avatar
Indian Muslims


My chief concern here is to understand the situation of muslims in India. But, to the extent that the issue is inevitably affected by the condition of muslims world-wide, it is relevant to take note of factors that impinge upon that condition even at the risk of enumerating a critique that is by now often made and well-recognized. The truth needs as much repeating as the lie, especially when the lie has the backing of  imperialist money and muscle.

First a word about the villainous propogation that a “clash of civilizations” is now underway, globally.

Nobody but the indubitably partisan is any more taken in by the reification-in-reverse, as it were, whereby American imperialism, unimpeded by any concerted, state-level opposition, seeks to fetishize its untrammeled material ambitions in the resource-rich middle and west Asian regions principally as a purely ideological crusade on behalf of “freedom.”

This despicable subterfuge requires that Islam be recast as a theoretical breeding ground of “jehadis”; this for the simple enough reason that the preponderant population in these oil-rich regions is muslim.  Thus, nationalists throughout this region engaged in a life-and-death struggle to secure the rights of sovereignty need to be christened “terrorists.”  Never mind that both Hamas and Hizbollah owe their political legitimacy to massive electoral victories, duly “certified” by reputed international agencies. Never mind also that American imperialism is hard put to find any “terrorist” Islamism in a Wahabi Saudi Arabia, even though all of the protagonists who brought the twin towers down were of Saudi extraction.  Nor, for that matter, are the neocons able to see Pakistan as a centerpiece in the “Islamic” terrorist business.  Or Musharraf as a military dictator who seems determined to hijack the promise of Pakistani democracy for ever and ever.

Clearly, for an American President who is widely suspected by his own countrymen of having stolen both his electoral victories, the “democracy” slogan is just one instrument of imperialist designs.

It needs to be recalled that the pioneers in the “terrorist” way of doing things were the Israelis.  Scholarship, including the Wikipedia, has given us an elaborate record of the modus operandi of the Zionist Irgun and Stern terrorist groups—spearheaded by such respectable worthies as Menachem Begin, Yatzak Shamir, and Ariel Sharon—in their fight to dislodge the British from their mandate in Palestine.  Those modus operandi included the cold-blooded murders of diplomats and United Nations’ officials, not to speak of the bombing of the King David Hotel in which more than ninety innocent people were blown to smithereens and many more maimed for life.  Scholarhip also records that these terrorists took their stand as much on religion as the  jehadis of our day.

Is it also not rather cute that while  a prospective Iranian nuclear capability is sought to be sold to the “international community” as the central source of menace for the world community, the well-known Israeli arsenal is never mentioned.  Remember that Osama bin Laden and the Taliban were not viewed as “terrorist” material while the principal contradiction of American imperialism was with the Soviets in Afghanistan.  Once, however, that contradiction shifted course, yesterdays’ “freedom fighters” became todays’ “terrorists.”  Or that the “war on terror” should have been launched in Iraq which was notably the one truly secular state in the whole region. That the invasion of Iraq has now successfully converted that country into a  jehadi hub goes of course to speak to the criminal accountability of the Americans in the matter, and to an imperialist folly that bids fair to destroy civilized governance throughout the world. There must some reason after all why already some 85% Lebanese today call themselves Hizbollah as opposed to some 50% before the current Israeli invasion. And that includes the Lebanese Christians as well. Or why Maliki, the puppet prime minister of a “free” Iraq has felt humiliated enough now to take issue with the continuing brutalities of the Bush regime in complete disregard of the so-called Iraqi government.

Having said that, if there is a clash now underway it is between those who advocate adherence to the principles of the Westphalian Treaty (1645) that guarantees the sovereignty of nation-states and non-interference in each other’s internal affairs, and to the United Nations Charter which was drawn up by the world community to establish peaceful co-existence among nations and a non-recourse to violence and war as instruments of the redressal of disputes, on the one hand, and those others whose desire for global domination seeks to make mince-meat of both the Westphalian Treaty and the U.N.Charter.

And this clash today is nowhere more in evidence than within America itself. Never have Americans been as vertically divided—between the reds and the blues—since the Civil War as they are today. By the latest reckoning, some 60% Americans would be considered “anti-national” by the Bush administration! Having now christened the term “Islamic fascism” Bush has had to be at the receiving end of important articles in the American media that have asked whether this may not be a case of the pot calling the kettle black.

