6.12.10

After Ayodhya: The New Improved Indian Muslim?

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

11 comments:

  1. Whatever the motivations of Regent-In-Charge Zaradari but I do feel there is a substance in this argument:

    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".

    As a matter of fact, I believe the most important thing to do in India today is rather than restore the Babri Masjid or whatever, these youth whose lives are getting thrown away, need to be saved by inclusive affirmative actions proposed by Ranganath Mishra and now Sachar Committee report.

    I know Muslims are reluctant to admit the clusters of backward/rejected communities among them but there is no macho reason to make them suffer and not benefit from India's development.

    About this other item in your post:

    Every commission of inquiry has not been able to pin down the culprits.

    We have not provided justice to Bhopal tragedy even though no one in India had to pay a penny out of their own pocket. All they had to do was to pursue the case properly in US courts. Sheer case of incompetence and of course because the lives involved were less worthy and we can ruffle our colonial masters.

    We have a Sikh Prime Minister who is forced to defer to Soniaji as the perpetrators of 1984 anti-Sikh riots (Sajjan Kumar) had to be given election tickets but which he could not himself do in good conscience.

    As a matter of fact, we would be hard pressed to find any significant case (where ordinary citizens were involved) and justice was meted out to high and mighty. Scion Nanda family runs over 5 poor sods drunk in his BMW, and he is released from his meager sentence to attend the funeral of his illustrious grand father (forgetting his not-so-illustrious arms-dealer uncle or father or someone).

    As for,

    It comes out in droves to rally for the causes where the Islamists are the culprits.

    Apart from much publicized, Shahbano case to Rushdie book burning to Sena/RSS madness, Indian populations have meekly watched from the sidelines as their so-called leaders carry out destructive agendas.

    Ambedkar was so exasperated by Nehru's reluctance to go along with reform of Hindu Civil Code because it changed some aspects of women's property rights. I believe Govind Ballabh Pant was instrumental in scuttling it. Ambedkar just shook his head in amazement and walked out of the government.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hindu_code_bills

    Much later, Indira Gandhi claimed that a different law applied to her inheritance because she was married to a Parsi and thereby Maneka should be kept out it.

    http://www.indiankanoon.org/doc/176546/

    Jinnah who himself was married to a Parsi, broke off relations with his own daughter for many years because she married a Parsi! and Jinnah's wikipedia page says his own mother was a Rajput woman.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muhammad_Ali_Jinnah

    India truly is a land of wonders, whether it is people, places or politics.

    hitesh

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  2. "My Name is Khan and I am innocent" is the identity for which Indian Muslims have paid very dearly. Don't you think, Farzana, it is this brand that must be developed. All other dissections you have discussed, obviously do not work. I am not sure, if this brand building allows for neutralizing "majoritarian" bias.

    Just my thoughts. One of the most honest write-up that I have read on this issue.

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  3. Dear Indian Muslims,

    Stop supporting Pakistan in cricket. Then maybe we can discuss other things.

    Thank you.

    By the way, I was going through some of the prior posts. This guy Hitesh calls Arun Shourie a "clown".

    Thats the problem with little people. They see men who are superior top them, call them names, and feel a lot better about themselves.

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  4. Hitesh:

    I know Muslims are reluctant to admit the clusters of backward/rejected communities among them but there is no macho reason to make them suffer and not benefit from India's development.

    I don't think these clusters have a voice. The Sachar report and the rebuilding of a place of worship need to be demarcated. Also 'inclusiveness' that you speak about will come with bells and whistles; it already does for the Dalits and here there would be the religion factor too.

    Re. commissions of inquiry, I agree that most large-scale crimes by the establishment are left to rust. I have written about the others you mentioned as well. I think the problem is we are suppose to forget.

    Re. the rallies, my issue is with Muslim activists taking out rallies for 9/11 and 26/11 in collusion with the mullahs. Such hypocrites.

