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Published in the 1-15 June 2005 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Speaking Out

Paswan's Secular Credentials at Stake

By Nilofar Suhrawardy

The Milli Gazette Online

So far, it is a matter of some relief that political logistics being exercised by Ram Vilas Paswan to score “victory” on Bihar’s political turf have not been of much help to him. By insisting on a Muslim chief minister for Bihar, for which he is willing to align with RJD, Paswan has placed his own “secular” credentials at risk. If he were supported as Bihar’s chief minister, would that place socio-economic and political fate of state’s 15 million Muslims at risk, simply because he happens to be a non-Muslim? Sadly speaking, in around five decades’ time, while India and Pakistan have accepted futility of considering each other as an enemy, Paswan-type politicians have not overcome their partition-like mentality, that Muslims must be viewed from a different political lens. The same logistics has been exercised by Sangh Parivar to tap on the so-called Hindu political vote. Why is it assumed to be “natural” for each Indian Muslim to be guided by political calculations resting on religious polarization? Yes, Muslims have come out strongly against communal politics of Sangh Parivar and its associates. But so have left parties, pseudo-secular and normally secular intellectuals and also the apparently secular parties. Just as it would be erroneous to label them as extremists or fundamentalists, simply because they view Sangh Parivar associates as anti-secular, it would be incorrect to label Muslims -who hold the same view- as extremists. 

Elementarily speaking, there is no guarantee that a “Muslim” chief minister will spell some political relief for Bihari Muslims. So far, Paswan’s “religious” card has not helped him gain much except keep Laloo Prasad Yadav out of power in Bihar. Besides, with Indian politics resting on Indian voter’s electoral power, what would be democratic credibility of this chief minister? Surely, it should not be expected to rest solely on his religious identity? And if it does, then what would one say of his “democratic” credibility for majority of Bihari voters who are not Muslims? If Paswan’s political-card is primarily to ensure fate of Bihari Muslims, wouldn’t that spell a danger signal for Bihari Hindus? If Paswan cannot expect a non-Muslim chief minister to be politically fair to Bihari Muslims, then how can Bihari Hindus expect a fair deal from a Muslim chief minister?

It is time our respected politicians gave some importance to understanding where to draw the line between what they project as “secular” politics and their exploitation of “religious” tools bordering on communalism.

Model Nikahnama
Even though model nikahnama drafted by All India Muslim Personal Law Board has irritated certain Muslim women activists to the point of tearing and rejecting the same, one needn’t regret this development for several reasons. Constitutionally and on religious grounds, the board is not representative of Indian Muslim community. It can make suggestions but cannot impose them on even a section of the community. That its decision to come out with a model nikahnama has provoked several Muslim women to draft another nikahnama is a welcome development. It is at least symbolic of their having chosen to have their own say and assert it fairly strongly. In this context, it may be noted, several Muslim women are known to have drafted their own nikahnama. With nikahnama being the contract, the husband and wife agree to, which is given a legal stature by their signatures and that of witnesses, each couple can be signatory to a different nikahnama. With board being male dominated and suffe

rings faced by Muslim women- be it marital abuse or dowry related problems- similar to those faced by Indian women at large, a piece of paper without any legal credibility cannot be expected to have much relevance. That dowry regulations continue to be violated in the country is a symbolic indicator of this hard fact. Nevertheless, that a beginning has been made, with at least awareness being spread about a Muslim woman’s standing in drafting of a nikahnama spells some hope. 

American “terrorism”
With Uncle Sam having, uninvited, taken responsibility of fighting against terrorism wherever it is economically and diplomatically essential as per its perceptions, one would assume that superpower is well versed in elementary principles of humanitarianism. One of these being, respect for values and principles followed by others. And if this is not possible, they should at least be taught not to abuse religious sentiments of others, particularly when they can in no way be disturbing for the superpower. Yes, this refers to alleged desecration of Quran by US officials at Guantanamo Bay as reported by Newsweek (May 9). In subsequent issue of Newsweek, the editor expressed regret on getting “any part” of the “story wrong” and extended “sympathies to victims of the violence and to US soldiers caught in its midst.” If reported incident of Quran’s desecration is true, Americans involved in the same cannot but be blamed for indulging in an extremist behavior. If any part of the story was deliberately or unintentionally got “wrong,” this certainly does not speak highly of standards of journalism being pursued by the magazine. Against the backdrop of American companies having time and again put Hindu deities on toilets, shoes and sandals, their moral science lessons need a real and strong brushing up!
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