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.
Ramchandra Guha discovers that the burka is a weapon, like the trishul. Now call to mind the RSS sarsanghachalak’s assertion that his organisation can put a trained army in the service of the Commander-in-chief in barely three days. Should one presume that the average percentage of Muslims in that army would be the same as the percentage of Muslims in India? May one further presume that the Hindus in that army will fight with trishuls and the Muslims — women surely — will have the burka as their weapon? If that be the case, should one further presume that the Muslim males will then be left behind to plot terrorist attacks against the country? No wonder our prime minister never tires of talking about “terrorism” as one of the greatest problems facing India today. Doubtless, the IIT or IIM-trained Hindu pakora seller or the illiterate Hindu day labourer will have little time to plot terrorist attacks.
Personally, I am against burka, 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 is. 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 Guha is warning the Muslims against precisely the same denouement when he denounces the burka, 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, while another senior Urdu writer did not do so, saying that writers should be above such controversies. 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”. (Vivadit dhancha sounds even more callous and anti-historical.) 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). The resultant bloodshed and the boost to the BJP (which had just two members in Lok Sabha in the 1984 Lok Sabha) need not be dwelt upon here. The Lieberhans Commission, after nearly 20 years, blamed the then prime minister and home minister for ignoring intelligence inputs about the clear and present possibility of the “disputed structure” being demolished during the “kar sewa” of December, 1992.
As the day of the smashing and tearing down of the “disputed structure” (December 6, 1992), 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-jamni culture. I remember the visit to Lucknow of the minister of communications shortly after the demise of the “disputed structure”. He asked me about the feeling among Muslims at the destruction. I said, “It is as if we have lost a close relative.” I don’t know if he conveyed this to the PM. Perhaps not. But the words would have fallen on deaf ears, even if they reached that august person’s hallowed presence.
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. The usual inquiry commission indicted the police chief but his misdeeds were later covered by the fig leaf of “not guilty” pronounced by some court. The police chief thrived through sundry regimes and is now the Director General of Police of the State of Bihar.
If the Congress was not the perpetrator of these and countless similar large scale crimes against the Muslims and the Dalits, 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”. She hastens to deny the charge, as if being pro-Muslim is the worst charge that an enemy could lay against the Congress. 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.
On August 15, 1947, I was in Azamgarh, a a student of Class 9 in what then was Wesley High School. Now it is Wesley Inter College. Established in 1837 by English-Australian missionary elements, it was a manifestly missionary institution. We celebrated — the whole city celebrated — Independence with the greatest joy and jubilation. When the Australian manager of our school removed his hat at the sight of the national flag, my father smiled proudly and said to me, Look how respectful he is to our flag. Yesterday, he would never have tolerated the flag in the school grounds.
A few weeks later, Sri Krishna Dutta Paliwal, a minister in UP government, visited Azamgarh and was invited to speak to the students at our school. We listened with rapt attention (or stunned silence?), to the honourable minister ranting and spouting scorn against Pakistan, against “Jinna Mian”, against Muslims generally. “Jinna Mian” came in for particular mention, the minister telling us gleefully that when “Jinna Mian” will attempt to visit East Pakistan, flying over Indian territory, his plane would somehow find itself stranded on Indian territory and “Jinna Mian” would be meted out condign treatment.
A year later my father was transferred to Gorakhpur. I was sent to the Government Jubilee High School (now Inter College) to finish my high school. Some of us once fell to talking quite casually about our national leaders. A fellow student said, “If you scratch Abul Kalam Azad on his right wrist where his pulse is, you will find ‘Pakistan’ inscribed there.” What reply could we, or even Azad himself, make to this?
In 1951, my father was a minor functionary in the education department in Gorakhpur. On an official tour to Ghooghly, a small town in rural Gorakhpur, he became the victim of a riotous mob which was inflamed by rumours of a dead calf (killed by a Muslim, obviously) discovered in a nearby field. My father was attacked in the primary school where he was on inspection. He was attacked with lathis, lost consciousness, and was left for dead. He was paid no compensation, didn’t even get a letter of condolence or sympathy from his superiors. My maternal grandfather, an MLA in the UP assembly, wrote to the director of education (quite by chance also a Muslim) requesting that my father may be transferred to a teaching, non-outdoor duty job. I still remember the director’s one-line reply: “I will certainly bear in mind.” But nothing happened.
Who is to blame if Muslims feel alienated, or out of the main scheme of things in Indian political life? I still remember with pain and sorrow the final song of the so called “Muslim social” film Garm Hawa (1974). Having seen his family disintegrate, Salim Mirza suffers ejectment from his house because the government has declared it “evacuee property”. Salim Mirza is arrested on the charge of spying for Pakistan. He is exonerated, but is now a broken man, shunned by friend and acquaintance. He gives up his new resolve to go to Pakistan and leave the land of his choice which heaped nothing but distress and ignominy upon him. At the last minute, he joins a mass of people protesting against price rise and other problems. The final song exhorts him to immerse himself in the “mainstream”. Salim Mirza lost everything by deciding to stay in India and be a part of the “mainstream”. What more, I thought bleakly, should he do to justify his existence and strengthen his credentials as an insignificant drop in the “mainstream”?
