by Akshat Jain and Shahrukh Khatib
Utpal Kumar, writer extraordinaire for Firstpost, and executive editor for iTV Network according to his LinkedIn profile, has written an article to explain ‘How communal flare-up in Delhi’s Jahangirpuri exposes liberal, intellectual and even political ineptitude’. He uses the bogey of Jahangirpuri riots to attack liberals for allowing Muslims to be intolerant. This article falls in the great tradition of Kashmir Files, which uses the bogey of Kashmiri Pandit migration to attack liberals (JNU specifically) for allowing Muslims (Kashmiri Muslims specifically) to be intolerant (commit a genocide of Kashmiri Pandits specifically). What Vivek Agnihotri did so well in his film, the villainization of Muslims and liberals, Mr Kumar does in his article (and also in this article about the Hijab and this article about Brahmins being the new Dalits, among many-many others he has written). Both of them follow another common method, that of rewriting history to give a communal tinge to events which had nothing to do with communalism when they happened.
According to Mr Agnihotri, the Kashmiri Pandit migration happened because Kashmiri Muslims attacked Kashmiri Pandits for being Hindus. While the truth of the matter is, as this article argues, that Kashmiri Pandit migration happened in the wake of the Kashmiri uprising against the Indian state, which itself had a long history dating back to at least 1947 when the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir was vivisected. When full-scale war broke out between pro-freedom Kashmiris and the Indian state in 1990, people in Kashmir were forced to choose sides, because in response to Indian states’ targeting of pro-freedom individuals for more than four decades, the pro-freedom movement had started targeting pro-India individuals. Many Muslims and Pandits who did not want to be a part of this war fled from Kashmir or shifted to garrisons, hoping the war would be over soon. The war hasn’t ended till today and this is why these ‘migrants’ have not been able to return to Kashmir.
Similarly, Mr Kumar asserts with no background whatsoever, ‘the Khilafat movement culminated in the Moplah massacre of Hindus in the Malabar region.’ According to him, Muslims attacked Hindu landlords for being Hindus because they could not find a middle ground with them in the Khilafat movement. While the truth of the matter is that the Moplah rebellion was anti-British and anti-feudal, with a history going back as far as 1792 when the Malabar region was colonized by the British in cahoots with Hindu upper caste landlords. Sporadic revolts by the peasantry were common over the course of the next century and just as common was their being put down mercilessly by the colonial and feudal forces. The large-scale uprising in 1921 was the culmination of this latently brewing discontent amongst the peasantry who got the confidence and vigour to do this due to the patronage extended to them by the Khilafat Movement and the Indian National congress, as is explained in this article. It so happened that the peasants in the uprising were mostly Muslims while the feudal lords were mostly upper-caste Hindus. The feudal lords were not attacked because they were Hindus, they were attacked because they were exploiting destitute peasants (and sharing the loot with the British might we add).
Mr Kumar’s article is part of a growing wave of theorisation from the Hindu right, specifically in recent years under the patronage of BJP, aimed at killing two birds (Muslim and liberal) with one stone (vegetarian ahimsa notwithstanding). That is why this article is important to study and reply to. In it, Mr Kumar has been kind enough to succinctly articulate the Hindu position on Islam, liberals and what should be done with both in this country.
So, we are writing this piece not just as a refutation of Mr Kumar’s thesis on Jahangirpuri but to show how deeply flawed the presumptions are which make his thesis possible.
Mr Kumar’s thesis –
1) Islam is to be blamed for the riots because it is Islam’s exclusivity that makes them possible – ‘Riots take place when an ideology believes in its exclusivity . . . At the core of the recent conflicts in Ram Navami and now Hanuman Jayanti lies this sense of exclusivity.’ To make this point Mr Kumar has to show that Islam is indeed exclusive in a way that Hinduism or any other faith is not and the exclusivity is such that it can become the cause of riots.
2) Liberals are to be blamed for allowing Islam to behave in this pernicious manner – ‘When one looks at communal flare-ups like Jahangirpuri’s, it exposes the liberal ineptitude — or even unwillingness — to grasp the idea called Islam, maybe out of “the fear of the sword” or the inherent hatred for the Indic tradition born out of coloniality.’ According to Mr Kumar, liberals follow double standards wherein they allow Muslims to do those precise things which they won’t allow a Hindu to do. This allows Muslims to act in an obnoxious and violent manner because they know they won’t be held accountable.
3) QED: If Islam and liberals are to be blamed for the riots, then the way to stop these riots from happening is to deal with those two with the ‘severity they deserve . . . Maybe the Centre, in a true federal spirit, can take a cue from the Yogi Adityanath government in Uttar Pradesh.’ The ‘political ineptitude’ of liberals and the pestilential ideology of Muslims must be recognized for the harm they are doing to the country and the Hindu right must not only be given more power by the masses since it is the only one that can deal with them but it should also wield its power in a more effective way.
