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BEING THE OTHER

Rumours, suspicions, fears: What Indian Muslims have battled since Independence

For decades after Independence, Indian Muslims were implicitly, and sometimes even explicitly, blamed for the Partition by people whose understanding of history was sparse. Secret government circulars prohibited their engagement with sensitive positions.

There were different ways in which they responded—either ignoring such statements as irrational, or underscoring their conscious choice of rejecting Pakistan in favour of India, at times at considerable personal cost. Alternatively, they spoke of the conspicuous Muslim contribution to the defence of the realm, and the wide appreciation earned across the globe for cultural and aesthetic genius.

The questions were at best irritants in public discourse, and largely considered to be politically incorrect, if not downright distasteful.

But, of late, the doubting detractors have expanded their repertoire to blaming Indian Muslims for much that is bad in the world, and certainly for the inhuman exploits of ISIS and a string of violent groups that are labelled “jihadists,” and which professedly operate in the name of Islam.

Unfortunately, we are no longer able to boast that not one Indian has ever been found to have joined the ranks of ISIS, unlike citizens of countries such as the UK, Germany, France, and the US.

Roots of violence

It must be accepted that people are not driven to dangerous existence without reason or cause, no matter how mistaken or misdirected.

After all, we have known separatist movements in the Northeast, sympathy for the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in parts of Tamil Nadu, full-blown rebellion for Khalistan and the long-festering unrest in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), not to mention the menace of Naxalism in the strip extending from eastern UP, and Bihar through Jharkhand, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, and Maharashtra.

Our national attitude to each one of these has been somewhat different. Some are simply treated as aggravated law-and-order situations, while others have been given the hue of outright sedition and national outrage.

The test of attitudes lies in the expectation of the level of public condemnation, in addition to the natural expression of dismay and grief over casualties caused by members of the movement.
However, too often, we seem to make the mistake of believing that unwholesome conduct akin to terrorism or disruption is just that, to be handled with extreme prejudice without pausing to reflect on its root cause, no matter how unjustified it might be.

Preserving pluralism

Unlike the rest of the world, India appears to be drifting away from a conscious pluralist society towards a seemingly uniform one.

Yet, there are new institutional challenges to that dominant view: the supreme court constitution bench decisions in the privacy rights and LGBTQ cases undermine the uniformist agenda in remarkable ways.

The thesis of constitutional morality developed by former chief justice of India (CJI) Dipak Misra to inter alia protect an individual against majoritarian opinion, although criticised for subjective potential, has buttressed plurality.

It is just that it seems that while one kind of plurality is sought to be put on the back-burner, other pluralities are coming to the fore. However, in fairness, it must be recorded that the much-expected (and some may say feared) Law Commission of India recommendation has opted for caution on the Uniform Civil Code (UCC) but proposed greater emphasis on personal law reform.

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The onslaught on India’s pluralist social make-up by the BJP, so it could replace the Congress in power after unsuccessfully trying over several decades (except with the brief interlude of the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government), brought it to power in 2014 somewhat decisively.

Almost immediately, it began to dismantle the structure of the inclusive state that the Congress had carefully constructed over the years since Independence.

Indian society became a modern political entity, having paid the heavy cost of Partition. The immediate cost of loss and deprivation was addressed by the government through rehabilitation and resettlement schemes and, for obvious reasons, these were focused on the refugees who had come from Pakistan.

There were Muslim families that suffered, too, in various ways—being split and inaccessible to each other for years, not the least of its suffering.

The Partition also removed major layers of Muslim leadership and resources. The leadership that survived had to tread carefully despite constant and robust support of its colleagues from the majority community, reflected most conspicuously in the close relations between Jawaharlal Nehru and Maulana Azad.

Despite the close collaboration between the Congress party and the Jamiat-Ulema-e-Hind, as well as the bonds between the leaders of the two communities, the cracks of the Partition persisted.

People might have now forgotten, and younger ones may not even know, that during the 1965 war with Pakistan, there were wild rumours that film star Dilip Kumar (Yusuf Khan) had somehow conspired with Zakir Husain (then vice president of India) to undermine national interest.

Stories about parachuting spies, that included Kumar, did frenetic rounds of Delhi. The government of the day quickly did damage control by broadcasting the vice president’s speech on All India Radio (AIR). He spoke stirringly about the “battle not of our seeking”—an impactful indication of how fragile our sentiments and perceptions were even two decades after the Partition.

The Kashmir conflict

The legacy of the Partition or the “unfinished agenda” (of Pakistan) is most visible in the simmering conflict in J&K.

Despite strenuous and perverse efforts of the enemy, the protracted conflict remains about Kashmiriyat rather than about Islam. In many ways, accommodation between the Indian state and the aspirations of the people of the Kashmir Valley might have been possible with some give and take (such as has been in place), but for Pakistan believing that they have a role and indeed an expectation of a favourable outcome.

Curiously, there is very little special empathy and connect between Kashmiris and the Muslims in the rest of India, if not none at all. Yet, the price of an unlikely unwholesome outcome (from India’s point of view) will, in a substantial measure, have to be paid by Muslims. The repudiation of the two-nation theory, based on common religion, by Indian Muslims was reaffirmed by the breaking away of East Bengal and the birth of Bangladesh.

It is surprising that Pakistan refuses to accept the logic dictated not only by India’s Muslims but also by the Bengali Muslims of erstwhile East Pakistan. Despite Bangladesh, it is puzzling that Pakistan is still unable to accept that J&K is an integral part of India.

Of course, the periodic escalation of local resistance provides an added incentive to people across the Line of Control (LoC) and the international border. Whatever be the feelings in the Valley at any given time, the fact remains that considered dispassionately, Kashmiriyat as an identity rather than a religion is the critical factor in the movement.

For Muslims in the rest of India, J&K means no less than to other Indians, i.e. a critical part of the definition of India. The thought of anything happening to it can only be at the cost of diminishing the idea of India.

Excerpted from Salman Khurshid’s Visible Muslim, Invisible Citizen with permission from Rupa. We welcome your comments at ideas.india@qz.com

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