Same is true of people who inhabit the “muslim” world.  Despite the heinous depredations wrought everyday by the neocon “vision” of a new world order– whereby American Imperialism arrogates to itself the right to preemptive war, to regime changes in other countries, and to full-scale global dominance—in the middle and west Asian region, and wherever else people seek to resist that evil “vision,” muslims are everywhere divided between those who think such resistance can succeed only through an assymetrical guerrilla war, and those who still wish to adhere to democratic, institutional mechanisms to force reason and sanity upon an imperialism gone berserk, or who desire to see a consolidation of state-level resistance to American imperialism.

On each side, of course, it suits the war-mongers to homogenize disparate, dissident, contentious identities and positions and complex political and intellectual considerations into crusading binaries—the regime, as it were, of a born-again Christianity against the injunctions of Allah. That the vast majority of the world’s population knows this to be, nonetheless, a war, on one hand, for the control of  the world’s material resources and, on the other, for resisting that imperial agenda is by now obvious enough.

Indeed, this contention between the homogenizing political project and the concrete pluralities on the ground that demand democratic cognition lies at the root of much that has gone on in India during the last two decades.

Since the implementation of the recommendations of the Mandal Commissiion by the V.P.Singh government (1989)—recommendations that, deriving from the Constitution, recognized caste affiliation rather than an undifferentiated religious one as the basic social unit of identity among Hindus—a crusade on behalf of Brahminical Hinduism ensued.

Clearly, the object of that crusade has been to reconstitute Hindus across social contradictions as the dominant “majority” that then seeks to supplant the notion that a majority in a republican democracy can only comprise franchised “citizens,” a circumstance that then feeds directly into minority-bashing. Thus the Brahminical upper-caste crusade against affirmative action on behalf of deprived castes curiously yields the politics of communalism. This despite the fact that the BJP has never yet polled more than 26% of the national vote at any general election.  Considering  that not more than 5% muslims have ever voted for the party, the BJP thus fails to draw the allegiance of some 70% or more of voting Hindus.  As in America now, the chief political divide in India has thus been between high-caste Hindus who seek to force their vision of the nation on  the Republic and the great majority of Hindus who refuse that fascist imposition.  Thus the “cultural nationalism” of the Brahminical minority remains in clash with Hindus whose allegiance to the Constitutional scheme remains in place.

Likewise, despite the beleaguered attempts of religious muslim leaderships to cast India’s muslims into a monolithic block, the often peddled notion of a “minority vote bank” remains an interested myth.  At no point during  India’s political history of the last three decades have Indian muslims voted enmasse for any one single political party.  Muslims have tended to vote only for such candidates who they have thought equipped to defeat the BJP.  Such a voting pattern has inevitably meant that muslims have often voted against many muslim candidates along a diverse spectrum of parties in diverse electoral constituencies.

Post the recent train blasts in Mumbai, majoritarian fascism seeks once again to replicate the imperialist myth that “terrorism” is an exclusively muslim phenomenon.  Note that one has never heard the RSS, which is itself listed as a “terrorist” organization in an important American website, speak of LTTE terrorism as Hindus terrorism.  Nor does one ever hear Christian or Jewish terrorism mentioned, although Wikipedia conscientiously records elaborate instances of both.  Consider also the deep irony that Independent India’s most memorably high-placed losses to terrorism have all been perpetrated by non-muslim agents: Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated by a Brahmin, Indira Gandhi by a Sikh, and Rajiv Gandhi again by a Hindu LTTE assassin.  It should also be noted that the many instances of espionage against the nation-state that have come to light in recent years have all involved non-muslims; surely, treason can hardly be argued to constitute an offence less heinous than a “terrorist” act. Currently, as we know, a nationalist scion of the BJP—an ex-minister several times over—continues his refusal to share his self-confessed knowledge of espionage activity on behalf of the Americans. Yet, nobody seems particularly bothered.

