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The movement to save secularism
By Saeed Suhrawardy

Among Muslim organizations claiming national eminence, Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind, is the oldest. Founded in 1919, by eminent leaders associated with Darul Uloom Deoband, the history of Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind extends over more than eight decades. The career of the Organisation may be divided in two periods, (i) before independence and (ii) after independence.

Before independence it was a close ally of Indian National Congress, in the struggle for freedom. After independence, it opted to keep itself out of parliamentary politics. However, it shall not be correct to describe the Organisation ‘apolitical’.

Gandhiji’s support to Khlilafat movement, brought Muslim masses within the fold of anti-colonial movement against British rule. That broadened the base of the struggle. After return of Sheikh-ul-Hind Maulana Mahmood Hasan from Malta, Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind was formed in 1919. Initially the object was coordination with the activities of Indian National Congress in the struggle for freedom of the country. That relationship was very close before independence. But with the emergence of communal forces within Indian National Congress, after independence, Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind usually finds it difficult to support the political stand of Congress.

During its career extending over eight decades, Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind has been consistent against communalism. Before independence it firmly stood against Muslim League and demand for partition of the country. It firmly stood against Muslim communalism before independence. After independence it has been resisting the onslaught of Hindu communalism in collaboration with secular elements of other political parties.

With that in view their movement designated as Mulk-o-Millat Bachao Tahreek (Movement to save the nation & the Country) has to be judged. In a memorandum to the Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, Maulana Asad Madani, President Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind lamented, “With a deep sense of sorrow, pain, and anguish we are constrained to bring to your notice the breach of trust that people of India had reposed in present government. Like every government, your government also had sworn to protect the values inherent in the Constitution of India, the essence of which is equal treatment of citizens irrespective of caste, class, creed, colour and religion. The Constitution, in this context, enjoins upon the State (1) to ensure protection of life and property of citizens, (2) to provide for free expression and propagation of every citizen’s faith, (3) to guarantee the rights of minorities to set up and manage their own educational and cultural institutions.

The sacrifices of the Ulema in the long struggle against imperialism are a glorious saga of humanity’s struggle for liberty, equality and justice. 

After freedom also we have continued that struggle, raised our voice against manifestations of injustice and oppression within the country as also against attempts of imperialist-colonialist forces’ attempts to undermine and sabotage the endeavour of developing countries (to which category India also belongs) for social, economic and political development. This role is enjoined upon us not only by the Constitution of India but also by our faith, Islam according to which the noblest conduct in life is dedication to service of humanity and its welfare.

We are, naturally, appalled by the vicious anti-Muslim and anti-Islam propaganda that has been going on particularly since the assumption of office by the present government. The organisations indulging in this sinister activity have had a free play as never before in the history of free India. The minority institutions have been accused of harbouring anti-national elements and fostering anti-national culture without a shred of evidence. The UP government’s mischievous attempt to steamroller the Places of Worship (Regulation) Bill is a case in point. Similar is the case of senior members of your government hurling unfounded accusations against our Madrasas and other minority cultural and educational institutions that have led to widespread acts of violence against minority communities. Most of the pronouncements of responsible members of your party and government smack of the same deep-rooted anti-Muslim attitude.

The high watermark of this campaign is the unabated anti-Muslim carnage in Gandhi’s Gujarat. You must realise, Mr. Prime Minister, it has tarnished India’s image in the world as nothing else and made your anti-terrorist pronouncements sound hollow. Did you notice that the person you accuse of encouraging cross-border terrorism has used the sordid Gujarat affair an alibi? We have no illusion about his concern for the welfare of Indian Muslims but we note with anguish that it has weakened India’s diplomatic struggle against terrorism. Besides, the Gujarat incidents have dealt a serious blow to the economy of that state as well as of India as a whole, making India a high-risk area for investment.

We are an organisation committed to correcting the deviations of government from the path set out in the Constitution by non-violent democratic protest sanctified by the leaders of freedom struggle, above all by Mahatma Gandhi. 

Whenever we found the government unresponsive to the demands of justice we have launched satyagraha movements as happened in 1979 and 1983.We now present to you a set of demands that, if fulfilled, will be a reassurance that you are serious about your commitment to the values of the Constitution. If we do not get a satisfactory response from you by 15th September 2002, we shall be constrained to launch a nation-wide satyagraha. The demands are:

1. The recommendation of the National Integration Council is given legal sanction through appropriate legislation. The Council recommended that: 

(a). The district authorities responsible for maintaining law and order and the intelligence agencies be held for outbreak of communal disturbances. If they fail to control the situation within three days they should be suspended and, if found guilty of connivance or actual participation, they should be strictly dealt with for the crime. 

(b) The Steering Committee of the Council had resolved that casting aspersion on the loyalty of a citizen, on the basis of religion, should be treated an anti-national act, therefore laws should be made to punish such actions.

2. Unfounded official and non-official propaganda against minorities, their educational institutions and Madrasas should be stopped and no attempt should be allowed to undermine their constitutional rights.

3. Special intelligence services are created to identify and trace those responsible for communal riots and special courts be set up to try such accused within a specific and reasonable time.

4. Full compensation for life and property is provided by the Constitution.

5. Those suffering loss of life and /or property should be compensated in accordance with decisions of Delhi High Court.

6. Proper and prompt rehabilitation of people uprooted from their homes and hearths and occupations should be treated as the responsibility of the government and necessary legislation is enacted towards this end.

7. It should be ensured that the security forces like PAC and BMP have 33 per cent personnel from the minorities and another 33 per cent from among other Dalit and Backward communities. All security forces should be given thorough training to understand and carry out their constitutional responsibilities.

8. Para-military training and parades of RSS and its affiliates like VHP and Bajrang Dal be banned forthwith.

9. Government should arrange for physical and mental development of all children irrespective of religion, caste, creed etc.

10. All departments, agencies and institutions of the government should be purged of persons affiliated to RSS and such other fascist organizations.

11. Permanent arrangement should be made for protection of mosques, graveyards and Auqaf of Muslims and immediate action be taken to restore the properties under illegal occupation.

12. Effective provision should be made to ensure representation of minorities in Parliament, assemblies, government services and educational institutions in proportion to their population.

13. School textbooks should be purged of all content likely to create communal and sectarian prejudices and teaching staff be given proper training to foster non-communal democratic culture. Textbooks and teaching must reflect the spirit of the Constitution. 

No reply was received from the PM’s Office by September 15, 2002, Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind decided to start their non-violent disobedience movement for two weeks, from October 2 to 15, 2002. Non-violent civil disobedience is a part of political legacy of Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind. Luckily Jamiat leaders have carried on their movement in a phased and disciplined manner.

They have taken care to ensure that there is no unruly gathering that brings bad name for the movement. The government on its part has so far avoided a situation of conflict or confrontation. The present stage has followed mass mobilisation through mass meetings at important metropolitan centers.

However, it is premature to comment on the impact and future direction of the movement. The demands contained in the memo to the PM, embrace the entire gamut of the grievances of the community. The movement is a call to the nation for rising in defence of secular democracy. The response of secular political parties to the movement so far has been lukewarm. Our experience has not been happy in the past. Should we expect something better in future?

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