In late eighties of last century an eminent Muslim politician Syed Shahabuddin began calling himself a ‘Muslim Indian’ instead of Indian Muslim thereby indicating that his Muslimness precedes his Indianness. He also issued a magazine and named it Muslim India. Of course magazine was a good attempt to document all about Muslims but his insistence that Muslims in India should be called Muslim Indian caused lot of controversy. In India there has been a long tradition of Muslims in India being called Indian Muslims.
Even Jinnah when asked (if I remember correctly) on being asked by Lord Chelmsford in 1918 how he described himself Jinnah replied he is Indian first and then a Muslim and when Chelmsford repeated the question Jinnah also repeated that he was Indian first and then Muslim. Moreover Indian Muslims have never insisted that they be called ‘Muslim Indians’ However, now Americans have changed their identity pattern.
Earlier when on Europeans migrated to America the whole emphasis was on melting pot pattern of identity and these Europeans insisted on being called American disregarding their identity of origin. However, when after World War II migrations from non-European countries from Africa and Asia began in large numbers melting pot pattern of identity was given up and a mosaic pattern of identity was adopted in which identity of origin precedes American identity like African American, Arab American, Indian American, Chinese American and so on.
However, due to partition Indian situation is very different and the question of religious identity is extremely delicate. Any insistence on religious identity preceding Indian or national identity can cause lot of problems to Muslims in India. Even today more than 60 years after partition, the loyalty of Muslims to Indian nation is suspect in the eyes of rightwing Hindu organizations. However it is far from true.
Even certain sensitive government organizations treat Muslims with caution, if not outright suspicion. For example Army still refrains from declaring number of Muslims recruited and insists that Army being secular institution does not maintain any religion-wise record which is not true. Umar Khalidi, an Indian American who was a librarian in Islamic Library in Chicago, carried out research and concluded that there are not more than 2 per cent Muslims in Indian Army. Some even accuse Government of India having issued a secret circular not to recruit Muslims in sensitive positions. However, this cannot be proved but only surmised.
This is the first problem Indian Muslims face i.e. discrimination in recruitment. Though they are about 13 percent of Indian population they are no more than 4 per cent in IAS services which is top administrative service and no more than 3 per cent in Indian Police Service. But it would be wrong to say that the problem is uni-dimensional i.e. only due to discrimination. Many top officers of integrity have told me that despite their best efforts they did not find suitable candidates among Muslims for recruitment.
This is another problem. Muslims in India are far behind in literacy and this again is due to poverty. According to Sachar Committee (headed by Justice Sachar) Report appointed by the UPA Government in 2004 Muslims have slipped below Dalits who are considered the poorest in India. This is because there is no reservation in Government jobs for Muslims and hence, unlike Dalits, there is no incentive for Muslims to go for higher education. They fear they will not be recruited due to being Muslim so what is the use going for higher study.
Again problem is not uni-dimensional as pointed out above. There are no well qualified people as, due to poverty Muslims have no easy access to higher education and their drop out rate after primary level of education is very high. A study undertaken by NUEPA which is National Educational University has clearly indicated. Even otherwise, due to liberalization policies of Government of India has made higher education much more inaccessible to poorer classes in India.
According to Sachar Committee Report more Muslims are self-employed i.e. are artisans and earn bare minimum for daily needs. Also, a large number of Muslims are in informal sector i.e. selling vegetables, fruits and other odd things on roadside or work as motor mechanics etc. to earn their living and hence higher education is not their priority though it is definitely their aspiration for their children. But then poverty comes their way.
The Muslim intelligentsia complains that the political and religious leadership is largely to blame. Political leadership are more interested in bargaining for political positions seats in Parliament etc. with mainstream political parties then for socio-economic and educational problems of Muslim masses. They compensate for this neglect by taking up emotional issues which require nothing more than religious rhetoric.
The religious leadership is even worse. It opposes any social change and opposes any change with full blast extremely conservative religious rhetoric, particularly in matters of personal law also known as Shari’ah law. Sufferers are Muslim women. They want polygamy to be retained though all Muslim countries have qualified it with stringent conditions. They also want triple divorce in one sitting to be retained (If a man tells his wife ‘I divorce you thrice in one breath she is permanently separated from her husband and even if he repents, cannot remarry her until she remarries another man and he divorces her).
