Friday, November 28, 2014


This piece is a rejoinder to the The Islamophobia of our ‘secular’ liberals by IIT-Chennai student Abul Kalam Azad (no, not the late nationalist leader), published in Tehelka on 22nd November 2014.

As I set out to write this rejoinder, I may state at the outset that it is not meant personally. I had once written a piece on the online portal Khurpi where I had expressed my support to the demand for a province by the Gorkhas of West Bengal to carve out a state for themselves, Gorkhaland, within the Indian Union. My piece sought to only explain the grievances of the Gorkha people as also to highlight how, given that all Indian states have been carved out on a linguistic basis, the assertion of a linguistic or cultural identity within the Indian Union should not be seen as a negation of India’s pluralism or India’s unity in diversity, for respecting the diversity makes the unity possible, as also to draw attention to the Gorkhas’ genuine economic grievances as well. My piece did not seek to trace the history of the Gorkhaland movement, suggest that the methods that the Gorkhas employed were always correct (they certainly were not, and vandalism and attempts to internationalize the issue were particularly in bad taste) or go into the merits of whether the size of the territory they claimed for their prospective state was appropriate. A Bengali, Riad Azam, wrote a rejoinder to my piece that, in my opinion, went beyond the scope of my piece and even misread certain statements made by me, but I welcomed his rejoinder, for debate and discussion is important if we believe in democracy, and he was glad to see my taking his piece in the right spirit. Riad and I are friends on Facebook, and I would love to meet him in person if and when I get the opportunity. I hope Azad sees this rejoinder of mine in the same spirit.

Interestingly, Azad’s piece (to which this one is a rejoinder) is itself a rejoinder to a piece written by Arun Srivastava, namely Why Secularism is a Bad Word for Muslims. The underlying fallacy in Srivastava’s piece, according to Azad, is the menace of generalization, of not using the word ‘some’ in the title to describe what only a section of Muslims may be doing (though Arun has used the word ‘many’ throughout the text of the article) and ascribing the entire Muslim community as having a herd mentality, and of making assertions, which are not backed by empirical data. However, Azad’s own rejoinder too suffers from exactly the same ‘drawbacks’ he accuses Srivastava of. To quote from Azad’s piece-

“This is just to point out that the source of the ailment rests, untroubled, elsewhere — somewhere deep inside the fabric of the Indian polity, where the eyes of the upper-caste liberal Hindu can never reach. It is not the Muslims who have become communal. It is the society surrounding them that has long been communal and is becoming more so with each passing day. It is this society that has distanced itself from the Muslims and ghettoised them.”

Now, wouldn’t this again amount to generalizing, and that too without any empirical evidence “the upper caste liberal Hindu” (which includes the ilk of Pankaj Mishra, Kuldeep Nayar and Romila Thapar who speak the language of Muslims being victimized that Azad would like them to), for never seeing the problems of the Indian Muslims without preconceived notions? And if Abul Kalam Azad is entitled to his generalizations, then why can Arun Srivastava not generalize the Muslim clergy as regressive without naming Shia and Sunni clerics specifically, as Azad would like him to? Then, Azad points to “numerous self-appointed messiahs of the ‘Muslim community’ who left no stone unturned to ‘liberate’ Muslims from the clutches of mullahs and fundamentalists”, but while using the word ‘numerous’, he has only two examples to show – Arun Srivastava and Chetan Bhagat. Would these two examples qualify as “numerous” by any statistical yardstick? And if it is legitimate for Azad to use the word ‘numerous’ without showing empirical evidence, why is it not legitimate for Arun Srivastava to use the term ‘many’? It is a convenient modus operandi to bash others for generalizations, even glossing over the reference in Srivastava’s piece to Muslims in West Bengal voting for the BJP in the latest Lok Sabha elections, rejecting identity politics (and this is obviously not to say that Muslims must vote for the BJP to prove their secular credentials). Moreover, the accusation of the entire society around Muslims having been communal and turning more communal with every passing day is much more generalized than anything Srivastava wrote, for Azad hasn’t given any exceptions of genuinely secular Hindus (going by his yardstick of most Hindus being communal, which I firmly disagree with), the way Srivastava gave with reference to those Bengali Muslims. And no, Azad hasn’t given us any empirical evidence, so to speak, of the society around Muslims, in general, being communal, with this communalism gaining strength with each passing day.

