A preview of Osman Haneef’s debut novel, Blasphemy – The Trial of Danesh Masih, where a Christian boy in Pakistan is accused of blasphemy―a crime punishable by death. (Published by Readomania, April 2020)

The Visitor

‘So, why is Islam the best religion?’ Sir Amjad, the substitute teacher, asked. The seven- and eight-year olds relaxed. They knew the answer because Mrs. Bukhari had taught them the answer. Mureed, a young boy who was keen to impress, raised his hand and was promptly called on.

Mureed stood up and gave the rote-learned answer that had been drilled into each of them. ‘It is because the Prophet was illiterate and uneducated yet the recitations of the Koran are more poetic and more beautiful than even Shakespeare! How could the Prophet, an uneducated man, come up with such beautiful poetry all by himself?’ the eight-year-old asked, clenching his sweaty palms. Once Mureed had finished his explanation, Sir Amjad, with a calm unchanging expression, motioned for the boy to sit down.

 

By Rajat Chaudhuri 

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“Anything conceivable I believe is possible.”

Black to the Future, Walter Mosley (Dark Matter)

A sorcerer-librarian in ancient Korea who transforms people into books locking them up in his shelves for ever, a far-future civilisation on the planet Ruo, remembering their ancestors in the drowned world of BlueGemm — finished off by greed and climate change, a time travelling ghost in Hong Kong disconcerted by the rules of afterlife.

These are just a few of the characters and situations that we present before you dear reader in this book of amazing tales — stories from Asia, a continent blessed with mindboggling creativity and chutzpah, zen and brio, or what they sometimes call the Asiatic imagination, which is born of course out of its chequered fabric, the diversity of its peoples, the textures of our histories. Asia, a multitudinous hundred-headed medley of contemplativeness and chaos, a mélange of landforms, a kedgeree of ideas, a crucible of cultures, and you get it all here in this book, served fresh, sizzling, wok-fried and ready to tease your taste buds.

Muslim Localities in Delhi

Re-Imagining Political Contestation and Death (pp 116-120)

Political assembly and protest are also performances of citizenship status and claims. While enactment of violence by protesting publics with non-Muslim identity markers are considered routine and normalised, an assembly of protesting Muslims is potentially just another site of their fatal targeting. Another important example that effectively illustrates the preceding analysis is the case of the ‘Sealing Drive’ in Delhi in 2006.

The importance of this instance in the recent history of Delhi unveils complex dynamics of the political economy of built environments, the material logic of segregation, contestations, and negotiations of elite circuits with the unorganized sector in claiming their vision of the city, and biopolitics of the state.

The case exemplifies a tussle between big capital and elite networks represented by RWAs on the one hand, and traders and small manufacturers on the other. Elite RWAs insisted in getting this case filed at the High Court of Delhi that their sense of security, peace of mind, tranquillity, and aesthetic sensibilities were being off ended by business establishments within residential areas (Ghertner 2011; Bhuwania 2016). An appeal for preventing mixed land use was in line with the vision of the Delhi Master Plan, and on the agenda of previous Delhi state governments headed by the BJP and the Congress. The judge presiding over the case, Justice Sabharwal showing keen interest in the case passed a verdict which effectively read as a mass eviction notice to lakhs of establishments which were ‘illegal’ (Mehra 2012).

Allegations of misconduct on the part of Justice Sabharwal came to light later, illuminating the nexus between big capital and the judiciary (Roy 2007, Mid-day 2006). Justice Sabharwal’s son owned a real estate firm that gained substantially from an instance of demolitions as a result of the implementation of the court order by civic bodies.

The traders in Delhi have mainly been Punjabi Hindu–Sikh but many small traders and small manufacturers belong to various diverse social backgrounds too. Diya Mehra (2012) points out that the movement run by the traders’ association employed Partition rhetoric profusely. While on the other hand, they used the daily wage workers associated with their businesses to pitch up the protest against a judicial order which was anti-poor, anti-worker, and anti-unorganized sector.

During protracted protests, in which the traders associations were reluctant to go to the Supreme Court because it could have also given a judgement adversarial to their interest, the traders’ associations continuously negotiated with the state and Central Governments, the municipal corporation, as well as the Delhi Development Authority (DDA). Violence and rioting was also used strategically as a final device of pressurizing the state and elite networks. There were many incidents of rioting and damage to public property such as state transport buses. Eventually the government informed the court of its inability to implement the order as it would give rise to a law and order situation.

Ovais Sultan Khan, a participant of this study gave me an account of the occurrences that led to the shooting. This foretold law and order problem took place when the police opened fire at a protesting crowd in Seelampur on September 20, 2006.

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Chapter Three

The Nepalese and the Holy City

‘Banaras is not only a city, but a culture in itself — those who can sense and be part of it can experience its revealing consciousness,’ said Kamal Gupt, a local scholar. Brahma, the Creator of the Universe in Hindu mythology, is said to have remarked, ‘You balance all the heavenly deities on one side and Kasi on the other, and the gods will be lighter.’ The celebrated poet-seer Vyasa established his hermitage here. Tulsidas wrote his Ramacharitamanas here. Gautama Buddha gave his first sermon at Sarnath nearby. Kabir, Ravidas, Ramanand, Munshi Premchand, Girija Devi, Sitara Devi, Bismillah Khan, Pandit Ravi Shankar, Hariprasad Chaurasia, Laxmi Prasad Devkota and a host of other great philosophers, and men and women of the arts and letters found inspiration in this holy city.

