Muslim. I don’t wear a bindi or apply Sindoor. I don’t perform Aarti. I visit
temples only as a tourist. Does that make me less secular than Nusrat Jahan,
the young Muslim MP from Basirhat, West Bengal, who wears bindi, applies
Sindoor, and inaugurates Jagannath Yatra, a Hindu religious pilgrimage?
non-participation in Hindu rituals reflect my disbelief in “inclusive India”,
unlike Jahan’s belief in “inclusive India”, expressed in her adoption of Hindu
disrespect Hinduism while Jahan respects it? No. A resounding, unapologetic,
and most importantly, secular “no”.
as a state policy, is indifference to religion, or equal rights for people of
all religions, including the right to practise religion. At an individual or
social level, it translates into practising your religion, and respecting the
right of your colleague, friend or neighbour to practise their religions.
“Respecting” the rights of people of other faiths means not imposing your
beliefs on them, and not degrading their practices or symbols, either by speech
or action. It doesn’t require you to adopt or participate in the rituals of
someone else’s religion.
is not a difficult or lofty thing; it is as basic and uncomplicated as minding
your own business. As a Muslim, I don’t expect or demand a Hindu to fast in
Ramzan or offer Namaz. Likewise, no Hindu has ever demanded that I perform Puja
or attend a kirtan. An undrawn threshold exists, which is respected by both
sides, or all sides, in a multi-faith society like India.
crossing the threshold doesn’t make you less secular. A practising Hindu or
Muslim who refrains from adopting or wearing non-Hindu/non-Muslim
customs/symbols still qualifies as secular, as long as he/she doesn’t harbour
or incite ill-will against the other. A Muslim woman wearing a headscarf is no
less secular than Nusrat Jahan in a bindi. A Hindu woman fasting on Karvachauth
is no less secular than a Hindu woman who eats Biryani at a Muslim home on a
doesn’t need grand, camera-friendly spectacles such as Hindu politicians
wearing skullcaps in Iftar parties, or Muslim politicians doing Aartis. If
anything, these public acts put unnecessary burdens on entire communities to
prove their secular credentials.
inclusive India, rather, shines through in simple, everyday affairs, in
offices, colleges, and homes. My former supervisor, a Hindu, would remind me to
go to the Masjid across the road for my Iftar and Namaz. She didn’t practise a
single Muslim ritual, but for me, she was a secular icon. Likewise, I never
asked my Hindu domestic help to cook meat on Tuesdays or during Navratras.
Beyond the bare minimum, we’ve gone out of the way to help each other in
distress, be it lending money or donating blood between ourselves. The
operating principle across these instances has been raw compassion, free of the
need to adopt each other’s religious customs.
increasingly majoritarian India, though, seeks to complicate secularism, and
burden minorities, especially Muslims, to prove their inclusiveness. A Nusrat
Jahan who sports Hindu symbols was praised by the media for “putting country
before faith”. A fatwa that was never issued by Deoband was blown out of
proportion, and debated endlessly on TV channels. Jahan, in her defence, talked
of believing in “inclusive India”. Even after the fatwa, was exposed to be
fake, Jahan continued to give bytes to irresponsible TV channels about being
“secular” and not responding to “hardliners”. I seek no explanation from Jahan
for her personal choices, but as a representative of people, the young MP needs
to realise that her flawed definition of an “inclusive India” puts an
unnecessary burden on Muslims to follow her example.
the first person, at least in the public eye, to bear that burden was
18-year-old Zaira Wasim. A few days after Jahan’s Bindi and Sindoor made news;
Wasim publicly announced her retirement from acting, citing difficulties in
practising her religion in the movie industry. Wasim’s religiosity was pitted
against Jahan’s brand of secularism, with the latter supported by both liberal
and right-wing Hindus. Jahan was praised for her choice and “standing up
against” a fatwa that never was; Wasim was bashed left, right and centre for
“giving into pressure” and being “indoctrinated and radicalised” by faith.
has never been so glaring. When a Taberz Ansari is lynched to death over the
forced chanting of “Jai Shri Ram”, when scores of Muslims have been killed by
“indoctrinated and radicalised” Hindu youth over the last five years, it takes
a special kind of audacity to lecture the besieged community on
“indoctrination” and “radicalisation”. These sermonisers were not ordinary
social media users, but “intellectuals” who appear on TV and Congress
politicians such as Abhishek Singhvi who, in a tweet, questioned the “progress”
of Muslims given that “Halala is allowed and acting is Haram”.
To be fair,
liberals have taken on the right-wingers in the discourse against rising fascism,
even risking tags like “anti-nationals” and “urban naxals”. But the difference
between the Hindu liberal and the Hindu right-winger blurs when they applaud a
Nusrat Jahan and bash a Zaira Wasim, when they salute a Muslim woman doing
Hindu rituals and bash a Muslim teen talking of her relationship with Allah,
when they judge choices according to their own biases. Hindu liberals are doing
Muslims no favour in their anti-Hindutva activism. The fight is not for Muslims
per se, but for upholding the secular, inclusive values of India. Perhaps, it
would do well to go back to the basics of those values: You follow your faith,
I mine. Let each be.
Akbar is a Lucknow-based entrepreneur and a former journalist with The Indian
Source: The Indian Express