Moving beyond the argument of statistical evidence, I hope I wouldn’t have to furnish the same for every statement I make. I have, however, tried to be as detailed and incisive as possible, since Srivastava’s brevity has been portrayed by Azad as ambiguity to reinforce prejudices, and I have also sought to dispel many misconceptions about Muslims in this article, for not only do I not want anyone to accuse me of Islamophobia, I do not want my critique of Muslim communalism in this piece to be misused by the extreme Hindu rightists. Much of what I say may be clichéd, but clichés are not always wrong.

The crux of Azad’s argument lies in the fact that the measure of secularism in India lies in doling out narratives of how Muslims are victimized as a community. As soon as any Hindu, even while condemning anti-Muslim violence by Hindu extremists and acknowledging Indian Muslims’ economic and educational backwardness, asks the Muslim community to look within, to introspect, to acknowledge that communalism in India is not a one-way alley, he/she is branded by the likes of Azad and even many leftist Hindus as actually being anti-Muslim, with his/her expression of concern for the problems of Indian Muslims only a façade (“crocodile tears” to quote Azad) to conceal his/her hidden agenda, without an honest debate, while the Hindu communalists also dismiss such unprejudiced Hindus as being pro-Muslim, and I have faced this myself on more than one occasion (interestingly, Gandhi and Nehru, owing to their impartiality, were bashed by both the Hindu Mahasabha and the Muslim League for being biased in favour of the other religious grouping). This is not surprising for such people speak the truth, and the truth is not pleasant to hear for those who have embraced the communal narrative of victimhood among the Muslims or the desire to entertain a superiority complex of being among the few truly open-minded people among the Hindus. Not only centrist Hindus like Srivastava, but even Muslims who have raised these concerns are dubbed as “enemies of Islam” or as having been sold out to non-Muslims for vested interests, the biggest example in the Indian context being Abul Kalam Azad’s namesake, the maulana who suffered and sacrificed for India’s independence, strongly opposed the creation of Pakistan and became India’s first education minister, and I was involved in making a film titled “Aashiq-e-Vatan Maulana Azad” produced by Doordarshan on this legendary figure of Indian history, which was screened in the India Islamic Cultural Centre on 16th November 2014.