Understandably, Indian muslims once again find themselves under siege, as day in and day out they are hauled up at any odd hour of day or night to answer to the most far-fetched suspicions.  Muslim intellectuals, therefore, once again debate among themselves what new political expression the thwarted history of the community should now draw on, given that successive governments, including secular ones, have tended to leave their genuine material aspirations in limbo.  Be it education, employment (especially in the army, police and higher bureaucracy) or traditional livelihoods in skills and crafts, or their share in property ownership, Indian muslims find themselves at the bottom of the social rung, just as Gujarat-like episodes that repeatedly bring to light the complicity of official mechanisms, including state-aaparatus, with “majoritarian” rioters, city after city, with the honourable exception of India’s southern states, leave them fearing for their life and limb. Consequent ghettoisation of the community, both in terms of living conditions and  an ideological inwardness that willy nilly collapses into religious identity causes a paralysis of initiative that is often easy to deride but difficult to redress.
 
Younger muslims, not burdened by any direct memories of India’s partition, who aspire to seek for a future as authentic Indian citizens beyond mere physical security chaff at the failure of political choices the community elders have thus far tended to exercise. Even as episodes like the demolition of the Babri masjid and the Gujarat genocide fan the impulse to violent reassertion. That such an impulse has not come to any significant expression  is of course a defining tribute to the specific formation of Islam in India, but  a circumstance that ought not, however, to lull us into complacence.

What, then, is to be done?  Easier asked than answered.  The first important thing to recognize here is that whatever it is that ought to be done does not have to be done by India’s muslims alone.  The temptation, therefore, to be holier-than-thou must be resisted because such a frame of reference in itself bespeaks a flawed grasp of what is wrong in the first place.

The doing necessarily must involve the following agencies, at the least:

–various organs of the State;
–English and Hindi media agencies (both print and visual);
–secular Indians across the board (which is to say some three fourths of citizens);
–Indian muslims, who like Indian Hindus or Sikhs are not a homogenous monolith.

Briefly, ritual protestations notwithstanding, it remains an ugly fact that the police apparatus in the northern states of India seems invariably to reserve its sub-liminal brutal antipathy for India’s muslims, a reality that has been repeatedly recorded whenever communal clashes take place.  Just to cite one episode, at Hashimpora the Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) a decade or so ago shot in the head some forty five muslims in cold blood and dumped the corpses, one by one, in a canal nearby. It still remains to be seen what punishment the judicial system metes out to these murderers. Even as it is true that working class, factory protesters are also routinely caned and bashed by the PAC, the emotion that informs official violence against muslim Indians in these states flows out of a mind-set that holds muslims responsible for the partition of India, and thus regards them as guilty and inauthentic members of the republic, however just their cause.

The larger failure of the State clearly involves the complicity of governments in their disinterest in delivering, and seen to be delivering, the same kind of justice to rioters and killers that are drawn from the majority community as is promptly handed out to muslims on the instant.  There is perhaps no more blatant instance of this from recent history than the contrast in the way the findings of the Srikrishna Commission that enquired into the communal carnage in Mumbai prior to the 1993 bomb blasts, and the subsequent bomb blast accused case have been treated.  The Srikrishna report which forthrightly held many senior officers and top-level political leaders guilty has remained rather unheard and shelved, while the State and the media that is equally complicit await with glee the judgement in the bomb blast cases.

Nor should it be overlooked that the massacre that took place in Gujarat in 2002 was followed by the refusal to file FIRs or file them in distorted ways, leading to the closure of thousands of cases even where eye-witnesses were willing to make disclosures.  That some of the most gruesome ones were reopened and sent off for trial in other states, unprecedented in itself, testifies of course to the odyssey undertaken on behalf of the victims by civil society organizations like the Citizens for Peace and Justice, led by the outstanding Teesta Setalvad.

This predilection undermines in the gravest extent the faith that muslims seek to repose in the secular democratic State.  Such a collapse of credibility, needless  to say, can in time become the prime factor for persuading Indian muslims that they must seek justice by other means.

 

Wide interaction with muslims reinforces the truth that this treatment is not the least of reasons why, unlike other sections of society, muslim Indians have grave  forebodings about mounting any organized public protests on issues of concern.  Clearly, given this reality, it is grossly hypocritical and disingenuous to accuse muslims of shying away from asserting their democratic rights through mass mobilization.  Those elements within the State who still refuse equal “citizenship” rights to muslims are much happier if muslim demands of the republic turn into a seething cauldron of resentment.  Once thus isolated, they can then the more easily be labeled as a potential danger to the nation. It is a remarkable statistic that under the draconian anti-terrorist legislation (TADA, repealed by the UPA government), more than 90% detenues were muslims;  when it is recalled that the total  conviction rate under this act was all of 1%, it can be understood what political uses the act was put to.

