Alipur: A Mini Iran in Karnataka
- Alipur: A very dangerous dormant Khomeinist haven in Karnataka, India
"The small village of Alipur makes a small replica of Iran," says MAQBOOL AHMED SIRAJ
If an Anjuman e Jaafria, a Madrassa Hussainia, a Zainabiya High School, an Imam Khomeini Hospital, a Behisht-e-Ali Graveyard, an Al-Abbas Boys Hostel with a couple of onion-domed mosques and Ashurkhanas thrown in their midst, can conjure up the images of Iran, then one could be sure that this village in Karnataka is a 'mini Iran'. But for its rural squalor, Alipur could have easily been passed off as a miniature replica of Iran.
Visiting Alipur is an altogether new experience. Far removed from Iran, and Shia mainstream in India, it is a unique village, harboring a Shia population of 10,000 and fashioning the lives of its inhabitants according to the orders of the [Khomeinist] faith. Though less affected by the Persian culture, nothing in the village hides the deep imprints of the new awakening in Iran since the 1980s.
For all practical purposes Alipur is a small village, its rural folk betraying no trace of urban material race. Life is placid. With all the leisure at their disposal, the town has produced a battery of Urdu poets. Little intrigues amid sipping of endless cups of tea still consume their better part of the day. Drone of numerous saw mills is punctured momentarily when the buses from Bangalore disgorge the more enterprising of the village folk at the two ends of the day. But then life slips back to its normal somnolent pace.
Somewhere within each of Alipur's residents lies a spark. Over the last two decades the village has shown stirrings of change. The main thoroughfare, Imam Khomeini Road, named after the Iranian spiritual leader, culminates in an out-sized, onion-domed mosque on one end and a modest Imam Khomeini Hospital on the other. An old Ashurkhana has seen good days. A modern building has come up for its extension. Removed a furlong away is the village's Eidgah and graveyard named Behisht-e-Ali standing in the serene and solemn surroundings. The Imamia Trust of Bangalore has also chipped in by building a resettlement colony for the wandering tribes of Persian-speaking gypsies, the erstwhile village spectacle makers.
Women in black overall burqas [i.e., Iranian-style chadors] walk freely in the sub-streets while school girls attend the Bintul Huda and Zainabiyah high schools donning headscarves.
The village has now 22 scholars [better known as mullahs/clerics] trained in Qom, Iran, and Damascus, Syria. [They include Nabi R. Mir (a.k.a. Nabi Raza Abidi) who graduated from the Qom seminaries.] However none could finish the Dars-e-Kharij to win a title of Ayatollah. A higher center of theological education, Hauze Ilmiah Baqarul Uloom came up five years ago.
According to gem merchant Ali Jawad, who hails from Alipur, the village was known as Belligunta 300 years ago. It began to attract attention following arrival of Syed Mustafa Hussaini, an Abidi Sadat, following the downfall of Adil Shahi kingdom of Bijapur. Hussaini and his wife Bathoola settled down here. Much later poet-scholar Mohammad Shaffi Baqari arrived from Hyderabad 150 years ago. He founded the Madrassa Jafria. His son Abbas Baqari who lived up to the age of 115 years, made strenuous efforts and taught a lot of people in and around the village. He founded the Anjuman Jafria which today controls the mosques, ashurkhanas, madrassa, eidgah, and graveyard.
Did the Iranian revolution cause any impact in Alipur? Going by the simple profile of the village folk, Iran is still a remote land of Alf Laila [One Thousand and One Nights] imagination. Alipur Shias did bring out a few processions in those heady days of revolution. But then hard realities of being Indians overcame. Still later, there had been occasional visits by Iranian leaders. Among them top listed is Ayatollah Khamenei, the successor to Ayatollah Khomeini to the seat of supreme [political] leader of the [so-called] Islamic Republic. Then came a clutch of MPs such as Ayatollah Jannati, Kashani, Ghayuri, and Asafi. The Shia women are now allowed to pray in the exclusive upper chambers of the Mosque during Jumaa and Ramazan. ([Kudos to the mullahs of Alipur for giving permission to the village's women].)
Imam Khomeini Hospital came up in 1991 under Imam Khomeini Medical Trust. According to Administrative Officer Nadeem Raza, the hospital used to handle nearly 30 deliveries a month and has worked hard to bring that number down since then by spreading small family norms. Besides Zakat a part of the annual net savings is set apart at a rate of 20 per cent among the Shias. It is called Khums and Alipur's Khums enables them to run a hospital, a ladies cultural centre, Imam Mahdi Trust, and Sajjadia Welfare Association, all bodies rendering yeoman service.
Though most Alipur Shias are engaged in gem cutting and polishing business, very few have been able to make it big. A good number of youth are engaged in the cutting and polishing. But lack of training and skill takes them no higher in the business. Most languish as petty traders. Perhaps the local Bintul Huda Memorial High School in the village could think of introducing a vocational course in gem cutting and polishing and carpentry in order to train the boys in their ancestral trades.
Says Shafiq Abidi, a journalist from Alipur working in a Bangalore daily, Alipur still does not have a police station. The Anjuman Jaafria selected all the 10 panchayath members for the just concluded local bodies election. Curiously even the non-Muslims from the surrounding villages authorized the Anjuman to select the six members from their areas to avoid elections. But the scourge of dowry has a vice-like grip over the village. In one case, a youth from the village created a sensation by taking his bride and the Qazi up in a helicopter to solemnize his nikah. It was only later learnt that the luxury owed itself to the dowry in cash extorted from the bride's father.
According to Syed Tahammul Hussain Nashir Alipuri, president Anjuman Jafria, Alipur is an island of Muslim culture. It has maintained calm even during the most turbulent period and remains a dynamic symbol of cultural identity with progress.
This article was first published by IslamicVoice.com in August 2000.
Article publishing history
This first version of this article was released here on 24 December 2009.
- Alipur: A Mini Iran in Karnataka
- The Backwardness of Alipur of Karnataka
- Nabi R. Mir (a.k.a. Nabi Raza Abidi)
- Shia Association of Bay Area
- Mohammed Zaki Baqri (a.k.a. Zaki Baqri)