Venue: Melville Hall, YMCA, Mumbai

“When the state fails to protect the rights of the people, the civil society needs to come together in such times”, said Christophe Jaffrelot, an eminent scholar of South Asia, commenting on the current political scenario. Prof. Jaffrelot was the chief guest at the bookdiscussion (on the book, Babri Masjid: 25 years on) organized by Centre for Study of Society and Secularism. This book is a compilation of the memoirs and accounts of different persons like artists, authors and activists when the Babri Masjid was demolished. The contributors have shared their personal experiences and memories of the incident. The book is edited by Sameena Dalwai, Ramu Ramanathan and Irfan Engineer, and is published by Gyan Publishers, Delhi and CSSS. The panelists who discussed the book were Shama Dalwai, Retd. Professor and an educationist; SushamaDeshpande, theatre artist and Irfan Engineer, director of CSSS also spoke. The panel discussion was followed by a talk on “The marginalization of Indian Muslims in the politics and the state apparatus of India” by Prof. Christophe Jaffrelot, CNRS Senior Research Fellow, Visiting Professor at the King’s India Institute (London) and Global Scholar at Princeton University.

Prof. Christophe Jaffrelot, before moving to the presentation and the topic, he commented in continuation to the panelists that how the civil society should be made stronger against such manmade disasters of communal violence. His presentation focused on the lack of representation of Muslims in state apparatus – IAS, IPS and political representation. Through the presentation of the data, Prof. Jaffrelot stressed that there is a huge gap in the representation of Muslims as compared to other communities over the years irrespective of the regime, whether it’s Congress or BJP. The data revealed that only 3.7% of Members of Parliament elected in 2014 are Muslims which indicates poor representation of the community in the political decision making. He also commented on the recent elections, specifically, in the states of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhatisgarh saying that Congress also follows soft Hindutva policies, but it is the question of difference in nature of the political parties. Prof. Jaffrelot illustrated the continuous slippages of the Muslim community amongst all the various branches of the State and said that lower the representation, the less minorities get spoken about.

Irfan Engineer began by discussing how the book came about and how it is important to remember these communal instances. He added that the book is an attempt to put forth the memories of the event as remembered by people from different walks of life. Engineer said that just as the 26/11 attacks are remembered by the State, educational institutions, media etc. the demolition of Babri Masjid should be remembered because more often the victims of such violence are asked to forget or ignore.

Shama Dalwai remembering the horrors of the riots after the Babri Masjid demolition said that, at that time she understood that communalism is not only about conflicts but about the cultural ethos and discourse within a society. She shared an incident during the riots of 1992-93 where an attack was planned upon Muslims who were returning for Jumma Namaz from Qureshi Nagar (Mumbai). Women activists made a human chain to facilitate Muslims to offer their religious prayers at the masjid, as a Gandhian response and informed the police of the same. The then joint Commissioner, Pasricha also was compelled to provide security to the human chain. They were followed by 800-1,000 people shouting slogans and issued threats of rape. Shiv Sena could not prevent Muslims from offering their religious prayers. Dalwai said that there is a need of such innovative and effective interventions by the civil society when such incidents are taking place.

Sushama Deshpande, recalled how a ‘theatre’ was being performed by the leaders in Rath yatra going to the ‘ramjanmabhoomi’. She also spoke about the experiences of stereotypes and stigmatization about a certain community she has encountered in daily lives which demonizes the community. She added, how theatre is inherently inclusive and secular. “Our country is the land of Jyotiba Phule and Savitribai Phule who talk about inclusive society” further said Deshpande.

The panel discussion and the talk were followed by an engaging question answer session on the various topics discussed by the chief guest and the panelist. Senior journalist, Pratap Asbe (contributor to the book), activists like Rekha Thakur (contributor to the book), theatre activist Ramu Ramanathan (co-editor of the book), academicians from TISS and St.Xaviers college and students were amongst the 110 people who attended the event.

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