…for the vast majority of Indian Muslims fear, growing alienation and despair are the prevailing sentiments. But for a section of Muslims the situation today is certainly tailor-made to make them feel really angry
In an article published in a financial daily a week ago, columnist Aakar Patel who readers of this paper are familiar with, tries imagining what it must be like to be a Muslim in today’s India. He ended his piece with this: “If I had actually been Muslim in India, I would be very, very angry”. Muslims are not a monolith and not all Muslims are angry. The Zafar Sareshwalas, Najma Heptullahs, Ejaz Ilmis among Indian Muslims do not strike me as being angry about anything except perhaps some dream portfolio that still eludes them. As for the Mukhtar Abbas Naqvis and the Shahnawaz Hussains, even Gujarat 2002 did not disturb their equanimity.
Meanwhile, for the vast majority of Indian Muslims, especially those who are in small numbers amidst a predominant Hindu majority (as in Dadri), I suspect it’s not anger so much as insecurity, fear, helplessness, growing alienation and despair that are the prevailing sentiments. But Patel is right. For a section of Muslims the situation in India today is certainly tailor-made to make them feel really angry and outraged.
Asaduddin Owaisi and brother Akbaruddin must be very, very angry for sure. Sadly, how they and their party, the Majlis Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM), choose to channelise their anger will only deepen the communal divide. Forget the MIM for the moment and consider two reports that appeared just a day after Patel’s column was published.
One was a report from Karnataka. A Bajrang Dal activist, who actively participated in a campaign that led to the closure of a slaughter house in the Moodabidri region of Dakshina Kannada, was hacked to death on October 9. The police have so far arrested nine Muslim men and claimed this was a “revenge killing”, the result of “communal rivalry”.
The other was a report from the Vidarbha region in Maharashtra: The Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) of the state police is on the lookout for a local cleric from Yawatmal district who they suspect might have instigated the accused Abdul Malik to stab a constable on Bakr Id (September 25) in a bid to register protest against the beef ban imposed by the state government. While stabbing him, the unemployed, angry youth had allegedly shouted: “Tumhari government beef ban karti hai, to yeh lo” (Your government bans beef, so take this).
With angry Hindus and angry Muslims, what happens next? How does one deal with this mutually reinforcing lethal mix of “Hindu anger” and “Muslim anger”?
On a micro level, non-angry Hindus and Muslims are capable of devising happy solutions, like they did in Mumbai’s Kurla suburb. Navratri this year happened to coincide with Muharram; both observed over 10 days. There being only one open ground in the highly congested suburb, local Hindus and Muslims came up with an amiable answer. There was puja and aarti until 8 pm daily, after which the ground was vacated to enable Muslims to organise their Muharram-time discourse. Come to think of it, both Navratri and Muharram recall the perennial conflict between right and wrong, good and evil. But howsoever comforting, how effective are local solutions as antidote to the poison that now vitiates the national environment?
It’s time we recalled what Irfan Ahmad had to say in his book, Islamism and Democracy in India: The Transformation of Jamaat-e-Islami, published five years ago. Ahmad argued that while the dynamics of Indian democracy compelled the fundamentalist Jamaat-e-Islami to gradually abandon Maulana Maududi’s Islamic state and Shariah law fantasy and move towards secular democracy, the meteoric rise of militant Hindutva in the 1980s pushed the Jamaat-e-Islami off-shoot (ideologically if not organisationally), the Students Islamic Movement of India (Simi), in an opposite, extremist direction.
Sadly, how they and their party, the Majlis Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM), choose to channelise their anger will only deepen the communal divide.
“Simi’s declaration of jihad did not stem from its members reading the Quran but from Hindutva’s violent mass mobilisation against Muslims in its campaign to build the Ram temple. Second, the Simi became radical because the Indian state failed to practice secularism”, Ahmad argued. I am not entirely with Ahmad. While Simi’s growing militancy was arguably the product and a mirror image of a virulent Hindutva, there is no denying that the former’s extremism found theological anchor in a pre-existing totalitarian Islamist worldview.
My disagreements with Ahmad notwithstanding, the fact remains that Hindutva is on the rampage once again. More likely than not, this will make a section of Indian Muslims, however miniscule, so angry as to lose their heads. And let’s not forget we now live in a neighbourhood far more volatile than it was in the 1980s. Then there was only Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence for us to worry about, and when Simi gave the call for jihad and shahadat (martyrdom) on Indian soil in the early 1990s, even the Jamaat-e-Islami distanced itself from its ideological offshoot. Today, apart from the ISI and the Pakistani Taliban, we have the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria and the Al Qaeda knocking on our doors. What if some of their recruiting agents find their way to Yavatmal and elsewhere in the country?
Nothing can ever justify violence, no matter who the perpetrator. But perhaps it’s time we recalled what veteran journalist and columnist Prem Shankar Jha wrote while Gujarat was burning in 2002: “Would it be surprising if some of them (Muslims) are asking themselves whether Hindus will ever let them prosper in India and whether it would not be better to go out in a blaze of terrorist revenge?”
Perhaps it’s time we stopped toying with words and learnt to call people by their proper names. As historian Romila Thapar has suggested, all those who terrorise fellow citizens, whether with a mob or a bomb, should henceforth be called terrorists, irrespective of the party they belong to or the religion they espouse.
The writer is co-editor of Communalism Combat and general secretary, Muslims for Secular Democracy
(This article was first published in The Asian Age)