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Patna, Bihar, India
Born and brought up in Shillong, Meghalaya.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Journey of faith at Ajmer Shrine

By TCN News,

Ajmer: The Dargah (shrine) of 12th century Sufi saint Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti attract devotees in thousands every day.

The puritan form of Islam – the Salafis, as well as the Deobandis of South Asia - deride the Sufi cult following, and consider it as biddat (addition to religion), while for the followers Sufism, the ‘holy’ soul of the enlightened and beloved saints figuratively becomes a ladder to reach out to the Almighty.

Dargahs became the symbol on syncretic culture, as people of all faith throng the shrine and pray for salvations as well as to fulfil their wishes. TCN recently visited the Dargah of Khwaja Gharib Nawaz.

Delhi Gate.

Beggars on street leading to the Dargah.

The main entrance of the Shrine of Gharib Nawaz.

Langars (community feat) is prepared in large degs (cauldron) for the visiting devotees.

Darul Uloom Moinia Islamia.

Devotees doing ablutions before the prayer.

The main Dome housing the shrine of Gharib Nawaz.

The entrance through which Khwaja Gharib Nawaz used to enter, now symbolically considered as gateway to Paradise.

A Khadim explaining the significance of Dargah to visiting devotees.

Beghami Dalan (Queen’s courtyard named so as it was commissioned by Mughal Queen Noor Jahan)

Mazar of Bibi Sahiban (Wives of Hazrat Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti)

Dargah is one place where people of all faiths, old and young, men and women all visit together.

Khadims taking a break.

Masjid Auliya built by Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb.

[Photos: Mudassir Rizwan, Text: M Reyaz]


"Aate jaao, maangte jaao, dete jaao": Business of spiritualism at Ajmer Dargah

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

"Aate jaao, maangte jaao, dete jaao": Business of spiritualism at Ajmer Dargah

By M Reyaz, TwoCircles.net,

Ajmer: At the revered Jannati Darwaza (Gateway to Heaven) in the shrine of Hazrat Khwaja Moinuddin Chishty as the devotees throng to tie the sacred thread, a Khadim (Servant) is invoking the faithful to make wishes and offerings: “Aate jaao, maangte jaao, dete jaao.”

The pilgrimage to the holiest shrine of the most revered Sufi in South Asia, Khwaja Moinuddin Chishty is often reduced to a chaotic trip for most visitors, where in ‘coercive’ tone of sugar-coated politeness the cartel of Khadims seek money at every step.

What was supposed to be a voluntarily nazrana (offering) at the shrine has been reduced into almost ‘coerced’ ritual of the zyarat (pilgrimage), not at one place but on several occasions, apparently for maintenance of the shrine, and for the mass feast (langad), as well as the service of respective Duwagos (Khadims of the Mazar) for the “satisfactory - spiritual services” (Dua) rendered, as well as for the fulfilment of wishes, for the services offered as guide, and for charity made in general.

Jannati Darwaza

At the Mazar of Bibi Sahiban (Wives of Sufi Saint), as I lowered my gaze to see the tombs from the marbled ventilator, a Khadim puts his hand on my head and invokes me to make offering after pretending to hum the prayer and seek forgiveness. When I start taking out a ten rupees note, he ‘politely’ asks for at least hundred.

As you proceed the water carrier, Bhishti, with their traditional leather bags, would ask you for money for doing the service of providing ‘holy’ water for washing away sins and illness and cleansing the soul. Not really a believer in these sham rituals, I attempt to proceed, but as many of them encircle me, I give in, and hand out another note to them.

Mazar of Bibi Sahiban (Wives of Hazrat Khwaja Moinuddin Chishty)

The shrine of Gharib Nawaz is crowded on most days, and hence like a tour guide, it helps if you are with a Khadim as that would save you time from standing in queue. Besides, like a true Khadim of Dargah many of them help you through the spiritual journey and in all fairness these Khadims survive on these nazranas. However, what is of concern is that there appears to be no accoutnabilty of the huge sum collected at different places.

