17 May, 2019


Although I grew up in a theologically trained Muslim environment, I had taken to Rationalism and given up practicing Islam soon after my high school. For long thereafter I used to spell my name as M H Jowher for I generally disapproved of flaunting religious affiliations in the public space. 

I used to live for the most part of my professional life in the so-called 'mainstream' society. I had, of course, witnessed some communalism of both Muslims and Hindus from childhood.

While in Gujarat in 2002, however, I learnt bitterly that sounding Muslim was sufficient to attract discrimination and punishment. That a number of vulnerable Muslims became Samirs, Rajus, Babus, to stay safe, pained me. The mayhem and the desire to assert my identity, and to belong to the oppressed, engulfed me.

So I discarded my stationary, expanded my name and became once again Mohammed Hasan Jowher. MHJ ever since signs as Hasan Jowher. 

A small urban bank's CEO, I had quit in my prime, to set up a management and IT consulting company. One of its divisions called SPRAT offered social services now and then, to help promote rationality. Irrationality, I always held was the bane of all our ills. 

As communal disturbances grew and the company's work expanded we sought and earned the PR of a western country. We were scheduled to leave for our Eldorado any time around when the genocide happened. 

And then everything changed for me. 

In the relief camps I met promising, ‘normal’ kids that yearned for security so as to fulfill their regular, innocent and constructive dreams. Their insecurity compelled me not only not to leave India but to plunge into work for justice and harmony. I wound up my material pursuits and plunged into social work full time. My decision contributed to my family's break-up and I became ‘single’ again. 

SPRAT was formally registered and has become my life since. Various divisions it launched were named in Urdu: TALEEM, MUSKAAN, AZMAT, MAJLIS, JAREEDA [which also patronizes our FB Groups like TAHZEEB, SAWAAL, ILAJ].... 

If Urdu means denial of funds, so be it. If being Muslim meant discrimination, I would rather belong and suffer than unbelong and betray my roots. Resistance. Assertion. Standing Up mattered more than security - and certainly a lot more than prosperity. Once during those days when the VHP goons attacked me, I narrowly escaped being murdered. 

I used to be fairly popular in Gujarat’s corporate management and IT circles, held several honorary positions, and was hailed a champion of secularism and nationalism. Ever particular to follow the law, and with friends in the right places – industrialists, editors, IAS/IPS officers - life was okay despite Gujarat’s pronounced anti-Muslim biases. 

I have long been a fierce critic of Muslim inertia, fundamentalism, anti-science attitude, supremacist Islamism etc. I never accepted the idea of Pakistan ideologically. And I used to genuinely adore Hindu flexibility and adaptability. 

But the rising Hindu intolerance and unabashedly anti-Muslim stance started shaking me. My Hindu ‘friends’, it appeared later, used to relish my 'Muslim bashing'. The moment I challenged Hindutva excesses, some suddenly found me communal, thus exposing their own hypocrisy. 

My conscientious work that now led me to expose Hindu communalists was just the same as had earlier led me to chastise Muslims. But this was sufficient for a number of my Hindu 'friends' to distance from me. I have no regret recalling that I chose to boycott all of those that did not stand by the oppressed people at the time their humanism and decency were tested. 

Gujarat let me down in 2002, 2007 and 2012. It chose to side with injustice and untruth. India chose to ignore Muslim pain in 1992 and in 2014 but I gave it the benefit of doubt. Today as the nation faces a serious challenge - and has an opportunity to right a long wrong - it is India - and not the Muslims - that are on test. 

Either truth, justice, love, harmony and scientific temper win, or hate, bigotry, prejudice and superstition do. 

However, so long as the #Muslims are denied justice and fair play I affirm that I shall stand with them - regardless of the consequences - even while I continue my quarrels with them on the dire need for introspection and reform. 

[I am a rather private person and usually avoid discussing personal life in public space such as this. The current angst, the political developments and the demand of some friends, have compelled me to open up for once. Apologies.]

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