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Bismillah Khan, the shehnai maestro whom Bihar forgot

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Dumraon (Bihar): Bharat Ratna shehnai maestro Bismillah Khan’s birth place in this Bihar town is crumbling despite politicians making promises over the years. In this election, it is barely a talking point for candidates.

Politicians have repeatedly made promises to develop Bismillah Khan’s birthplace. But, over nine years after his death, local residents are disappointed with state and the central government’s failure to take concrete steps.

Murli Manohar Srivastava, who has written a book on Bismillah Khan, said it was an irony that promises made to develop the maestro’s birth place remained unfulfilled and were not an issue in the polls.

Bihar is in the midst of staggered five-phased elections. The votes will be counted on November 8.

Bismillah Khan was born Qamruddin at Bhirung Raut Ki Gali in Dumraon, about 15 km from Buxar town. According to locals, Bismillah Khan’s ancestors were court musicians and used to play in Naqqar khana in the princely state of Dumraon. His father was a shehnai player in the court of Maharaja Keshav Prasad Singh of Dumraon.

When he was barely six or seven, Bismillah moved to his maternal grandfather’s home in Varanasi. His uncle, Ali Baksh ‘Vilayatu’, a shehnai player attached to Varanasi’s Kashi Vishwanath Temple, was his guru.

Two Bihar chief ministers and a host of politicians have promised to develop Bismillah Khan’s birthplace in the Dumraon assembly constituency in Buxur district, about 130 km from Patna, but beyond tokenism, there has been nothing concrete on the ground.

Polls campaigning is hotting up in Dumraon, but development of Bismillah Khan’s birthplace is not an election issue for politicians.

“Neither the grand alliance of JD-U, RJD and Congress nor the BJP-led NDA are keen to talk about it…,” said Shailendra Kumar, a local resident.

Lalu Prasad, when he was chief minister, had in 1994 laid the foundation stone of a town hall-cum-library in Bismillah Khan’s memory. In 2006 Chief Minister Nitish Kumar announced construction of a museum and installation of a life-size statue after the shehnai masetro’s death in August of that year.

“But nothing has happened so far. It is a pity for all of us,” rued another local resident Sultan Alam.

Even the marble foundation stone that Lalu Prasad laid has been gathering dust at the Dumraon police station for several years.

“As construction was not started due to one reason or the other, the marble plaque was brought here as it could have been stolen or damaged by anti-social elements,” a district police officer said.

BJP legislator and former culture minister Sukhda Pandey, who was denied ticket to contest assembly polls this time, has also left the local residents disappointed.

Alam said: “She had promised to develop Bismillah Khan’s birthplace but forgot about it.”

Lal Muni Choubey of the BJP, who represented Buxar four times before being defeated in 2009 by Jagdanand Singh of the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), reluctantly admitted he had done nothing to develop the memorial.

“I have told you earlier and again (I reiterate) that I am sad that Bismillah Khan was not given respect in his home town,” said Choubey, who was denied a BJP ticket to contest the Lok Sabha polls in 2014.

Present BJP MP from Buxar Ashwani Kumar Choubey said that Bismillah Khan’s birth place will be developed as a tourist place if the BJP-led NDA comes to power in Bihar after state assembly polls.

Brahmin-dominated Buxar is witnessing a four-cornered contest among incumbent Jagdanand Singh, the BJP’s Ashwani Kumar Choubey, the Janata Dal-United’s Shyam Lal Kushwaha and the Bahujan Samaj Party’s Dadan Yadav.

Some Muslims living near the ancestral house of Bisimillah, where he was born, expressed their unhappiness over its neglect and the double standards of politicians.

“We cannot do anything except express anger and frustration time and again. If Bismillah Khan was born in any other place outside Bihar, it would have developed the house but here, there’s no one to care for it,” said Salim Ansari, who stays near Bismillah Khan’s birthplace.

Another resident, Rahul Mishra, said there is a road named after Bismillah Khan in Varanasi, where he died, but there is nothing in his name at his birthplace. “It is unbelievable but true. Politicians have no interest in developing anything in his memory,” he said.

Daud Ali, who represented Dumraon in the Bihar assembly but was denied the ticket to contest polls from Dumraon by the ruling JU-U, said he had tried his level best to develop it but didn’t succeed.

“We are demanding that land be allotted to build a memorial for Bismillah Khan but it is yet to happen due to the delay on the part of the officials concerned,” he said.

