Violence in Mumbai – Assam and Burma Killings of Muslims

The way things were happening for the last few weeks it was not surprising that violence on such scale took place in Mumbai. It was, as if, in store. Large-scale propaganda was going on that Muslims are being killed all over the world. There is conspiracy to kill Muslims everywhere. On Bodo-Muslim clashes and about Rohingiyah Muslims in Burma prayers were being organized in mosques and SMSs were circulating about it. Urdu newspapers were carrying articles saying there is world-wide conspiracy to kill Muslims. Articles simply appealing to emotions, not to reason.

 I have not seen any sober and analytical article in the Urdu press in Mumbai. The Muslim leadership was creating a psychology of victimhood in the minds of Muslims and pent up emotions were waiting to explode with some triggering event. The photographs about killing of Muslims in Burma had greatly disturbed the Muslim youth. All photographs, I must say, were not authentic but they were circulated on large scale and ignited emotions.

 Muslim leadership, which hardly does anything for the real welfare of the community, always has an eye on such sensitive situations and wants to grab the opportunity to enhance its own interests. Also, mosques were used to announce about the rally giving it further religious colour. Those who go to mosques to pray, in large numbers, particularly in the holy month of Ramadan, are gullible and the moment religious colour is given to an issue they become extra-sensitive.

 These religious leaders and also some non-religious leaders of Muslims neither fully understand the problem nor do they care to know the facts on the ground. They simply make it a case of conspiracy against Muslims. In Azad Maidan too, where the Mumbai rally was organized despite knowing that huge crowd was there with all sorts of people, speakers made highly emotional speeches, especially attacking media for not covering killing of Muslims in Burma. Then what more do you want to incite emotions for anything to happen.

 It was not only a question of managing the crowd. It was an utterly irresponsible act on the part of the leadership of the rally. If they had expected only 1500 persons to attend and 50,000 turned up, the leaders should have clearly understood that the situation can get out of control any time as they were simply dealing with raw emotions. A wise leadership would not have allowed highly emotional speeches in the midst of such huge and diverse crowd and fuel emotions further.

 It is also not correct to say that they expected only 1500 people to turn up as they were making announcements inside mosques on Friday and also posters were put up. It means they aimed at attracting large crowds and made efforts to mobilize them and succeeded in it. The ideal thing would have been to have a dharna by about 1000-1500 seriously interested people for a day long event and then they could have met the Chief Minister or the Home Minister. There was no need at all for such a huge rally.

 And if at all such a huge rally was organized why such emotional speeches were made? They should have understood the sensitivity of the problem. But then if they did, how can they be Muslim leadership without arousing religious sentiments? In fact, as far as Assam is concerned, hardly anyone of those who actively organized the rally knew anything about the nature of the conflict except that Muslims were killed.

What was the history of Bodo-Muslim conflict in Assam? Bodos are not killing Muslims because of their Muslimness but the fundamental problem is of land. Bodos are in conflict with other communities also like Adibashis, Santhals and others and they have come in conflict with all these communities in the past. Though it is not true that Bangladeshis are migrating in large numbers (this is largely the Sangh Parivar propaganda). Unfortunately Bodos, in order to fulfill their ambition of Bodo-land and for evicting Bengali Muslims and other ethnic communities from the four districts of Bodo Territorial Council, are using this false propaganda for their own purposes. One can, of course, blame the Congress Government for giving Bodos BTC to buy peace with militant Bodo outfits. They should not have done so without taking other ethnic communities in the area in confidence and giving them proper representation as demanded by our democracy and constitution.

As for Rohingya Muslims, it is the military government of Myanmar which is to be blamed. I visited Rangoon after the recent riots and interviewed a large number of Rohingya Muslims. No such problem existed until 1981. They were treated as regular citizens and had voting rights. It was the military government of Myanmar which suddenly and without any proper reason, took away their papers from them and tried to expel them from Rakhine district of Western Myanmar. It treats these Muslims as “foreigners” and wants Bangladesh to settle them in its territory which is totally unjust. Rohingya Muslims have been in that province for centuries and there is no case to describe them as outsiders. Most of them had settled there during the Muslim rule. The military government of Myanmar has been killing Burmese of other provinces too and killed several Buddhist monks also during pro-democracy demonstrations.

 It is true that some Buddhist monks have issued pamphlets against Rakhine Muslims to show solidarity with their co-religionists which they should not have done. But then like others Buddhists, monks also are getting politicized as their pro-democracy demonstrations show. But in both cases (i.e., Assam and Rohingya), it is not part of any worldwide conspiracy to kill Muslims as it is being propagated.

 In Mumbai violence, media came under attack for no reason except that provocative speeches were being made against media. It was quite ill-advised. A wise leadership would rather try to win over media rather than antagonize it this way. Also, one cannot tar the media with the same brush. Print and electronic media have different ideological and commercial approaches. A blatant attack is totally wrong and even if a section of media is ideologically against or indifferent to Muslim problems, the solution does not lie in attacking its journalists or OB vans. At best, it is foolish.

Urdu newspapers often write that let Ulama-e kiram (honourable Ulama) guide the Muslim Ummah and give it a lead. How can one expect Ulama to provide leadership when they hardly have any knowledge of the modern world and for whom provoking religious sentiments is part of their orientation. It is not to say that all Ulama are like this but a large number of Ulama - and this has been proved repeatedly in political matters – behave either in opportunistic or emotional manner.

And let us remember all this happened in the holy month of Ramadan. The ulama never tire of telling us that the aim of this month of fasting is that we become more patient and able to control our anger and we must devote ourselves entirely to ‘ibadat, i.e.s acts of worship, compassion and charity. What was then the hurry to take out this rally in this holy month when no fresh incidents were taking place? The Assam situation had come under control and what was urgently needed was to collect money, clothes, shoes and medicines for those in relief camps in those four districts.

In the holy month of charity they could have concentrated on collecting relief for those unfortunate four lakh people who are rotting in relief camps in most unspeakable conditions in Assam’s BTC and adjoining areas. Some Bodos too have been killed in retaliatory actions and quite a few Bodos are also living in relief camps in as bad a condition as Bengali-speaking Muslims. As good and compassionate Muslims, in this month of charity they should adopt an inclusive approach and collect relief for Bodos too. This is what the Holy Qur’an also requires them to do.

 If instead of making it a conspiracy against Muslims, if they had condemned killing of Bodos too and prayed for all it would not have acquired such emotional proportions. Also the rally should not have been exclusively a Muslim affair but a rally with the support of all sections of Indian society, i.e., Hindus, Christians, Buddhists and all others - besides Muslims - to strengthen our secular character. It was not only exclusively Muslim but organized by Raza Academy - representing Barelvi Muslims betraying a a sectarian approach. Deobandis were to organize separately a day after but that event was postponed because of violent turn which the earlier rally took.

If we have to be against violence, and it should be our serious commitment, we have to be more and more inclusive. Whenever sectarian approach is adopted, it becomes easier to resort to violence and if it is inclusive of all sections it is not only more democratic but also likely to be more non-violent. Sectarian approach results in a competitive approach while an inclusive approach is always a cooperative approach.

 The police is now saying the violence was pre-planned which may result in harassment of many Muslim youth. It is shameful that some rallyists molested women constables and seized revolvers from them. The police may take revenge for this. Let us hope police does not do so. But one must say the police had shown a lot of restraint and Police Commissioner Arup Patnaik himself had come and spoken from the platform appealing to Muslims to show restraint in this holy month of Ramadan.  Let us hope wiser counsel will prevail and peace would not be disturbed.    (Secular Perspective)

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 September 2012 on page no. 11

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