Skip to main content

India's majoritarian politics is "demonising" Muslims

By Moin Qazi*
Do not show the face of Islam to others; instead show your face as the follower of true Islam representing character, knowledge, tolerance and piety. ― Sir Syed Ahmed Khan (October 17, 1817 – March 27, 1898)
An educated, secular and liberal Indian Muslim is in a bind; he is torn between finding the right balance between loyalty to his faith and adherence to the new tests of patriotism being imposed by certain intolerant groups. The high voltage saffronisation wave that is demonising Muslims has broken the resistance of even strong neutral and secular groups who are now inclined to go with the official tide.
The centuries old secular souls is slowly being ruptured. India has suddenly become deaf to its minorities who are shuddering with muteness at the growing intolerance of saffron hordes. Mocking and ridiculing of Muslims is now rife in public spaces.
India’s once cherished and internationally lauded secular values have been drowned in the sea of primitive majoritarian politics which is driven more by uncontrollable rage than by sensible reason. Not just Hindutva foot soldiers but democratic institutions and spaces are being used to suppress religious freedom. We are fast seeing a potential breakdown of what was a flourishing multicultural society. Muslims are made to routinely confront a culture of fear which sees everything Muslim as pure evil.
I can feel the disdain emanating from officers when they look at my passport and find I havea Muslim name. Other friends — much richer and better known than most of us — will tell you how difficult it is to rent a house if you are a Muslim.A sense of despair runs through the entire Muslim community and they are passing through the most horrific phase post Partition.
Continuing inebriation on account of political popularity has emboldened the intolerant elements in the ruling party, who are now openly imposing their own moral benchmarks with regard to diet, dress, faith and patriotism totally overlooking the cultural sentiments of others. This rhetoric is injecting anti-Muslim sentiments in a climate when Muslims are already feeling alienated and marginalised. The political and social environment has never been so hostile. An ordinary Muslim is being hissed and snarled with vileness by all and sundry in full glare of the law.
A number of questions keep agitating a Muslim’s mind. If am a patriotic and secular Indian then
  • Why do people stare at me when I wear my skull cap or Hijab? 
  • Why does my name force people to doubt my love for my nation? 
  • Why do I hear comments like “You will be supporting Pakistan during a match"? 
  • Why do I not get a good apartment on rent in a posh locality? 
  • Why do people call me staunch if I pray fives time in a day?
  • Why am I called an orthodox Muslim if I follow my religion to the best of my capacities? 
  • Why are the boys of my community under constant surveillance? Why am I not an Indian as much as you are? 
The majority Indian Muslims not only have to worry about worsening communal relations and police brutality, but also face high unemployment and widespread poverty.
They live in urban ghettos or squalid villages and suffer from ignorance, ridicule, humiliation and The profound sense of pain caused by calculated and senseless ridicule of their religious practices only serves to alienate them from the national mainstream.
India must not forget that it has an entire generation of young Muslims who are born into a turbulent era, and whose mindset and identity is being nurtured in an environment where they apprehend being suspected as ‘disloyal others’. Some of them are highly talented and are in the vanguard of the nation’s new development revolution.
The negative profiling of Muslims can cause alienation among the Muslim community; and as a result of this alienation, there will be enough space for fissiparous tendencies leading to long term fissures. Studies have shown that one of the factors underpinning radicalisation is a sense of loss of belonging and identity.
An analysis of 198 countries by the Pew Research Centre finds India is the fourth-worst country in the world for religious intolerance and violence. Only three countries — Syria, Nigeria and Iraq — are before India in this name-and-shame list, and even Pakistan fares much better than India on this front, being in the tenth position.
Muslims have been forced to think deeply about their role in present day political climate in India. It isn’t so much a battle of what it means to be a Muslim in India. It’s a greater battle between broader India, of how tolerant and open-minded it will be about minorities, about Indian values of democracy and secularism, about recognising how true they want to be to the Indian values of openness and freedom for all.
Of late, the Indian secular fabric is increasingly becoming fragile. Many on either side don’t believe in either tolerance or moderation and are determined to follow the age old adage ‘paying them in their own coin’ too literally. The official machinery which had earlier been by and large very subtle in it communal agenda is now baring its fangs brazenly.
Religion is often portrayed simply as a social or political construct, although for millions of people, religion is a daily practice, and the very real framework of an understanding that connects human lives to a spiritual reality. For the laity, faith is the prism through which they view the world, and their religious communities are their central environments. For them it is a benign force, shorn of the political sentiments which are manipulated into an ideological construct by ideological groups for their election algorithms.
It is difficult to overstate the importance of faith in the lives of people for whom it is a creed of peace and love. It is evident that most people would prefer to live in peace than in conflict. At their very core, all religions espouse peace, tolerance and compassion. Yet, often the only religious voices on the front pages are those speaking messages of hatred or violence, especially in stories about conflict or social tensions. One of the best ways of breaking down barriers between faiths is building relationships and getting to know each other. It’s not just a platitude but it actually is a verse from the Q’uran where the Lord says, "He made us different so we can get to know each other."
Taking that verse to heart and getting to know other people and coming together on issues that are common to all of us can synergise a new spirit of bonhomie. We’re all concerned with education and poverty, growing inflation, surging unemployment and taxes, where we can find common ground and work towards a better world and better future for all of us.
There is much in common among people irrespective of the faith they profess. It is this which needs to be explored. We need to be able to see the other and say "we understand you are different, but we also understand the difference".
There is ample scope for reconciliation if only we are willing to avail of the myriad opportunities staring at us. Despite the many superficial differences, all our deeper and more permanent values are similar. The respect for knowledge, justice, truth, compassion towards the less privileged commitment for healthy family life, and the striving to improve our world and make it a better place for everyone are commonalities to people of all faiths. A more sobering reflection can help us smoothen the ridges that keep straining our relationships.
The majority must realise that the minorities face a severe emotional complex. An ordinary Muslim carries a lot of weight on his shoulders; having a lot of responsibility. Having responsibility to his own community and responsibility to his fellow Indians to not only convey the right impression of Islam but embody the principles of nationalism deemed correct by the majority. You have to be an exemplary, upright and righteous individual; people are going to look at you and judge other Muslims based on your conduct. I have to be on my guard all the time because I know people are looking and they generally are going to associate any actions I do as representative of my religion.
We’re all ambassadors of whatever we are. You’re an ambassador to your faith and society as you live your lives. It is not what you profess or preach that matters; it is finally your actions that define you and your thoughts. Your public perception is built over a period of time and is shaped by the uniformity in your speech and behaviour.
A dichotomous behaviour is bound to erode your credibility and your loyalty to your faith can very well be misperceived as disloyalty to national values. The cardinal values that underpin your faith and your patriotism are normally shared by each other: ethical conduct and pluralist character.
It is worth quoting Dr S Radhakrishnan, the philosopher president of India:
"What counts is not creed but conduct. By their fruits ye shall know them and not by their beliefs. Religion is not correct belief but righteous living. The Hindu view that every method of spiritual growth, every path to the Truth is worthy of reverence has much to commend itself" (The Hindu View of Life, 1962).
There’s always a certain level of bias initially when people meet you. I think that the main challenge is having those conversations and getting people to a level where they stop seeing you just as a Muslim, but a fellow Indian and person of faith. It is equally true that in recent times the highly volatile and hostile environment has made the situation very complicated. Proffering advices is easier said than done.
Being Muslim and being Indian are compatible and go hand-in-hand. You don’t need to compromise your faith to prove your patriotism; real patriotism is demonstrated through the timeless values of Indian civilisation — fairness, justice, tolerance and pluralism.
I am reminded of the writings of the great author Amin Maalouf on identity. In re-reading them, I realize I had forgotten how relevant his thinking is for the times in which we live. Written in 1998, Maalouf says:
"[In] the age of globalization and of the ever-accelerating intermingling of elements in which we are all caught up, a new concept of identity is needed, and needed urgently. We cannot be satisfied with forcing billions of bewildered human beings to choose between excessive assertion of their identity and the loss of their identity altogether, between fundamentalism and disintegration. But that is the logical consequence of the prevailing attitude on the subject.
If our contemporaries are not encouraged to accept their multiple affiliations and allegiances; if they cannot reconcile their needs for identity with an open and unprejudiced tolerance of other cultures; if they feel as if they need to choose between the denial of self and the denial of the other - then we shall be bringing into being legions of the lost and hordes of bloodthirsty madmen.
"For it is the way we look at other people that imprisons them within their own narrowest allegiances. And it is also the way we look at them that may set them free."

