Dear Muslim Brothers,
I first thought of writing an open appeal to our Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh. But then I realized that it would be worse than banging my head against a granite wall. I also thought of making an emotional appeal to the President of the Congress Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul Gandhi. But then, people far more powerful, important and experienced than me have tried doing that.
When I read about the riots in Assam, I was slightly perplexed. Why now? And then I was bewildered when riots broke out in Bareilly in Uttar Pradesh, a town that was spared communal violence and divide even at the peak of the Babri Masjid crisis. I was shocked when I saw visuals of a mob rampaging in Mumbai, desecrating and destroying even the Amar Jawan Jyoti. I was boiling with anger and helplessness by the time I read about how bona fide Indian citizens belonging to the Northeast felt so threatened that they were fleeing cities like Pune, Hyderabad, Bengaluru and Chennai. And I felt really bad when I saw pictures of a mob trying to destroy a statue of Buddha in Lucknow.
These are truly dangerous times for India, perhaps even more dangerous than the 1980s when the Shah Bano and the Babri Masjid controversies eventually resulted in insane communal violence across the country. India had been spared the madness of communal riots since 2002. Suddenly, they loom again over India like a malevolent cloud. Predictably, the demoralized, dispirited and disgraced UPA government led by Manmohan Singh has sought to evade taking responsibility for this mess by blaming Pakistan for the mess. Apparently, morphed and false visuals of Muslims being allegedly persecuted and killed in Assam and Myanmar originated in Pakistan and were deliberately spread across India through social networking websites and text messages. That may be true.
But my question is: is that justification for molesting lady constables, desecrating the Amar Jawan Jyoti, randomly attacking people from the north east and threatening them and also destroying a Buddha statue? This is where my blunt question to my Muslims brothers, who are also fellow Indians must be asked: why are you getting so worked up over the persecution of Muslims in Myanmar? Why are you not holding rallies and organising protests against the daily massacre of Muslims in countries like Syria? Why are you not protesting against the senseless manner in which Shias are being butchered in Pakistan? Even more important: is there any dearth of real problems that Muslims face in India, while they remain one of the most economically marginalized sections of the society?
Most of the English speaking media is too conditioned to be politically correct to speak out things in a blunt manner when it comes to Muslims specially. But I urge all of you to rethink and contemplate the message that these actions are spreading across the rest of India. There is no dearth of extreme right wing Hindutva types who have an irrational dislike for Muslims. These same people are now shouting loudly that Muslims are more concerned with their own religion than the nation. How will that help the Muslim community in India? Surely you are aware that in most of the recent riots, those were Muslims who were mostly killed. What purpose are all these provocative acts and gestures across India serving? Who will suffer the most? The merchants of hatred of all communities make hay while poor people become victims. What suicidal madness is propelling you on that path of death and destruction and more prejudice and more hatred? Let me remind you of another instance. A local Muslim MLA of Delhi is openly defying the orders of the High Court to stop building a so called Akbarabadi mosque and not interfere with the work of Delhi Metro. What message is he sending to the rest of India?
One of the many blunders committed by the great Mahatma Gandhi in my opinion was to launch the Khilafat movement after the First World War when the Turkish Empire was dismantled. Like now, Muslims in the then undivided India faced many grave problems. But their leaders thought saving a far away Islamic Empire that had anyway crumbled was more important. Since then, community leaders have repeatedly sought to provoke Indian Muslims to stand in solidarity with Muslims across the world. Nothing wrong with that. But when you keep doing this, and keep completely silent when other minorities across the world face persecution and discrimination, you are painting yourself into a sectarian corner. And it is incorrect to portray and keep repeating that Islam is in danger. It is one of the greatest religions of the world and has more followers now than the Catholic church. There is perhaps not a single country in the world where the population has actually declined. And the brutal and sad fact of today is, an overwhelming number of Muslims being killed over matters of faith are being killed by fellow Muslims. Sure, imperial powers like America have behaved badly. But then America behaved abominably even with citizens of Latin American countries where it supported brutal dictators who tortured, persecuted and killed their own citizens in the name of fighting Communism. Latin America is no longer in the clutches of Uncle Sam; not even oil rich countries like Venezuela. Why can’t the same happen with countries in the Middle East where both benign and brutal dictatorships are the norm? How about a protest march and rally at Azad Maidan condemning the way Pakistan is persecuting Ahmediyas and Shias?
The fact is: strategists in the Congress and other so called secular parties want to continue misusing, abusing and exploiting Muslims as vote banks. Then there are the so called Muslim leaders who continue to impose a separate identity for Indian Muslims and perpetually portray them as victims. They are helped to a large extent by a large section of so called intellectuals of India who actually loathe the very idea of India. The Muslim as the persecuted victim is the favorite theme of these India baiters and haters. But my earnest appeal to Muslims is to stop this nonsense once and for all. It is time the Indian Muslim said a bold and emphatic no to these purveyors of victimhood and persecution.
