Hello India!

I am India’s bad luck.
I am proud to be an Indian, but India is not proud of my Indianness

I am the judge, I am the leader, I am the bureaucrat and I am the public

I wish that my country should be corruption free, but I am least bothered about the malaise of corruption within me.

I am OK with encroaching government land, but I critisise the authorities for water logging.

I accept that corruption is the biggest curse of my country.

Though I am not a criminal in the real sense, I do steal electricity.

I am sad over the loot in my country but whenever I get an opportunity, I become a thief.

I steal in the dress of a leader, an official, and a bureaucrat…I steal in whatever form I can.

Actually I am proud to be an Indian because this is the India I inherited from my ancestors.

But I am creating an India which the coming generations will not be proud of.

I am the bad luck of India which has slowed down the pace of India’s progress…and India, today, is not where it should have been.

Actually I am a punishable culprit, but then I am the judge, I am the leader, I am the bureaucrat and I am the public.

That is why am sure of the fact that I am the culprit but I won’t be penalized.


Are women allowed in mosques?

There is no verse in the Holy Quran which prohibits the women from praying in mosques. Neither is there any authentic Hadith (anecdotes of Prophet Muhammad) on the same.
In fact, there are various Hadith which prove that Islam allows women to pray in mosques given there are separate facilities for women, so that both the groups can concentrate in prayers.
Sahi bukhari (hadith) , chapter 832 says “when your wife asks to go to the mosque, do not forbid them. Volume 1, Ch 80, Hadith 824 says that when the women ask to go to mosque at night, allow them.  Sahi muslim (chapter no. 177, hadith no.891) says, “do not take away the share of the mosque of the women.”
Prof. Hasnath Mansur, former member of Karnataka state Minorities Commission and says that superficial knowledge of Islam is responsible for women not getting their due status in the community. “It is the responsibility of educated class and the ulema to look into issues which are crucial for women to discharge their duties as Muslims”, says she.

Mumbai-based Maulana Mukhtar Ahmad Nadwi is a noted Ahl-i Hadith scholar. In a book titled Kya Musalman Khawatin Ka Masjid Mai Ana Fitna Hai? (Is the Entry of Muslim Women into Mosque a source of Strife?’), Nadwi quotes the Qur’an and the Hadith to press his case for allowing Muslim women to enter and pray in mosques.

He criticises those who insist that doing so would lead to strife (fitna).

Nadwi refers to the time of the Prophet, when women, too, would participate in congregational prayers in the mosque.

He quotes a hadith narrated by Ayesha, wife of the Prophet and contained in the books of Bukhari and Muslim (considered by most Sunnis to be authoritative compilations of Hadith), where he is reported to have said that women used to attend even the early morning (fajr) congregational prayers in the mosque along with the Prophet, although it was still dark outside.

If the ‘ulama who oppose women praying in the mosques are consistent in their argument, he writes, how is it that they allow women to participate in congregational prayers with men, although separately, at the two major mosques of Islam, the Masjid al-Haram in Makkah and the Masjid Nabavi in Madinah, where women have always been allowed to pray?

Those who forbid women from worshipping in the house of God, Nadwi concluded, will be held answerable in God’s court’.

So, the trend of men outnumbering women in mosques cannot be attributed to Islam.

The absence of women in mosques in our localities can be attributed to the fact that not many mosques have facilities for them. There are no provisions such as separate entry and places to perform ablution and offer prayers for women.

Mosques with these provisions (more than 500 mosques in kerala, many in Maharashtra handful in Delhi, Bhopal and Gujarat) witness females performing prayers throughout the year.

In August 2005, Fatima, a 15-year old girl from Chennai released a pamphlet arguing that when the Prophet had expressly stated that women could enter mosques, there should be no hesitation.

Sharifa Khanum of Pudukottai in Tamil Nadu have established a mosque for women in Pudukottai, 110 kms from Madurai.

In many countries in the Gulf and in the USA, women even offer prayers in congregation, though there are separate arrangements.

According to a study conducted by the Washington, D.C.-based Council on American-Islamic Relations, America ’s largest Islamic civil liberties groups, at least seven out of ten mosques offer programs for women. The study surveyed 416 mosques nationwide.

In May 2006, Morocco appointed 50 women as state preachers for the first time as part of the government’s drive to promote a more tolerant version of Islam.

