Turn Away From the Trivial
By Syeda Hameed
Feb 11 2013
Recently I met a group of people to whom I never deny an appointment. It included a Maulana, an academic and some activists. I have been meeting them regularly over the last four years. They give me strength to continue my work for the minorities, which is one of my sectoral responsibilities in the Planning Commission. They said that they were very pleased with the content of the chapter on minorities in the 12th Five-Year Plan.
The chapter was written with the greatest care, ensuring that it defined a roadmap to fill the developmental gaps for the community. A very important instrument of filling these gaps is the Prime Minister’s 15-point programme, which requires that each of the 11 identified ministries reserve 15 per cent of their total allocations for minorities. Another instrument is the pre-Matric and post-Matric scholarship plan, which is to ensure that no child is denied an education for the lack of means. A third is the multi-sectoral development plan for 90 minority concentration districts to correct the development deficit. This will now become operational at the block level. At the National Development Council meeting held on December 27, all chief ministers put their signatures to these promises, which come with financial commitments. They are scattered all over the Plan; their nodal ministry is minority affairs, which is responsible for implementing them.
If we leave these well-thought out policies in the pages of the Plan, they will stay there for the next five years. They need to be explained, piece by piece, to the whole country. Muslims, and all Indians who believe in the importance of inclusive growth, have to understand these policies and put their strength behind them. The Muslim community has to move away from the usual emotive subjects and concentrate its collective energies here.
The tragedy of the Muslim community is that it often gets swayed by emotions, at the cost of reason. In the last few days, we have seen Muslim groups becoming hysterical about Kamal Haasan’s Vishwaroopam, about Salman Rushdie’s planned visit to Kolkata, about a Kashmiri all-girls rock band. A cleric only has uttered the word fatwa for news channels to go on overdrive. Let me take these three examples further. Vishwaroopam is a one-dimensional film about a Muslim “good cop” who goes undercover to unearth a sinister dirty bomb plan hatched by al-Qaeda. The film deserves no attention. It should never have taken more than paid advertising space. Some media-watch group could have computed the space wasted in covering a hugely violent Masala film. As for Rushdie, isn’t a quarter century of news coverage enough? Why should more newsprint be wasted on him?
As for the all girls’ band, it was blown up only for anti-Muslim sensationalism.
There is another factor that compounds the above-mentioned waste of human energy. These issues provide a ready stick for hard-line groups and the media to use on Muslims. In our state of emotion, which is created and whipped up by the print, visual and social media, we Muslims do not see that we are playing into the hands of the very forces that are out to hurt us. The more we show our anger, the more the TV anchors bait us, the more we fall into the stereotype created about us, and so we are condemned to remain on the fringes of sane society.
My own great-grandfather was a Maulana, Maulana Altaf Husain Hali, who raised his voice for the girl child, women’s education and the plight of widows in his writings 150 years ago. Had he lived in 21st century, he would have continued his crusade, ignoring Vishwaroopam, Rushdie and the rock band. These issues are of no importance for truly secular, and truly religious, leaders, who have a mission derived from their study of the underlying philosophy of religious thought. The other great Maulana who has deeply influenced me and others of my generation is Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, who would have done what my great-grandfather would have. I have been enriched by certain Alims and Maulanas. It is to their sensibilities that I appeal.
It is time now for Muslims as a community to espouse development over emotion and stop reacting to provocations. The friends who visited me today have turned their faces away from trivial irritants and are looking towards developing a constructive architecture to bring the Muslim community into the Indian mainstream. Their path is a good one to follow.
Syeda Hameed is member, Planning Commission, email@example.com