By Arshad Alam, New Age Islam
04 January 2020
The agitation over Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the impending National Register of Citizens (NRC) has once again forced us to think on the nature of Indian state and polity. The turnaround of the polity is increasingly visible through a certain kind of vocabulary which has the singular focus of alienating Muslims. The political cosmology itself has shifted: ideologues like Savarkar are often quoted in the public domain with respect. People have willingly and overwhelmingly voted for Pragya Singh Thakur whose ideal is Nathuram Godse, the killer of Gandhi. And yet we should never argue that all this is something ‘new’ which is happening only after the BJP government came to power in 2014. While there is some truth in this argument, this attempt to link the impending demise of ‘secular republic’ with the rise of a political party is nothing but shoddy analysis. A dispassionate attempt must be made to understand how we have come to this situation where sections of citizens have turned upon one another.
The genealogy of anti-secular politics in this country runs deep. And the BJP is not the only party which has contributed to it. Even the so called ‘secular’ parties are much responsible for this sorry state of affairs. One can certainly recall numerous events which have squarely pinned the Muslims as the other; when they have been wantonly killed, humiliated, falsely implicated and eventually denied justice. We need to just recall the series of anti-Muslim pogroms which this country witnessed during the 1980s and 1990s. From Maliana to Mumbai, there has been no justice for Muslims. The perpetrators of these crimes are free and some have been even elected to high offices. The supreme irony of all this is of course that some parties which were directly responsible for killing of Muslims are today being toasted as secular.
It appears that there has always been a consensus in this country to put Muslims in their place. This has been done at two levels: the periodic riots against them have reminded them that they are a powerless minority. But at the same time, discriminatory laws and policies have helped to achieve the same purpose. While many in India have raised their voice against anti-Muslim pogroms, there are hardly any voices which have pointed out how certain measures have been discriminating against Muslims since decades. By being silent on such a crucial aspect, they have willingly condoned such discriminatory practices. Today, it is important to call out that the government in power is targeting Muslims. But let us not forget that many of us where silent when previous governments were doing the same.
Let us just understand the whole idea of not extending reservation policy to Dalit Muslims. We know that there are Muslim communities which are comparable at the social and educational level to various scheduled caste communities. We also know that like their Hindu counterparts, they have faced the scourge of untouchability. Changing their religion to Islam did not change the attitude that even fellow Muslims had towards them. And yet, they do not have scheduled caste status. If granted SC status, they would be eligible to certain benefits which might impel them on the path of development. Since 1950 (when we became a republic), the SC category has been solely reserved for Hindus. Sikhs and Buddhists were included in this category later on but Muslims and Christians till today are kept out. And yet, no one saw it fit to critique this blatantly discriminatory law. For decades, Hindu liberals and those on the Left have chosen to remain silent on the issue. For decades, the ‘secular’ principle of this country has not been called into question. Possibly because these so called secularists were calling the shots then. We all know that Sikhism and Buddhism are different religions from Hinduism. Both are in fact a critique against caste system and all that it entailed. And yet, they can be included but not Islam and Christianity. The reason is simple: Islam and Christianity are considered foreign religions even though they have been part of Indian religious cosmology for more than a thousand years. The consensus around this idea is so wide that even those radically wedded to the idea of revolution have never termed this policy as discriminatory.
Our judiciary has not been consistent either. Consider the famous (or infamous) Supreme Court judgment in 1995 which held that Hindutva was a ‘way of life’. This judgment blurred the distinction between Hindutva (as an exclusionary version of Hinduism) and Hinduism (the everyday religion of Hindus). While earlier, people were hesitant to use the word ‘Hindutva’ freely, the judgment gave it a certain legitimacy in the public discourse. With the force of SC judgment behind it, there was nothing to differentiate between Hindutva and Hinduism anymore. And yet, we hardly saw any opposition to this judgment. The fabled secularists were silent then and they are even silent now when it comes to criticising this judgment of the Supreme Court. We must recall in horror that the same judge who delivered this judgment became the toast of liberals later on. Everyone forgot his earlier judgment and what it entailed for the fate of the secular republic. How crass of them that they are now ventilating against the ‘erosion’ of pluralistic values enshrined in the republic.
The brutality of the police, in full display recently in Uttar Pradesh and other places, is also not new. As an arm of the executive, the police have never been neutral since many decades. Anti-Muslim prejudice runs deep and various governments have been reminded to reform the police force. And yet, they chose to remain silent. There has been no justice to Muslims who fell to police violence and brutality from Bhagalpur to Ahmedabad. Why is it that we are crying hoarse when the same police force is running amok and destroying Muslim property in Uttar Pradesh? This certainly is not new for Muslims. What is certainly new is the art of forgetting which is being employed by a section of intellectuals. By linking police brutality with a political party, they are in fact whitewashing the crimes of previous regimes which were as brutal as what we are seeing today.
It is important to call out this government for its treatment of Muslims. It is equally important for Muslims to protest against this oppression. But while doing so, Muslims and others should not forget that anti-Muslim prejudice is a systemic problem and not related to any one political party. A better tomorrow will only come about when we recognise this problem and collectively try to overcome a system which has been loaded against Muslims in many ways.
Arshad Alam is a columnist with NewAgeIslam.com
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