To Be a Muslim in India
By Aakar Patel
January 31, 2013
In India, the Muslim lives on sufferance. It is the Hindu who has freedom to attack India and its culture, its vulgarity. The Muslim who objects to something, no matter that it is obvious and visible, must qualify his argument.
Usually, the qualification demanded is that he shows himself as patriotic. In India, this is a term which comes out of the negative sentiment. To be a patriotic Indian, one is not required to be taxpaying, law-abiding, well-meaning or philanthropic. Patriotism is demonstrated through hating a particular country. The reason the Indian Muslim lives on sufferance is also rooted in this.
You see, the Muslim is guilty of the original sin, by voting for Pakistan in the 1945-46 elections. He divided Mother India and his generations must carry this burden of Adam.
Shahrukh Khan said this: “I sometimes become the inadvertent object of political leaders who choose to make me a symbol of all that they think is wrong and unpatriotic about Muslims in India. I have been accused of bearing allegiance to our neighbouring nation rather than my own country. This, even though I am an Indian whose father fought for the freedom of India. Rallies have been held where leaders have exhorted me to leave and return to what they refer to as my original homeland.”
He should have prefaced his remarks (which I find ordinary, inoffensive and accurate) as follows: “I don’t like Pakistan. My fans are mostly Hindus, whom I love more than Pakistanis.”
Having said this, he would not have offended us, no matter what he then unburdened.
Like children who need a pacifier, the Muslim offering opinion on prejudice must hold out this lollipop to Indians, whose natural view of him is coloured by his religion. At all points, he must remember this and mumble an Apologia Pro Vita Sua.
In not doing this, and I’m surprised he didn’t because he should know a thing or two about Indian public opinion, Shahrukh Khan opened himself to an attack which goes in this fashion: “Aren’t you grateful, are you not satisfied, that we gave you — you Muslim! — such fame, such success? You didn’t whine about this then, did you? Now, the Pakistanis are lecturing us because of your remarks. You should be ashamed.”
The self-congratulatory assumptions we make about ourselves — secular nation! World’s largest democracy! — are not particularly reflected outside of the Constitution. We should think about that.
On Nidhi Razdan’s show on NDTV on the night of January 29, I was on a panel, discussing Narendra Modi as a prime ministerial candidate. In the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) corner was a woman called Meenakshi Lekhi. Midway through the discussion, she asked a soft-spoken man, Najib Jung, vice chancellor of Jamia Millia Islamia, if he thought Indian Muslims wanted Pakistan.
Why did she bring this up? I don’t know, and there was no occasion to. But it was dropped in casually because it’s the natural thing to say to a Muslim here — hey, are you guys Pakistan-lovers? Tell us the truth, now.
As a writer, I can imagine the pressure on Muslim writers who are aware of India and the space they operate in. MJ Akbar wrote an unthinking paean to the BJP’s idiocy after Pokhran, and I suspect that wasn’t because he’s a fan of nuclear weapons. It’s all quite frightening, or should be. It doesn’t surprise me at all.
In India, it has always mattered who says something. What is said depends not on the intellectual content but which side it has blown from.
How it is said is also always more important than what is said because the Indian is easily offended. Ashis Nandy shouldn’t have assumed that he could be subtle and clever only because it was the anglicised middle class he was speaking to at Jaipur.
They are cut of the same cloth as other Indians. Quick to emotion, barely literate about anything whether their own culture or the West’s, and powered on and on by an asinine media.