After Ayodhya: The New Improved Indian Muslim?
by Farzana Versey
Countercurrents, December 5
18 years after the Bombay riots, if I still remember the face of the Hindu woman who wanted me to walk with her in the streets that were fast getting deserted on that December 6, then it certainly means the scars have not faded. On any other occasion we could have swapped clothes and stories, but on that day she was a Hindu and I a Muslim. I did not tell her; it was my secret, my cranny identity. She told me, with fear of Them in her quivering voice. I wanted to laugh through my unwept tears. The burden of proving wounds was on the prey.
18 years later it is the same. The strategy has changed, though. In the forward-looking India, secularism has become a slave of religious lobbies. To bait Muslims and demand progressive thinking is part of an agenda. Political postmodernism subverts the contemporary for its edifice is antiquity. The Renaissance of Hindutva is based to a large extent on this. One of the most backward organisations in this country – the RSS – is ruling India, either directly in states where its emissaries make sure its satellite political parties toe the line or by forcing counteracting policies even from the supposedly non-communal parties.
During the riots of 1992-93, there was a particular line of thinking that urged Muslims to ‘go to Pakistan’. In the wake of the recent Wikileaks, one interesting revelation is that President Asif Ali Zardari is trying to get away from the blame of the 26/11 terrorist attacks in Mumbai by quoting from the Sachar Report on economic and social backwardness, saying that it “indicated that Indian Muslims are treated poorly and are among the least prosperous members of society". However, when he adds that “there were plenty of extremist groups in India that could have assisted LeT", it gives the impression that poverty is the only cause of terrorism. It also conveys that Pakistan is concerned about the Indian Muslim, which it is not, and the Indian Muslim looks to Pakistan as some sort of saviour, which we do not.
This sort of rash argument plays into the hands of the saffron parties. Let us not forget that post-Partition the fall of the Babri Masjid was the beginning of the visible division of India. It was a blatant display of power. Every commission of inquiry has not been able to pin down the culprits. The age of enlightenment has meant a patronising acceptance of the largest minority with the proviso that they should help to build a temple at the site. Our liberals do not find this unusual, given that such an expectation should bring down their flimsy curtain of evolution. It is regressive if we have to clutter our mores with excavated history. It acts as a barricade to any movement forward and creates fences.
And in this scenario Muslims are urged to reform. Reform into what - chattels of the Hindutva movement or its own liberals with their elastic halos? The liberal schema is seriously flawed for it looks towards the majoritarian credo for its acceptance. It lacks the courage to protest. It comes out in droves to rally for the causes where the Islamists are the culprits. But when Uma Bharti, who was on the dais when the mosque’s demolition took place, declared that the senior BJP leaders did not know who did it, there were no rallies by them demanding an explanation.
Why is this so? Here the Muslim sympathiser comes in. Now, Muslims cannot be Muslim sympathisers, so the causes have been taken over by the others. Our modern Muslims are the token angels in the deviously-manufactured paradise where a handful dictates terms to the rest. It is part of the ‘objectivity’ plan, which denotes that the minority community has to prove itself at every turn. Those who call for a strong sensible Muslim leadership are the ones who will scuttle such a move for they have appropriated the right to be spokespersons of the Indian Muslim.
Religious open-mindedness is measured in economic and cultural terms. Ironically, the Muslims who are aired as examples of the ‘good’ ones are not in a position to speak on behalf of the 160 million who live lives of abject poverty and fear. The class that has to be protected is the one that is most threatened. Azim Premji may be the biggest philanthropist today but will it have any impact on society’s attitude towards Indian Muslims? The common person will not bask in such reflected glory, but they certainly do not want an IT revolutionary thrust as an example of how they can move ahead. No one uses the example of Narayan Murthy or the Ambanis to ask the poor Hindus and Dalits to become progressive.
The other fallout is the appearance of the cultural Muslim. They are so afraid that even when they observe the Ramzan fasts they call it a cultural act. It would be better for them to perform kathak to prove their cultural allegiance to the faith associated with the Mughal colonisers. There has to be a clear understanding as to how a religion is viewed in political terms, for there may be fringe adherents and even non-believers but an accident of birth puts them in a position to be part of the community. Their participation is crucial for they too have to bear the consequences of being tagged.
After Ayodhya, all labels come with strings attached.
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Also published in Khaleej Times: Down the road from Ayodhya