    Thanks for the links. India is indeed a place of wonders...

    Dear Red_Devil:

    Stop asking Pakistani cricketers to judge our dance shows. Then maybe we can discuss other things.

    Thank you.

    PS: Not speaking for Hitesh, but generally:

    Thats the problem with little people. They see men who are superior top them, call them names, and feel a lot better about themselves.

    Arun Shourie has called Rajnath Singh and others names. I guess he is 'little people' too then.

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  5. Anon:

    I think if Indian Muslims need to build a brand based on their innocence, then it is denotative of culpability. There is no need to prove anything. I keep saying that there are different kinds of Muslims and each segment will have their leaders. This herding of everyone under one umbrella is stupid, besides being harmful. And I am not merely using the terrorism paradigm. Even in social terms. Shabana Azmi going to town about not getting accommodation is not the same as an ordinary person being denied it. Or Shahrukh Khan being frisked at the airport.

    A Muslim friend often tells me that I cannot speak for Muslims "when you follow no rituals". I speak for myself and that part of me that is tagged. That is the primary impetus. However, there are larger issues and I do not raise these issues only when I have a house problem or an airport frisking incident to deal with. And, of course, when TV channels approach you to be the 'moderate', 'liberal' Muslim voice.

    This turned out to be along rant, but I know I would be termed 'elite' and I do not represent the majority among the minority. But I do not want to even belong to the 'elite' closed club and fortunately for me the distancing is mutual.

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  6. FV:

    The point "denotative of culpability" is true with all identities and branding, individual or group wise. In a way what you dissected based on religion (Hindu and Muslims, and then within them liberals, elite etc.), may also be "denotative of cuplability".

    Even in case of product branding; your favorite fragrance has "denotative culpability" as it has properties that make you choose others, and even guilt in as you may like something about it more. Although in this case it may be more romantic and acceptable.

    There is nothing romantic about poverty and discrimination - dehumanization and demeaning - of certain parts of the society. Branding for the positive should help. Different dissections alongside positive branding may help more. A dissection based on common denominators rather than common separators, which religions are, may go longer way. How can a poor Indian Muslim do it? May be by first building more common denominators, and emphasizing separators.

    Against "majoritarian bias" Indian Muslims cannot rely on separators. Therefore, a positive branding, irrespective of denotative culpability may be more productive.
    Using religion to dissect India to find solutions is suspect, and yields no solutions. Probably, among others, because of what you called as majoritarian bias, the separator glares at us. When no solutions are found culpability is assigned, even if it is to the innocent of the innocents. Your point of "majoritarian bias" is far bigger a challenge, and makes Shabana Azmi not get an apartment, or Asiya bibi is guilty before proven. This bias when expressed within poverty (or denial) of resources at all levels, affects poor and powerless even more.

    I would love to read more of your views on majoritarian bias, and how to counter it.

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  7. Anon (can you please use a nick?):


    Thanks for the thought-provoking comment.

    Using niche or specific paradigms are not necessarily denotative of culpability. The difference from what I said is akin to pinning someone against the wall and commenting on the person’s portrait on the wall. The latter uses perspective and a frame, but the portrait is already there. The glass might reflect one’s own image, so one becomes the denoted as well. It is an inclusive idea.

    Your fragrance example is a bit like this, although the marketing factor is likely to sway us more.

    There is nothing romantic about poverty and discrimination - dehumanization and demeaning - of certain parts of the society. Branding for the positive should help. Different dissections alongside positive branding may help more. A dissection based on common denominators rather than common separators, which religions are, may go longer way. How can a poor Indian Muslim do it? May be by first building more common denominators, and emphasizing separators.

    Think about this. What is more prominent in your phrase – ‘poor Indian Muslim’? The first two words will find common denominators; the last will among one segment. Now to emphasise separators we have the question about how much poverty, where, among who. Same goes for Indian – how Indian? Who decides the extent of ‘nationality’, and we aren’t even talking about nationalism? Some of these are factored historically and due to shifts in historical perspective.

