While growing up I learned that a sense of Muslim identity in me is not only a source of pride and joy, but also of great strengths, warmth and confidence. I did not find any conflict in my Muslim identity and being patriotic towards my own country. But gradually, I felt betrayed when I realised that my sense of belonging with Islam has been problematized by the right-wing forces to create the perception of distance and divergence in the mind of our neighbours who carry different religious identity. There is a serious attempt to deepen the religious polarity as the chances of dialogue between different cultures have been increasingly postponed. Sadly, marginalised groups including minorities, liberal and secular forces have now been a special object of opprobrium and disproportionate hostility. A whole range of symbols, myths, rhetoric, data, media reports, pamphlets, meetings, handbills, posters, novels, rumours, gossip, institutions and personalities are deployed to portray that these groups of people can never be a loyal citizen of India and thus they should be dealt strongly. In the process, Muslims have to bear the maximum brunt as they have become the victim of not only circumstances and but also a tool to create hostile perception.
Is there a threat to Muslim identity? If yes, then, why the critical conjuncture of ‘identity threat’ has arrived today? Let us look at certain illustrative factors delving into these questions.
- We must agree that the most dangerous challenge to Muslim identity in India is posed from the strategic design of right-wing forces to export fear,prejudice and hatred against the increasing presence of Muslims in public space and in the opportunities unleashed post liberalisation. To serve the purpose, extravagant statements are made to create disproportionate anxiety among the poorly informed Indian clientele. For instance, the marginal growth of Muslim population is portrayed as minoritarian conspiracy to turn India a “Muslim Rashtra” through the repeatedly deployed clichés of Love Jihad, Polygamy, Conversion, Infiltration and what not; which through the course of time remain absolutely unverifiable. Cow vigilantism, hyper nationalism, border skirmishes, Jammu and Kashmi crisis are all kept alive round the clock to keep the Hindu anxieties in motion. Further on, you will find that every aspect of Muslim identity and its related symbols are problematized including personal laws, Parda system, Urdu language, Madarsas, Azaan, religious procession, festivals, Skull Cap and so on. Sadly, the problematisation of Muslim symbols is not with a purpose to address the problem but to polarise the consciousness of the people to reap electoral dividends.
- I do not deny the fact that there is a marked institutional disregard for the issues and concerns of Muslims. Conspicuously, State has failed to take up the backwardness of Muslims as a policy agenda despite the empirical findings of the Sachar Committee, Rangnath Mishra Committee, Kundu Committee reports, regular Census data, and National Sample Survey Reports. Here, I do not intend to argue that Muslims as a whole are at the margin. The community is on the move on many fronts. There are many amongst us who have actually fared well in contrast to a similarly placed Hindu family. Despite the fact, majority of Muslims are struggling with abysmally low literacy and education, poverty, shallow representation in governmental and private jobs from class I to class IV services, non-disbursal of bank loans, non-recognition of Muslim SC/ST, lack of basic amenities in the Muslim dominated areas and so on. Surprisingly, even the institutions like Minority Commission, Ministry of Minority Affairs are reduced as “talking shops” without any clear competencies and are set up merely as empty symbols of inclusiveness.
- We have also noted the fact as how the State tried to rename the cities, streets, institutions, policies denoting Muslim name/symbols into Hindu name/symbols. The institutional violence can be noted in its systematic effort to revise and change the texts and syllabus of history and social sciences wherein the focus is to erase those references which intends to glorify Muslims and their past.
- Strangely, physical security of Muslims is still a concern. Constant killing, lynching and silencing of the community is a new-normal phenomena. Communal violence got easy legitimacy with an active/passive support of the State. It can be seen in 500 communal incidences in Uttar Pradesh including Muzaffarnagar and Bijnor.