We will take the arguments put forward by Mr Kumar and show how those arguments are based on an incorrect analysis of the situation. Muslims cannot be blamed for the riots because they are either not exclusive in the way that Mr Kumar claims them to be or their exclusivity pales in comparison to Hindu exclusivity. If both Hindus and Muslims are exclusive, then why blame one party but not the other?
Then we will show how the liberal stand (not the one taken by those who call themselves Hindus but the one taken by those who call themselves Ambedkarites) on Muslims does not show that they do not understand Islam or are afraid of Islam but that they understand the social realities operative in the country. A minority community and a majority community occupy different positions of power in a majoritarian democracy and have to be dealt with differently. The parameters used to judge Islam and Hinduism as religions can be the same but the parameters used to judge Muslims and Hindus in India have to be different. The religions can be judged abstractly at a theoretical level but people’s actions have to be judged at a practical and political level, keeping in mind their everyday realities and existing power inequalities
When the first two points fall, we understand that the riots do not happen for the reasons that Mr Kumar attributes to them. Since the problem itself is misdiagnosed, his solution of dealing severely with Muslims and liberals obviously cannot stand.
The exclusivity of Islam
Mr Kumar uses two luminaries, poles apart in their view of the world, to make his argument about the exclusivity of Islam. One is V.S. Naipaul, whom Mr Kumar insists on calling Sir Vidia Naipaul for reasons only known to him, maybe this is part and parcel of reclaiming the lost glory of Indic civilization. The other is Dr Ambedkar, whom he keeps calling BR Ambedkar or just Ambedkar. Evidently, the title of ‘Sir’ conferred by the British is not tinged with coloniality and should be used without fail but the title of ‘Dr’ which one earns by completing a PhD can be dropped without batting an eye. Even as the Hindu right is appropriating Dr Ambedkar at a breath-taking speed, against all demands of logic, sensitivity and sensibility, it cannot give him the respect that he has earned.
‘BR Ambedkar,’ Mr Kumar says, ‘has been scathing in his assessment of Islam.’ He quotes from Dr Ambedkar’s Pakistan or the Partition of India: Muslims in India are an exclusive group, and they have a consciousness of the kind possessed by a longing to belong to their own group and not to any non-Muslim group . . . The brotherhood of Islam is not the universal brotherhood of man. It is the brotherhood of Muslims for Muslims only. There is a fraternity, but its benefit is confined to those within that corporation. For those who are outside the corporation, there is nothing but contempt and enmity.
Firstly, let us point out that Dr Ambedkar is an outsider to Islam with a very limited understanding of the religion and his view on the religion does not hold any authority as it is one of the lesser informed views of it. There are and were thousands of people with a better understanding of Islam. On the other hand, Dr Ambedkar was born a Hindu and he spent the better part of his life understanding and fighting Hinduism. Dr Ambedkar’s understanding of Hinduism was unsurpassed and there is no greater authority on the subject till today. If Dr Ambedkar’s assessment of Islam holds so much importance in the Hindu right’s judgment of Islam, then maybe his assessment of Hinduism should hold even more importance.
Additionally, so-called scathing sentences against Islam are Dr Ambedkar’s criticism of the religion on theoretical and practical grounds in the context of the departure of the British from the Indian subcontinent. Not once does Dr Ambedkar say that Islam should be annihilated nor does he tell Muslims that their religion is wrong. On the other hand, Dr Ambedkar is very clear that Hinduism should be annihilated. ‘You must take the stand which Guru Nanak took. You must not only discard the Shastras, you must deny their authority, as did Buddha and Nanak. You must have courage to tell the Hindus, that what is wrong with them is their religion—the religion which has produced in them this notion of the sacredness of Caste.’
Secondly, even if Muslims do think they are an exclusive group, Brahmins (and their followers) are far guiltier of thinking they are an exclusive group. Muslims do not stop people from converting to Islam and joining the community of believers on an equal footing, while ‘Hindu society,’ says Dr Ambedkar, ‘being a collection of castes and each caste being a close corporation there is no place for a convert.’
Further, if a person converts to Islam, then he is assured to be treated as a brother. On the other hand, Brahmins do not even treat fellow Hindus as brothers if they do not belong to the same caste. They are not only contemptuous of those outside Hinduism, whom they call mleccha, but also of those inside Hinduism but belonging to ‘lower’ castes. Brahmins are not the brothers of Shudras and can never be no matter how much Shudras want to convert into Brahmins. There is nothing a Shudra can do in this life to earn their brotherhood. While Muslims have fraternity among themselves and allow anyone to convert to Islam to enjoy that fraternity, the Hindus have no concept of fraternity at all. All they have is a system of graded inequality. Dr Ambedkar reminds us in What Congress and Gandhi Have Done to the Untouchables: The social psychology of the Hindu Communal Majority is dominated by the dogma which recognizes not merely inequality but graded inequality as the rule governing the inter-relationship among the various communities. This dogma of graded inequality is absolutely inimical to liberty and fraternity.