We, at our Centre (Centre for Study of Society and Secularism, CSSS) have codified the Shari’ah law as has been done in many Muslim countries along with a Muslim women NGO Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Association – BMMA) which takes care of these problems but these conservative Ulama are not prepared to accept it. They are not prepared to change even a comma or a dot in these laws even though Muslim women are acutely suffering due to prevalence of polygamy and abuse of triple divorce.
And the matter is so sensitive, as religious sensibilities are involved, that the Government of India is not ready to touch this issue with a barged pole. Thus these Ulama are exploiting Muslim minority status and constitutional provision for religious freedom (Article 25) to perpetrate archaic laws in the name of religion though Qur’an gives equal status to women.
On the other hand our Constitution has given us certain fundamental rights which are denied in many Muslim countries. No one can prevent me from using these fundamental rights. I have written hundreds of articles criticizing government, police, administration and society. I have similarly written hundreds of articles interpreting Qur’an and Islam which I would not have been able to write in any other Islamic country. This freedom is equally precious, perhaps more even if I am discriminated against in certain respects. If I am discriminated against I can seek remedy through judiciary but if I have no freedom of expression, I have no way to express my ideas.
It is important to note that Indian Constitution does not discriminate against any religious group or persons and freedom of religion is not only individual but also a corporate or collective community right. I also celebrate Indian democracy and diversity. Here all major religions of the world present and west which has been talking about multi-culturalism post World War II has been present in India for centuries.
I am also proud of my precious heritage of composite culture which makes my cultural life much more rich and interesting. All communities, particularly Hindus and Muslims (though share of other communities cannot be belittled) have contributed seminally in creating this composite culture. I have inherited Indian music, dances and architecture and am quite proud of. Muslims in particular have contributed richly to classical Indian music and invented many ragas and instruments.
Urdu too is composite language which was universally spoken by all communities in North India until recently. It has contributed very richly to the cultural life of India. Today it has fallen on bad days. Unfortunately it is today discriminated against and considered as language of only Muslims but it is not. Religion has nothing to do with language. In several Arab countries Arabic is spoken by millions of Christians and these Christians have greatly contributed to Arabic language.
Urdu is language of love and poetry. It’s Ghazal poetry is supreme. Perhaps in Indian sub-continent after Persian it has very rich heritage of love poetry. Not only that Urdu Ghazal has provided expression to Sufi Islam, Sufism which is so liberal and pluralistic in religious ethos. It is this Sufi Islam which gave we Indians great Sufi thinkers like Baba Farid, Nizamuddin Awliya, Moinuddin Chishti, Baba Gesu Daraz, Mazhar Jan-i-Janan and so on. It also gave us thinkers like Dara Shikoh who brought Hindus and Muslims so close.
I as a Muslim is very proud of rulers like Akbar the great who held dialogues with scholars of all religions when inter-faith dialogue was unknown. Akbar was deeply influenced by two Sufi brothers Faizi and Abul Fazal got translated into Persian two great Hindu epics like Ramayana and Mahabharata. Here in India the Holy Qur’an was printed in Hindu press owned by Navalkishore. And it was printed with great care only a Muslim would take.
Hindus and Muslims lived in peace and harmony for thousand years and respected each other’s religion but it was the British rule which divided them. They began to fight apparently for following different religions but real fight was, to begin with due to British policy of divide and rule and later as independence came close, it became a struggle for power between the elites of two communities which ultimately resulted in partition of India. And it was indeed a great tragedy. The masses in both the countries were left high and dry and elite divided India to their mutual benefit. About a million lives were lost and properties worth billions of rupees were destroyed and around 4 million people uprooted and migrated to other country. It was indeed a tragedy of massive proportion.
The communal legacy still continues. Many leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru and others thought communal problem will be solved and Hindus and Muslims in both the countries would live in peace and harmony. However, they underestimated the strength of communal forces and their potential for continuing conflict. Divisiveness struck deep roots in Indian society and seeking votes on the basis of religious and caste identities made them stronger.
