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The State, the Seminaries, and the People of India




I

Over the last month or so, India’s most influential Islamic seminaries—Deoband, Bareilly, Lucknow, Hyderabad—have been holding well-attended public meetings/conferences with a single-point agenda.

Namely, to make it known that the so-called "jehad" being practiced by "terrorists" is "un-Islamic."

Whatever may be the particular skepticism employed variously to evaluate this development, these meetings and conferences clearly constitute not just bold interventions on behalf of sagacity but, crucially, a thought-out purpose to disempower indiscriminate violence and killing by denying it any religious sanction or justification.

One of its fall-outs must also be to rob right-wing Hindutva fascism of the enabling propaganda that "terrorism" has authorized theological approval. As well as, most importantly, to lend strength to moderate/liberal voices among muslims who routinely suffer the blight of being seen as the "other" of Islamic authority on the question.

And, interestingly, this Islamic disavowal comes while Hindutva forces continue to draw legitimacy for their brand of terrorism from the exploits of sundry gods and goddesses. Consider that the Bajrang Dal, to which the notorious killer, Babu Bajrangi, belongs, is named after Lord Ram’s most devoted follower, Hanuman.

It needs to be recalled that the fascist snarl against madrasas had this covert agenda of maligning Islamic education as contributory to "jehad." All that despite the fact that no governmental or other agency has thus far brought any proof that madrasas have anywhere in India been complicit in the matter, although ample proof exists that the Shishu Mandirs and other such educational establishments run by the Hindutva forces under the tried and tested leadership of the RSS routinely spew and teach hatred against the muslim community for having "oppressed Hindus" over eight long centuries, and being responsible for the partition of India in 1947.

A corollary yield of the intervention by the Seminarist leaderships must be to disoblige India’s secular opportunists from engaging in what the Hindu right-wing calls "appeasement" of "terrorism" calculated to win the electoral approval of India’s 150 million muslims.

Of course, the Seminarist intervention may best be understood as recognition of the fact that, however genuine and gruesome the sufferings of muslims at the hands both of the majoritarian fascists and a complicit state, it is still the case that not violence but the the pressures of democratic mobilization, of informed opinion, and trust in the institutions of India’s democracy, no matter how little deserving, offer a better prospect than mindless violence that affects all citizens alike, debilitates the citizen’s stake in democracy, and renders the secular sentiment alien even to those who wish India’s muslims well.

II

Not unsurprisingly, sensing the magnitude of the initiative taken by sundry Islamic authorities (imagine the Pope calling the Templars un-christian), the response from the "jehadis" has been quick and fierce.

The Ullemas who have pronounced the "jehadis’" work "un-Islamic" have been called a "bunch of cowards," "puppets of Hinduism," "ullema-e-kuffar" (clergy of the disbelievers) and so on.

Indeed, evidence seems to suggest that "terrorism" directed at India may no longer be a foreign-inspired phenomenon merely. An eventuality that lends piquancy to the pronouncements of the Indian Islamic authorities.

An email received by an electronic channel after the most recent Jaipur blasts purports to come from "Indian Mujahideen" and as the "Declaration of Open War Against India."

Who, the email asks, are the terrorists—the "Hindus who killed the Muslims in Gujarat (and) Maharashtra, or us who took revenge (qisas) through serial blast in Mumbai local trains?"

As to the killing of innocent civilians, the mail argues that all Indians are culpable insofar as "they have willingly elected their leaders and representatives in Parliament who draw up the policies which murder our children, dishonour our women, occupy our homes, and plunder our wealth." Further, the text contends, Hindus "fund the terrorist organizations like Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Shiv Sena" (it is to be noted that one agency of the U.N. does infact list the first, RSS, as a "terrorist" organization).

