There have for long been attempts by vested interests to drill down a sense of trepidation among Indian Muslims — that they will have an insecure and anxious existence if the Hindu majority adopts a majoritarian view.
Hindu organisations have been conveniently held liable as carriers of the majoritarian agenda. The Congress, which charges the RSS as being a menace to the survival of Indian Muslims, had itself been reprimanded for similar reasons before Independence. The All India Muslim League vehemently decried the Congress government in the provinces (1937-39) as “Hindu Raj”. In its various reports, such as the Pirpur report, Kamal Yar Jung report and Shariff reports, the League alleged bigotry against Muslims in education and jobs and the imposition of “Hindu” symbols like cow protection, the tricolour, the prefix of “Mahatma” for Gandhi, Vande Mataram etc. So, there has been a distinct proliferation of the idea that Muslims will be assimilated into Hinduism, often citing the indeterminate contours of the Hindu way of life.
These factors construed a “mentality of victimhood”. But Indian politicians and Muslim leadership, even post- Independence, learnt little from the harrowing experiences of the colonial era. Despite being decorated with secular credentials, Jawaharlal Nehru’s mass contact programme to counter League propaganda met with abysmal failure in terms of allaying fears among the Muslim community. Slowly, the Congress leadership became cognisant of the distinction between “half truths” and “realism”. This was possibly a justification for Gandhi and Nehru’s outright rejection of the demand from the League to ban the RSS. In an editorial in its mouthpiece, Dawn (May 31, 1946), the League denounced Gandhi and Nehru for succumbing to the RSS.
In Independent India, the conception of “We the People” has been frequently fractured by the blinkered vision of secularism. The victimhood narrative has been perpetuated further and Muslims have been left out of reforms and were provided an unreasonable space to decide their own path using extra-constitutional measures. Any opinion which challenges the exceptionally minority-centric definition of secularism is viewed as unsuitable by the dominant intelligentsia, principally the Nehruvian Marxists. The unequivocal facts — there has been no tyranny by the majority and the normative ideal of “one people” based on historical experiences — are criticised as an RSS agenda of implicit majoritarianism.
The endeavour to rectify our premise and practice of secularism was momentarily made during the making of the Constitution. When the reservation based on religion was abolished, Nehru called it a “historic moment”. Equally, the victimhood psychology and perception of intimidation from the Hindu majority were buried as a vestige of the colonial policy of divide and rule. The members of the Constituent Assembly — like, Tajamul Hussain, H C Mukherjee (the vice chairman and a Christian), Loknath Mishra, Sardar Patel and others — vowed a new beginning free from the minority syndrome. Hussain aptly said that just because Muslims worshipped the same god through a different mode, it did not make them a minority. The 1911 census report stated that the Hindus did not bother with their neighbours’ faith; if anything, they cared about social status, which was indicative of the prevalence of caste hierarchies and untouchability.
The “purification” movement by Islamic clerics dealt a death blow to any blossoming mutual trust, shared religious sentiments and feeling of togetherness. The construct of “otherness” emanates not only due to an assertive majority as it is generally believed, but also because of a religious-political ambitious minority. The authentic numerical minorities — Parsis and Jews — have never sensed any intimidation from the majority nor considered themselves a part of the “others”.
However, post-colonial Muslim discourse favoured setting up of minority institutions in education, finance et al as an essential safeguard. Article 29 and 30 of the Constitution were interpreted so as to erect a barrier between the Hindus and Muslims. Interestingly, the Sachar Committee, which was formed in 2007 to examine the educational and economic conditions of Indian Muslims, could not find a single verification of apparent discrimination against Muslims in educational institutions or recruitment for jobs. There does, as Humayun Kabir rightly said, exist favouritism and discrimination due to scarcity of resources. The issue of prejudice, however, is not institutional.
Regrettably, we continue to bear the baggage of W W Hunter, who in 1870 said Hindus and the British administration were responsible for “Muslims decay” in the post-Mughal period. His recommendations became propaganda for the demand for Pakistan and the tampering of the education system to suit Muslim sentiments.
The pseudo-secular outlook has remained umoved. Muslim progressives, often from the Left movement, like A A A Fyzee, Humayun Kabir, Moin Shakir, who stipulated revisiting the Muslim question and endorsed a uniform civil code, were conveniently erased from the pseudo-secular discourse. The imperative of constructive reforms in the Muslim social order and with indigenous cultural and intellectual legacies find no space.
Arguments of both Harsh Mander and Ramachandra Guha fail to deconstruct the Machiavellian victimhood narrative uncritically disseminated in the community. The debilitating psychology of being a “minority” erects an insurmountable mental barrier. Multiculturalism is antithetical to trapping communities in impermeable silos. It seeks rather to assimilate and bring to fruition common aspirations and perspectives. The Muslim question needs extensive critical dialogue from both sides of the aisle.
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