What is worse is that ruling classes in contemporary India are as interested in divisiveness as the British rulers, perhaps more. British rulers divided Indian people on the basis of religion and distorted medieval history to make two communities fight but the so called democratic rulers of India have divided Indian people on caste, ethnic, linguistic and tribal lines in order to seek their votes. Of all these divisions, religious division has greatest potency for conflict.
Even after division of India a large number of Muslims opted to live in India and as a result there are more Muslims in India today than in Pakistan as Pakistan was further divided on linguistic basis. Muslims in India are a largest minority and hence communal forces keep on targeting it. When distorted medieval history was taught in pre-independence days we blamed the British for it. Now our Indian rulers continue to teach the same history text books according to which Muslim rulers demolished Hindu temples to insult and humiliate Hindus.
It was because of such distorted history being taught even today the Ramjanambhoomi Temple movements launched by Mr. L.K.Advani of BJP became a phenomenal success. Because of this movement that communal violence spread during later part of eighties throughout India and when he took out his Rath Yatra (rath was a vehicle pulled by horses in medieval ages by the Kings and rath in Mr. Advani’s case was Japans truck made to appear like a rath).
Hindus and Muslims were polarized once again as during partition thanks to the temple campaign. It created bitterness as never before between the two communities. Unfortunately to add fuel to fire the Ulama launched massive campaign against the Supreme Court judgment granting maintenance to a divorced woman known as Shah Bano. The Ulama said granting maintenance beyond 3 months iddah period was against Shari’ah law and we will not allow a secular court to interfere with our Islamic law.
We had to live throughout eighties of last century in a stifling atmosphere which was communally charged and that resulted ultimately in demolition of Babri Masjid on 6th December 1992 by BJP, VHP and RSS hordes. That also led to Gujarat riots in 2002 in which more than 2000 Muslims were killed. Riots like Gujarat make Muslims quite insecure and especially the role of police. As the Bombay and Gujarat riots show police has been highly communalized and openly side with Hindus in these riots.
However, there are good honest and secular officers too but they are few in number and since no riot can take place without collusion of politicians (except those of the left) these policemen also want to please these political masters and do their bidding neglecting their constitutional duties. One of the top police officer from U.P. Cadre from National Police Academy, Hyderabad and reached the conclusion that Indian police has been highly communalized and plays a partisan role.
During nineties of last century and beginning of twentieth century another problem arose i.e. that of terrorism and some Muslim boys began to be arbitrarily arrested without proper evidence. Taking advantage of this some Hindutva organizations planted bombs and police arrested only Muslim boys. Some of them like Khwaja Yunus of Aurangabad, Marathwada, was arrested as he came on a holiday from Dubai where he was serving and was so badly tortured that he died in police custody. Some young boys spent several years (up to 14 years) in jail and the courts of law released them honourably saying police failed to establish any case against them. Thus bright careers of many Muslim boys was completely ruined.
In independent India, my research shows, more than 34,000 riots have taken place in which more than 48,000 lives were lost from 1950 to 2002. And riots continue to take place every year which I continue to monitor.
Thus living in secular democratic India is a mixed bag. There are obvious advantages as Muslims enjoy equal rights with all other citizens and can and do rise to highest positions (President of India or Chief Justice of India). A Muslim can become prime minister too but none has become so far as partition had its impact on such opportunities for Muslims. I feel had India not been partitioned there would have been almost 35% Muslims in India and there would have been few Muslim prime minister by now and no one would have become prime minister without their support.
I think, on the whole, division of India has done great harm to Indian Muslims. India is a secular democracy with great diversity whereas Pakistan has been reduced to an Islamic country with increasing extremism and with no prospects of becoming secular democracy. Even if it becomes Islamic Republic, it will continue to face challenge of violent extremist forces.
On the whole I must say I am far more happier being citizen of Indian secular republic engaging myself with Islam of my choice and living in harmony with followers of other religions and serving humanity and giving my life a direction and a meaning. After all unity of all religions is my goal.