But most significantly for our consideration is the view the email expresses of how the state handles the terrorism unleashed by the majoritarian forces; it notes that those responsible for anti-muslim violence (in gujarat especially) "got promotions and are enjoying good government support." The Gujarat chief minister, Narendra Modi "who gave the orders to kill the Muslims in Gujarat in 2002 won two consecutive terms of Vidhan Sabha. Babu Bajrangi who killed the Muslim women in their pregnancy and kept their child on spear is moving freely in Gujarat." On the other hand, "modest Muslims who went for the revenge of the demolition of the Babri Mosjid were arrested and tortured."

What is striking is that the email enumerates precisely the reality that the Intelligence Bureau of India has, we believe, communicated to the powers-that-be, namely, that the demolition of the Babri mosque in 1992 and then the massacre of 2002 in Gujarat have scarred the muslim psyche (a safe enough generalization here, except that one would like to add to that the psyche of many thousands of Hindus and other Indians as well with respect, especially, to the role of state agencies in these and other matters) in watershed ways.

Most galling and difficult to swallow is the continuing fact that, notwithstanding noises to the contrary, and noises also about new laws that might render culpability in communal rioting a most heinous crime etc., the Indian state remains blatantly partisan in the way it looks at majoritarian shenanigans and what it calls "jehadi terrorism." Amazingly, Nehru’s defining caution that majoritan communalism is likely to be taken for "nationalism" while communalism of the minority is just that—communalism, still remains the chief informing piece of analysis of the situation. And not just among the Hindu communalists but, one would hazard the guess, among many Congress people as well.

Imagine that of the 242 people indicted under the draconian POTA in the Godhra/Gujarat episode, all but one are muslims; and that other is a sikh! And, despite public knowledge now that in some cases of recent "terrorist" violence members of the Hindu community were infact involved (Nanded, Tenkasi etc.,), the State’s first assumption always remains to cast blame on some or the other Islamic outfit without, needless to say, the sort of evidence that stands up or brings about a conviction. For the most part, conjecture reigns supreme.

III

Islamic Seminaries having made their position clear and explicit, the question to ask is how does the State aim to proceed from here.

It is true that the present UPA government has—consequent upon the findings and recommendations of the Sachar Committee Report—initiated proposals that are directed to address the specific educational and financial problems that muslims in India face. On the ground, although, there is little agreement that these initiatives are sought to be pursued with purpose and alacrity.

There is however little evidence that the state is willing to see muslim ( or for that matter naxal) unrest owing entirely to ascertainable and remedeeable causes of a just nature. Its chief conviction remains that these are matters best left to strong-arm methods. And when pressure mounts from the reactionary right, the Congress party which leads the coalition finds itself saying that they have and will never "compromise with terrorism." Whether, on the other hand, the law-enforcement agencies will be taught or encouraged to deal even-handedly with those guilty of violence remains a matter of conjecture. As to the judicial system, only at the apex level does it seem that victims of right-wing fascist violence may expect justice, however delayed.

To state the matter plainly: it is time that the state understood that its own record and procedures in dealing with sectarian violence may actually have come to be the most crucial determinant in the matter whether or not "terrorism" of any kind will or will not abate.

Secular dispensations whose actual operations are seen to match at most points the preferred prejudices of communalists can no longer guarantee the safety of the realm against loss of hegemony and exponential violence.

And "socialist" secularists whose theory and practice in the matter of the political economy infact more than apes the preferred options of the honest-to-god capitalists and free-marketers have small chance of halting the onslaught of armed agrarian fighters.

And taken together, such a state must everyday only be witness to escalating and open resort to violence by ordinary citizens in town and country, now on grounds of failed justice, now on grounds of corrupt bureaucracies, now in the knowledge that law-enforcement agencies never speak for the disenfranchised, and now because some godman or caste-leader says such is the course to adopt.

Thus, even as state functionaries and other fortune hunters bask in the knowledge of an Indian democracy that is glorious and forever while others around us cannot see their way through, it is probable that the joke may be turning upon the Indian state itself.

And time may just be running out.

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