Why are Indian Muslims a punching bag?

I applaud Bobby Naqvi for a very thought-provoking article (Twocircles, August 19, 2016). The creation of Pakistan as a result of Muslim League and Congress confrontation before independence and Pakistan adopting confrontation towards India since 1947 as its national policy are an unending gift to Muslim-hating Hindus in India. After the 1971 Bangladesh war, Pakistan should have realized that that event made a game-changing shift in the futility of their policy of confrontation towards India. However, successive parties and governments in Pakistan have continued to pursue that policy while they have remained a weak nation. Every time there is relative peace between the two countries, the hostile attitude of right-wing Hindus towards Muslims cools a little. But then some lumpen elements in Pakistan take some idiotic cross-border violent action against India and the “punching bag” situation of Indian Muslims goes back to Square One.

Despite the Pakistan albatross around the neck of Indian Muslims, the totally unthinking and impotent attitude of Indian Muslim organizations and leaders in the last couple of years alone, when RSS and their goons targeted Muslims with violence on the ruse of cow protection in Dadri and Muzaffarnagar and elsewhere is shocking. There are several venerable Muslim organizations like Jamiat Ulama, Jamaat Islami and Mashawarat which though small could have held conferences and peaceful rallies in several cities, inviting secular Hindu leaders, and the secular Hindus and Dalits at large to draw the attention of the public to the grievous issue, without using any religious or emotional exhortation. But out of their inordinate fear, and having been dissuaded by the Hindu power structure in the major political parties, whose signal they did not receive, not to mention infighting in their ranks, they did nothing other than lamenting and a few mercy appeals. The attitude of the Indian Muslim media has been equally pathetic.

Similarly as the Indian army has unleashed an unprecedented brutal repression on the unarmed civilians in Kashmir and more than 65 Kashmiris have died at the hands of the army in response to public protests, and the UN, CPI and some other Indian leaders have counseled the army to exercise restraint, but not a single Indian Muslim leader or organization has even appealed to the government to restrain the army from using pellet bullets and disproportionate force. So for what purpose these Muslim organizations exist? Is being an MLA or MP such a precious gift that they forget that they were elected from sizeable Muslim population constituencies to represent them.
In contrast, when Dalits experienced similar violence from the cow vigilantes, they organized a huge rally in Una (Gujarat) where they sought and received support from many upper caste secular Hindus and human rights groups. They also held supporting rallies in other cities. Now this is a golden opportunity for Muslim organizations and leaders to lend full peaceful, democratic support to the Dalits in the name of basic justice, human rights and humanity. Islam tells Muslims to help anyone who is being persecuted, but Muslim leaders and organizations always forget to read this in Islamic texts even though they endlessly quote verses from Qur'an.

Although in the Una rally I did see some ordinary Muslim faces lending their presence to the cause, their leadership and their media showed total indifference and zero action.

The major problem of Indian Muslims is their own leaders and organizations that are not only substandard in their thinking and planning, they are always waiting for signals from the Hindu power structure, whether secular or right wing, to take any social or political action. While discussing this with an Indian Muslim leader last week, he told me that if Muslims support Dalits on this issue, will not the uppercaste Hindus take out their anger on Muslims? Such is the state of helplessness of the mindset of the Muslim leadership.

In India, Dalits are 33 percent of the population and Muslims are 17 percent. Therefore, at a time like this when with Modi as Prime Minister, RSS is clearly targetting Dalits to try to roll back the recently gained middleclass social status of some of them that they have gained via reservations and shove them back into their pre-independence servitude, is the time for Muslims to support them in the hour of their need. In fact the RSS is deftly exploiting the OBCs to push down Dalits from gaining any more power. Look at the ministers in various states where BJP is in power and you will find that many of them are OBC folks.

Yes, with 17 per cent Muslim votes scattered in the country they cannot make a change but they should remember that 17 plus 33 equals 50. Despite all of the socio-economic growth of Dalits in India, the Muslim middleclass still retains significant strength in quite a few places in the country. Together, the Muslim and Dalit vote in the elections in Gujarat, UP and elsewhere next year can send a resounding message to BJP. Just as the deft Muslim alliance with Nitish Kumar and Laloo Yadav routed BJP in Bihar and with Mamta Bannerji they routed BJP in Bengal recently.

Rather than living in a trance of the promises of membership of the Rajya Sabja or Vidhan Sabha or getting an election ticket from a major party, that is the major vision of leaders of most Muslim organizations and for which they use their community, let them emulate Dalit leaders and think of how to break the trap of helplessness. Let some new Muslim leaders emerge.

Equally harmful are the small Muslim parties and their leaders who wear beards, skull-caps and sherwanis and regale the Muslim audiences in the poor Muslim ghettos with recitations from the scriptures and talk in veiled confrontational rhetoric. Their biggest goal is to give fiery speeches to illiterate and semi-literate Muslims whose three generations have continued to live in the same ghettos for seventy years. But they are happy with empty titles like “Naqeeb-e-Millat”, whatever that means.

The idea of Muslims supporting BJP is dangerous as it comes with the heavy price of total adaptation of Hindu culture and way of life and for Muslims to remain Muslim in name only. The clear objective of RSS and BJP is to relegate Indian Muslims to the status of a permanently deprived minority community that simply accepts what the majority gives it.

Fortunately, a lot of upper caste Hindus continue to be secular and very wary of RSS and BJP obscurantism. Muslim leaders and organizations need to link up with these secular Hindus and with Dalits. Not only at the time of election but in the social situations and struggles for justice

The writer is the Executive Director of the Association of Indian Muslims of America, Washington DC.

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-30 September 2016 on page no. 11

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