February 28, 2010 by TMO
Son of a poor tailor is Democratic candidate in Texas elections
An Indian-American is standing in American state-level elections. No big deal, it's happened before. The elections are in Texas. Not much of a big deal either. Texas has politicians from immigrant families.
Now consider this: The Indian-American is Masarrat Ali, a biotechnologist-entrepreneur and a first-generation immigrant, son of a tailor from the village of Jhansi, UP, the eldest of nine siblings, all who got their first schooling in a run-down establishment that used to be part of Rani of Jhanshi's kotwali. When you add to this the fact that Ali is the first Indian-American and the first Muslim to get a party ticket in Texan elections, then his case becomes special.
Masarrat Ali is the Democratic candidate for District No. 122 (in San Antonio) for the Texan House of Representatives (the lower house). San Antonio is no backwater—the second largest city in Texas and the seventh largest in the US. Ali's rival for the Democratic ticket for District No. 122 was Art A. Hall. But on January 15, Hall dropped out and endorsed Ali's candidature. The elections are in November and Ali has a tough job. District 122 in San Antonio, Texas has been held by Republicans for 18 years. Texas is a Republican-leaning state and Ali is a newcomer to politics. But, as Ali says, "If Obama could happen, why not Massarat? His (Obama's) victory has given hope to all minorities."
Win or lose, though, Ali's is already a remarkable story.
It started in Jhansi, in the Bundelkhand region of UP, then as now, a place development has passed by. Ali was born to a tailor, Haji Maqbool Ali. Ali Senior says he used to stitch suits for "commissioners, collectors and ministers". But the money wasn't enough for his large family of nine children, of whom Masarrat was the eldest. They lived in a narrow lane crowded with old houses. The neighbourhood is called Gandhigarh Tapra. "It was a typical mohalla with little sense of education. It was full of eighth-class fails. The highest qualification there was high-school-fail," Masarrat said.
The lane is still the same. But Ali's house has changed — a well-constructed, three-storey building, marble floors, modular kitchen and modern furniture. "The house got renovated just a couple of months back," said Ali's mother Rasheedan Ali.
The school Masarrat attended—the Urdu-medium Wakf Board-run Islamia primary school —is just a stone's throw from his house. "During my days, it had no chairs, no electricity, no bathrooms and just two-three teachers who never cared," Ali recollects.
Today, it's almost the same — a decrepit building whose plaster is peeling off and whose wall has 'I love you' scribbled on it at many places and posters of local politicians pasted on it. The school is on a single floor and the building that houses it was a kotwali during the time of Rani Laxmi Bai, according to Ali's younger brother Zaheer , a local businessman. "When Masarrat was a kid, there was no power supply for homes in Jhansi," the father recalled. "He would study with a lantern. Though he loved studying, he had no career ambition. When you are busy just trying to survive, there's little time to think about lofty things such as ambition," Ali recollects.
But the father—who also attended the Islamia school and didn't study further —made sure that his children at least aspired to get an education that would make them fit for white-collar jobs. So, he didn't let them mingle with other children in the neighbourhood; they had enough siblings to play with at home. "Without his efforts, I would have been lost in the galis of Jhansi today," says Masarrat. But the father takes no credit. "Sab Allah Miyan ka diya hua hai. It's god's gift," he said.
Ali's education progressed from the Islamia school to the Hindi-medium Government Intermediate College and then Aligarh Muslim University. Everything Masarrat did after graduation, Masters in Biochemistry from Aligarh in 1977, PhD from the Central Drug Research Institute, Lucknow, in 1981, post-doctoral fellowships at the University of Paris, France (where he was research assistant professor till 1984), the Louisiana State Medical University in New Orleans and Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, (together, he spent 10 years there) was on scholarship.
The tailor's eldest son set the example for his younger sons — one is an MBA, the other is an IT professional and a couple others are graduates and running local businesses in Jhansi such as a pharmaceutical distributorship and a ladies' clothes store. His daughters are either high-schoolers or intermediate-pass, which according to Ali, is "a great achievement" as women in his family had previously never attended school.
Masarrat Ali traded academics for entrepreneurship after he moved to his current residence, San Antonio, in 1993. That year, while he was doing his research on breast cancer at the University of Texas Health Science Center, his thesis supervisor, also an Indian, told him that research published only in papers or journals was "meaninglss". That prompted Ali to do a "crazy" thing. He quit his comfortable job as an assistant professor, and started the Alpha Diagnostics International (ADI). ADI sells biotechnology laboratory equipment. Ali says it's a success. ADI has a centre in San Antonio and one in Shanghai. How much is he worth? Ali won't get into specifics.
And how did politics happen? Always a Democrat voter, in 2004, Ali was among those who founded the Texas Muslim Democrat Caucus, a body that, Ali says, voices Muslim political concerns within the Democrat party and also works to get Texan Muslims to register as voters. Masarrat is currently the Caucus's vice-president. His ambition is to convert the caucus into a national affair and it has now been rechristened as American Muslim Democrat Caucus. San Antonio has 30,000 Muslims and Texas, about 5 lakhs.
Convincing Muslims in Texas to be politically active is tough, Ali says. Muslims from India are more willing, he says. Those from the Middle-East are the most reluctant. Two years ago, Ali was elected Precinct Chair for District 122, which required grassroots working like getting in touch with the voters and organizing them. The candidacy followed from that. Ali's father, who visits his son in Texas every year, doesn't have any particular views about his son's political goals. But Ali Senior says, he "likes the Americans he met". "My beard, my kurta-pajama, my topi don't seem to be a problem when I am there," he says.