Muslims are faced in a dilemma of dichotomous loyalties and the best inspiration for them in these trying times is of Maulana Azad, who was the president of Indian National Congress during the negotiation of independence and was a key ally of Gandhi and Nehru:
“I am a Musalman and am proud of that fact. Islam’s splendid traditions of 1,300 years are my inheritance. I am unwilling to lose even the smallest part of this inheritance. The teaching and history of Islam, its arts and letters and civilisation, are my wealth and my fortune. It is my duty to protect them.
"As a Musalman I have a special interest in Islamic religion and culture, and I cannot tolerate any interference with them. But in addition to these sentiments, I have others also which the realities and conditions of my life have forced upon me. The spirit of Islam does not come in the way of these sentiments; it guides and helps me forward.
“I am proud of being an Indian. I am part of the indivisible unity that is Indian nationality. I am indispensable to this noble edifice, and without me this splendid structure of India is incomplete. I am an essential element which has gone to build India. I can never surrender this claim.
“It was India’s historic destiny that many human races and cultures and religions should flow to her, finding a home in her hospitable soil, and that many a caravan should find rest here. Even before the dawn of history, these caravans trekked into India and wave after wave of newcomers followed. This vast and fertile land gave welcome to all, and took them to her bosom. One of the last of these caravans, following the footsteps of its predecessors, was that of the followers of Islam.
‘They came here and settled here for good.”
India has been a flag bearer of pluralism and has always held the candle of tolerance, mutual respect and peaceful coexistence. Muslims have time again responded to the challenges of the nation and facts and history attest to their role in building this great nation. Alienating one fifth of this population will not help the country and will be against the spirit of its centuries’ old ethos.
---
*Author of ‘Village Diary of a Heretic Banker’, has spent more than three decades in the development sector

