Two Hyderabad-based Islamic seminaries have issued fatwas this month to Muslims to not chant Bharat Mata ki jai. The fatwa, or opinion, cites the fact that Bharat Mata seeks to “deify” the land as a mother and worshiping any deity, and therefore, even Bharat Mata, is un-Islamic.
The pronouncement by RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat that all Indians must be “taught” love for the country, and to chant Bharat Mata ki jai, triggered a rash of reactions. Hyderabad MP Asaduddin Owaisi announced in Latur that he would not say Bharat Mata ki jai even if a knife were held to his neck. In his last speech in Rajya Sabha, retiring MP Javed Akhtar took objection to Owaisi’s statement, saying it was his right to say Bharat Mata ki jai.
In the debate and sniping over the will-versus-won’t chant Bharat Mata ki jai, there is considerable confusion over what the Indian Muslim’s ‘position’ is to be on this issue.
For the vast majority of Indian Muslims — as several prominent Muslims and activists have already said — whether or not to chant Bharat Mata ki jai is not the most important material or emotive issue today.
A R Rahman, a devout Muslim and celebrated musician, broke new ground with his interpretation of Vande Mataram as ‘Ma tujhe salaam’ in 1997. Idiomatic issues were resolved with a gentle touch recently, as the sniping between Bhagwat and Owaisi was tackled with groups tweeting and sharing ‘Bharat Ammi ki jai’. Couplets in Urdu, about Jannat or heaven being under the feet of mothers has been an accepted and popular proposition. Devout Muslims bear the “burden” of their mother’s milk, and seek to thank their mothers before they die as an essential part of their life’s duty. Love and reverence for the mother, as in all cultures, is far from absent from Muslim societies and culture.
So what has been the problem with slogan-chanting?
There are a few different kinds of reasons why saying Bharat Mata ki jai has sometimes been opposed by the largest minority.
The first and the foremost perhaps is the essence of monotheistic Islam, that forbids the deification of anything, including God or Muhammad, the Prophet (and hence the fuss over cartoons or other kinds of depictions — as any embodiment of the idea of God or the Prophet has been explicitly forbidden, fearing that once an image exists, it will be worshipped or deemed holy). Therefore, even the motherland imagined as a worshippable entity was resisted during the freedom struggle, and that sentiment resonates in part even now.
The leaders of the freedom movement adopted a range of symbols and slogans in their fight against the British. Many, especially in Maharashtra and Bengal, used imagery that resonated with religion; subsequently leaders like Nehru and Subhas Chandra Bose — apart from the scores of revolutionaries outside the Congress stream — forbade slogans that made straightforward religious appeals. What these appeals had in mind, however, was the building up of a modern, progressive citizenship that did not depend on religious identities. Hasrat Mohani’s Inquilab Zindabad, adopted first by Bhagat Singh and his comrades and then by a wide spectrum of freedom fighters, and the Jai Hind of Bose and the INA, have endured as powerful salutations in independent India.
The popular iconography around Bharat Mata that developed on calendars, matchboxes and posters, played a part in creating the idea of the vast subcontinent with a Mother figure in chains. There were versions of it. In some Hindutva interpretations, Bharat Mata held a saffron flag, and not the Tricolour. In other versions, she wore a sari, not saffron robes, and held the Tricolour. Nationalists urged that her chains be broken, and she be freed.
Anandamath, Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay’s 1882 novel, is where Vande Mataram is from, and from where the idea of revering the Motherland really took off. Even in its time, the novel, set against the backdrop of the Sanyasi rebellion and the Bengal famine of the 1770s, was seen as controversial in parts, and antagonised Muslims. But one of its poems, Vande Mataram, went on to become the national song. However, only its first two stanzas were taken.
Exactly 10 years ago, Parliament was stalled for some time on whether the singing of Vande Mataram should be compulsory. The cleric Maulana Kalbe Sadiq had then said it should be asked whether the vande in Vande Mataram meant worship, or merely respect.
When Hindutva ideologues argued that Muslim and Christian faiths were different because they, unlike the Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist or Jain faiths, did not have their origins in India, the insinuation was also that these faiths were less loyal to India. In this context, the cry of Bharat Mata ki jai often served as a taunt of sorts — and ended up creating schisms, rather than uniting Indians, as it was supposed to do.
In the Ayodhya campaign for the Ram temple and similar campaigns in the late 1980s, in Mumbai at that time by the Shiv Sena, and in other parts of India as well, forcing people to say things in a particular way had been an important way to assert power and to diminish other ways of looking at what being Indian meant.