I may clarify what I mean when I say that communalism in India is not a one-way alley, for Muslim communalism in independent India is a subject many Hindus shy away from even so much as acknowledging, leave alone addressing, for fear of being labeled anti-Muslim hate-mongers, as Srivastava has been by Azad and leftists like Dibyesh Anand. I say that Muslim communalism in independent India exists, given that Hindus have also died in riots (in which Muslim politicians like Azam Khan also allegedly have had a role to play, as in the cases of the riots in Muzaffarnagar and Sahranpur, and even in the riots in Gujarat in 2002, which hundreds of Hindus also did lose their lives and were rendered homeless by Muslim rioters, as has been pointed out by Human Rights Watch and respectable media publications in India like The Hindu, which is a favourite of left-liberals, the Times of India and India Today, and the riots started with the burning of a railway coach by Muslim extremists) and terrorist attacks. I say so given some Indian Muslims’ cheering for Pakistan in Indo-Pak cricket matches based on religious affinity (two Indian Muslim friends of mine, who don’t know each other, once told me how they were respectively once cheering for India and were heckled by some other Indian Muslims for the same, and both these incidents predate Modi being declared the PM candidate by the BJP) and rejecting secular Indian nationalism (which would inevitably not send very positive signals to Hindus, and I, like many Muslims, believe that their interpretation of the Quran and Hadiths is anachronistic; also, those Indian Muslims like Azad who complain of their loyalty to the country being doubted, I dare say, have only some people of their own community hailing Pakistan to blame, who have not let the wounds of India’s partition heal – I am not at all saying that generalizing Indian Muslims as anti-national is justified, but if some come forward to hail Pakistan, it is only understandable that the majority community will have some suspicion); those justifying this should honestly ask themselves whether they would support Indian Hindus cheering for a Nepalese Hindu tennis player against Sania Mirza or Leander Paes or an Indonesian Hindu long-jumper against Anju Bobby George only on a religious basis (then, our ‘secularists’ would express their horror at how this is yet another instance of Hindus alienating the religious minorities), and isn’t secular nationalism all about relegating religion to the sphere of a personal belief system, with little place in public life except festivals or worship congregations? I am not suggesting that Indian Muslims should not have the legal right to exercise their personal liberty in terms of the team they support, but what ought to be legally permissible (such as telling lies in day-to-day affairs) may not be morally correct, and holding one’s pan-religious fraternity above your country is not the same as Indian Hindus cheering for Brazil or Argentina in football matches only on the merit of that team (not religious affiliation), and that too perhaps never against India (let’s await the day India qualifies to the FIFA world cup!), nor can this be equated with sections of the Indian diaspora in England or Australia cheering for their country of origin against their country of citizenship (which I also condemn, by the way), for Indian Muslims are not diaspora and they (barring arguably Kashmiri Muslims, though this is not to say that I support the separatist movement there, and that can make for another discussion) chose secular India over theocratic Pakistan at the time of the partition, and supporting Pakistan amounts to rejecting secular Indian nationalism, also given the Indo-Pak belligerence and sponsorship of terrorism by Pakistan’s military establishment, and I do also condemn those Indian Tamils who place their contempt for Sri Lanka (owing to the problems of Tamils there) above India’s national interests. While I believe that humanism ought to be above nationalism, nationalism would and should remain relevant till national boundaries are a reality (which will remain so, and it is utopian to imagine otherwise, when serious conflicts erupt even within countries), though just like I am against religious fanaticism, I am also against nationalist fanaticism, which, for example, in the Indian context, would condone the human rights violations by rogue elements in the Indian security forces in Kashmir and the northeast. I speak of Muslim communalism in the context of some Muslims in India’s Hyderabad assembling to celebrate Pakistan’s Independence Day (and this was before Modi became India’s prime minister, though this is not to say that such an activity should not be condemned even now). I speak of Muslim communalism in the context of very many Indian Muslims spewing venom against Jews as a collectivity, instead of only condemning those in Israel responsible for human rights violations, and it would not be wrong to say that many such Muslims are more concerned about Palestinian Muslims than Kashmiri Hindus living as refugees in a country they always identified as their own - India. Innocent Kashmiri Hindus were made to suffer for the Hindu-majority Indian state resorting to violent repression of protests by Kashmiri Muslims against allegedly rigged elections, just like innocent Gujarati Muslims were made to suffer for a few Muslim miscreants’ burning a railway coach at Godhara (though, of course, in both cases, the prejudices were deep-rooted and dated back to much earlier, and given the convictions of some Muslims for the burning of the railway coach in Godhara, I do think we can take that judicial verdict as a valid reference-point, for the Indian judiciary has also let off many Muslims supposedly falsely accused of terrorism, as in the Akshardham case or Lajpat Nagar blast case, and convicted hundreds of Hindus in the Gujarat riots cases, in cases involving massacres that took place in the Best Bakery, Naroda Patiya, Ode, Sardarpura and the likes). I talk of Muslim communalism when the student-wing of the Jamaat-e-Islami-Hind declares Abdul Qadir Molla in Bangladesh, hanged till death for his role in anti-Hindu violence in 1971, to be a martyr. I speak of Muslim communalism when the Jamaat-e-Islami-Hind supports the Jamaat-e-Islami-Bangladesh in asserting that riot-affected Bangladeshi Hindus should be evicted from the relief camps but takes exactly the opposite stand for Indian Muslims who suffered in the riots in Muzaffarnagar, as pointed out by Ramachandra Guha. I talk of Muslim communalism when Muslims in Mumbai violently protested against the killing of Muslims in Bodo-Muslim riots in Assam (don’t Bodo lives matter?) and even the killing of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar (though the Indian government had already sent aid for the Rohingyas), with a ‘secular’ Muslim like Javed Anand praising the police of Mumbai for not acting against the violent communal Muslim mob.