Mr Kumar betrays his ignorance about that very Islamic exclusivity which he alleges is at the centre of communal flare-ups when he claims that Islam ‘divides humanity into two irreconcilable groups of believers and non-believers.’ Islam does no such thing. If Islam divided humanity into irreconcilable groups, then it would not exhort its believers to reconcile the nonbelievers and bring them into the fold of Islam. Clearly, Mr. Kumar has internalized the lessons taught by the intellectual apologist of American imperialism, Samuel Huntington, and the high priest of Hindu Right, Ajay Singh Bisht (aka Yogi Adityanath), who repeatedly iterate that Muslims and Hindus are two different civilisations that cannot co-exist peacefully, historical evidence to the contrary notwithstanding. In fact, if Mr Kumar had shown actual interest in Ambedkar instead of showing interest only in using Ambedkar to provide a sheen of legitimacy to his hateful bigotry, he would have realized that it is not Muslims who divide the world into irreconcilable groups but the Hindus who divide the world into as many irreconcilable groups as there are castes.
Ambedkar’s final word, from The Annihilation of Caste, on the comparison between Hinduism and Islam should be quoted here – The Hindus criticise the Mohammedans for having spread their religion by the use of the sword. They also ridicule Christianity on the score of the inquisition. But really speaking who is better and more worthy of our respect—the Mohammedans and Christians who attempted to thrust down the throats of unwilling persons what they regarded as necessary for their salvation or the Hindu who would not spread the light, who would endeavour to keep others in darkness, who would not consent to share his intellectual and social inheritance with those who are ready and willing to make it a part of their own make-up? I have no hesitation in saying that if the Mohammedan has been cruel the Hindu has been mean and meanness is worse than cruelty.
Dr Ambedkar might have issues with Islam but he clearly thinks Islam is less exclusive than Hinduism because it wants the entire world to read the word of God while Hindus want to confine the word to Brahmins and Brahmins alone.
Now, to move to VS Naipaul. Mr Kumar writes: Sir Vidia Naipaul . . . calls Islam “the most uncompromising kind of imperialism” that allows “only one people — the Arabs the original people of the Prophet — a past and sacred places, pilgrimages and earth reverences.” That is not quite correct because that is not quite the right quote. So let me set the record straight and give the quote that Mr Kumar is actually referring to.
VS Naipaul in the prologue of his travelogue Beyond Belief: Islam is in its origins an Arab religion. Everyone not an Arab who is a Muslim is a convert. Islam is not simply a matter of conscience or private belief. It makes imperial demands. A convert’s worldview alters. His holy places are in Arab lands; his sacred language is Arabic. His idea of history alters. He rejects his own; he becomes, whether he likes it or not, a part of the Arab story. The convert has to turn away from everything that is his. The disturbance for societies is immense, and even after a thousand years can remain unresolved; the turning away has to be done again and again. People develop fantasies about who and what they are; and in the Islam of the converted countries there is an element of neurosis and nihilism. These countries can be easily set on the boil.
Naipaul is saying that all Muslims have to get rid of their own specific histories and accept the history of the Arabs as their own. This is the reason that Muslims of these converted societies become neurotic, nihilistic and violent. For Mr Kumar, this argument is a godsend as it affirms his thesis that Muslims in India cause riots. But, apart from being factually incorrect, Mr Naipaul’s claim is also theoretically meaningless. In the Indian subcontinent itself, we know that Muslims make pilgrimages to various Dargahs (Hazrat Khwaja Gharib Nawaz Dargah in Ajmer and Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia Dargah in Delhi to name just two) which they hold sacred. We also know that they have their own specific history in the subcontinent. There is a history of how they became Muslims and what happened thereafter. Many Muslims in India were lower castes who embraced Islam to escape caste oppression. People did not turn away from who they were to become Muslims, they added a new dimension to themselves, that of Islam, a religion that promised them equality of treatment. Bengalis did not stop being Bengalis when they became Muslims. If that were the case, Bangladeshi nationalism against Pakistan would make no sense. Subtracting from one’s past and adding to one’s future are two very different things. Maybe Mr Naipaul does not understand the difference because he was so keen on turning away from his own history to become fully and only British.
Eqbal Ahmad, the late anti-war and pro-freedom public intellectual, was asked about this book and specifically this quote of Naipaul’s. He gave such a good answer that we can just reproduce it here, even if it is a little lengthy.