The connection of Nepal with Kasi is as old as history itself. Some of the rarest texts of the Skanda Purana preserved in Nepalese palm-leaf manuscripts, dated AD 810, are available in Kathmandu. It is ordained by the scriptures that the practice of yoga and even merely spending one’s last days in Kasi, will lead to moksha. Even before the history of these cities were recorded with exactitude, and until the mid-twentieth century it was the ardent desire of most Nepalese to visit Kasi at least once in a lifetime or better still, to ‘attain deliverance from the body’ in Kasi.

Kasi has always been the centre for Nepalese pilgrims and priests, but it also sheltered those exiled from the country. ‘Some days after Jung Bahadur took control of governance, he asked King Rajendra to choose a destination for him and the queen to settle down, outside of Nepal. The king replied, ‘there are many places of worship and for meditation in Kasi. The holy River Ganga flows and the God of Gods, Lord Vishwanath is there. Many Nepalese people have lived in Varanasi for generations. That is where I wish to go’. This is how in 1846, King Rajendra and Queen Rajya Laxmi came to live in Varanasi with their large retinue. My great-grandfather, the Raj Purohit and his son, my grandfather were part of that retinue’. Krishna Prasad Bhattarai, fondly remembered as Kishunjee, was born at an outhouse of the palace the royals built. He followed the footsteps of the family helping his father in the performance of religious rites in Banaras and Ramnagar, a town located in north Bihar across the Chitwan district at the palace of Mahendra Bikram Shah, alias Ram Raja. But once his elder brother, Gopal and he joined the Banaras Hindu University (BHU) in the 1940s, they were absorbed by the revolutionary spirit that engulfed India and joined the movement against British rule in India and the Rana oligarchy in Nepal.

thumbnail_Nobody Killed Her PosterNEW YORK, 1982

The first time we met, you were wearing borrowed clothes. You sat there in your too big platforms, bell sleeves and a neckline that plunged sharply to the right. Your yellow jumper hung loose over your thin frame. Your head was defiantly uncovered, your frizzy hair as rebellious as your nature, your heart-shaped mouth stubbornly set. Later you told me that your friend Yasmin had lent you the clothes because your mother stopped your monthly allowance. She thought it would make you give up politics.

Your mother didn’t know you well.

Looking deceptively sunny in that blinding yellow, you smoked as Yasmin stood behind you, searching through a high bookshelf. I had never seen a girl of your stature smoke. Or sit publicly without a veil.

‘Ashtray,’ you ordered and Yasmin came running up with one. To avoid staring, I looked up at the highest shelf, my neck craning as I tilted my head all the way up, then bending as I looked down to the last. I wondered if you had read all those books.

Perhaps it was my head bobbing up and down like a duck  in water that caught your attention. Sit, you gestured, and I nervously looked around for a chair to park myself on. I noticed your forehead crease in a frown as you crossed your legs like men do. You leaned back, stretching your hand over your knee and it was then I knew. With downcast eyes, I settled on the floor.

‘What’s your name?’ you asked at the exact moment I opened my mouth to say, ‘I want to be in politics.’

You pretended you hadn’t heard and I knew from then on not to speak unless spoken to. Nobody can say I wasn’t a good learner.

That much, at least, is true.

Yasmin brought tea and as she handed around the cups, you asked me again what my name was.

‘Nazneen Khan,’ I said. ‘But everyone calls me Nazo.’

You smiled and I said, ‘Madam, I am working in Aijaz Sahib’s dry cleaners. You know Aijaz Sahib from Jackson Heights? He sent me to you. He said you help people fleeing the General’s regime. My whole family was murdered in the coup. My father was a doorman at the Parliament. He resisted when they tried to break in. Later the General’s men came to our house and killed everyone. I hid under the bed … survived somehow…’ I could not carry on talking.

You didn’t offer me any condolence. Instead you said, ‘Can you type?’

And that was how it all began.

Bailiff: All rise!

Clerk: Judge Muzzamdar will be presiding over this case. Bailiff: The court is now in session. Please be  seated.

Judge: Good Morning. Calling the case of Mr Omar Bin Omar versus Miss Nazneen Khan on the assassination of former Prime Minister Rani Shah. Are both sides ready?

Prosecutor: Ready for the prosecution, Your Honour. Defending Counsel: Ready for the defence, Your Honour.

Clerk: Your Honour, the plaintiff Mr Omar accuses the defendant of premeditated murder and of espionage against the state. The defendant is represented by the able and veteran lawyer Mr Hamidi while the plaintiff, being a known human rights lawyer, has decided to prosecute the case himself. Given his knowledge of law, and his closeness to the murdered politician, the court requests that his lack of criminal practice be overlooked and Mr Omar be allowed to prosecute.

Judge: Permission granted. Prosecutor Mr Omar and Counsel Mr Hamidi, please present your opening  statements.

Prosecutor: Your Honour, Miss Nazneen Khan, commonly known as Nazo,  has  been  accused  of  conspiring to assassinate the country’s first female Prime Minister, Madam Rani Shah. Although the body was charred in the explosion, new evidence has revealed that her death was not due to the suicide bombing as was previously believed, but by a bullet shot at close range. Almost as if by someone seated right next to her…

Counsel: Objection! Judge: Sustained.

Prosecutor: Very well. Let me start by asking a very simple and straightforward question. Miss Khan must answer why it is that she, who sat right next to Madam Shah at the time of the assassination, managed to escape unscathed, while Madam Shah lost her life. Now, Miss Khan, tell the court who sat where…