Azad even tries to suggest that the MiM is only supposedly communal, going by his never calling it communal himself, but saying that Srivastava calls it communal, though Azad does say only once that he doesn’t condone the politics and rhetoric of hate. Here is a political party openly seeking to basically represent only one religious grouping (as reflected even in its name). Its leaders have taken very communal stands. Think of Akbaruddin’s alleged speech, outraging Hindu religious sentiments and suggesting that Muslims can have the upper hand in communal riots were it not for police intervention. That aside, even Asaduddin has spewed venom against Jews, and India does have a tiny Jewish minority. Such a party can only be called communal, and those who refuse to accept the BJP claiming to be secular, in spite of its having Muslims as senior members (including the likes of Shahnawaz Hussain who have won elections in Muslim-majority constituencies) and spokespersons, cannot accept the MiM being secular just because it has sometimes fielded Hindu candidates. The MiM winning three seats in the Maharashtra state elections is understandably alarming, though not surprising, given Modi emerging as India’s prime minister, and the failure of our intelligentsia to reach out to the Muslim minority and try to assuage the fears that many Muslims had and explain to them that most of those voting for Modi did so on grounds of development, not expecting him to pursue a communal agenda. Unfortunately, our intellectuals in the “civil society”, unlike the general populace, are mostly sharply divided between those who either usually view Indian Muslims as a victimized community (as represented by Qutubuddin Ansari folding his hands during the Gujarat riots) or as a community with very many ills (as represented by the terrorist Yasin Bhatkal), and while those of the former category only sought to reinforce the unfounded fears of many Muslims (though those fears are understandable given that Muslims are a minority, and those fears are reinforced by exaggerated propaganda from ‘secular’ Hindu ‘intellectuals’), the latter category did not feel the need to engage with them.

And no, my pointing to the existence of Muslim communalists is not to suggest that all Muslims are communal. I personally know several unprejudiced, humanistic and strongly patriotic Indian Muslims (including some Kashmiri Sunnis), and indeed, many such Muslims have died martyrs fighting for India against Pakistani soldiers and militants, Hawaldar Abdul Hamid and Brig. Mohd. Usman being the most prominently highlighted examples (contrast these to Hindus like diplomat Madhuri Gupta leaking national secrets for money), and I see no reason to see Indian Muslims loyal to their country as being exceptions to the general norm. In fact, a Hindu acquaintance of mine, who studied at Aligarh Muslim University (AMU), told me that while those cheering for Pakistan were quite a vocal lot there, most Muslims cheered for India, and this was in a Muslim-majority setting where the apparently pro-India majority did not have to conceal its true feelings, and another friend of mine, who is an Assamese Hindu from Guwahati and who is very resentful of the Bangladeshi Muslim influx in his state, told me that on a train journey, he overheard a conversation between two Muslims from AMU bashing the students who cheer for Pakistan. Also, another friend of mine whose father is an Indian Army officer once told me that he loves the entire Muslim community (though I don’t support any stereotyping, positive or negative!), for once, his father was fired at by militants in Kashmir and his father’s driver, a Muslim, rushed to bear the bullet to save his father’s life! He also narrated another anecdote of how a Muslim once donated blood to save his father’s life and asserted that he was not in the least ashamed of the fact that "Muslim blood" (whatever that is supposed to mean!) runs through his veins!

I am not even suggesting that it is so much as possible to classify any religious grouping into watertight compartments of ‘communal’ or ‘secular’, and communalism among those we identify as communal does vary in degree. I would even assert that not every instance of Muslim communalism in India necessarily amounts to affinity with Pakistan or hostility to India, and while communalism, Hindu, Muslim, Sikh or any other, strikes at what Tagore called the “idea of India”, any communal statement from a Muslim, like Azam Khan’s ridiculous statement attributing India’s victory in the Kargil war only to Muslim soldiers (but he did indeed explicitly glorify these Muslim soldiers serving India’s national cause in the same speech), should not be seen as “anti-national” in the conventional sense of the term if Hindu communal statements are not seen in the same vein, and even Asaduddin Owaisi has ridiculed Pakistan for the partition dividing the Muslims of the subcontinent as also being backward to India but bearing animosity towards India, making life difficult for Indian Muslims. Also, I do not believe that communalists under any banner, except arguably those actually resorting to killing innocent civilians, should be dehumanized or can never be logically made to modify their views, and this is amply demonstrated by the example of Kasim Hafeez, a British Muslim of Pakistani origin, who was initially strongly antisemetic to the extent of desiring to kill Jews, but his visit to Israel and impartially analyzing the same led him to now give lectures dispelling misconceptions about Israel, and I myself have transformed the outlook of some Hindu acquaintances of mine vis-à-vis Muslims, and I believe, even of some Indian Muslim acquaintances of mine vis-à-vis not only Hindus but also Jews and Westerners.

