Saturday, December 17, 2011

We need to help Muslims who are self-employed - By Jyoti Punwani - Sunday Edition - Mumbai Mirror

Today: Sun, Dec 18, 2011
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We need to help Muslims who are self-employed

Kashif Ul Huda, who has started a website for his community, says there is a range of voices that goes unheard

By Jyoti Punwani

Posted On Sunday, December 18, 2011 at 03:13:21 AM

Muzaffarpur-born and Jamshedpur-educated Kashif-ul-Huda is the man behind, the website for all things Muslim.

A bio-chemist by training, the 38-year-old, who’s lived in the US since 1995, is in Mumbai to host a meet of the Muslim elite on how they can help empower the community economically. He tell us why Muslims need to stand on their own feet, be it in the media or in business.

Why did you start TwoCircles.Net?

I had seen the Jamshedpur riots of 1979, and was here during the Babri Masjid period. Then Gujarat 2002 happened. I felt helpless in the US. I joined online discussions but realised that Muslims have no hard facts to go by. So I started gathering data in 2005 and set up

Around then, the Gudiya and Imrana episodes happened. (Gudiya re-married after her soldier-husband was reported dead; when he came back four years later, the panchayat asked a pregnant Gudiya to return to him.

Imrana was raped by her father-in-law, after which Deoband issued a fatwa declaring her marriage null and void.) The media was making a spectacle of Muslims, and no sane Muslim voice was being heard. That’s when I started thinking about how important it was to have a daily news cycle for Muslims, taking advantage of the new medium of the Internet.

Obviously you found the English mainstream media lacking.

The full range of Muslim voices doesn’t reach the English mainstream media. Those that do, get filtered. The mainstream media has its constraints, it caters to a much wider audience. So there’s always need for community-driven media.

Also, with a few exceptions, the English media doesn’t completely understand Muslim issues. I was asking a Hindi newspaper editor in UP about how they cover Muslim issues, and he said they are cautious, these are sensitive issues. Thanks to us, mainstream media can learn how to cover Muslims without offending sensibilities.

Your reports reflect Muslim voices. But what about getting the other side of the story? And how do you cross-check what’s told to you?

We have developed a large list of contacts. For example, we got news from Gopalganj in Bihar that hundreds had died in anti-Muslim violence. We rang up our contacts and didn’t get any corroboration. So we didn’t do that story.

When our reporter covered the Moradabad violence in July, he was shown the damage done to Hindu homes too, and he reported that. We also carry all viewpoints, be it Zakir Naik, or the Central Madarsa Board’s opposition to the Right to Education Act.

The mainstream media always portrays Muslims negatively. We try to bring in the positive angle too. If we talked only about discrimination, the young will lose hope.  For example, we decided to hold this conference on empowering Muslims.

Many in the community felt we should be focusing on the way the State is hounding Muslims as terrorists. But we feel with the new economy, we need to find ways to help Muslim entrepreneurs. Many Muslims are self-employed. With no access to credit, how can they develop?

What about government programmes directed specifically towards Muslims?

They don’t reach Muslims. I’ve been touring UP, and people just haven’t heard of these schemes. The State doesn’t take the community into confidence before implementing any welfare scheme.

They provide anganwadis where toilets are a primary need. I did an article in the EPW: ‘How not to do minority welfare’, and sent it to minority affairs minister Salman Khurshid. He replied that he had read it - that’s all.

Not just Muslims, Indians largely survive without government support.

The aim of this conference is to try set up an organisation which can provide financial and intellectual support to self-employed Muslim. It’s a daily struggle for most of them.

The second aim is to bring Muslim elite back to the community. They feel disconnected from the larger community.

What was your most remarkable finding in your travels through Kerala, Gujarat and UP?

In Kerala, Islam came at the time of the Prophet, through trade. In Gujarat too, that’s how Islam entered. In both places, there’s an interesting mix of local and Islamic traditions, which is unique.

Islam is very much rooted in the Indian tradition. But because of the continuous onslaught of propaganda, Muslims have also started believing that they came here with Babar and they are ‘Babar ki aulad’.

There is no contradiction between being Indian and Muslim - that’s why the name Two Circles. As Muslims and as Indians, we have a stake in what’s going on in the country.

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