    The positive branding is an idea based on assumptive negative branding. Should not the onus be on the brand-makers?

    Your point of "majoritarian bias" is far bigger a challenge, and makes Shabana Azmi not get an apartment, or Asiya bibi is guilty before proven. This bias when expressed within poverty (or denial) of resources at all levels, affects poor and powerless even more..

    Shabana Azmi is a one-person brand and let’s leave it at that. The Zaheeras and Asiyas are in a different league; they do not ride on a Muslim wave. They are born with separators.

    I would love to read more of your views on majoritarian bias, and how to counter it.

    Parts of your comment reveal a majoritarian bias, however unintentional. I’ll counter it with a longer reply.

    More seriously, I have talked about it often and will do so time and again. How to counter it is not easy in any sphere, but let’s work at it…

    “If I had a hammer…” (Tracy Chapman)

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  8. I am amazed at this tone adopted by Ms Versey who I had a very different impression of. For how long will the (Indian! As if there is a distinction!) Muslims continue to cry? The complaint by author is about stereotyping of Muslims. I wonder if she will complain in a similar manner that it is Quran which stereotypes people as believers and non-believers, refusing to acknowledge any othr distinction between them. If Muslims follow this idea as part of their religion, then aren't they too guilty of stereotyping the non-Muslims? Will it be too much to ask Muslims to stop placing THEIR religion over everything else in the world, including religions of the others?

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  9. So, the moment I do not play into your scheme your impressions changes. Right? Isn't that a stereotype?

    There is a difference between Indian Muslims and Muslims in Bosnia and Muslims in Pakistan and Muslims in S.Arabia and Muslims in China etc. And that has to be understood. I guess since Hinduism is primarily confined to smaller geographical regions it is difficult to fathom such disparities. Not to speak about Hindutva which is not Hinduism just as the Muslim is not a terrorist (hehe).

    Re your question of the Quran making a distinction between believers and non-believers, of course it does. It is a monotheistic faith. Why, does Hinduism accept Islam as a part of it? No. This is the circle, so to speak, and others are others. How much we make them a part of us will be based often from the perspective of that circle and the extent to which we belong to it.

    If my post was a Muslim rant, then your comment was a counter-rant. Let us accept it and weep into our respective halal pillows instead of trying to mimic Aesop's Fables.

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  10. Dear Ms Versey, my pillow would, in all probability, be haram - at least for a Muslim. That apart, even Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism, Sikhism, Jainism are monoatheistic faiths. To extend the argument, Shaivism and Vashnavism sects within Hindu fold are monoatheistic faiths too. But these groups do not go to ridiculous extents to merely emphasise that they are different from the rest, unlike Muslims. They are not viciously intolerant of overlap or (gray) commonalities between their own faith and that of the others. If you ask me, this virulent insistence on distinctiveness is the sole reason for the anti-Muslim nausea sweeping the (okay, non-Muslim!) world.

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  11. Oh, no. Pillows don't commit blasphemy, so they are halal.

    Re. monotheistic faiths, you say:

    But these groups do not go to ridiculous extents to merely emphasise that they are different from the rest, unlike Muslims. They are not viciously intolerant of overlap or (gray) commonalities between their own faith and that of the others.

    Muslims, or rather the Quran, implies that the believers are not different but superior :) So, if anyone meets up to the exacting standards of beard length and pyjama length, we'd go to any length to see the grey overlaps.

    If you ask me, this virulent insistence on distinctiveness is the sole reason for the anti-Muslim nausea sweeping the (okay, non-Muslim!) world.

    Oh, yeah? Like if women are not size zero or men are not all six-abs, they become anti those who are?

    Distinctiveness is about identity and almost all religions have some distinctive marks. Please tell me how many people of other faiths accept others as a part of them?

    Even Rastafarians don't, even if you have dreadlocks.

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