Jobs @ MG
Why this strange silence?
|Our Muslim intelligentsia
reminds me, at times, of the nationalist Muslims before Partition. They
were so steadfast in their conviction to keep India united that they
withstood the ridicule of the community. In the forefront were the bodies
like Deoband Ulema and Majlis-i-Ahrar, which are still run down in
Their argument against the Subcontinent's division was that as Muslims
they were not prepared for a moment to give up their right to treat the
whole of India as their domain and to share in the shaping of its
political and economic life. To them, it seemed a sure sign of cowardice
to give up what was their patrimony and content themselves with a mere
fragment of it.
The nationalist Muslims failed because they could not explain properly to
their community the pernicious impact of partition on the Muslims outside
Pakistan. Maulana Abul Kalam Azad predicted, "they (Muslims in India)
awaken overnight and discover they have become aliens and foreigners.
Backward industrially, educationally and economically, they will be left
to the mercies of what would become an unadulterated Hindu Raj." Azad
was helpless. The community did not listen to him.
The Muslim intelligentsia is probably feeling the same way. But it is
making the same mistake of not penetrating the community. It must speak
out and warn the community against the trend of organizing itself into
separate bodies of Muslims. Exclusive organizations for religious purposes
are understandable but for political ends they will be suicidal.
Parochial thinking will hurt the Muslims most because their number is
small and strength limited. The Muslim intelligentsia and the Institute
for Initiatives in Education did well in organizing a meeting of Muslim
scholars, writers, academicians and others some time ago.
The thesis, as spelled out in the invitation, is: Contemporary India
continues to witness severe distortions of constitutional values, civility
and social environment conducive to peaceful coexistence of social
communities: intimidation of minority groups, saffronization of education,
burning of sacred books and periodic calls for Indianization of social
communities whose Indian credentials have been established for ages.
Such distortions have challenged the capacity of social communities to
exist in peace and amity and also slowed down the process of social reform
in favour of equity, social justice and equality."
The organizers did not mince words when they said that the "time has
come for the community and Muslim intelligentsia to address these issues
before they are able to challenge the fabric of society and, in
association with different cross-sections of India, work out a strategy of
intervening in the current situation."
But the question that they have to answer is: What happened after similar
conferences held earlier? There was no follow-up action. What the speakers
at this meeting said about the plight of Muslims was largely true: lack of
employment opportunities, lack of educational facilities and lack of
justice. Practically every Muslim participant told the same tale of woe.
They spelt out how they didn't get their due. The solution they proposed
of joining hands with non-Muslims and secular political parties sounded
all right. They felt handicapped but not helpless.
It is welcome that their emphasis was on secularism, not on sectarianism.
None of the Muslim speakers suggested a separate party for the community.
None asked for reservations. None raised the sterile debate whether he was
a Muslim first and Indian later. All favoured the participation of the
community in secular activities, without bringing in religion. The
message, which came loud and clear, was that religion should not be mixed
with politics, a belated realization by Pakistan Chief Executive Pervez
This meeting was in sharp contrast to an earlier seminar of some Muslim
intellectuals I attended. They repeatedly demanded the formation of a
separate Muslim political party to protect the interests of the Muslims.
One of the chairpersons, well versed in law, repeated the same arguments
in his written speech as one had heard before partition. Once again
religion and politics were presented as two sides of the same coin.Once
again there was talk of separatism.
The thesis of most speakers at the earlier seminar was that Muslims should
have a party of their own, which should fight for Muslims from a Muslim
platform since nothing else had worked since independence. Probably true,
but the way to correct it is wrong. Were the message of Muslims
marshalling themselves as a community to spread, it would accelerate the
process of polarization and widen still further the gulf between Hindus
Since I was presiding over that seminar, I could not help intervening and
saying that a communal approach would only help the pro-Hindutva forces to
justify their parochial line. I admitted the difficulties the Muslims
faced in the country, and that they had a point in agitating for the
redress of their grievances. But my plea was that they should do so by
joining hands with secular forces. I warned them that the philosophy of
separatism would spell ruin and give the stamp of credibility to Hindu
communalism. I must confess that the seminar left me cold.I see no
alternative to secularism except more secularism. Even if some Hindus go
away from the path of secularism, the Muslim intelligentsia has to bring
them back. Parochial thinking in a country which has a secular ethos is
bad in approach and bad in content. It will be counter-productive for
Muslims. It may give rise to Hindu fascism. Muslims will come to grief if
they adopt a communal approach - as they did in Kanpur recently. Here the
SIMI, a Muslim youth organization, started the riots but paid heavily
because the Hindu fundamentalists took over later and the police helped
One thing which I have painfully watched is that the Muslim intelligentsia
does not generally speak out against fundamentalists among the Muslim
community. Many Hindu liberals openly attack communalism of their
community. Why not Muslims? It seems they are afraid of mullahs and
maulvis. I find the same type of fear prevailing in Pakistan and
Bangladesh as if the mullas and the maulvis have the ear of the people.
This is not true because they hardly get any seats in elections. There is
no doubt that Muslims, by and large, feel lost when they think of the
future and wonder what is in store for their children. The only way to
face the situation is to broaden the question and ask: What is the future
of the children of any citizen? The answer then becomes simpler. It is not
a question relating to only Muslims, but to all. This is so because the
benefits of development are increasingly confined to the upper crust which
is neither Hindu nor Muslim; it is just the upper crust.
Any reservation on the basis of religion will take us back to the days
when there were separate electorates, making Hindus vote for a Hindu
candidate and Muslims for a Muslim. The candidate's party or proficiency
did not count; the religion did. Religious zealots had a field day.
India's composite culture cannot afford that kind of atmosphere to return.
And I have not been able to understand the silence of the Muslim
intelligentsia on the issues facing the country. It does not say anything
when it comes to Kashmir or relations with Pakistan. Muslims are an
integral part of the country. They are citizens of India. Their views are
as important as those of others.
The above article appeared in
Dawn, Karachi, 16 June 2001 - see editorial p. 2