Last year, it was a normal (haha) Saturday morning, when I woke up and went outside the house to get hold of my daily Indian Express. The front page said that today’s was an editorial written by Harsh Mander. As I had the chance of meeting and knowing Mander, I was excited at first to see what the man had to say.
The editorial was about the marginalization of Muslims in India and how the Muslims in India have become politically crippled post-2014. I was sitting in my house in Sukhdev Vihar and reading about the lynching of Muslims in India. Sukhdev Vihar is less than two kilometers away from a Muslim ghetto named Jamia Nagar. A place about which the people of Sukhdev Vihar are absolutely ignorant. Little do they know about what is happening in their neighborhood.
Coming back to the editorial, as Mander argues about his point of Muslims being cornered. His arguments are largely generalized, popular and without giving ample substance to what he speaks. He tries to fit the whole of a community into just one bracket that of being a Muslim. When will the people of this country realize that the problems of Muslims in UP are not at all similar to the problems of Mulsims in Maharashtra, Kerala or say, West Bengal.
While all the other issues in the country are given credit based on their merit, issues relating the Muslims (be it non communal) are always seen just as ‘minority’ issues, especially by the main-stream media. Mander, by his style or way of writing again sees Muslims in India as a single entity. This, according to me is very problematic. “You don’t look like a Muslim.” is a statement I get very frequently from my ‘urban’ friends. Little do they know about how the Muslims in Konkan (my native place) are different from that of Muslims in Delhi or Mumbai. The editorial subconsciously follows the same rhetoric. It solidifies the typical ‘Indian Muslim’ image in the minds of an average city-based reader.
He says that Sonia Gandhi always followed the ‘secular’ values in her 19-year old political career. This statement itself is a contradiction. The mismanagement of the Gujarat riots case, even after coming back to power in 2004 is one of the major examples. He also talks about the BJP not having a single Muslim MP in the Lok Sabha currently. It is not just about having political leaders at the center of decision-making. What better is a Muslim MP who does no good for the people of his constituency from a Hindu or Christian MP?
Who better to put forward a ‘liberal’ reply to Mander than Ramchandra Guha? Except for the fact that the point of view was an overuse of the words, ‘secularism’ and ‘liberal’, without really asserting the liberal values of respecting ones choices of life and his/her way of controlling it.
I would admit in saying that I liked the article at first. But later on while I introspected it and gave it a thought, it felt like Guha had just blatantly stated things just to counter the argument of Mander. The article lacked research, and had one of the similar problems that were found in the article of Mander. It was overtly generalized, and felt as if the writer was anyone but Ramchandra Guha.
I would have never imagined Guha drawing comparison between a burkha and a trishul. He appeared as just another branch of this huge tree of anti-intellectualism creeping in our society. The fancy words of the academia coupling with quotes of previous Muslim reformers like Hamid Dalwai, were the meat of the whole article. It looked like a forceful attempt by a famous historian to fit in the bracket of ‘liberals’ defined by the society.
It was actually sad, (as the title of both the articles suggest) to see someone like Ramchandra Guha speaking in the defense of the liberal population by giving definition and examples only known to them. In a way, he genuflected to the majoritarianist narrative by saying that the Muslims should let go off their identity if they have to survive in a multi-cultural society. I differ with this opinion of Guha. I think India has for long survived peacefully over the years because of its ability to accept and incorporate different cultures and traditions. We cannot be like one of those Western democracies, religion and faith has a huge role to play in the policy making of our country. I feel a certain pride while saying that no country with such huge diversity has been successful to the extent that India has been. Guha is a staunch follower of the ideas of India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. Nehru would have never settled for the kind of liberalism and secularism that Guha is advocating.
He also talked about how Sadiq Khan would not have become the London mayor if he would have worn a skull cap, or his wife would have worn a burkha. This statement from Guha shows the increasing Islamaphobia in the society. Can we imagine in 2018 anyone questioning the practice of Sikhs of wearing a turban? We had a PM for ten years who carried his Sikh identity with him wherever he went, and not once was he questioned for wearing a turban. (Which was the ideal thing) But could we even imagine an Indian leader going everywhere wearing a skull cap and going un-noticed?
Then the next talking point in the article is Hamid Dalwai and his quotes translated in English from Marathi. Hamid Dalwai belongs to Chiplun, which is my hometown. He was a great social reformer and one of the earliest persons to speak up against the infamous triple-talaq. Now, Dalwai worked amongst people and wrote about the problems faced by the Muslims, especially of Konkan and of the western coast. His writings cannot be set as a bench mark for introducing social reforms amongst Indian Muslims, as the problems of every place are distinct and need a separate solution. Guha’s article fails to see this.
Irena Akbar’s ‘refusal’
A former journalist brought yet another perspective to the debate where she says she won’t let the ‘Hindu liberals’ patronize the ‘Muslim liberals’. Even here she speaks as a victim who has done it all, right from watching BBC, to dining at restaurants and working in ‘mainstream’ media organisations, but even then that’s not being termed as enough.
She gives Emran Hashmi’s example to put forth an argument where he was denied an apartment for being a Muslim. She isn’t completely wrong in stating that. Even I was denied a place to stay, first in Hindu Colony, Mumbai and then at Sukhdev Vihar, Delhi, for being a Muslim. But that doesn’t justify the formation of ghettos, as I later on got an apartment in the same neighborhood in both the cities. The Muslims areas in North-India, especially of Western UP and Delhi (areas which have seen large Muslim mobilisations) are seen as an example for determining the policies of Muslims all over the country. Partly because these places are very close to the Center.
I personally am against the idea of ghettos as they create closed spaces, where the mindset and the ideas cannot flourish. One gets stuck in the monotonous and a very linear world.
After reading all these three articles and the readings related to those on social media and elsewhere, I couldn’t draw any conclusion except that the writers and the gate-keepers of our country are forming opinions based on generalizations, than by research. This is causing more and more dilemma for people, especially young people like me who are already confused about their political ideologies in this world of mixed economy and polity.