(Syed Suhail Chishty)

The puritan form of Islam – the Salafis, as well as the Deobandis of South Asia - deride the Sufi cult following, and consider it as biddath (addition to religion), while for the followers Sufism, the ‘holy’ soul of the enlightened and beloved saints figuratively becomes a ladder to reach out to the Almighty. At the Dargah of the revered Khwaja Gharib Nawaz the ‘ladder’ appears to be chaotic at best, or an intricate network crony tour guides, masquerading to be Khuddam (plural of Khadim), at worst.

A Khadim explaining to the devotees the importance of sacrifices.

During the medieval period, the so called ‘Dark Age’ in Europe, Churches had virtually started selling off Indulgence, a certificate of remission of temporal punishment, one of the ‘malpractices’ against which the likes of Martin Luther protested, beginning the new branch of ‘Protestant’ Churches, as well as leading the ‘counter-reformation’ in Catholicism. Back home, anyone who has visited the bigger temples or dhams, would better associated with the experiences one has in unarguably the biggest Dargah in the country.

Even at the Beghami Dalan (Queen’s courtyard named so as it was commissioned by Mughal Queen Noor Jahan), or at the exit door of the Dome that houses the most revered tomb, Khadims stand for collecting ‘offerings.’

Who is a Khadim?

Khadims claim to be descendants of Hazrat Khawaja Syed Fakhruddin Gurdezi, a cousin and follower of Khwaja Gharib Nawaz. Syed Sultan Hassan Chishty, one such Khadim, tells TCN that their families have been serving the house of Khwaja Gharib Nawaz for nine hundred years now. There is an estimate 5000 Khadims at the moment from around 2000 families.

(Syed Sultanul Hassan Chishty)

Though never directly mentioned, it is made out that without the Nazrana, the wishes would never be granted. A simple Google search of Ajmer Dargah or Khwaja Gharib Nawaz throws out websites of different houses of Khuddam, who exhort the faithful to donate money “anytime from anywhere in form of offering.” What is interesting that most of these websites have personal bank account details and not in the name of any organisation.

One such website, run by Haji Shah Syed Shah Nawaz Chishty offers to make lodging and other arrangements in the guest house made especially for the devotees. Most of the guest houses in the locality are run by family members of Khadims, or other committees.

What was more surprising that the Nazrana was openly being collected and even receipt given out at the Anjuman office. As this this Correspondent visited the Anjuman office, soon a horde of pilgrims was escorted to deposit the offerings for the community work.

The receipt notes the purpose of the offerings made in bold letters, “Nazar-O-Niyaz of Huzoor Khwaja Gharib Nawaz (R.A.).” Overleaf, also mentions the purported charitable works, done by one such Anjuman (there are two Anjumans of Khadims). Anjuman Moinia Fakhria Chishtia Khuddam Khwaja Sahib Syedsadgan, a registered body under the Societies Act, says that the offerings made are utilised for charitable works like providing stipend to widows, scholarships to students, medical help, and for celebrating several Islamic occasions. They even run schools and madrassas.

At the office of Anjuman, offerings are 'officially' made with receipts.

In April 2012, then Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari had visited the 13th century shrine and made an offering of one million dollars (over 5 crore rupees then) for the welfare of the Dargah. Similarly each time some leaders or celebrities come they donate big sum of money to the Anjuman.

The critics of Khadims, however, argue that most of these offerings go into their pockets. Although no one TCN spoke to wanted to be named, but some very respected people who closely watch the functioning of Dargah bodies alleged the benefactors of most of the schemes too are the family members of the Khadims.

The court yard of the shrine campus, particularly the eastern flank, appears to have been divided into smaller stalls or locations for each group of Khadmis, for them manage their clients – the devout Muslims, who visit the shrine to pay homage and to make wishes.

Like a tour guide they make arrangements for this spiritual journey, however, thy are not organised. Although Anjuman exists the services rendered by most individual Khadims appear to be unregulated.