Eqbal Ahmad from Confronting Empire: The central thesis is that Islam in the countries he visited is Islam of converted people. He calls Islam “an Arab religion.” Everyone who is not an Arab is a convert to Islam. A convert’s view is distorted and nihilistic. It produces disturbances; it’s a condition of neurosis. So, the central thesis rests on the impact of conversion on the converted. Throughout this book, Naipaul identifies a problem in Pakistan or in Malaysia and says it exists because the people were converts to Islam. At one point, for example, he describes quite correctly how some of the greatest historical monuments in one of the oldest cities in Pakistan, Lahore, have been criminally neglected. He describes the neglect and he asks how can a people allow Versailles-like structures to be so neglected? Clearly it is because these people have no relationship to their history. Converts don’t care about the past. That’s his conclusion. But it’s an unfortunate fact that historical monuments are being neglected in India, Pakistan, Cambodia, Egypt, Jordan, Africa, Latin America, and all over the world. They’re even neglected in many European countries and in America. What does that have to do with converts? There’s that problem. His central thesis is wrong. There is a second problem that is even greater. Who is not a convert? By the definition he is giving, if Iranians are converted Muslims and Americans are converted Christians, the Japanese and large numbers of Chinese are converted Buddhists. Everybody is converted because every great religious system has had only a few followers at the beginning. Given that, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Judaism, especially all the prophetic religions, developed through conversion and have produced an entirely distorted humanity. In that sense, his organizing thesis should not exclude anyone. You are wasting time. V.S. Naipaul is a man haunted by imagined, created ghosts. None of his ghosts are actually real. They haunt him in very unexpected ways . . . This book is actually beyond belief, perhaps because it’s a book driven by ghosts. Islam is one of his ghosts.
The only reason that Mr Kumar and Sir Vidia Naipaul single out Islam is that they have a pre-existent problem with the religion. Communal flare ups should also happen between Buddhists and Hindus, Jains and Hindus, and Christians and Hindus because all three religions originated from a particular place and then converted others. Buddhism and Jainism originated in the Indo-Gangetic Plains while Christianity originated in the place we refer to as the ‘Middle-East’. If they do not become imperialistic and exclusive because of this feature, there is no reason to assume Islam does. Mr Kumar’s thesis falls with Mr Naipaul’s.
To reiterate, Mr Kumar uses Dr Ambedkar and Naipaul to argue that Islam is exclusive and that’s why it is responsible for the riots between Muslims and Hindus. We have shown that according to Dr Ambedkar, Hinduism is more exclusive than Islam and so Islam’s exclusivity cannot be singlehandedly held responsible for riots. We have also shown that Naipaul’s claims for Islam’s imperialism and violent neuroticism do not stand because all religions should display similar tendencies if we take the rubric he uses to claim a special place in hell for Islam.
The double standards of liberals
Quran and Manusmriti
This particular line of argument in Mr Kumar’s article starts with a ‘prank’ he plays on a ‘revolutionary’ friend of his. He calls his ‘revolutionary’ friend home and introduces him to two ‘Muslim’ friends—Usman and Amin. He eggs the revolutionary on to say that the Manusmriti should be burnt. After the revolutionary goes on about that for a few minutes, Mr Kumar hands him a book and tells him to read the underlined sentences. The book is the Quran and the sentences underlined are verses which, we are told by Mr Kumar, ‘specifically ask the believers to fight the non-believers till the world became Dar-ul-Islam; in those verses, there was no redemption for non-believers, till the time they converted to Islam.’
In Mr Kumar’s story, the revolutionary says something stupid like there are other verses in the Quran which preach tolerance and virtue, ‘those few verses that reeked of intolerance are exceptions and don’t really convey the essence of the holy book’, only for Mr Kumar to deliver his coup de grace—But what about the accommodative verses in Manusmriti?’
After this scholarly exchange, the revolutionary loses his cool and his power of speech while Mr Kumar smugly gives his research findings—The story is a stark reminder of the limits of liberalism, especially vis-à-vis Islam: There is one parameter for Muslims, and another for the rest. The reverence for Islam, I think, is as much ideological as it is out of fear (my friend was definitely unsettled about reading those lines in front of two men he thought were Muslims).
It’s a prank because the two friends weren’t actually Muslims. Mr Kumar couldn’t get actual Muslims to make his point (because he was afraid of Muslims?) so he made Hindus act as Muslims. The point is a rhetorical question—If Manusmriti should be burnt, then why not the Quran? To make this point, Mr Kumar not only constructs a fictional account but also a strawman he calls ‘revolutionary’ and ‘liberal’.