Let me tackle this head on. There is persistent propaganda that Muslims in India have been treated as second class citizens in India since Independence in 1947. This dangerous lie has been repeated so many times that this Nazi style propaganda has acquired a halo of legitimacy. Let’s go back to the early years after Independence. Dr B.R Ambedkar was busy changing personal laws in India, laws that were considered archaic and regressive. When there was concern in the Muslim community about an erosion in Muslim identity, a separate law was maintained for Muslims even though laws related to marriage, divorce and property were drastically altered for Hindus despite strong protests from obscurantist Hindu outfits. Even today, Muslim majority countries like Indonesia, Malaysia and Egypt have laws that are far more liberal and modern when it comes to gender equality than India. There was an effort to change all that and nudge the Indian Muslim community towards a more liberal road when the Supreme Court delivered its Shah Bano verdict. That was a critical juncture for your community my Muslim brothers and friends. Sadly, your leaders failed you and hoodwinked you into believing that the Shah Bano verdict was an assault on Islam. The fact is: all religions, Hinduism, Christianity or Islam have features that do not mesh with concepts like democracy, human rights and equal rights. The challenge is for reformers from within the religion to move towards bettering the practices. Sure, proposals for reform are always unpopular because feudal mindsets and vested interests always oppose them and invoke the ‘Faith is in Danger’ illogic. There were massive protests when a Hindu woman was given equal rights; there are still some Hindus who feel Sati is a noble practice and there are many Hindus who still think that Dalits should not be allowed inside temples and that the best place for a woman is inside the home. But social reformers have been at it for decades and more, bravely fighting obscurantist Hindus all the way. My dear Muslim friends, don’t you think it is time Muslim leaders started paying more attention to things that really matter: education, jobs, healthcare and financial security?
There are Muslim leaders and other political parties that insist that the Indian state discriminates against Muslims. I have a very simple fact to present to fellow Muslim brothers and sisters of India. That simple but brutal fact is: the Indian state treats all marginalized and weaker Indians very badly. They include Muslims, Dalits, tribals, landless labourers, poor farmers, workers, tea stall and other push cart owners…So please do not fall prey to this wrong propaganda that only Muslims are singled out by the state for discrimination. You should be more shocked and angry with the fact that the conditions of Muslims is the worst in West Bengal when it comes to education, jobs, opportunities and more despite 34 years of ultra secular Marxist rule. And you must demand more answers from community as well as political leaders on these substantive issues. More important, you must stop being incessantly fooled by vote bank parties who claim to protect your interests. My suggestion: forget Myanmar for a moment. Ask the Congress-NCP government why culprits in the 1993 communal riots of Bombay are still roaming free. And ask the UP government why culprits in the Meerut massacre of 1987 when policemen brutally gunned down about 50 Muslims in cold blood are still roaming free. Demand answers from Azam Khan and Imam Bukhari.
There is another popular and widely spread selective piece of misinformation that I want to point out. Every now and then, we read reports that Muslims find it difficult to get a house because all Hindus discriminate against them. Of course, there are prejudiced Hindus. But let me point out something that is never mentioned in such narratives of discrimination. There are still some Parsi housing societies in Mumbai where a non Parsi can’t move in. There are many housing societies dominated by Jains where a non vegetarian would simply not be allowed. I know of Bengali families that have been denied housing because they are considered to be dirty fish eaters. And landlords in Delhi openly admit that they hesitate leasing out houses to north Indians and prefer south Indians as tenants. The fact is: prejudice and stereotyping of all types exist in India and the world. It is wrong and dangerous to propagate that only Muslims are the victims of such prejudice and discrimination.
My father tells me how derisively people from Orissa were treated by a large number of Bengalis when he was young. Desperately poor and illiterate, Oriyas were usually cooks, waiters and such and treated shabbily. Look at how things have changed in just about a generation or so. Parts of Orissa are still desperately poor. But Oriyas took to education in a massive way and are now very much part of the global economy. So much so that Bhubaneswar is threatening to overtake Kolkata as the education hub of east India! The message and lesson is simple: the answers and challenges to discrimination and prejudice must come from within the community and that the most potent and effective tool of empowerment is education. It was way back in 1875 that Sir Syed Ahmed Khan had recognized the value of modern education and established the Aligarh Muslim University. Why cannot the Indian Muslim community find more such visionaries? Many studies have shown that Muslims in south India do far better than Muslims in north India in terms of economic security. The answer, my friends, lies in education and I wish to see a revolution from the Muslim community for better access to education and better universities.