Take the example of the Deg (big cauldron) donated by Mughal Emperor Jahagir; in the name of preparing Langad (community feast), each day devotees make offerings. Although no one was willing to talk on record, our sources say that the Deg is auctioned amongst the Khadims by the Anjuman for a fixed amount for a fixed tenure and the excess of money goes into their pockets.

Badi Degh

There have also been reported cases of misbehaviour, cheating, even allegations of rape on individual Khadims. But it would be unfair to brand all the Khadims. Surely there are many devout Khadims, who are serving the community and the Dargah. However, most fail on the question of accountability.

Role of Government and Dargah Committee: The government too is responsible for the mess in the Dargah. Ajmer Shrine is managed by a special Act of Parliament known as Dargah Khwaja Sahab, Act 1955, under which a 9-member Dargah Committee nominated by the Central Government, including a Nazim (CEO).

The 1955 Act clearly mentions that it is the responsibility of the Committee to collect endowments and to make its proper use, besides managing the Dargah and other properties. Khadims are supposed to be paid by the Committee, and they need to undergo certain basic training in Islamic teachings as per the law. There are several criteria, like they should not be less than 40 years of age, etc.

Some of the provisions have been challenged in different courts on many occasions by Khadims, but the court has so far upheld them. Some of cases are still pending in different courts, including the Apex Court.

There are 395 properties of Dargah Sharif including Shops (163), Houses (14), Godwons (07), Plots (98), Tehkhana (03), Rooms (49), Floors (04), Quarters (36) and Cabins (21). Out of this 72 are under litigations whereas 67 are lying vacant for future Developmental Activities. There are 21 pieces of agriculture land measuring 18.5 Hectares as well.

However, the Committee has failed to deliver so far for fear of attracting the wrath of the Khadims, who certainly outnumber them. The battle for the rights over Dargah properties, its endowments and associations are in fact three ways amongst the Dewan of Dargah, the direct descendants of Gharib Nawaz, Khadims and the government appointed Committee. The battle over rights between Sajjadanashin (The Custodian) and Khadims are quite old that have reached several courts.

Queue for langad

Meanwhile, both the Anjuman of Khadims and Committee pat their own backs for organising the Urs, Chadar, langad (community feast).

Willingly looking the other side?

What is more shocking that no one is willing to talk on the issue for the fear of “hurting the religious sentiments.” In 2012, when allegation of misuse of Dargah fund surfaced, then Minister of Minority Affairs Salman Khurshid had told a newspaper that he is concerned about "irregularities and mismanagement" of the shrine, but advised to trade cautiously. “You must understand that it's a religious place and that's why we are very cautious to take action on these complaints. In the past, some action taken by the ministry was construed as direct intervention into the affairs of the shrine which is revered by people," he then said.

When TCN contacted the current Dewan Syed Zainul Abedin Ali Khan, successor and Sajjadanashin (Custodian) of the Dargah of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishty, he refused to comment on the subject.

A reputed Delhi based author who has written several books on Sufism too refused to comment when contacted, saying, “Why do you want to present the Dargah in poor light by highlighting certain negative issues,” adding, “There are some black sheep everywhere.”

[Photos & video interview by Mudassir Rizwan, TwoCircles.net]

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

‘Chief Protester’ of Delhi!

By Mudassir Rizwan, TwoCircles.net,

New Delhi: In an unprecedented move, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and the Aam Aadmi Party are sitting on dharna from Monday outside Rail Bahavan in the capital, virtually becoming the ‘Chief Protester’ as well. Although Delhi CM earlier said that his dharna will last 10 days, he later clarified that it is indefinite till his demands are not met by the Central Government.
As the entire cabinet is sitting with him, most of the works are being affected, but the ministers were seen going through and signing important files from the dharna site as well.

Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal and other AAP leaders are on dharna demanding suspension of three Delhi Police SHOs. Meanwhile Home Ministry has refused to budge so far, saying a magisterial enquiry has also ready been ordered.

Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal wih PWD Minister Manish Sisodia.