The Islamic Cultural Centre, New York City ’s largest mosque in size and congregation, provides one of the most convenient places for women worshippers. A separate washroom is marked “For Sisters Only” and signs posted on walls advise women on appropriate mosque attire. There are cubicles allotted for women, who can also pray in the main hall during large sermons, and co-ed religion and Arabic classes taught by men and women are offered at the mosque.

So, friends, the answer is yes. Women are very much allowed in mosques.


A soldier’s 4 years jail for 4 worthless documents

Rewind to the summer of 2006.

Commander (retired) Mukesh Saini has just taken premature retirement from the National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS) as Information Security Specialist. The same month, in April, he joins Microsoft (India) as Chief (Information) Security Advisor. In 2004, he had learnt that he would not get further promotions in the navy, which is why he started looking for job opportunities elsewhere.

The NSCS, created in 1999, acts as an interface between the National Security Council, the Strategic Policy Group, and the National Security Advisory Board and coordinates the functioning of intelligence agencies. The NSCS also monitors the functioning of the Defence Intelligence Agency and TECHINT, the agency for the collection of technical intelligence and special counter-terrorism centre in the Intelligence Bureau.

On June 11, Saini gets a call from his perplexed wife. She tells him that a police party is searching their house in Delhi Cantonment area. Saini, who is on a two-week visit to the United States, takes the next flight and rushes back home. But he doesn’t manage to get that far. He is intercepted and detained right at the airport upon his arrival and kept in police custody for two days. He is finally arrested on the night of June 30 and charged with passing on classified information to Rosanna Minchew, a third political secretary at the US Embassy in India. Shib Shankar Paul, NSCS systems officer and Ujjal Dasgupta, director, computers at Research & Analysis Wing (RAW), are also arrested in the same case.

Saini is, however, determined to prove that he is innocent. Over the next 47 months that he spends in Delhi’s Tihar jail, he files nearly 160 applications under the Right to Information Act. A compilation of the replies he receives from various authorities exposes gaping holes in the police’s theory. From the sections under which he was arrested to the way the police conducted the probe, everything shows the authorities acted in haste and without sufficient evidence.

On the basis of the information obtained through the RTI applications, Saini fights his own case since July 2008 and finally manages to get bail in May 2010 more than four years after he was arrested.

Cut to the present and you will find Saini armed with damning evidence against the authorities.

The case against him rests on the allegation that he passed four classified documents to Minchew while working as a coordniator to the government in the Indo-US Cyber Security Forum. Minchew was the local nodal officer representing the US in this forum. One of the four documents, a draft report of the Indian nuclear doctrine was, however, made public by the government in October 1999. Hence, it could not be called a classified document.

The second document was Saini’s own paper on the impact of Kra Canal (a planned canal that links China Sea to Andaman Sea). This paper never got the status of a classified document. That means, two of the four documents that Saini is said to have illegally passed to a foreign national were not classified documents.

That still leaves two documents, which were allegedly stored in the hard disk found in Saini’s house. These contained the minutes of the Indo-US Cyber Security Forum meeting held in January 2003 and a proposal prepared by Saini for the formation of information sharing network amongst agencies. Saini has been able to establish through RTI queries that the police broke open the seal of the hard disk before submitting it to the Central Forensic Science Laboratory (CFSL), Chandigarh, thereby weakening the claim of the police.

During the probe, Sajjan Singh, a sub-inspector with the Delhi Police’s special cell wrote three letters to the NSCS. The first letter, dated June 16, 2006, was addressed to the NSCS chairman. Singh asked the NSCS if they could book Saini under the Official Secrets Act for possessing the draft report on Indian nuclear doctrine and the paper on Kra Canal. The NSCS replied that neither of the two documents was classified.

Singh, however, wrote once again to the NSCS on June 30. This date is important. This time, he sought the NSCS’ opinion on the documents obtained from the hard disk found at Saini’s home. This time, Vinod Kumar Mall, an IB officer on deputation at NSCS gave a handwritten undated reply that the documents were classified.

There is a catch, though. RTI queries show that there is no entry in the NSCS records regarding receipt of Singh’s letter dated June 30. Moreover, Singh is said to have received the reply to this letter personally on the same day. The NSCS, however, says it has no file notings regarding the decision to implicate Saini on the basis of the special cell’s request.