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 rakhsha. 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”.
Tek Chand Bahar, in his monumental Persian dictionary Bahar-e Ajam (1746-1765), defined “Hindu” as one who lives in India (sakin-e hind). He added that according to Sirajuddin Ali Khan-e Arzu, the word “Hindu” denotes a given community that follows a certain religion and the correct designation for “Indian” should be “Hindi”. That “Hindu”=”Indian” has been used by some poets to mean “Indian” in preference to the word “Hindi”. “Hindu”= “Indian” is an example, he said, of the grammatical phenomenon called taghlib which signifies “prevalence”, that is, “common usage” supplanting the stronger, logical sense.
Clearly, Khan-e Arzu who was both linguist and grammarian could perceive the change in our social and linguistic milieu slowly being wrought by the insertion of foreign ideas about “religion”, “nation” and “race”. The term “Hindu” in the sense of the follower of a given religion is clearly a later construct, inspired by the Western foreigner for whom religion was more potent than place or profession as identifier. In the beginning of their contacts with the Indian reality, the Europeans were hard put to classify and identify the Indian people as followers of different social practices inaugurated by the varana system. They gave the name “Gentoo” to the Telugu-speaking people whom they encountered in the South in early seventeenth century. “Gentoo” was a compromise between “Gentile” and “Hindu”, as distinguished from the followers of Judaic religions. Over time, the word “Hindu” grew into its current definition. No wonder the Oxford English Dictionary defines the word “Hindu” to mean one who follows the Indian “native religion (Hinduism)… Hence, anyone who professes Hinduism”.
The sangh parivar has derived many of its Hindutva ideas from the English. Those ideas are no more Hindu than the East India Company was Indian. Harbans Mukhia pointed this out many years ago, but no one seems to be listening.
Over the past seven decades and more I have seen many shapes and even kinds of India. I remember 1942 when the people of Azamgarh, my native district, were hot in promoting the idea of freedom and were active in the Quit India movement. I remember an Englishman, barely into his twenties, ride into a fairground with a look of quiet disdain and incomprehension, his body language declaring that though he didn’t understand us, he owned us and also the space that was ours. He was the local chief of police, with life and death in his power.
In 1945, I remember the end of the World War and I also remember our young people shouting away in processions: Seene pe goli kha’in ge/ Pakistan bana’in ge (We’ll suffer bullets on our breasts,/ We will bring Pakistan into being).
No one, including me, whose father’s people were in the Jamiat-e Ulama which supported the Congress, and whose mother’s people were Muslim Leaguers, knew what Pakistan meant and what it would mean for us, for India. Even Jinnah didn’t seem to know what he was fighting for. I remember the Cabinet Mission’s visit (1946), and how its hot talks in the cool air of Shimla failed. Some blamed Jinnah; some blamed Nehru. Some didn’t know whom to blame. No one, except Abul Kalam Azad and maybe the Mahatma and a few Congress-supporting Muslim leaders could even imagine the misery, the ignominy, the marginalisation that the creation of Pakistan would wreak upon the Indian Muslims.
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. Many were infants. An overwhelming number of those who lived then are no longer among the living. So who among the contemporary Indian Muslims, in the eye of the majoritarian, deserves blame for Partition? Those who will occasionally shout for Pakistan when Pakistan wins a cricket match against India? Are they traitors, or to use today’s buzz word, anti-national? If so, who made them so? And was it they who made Pakistan? Many of them don’t even have a distant relative in Pakistan. Should not the Hindutva brigade stop to think what made Pakistan so lovable in the eyes of the semi-literate who cannot perhaps name the president or prime minister of Pakistan? What made the prospect of the high road to Pakistan so attractive for him? Is it not perhaps the fact that he is unemployed or underemployed, sees no future for himself and his children in his country and who is often made to feel uncomfortable in his own land?
We are quick to see love jihad when a Muslim man takes a Hindu wife. We are not so quick, or are unwilling, to see the thousands of Muslim girls marrying Hindus. We are quick to kill in name of gau raksha, but we refuse to see countless cows choking to death on plastic or garbage, or starving to death in Hindu-run cow protection homes. No one remembers, far less mourns the 12-year-old who persuaded his father to let him accompany his uncle on a legitimate business trip of buying and selling cows and who was hanged by a tree in a jungle by the intrepid gau rakshaks. We are quick to condemn the alleged terrorist but fail to see dozens of such “terrorists” when they are acquitted as not guilty after spending 10, 15, 20 years in jail.
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. We have leaders who exhort the Hindus to produce more and more babies if they don’t want the Muslims to outnumber them soon. 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 burka 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