Vice-President Ansari on the emerging Muslim identity

Suggesting ways for Muslim empowerment, advising the community to come out of a “sense of victimhood”, neglect of Urdu by the government, discrimination of Muslim women and the minority status of Aligarh Muslim University (AMU), Vice-President, Hamid Ansari took the stage to deliver Khuda Baksh Memorial Lecture at Patna on 12 December. Looking his best as always, the scholarly Indian Vice-President beautifully interspersing his address with Urdu couplets like, Khuda ne aaj tak uss qaum ki haalat nahin badli; Na ho jisko khayaal aap apni haalat ke badalne ka, exhorted Indian Muslims to come out of the ‘sense of victim-hood’ and urged them to grab the opportunities that are waiting for them in the country to revive the community to its glorious past.

“The past, however rosy, will neither sustain the present nor help create a better future. There is therefore an urgent need to correct the image, go beyond identity issues, project a more holistic view of Muslims as normal human beings and fellow citizens with the same rights and responsibilities as other citizens.”

“The requirement is of an authentic dialogue among equals about the universality of values. Its objective should be Gandhiji’s “union of hearts”. Islam’s emphasis on observance of ethical principles in interaction with all human beings should help Muslims to propel a positive image”, he added.

“The state can assist (the community) as it must, and is committed to do so. By the same logic, however, this only initiates the process and cannot be the end of it. The syndrome of victim-hood does not help and there are lessons to be learnt from the experience of other minorities. An expanding economy like ours needs active participation in emerging opportunities and in equipping the youth with skills to improve employability”, the Vice- President said.

Admitting that the opportunities for the community are unevenly spread and stating that a much greater community and governmental effort is needed in the northern and eastern states, he said, “that a new Muslim identity is emerging in different regions, language areas, professional groups, and social classes. It exudes confidence in varying degrees, refuses to shoulder the burden of the past, and is assertive about the rights due to it as citizen. They thus become partners in the promotion of inclusive development.”

Women empowerment
Stressing on the importance of the involvement of all the segments of the community, particularly women who constitute half the population and are to be empowered in social responsibilities as equal partners with Muslim men, he said, “In regard to the status of women the dead weight of tradition, poverty and communal politics has resulted in deficits like literacy, economic power resulting from work and income and autonomy of decision making.”

“This has produced a pattern of structured disempowerment. It is most visible amongst the poor. It is therefore imperative to seek correctives through social awakening; in this effort religious texts are not an impediment, social custom is”, he said.

“The endeavour”, he said, “therefore should be inclusive. The traditionalists, who have a wider social reach, have to be included and reminded of Islam’s teachings on the status of women as also of the imperative of our times.”

“What is needed is a virtual revolution in our approach to this question. The examples of education of women in Muslim societies like Indonesia, Malaysia, Iran and Turkey, and its eventual impact on the status of women in society, can be emulated with benefit”, he added.

“Given the ground situation, a beginning can be made by a time-bound programme of opening primary and secondary schools for girls in Muslim concentration localities. This, and the scholarship schemes being implemented by the government, should show some results over a five-year period”, he said.

Minority Character of AMU
Stating that the demand for the acknowledgement of the distinctive, minority, character of the Aligarh Muslim University (to rectify a Supreme Court ruling of 1965) has been a persistent one but seems to have lost its centrality in community perceptions, the Vice-President said, adding that “this is so because of the emergence of good quality minority-run institutions of higher and professional education in several states and the resultant erosion of AMU’s all-India identity and character.”

“It remains to be seen if the attempt now underway to reincarnate the AMU in different parts of the country and link it to the mother institution by an umbilical cord of uncertain quality and character would necessarily serve better either the purpose of minority education in specific minority-concentration areas or do away with the demand to restore the minority character of the University”, he added.

Call for Urdu Revival
Stating that there is sufficient evidence to show that Urdu suffered from deliberate official neglect in some of the states, Hamid Ansari said, “Jawaharlal Nehru, the then Prime Minister, had complained about it to the Chief Ministers as early as in 1954. Half a century later and belying the requirement of Article 350A, large segments of a generation have grown up without knowing their mother tongue. Equally glaring is the failure of Urdu-knowing people to nurture the language, particularly among the youth.”

“The general public, apart from occasional couplets and more frequent melodies in Mumbai movies, considers Urdu synonymous with Muslims with its teaching confined to madrasas or universities but rarely undertaken in normal schools”, he said.

Stating that an international conference on Urdu language in 2003 recommended that “in order to protect Urdu in its land of birth, while it flourishes abroad, a national movement for the revival of Urdu commanding strong political will is the need of the hour” he observed, “There is little evidence of this taking shape. What was said many years back still holds good: Sad salah jalse huai, magar is se zubaan ki yaad to qaim rahti hai, taraqqi nahin hoti.

“Thus”, he said, “The onus for salvaging Urdu rests primarily with those who claim it as mother tongue and those who value its inherent strength and beauty and its substantial contribution to Indian literature and culture.”

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 January 2010 on page no. 18

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