The Conspiracy against Islam
"No, my father hates India", was the response - a year and a half ago, of one of my friends, when asked whether her family would ever return from Dubai. She is Muslim. This same friend, not so long ago, refused to outright condemn the attacks on the World Trade Center, preferring to concentrate instead on the causes of the attack - which apparently stemmed mostly from twisted American policy.
This could be construed as a perfect case of the essential Muslim Mind- you can be liberal, educated, live in a developed society - but still believe that Muslims the world over are the subject of an international conspiracy sinisterly dedicated to subjugate the Muslim nation and to prevent Islam from attaining its destined glory as the only true religion. In the words of Salman Rushdie: "This paranoid Islam which blames outsiders, 'infidels', for all the ills of Muslim societies, and whose proposed remedy is the closing of those societies to the rival project of modernity, is presently the fastest growing version of Islam in the world".
More recently, the SIMI (Students' Islamic Movement of India) has been banned for its 'anti-national activities' – a move seen as being not only anti-Muslim but also blatantly communal. And so the apparently discriminatory nature of India seems to be one of the main reasons accounting for the large presence of Indian Muslims in the Middle East – who stay there despite being second-class citizens, needed by a land dependent on outside assistance for everything except oil.
On the face of it, this impression can be backed by hard facts. India proudly displays, in response to Pakistan's charges of state-sponsored terrorism in Kashmir, the statistics about India harboring a larger Muslim population than Pakistan, indeed one of the largest in the world. What we take pains to conceal, of course, is the abysmal levels of growth the Muslim community in general has achieved, the records of poverty, illiteracy, political backwardness and exploitation. Destruction of mosques and rabid calls for a new 'cultural nationalism' or Hindutva do nothing to reinforce the confidence of a Muslim. It is no wonder, then, apart from a few notable and high-profile exceptions, that the Muslim community tends to ghettoize itself, relying on and trusting none but fellow members. For a Muslim, as for many of India's minorities, hating one's homeland is a viable possibility. To leave and stay in better conditions, superficially united by a common religion is even better.
The Political Vacuum
The process of quitting India, of course, is neither new nor original. In one stroke, Partition deprived the Indian Muslims of most of their leaders and intellectuals, most of whom left for Pakistan. What exacerbated the situation was the lack of credible alternatives - normally a leader matures politically after a long apprenticeship in the corridors of power. The fact is that today institutions like the Shahi Imam and pseudo-religious organizations like the SIMI, which depend for their political base on addressing alleged religious discrimination, are the public face of Islam in India.
The Muslim community is noted for its sheer absence in the political field. Left with no alternative, it is by default that the majority of Muslims have no political voice, no way to air their aspirations, their hopes and their wants. Clubbed together by the exigencies of vote-bank politics, the Muslim community remains backward, confused and fearful of the latent threat of a new militant Hindu nationalism. The only alternative seems to continue to be spoken for by their self-styled leaders who mostly excel at propagating Islam's separatist and fundamentalist image. Unfortunately, this is the predictable cycle of this particular zero-sum game - it is this very image that organizations like the RSS feed on, nurturing fears of a Muslim conspiracy in India and accusing, in one sweep, the whole community of being anti-Indian. The moderate Muslim remains quiet, fearful of being labeled anti-Indian.
The Idea of India
The point is: being Indian is not the exclusive preserve of anybody. The idea of India is very much a celebration of unity in diversity, of mutual advantage from the mingling of many cultures, many faiths. A reputed columnist in India recently pointed out the need for Indian Muslims to choose between Talibanic Islam and being true Indians. Does he claim to be a 'true Indian' by highlighting the difference, based on religion, between a Hindu and a Muslim? This is too simplistic and stinks of being jingoistic rubbish.
It is understandably difficult to like India when there are communal riots at the drop of a hat and the organization behind the ruling party threatens to demolish another mosque every week or so. But it is also difficult to like India because of other reasons - bureaucratic inefficiency, rampant corruption, population, overriding poverty. But the rational response to this lies in recognizing that these are the symptoms of people using the system to their advantage - not the banal and simplistic declaration of 'hating India' - consigning the greatest experiment in multi-culturalism in the world to the dustbin of a sweeping generality. The fact that there are riots and mosques are destroyed and Muslims killed is not an indicator of India being the enemy, the perpetrator, rather those who claim to represent it - just the same way as an Osama who destroys the World Trade Center cannot mean that Islam is the enemy.
No, the real choice, for Indian Muslims, lies in having the courage to fill the vacuum - political, religious and moral - created after Partition. To speak out in a loud voice and use Indian democracy - which lets each person make his choice - to fight democratically against injustice and wrongs.
The educated Muslim does his brethren no favor by fleeing to other shores, leaving him at the mercy of rabble-rousing politicians and religious leaders. It is easy to mouth platitudes about anti-Muslim discrimination in India, but far more difficult to stay and fight the forces that make this happen - not the least those who claim to represent Islam but in reality are its worst enemies.
1. Which expression is coined by me - to denote not so much 'Muslim mentality' - if indeed there is such an entity, but rather the impression the 'outside' world has of Muslims in general.
2. It is axiomatic that most of the leaders of the Independence movement were drawn from the upper echelons of society. In all cases - Hindu or Muslim - they represented the cream of society, scions of traditionally prosperous families who had received the benefit of a Western education. Mohammed Ali Jinnah, for example, was a phenomenally successful lawyer from Bombay who could barely speak or write Urdu.
3. One of the biggest failures of Nehru was his inability to fully recognize the divisive potential of religion in a society as pluralistic as India, in the formative years of the modern Indian state when he had almost complete control. Either a completely uniform civil code could have been implemented, or, seeing the historical resistance of Indian society to internal change, checks to completely separate religion from politics effected.
4. It is ironic that that the RSS and BJP are blamed for the destruction of the Babri Masjid, whereas the only power which could have prevented it - the Congress government under P.V. Narasimha Rao - stood by and watched.