By Abul Kalam Azad
2014-11-22, Issue 47 Volume 11
“A new, militant Muslim culture is beginning to emerge in the Indian polity,” reads the opening sentence of Why Secularism Is a Bad Word for Muslims by Arun Srivastava (15 November). According to the author, “Over the past decade, urbane, educated Muslim youth have more or less replaced the older breed of poor and downtrodden members of the community, who often took to violence to wrest social, economic and political space for themselves.”
But the author does not stop there. He goes on to observe, rather assert, that: “A transformation is visible in the attire and language of a large section of middle-class Muslim youth… (M)any of them have taken to sporting long beards and wearing Pathani suits. They are increasingly speaking in the language of religion to assert their Muslim identity. They seem to believe that the old secularist politics does not serve the interests of their community.”
Interestingly, though understandably, Srivastava does not provide any empirical data to substantiate his points. But this is nothing new and writings like these should not surprise anyone. In the past, there have been numerous self-appointed messiahs of the “Muslim community” who left no stone unturned to “liberate” Muslims from the clutches of mullahs and fundamentalists such as Imam Bukhari. Srivastava and Chetan Bhagat are only the latest of the breed. Last year, Bhagat had written Letter from an Indian Muslim youth and Srivastava’s arguments are more or less along the same lines. However, I believe it is important that such writings do not go uncontested because their writers seem to be ardent followers of the Goebblesian dictum that “tell a lie a hundred times and it becomes the truth”.
Note the blanket, and quite brazen, stereotyping of the entire community in the title of the article. For the likes of Srivastava and Bhagat, the Muslims of this country have a herd mentality and so they are undeserving of any qualifiers like “some” to be attached to the community. Because, you know, all of us behave in the same way and, before I forget to mention, all of us just love the Majlis-e-Ittehad ul Muslimeen (MIM) and its brand of “communal” politics. By the way, the apparent reason behind the writer penning down the article in question was the rise of the MIM led by the Owaisi brothers, never mind that it took six decades for it to establish itself in only two states.
The fact is, “secularism”, for the numerous Srivastavas and Bhagats, is just a stick to beat the Muslims with. They shed crocodile tears, which can drown the entire nation, over the apparent “communalisation” of middle-class Muslims and exhibit extreme discomfort over it. To these writers, the body etiquette of a Muslim is sufficient to brand him/her as “communal”. The same standard is not applied to a Hindu sporting a vermillion mark or wearing a sacred thread. After all, Hindus are capable of pure, unadulterated secularism (or the Indian version of it).
These writers show dubious concern over Indian Muslims being usurped by “global jihad”. This is a peculiar made-in-India kind of Islamophobia that people like Srivastava seem to have mastered. It is very subtle and involves waxing eloquent by using all the crucial buzzwords that define the liberal, secular, modern values, which “the Muslim community” is apparently yet to catch up with.
Of course, the author laments the abysmal conditions in which most Muslims live, the findings of the Sachar Committee report, the lack of political representation of the Muslims and so on. But, before I extend my hand to thank him, something pulls me back. My ungrateful mind draws my attention towards what the writer posits as the cause behind these pathetic socio-economic and political conditions. It is none other than “the Muslim clergy”, those “regressive” mullahs. Who are this clergy? Shia or Sunni? If Shia, who? If Sunni, who? These, however, are questions that the author did not think necessary to either ask or answer.
Indeed, when it comes to issues of Muslims, many people ignore the facts or sensible arguments and take great pride in spewing preconceived notions.
According to the writer, “the Muslim clergy do not encourage parents to send their children to public schools, which they deride as carriers of Hindu ideology. As a result, many Muslim children are denied the benefits of modern education”.
Really? If the author had taken the trouble to read the Sachar Committee report instead of randomly using it as a prop in the article, he would know that only 4 percent of Muslim children who study get their education in the madrasas. So, the pitiable state of education among Muslims cannot be attributed to the madrasas and the clergy. What, then, is the real reason? It is the hideous socio-economic conditions (entrenched poverty, social stigma and discrimination) that force many Muslim children to never see the face of school, and many more to drop out of them.
It is extremely amusing for me to note that the middle-class, liberal Muslims, who are normally manipulated to debunk the claims of poorer Muslims that their socio-economic conditions are worsening day after day, have today become a cause of concern for writers like Srivastava. The reason is that the middle-class Muslims have begun to move away from the “secular” parties, which have done zilch since decades to provide the community a life with dignity and security. They have started to seek shelter in what the writer perceives to be a “communal” outfit.
All this while, they stigmatised us because of our identity, and now, suddenly, they start wondering why we are so conscious of our identity and why we are drifting towards parties that assert this identity and claim that they will fight for de-stigmatising that identity.
This is not to condone the politics and rhetoric of hate. This is just to point out that the source of the ailment rests, untroubled, elsewhere — somewhere deep inside the fabric of the Indian polity, where the eyes of the upper-caste liberal Hindu can never reach. It is not the Muslims who have become communal. It is the society surrounding them that has long been communal and is becoming more so with each passing day. It is this society that has distanced itself from the Muslims and ghettoised them.
There is no point rambling over the gap between the theory and the practice of secularism in the Indian context. The fact of the matter is that many “secular” non-Muslims in this country, locked in their exclusive gated communities, are communal and it is they who have started calling all the Muslims communal because they suddenly noticed a bunch of bearded men in Pathani suits infiltrating their holy electoral citadels. In fact, many “secular” liberals fortify their secularism by rampantly spewing hate-filled Islamophobic rhetoric.
Finally, I have a request for Srivastava. If possible, he and his ilk should go on a tour distributing Pathani suits to all the Muslims who don’t have it and can’t afford it. Only then will their hate-filled articles start making some sense. We are all waiting for the Pathani suits and maybe some Burqas for our sisters!
Abul Kalam Azad is a student in IIT-Chennai