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As an Indian citizen, progressive or liberal call what you may, I feel alarmed at the atmosphere of hatred that has caught the nation by its throat. As a woman, feminist undoubtedly, I am full of foreboding at what the women of this country will face if the Hindutva followers get another term in office. As a true-blooded Hyderabadi, I want to weep at the demonization of my fellow citizens, Muslims and Christians, that has become the dominant narrative in the society. I am deeply hurt that the people whom I have loved and emulated, the people who have laid the foundation for who I turned out to be, the people who have taught me love and compassion, truth and honesty, people who loved me, supported me, protected me at various times, especially when I was very young and impressionable, are being portrayed as enemies.

I emphasise my being a Hyderabadi because the culture of the Hyderabad State of Deccan is deeply ingrained in me, the culture of being a Hindu and deeply influenced by Islamic way of life. Islamic culture was part of our way of life, at home and outside. That hardly prevented my parents from being deeply religious and spiritual, with pooja, pilgrimage, pujari, prasadam being a regular feature in our home. The best example of our ‘Ganga-Jamni’culture was perhaps my father, who studied Urdu and Farsi  or Persian, since it was the language of the Asaf Jahi rulers, themselves Shias with ancestry linked to Iran. Another noteworthy aspect of the Islamic rule was that the Shia rulers were from a minority of Islam and Sunnis comprised a significant proportion in their kingdom.  My father could read and write Sanskrit, Hindi and English which he did regularly. He subscribed to two Urdu newspapers that were published in Hyderabad, Siasat and Milap. His social circle comprised of the Muslim elite and our circle of friends in school included a large number of Muslim girls. Though my mother tongue was Telugu, we communicated in the family, especially with my father and among siblings, in Dakkhani Urdu or Hyderabadi Urdu. It was the language of the government and medium of instruction in schools and universities and it was natural to speak the language, just as it is natural to speak in English in our homes, workplaces and schools and colleges. We spoke in Telugu only to my mother and female relatives.

One of the deepest influences in my childhood was a Muslim family that lived in the outhouse of our bungalow.  Interestingly, this was a bungalow that belonged to a rich family that immigrated to Pakistan after Independence and Partition of the country. My father rented it from the government of the day  and when he moved in from our home town of Nizamabad, he found that two Muslim families had occupied two outhouses at the two gates of the bungalow. They were extremely poor and had nowhere to go and when they found empty homes, they simply moved in. My father did not ask them to leave. They stayed on for the next 15 years or so we lived in that house. They were neither in our employ nor dependent on us for anything. They were just neighbours. One family was distant but the other one became part of our family and we remain in touch till today. This family, of Bibiamma, was desperately poor. They lived from day to day, on the meager earnings, of the father who had a micro-shop by the roadside to repair punctures and pumping air in cycle tyres. The cycle was the main mode of transport of the people then. Despite being located on a sparsely populated area, apparently Baba, as we addressed him, could make enough to feed his family of eight persons. Bibiamma would begin the process of cooking dinner only after Baba returned home in the evening after dark. With the money he gave her, she would send one of the kids to a provision store which was a km away, to buy stuff required for the day’s meal, including cooking oil. This family taught me taught me many things. Most importantly, Bibiamma taught me love. She was the mother of Bibi, her eldest of two daughters and hence, Bibi-Amma or Bibi’s mother. She had two daughters and four sons, of various ages. Each of them was a friend of similar-age sibling of mine. Our family comprised six siblings, supported by three-four live-in male and female servants. Our parents who lived in my home town were occasional visitors. My father had taken the house in Hyderabad for the express purpose of sending his children to English medium schools which in those days were available only in Hyderabad, the state capital. Bibiamma became our surrogate mother and her younger daughter Noor Jehan or Begu as she was lovingly called, a girl of my age, my playmate. Bibiamma was very protective of us girls and keep an eye on us after we returned from school. We addressed the boys as ‘brother’, that is Bhai-Jaan, Bhai-Miyan and Chunnu- Bhai. The youngest of the family was a toddler. In her spare time, Bibiamma would tell us fascinating tales of Allah and Shaitan, of Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) and his teachings. Begu and I would do Namaz together after going through the pre-Namaz ritual of cleansing. All of us, the girls and boys of the two families, would visit the local temple, a half-hour walk away, accompanied by one of the maids. All of us would apply tilak on our foreheads offered in the temple and of course gobble up the prasadam.  We would celebrate Holi and Ramzan, Dipavali and Bakrid with gusto. We would climb trees, especially mango trees in our orchard, explore the rocks in the neighbourhood, throw stones at ber fruit hanging from trees and then collect the fallen fruit and devour them. Our area was called Berbun or Ber Forest.  Whenever my father would visit us from Nizamabad, driving the 100-odd kms distance in his Buick, he would socialize with his Nawab friends and we would sometimes accompany our parents to their palatial houses.