AAP supporters thronged in thousands, although four metro stations were shut and section 144 was in place.

Over 3000 police personnel have been deployed.

RAF to has been called to thwart any untoward incident.

AAP leader Prof Anand Kumar at the dharna site.

Arvind Kejriwal and Manish Sisodia

Delhi CM was seen going through important files at the dharna site.

An elderly AAP supporter with Arvind Kejriwal.

An elderly AAP member resting at the dharna site.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

19 year old Javed overcomes poverty to study in IIT

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By Mudassir Rizwan, TwoCircles.net,

Patna: One of the most famous couplets of Allama Iqbal reads, “Khudi Ko Kar Buland Itna Ke Har Taqdeer Se Pehle//Khuda Bande Se Khud Puche, Bata Teri Raza Kya Hai (Develop the self so that before every decree//God will ascertain from you: ‘What is your wish?)”

19 year old Javed Akhtar is a fine example of a brilliant boy, who did not let poverty become a hurdle in his aspirations to become an engineer. In fact it appears as if the stars colluded to make each turn in Javed’s life smoother than before.

Javed Akhtar

Although finance still remains a major concern for Javed, who is due to start his second semester of B.Tech. at the Indian Institute of Technology – Kanpur, first the missionary school where he studied as a sponsored student, Rehmani 30 and other coaching institute proved critical in mission.

Javed’s father is a hawker, who sells boiled eggs and omelettes on a street in Patna. Javed has two more brothers and a sister. Elder brother had to leave his study midway and is now working as a receptionist at the missionary Kurji Holy Family Hospital in Patna. Younger brother and sister are studying in government schools in class XII and X, respectively.

As a bright young student, Javed studied at the Loyala High School Montfort Literacy Centre till class V. He says that at this point it had become so difficult for him to study that he was on the verge of leaving education to learn embroidery to support income.

With tearful eyes, Javed says that if it was not for the former Principal (Late) Brother Anthony of Loyala High School, who liked him a lot, he could have left studies long ago. Brother Anthony helped him get sponsorship to study at Loyala High School. Javed is also indebted to present Principal Brother TK James and English teacher Mr Jojo PK.

Javed Akhtar with his parents

While he was still in class VIII, he decided to do engineering. As he learnt about IITs, he aspired to study in one of those esteemed institutions. By the time he reached class X, he discovered about Super30 and Rahmani 30 free coaching for poor meritorious students.

With resolve to study at IIT, Javed appeared for the entrance test of Rehmani30 free coaching after class X and luckily cleared the test. “In two years at Rahmani 30, I got to learn quite a lot, particularly the fundamentals,” he tells TCN.

Young Javed says that he is really indebted to Maulana Wali Rahmani and DGP Abhayanad, who is the mentor of Rahmani30.

He, however, could not clear the IIT entrance examinations in his first attempt in 2012. Javed says that so many people had pinned hopes on him and he got worried that if he fails, all the expectations of the family would be ruined. Under extreme pressure, Javed lost his mental balance during the examinations and could not give his best.

Shattered, it took some time for him to recover. He, however, did not lose hopes and took coaching at Vision Classes, in which too he got scholarship due to his performance. Next year Javed cleared the IIT entrance examinations, and took admission at the prestigious IIT-Kanpur under OBC category.

Javed Akhtar with his father and eldest brother Jahangir

It was like Eid for the family when they got to know that Javed has cleared result. His father Khurshid Alam says, “I am a poor man and it is difficult for me to manage even the family regular chores. My son was good at studies and hence his teachers helped him a lot.” He is particularly grateful to Rahmani30 for providing his son free facilities.

Considering his economic conditions and his brilliant performance, Javed has now also got INSPIRE fellowship from second semester onwards, which will help him partially support the high tuition fees of the IIT. However, he is still in need of some financial support to help him complete four years at the IIT.

“I do not really know what will happen after four years, at the moment my main priority is to complete my BTech,” says Javed, for whom managing semester fees and other monthly expenses is not easy.