When someone points out that there are verses in the Quran which a modern liberal would not agree with, the argument made by modern liberals is not that these verses are exceptions. That is a stupid argument that engages in inane whataboutery. Because, as Mr Kumar points out correctly, there could be exceptions in the Manusmriti also. So let us tell Mr Kumar, as actual liberals and not fictitious ones of his imagination, why the Manusmriti should be burnt and not the Quran (or any other book for that matter).
May we begin by pointing out that the Manusmriti has been burnt for a very specific reason. It has not been burnt because it is a book which has problems. All books have problematic aspects, but we don’t just burn them. We deal with the problematic aspects. Manusmriti was burnt because it is a symbolic document that upholds the sanctity of the caste system. It was necessary to burn it to reject the caste system once and for all.
Even the so-called accommodative verses in the Manusmriti cited by Mr Kumar uphold the sanctity of the caste system. Mr Kumar quotes AL Basham’s translation of the Manusmriti: “the penalty for theft the Shudra should pay a fine equal to eight times the value of stolen goods, while Vaishya, Kshatriya and Brahmin should pay 16, 32, and 64 times the values respectively”. Mr Kumar is trying to prove by this verse that Brahmins were also discriminated against, so the Manusmriti balanced the scales of discrimination. But he is totally missing the point—which is that the Manusmriti divided society based on castes. No matter how supposedly accommodative, these verses still divide society into irreconcilable groups based on birth. In fact, the reason Brahmins have to pay higher penalties is not due to some notion of distributive justice, but only because Brahmins are purer and possess higher virtues. Even the higher penalty is a marker of their higher ritual status in the Hindu order.
Dr Ambedkar, whom Mr Kumar evidently treats as a trustworthy authority, was the first person to burn the Manusmriti during the Mahad Satyagraha on 21 December 1927. Dr Ambedkar did not burn the Quran or any other book. 21 December is celebrated till today as ‘Manusmriti Dahan Divas’. There is a history to the burning of the Manusmriti. Mr Kumar’s fictive revolutionary does not reside in a social vacuum where all books are equally burnable. Manusmriti has a special claim to being burnt as its burning is celebrated for kicking off one of the most progressive movements in 20th Century India. The man who burnt it went on to write the Constitution of India. We, as a country, clearly respect him. The burning of Manusmriti is part of modern Indian culture that defies Brahminism and caste hierarchy. The burning of the Quran is not. So, it is ridiculous to even compare the two.
To bolster his world-shattering discovery that books other than Manusmriti should also be burnt, Mr Kumar says, ‘Manusmriti is just one of many smritis in India, and that smritis never claim to be universal in nature but are time and place-centric. The same can’t be said about the Quran, which is the word of God and has to be taken literally!’
Firstly, Dr Ambedkar did not burn the other smritis, he burned the Manusmriti, so it is beside the point to mention there are other smritis.
Secondly, we know Manusmriti does not claim to be universal. It limits itself to Akhand Bharat. But that too is beside the point. Dr Ambedkar did not burn the Manusmriti because it claimed to be universal, he burned it because it upheld the caste system. Universalism is not a problem; in fact, it is an ideal Dr Ambedkar strives towards. He says again and again that liberty, equality and fraternity are universal ideals. One of his problems with Hinduism is precisely that it is not and cannot be universal.
Thirdly, I think Mr Kumar does not understand what it means to take something literally. Taking something literally just means not treating it as metaphor or allegory. It does not mean that the same thing cannot have multiple meanings for different people, who by definition would be in different times and places and would interpret the same words according to their own times and places. Taken literally, the verses of the Quran have as many interpretations as there are scholars of Islam. There are many schools in Islam based on these differing interpretations of the same literal words. In fact, it is common for a Muslim to take his problem to multiple Ulemas who might use the same verse from the Quran and one of the Hadiths to give him different solutions.
Mr Kumar also asks, ‘what can be the middle ground with a religion which considers itself perfect and perfected?’ We are not going to talk about the possibility of a middle ground because the very notion that Islam considers itself perfect and perfected is highly ignorant. Was Islam born perfect? Or was it perfected over time? Because if it was born perfect, then it couldn’t have been perfected over time. And if it was perfected over time, then it wasn’t born perfect. So, either the use of ‘perfected’ does not make sense or it shows us that according to Mr Kumar himself, Islam did not consider itself perfect at birth. The reason these two seemingly contradictory words have been used is because they are trying to hide the vacuity of the statement that is being made. If Islam considered itself perfected, then we would not have Islamic scholars still interpreting the Quran and the Hadith and debating over their interpretations. We would have one definitive version of Islam, and not the proliferation of sects and groups which differ from each other but call themselves Islamic.
Finally, there genuinely are many differences between the Manusmriti and the Quran which make the case stronger for burning the Manusmriti but not the Quran. To present just a few:
1) The Quran does not target any community and render them slaves or untouchables for all eternity. Manusmriti does.