Comments

TRENDING

Economist-editor's allegations on Narmada defamatory, baseless: Medha Patkar

Counterview Desk  In a reply directly addressed to well-known economist, journalist and columnist Swaminathan S Anklesaria Aiyar’s two articles in the Times of India (republished here and here ), calling them defamatory and wondering whether they were borne out of “ignorance or a conspiracy through political alliance”, Narmada Bachao Andolan leader Medha Pakar has said that the Narmada Sardar Saravar Project and the people's movement by adivasis, farmers, labourers, fish workers, potters and all the generations’ old communities from the river valley have suddenly come to be focused on, since the Gujarat elections are in the doorstep. She believes that while the “defamatory accusations with baseless conceptions such as ‘urban naxals’ are to be laughed at as the electoral strategic moves, one gets shocked to read the articles by a known old columnist like Swaminathan Ankalesaria Aiyar, published in a reputed daily like the Times of India." According to her, Aiyar’s two articl

Hindutva groups threat to peace, freedom: US diaspora groups tell FBI, other govt depts

By Our Representative  The Islamophobic and neo-Nazi ideology of Hindutva is a clear and present danger to peace and freedoms in the United States, a coalition of civil rights organizations told key officials of the U.S. Attorney General’s Office, the US Department of Justice (DOJ), and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) at a recent event in Edison, New Jersey. At the event titled United Against Hate, activists from American Muslims for Democracy (AMD), Hindus for Human Rights (HfHR) and Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC) made detailed presentations on this ideology of Hindu supremacism that is committing mass persecution of India’s Muslims and Christians and is rearing its ugly head in New Jersey as well as across the US. Attending the event were David S Leonardis, Special Investigator from the New Jersey Department of Law & Public Safety; Michael E Campion, Chief of the Civil Rights Division for the US Attorney General's Office; and Jonathan R Norbut of the U.S. Dep

Facing tough times, Rajasthan's Raika herders hold first-ever camel cheese festival

By Rosamma Thomas*  During the pandemic, the annual Pushkar camel fair in Rajasthan did not occur for fear of contagion; in 2022, it was called off again as lumpy skin disease affected cattle. At Sadri in Pali district, however, festivity continues – a two-day Camel Cheese Festival was held on November 23 and 24, 2022. Visitors spent time with the camel herds and their Raika, drank camel-milk tea with the herders and then returned to lunch at the Kumbhalgarh Camel Dairy, from where the Kumbhalgarh Fort is visible, to taste camel cheese. The Raika herders have been facing a tough time – camels are no longer used as much for transport or agriculture in Rajasthan. The animals have limited utility, but their milk is prized. Camel Charisma, the dairy at Kumbhalgarh, sends camel milk across the country to people who use it in therapy – for autistic children, improved blood sugar levels, or even to treat cancer. It is believed that the health benefits of the camel milk is because the animals

As polls approach, electorate 'failing to realise': Gujarat model is in a shambles

By DN Rath*  Gujarat assembly elections, scheduled to be held on 1 and 5 December 2022, is viewed by many as dress rehearsal for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. When the suffering people have been pointing towards redressal of some local issues like absence of cleanliness, sewage problem, shortage of water supply, troubles created by stray cattle, insufficiency of streetlights, etc., it is evident that they are not fully aware that assembly elections are being fought on ideological standpoints and policy decisions. Nor is there the realisation that the state is in a shambles and the much-trumpeted ‘Gujarat model’ of development has proved to be a hoax. Like other states, the people of Gujarat are also back-broken by steep rise in prices to the tune of 400% in last 20 years. It is not that the government cannot control the spurt in prices if it so wants. Apart from the fact that price rise is an inevitability in a capitalist economy, artificial shortage triggered by massive hoarding, b