- Another important factor is the mediatisation of Muslims and their issues in a very negative sense of the term. In fact, both global and national media (print or audio-visual) is selling ‘majoritarian victimhood’ often portraying Muslims as the perpetrator of violence. Stories are cooked. News is manufactured. A priori Trial took place. Lies are hyped. Sensationalised reporting on communally sensitive incidents telecasted 24×7. In a word, objective media, fair journalists, effective reporting and transparent circulation has become the things of the past. In a completely nonsensical ways, Islam, Muslims and its symbols are stereotyped for the right wing consumers to polarise the consciousness of majority against Muslims.
- There is a crisis of effective leadership who can articulate the demands of Muslims from the framework of citizenship. There are multiple issues here. First, Muslims have too many leaders but no effective leader. Second, Muslims accept an imposed leader rather producing one from within. Third, Muslims enter into a blame game when a leader whose name is Muslim specific does not speak on Muslim issues as we cherish the wrong proposition that Muslim leader should speak on Muslim issues only as if he is not the leader of the country.
- The role of Muslim based organisations, institutions, media houses, civil society groups, activists are not properly channelized in promoting the cause of Muslims in accordance with the principles of constitutionality. Those who do their work with utmost sincerity are now subject of either state scrutiny, or communal labelling.
- Most surprisingly, Muslims are not able to emerge as negotiating agency with the State despite their sizable presence. In the 90 of India’s total 675 districts, Muslims are more than 20 per cent. There are 100 Lok Sabha constituencies where Muslims constitute more than 20 per cent. In the 720 of the total 4121 Assembly constituencies of India, Muslims are in decisive number. But still majority of Muslim dominated areas are ill famed for socio-economic and educational backwardness. For instance, the four districts of Bihar, Araria, Katihar, Kishanganj and Purnia where Muslims constitute more than 45 per cent are is ill-famed for socio-economic and educational backwardness, poor road, rail and communication network, supplier of labour force, flood ravaged districts, absence of large and small scale industries, substantive decline in the production of jute, tea and banana, marginal urban space and so on. It is despite the fact that the region gave many chief ministers to the state like Kedar Pandey and Bhola Paswan Shastri and political elites like M.J. Akbar, Shahnawaz Hussain and Tariq Anwar represented the region.
- What is ironical is that majority of the political parties are approaching Muslims only as monolith voters as it suits their agenda. The voice of diversity among Muslims is deliberately unheard because of the ‘cost-benefit calculation’ of political parties. For instance, recognising equal diversity among Muslims would defeat the ‘Hindu monolith’ agenda of the right wing parties. In other words, Muslim identity is the touchstone on which the Hindu identity is forged. Similarly, the so called secular parties also maintain strategic silence on the diverse character of Muslims because of the fear that Muslim votes would turn ‘expensive’ as they will supposedly demand share in distributional benefit of socio-economic justice for similarly placed castes, class and gender of the Hindu community. In a word, Muslims are conditioned not to demand anything but ‘physical security’.
We must acknowledge that the ghost of partition day’s memory is revived with much vigour and energy. Every liberal/secular voice is tacitly reduced as the voice of Jinnah and Muslim League. The sole emphasis is on redefining national consensus in Hindu cultural idioms and all parties except the diehard left seculars are playing along. We are witnessing a time when no political party is attempting to question the imagined consensus just to avoid the risk of being turned anti-Hindu. The resounding silence of so called secular parties on vigilante killings is a case point.
The blame is not entirely on others. The Hindu Right is able to make short work on Muslims because everything within the community is not right. The community itself has failed to set up an example of playing a role of conscious and secular citizenry. The rational voices within the community are sidelined. The community needs to come out from their ghetto mindset, work meaningfully on their fault-lines and engage in secular politics. In other words, there is need to realise that minoritarian politics have only placed them in communal situations and thus they need to explore the tools and technique of post-minority politics not only to preserve their identity but also to ensure a share for all disadvantageous groups in the national resources of the country as equal citizens.
Afroz Alam, Associate Professor & Head, Department of Political Science, Maulana Azad National Urdu University, Hyderabad