Now and then, especially nowadays I wish my father was around so that I could get answers to some questions that arise in my mind. For instance, my father took the house that came with two Muslim families but he did not ask them to vacate. And he evidently had no fear for the safety of his children with two strange families. This trust in people is amazing considering the events that had preceded in Hyderabad State following Partition of the country. The Razakars, the Muslim extremists had let loose an orgy of violence against the Hindus. Following the annexation of Hyderabad by the Indian government following “Police Action’’, a misnomer for the invasion of the sovereign kingdom by the Indian Army, the Muslims were killed in large numbers in retaliation even as the Army looked on. In this atmosphere of violence and fear that would have continued in the early 1950s, my father not only accepted two Muslim families in his house but also left his children with no ‘protection’ other than a few servants. Can we imagine a similar situation not just in a family but even in a neighbourhood, as we have seen in the various communal conflagrations that engulfed our cities and towns time and again? An exodus of the victims is inevitable, with fear and suspicion of the ‘other’ being rampant, and insecurity a constant companion. Yet, we children were not only safe but were nurtured by one Muslim family, in the absence of our parents. This family laid the foundation of love in me, if not anybody else.

The Christians contributed equally to my growth as a good human being. My school was a Catholic institution which inculcated in me everything that is desirable in a person. It dinned into me the values of truth, honesty, doing good deeds, having empathy for the underprivileged, discipline, of doing service to and being helpful to others. I was so influenced by this last value that I nursed a dream of becoming a nurse to take care of the ailing and the weak. Besides, most importantly, my school laid a strong foundation of education in me that stood me in good stead, making my career, and indeed, my life. This is not to discount the role of the parents and family in the making of a person’s character but the contribution of different people in different times and phases of our life can neither be discounted nor diminished or indeed, unacknowledged.

Two aspects that continue to impress me about Christian missionaries is their commitment towards the weakest in the society and to the suffering. Although they do carry the stigma of converting the people whom they helped to Christianity, there is no doubt of their contribution in bettering the lives of millions of Indians. An example that is very close to my heart is of the efforts of a Scottish Methodist missionary, Isabel Kerr who worked in my home district in the early 1900s. She would go from village to village in Nizamabad district of the Hyderabad State of Deccan ruled by the Nizams, trying to alleviate the suffering of those afflicted by leprosy, disease that was quite widespread in the kingdom then.These people were often cast out of the village and lived miserable lives. With the generous help of a rich localphilanthropist, Raja Narsa Goud of Nizamabad (my paternal grandfather), who gave Rs 10,000 and 60 acres of land, she and her husband, a fellow missionary, started a treatment centre for leprosy-afflicted in Dichpally village in the district, the first ever institutionalized medical centre for leprosy in the then Hyderabad State. The Victoria Hospital, as the centre was renamed, was one of the very earliest hospitals in India that housed and treated leprosy patients. All thanks to the Christian missionaries.  The 105-year old hospital continues to function today as a general hospital considering that leprosy has been almost eradicated.

Today I bow to my Muslim family and my Christian school for making me who I have become. I can never be grateful enough to their role in my life. So when today I read of Muslims being lynched, Churches being attacked and the minorities being demonized as anti-nationals and asked to quit their country which has been as much mine as theirs, my heart bleeds in pain and anguish.  On the other hand, it gives me great determination to fight the narrow-minded and the extremist elements who profess to practice the religion into which I was born. They have no understanding of religion or of being human. They have no capacity to love. Hence, they hate. But they are an exception, I know. Ultimately, humanity and love will win, as they have. Always.

Dr Akhileshwari Ramagoud was Foreign Correspondent and Special Correspondent of Deccan Herald. She also taught Journalism and Mass Communication in Osmania University and Loyola Academy, Secunderabad. She has won several awards for professional excellence and has been recognized by the Government of Telangana for her contribution to the profession. She lives in Hyderabad. She is available at akhileshwari.ramagoud@gmail.com

2 Comments

  1. Pingback: Red News | Protestation

  2. Please start a campaign that says as a Hindu Indian, I condemn both caste divisions and the demonisation of other religious communities and any kind of violence and discrimination against women, Dalits, the residents of the North-East, tribals, Muslims, Christians and all minority groups by those who think themselves beyond the law, either because they belong to the majority community, have connections with those in power, or enjoy some traditional feudal immunity.