Dadan Yadav, who is contesting as a JD-U candidate from Dumaraon, said he will change the face of Bismillah’s birthplace.

“It is not my promise, it is my resolve. Whether I win or lose the polls,” said Yadav, a former minister.

(IANS)

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What Would Be The Outcome Of The Judgement On Homosexuality With BJP At The Centre?

If parties like the BJP and "cultural" organisations like the RSS realise the value and motivation of such mindsets, they will desist from their present attempts to impose a straitjacket of their pseudo-religious identity on the nation.

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More than the social impact of the Supreme Court’s judgment on homosexuality, what will be of concern to the ruling party at the Centre is its political fallout. Hence, the eloquent silence of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on the subject.

For the BJP and its ideological mentor, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), any expansion of the concept of civil liberties is fraught with danger to their restrictive worldviews since a widening of human rights carries the prospect of greater individualism.

If the rights of the homosexuals to live without legal constraints are conceded, it can only encourage the people to free themselves of other restrictions as well such as on choosing live-in partners (of whatever sex) and eating, dressing and speaking as they please.

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It is noteworthy that the verdict on gays has come close on the heels of the judgment which described the right to dissent as a “safety valve” which the government can only shut off at its peril lest there is an explosion.

Moreover, the court had also upheld not long ago the right to privacy which the government described as an “elitist” concept.

For the Hindu Right, as also for other religious fundamentalists, this dalliance with civil rights — the freedom to criticise the government, the exaltation of privacy and now the decriminalisation of homosexuality — entails a push towards liberalism and modernism which are anathema to any group which wants the society to be bound by shackles of orthodoxy and obscurantism.

It is ironic that although the Hindutva brotherhood speaks of decolonising the Indian mind, the two colonial laws which have long been its favourites are the section on homosexuality in the Indian Penal Code and on sedition.

Now that one of them is gone, there is little doubt that these closet followers of Britain’s 19th century politician Lord Macaulay — even as they decry the secular groups as “Macaulay’s children” — will hold on resolutely to the law on sedition as their only safeguard against the “anti-nationals” who, they believe, stalk the land.

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It is ironic that although the Hindutva brotherhood speaks of decolonising the Indian mind, the two colonial laws which have long been its favourites are the section on homosexuality in the Indian Penal Code and on sedition.
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It is also possible that the saffronites will keep a hawk’s eye on any social problems that may arise because of the assertion of gay rights. As the BJP MP Subramanian Swamy has said, with eager anticipation, if a five-judge bench can overturn an earlier judgment in favour of criminalising homosexuality, a larger bench can undo the present verdict if gay bars begin to flourish and there is a rise in the cases of HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) infections.

Interestingly, what these judgments underline is how the judiciary is more attuned to the changing world than the elected representatives of the hoi polloi who often argue in favour of giving greater primacy to the legislature than the judiciary since they claim to represent the people while the judges are unelected denizens of an ivory tower.

However, one possible reason why MPs and MLAs, especially of the BJP, seem to be out of sync with the present-day world is the presence in their midst of a large number of criminal elements who can hardly be regarded as the most progressive sections of society.

For instance, of the 543 elected members of the Lok Sabha, of whom 186 have a criminal record, 63 belong to the BJP, followed by eight of the Shiv Sena, four of the Trinamool Congress and three each of the Congress and the AIADMK.

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What the Supreme Court judgment appears to have done is to persuade parties like the Congress, which usually hedges its bets lest it should fall on the wrong side of public opinion, to come out in the verdict’s favour, presumably because it senses that this judgment, more than any other, has become a touchstone in the matter of breaking out from the stranglehold of the past.

To distance a party from it, as the BJP is doing, will amount to virtually alienating the entire youth community. Even if a majority among them do not have homosexual instincts — according to official figures, there are 2.5 million gay people in India, but this may be an underestimate since, till now, it was unsafe for them to reveal their sexual orientation — the youths nevertheless see the ruling as an assertion of living life on one’s own terms and not be held hostage by the dictates of a society steeped in conservatism and of political parties which believe that their agenda can only advanced if the country is made forcibly to conform to khap panchayat-style social and cultural norms.

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To these youths, being or not being aware of homosexuality is of little consequence. What matters to them is to be able to make up their own minds and not be told by elders to abide by certain rules which are regarded as outdated by the younger generation.

If parties like the BJP and “cultural” organisations like the RSS realise the value and motivation of such mindsets, they will desist from their present attempts to impose a straitjacket of their pseudo-religious identity on the nation. (IANS)