12:00 am Estimated Reading Time: 5 mins, 59 secs


In her final column of 2023, Humra Quraishi looks back at the year for events we should celebrate. She finds but only one thing that happened in an otherwise despairing war ridden world, that must be lauded. But alas…it’s also news that faded away too quickly.

So, the year is ending…ah yes, ending with violence and chaos all around. For the last decade or so, I haven’t had the courage to ‘celebrate’ the ushering in of the new year. The pain has only compounded this year. 

Only in the last ten weeks in Palestine (7th October 2023 onwards) 20,000 human beings have been massacred and more left homeless, without food, water and the basics for survival. A genocide in underway, and for the 1.4 billion Indian population, it has been systematically eclipsed by the glitz of Bollywood, celebrity weddings, euphoria over the Cricket World Cup, Asian Games and the media circus surrounding the G20 (the truth obscured behind green curtains!). I suppose all other nations of the world, now almost fully dictated by glittering corporations, also had similar events like ours, to hide the killings of innocent people in Gaza. What’s happening in Palestine is called ethnic cleansing. And, as brutalities peak, protests obviously remain unheard and unseen because the theatrics of politics, business and a screaming media, serving them, fades them out.

All calls for ceasefire,  truce,  discussions, agreements and  negotiations,  as the Israeli forces continue to bombard, are rendered redundant.

Here, in our country, too, democracy is destroyed every single day in one way or another. The  latest being the suspension of a hundred and forty six Members of Parliament (MPs). What for? For raising questions, which is their job as opposition in a democracy! A total of 97 Lok Sabha MPs and 46 Rajya Sabha MPs have been suspended from the winter session. And in this scenario, with 146 MPs suspended, the Lok Sabha has passed three criminal bills amended by the government -  The Bharatiya Nyaya (Second) Sanhita 2023, the Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha (Second) Sanhita 2023, and the Bharatiya Sakshya (Second) Bill 2023.

These new criminal code bills were passed by the Lok Sabha on Wednesday. And, the Union home minister, Amit Shah, moved them for consideration and passage in Rajya Sabha on Thursday the 21st December 2023. No discussion. No debate. No opposition. No questions asked.

The opposition is furious. The MPs stood suspended because they demanded that the Union Home Minister give a statement on the security breach in the new parliament building, which was in session. It happened last week when miscreants bypassed the intense security on the anniversary of the Parliament Attack on 13th December 2001, and jumped from the visitors’ gallery into the well of the house - they released smoke bombs hidden in their shoes, caused pandemonium and terrorised everyone.

This suspension is bizarre because the BJP MP on whose recommendation the intruders could come right inside the parliament building hasn’t till date been suspended or even for that matter seen to be questioned! The visitor pass was issued in the name of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MP from Mysore, Pratap Simha. If he wasn’t from the BJP, would he have been spared from interrogations, slurs? What if he belonged to a disadvantaged community? What if he was from one of the political parties in the opposition?

Governance in India only got worse – it has become blatantly communal. After orders in the two states of Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh against sale and consumption of non-vegetarian food items from roadside vendors, a deliberate communal twist given to halal meat, now comes news from Uttar Pradesh’s capital city Lucknow about violent assaults on Kashmiri dry fruit sellers - their wares were thrown about and destroyed. Their fault was that they travelled miles, from the Kashmir Valley to Lucknow, to sell dry fruits.

It’s a known fact that Kashmiris travelling from the Valley to various parts of India find it difficult to survive. In my recently published book ‘The Diary of Gull Mohammad: A Kashmiri Muslim boy’s journey from Kashmir to Kerala’ (OUP), I throw light on the tough times Gull Mohammad, a 14 year old, goes through when he confronts the harsh realities about his identity in the India of today.

Nothing positive has emerged in the last twelve months of this year for me, except for one report about the trapped miners, in Uttarakhand’s Silkyara tunnel, who were saved by the deft and stellar work done by the rat hole miners. Make note that the miners were not saved by the high tech strategies of so-called equipment sold by corporate marketers, but by a team of earnest and sincere rescuers!

These rescuers, including Waqeel Hasan, Munna Qureshi, Naseem Malik, Monu Kumar, Saurabh, Jatin Kumar, Ankur, Nasir Khan, Devendra, Firoz Qureshi, Rashid Ansari, and Irshad Ansari, worked tirelessly in four shifts of six hours each. They dug approximately 12 meters in just 26-27 hours, a task that would typically take 10-15 days under normal circumstances. That they should be declared national heroes is not even in discussion. And, the news, about the rescue operation they executed, faded away in a couple of days because our giant media has so much else to do to impress their advertisers who serve their masters who dictate to democratically elected governments and so on.

Shouldn’t the rat miners be honored? Shouldn’t researchers’ and writers’ focus be on their lives, how risk-taking their work is? But the event surrounding their felicitations won’t get the TRPs or the corporate funding for the media. Therefore, unsung, they must continue to live!

I will end this week’s column with a verse of the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish. Titled Passport, it is translated from Arabic to English by A. Z. Foreman: 

They did not recognize me in the shadows/That suck my colour out of the passport./To them, the wound in me was an exhibit/For tourists collecting photographs for sport./They did not recognize me. No. . . don't leave/My hand's palm with no sun, for trees in bloom/Do recognize me. Every song/Of the rain recognizes me./Don't leave me pale like the moon!
All the birds that followed my palm/To the doors of the distant airport/All the wheat fields/All the prisons/All the white tombs/All the borders/All the waved handkerchiefs/All the eyes/Were with me,/But taken from my passport.
Stripped of my name and what I am?/On soil I worked with my own hands?/Today Job's cry/Filled all the sky:/Don't make another example of me!/Good prophets, my good sirs/Ask not the name of any tree./Ask not the valley about its mother/From my brow bursts the sword of light/And from my hand springs the river's water.../The people's hearts are my identity./Go, take my passport away from me.

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