Also, given that Azad from IIT-Chennai accuses India’s Hindu majority of having been communal for long (I wonder if most of his fellow students at IIT-Chennai maltreat him all the time for his faith, which usually doesn’t happen in Indian colleges; the National Law School in Gujarat I graduated from, which had students from all backgrounds, did not witness any such phenomenon and we had a Muslim alumnus conferred the Best Alumnus Award a few years ago; he was hired by one of India’s best law firms with a high pay package, and he was dating a Brahmin girl), would he explain how and why the Hindu Mahasabha could not defeat the Congress in India’s first ever national election even after such a bloody partition, or even how the national electorate, rejecting the Hindu rightist venom allegedly spewed by Varun Gandhi and which manifested itself in violence against innocent Christians in the Kandhamal district of Odisha, made the Congress win the elections in 2009, in spite of the Congress having failed to check repeated blasts by the Indian Mujahidin and the 26/11 Mumbai attacks in 2008? And since he is tending to justify very many Indian Muslims’ tilt towards the Owaisi brothers’ MiM on the basis of economic aspirations rather than communalism, I wonder whether he would apply the same logic for the 38.5% of the Indian electorate that voted for the BJP and its allies in 2014. The fact that the NDA managed to win the elections with such a low vote-share proves that while the majority of the Indian electorate (mostly Hindus) did not support them, that majority got divided in terms of those they voted for (say, to draw an analogy, there being ten voters in a constituency with three voters voting for one candidate and the seven others voting for one different candidate each, leading the candidate with three votes to win), for there was no consensus on an alternative, and over a period of time, from Modi’s sadbhavana fast to not allowing any major riot in Gujarat after 2002 to asserting that Hindus and Muslims need to fight poverty together rather than fight against each other in his Patna rally, several secular Hindus developed a sense of confidence that Modi’s plank would be much needed economic development rather than the chauvinistic assertion of a Hindu identity, and Modi condemned Giriraj Singh’s divisive remark, other than Amit Shah rendering an apology for his communal statement. I am not passing judgment on whether or not Modi or his party was genuine in his commitment to secularism, but the point is that much of the minority of the Indian electorate that voted for Modi (including some Muslims) did not do so out of communalism. And going by the “guilt by association” theory, if Modi is guilty, so was Jinnah for the Direct Action Day riots in 1946 and so is Yasin Malik for the killings of Kashmiri Hindus in 1989-90, and this is not to say that two wrongs make a right or even that I am asserting Modi’s innocence, and the matter is pending in the High Court of Gujarat (no, Modi hasn’t been acquitted by the Supreme Court, as many of his bhakts shouted from their rooftops, but by a district court based on a non-binding report submitted by an SIT appointed by the Supreme Court). Also, it is noteworthy that in the by-elections to the Lok Sabha, ‘Yogi’ Adityanath, who had resorted to communal hate-mongering, lost.

Azad asserts-

“It is extremely amusing for me to note that the middle-class, liberal Muslims, who are normally manipulated to debunk the claims of poorer Muslims that their socio-economic conditions are worsening day after day, have today become a cause of concern for writers like Srivastava.”

