A note on ‘Indian Muslims’ by Ms Humra Quraishi
Farid, the earth questioned the sky, Where are the mighty captains
In their grave they rot, was the reply
And rebuked for tasks
- Baba Farid Shakarganj ( 1173- 1265)
A video of a photographer jumping on the dead body of a hapless ‘encroacher’ from Assam has gone viral.
By the time you read these lines the photographer must have been out on bail and being celebrated / glorified in the rightwing circles for expressing his ‘true self’, his ‘manliness’ against – what a leading custodian of the present dispensation tells us – the ‘termites’.
It may be a minor detail how a leading newspaper of the west talked about this whole episode.
“Just as George Floyd’s killing by a Minneapolis police officer reflected America’s deep-rooted problems of racial inequality and police violence, the barbarity in Assam is a window into India’s growing culture of hatred, violence and impunity,”
The act was definitely despicable but there was nothing surprising about it.
Within last few years we are increasingly being witness to similar brutalities unleashed on innocents – people being lynched merely for being the other, the whole act being filmed, youths being beheaded for loving a girl of their choice, disadvantaged sections, communities facing depradations at the hands of the state and non-state actors more and more, the law and order machinery turning a blind eye, the societal mores increasingly being numbed.
Writer-columnist-journalist Humra Quraishi’s book ‘The Indian Muslims : Ground Realities of the Largest Minority Community in India’ ( Aakar Books, 2021) which is based on her writings of last many years, leaves you similarly disturbed.
The book at the one level gives a bird’s eyeview of what has been happening to the biggest religious minority in the country since independence / partition, the plight of the community, how member of a community has to think twice ‘what to eat, wear or talk’ or how in the 75 th year of India’s independence the Indian Muslims, or to use the traditional term ‘Musalmanns of Hindostan‘ are passing through the ‘darkest possible phase’ and shares her apprehension that if ‘communal poisoining is not controlled, divides will worsen and affect generations to come’ ( 17). Simultaneously the book is a look at the life of the author as well , as a kid, student and as a grown up person, as she explains things, share experiences which are that way unique to her but have a general resonance with the community under consideration.
One gets to know her childhood spent in parts of UP, in her mother’s hometown Shahjahanpur and father’s ancestral qasbah Aonla or the family’s movements with engineer father, her getting exposed to the travails of a ‘disadvantaged community’ in childhood itself, the tremendous pain experienced by her grandparents over partition as many of their own relatives had migrated there, the emotional setback they had faced, the impact it had on their ‘social and financial being’ or her grandmother Amna Begum’s cry in deep anguish after passing away of Jawaharlal Nehru, because for her ‘Nehru was a saviour of the masses of the country’ ( P 10).
The author’s ouevre is really quite varied and remarkable, she has not only many books on burning social political issues of our times, but has also written stories and even a novel and has been widely published.
Sample here for few of those books namely ‘Kashmir – The Unending Tragedy : Reports from the Frontlines ; Kashmir : The Untold Story’ ; ‘Views : Yours and Mine’ which is a collection of her collective writings etc which could be considered her reflections on social-political issues of our times.
She has two short story colletions to her credit namely ‘ Bad Time Tales’ and ‘More Bad Time Tales’ ; a volume, Divine Legacy : Dagars & Dhrupad; novel ‘Meer’ and has also co-authored ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ridiculous : Profiles ; Absolute Khushwant with the late Khushwant Singh. Her take on what’s it like to be a singleton in today’s turbulent times is part of Penguin’s published anthology – Chasing the Good Life : On Being Single
The book begins with ‘author’s note’ wherein she shares her concerns, her worries, her anxieties, about the rapidly deteriorating situation in the country, the changing ‘political patterns’ ( Page 8) and atmosphere perpetuated by the rulers where you are made to ‘feel the other’
After discussing her childhood experiences, it shifts to the unfolding situation today, where she talks about the growing communal comments from the ‘supposed who’s who’ , the inability of the ‘various commissions and ministries’ to do anything to ‘counter the communal build ups. ( P 13) or her lament about why her ‘non-Muslim friends can’t comprehend the insecurities and apprehensions of the community’ or her aim in discussing ‘entire range of facts or factors’ so that we citizens of the country ‘can comprehend the ground realities’
The note basically summaries what is in store for the readers in the thirteen chapters spread over 275 pages.
For example in the first chapter of the book ‘Political Climate Un-Nervingg, Here and Out there’ she describes the recent developments in Indian polity – right from Demonetisation, to ‘removal of Gandhi’ from Charkha ( 2017), farmers marching to New Delhi in thousands in 2017 to the continuing protest struggle of farmer at Delhi borders or the verdict in the Babri Masjid-Ayodhya issue, the increasing ‘beef scare’ impacting ‘socio-cultural patterns'( P 23) , displacements taking place ‘in the midst of fears and apprehensions’, the distracting role played by the media, ghettoisation of the community or how upheavals in Arab lands, directly or indirectly affects thousands here and how if Arab states could have understood the threat / danger properly, situation would have been definitely better here.