As to the media, it is a grave indictment that the only time they seem to notice muslim life in India is when “terrorism” is under discussion.  It is an agonized muslim complaint that even as ignorant anchors and suchlike cavalierly berate muslims for not standing firmly against “terrorism” they almost never deign to report any one of umpteen instances of common and organized muslim condemnations of the phenomenon, barring the exception of the Urdu media. Any one who watches ETV Urdu, a profoundly thought-provoking channel that analyses and debates issues that concern the community and the nation in such programmes as Hamare Masail, will know the depths of prejudice and ignorance that vitiate the mainline English and Hindi channels about the lives of some 130 million Indians!  Indeed, this writer would make it mandatory for these channels to watch ETV Urdu, and to order back numbers of Hamare Masail for an educative introduction to Muslim life in India.

Thirdly, the most momentous onus of transforming the muslim and national situation simultaneously falls jointly on the vast and preponderant majority of secular Indians– Muslim, Hindu, Sikh and all others. Indeed, given the failure of both the State and the mainline media to come upto the stipulations of the Constitution, this onus may be understood to be decisive.

It is not as though some dramatic sleight-of-hand is here either proposed or expected.  Indeed, this joint project is a long-term and difficult one, but such as is alone guaranteed to deliver a durable and long-lasting  result.  Secular Indians across communities must assume as a life-and-death enterprise the battle that the State has largely failed to win even some six decades after Constitutional republicanism.  I refer to the battle to deliver an uncontestable Indian “citizenship.”

As a praxis, this project involves nothing less than a people’s democratic revolution that takes in the best lessons of Gandhian tolerance and of Marxian humanism.  A revolution that breathes unquestionable life to those articles of the Constitution that guarantee fundamental rights to all Indian citizens regardless of caste, creed, gender, ethinicity, or linguistic practice.  And, among those fundamental rights, the rights of minority populations enshrined in Articles 25-30 of the Constituion.

For Indian muslims this involves  the recognition that their well-being is inextricably intertwined with the well-being of the oppressed and dispossessed among all Indian communities.  Put more radically, this involves redefining the concept of Ummah to include not just members of the muslim community but the community of the labouring and suffering among all communities.  Were this leftward reorientation to be undertaken, there can be little doubt that, leading such an initiative in close alliance with all struggling Indians, Indian muslims would be inaugurating a second movement for independence rather than merely be pursuing, or seen to be pursuing, community concerns alone.

Having said that, it is equally incumbent on Left political forces in India—the only ones perhaps whose allegiance to the notion of a non-discriminatory “citizenship” is provenly credible—to provide the sort of leadership that expands the notion of class to include social groups and minorities who have a common stake in resisting class rule, since class  rule in India often finds its easiest methodologies in fanning isolated social concerns.  Any one would immediately recognize that in West Bengal, Kerala, Tripura these deeply transformative practices have been underway over a long time.  The point is for Indian muslims in the northern states to indicate to the  Left that they are prepared to undertake those transformative struggles in the Hindi heartland states to the exclusion of the political options that they have thus far exercised with frustrating consequences.

Finally, and following from the argument thus far, the attempts now underway to forge exclusively muslim fora, it must be said, is an attempt entirely in the wrong direction.  Such an attempt, born no doubt of extreme anguish and disenchantment with political options exercised thus far, can have all of the following consequences:

1. further ruinously ghettoize muslim aspirations and politics;

2. face crushing setback to morale through crushing electoral defeats;

3. help reinvigorate forces that are constantly at work to supplant the very
notion of secular democratic citizenship by a culturally homogenized one.

One look back at the experience of the Majlis-e-Mushawaraat experiment of the 1960s (the Faridi movement) should be enough to bring home the truth that these cosequences are inseparable from the very notion of political mobilization along sectarian lines.

Embedded in the very dilemma of Indian muslims, therefore, there is a call—a call to forge a new consciousness that amalgamates a new future for India with a new effort on their own behalf. 

Leave a comment