Book : Watan Me Ghair Author: Saeed Naqvi Translator: Mahmood Faizabadi Publisher: Pharos Media & Publishing Pvt Ltd, New Delhi, India Pages: 290 Price: Rs 300
Reviewed by Mushtaq Ul Haq Ahmad Sikander
Muslims in India are facing existential crisis. They are decried as traitors and on a little provocation the Hindu majority calls for their exodus to Pakistan or silencing them by death sending them to graveyards. The communal slogan Musalmanu Kye Dou Istaan: Pakistan ya Qabaristan (Indian Muslims have only two destinations: Pakistan or Graveyard). Indian Muslims time and again have to prove themselves that they are the loyal citizens of India. The Hindutva fringe elements have got so emboldened by the silence of majority, that they want Muslims time and again to prove their loyalty towards India, by chanting Bharat Mata Ki Jai (Long Live Mother India) and Jai Shree Ram (Hail Lord Ram). For the Hindutva elements Muslims cannot be loyal citizens as they have rendered Hindu religion synonymous with the being patriotic. For the ideologues of Hindutva, Muslims and Christians can never be loyal citizens of India, because they do not consider India as a holy land. Now when these fringe elements have captured power, as BJP is the political wing of one such Hindutva group RSS, so the daily lives of Muslims have become more cumbersome and vulnerable.
Saeed Naqvi is a veteran journalist and political commentator. His writings are regularly published in newspapers, journals, magazines and websites of national and international repute. Naqvi has now come out with a book, which in his own words deliberates about Muslim existence in India today. “This book does not claim to be a comprehensive history of the Muslim in India, not is it a political history of Islam in the subcontinent. Rather, it is a chronicle of my growing disillusionment and disappointment with the direction in which the country is heading, filtered through my own experiences and observations of key events in recent Indian history.” (P-xv) If he as a Muslim elite is disappointed and disillusioned with the state of affairs in India, what can be the experiences of a common Muslim in India. The Muslim masses in India are the most marginalized and dis-empowered community in India today. Their pain and anguish are unreported, because they are not literate enough and cannot express themselves in English language. If an elite person like Naqvi can feel that the things are not going good for the country and particularly muslims, what can be sentiments of a disempowered Muslim on ground.
This book is an engrossing read, and a page turner for anyone who is interested in the understanding of Muslim lived realities in India. We find how Urdu as a language in the post partition era was discriminated and described as a language of Muslims only. Eid celebrations and Muharram commemorations were manifestation of the syncretic and plural culture of India, but now that charm has been lost. So were the carefree days when Mangoes were relished in Mustafabad. The name of Mustafabad may soon be changed, because the new regime wants to change everything that is associated with Muslims. Even a simple reference to Muslims is enough to provoke the name change, but can proselytization of names change history?
The Indian National Congress, grew as an anti-colonial political party. Both Muslims and Hindus participated in the anti-colonial struggle against the Britishers. There was a strong unity between Muslims and Hindus as they were fighting a common enemy. One can discern and substantiate this trend from this powerful writing of Mahatma Gandhi, “In Young India of 20 October 1921, Gandhiji explained his support for Khilafat, “I claim that with us both the Khilafat is the central fact; with Maulana Mohammad Ali because it is his religion, with me because in laying down my life for Khilafat, I ensure the safety of the cow, that is my religion, from the Musalman knife.” (P-69)
However, the partition of Indian subcontinent, complicity of Nehru and problematic role of Gandhi in partition, post partition stance of Congress, military operation in Hyderabad, genocide of Muslims in Jammu through ethnic cleansing of Muslims at the hands of Maharaja, Hindus, Sikhs and cadres of RSS rendered Muslims to be more vulnerable and marginalized. Congress that stood for secular and democratic values, grew cozy towards communal politics. Many times, they collaborated with the Hindutva fringe organizations like RSS for electoral gains. Communal and anti Muslim riots became a norm in India. The Muslims were the greatest victims of these riots, that mostly happened during the Congress era. The demolition of Babri Masjid in 1992, and subsequent riots changed everything for Muslims, but then Congress was able to covet them again and they fell in their vicious trap. The communal leanings of many Congress leaders became quite evident, but Muslims continued to ignore them. Even Rajiv Gandhi, started his election campaign of 1989 from Ayodhya promising Ram Rajya. There was quite an evident role of Congress Prime Minister, P V Narsimha Rao in Babri demolition, but it is least discussed and even ignored.
In the post Babri era, right wing government at the center became more frequent. However, there certainly are differences even among the right wing parties, as leadership matters. Hence, we witness differences between Vajpayee and Modi, as Naqvi very well mentions, “Vajpayee had a combination of assets which qualified him to take initiatives on Pakistan that no prime minister in post 1947 India could have taken. He had national stature. More important, he was the tallest leader of the Sangh Parivar-especially the RSS and the BJP. Being the senior-most leader of the Parivar, he could, with a wave of the hand, silence dissent. Prime Minister Modi is also from the RSS stable. But he would never transgress red lines on Pakistan. Kashmir or Hindu-Muslim issues drawn by the Parivar. Vajpayee could think out of the box because he had evolved. Above all, he was a Brahmin. Modi is not-he is a Ghanchi. This will continue to matter so long as caste remains a determinant in India’s social and political life.” (P-168-169)
In the post 9/11 era, Islamophobia got a new lease of life. It impacted the Hindu-Muslim relations in India adversely too. The issue of proselytization of Hindus is an important tool in the hands of right wing groups, to browbeat Muslims. They are declared guilty of Love Jihad, but in reality, many Hindus convert to Islam to escape the caste rigidity. However, the caste factor among Indian Muslims need not to be overlooked too. Islam does not believe in caste but it is prevalent among Indian Muslims, because many times traditions of local milieu surpass the religious injunctions.
M.H.A.Sikander is Writer-Activist based in Srinagar, Kashmir and can be reached at email@example.com