The question, therefore, arises: If the NSCS does not have any official record of receiving letters from the special cell and it did not opine that Saini should be implicated on the allegation made by the special cell in these letters, then what was the basis of his arrest?

Turn to Rosanna Minchew, to whom Saini allegedly passed on the four documents. The information that Saini received from the CFSL, Chandigarh, shows that the hard disk was last accessed on June 15, 2005, while the Indian Embassy in Washington told Saini that Minchew was given the visa on Aug 3, 2005. However, the said documents were last accessed in 2004, so they could not have been passed on to Minchew from this hard disk.

There’s more to implicate the authorities. The NSCS never gave Delhi Police its approval to prosecute Saini. It, however, approached the civilian vigilance department of the Ministry of Defence (MoD) in October, 2007, to procure a sanction and got it in April, 2008—almost two years after submitting the chargesheet in court. The same department of MoD later informed Saini that it was not aware of his duties in the NSCS.

The case is on and the charges against Saini and the other two co-accused are yet to be framed.

Paul and Dasgupta obtained bail in August. The police had claimed that Paul had spoken to his wife and accepted that he did pass classified information to Minchew. But the call details provided by the service provider could not corroborate this claim.

The court raised doubts over the manner in which the police allegedly broke open the seal of the pen drive which was allegedly carrying the classified information.

In Dasgupta’s case, the court considered his age (he was over 64 when he got bail) and that the other two co-accused had secured bail. His impeccable record as a computer expert and the fact that he was re- employed by the R&AW on the basis of his expertise was also taken into account.

Why would the authorities frame somebody like Saini, though, you may well ask. The answer to this natural question will eventually lead you to the task that the NSCS is entrusted with, that is to collate quality intelligence information from the various intelligence agencies.

Saini says that every time he interacted with the intelligence officers, he could sense that they were not forthcoming on information sharing. “By passing on quality information to someone like me who had a naval background, they were losing their turf,” he says. They got a chance to strike when V K Nambiar quit as the NSCS secretary in April, 2006, leaving it headless. “Before that, they could not act because the secretary was there to shield me and my team-mates in the secretariat,” says Saini.

Those familiar with the functioning of intelligence agencies can easily join the dots. “We are facing a situation where inputs and assessments of intelligence agencies are crucial to deal with the complex security challenges the nation is facing. Agency and departmental turf battles and settling of personal animosities have been evidenced.  We can just hope that this case does not become part of this tragic pattern,” says Commodore Uday Bhaskar. The moment such a grave charge is levelled against an individual, says Bhaskar, he or she is abandoned and isolated both institutionally and socially.

“Even if we assume for a moment that the charges were all true, this is no way to treat officials in intelligence agencies. What happened here was uncalled for,” says a former IB director on the condition of anonymity.

An internal security analyst with a Delhi based think tank, who does not wish to be identified, however, says there may be more to Saini’s story than meets the eye. He says, as per his information, Saini and Minchew often met after office hours. “This does mean that Saini passed some information to her, but officers of the stature of Saini who work with the NSCS are very well aware of the protocol. They know that there are times when their moves are monitored. He should have avoided meeting her,” the analyst said. The analyst added, though, that the interrogating agency was clearly biased while probing the case. “Why didn’t they interrogate the American delegate?” he asked, “After all, as per the allegations, she was the recipient of the information. Why did they let her go without any questioning of any kind?”

While in jail, Saini, cyber security expert with a masters in computer applications, business administration and science, helped fellow inmates in drafting bail applications and read chargesheets.

“Around 200 of them got bail,” he says. In his free time, he would paint and make portraits with pencil colours—his childhood hobby. Two of his paintings hang in the drawing room of his Maya Enclave house in West Delhi.

It was not all rosy in jail, of course. He would be strip-searched every time he crossed a gate. But he is not cribbing. “Jail life is jail life. They were just doing their duty. I did not expect any special treatment,” he says, drawing a long breath. It was equally tough on his family, wife and children, while he was behind bars. “They would harass my wife and children,” he says, “They asked my daughter’s friends to stop meeting her or else they would also land in jail. My wife was stalked.”

Mukesh Saini

Now that he is out on bail, he is worried his savings will not last for long. “Nobody is hiring me,” he says, “I have savings which will last for a couple of months more. After that I am broke.”

This appeared in Governance Now, October 1- 15 issue.