What amuses me, on the other hand, is how Azad has implicitly accepted that “middle-class, liberal Muslims” do, on the whole, lead normal lives as Indian citizens, going to colleges, offices, restaurants and multiplexes alongside their Hindu peers, which contradicts, to an extent, his earlier stand of the society in general around Muslims, especially economically well-off upper caste Hindus, being communally oppressive. The truth has its own way of surfacing from narratives that give themselves what journalist Rahul Pandita has called an “academic halo”, but are actually based on contradictions and inconsistencies. Furthermore, since “middle-class, liberal Muslims” (note Azad’s own bracketing of ‘liberal’ as an adjective for middle-class Muslims; does that suggest something about his acknowledgement of Muslim communalism and orthodoxy, which he has otherwise denied, and whether Muslim communalism and orthodoxy is more rampant among the economically downtrodden?) have been spared of suffering from the supposed Hindu communalism increasing around them day by day, I would like to know – how do we assert that the economically backward Indian Muslim, in his daily life, is suffering increasingly at the hands of Hindu communalism? Is it that most government schools, low budget private schools and government colleges in India have stopped admitting Muslim students from economically backward backgrounds, or that Muslim students in these institutions are made to feel ostracized and are slurred for his faith to their faces all the time? Or is it that Muslim tailors, carpenters, plumbers and artisans, who are not very well-off, are being boycotted by Hindus based on the religious identity of the former, or that Muslims are not being hired as cleaners or for other chores? Or do the economically downtrodden Muslims no longer have Hindu friends? Or have the courts and minority commissions stopped entertaining pleas relating to discrimination against Muslims, whether real or perceived, and examining them on the basis of legally admissible evidence? As far as I know, nothing of the sort has happened, and so, I have only one word for Azad’s assertions - baseless. Many of the Muslims who have emerged as prominent and much loved public figures in our country do hail from economically humble backgrounds, examples including Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam and the Pathan brothers, who focused on excelling by virtue of merit rather than whining about the much exaggerated discrimination!

The very many examples of Muslims who have excelled in diverse fields, even other than sports or cinema and other fine arts, such as business entrepreneurship (Wipro, Cipla, Himalaya and Vockhardt are companies established and run by Muslims, and there have been several prominent Muslim entrepreneurs in independent India) and serving in the armed forces (very many Indian Muslims have won gallantry awards) and intelligence agencies (the IB is currently headed by a Muslim), bust the myth of Muslim victimhood in India. It is very important for secular Hindus (many of whom, out of genuine but misplaced conviction, echo the views expressed by Azad and the likes) to delineate the difference between prejudice and that prejudice actually translating into maltreatment. It is wrong to misconstrue all those Hindus with the mildest anti-Muslim prejudice (it is worth noting that the anti-Muslim prejudice among those who bear such prejudice, varies in degree, and very many Indian Muslims too bear prejudice, again varying in degree, against not only Hindus but even Jews and Westerners) to be the likes who actually maltreat Muslims, and hence, arrive at the fallacious conclusion that Indian Muslims are a very oppressed lot, though as a matter of fact, most Hindus, even those with some degree of anti-Muslim prejudice, don’t translate that prejudice into maltreatment in their actual interactions with individual Muslims (the human mind is complex, and often distinguishes the individual one is speaking to from the notions one may have about his/her community), and often even have genuine friendships with some. Indeed, one wouldn’t have witnessed Muslims being slurred to their faces very frequently.