I am glad to see our state passed the bill to recognize Holocaust and Genocides. I hope Dallasites will take the time to attend the program and learn and reflect upon the terrible things that we humans have inflicted upon each other.
The Jewish community has borne the suffering of the Holocaust for over sixty years; it is time for us to share it. No community should bear the suffering alone; we all have to stand up, and be there for each other.
Thank God the awareness is increasing; from one event in 2006 by the American Muslims, it has grown to three events this year; the III Annual Reflections on Holocaust and Genocides on 24th, the Gay and Lesbian commeration on 27th and now this event by the Holocaust Museusm in collobration with the Memnosyne Foundation.
Holocaust was a major human tragedy and a failure of humanity.
And perhaps the first time in our history that we acknowledged the genocides of the indigenous Americans and Native peoples of Americas in a public forum along with other tragedies.
I want to applaud the people of Dallas for attending the event. They were Atheists, Bahai, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jain, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, Wicca, Zoroastrians and from sevral ethnicities and nationalities.
It was an educational program, where 7 speakers reflected on 7 topics for 7 minutes each. Then 7 commentators made comments about 7 different situations. The topics ranged from the Holocaust to Genocides, massacres and tragedies.
Among Genocides, Massacres and other tragedies we reflected upon the Indigenous American people such as the Mayans, the Toltecs and the massacres of the Native people right here in Dallas, we touched upon Darfur, Polpot, Congo, Armenia, Rwanda, Falun Dafa, Burma, Tibet, Bosnia, India, Gaza and the transatlantic slave trade. Through these representative events, our goal was to reflect upon every human tragedy. The words do not describe the sufferings of people in full, we have to work with the limited choice of words, but have a big heart to feel the pain and suffering of every human being, not just my people or my tribe, but every one. Let there be one negative energy of suffering that we are part of, together we can work on getting out of it.
There is a shameless cruelty in us, either we shy away or some times refuse to acknowledge the sufferings of others, worrying that it will devalue our own or some how it amounts to infidelity to our own cause, and shame on us for justifying massacres that the victims deserved it or they asked for it.
We learned a few simple things that we can do to prevent such tragedies. It was a purposeful event to learn, acknowledge and reflect upon the terrible things that we humans have inflicted upon each other. We also learned that our safety hinges on the safety of all others around us.
We learned to see each other with dignity, and honor the otherness of other. Gatherings such as this offer hope and opportunity for a secure and a safer world.
Of the several acknowledgements, a few notable ones are;
1. other peoples suffering is as legitimate as ours;
2. some one related to us through faith, ethnicity, land mass or race has been a butcher too,
3. it takes courage to see ourselves as perpetrators, while it is easy to ourselves as victims;
4. we can see the light at the end of the tunnel when politics is stripped;
5. we can value others suffering without lessening our own;
6. the overriding desire to highlight my own gets softened, when we value others pain;
7. the sense of responsibility for creating a better world was present in us.
It is an initiative of American Muslims striving to build responsible civic societies. The event was organized by the Foundation for Pluralism, where co-existence is our value. We appreciate the sponsorship by the Center for Spiritual Living, all the three are Dallas based Organizations.
And to every community that has endured holocaust, genocides, massacres, bombs, annihilation, land mines, hunger, rape, torture, occupation and inhuman brutality, the least we can do in the process of healing is to acknowledge every one's pain in one room, as one people. We have to teach tolerance and acceptance.
We have begun the process of coming together as one people, to stand with you, we are indeed one world and one humanity, and caring for each other brings safety and peace to all of us. I cannot be safe if the people around me are not, and I will not have peace if people around me don't. It is in my interest to seek a peaceful world for one and all.
A full day conference is planned for Wednesday, January 26, 2011 to discuss every human tragedy, please submit a thoroughly researched 500 word abstract about the event you'd like to discuss to -HolocaustandGenocides@gmail.com
Mike Ghouse, Chair
Holocaust and Genocides
Good to hear about this fantastic initiative!
Indeed, more education and information about these tragedies is of utmost importance. Without such, the possibility that these horrific events can occur again is real. I hope that along with the history, a great deal of attention is placed on what allowed these events to occur, mainly, that people watched and did nothing. When we see people being persecuted, when we see people denied basic human rights, we must raise our voices and say "no!" The mantra associated with The Holocaust is "Never Again", yet to be true to the to the call, requires first that we even know about what happened, and second, that each of us take responsibility for our role.
I applaud these educational and participatory events, I encourage all to attend, and to speak out and speak up, for these atrocities still occur in our world today.
Dallas Peace Center
Yes, we will attend. Sikhs are those who suffered because of religious and ethnic hatred. They like to join all to make it sure that the hatred is transformed into understanding of the human suffering all over the world. The idea of sharing the suffering of the world is a powerful one to move the world where such atrocities are never inflicted on any human being, and if and when it ever happens again, it may be shared by all.
DFW Sikhs for Interfaith Understanding
As a Kashmiri Hindu, I applaud the mention of our plight at the reflection program on January 24, no one cares about our issue, it was a relief to see them mention it.
It is our duty, a moral obligation to acknolwedge the pain and suffering of all people. There is a shameless cruelty in us, either we shy away or some times refuse to acknowledge the sufferings of others, worrying that it will devalue our own or some how it amounts to infidelity to our own cause.
We all have to learn to see eye to eye, face to face, some one related to us via land mass, faith or race was a butcher, it does not mean, you and I are. We have to bring about a change by simply being human - feeling the pain of other no matter who it is, that is what makes us human.
We are looking forward to All day conference in January 2011 to acknowlege every human suffering, whether they are technically genocide or not. LIfe is precious and must be valued.
Mike Ghouse, Chair
Holocaust and Genocides