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Wednesday, November 14, 2001



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The Indian Muslims trial by fire

Rasheeda Bhagat

SOON after the bombing of Afghanistan began, one of the favourite topics for the Indian media was splitting the Indian Muslim population into what hacks loved to call fundamentalists and moderates. While the Muslims of India were asked to stand up and id entify themselves as belonging to one camp or the other, there was an interesting debate on television. Poet and script-writer, Mr Javed Akhtar, was asked a ridiculous question.

While the fundamentalist Muslims were out on the streets in some parts of India, notably Kashmir, as also New Delhi and Hyderabad, condemning the US bombing and raising pro-Osama bin Laden and pro-Taliban slogans, why did not the moderate Muslims take to the roads too, to declare the opposite. Mr Akhtar rightly told the questioner that this was a foolish question to begin with. Moderate people do not take to the roads. That is why they are called moderate, he said. He also posed the counter question tha t when the Babri Masjid was razed to the ground, how many moderate Hindus took to the streets raising slogans against the hooligans who had destroyed the mosque, he wanted to know.

Indeed, sensible Indian Muslims did condemn the inflammatory statements made by the Imam of Jama Masjid in favour of Osama bin Laden and their friends, the Taliban. In another television show on STAR News, Ms Shabana Azmi spoke for millions of Indian Mus lims when she asked the Imam to proceed to Afghanistan to fight the jehad on his own behalf. Of course, from a man of his calibre, nothing better could have been expected in his response, in which he described her as a naachne gane wali tawaif (courtesan ).

Of course, there was a roar of protest from the participants of the show and the anchor did right to apologise to the actress and cut off the telephone connection to the Imam. But all this notwithstanding, what is galling is that any opportunity is good enough for the baiters of Indian Muslims to raise a hullabaloo about it being time Indian Muslims stood up and declared themselves nationalist! What a strange demand. So, for a while, this irritating debate raged about how to tell a fundamentalist Muslim from a moderate one. Just when one had heaved a sigh of relief that such a stupid debate had ended, it seems to have revived. The latest to join this bandwagon is a well-known columnist, who has made the ludicrous statement in her latest column in India Today that Muslims in India must choose between Talibanic Islam and being true Indians.

Where is the connection between the two? It is doubtful if even a minuscule minority of Indian Muslims believe in the Talibans brand of Islam that reduces women to a sub-human existence and takes the nation backward several centuries; that destroys price less pieces of national heritage, and runs an economy through trade in narcotics. So, to tell the Indian Muslim that you are either with the Taliban or India is as, if not more, ridiculous than the US President, Mr George W. Bush saying: Either you are w ith us or against us in the war against terrorism.

But reverting to the crux of the matter, teasing and taunting the Muslims in India at every turn, and challenging them to utter now and then `Hail India has to stop. While Punjab was under the stranglehold of militancy for 10 long years, how many times w ere the Sikhs asked to stand up and choose between militancy and being true Indians? Then why do some lunatics expect Muslims to take this oath of allegiance, time and again?

When the BJP celebrated its return to power by atomic explosions in May 1998, Ms Arundhati Roy wrote that brilliant and extremely provocative essay in Frontline. She proclaimed there that if protesting against the nuclear bomb was being anti-Indian, then she was willing to give up her Indian citizenship and declare herself a citizen of the world. How many times since then has she been called anti-national, or asked to declare her allegiance to the Indian state? Internationally-renowned linguist and poli tical analyst, Mr Noam Chomsky, who has made such a successful visit to India, is, perhaps, the strongest and most important voice of dissent in the US today. When he frowns on the US attacks on Afghanistan, do Americans declare him anti-national?

How can a country that calls itself the largest democracy in the world deny its people the right to express their views? There are thousands of non-Muslim Indians who are extremely critical of the manner in which the US has gone about taking revenge for the September 11 attacks. Of course, they are not going around raising the jehad banner. But, then, nor are the millions of Muslims in India. Then what right has anybody to ask the Indian Muslim to become a real Indian?

Somewhere or the other, behind such a charge is the anger on Kashmir and the Kashmiri Muslims disenchantment with India. But is it the fault of the Indian Muslim that, because of failed policies on Kashmir and Pakistans sponsorship of cross-border terror ism, Kashmir continues to burn?

The people playing this dangerous game are, perhaps, not aware of the disastrous backlash it can have. Let us go back to Kashmir. Having recently travelled to Srinagar and interacted with a cross section of people in the capital, as well as the cluster o f villages around Baramulla town, one can convincingly brush aside the Prime Minister, Mr A. B. Vajpayees claim that the problem in Kashmir is not a religious one.

For the record, obviously, India would want to say this to Pakistan, which is fuelling dissent in the Valley by its propaganda that the Indian state and its security forces are torturing the Kashmiri Muslims. But what we cannot wish away is that it is no t the Kashmiri Pandit but the Kashmiri Muslim who is disenchanted with India and is singing the mantra of azadi. You might call him brainwashed, disillusioned or whatever, but he believes that his religion and help from the Islamic militants be they Pak istani, Afghani, Sudanese or Syrian will help him attain that goal. So, when television channels or columnists continue to make a song and dance about the fundamentalist Muslim versus the moderate Muslim, the latter becomes almost a gaali (foul word) in the vocabulary of a die-hard fighter for the Kashmir cause.

Sample this view from a 24-year-old post graduate student of Srinagar University who, in a recent interview to Business Line, was asked why youngsters like him were throwing away their lives for the cause of `jehad when their counterparts elsewhere in In dia were planning their careers and partying.

The social life in Kashmir wound up long ago. Those who have not been in this struggle, or belong to the category which the Indian media call `moderate or `liberal they are the ones who talk about their childrens career or the `conservative approach of I slam. But we have never appreciated that our daughters or sons go to discos or night clubs or consume alcohol.

Through such crazy or mindless debates on fundamentalist versus moderate Muslims, unfortunately, even the media is conveying an utterly warped definition of the `moderate Muslim. If only the non-Muslim Indians could crawl under the skin of Indian Muslims and experience for themselves the wrath and agony of the latter every time they are expected to declare their nationalist character, they would stop chanting this refrain.

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