Shedding Hindu-Hindi-Hindustan? New Modi-Shah love for Tamil Nadu 'ignores' Periyar

By Sandeep Pandey*   The Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) or the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) have long argued for ‘Hindu-Hindi-Hindustan’, which into recent years has translated into a crisper English expression: ‘One Nation-One Religion-One Language’. Given this backdrop, it is curious that the BJP government has organised the Kashi Tamil Sangamam in Varanasi, the Prime Minister’s constituency. Why did the BJP and RSS feel the need for such an event? All Narendra Modi events are highly publicised and have multiple political objectives. It is never an innocuous religious/cultural event as it may appear from the face of it. Afterall, RSS calls itself a cultural organisation, but has never ceased to surprise us with its political designs. Tamil Nadu has a long history of opposing imposition of Hindi by Union governments. Periyar EV Ramasamy had opposed the idea of compulsory teaching in Hindi as far back as in 1937. The 1960s witnessed violent protests against Hindi in which a number

Buddhist shrines were 'massively destroyed' by Brahmanical rulers: Historian DN Jha

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

BJP poll gimmick? Bilkis Bano rape case 'pardon' vs Rajiv assassins' release

By Sandeep Pandey*  Supreme Court has released six convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case. This was bound to happen as earlier AG Perarivalan was released in the same case, setting a precedent. Even though four of them are Sri Lankans but a popular Tamil sentiment favoured the release of these convicts which is why Tamil political parties supported this and resolutions were passed by different governments in Tamil Nadu to his effect.  Rajiv Gandhi paid the price of sending Indian Peace Keeping Force to Sri Lanka where it got entangled with Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and eventually the whole operation ended up is a fiasco.  However, most importantly Sonia and Priyanka Gandhi and probably Rahul too do not have any objections to the release of these convicts. In fact, Sonia Gandhi played an important role in getting the death sentence of the only lady among the convicts Nalini commuted to life term through the Tamil Nadu Governor. Priyanka visited Nalini in Vellore Jail and

GM mustard not swadeshi, it's a patent of MNC Bayer, GoI 'misleading' SC: Modi told

Counterview Desk  In a representation to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, as many as 42 farmers’ organisations though their representatives , backed by senior scientists and experts, have said that the Government of India (GoI) should stop misleading the Supreme Court “with untrue and incorrect” statements on GM mustard. Insisting that India does not need unsafe GM mustard, in their representation, they urged the Supreme Court to order immediate uprooting of GM mustard crop in various locations. The representation comes even as a penal of experts, coming down heavily on the GoI for refusing to see how in less than a week’s time the pollen from GM mustard will “start contaminating” non-GM mustard fields with transgenes, including male sterility and herbicide tolerant traits. Alleging that the GoI is actively misleading the Supreme Court with untrue and incorrect statements on GM mustard, Kavitha Kuruganti of the Coalition for a GM-Free India said, “We can list at least five areas where Gov

Never-ending saga of sin tax: What if murder is taxed at Rs 1 crore, rape at Rs 5 crore?

By Moses Raj GS, Sangeetha Thomas*  What should have ended by June 30, 2022 as a 5 year experiment has resurfaced. The government has extended the levy of GST compensation cess by another 4 years till March 31, 2026. This cess, dubbed as the sin tax imposed on sin(ful) goods, is double the highest slab on indirect taxes. But only a few pay for it and the majority benefit, unendingly. The year 2017 is a landmark year for indirect taxes. With the grand idea of ‘One Nation, One Tax’ as a fiscal slogan subsuming all State based taxes such as octroi /entry tax, Value Added Tax (VAT), sales tax, taxes on lottery, betting and gambling, luxury tax, purchase tax, entertainment tax, property tax, professional tax and central sales tax into a single framework of Goods and Services Tax (GST) changed the contours of revenue collection. Complicating it further, India, with each State having its own size and revenue problems, has the most complex and highly centralised indirect tax structure in the w

Muslims, Dalits off Bangladesh border 'don't have acess to' water, power, farmland

Counterview Desk  Kirity Roy, secretary, civil rights group Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha (MASUM), in a letter to the chairman, National Human Rights Commission, has revealed how, even after 75 years of Independence, Muslims and Dalits living next to the India-Bangladesh border do not have access to electricity, drinking water, even to their own land. Stating that the “horrible situation” has due to “illegal restriction on the agricultural activities” imposed by the Border Security Force (BSF), plunging “farmers and their families into deeper poverty”, the letter, referring to the plight of 1,200 people reside in the Changmari village, states, There are about 200 acres of cultivable lands out of 3,500 acres is situated beyond the border fence. “The ingress and egress of the farmers to their own agricultural land through the fencing gates are regulated by the BSF. The soil and climate of this region is very suitable for jute and maize cultivation”, it adds. Text: This letter is