And then we come to the ‘sensitive’ issue of terrorism. Without a doubt, terrorism knows no religion, as the recent massacre of Sikhs in America shows. There have been terrorists in Ireland, Spain, Sri Lanka, Colombia, Japan…And they have belonged to all religions. So I appreciate your statement that terrorism has no religion whenever innocent Indians are killed in another bomb blast. But I can’t fathom the illogical propagation of insane conspiracy theories behind a routine statement that Islam doesn’t allow the murder of women and children and that Islam is a religion of peace. Which religion allows murder and which religion claims that it is not a religion of peace? Using this statement to propagate illogical conspiracy theories which many of you are falling prey to is crazy. I am shocked at the number of Indian Muslims — I am not very concerned with Muslims in other countries, or with Hindus in other countries for that matter — who still believe that 9/11 was a Zionist conspiracy or a conspiracy hatched by George Bush and his neocons to use that savage and barbaric act as an excuse to launch a war against Islam. That is madness. And it is pervading your community. There are very few Indian writers who are more critical than me about Bush and I have always believed and written that Osama was his creation that backfired, but believing such theories as I mentioned above is completely without logic. No wonder, many of you still think that the Batla house encounter where a police inspector was shot and killed was a conspiracy hatched by Delhi cops who murdered their own inspector to defame and target Islam. Sad! Of course the police is arresting many Muslims who turn out to be innocent. But then, the Indian police habitually arrests innocent people while the high and mighty get special treatment. Of course the police often indiscriminately opens fire on protestors. But lakhs of innocent Hindus are behind bars thanks to Indian police. And thousands of Dalits, farmers and others have been killed in police firing. Please stop this patently wrong thinking that the Indian police is unfair only towards Muslims. That kind of conspiracy peddling and victimhood is not going to help India’s Muslim community in any way. It is further alienating other Indians.
I have travelled widely across the world. And I can say this without hesitation that Muslims in India get a better deal than Muslims even in so called great democracies Iike England and the United States. I have grown up with Muslim friends in this peaceful country – barring the times of clearly politically instigated rivalries. I won’t make a case about the entire nation’s (and my personal) love for Shah Rukh Khan, or how every Eid for the last four years, I have gone for Salman’s film releases on the first day itself… But yes, I have — like my wife, brother in law and most friends — adored Imran Khan, Wasim Akram and rejoiced when Pakistan defeated any other nation in cricket — other than India — and enjoyed them playing well even against India. Yes, we as a nation have kept various communities at large in a state of deprivation from education, economic well-being and access to health facilities; and unfortunately, Muslims have been a part of that discrimination like the Dalits. My Muslim brothers, this is a great and ever embracing country, of course with its ills. So when you fight and pass emails and put Facebook entries, put the same for causes like poverty, illiteracy and ill-health and for such causes unite with the Dalits and other downtrodden and make a common front than a religious front that spreads aggressive threats and in turn ends up alienating itself and strengthening other right-wing factions of other religions also. It’s happening worldwide and it’s happening in India.
In this Wednesday’s Indian Express, Madhu Trehan has written an article Bending Over Backwards. She begins it by writing the following:
Rarely has an article befuddled me as much as Teesta Setalvad and Javed Anand’s article, ‘Making history, not repeating it’, in The Indian Express (August 17).
The first paragraph describes the violence in Azad Maidan: “…a Muslim mob behaved in despicable fashion — torching OB vans, attacking media persons and the police, molesting women constables, snatching arms from the police….” Then the authors laud Mumbai Police Commissioner Arup Patnaik for not acting against the violent mob. The article continues, “But do allow for the possibility that responding in a most ‘un-police-like’ fashion to extreme provocation, the city’s police commissioner, Arup Patnaik, may have opened a happy chapter in the otherwise unhappy Muslim-police relationship in the metropolis.”
Let’s replace some of the words in the first paragraph with substitutes and see how it plays.
Replace “Muslim” with “Hindu”. Would the authors have written the first paragraph if the mobs were Hindus? Is the law to be adjusted according to the religion of the miscreant?
It sums up the big issue quite aptly. It’s for you to think as well when you allow the above mentioned line of thinking to be propagated and believed.
My earnest appeal to Indian Muslim brothers is: please build on the positives rather than wallow in the negatives. Let me remind fellow Indian Muslims of the story of a genuine hero and star. He was born a Hindu and converted to Islam. He is A.R Rehman, arguably the most celebrated and admired music composers of contemporary India. How many stories have you heard about A.R Rehman facing discrimination and prejudice because he converted to Islam? And by the way, does he become less of a devout and true Muslim just because he sings Vande Mataram?
You have been hoodwinked too long by merchants of hatred and vote bank politics. Your destiny, and that of our children and of India is also in your hands. It is time you decide where you stand and where you want to move.