By Jawed Naqvi
July 22nd, 2014
IT is axiomatic, yes. Muslims in India form a substantial chunk of the population — over 15pc of one billion. That they are in a bad way is confirmed by official reports and by the findings of commissions set up to investigate their plight. Their known tormentors, chiefly the votaries of Hindutva, will not deny that India’s Muslims are sliding steadily to the bottom of the nation’s social heap.
There is, however, a nefarious feature stalking the community though it gets less discussed, if at all. It is their remarkable selfishness in projecting grief, an apparent obsession exclusively with their own victimhood, as though their horror is the only horror inflicted on any vulnerable community by a brutally self-serving Indian state and its growing number of armed vigilantes.
Yes, you may be able to detect a tiny crop within the community that shows promise of a cultivated if not spontaneous sense of kinship with other underclass communities. But the leaders, a majority of them religious pontiffs to whom the state has shrewdly surrendered the responsibility and, therefore, the future of 150 million plus people, have rarely shown interest in, much less offered sympathy for, the other wretched and browbeaten countrymen.
I phoned my friend John Dayal, fellow journalist and a prominent member of the Catholic community in Delhi. He is always ready to lend his strong shoulders when Muslims are in need, be it in Gujarat or Muzaffarnagar or to celebrate the release of the over-quoted Sachar Committee report that etched out the factors responsible for the backwardness of Muslims.
I asked John if he would canvass wide support for the victims of last week’s underreported Hindutva assault on members of the evangelical Nazerene Church in western Uttar Pradesh. This is usually a theatre of Hindu-Muslim stand-off, not far from Muzaffarnagar where a killing frenzy erupted against Muslims during the recent elections. Attacks on Christians in western Uttar Pradesh are not a common occurrence though they are not entirely unknown. The latest attack, therefore, quite possibly represents a new swagger the ruling Hindutva ideologues have found.
John Dayal says while he is always there for Muslim victims of injustice it is not necessarily a two-way street in terms of the Muslim leadership’s sympathy quotient towards other troubled communities. His lament was instructive. There is indeed almost always a spontaneous outpouring of fellowship and solidarity among groups ranging from Sikhs to Dalits, from representatives of the north-eastern tribes to intellectuals among Kashmiri Pandits, who rally support and solidarity for the Muslim underclass.
Middle of the road Hindus, Parsis, Sikhs, Christians, Buddhists, pagans, communists, all form a protective ring around Muslims when they are under attack. But I am scratching my memory in vain I think to remember when a Muslim body last intervened on behalf of Sikhs or Dalits, or Christians, let alone remote tribes people in their hour of need.
The media has for its own purposes indulged and cultivated the Hindu-Muslim paradigm to express the running story of wider social strife in India. It was difficult; naturally, to miss the air of self-congratulation about the newspaper headlines the other day when three top cops admitted unequivocally that India’s Muslims distrusted the police, an admission which, the newspapers implied, might lead to corrective measures.
“In what is perhaps the first admission of its kind, the police have concluded that there is a trust deficit among Muslims,” said the Indian Express, quoting from Strategy for making police forces more sensitive towards minority sections, a report prepared by three directors general of police — Sanjeev Dayal of Maharashtra, Devraj Nagar of Uttar Pradesh, and K. Ramanujam of Tamil Nadu.
Muslims see the police as “communal, biased and insensitive … ill-informed, corrupt and lacking professionalism”, the report says.
“Poor representation of the minorities in the police forces has contributed to this distrust and suspicion. It has to be admitted that the conduct of some members of the police forces in various states during communal riots had only served to strengthen and heighten these suspicions and distrust in the minority communities,” it says.
Muslims form the largest minority, constituting “a vocal and large section of the population” in most states, says the report and calls for urgent correction of the perception in the community about the police as it “impinges on the communal situation of the country and thus its internal security”.
Are Muslims alone in mistrusting the police? Are the Dalits of small towns and villages or even in a city like Delhi heartened to see a policeman approaching them? Or do they run for cover at the sight of one?
Have the Sikhs regained their faith in Delhi Police after the keepers of law and order abetted the pogroms of the proud community in 1984? And where were the Muslims, what was their stand, if they had one, when the lynching and looting of Sikhs was in full cry in Delhi and elsewhere? I have heard of some outrageous things that Muslim gangs did in 1984 in cahoots with frenzied Hindutva mobs.
Nandita Das made a disturbing movie on anti-Muslim communal violence in Gujarat; Firaaq it was called, but Gulzar’s Maachis gave us an even more traumatic view of the pervasive mistrust between the police and the ordinary Sikh people in the 1980s. Yet, the media stays riveted to the Muslims-who-distrust-the-police narrative.
A police station official in India’s Jharkhand state this month reviled Christians who sought protection after Hindu extremists beat and threatened to kill them for refusing to convert to Hinduism. Does the story touch Muslim hearts? For, when it does begin to matter, India’s Muslims will not find themselves in their ghettos any longer. They will be leading a minorities’ collective, in which women and people of different sexual orientation will have a strong voice too.
The choice is squarely with India’s largest minority community whether they wish to crawl out of the ditch, which they have dug for no good reason or remain tethered to the mullah’s sectarian agenda.
Jawed Naqvi is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.