2) Any believer can study the Quran and become an ulema or an authority on the Quran. Quran can be appropriated by anyone who is willing to be a Muslim, and anyone can become a Muslim. Only Brahmins have the right to study the Manusmriti. Manusmriti can only be burnt and rejected by those who are not Brahmins because no one can become a Brahmin, one can only be born a Brahmin.
3) Mr Kumar says that in the Quran it is written that there is no redemption for non-believers till they convert to Islam. In Hinduism, there is no redemption even for those who are Hindus but don’t belong to the right castes. So, while a non-believer can become a believer by converting (and thus become equal to every other Muslim in the eyes of Allah), an untouchable can never hope to become a Brahmin or equal to everyone else in the Hindu dharma.
Allahu Akbar and Jai Sri Ram
The second double standard Mr Kumar points to is this—Jai Shri Ram chants make our liberals uneasy, but when a girl in hijab shouts “Allah hu Akbar”, this same set of people sees it as an act of defiance against Hindutva patriarchy!
I would like to tell Mr Kumar that the girl’s defiance of Hindutva patriarchy does not consist in her shouting Allahu Akbar. She could have been shouting anything really. The point is that she is alone in front of a group of hostile men and she is shouting something that they don’t want her to shout. She has the courage to defy them even though they are much more powerful. It is because the men are Hindus who get their panties in a stitch if a girl in hijab shouts Allahu Akbar that she has to do that. If they got riled up by her shouting Long Live the Queen, she would have shouted that instead.
This ties into a larger argument. The point is not that liberals support Muslims shouting Allahu Akbar, the point is that Muslims are threatened by a Hindu majority and it is an act of defiance for them to shout something that the majority disapproves of. It really can be anything. It is because the majority does not want anyone shouting Allahu Akbar that it becomes what they shout. The majority makes them act defiant in this manner. They are being oppressed because they are Muslims, so they have to own their being Muslims. Muskaan does not go around shouting Allahu Akbar on the streets. She only did it that day because they were challenging her to do it. If the majority does not want the minority to do something, then that thing becomes all the more important for the minority to do, and for liberals to support, to show the oppressor that the minority will not be cowed down by majoritarian terror tactics.
Shouting Allahu Akbar, as Sharjeel Imam pointed out, is genuinely something that is dangerous in India because a person can be lynched by a Hindu mob for it. Shouting Jai Sri Ram on the other hand holds no such danger. No Muslim mob has lynched a person shouting Jai Sri Ram. Shouting Jai Sri Ram is assuming a position of power to shout something that agrees with the powerful. Allahu Akbar on the other hand is shouted from a position of powerlessness. The two cannot be equated in any sense. They might both be religious slogans but the social context in India gives them a completely different charge. It is not only meaningless but also insidious, to suggest that words mean something outside of the social context they are uttered in. One utterance courts danger and is therefore defiant while the other utterance courts approval and is sycophantic at best.
In his book, A Dying Colonialism, Frantz Fanon talks about the use of the veil in Algeria. As the French colonists stressed more on the removal of the veil to ‘save’ the women of Algeria, the women became more adamant about the use of the veil. Only because they did not want to accept anything the oppressors wanted of them. The same logic holds true in India where Muslims are constantly being attacked for being Muslims and are being asked to divest themselves from Muslim culture entirely in order to become ‘Indians’. The Muslims are using Muslim culture to defy their forced Hinduization, thus asserting that they can be both Muslims and Indians at the same time. Whether this is possible or not, we are yet to see. We just know that this is what they are trying to do and this is what the liberals are supporting. If the idea of India is a Hindu idea, then this would turn out to be impossible. But if Muslims are able to change the idea of India into something that is not entirely Hindu, then this could work.
Mr Kumar: It is this extreme sensitivity towards Muslim sensitivity that makes most liberals take an illiberal position to demand an exception to be made for Muslim immigrants: They want the host countries to change their national ethos to suit the new entrants, little realising that there can’t be a middle ground here: It’s my way or highway for these immigrants!
Firstly, I would like to ask Mr Kumar what national ethos is. Who defines a country’s national ethos? Is it something written in the country’s constitution? Secondly, who exactly is asking host countries to change their national ethos? Change it from what to what?
None of this is made clear by Mr Kumar. He does not tell us which countries Muslims are immigrating to. He does not tell us what the national ethos of those countries is. He does not tell us what exceptions are being asked for by Muslim immigrants which necessitate a change in the national ethos of those countries. We are just being bombarded with random assertions to reach the pre-fabricated conclusion that Muslims do not recognise a middle ground, let alone in countries they rule, but also in countries to which they immigrate.