The chapter ‘Onslaughts, Disappointments, Shockers’ continues with the increasing sectarian mindset in the country, the insults one has to face because of being the ‘other’, the increasing silence of the film industry towards any such issues but it also discusses well known actor Sunil Dutt’s suggestion to sensitise people about increasing communal disharmony. Talking about civil war in Somalia which was underway then and its increasing impact on people, late Sunil Dutt then a Member of Parliament advised her that photographs of the unfolding civil war be pasted all over the country so that people understand ‘what internal war and civil strife and unrest can do to you’ ( P 57)
Talking about ‘Babri Masjid Destruction’ – The First Post-Partition jolt for the Indian Muslims’ she underlines how it ‘dragged along a stark divide between the secular and the communal’ , not along the ‘Hindu or Muslim format but more along the progressive liberals versus the communal’ or how it awakened the Muslim community, in terms of fending for themselves, ‘especially on the education front’ ( P 75) or how it ‘saw the end of an era,of respecting each other’s views and sentiments’ ( P 76)
This chapter ends with a couplet by Baba Bulleh Shah ( in fact every chapter in the book ends with a couplet by a well known poet/ shair)
‘Masjid dhaa de, Mandir dhaa de, Dhaa de jo kuch dhenda’
Par Kissi da dil na dha vee, Rab dilla wich rehnda hae’
( Destroy a mosque, destroy a temple, destroy everything in sight
But don’t break a human heart, for that is where god resides)
The chapters ‘Gujarat Pogrom – Another Jolt’; ‘Realities Not Getting Reported – Why ? ‘; ‘Arrests, Imprisonments and Acquitals’; ‘Who is a Terrorst Today, in the New World Order ? continue with various aspects of the deprivation, discrimination of the community at the hands of state as well as non-state actors, how the vicious propaganda targetting the socially and religionwise marginalised sections has even reached even school textbooks or seeping slowly into minds of children as well.
What is worth underlining about the chapter ‘Problems within the Community’ is the frankness with which the author seems ready to introspect the issue. She tells us about how ‘ a large section of Muslims in the country’ especially from Northern belts ‘are living with the Nawabi illusions of the past‘ ( P 187) or how they are not ready to confront ‘any of the serious issues before the community‘ like illegal arrests, ‘biased role of the sarkari machinery, …provocative rioting, myths and misconceptions in circulation about the community.’ ( -do-) or how despite the ‘community ..suffering major jolt, yet it is still not reacting in that collective way‘ ( P 188) why they are not getting ready to clear ‘misconceptions about Islam‘, she underlines the need to set up ‘24 hour helpline services cum legal aid centres‘ for the victims of communal witch hunt and their families and also need for ‘counselling centres‘ . She also discusses why there is ‘no national level Muslim political leader‘ while talking about ‘Leaderless community‘ , the tactical silence maintained by bureaucrats belonging to the religious minorities, absence of reforms in the community or community ‘not reaching out to the Upcoming Generation‘ ( P 199)
Another chapter of the book – perhaps the longest one – takes up various ‘Myths and Misconceptions about the Indian Muslims’ and discusses them in details.
In the concluding chapter of the book ‘Hope Buried or Not’ the author shares dilemma of sorts of what she calls as ‘alive’ Muslims should do – ‘should they talk rather loud or should they carry that pain and clutched close to their heart.’ ( P 208)
Discussing it further she makes it clear that there is nothing being upset with the Hindus, in fact many realise that ‘they are alive because of liberal Hindu‘ ( P 209) but one is ‘more disgusted with Hindutva Brigades and also with the Right-Wing rulers of the country‘ ( 209)
Underlining the need to speak out she makes it clear what we need today is not a community specific response Her poser is important why should only the particular community speak out if tortures are inflicted on the community and she emphasises that it is time to ‘accept the fact that communalism has been unleashed by the Rightwing with an agenda – to divide and destroy, and then rule !’ and ‘the secular parties the country — the Congress, SP, BSP, Trinamool, the Left – have not succeded in defeating the Hindutva forces.’ ( 211) In a way she envisages a broader coalition of parties and formations to fight the menace of Communalism.
This chapter ends with her anxiety : ‘I am worried about future of my country and fellow citizens.
I sit forlorn, wondering what lies ahead – how dare would the shades of gloom get! ‘ ( P 219)
Any neutral observer would be ready to have a more sympathetic view of what is unfolding here. This is how a leading paper of the West observes what we are faced with :.
..“India never fully recovered from the 1947 Partition along religious lines, and communal prejudices run deep. In the past, political leaders sought to dampen animosities with public campaigns stressing communal harmony and unity in diversity….”
The newspaper does not forget to add how there is a sea-change in the situation now with the Hindutva Supremacists on the ascendance they are more engaged in ‘fanning old hatreds’ (-do-)
No doubt, this book is not just the story of what is happening to a section of our society, the churnings within and the challenges ahead but it is a wake-up call for all those who believe in the Constitution of India and want its implementation in letter and spirit.
Subhash Gatade is a social activist