Muslims and the Indian state since 1947
I COULD not resist the desire to write on this subject after the violence at Azad maidan on August 11, 2012, in Mumbai, and the competitive politics this event led to among rightist and identity seeking political parties in Maharashtra.
Now is the most appropriate time to analyse why certain sections of Muslims indulged in violence. What motivated them and why they directed their anger against state institutions and media?
First and foremost, I condemn the violence in the most strongest terms. Now comes the question, as to why it happened. On the surface it appears that certain sections of Muslims are unhappy with state institutions in the way they handled Bodo-Muslim clashes in Assam. Thousands of Muslim homes were burned by Bodo militants in order to drive them away. Many innocent people died in the clashes and government of Assam was lax in taking action against culprits.
In Burma, too, there was a massacre of Muslims and the government of India stood silent.
The Indian media on its part was not impartial in its coverage of both issues. So some people in Mumbai organised a protest rally to register their unhappiness and anger against the government of India and the Indian media. Unfortunately a group of miscreants entered the ground at the last moment and started attacking the media and the police.
Whatever may be the reasons or claims of people who participated in the rally, or even if it was a lie told to me, I am concerned with a different aspect altogether.
Do Muslims in India have a right to protest or not? Can’t they show their anger and disagreement if they think that the government is not behaving as it should be, or if an Indian state fails in its duty to protect Indian citizens? Because of delay in actions, thousands of homes were destroyed and many innocent lives lost in the aftermath of the clashes in Assam.
Our constitution gives every Indian citizen, cutting across ethnic, religious, caste or any denominational lines, the right to protest. So what is wrong with Muslims getting organised to voice their displeasure! Actually the problem is not about the constitutional right of Muslims as many Muslims feel betrayed by Indian state and democracy. The real question is why it happens with Indian Muslims post 1947? The problem is deep rooted. We can understand it through one example, that of Ram Janambhoomi and Babri Masjid controversy. In this issue the identity and political weight of Indian Muslims was at stake. The movement for Babri Masjid according to my understanding was not about the mosque, the Muslim leadership rather used itto test their political bargaining power in independent India. And this is the reason why after putting so much at stake, post the Masjid demolition Muslims continue to be in political wilderness. They simply do not know how to act politically? Their response towards the Indian state and politics is very immature and shows lack of understanding of Indian politics and the functioning of Indian democracy.
Muslims in India do not know how to relate themselves with Indian democracy, state and various ethnic and religious communities living in India. This is the reason right from 1947 they have been systematically and politically exploited by different political parties, at different times and places. Muslims are politically a confused lot today. And so, whenever they want to register their protest or try to use their democratic rights in India, they often end up making a mess of it. Azad Maidan rally is no exception!
Now comes the question why it happens only with Muslims. Many other communities in India have managed their affairs well. Dalits, for example, under the leadership of Baba Saheb Ambedkar managed themselves very well. Even in contemporary India, many dalit leaders are doing a fine job. But as far as Muslims are concerned, there are no worthwhile leaders who have organised Muslims on constructive issues.
For Muslim politicans, the important issues were related to the identity of Muslims in India, like the status of Urdu, freedom of religion, and non-interference in their relgious matters by either political party or the Indian state. It is important to note that after 1947, Muslims did not come out of their partition mentality. This includes a larger section of Muslims who actually did not participate in the partition movement. The fault lies with both secular political parties in India and Muslims. Till now I have not heard any Muslim political party, or groups, who talk of nation as a whole, or fights for the rights of different communities living in India cutting across religious lines.
Muslims in India, even after so many decades act as a persecuted minority. This is very wrong! Part of the blame lies with some Hindu brothers and sisters who have not been able to accept them as an equal citizen of India. Somewhere, at the subconscious level, they cannot see Muslims as true nationalists. This fact has been highlighted in several Hindi movies through characterisation of Muslims as police inspectors, etc.
Muslims on their part have failed to reassure the Hindus, that, if they participate in politics and make their own political outfit, it will never lead to partition of any part of our motherland. They need to come out of their siege mentality and fight for the rights of every citizen of India, only then people will have faith in their political organisations. Post independence, no Muslim political organisation stood for the rights of dalits, tribals, OBC or poorer sections of Indian society. Muslims have supported others time and again in their demands, but, have not taken any initiative in defending their rights. They always act as if their religion, culture and language are under perpetual threat from the Indian state and other communities living in India. I, personally, have failed to understand this psyche. There are so many Muslim countries in the the world, but still the fear lives here.
Muslims should rather reach out to other communities in India towards building a common platform for advancing different agendas of the nation, which are important for all of us be it environment, economy, polity, corruption, rights of the pooorer sections of the society, etc. I think the day Muslims start doing this, their isolation in Indian politics and society will end automatically.
The common question my Hindu friends ask me, is why Muslims are fighting for the rights of Burmese Muslims and not fight for the violation of the rights of Hindu and Christain minorities living in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Egypt and different other Muslim countries around the world! A valid question indeed. I have never seen any Muslim organisations or individual who fought for the rights of minorities living in the different Muslim countries. We seem to have forgotten our cherished tradition from the early period of Islam, when no harm was done to minorities living under the Muslim dominion. Christians, Jews, Manichaeans, Zoroastrians and others used to be the most protected lot. It was Christians during Abbassid (755-1258 A.D.) period who were responsible for translating all the great works of Greeks into Arabic under the aegis of Bait-ul-Hikma founded in 762 A.D. We do not have any evidence of communal riots between Hindus and Muslims before 1857. Rulers during the Sultanat period (1206-1526 A.D.), and after, used to take loans from Hindu bankers in India.
The problem today is that Muslims themselves are not aware of their rich history and traditions. The Prophet of Islam made a famous agreement with Jews and others for peaceful living on reaching Medina. In fact, he never broke any of his contract under any circumstance, unless, others did it. How many of us know about the Medina agreement and principles it lays down for peaceful coexistence with other religious communities.
So the only way Muslims can break the cycle of isolation, siege mentality and political exploitation by so called secular parties who want us to remain ghettoised, is by deepening good relations with other communities living in India.
(Anwer Hussain is a writer and member of ‘The Center for Study of Society and Secularism’ in Mumbai)