Now, if we may, we would like to suggest that there is no particular content in a country’s national ethos because different countries do not have different national ethos. Having national ethos merely means having the feeling of forming one nation. It is the feeling of fraternity in the citizens of a country that is their national ethos. Where this feeling of brotherhood is present, there is national ethos; and where this feeling of brotherhood is absent, there is no national ethos.
Thus, France has a national ethos because Frenchmen see each other as brothers. When Muslims immigrate to France, France does not have to change its national ethos, all it has to do is to accept the Muslims as fellow French brothers. India, on the other hand, has no national ethos. And it is not because India has Muslims that this is the case. India has no national ethos because Indians do not have the feeling of fraternity between them. They do not have this feeling because they are divided by caste. If a nation cannot be built on the foundations of caste, as Dr Ambedkar says, it is because caste is inimical to the formation of a national ethos.
No one is asking for the host countries to change their national ethos. All that is being asked is for host countries to either apply internationally accepted conventions on refugees and immigrants or change their laws to be more in line with internationally accepted conventions, such that refugees and immigrants can be included in the national ethos, instead of being treated as sub-nationals or second-class citizens. Liberals are not taking an illiberal position when they ask for Muslim immigrants to be included in the nation. They are taking the most liberal position there is, that of humane inclusivity irrespective of caste, creed or place of origin.
Mr Kumar: The basic narrative being pushed is that the Muslims were being provoked through loud music and sloganeering of “Jai Shri Ram” near mosques. What’s being ignored in between, quite deliberately I suspect, is that the same brigade keeps a steadied silence when Muharram processions pass through a temple area and do a similar kind of sloganeering. In fact, by that parameter, the majority community should take offence to a muezzin’s Azaan calls on loudspeakers that inadvertently remind non-Muslims that their religion is false and that there is no God except the ‘One God’ that Muslims follow! The liberal propensity to get hurt by ‘Hindu provocation’ and turn a blind eye to that of Muslims is too glaring to ignore.
Firstly, no sensible mind can equate the acts of Hindu nationalist mobs chanting slogans in praise of Hindu deities with yearly processions during Muharram. The slogans raised during recent Ram Navami and Hanuman Jayanti processions are not in any way, shape or form similar to the slogans used, if any, during Muharram. Muharram is not a euphoric event. Ram Navami celebrates the victory of Ram over Ravana and Hanuman Jayanti celebrates the birth of Hanuman the warrior. Hindus come to Muslim communities to wave their martial prowess in Muslim faces by celebrating their (mythical) martial victories and their (mythical) warriors. Muharram, on the other hand, is a day of mourning for Shia Muslims. On that day they grieve in the memory of Hazarat Husayn and his family who were martyred in the Battle of Karbala.
Secondly, Mr Kumar, in his unending rage against Muslims and Islam, also wrongly interprets Azaan in order to make the case that people should be offended by it. Azaan has not offended non-Muslims for so long because of a very good reason—it is not offensive. In the Azaan, Muslims are not saying anything about any other religion. They are merely talking about themselves and asking the followers of Islam to come for prayer. To think your gods are any lesser because Muslims are saying theirs is the only true god is to take offense where no offense is given. It’s like saying America should be offended if India says it is the best country in the world. One would have to be very insecure to conclude from somebody else’s assertion about their being best that it inadvertently means one isn’t the best. Azaan would only have been offensive if Muslims had made it a point to downgrade other religions in it, which they don’t. Let us just provide an English translation of the Azaan for those who are not familiar with what it means.
Allahu Akbar – Allah is greatest
Ashhadu alla ilaha illallah – I bear witness that there is no deity but Allah
Hayya ‘alas-Salah – Hasten to the prayer
Hayya ‘alal-Falah – Hasten to salvation
Allahu Akbar – Allah is greatest
La ilaha illallah – There is no deity but Allah
It is not supposed to remind non-Muslims of anything because it is not addressed to non-Muslims. It clearly also does not call any faith a false faith. It simply is a mechanism to remind the believers of one of the aspects of their religious practice. But if one is intent on taking offence, like Mr Kumar seems to be, then one can even get offended by a stone. There is a difference between provocation and following your religion. Liberals are arguing that Hindus provoked the Muslims, not that they shouted Jai Sri Ram.
Further, there is a concerted effort to not understand the dynamics of minority and majority in a liberal democracy. Minority and majority communities cannot be treated the same way when the majority is a communal majority. The reason for this is the same as the reasoning that Ambedkar gave for the need for separate electorates in States and Minorities. ‘Muslims are given separate electorates not because they are different from Hindus in point of religion. They are given separate electorates because—and this is the fundamental fact—the social relations between the Hindus and the Musalmans are marked by social discrimination.’ Muslims are not treated differently by liberals because they are different from Hindus in point of religion. They are treated differently because social relations between Hindus and Muslims are marked by social discrimination. What form does this social discrimination take in India? ‘The social psychology of the Hindu Communal Majority is dominated by the dogma which recognizes not merely inequality but graded inequality as the rule governing the inter-relationship among the various communities.’ Hindus cannot but treat Muslims unequally. ‘This graded inequality is not accidental or incidental. It is the religion of the Hindus. It is the official doctrine of Hinduism. It is sacred and no Hindu can think of doing away with it.’
