By Shamsur Rahman Faruqi
April 5, 2018
Our gayness and our gilt are all besmirched/ With rainy marching in the painful field. — Shakespeare, Henry the Fifth
Harsh Mander is right: Muslims are being relentlessly marginalised in this country. I would like to add that marginalisation of Muslims has been an ongoing project since shortly after Partition, though not with such venomous intensity as now. Abul Kalam Azad opposed Partition for many reasons; one of them was that a predominantly Hindu India will be majoritarian and oppressive to non-Hindus. Apoorvanand is also right when he says that everyone wants the Muslim to be liberal that is to say, more Hindu than Muslim. This is the prophecy of Azad coming true in spades.
Personally, I am against Burqa, hijab, skull cap, unkempt beard, the whole works. If possible, I never lose an opportunity to berate the wearer of any of the above appendages. But I do admire every attempt by a minority in a democracy to make a statement of its identity. So long as such attempts are not outlawed, they should be understood for what they are — an individual’s attempts at assertion of her right to be what she are. I remember, during the years of Sikh extremism, how comfortably, even insouciantly, the average Sikh bore his identity markers. And why not? It was his right to be Sikh if he chose to be one. That the Sikh was handed a horrendous punishment for asserting his right is another story. Perhaps Ramachandra Guha is warning the Muslims against precisely the same denouement when he denounces the Burqa, and by implication, the hijab, the skull cap and the beard?
There should be something for us to pause when we hear the term “love jihad” bruited about as a valid way of describing a legal social act. There is more for us to pause when a high court chooses to dissolve a marriage because it seemed like love jihad, or a prelude to terrorist acts. There is time to stop and think where we are going when another high court grants bail to a principal accused in the murder of a Muslim youth in Pune because it was provocation enough for the accused to be a murderer if the victim belonged to another religion.
We are lucky to have a Supreme Court which ultimately strikes down the dissolution of the marriage and pronounces strictures against the high court judge who granted bail to the accused in the Pune murder case. But the question to ask is: Did we, as an independent, secular nation need to be lucky in such matters? Does not the lawful culture of the land ensure that such “lucky occasions” never arise?
Many years ago, I was in Karachi, and the writers there held a reception for me. In his welcoming remarks, a very senior writer praised what he described as my moral courage. He said that our guest of the evening made a public protest against the demolition in Ahmedabad of the mausoleum of the Urdu poet Wali Gujarati. In my reply, I stated that my “moral courage”, such as it was, was possible because there exists in India a very sizable body of liberal Hindu opinion whose support and weight permits the Indian Muslim to survive and even thrive.
I am sorry, but I cannot make this statement today.
I am no admirer of the Congress. I know that much of what I see today is to be laid firmly and unequivocally at the door of the Congress. It was during a Congress regime, led by a venerated Congressman, that idols were placed (miraculously appeared?) inside the Babri Masjid (1949). The district magistrate refused to carry out the order of the chief minister to have the idols removed. The premises were locked down. From a mosque built in 1528-1529, the Babri Masjid became a “disputed structure”. It was during another Congress regime (1986) that the “disputed structure” was unlocked to freely admit worship of the idols. It was during another Congress regime that the Babri Masjid was demolished (1992). As the day of the smashing and tearing down of the “disputed structure” decayed into night, I was a witness to the atmosphere of the terror and sorrow among Muslims in the “Nawabi” city of Lucknow, famed for its Ganga-Jamuni culture.
I was in Patna when the Bhagalpur “riots” occurred in 1989. It was actually a massacre, almost a dress rehearsal for what happened in Gujarat in 2002. Officially, there were 1,074 deaths; a vast majority of them were Muslims. More than 11,000 homes were destroyed; an overwhelming number of them were Muslims’ homes. More than 65 mosques and 20 Muslim mausoleums were destroyed. The culpability of the police chief was so glaringly evident that Rajiv Gandhi, when he visited, had him summarily transferred. I still remember my bitter chagrin when he tamely succumbed to the pressure from the VHP and its allies and the transfer was rescinded the next day.
If the Congress was not the perpetrator of these and countless similar large-scale crimes against the Muslims, it was certainly a brazen accessory, direct or indirect. The organised attempts to suppress if not eliminate Urdu, the tacit affirmation of “Hindi-Hindu-Hindustani”, the alienation and demonisation of the Muslim, the list goes on and on. The Congress may have forgotten, but the world remembers. Still, I would vote for the Congress today, for if nothing else, it pays lip service to pluralism and tolerance in society and openly decries the BJP and the Sangh Parivar as communal and Hindu supremacist entities.
Unfortunately, the poison of the Hindu supremacist idea has spread so wide and so deep in our political life that Sonia Gandhi blames the BJP for blackening the face of the Congress as “pro-Muslim”. All that Sonia Gandhi needed to say was that the Congress is pro-India, and not just pro-Muslim. In spite of this, I have hope. Rahul Gandhi seems to have tried to correct the pernicious slant that his mother apparently prefers for her party. Maybe Rahul Gandhi was only performing a formal genuflection at the shrine of multiculturalism and liberalism. But at least he professes to be for India and not for Hindus alone.
The Congress never did much to reassure the Muslims that India is their home. The Muslims, lacking sane and far-sighted leadership, spend their energies on non-issues, fighting among themselves on petty questions of religious practice. Communalist politicians — (they are not in the BJP alone, though the BJP harbours the most virulent and deadly) — make every effort to leach the Indian identity from the Muslim, replacing it ultimately with a community who will learn to subsist with murders and lynchings in the name of Gau Raksha. For the price of being allowed to live in peace, the community will gladly suffer the names and achievements of the Muslim past blackened or excised from the national memory. Perhaps they’ll be happy to end up as the Biblical “hewers of wood, drawers of water”.
Almost none of the Muslims who live now in India were born when Partition drove a live dagger into the heart of the Indian people. So who among the contemporary Indian Muslims, in the eye of the majoritarian, deserves blame for Partition?
We have ministers who offer us a choice between Ramzadas and Haramzadas. There are ministers who tell us that he who doesn’t vote for the BJP should go to Pakistan. We have ministers who declare that no one ever saw a monkey change into a man, so evolution must be false. We have a prime minister who boasts that the god Ganesha’s elephant head proves that there was organ transplant in ancient India. This in a country where innumerable jobless, illiterate, desperately poor people go without food and shelter every day. Will all this go away when the Muslim male throws away his wretched skull cap and the Muslim woman uses her obnoxious Burqa as her baby’s bed-cloth?
Ideas Series: The Minority Space
Ramchandra Guha-Harsh Mander debate about the invisibility of Muslims and reforms within continues