This is why reservations are also needed for Dalits. Dalits and Brahmins are judged by different parameters on an exam precisely because the social realities are such that Brahmins get to access those resources which enable them to score higher while Dalits don’t. It is because Dalits are discriminated against by Brahmins that Dalit and Brahmin students need to be judged by different parameters. If Brahmins were not discriminating, then there would be no need for reservations.
It is not to hold double standards to treat the two communities differently. It is merely to recognize the social realities in India. Further, Islam and Hinduism are not being judged on different parameters. Only actual living Hindus and Muslims are. The current conditions of Hindus and Muslims in India warrant this differentiation. As for the religions, it is on the same parameters of liberty, equality and fraternity that Hinduism falls way short of Islam. While Hinduism theoretically and dogmatically upholds caste discrimination and graded inequality among its adherents, Islam does not. Dogmatically speaking, all Muslims are equal. While the right to education is only given to Brahmins in Hinduism, all Muslims have the right to education.
To reiterate, there is no parameter adopted by modernity on which Hinduism scores higher than Islam. Liberals do not use different parameters to judge the religions. The same parameters yield different results. Liberals use different parameters to judge the communities, because one is a minority community being oppressed by the other majority community. This is very important. Mr Kumar obfuscates the point and tries to assert that liberals treat the religions differently. They don’t. They only treat the adherents differently. And this not to allow Muslims the leeway to start riots, but to allow Muslims the wherewithal to protect themselves from pogroms.
We have shown above that Mr Kumar’s premises don’t hold. Neither are Muslims especially exclusive nor are liberals egging them on to riot. There is no reason at all to target these communities and ideologies. So, what does Mr Kumar (and his Hindu cohort) want? Why is he doing this? It is because he likes to shut those people up whom he does not agree with. As his story with his ‘revolutionary’ friend shows us, he is a man who will use a ‘prank’ to get his way. This article is his prank on us hoping we will shut up and accept that Muslims are to be blamed for the increasing number of riots. He also wants us to accept that Yogi Adityanath and the Hindu right are the only way to stop these riots from happening in the future.
Well, since we don’t want to accept that, we are duty-bound to give another explanation of the riots. ‘Riots take place when an ideology believes in its exclusivity; their frequency increases when others, in reaction, too start asserting themselves. Such flare-ups also happen when perpetrators believe they can get away with such crimes.’ These are Mr Kumar’s words. We think he has put his finger on the right spot with them, which is why we quote them here.
Riots take place when an ideology believes in its exclusivity – that ideology is Hinduism which believes it has an exclusive claim to the Indian subcontinent.
Their frequency increases when others, in reaction, too start asserting themselves – the frequency of lynching, pogroms, ‘communal flare ups’ and riots has increased because Muslims have realized Hindus are going to take every inch of space from them if they don’t fight for their rights. Muslims are asserting their rights to the land and to the country to save themselves from the onslaught of the Hindutva war machine, which the machine does not appreciate. This is why the two groups are at loggerheads almost continuously—if it’s not Hijab, then it’s Halal; if it’s not Kashmir, then it’s Kerala.
Such flare-ups also happen when perpetrators believe they can get away with such crimes – Exactly! Since Hindus are supported by the State in all its myriad forms, since the communal majority forms a protective cocoon around them, they are sure that they can get away with anything. According to Mr Kumar himself, Jahanagirpuri was a ‘communal flare up’ and a ‘riot’ between Hindus and Muslims and yet only Muslims have been arrested. Hindus can clearly get away with their crimes and are thus emboldened to commit more of them. Rambhakt Gopal can get bail after using a gun outside a university campus in the city’s capital while shouting communal slogans but Sharjeel Imam can’t get bail after giving a speech inside a university campus.
And, thus, we reach our remedy. Hindus should be dealt with severely by liberals and Muslims so they stop committing these violent acts. It is because we have allowed Hindus to get off so easily time and again that they are becoming bolder and bolder. In true secular fashion, we should take a leaf from Yogi Adityanath’s playbook and deal with Hindus like Rambhakt Gopal in the same way Yogi ji deals with Muslims and liberals like Siddique Kappan.
Akshat Jain is a liberal who is not a Muslim. He is also a writer residing in Delhi.
Shahrukh Khatib is a liberal who is a Muslim. He is also a scholar residing in Hyderabad. Both are actually friends. None of them is made up.