Azad suggests that the poverty of most Indian Muslims and the social stigma associated with them comes in the way of their going to school and dropping out if they do go to school. Now, while he may cite the Sachar Committee Report to suggest that Muslims are often deprived of access to schools in their vicinity, is there any evidence (even anecdotal, coming from very many people, leave aside empirical data) to suggest that in every Hindu-majority locality in a village, there is a school at close quarters where a student can go and study, or even of very many public schools frequently rejecting Muslim students for admissions only on the basis of religion? Isn’t the state of access to elementary education in our country, as a whole (which led to the passage of the Right to Education Act, 2009, that effectively makes education for the age bracket of 6-14 years a right, and more and more schools have to be set up to that end in the vicinity of all localities), dismal and not only for Muslims? It is easy to carry out a study only of a certain section of the society and point to its woes as though those woes are exclusive only to that section and not the nation as a whole, and interestingly, a study in Uttar Pradesh revealed that regions which were backward in terms of girls’ toilets were also, in general, backward in terms of infrastructure (including boys’ toilets), for which the local panchayats/municipalities and the state government are to blame, which negates the allegation of a specific gender bias, and likewise, another such study on access to schools can negate the allegation of communal bias. And the fact is that Hindus and Muslims do study alongside each other even in most rural schools in India run by the government or private agencies, and it is not as though Hindu and Muslim students don’t befriend each other or that most of the teachers discriminate on religious lines. Also, given that Azad writes off Srivastava’s claim of Muslim clerics discouraging or even opposing modern, non-religious education and instead only encouraging madrasa education, I may cite my own experience of interacting with Muslim parents in Bavana on the outskirts of Delhi, who refused to send their child to the non-formal schools set up by the NGO Navjyoti for this very reason, and a good acquaintance of mine based in Delhi, Mr. Shams Tabrez, an alumnus of the Deoband Madrasa, who runs a trust to promote education among Muslims, points to this problem as well. It may be true that according to the Sachar Committee Report, only 4% of Muslims getting any kind of education go to madrasas (though I do not know if they counted all the unrecognized madrasas as well, and there were serious allegations of the Sachar Committee Report being politically motivated, but I understand that it is most valid and legitimate to take it as a reference-point), but in real numbers, even this would boil down to hundreds of thousands of Muslims. However, I do acknowledge that there are students who go to a madrasa where only religious learning is imparted as also to a school of a modern variety, and there are also some modernized madrasas imparting modern education as a supplement to religious education and even admitting non-Muslim students just as convent schools also admit non-Christian students. A devout Hindu friend of mine from Bihar, who rattles off Sanskrit verses at the drop of a hat and who happened to have studied in a madrasa for some time, tells me that he never faced any discrimination and in fact, cherishes some of the lessons in virtue he was taught from the Quran there. And while this has nothing to do with Azad’s piece, I may mention to Hindu readers that a very vast majority of madrasas in India (most of them the not-so-modern ones) do not preach terrorism. Also, many of the ‘secular’ parties (such as the Congress, TMC and Samajwadi Party) Azad accuses of having done little for Muslims did introduce scholarships for Muslims in schools and colleges, and some of them even distributed free bicycles to Muslim students, though I have problems with viewing economic and educational backwardness through the eye-lens of religion (if terrorism has no religion and it indeed doesn’t, nor does economic or educational backwardness), and the same steps should be taken to alleviate the plight of Hindus and Muslims at the same income levels, failing which Hindu communalism is strengthened, other than such pro-minority discrimination being wrong in itself. Also, however simplistic this may sound, I would like readers, especially Muslim readers, to note that government policies that benefit Indian businessmen or farmers benefit all businessmen or farmers in India, cutting across religious lines, and more educational institutions and more avenues of employment help all Indians. The economic interests of Indian Muslims are not distinct and separate from those of Hindus, Sikhs, Christians or Parsis, and Indian Muslims’ development lies only in India’s development. We do not need political leadership on caste or religious lines. The strengthening of Muslim communalism in the form of the MiM would only strengthen Hindu communalism, and in a clash between the two (violent or otherwise), even the non-communal would have to suffer, and Muslims, being in minority, more so.

This is not, however, to suggest that there is absolutely no discrimination against Muslims in India, and one sphere in which it manifests itself is in the context of being sold or rented out flats or bungalows in very many (though not all) Hindu-majority localities, but that again either has to do with a generalized sense of discrimination against all non-vegetarians (Hindus can lie about being vegetarian, but given that vegetarians among Muslims are extremely few and far between, many real estate holders would find it hard to believe that a Muslim is a vegetarian even if he/she really is one!) or the suspicion about terrorism, which is not to mean that such real estate holders imagine all Muslims to be terrorists, but given that all major terrorist attacks in India’s big, cosmopolitan cities (be it Delhi, Mumbai, Pune, Bangalore or Ahmedabad) have been carried out by some Muslims, they view any Muslim stranger as possibly being a terrorist (and it matters little in this context what the causes of terrorism by some Muslims are or that Muslim terrorists in India and abroad, including in Muslim-majority countries, have also killed Muslims, for a non-Muslim doesn’t wish to be bombed by a terrorist, even if that terrorist also poses a threat to his own co-religionists). Sikhs too faced this discrimination till the mid-1990s when Khalistani terrorism was at its peak (as pointed out by Kashmiri Muslim writer Basharat Peer in his much-acclaimed book Curfewed Night), and those from the northeast do so too. Another real form of discrimination against Muslims in India I can think of is very, very occasionally being subjected to slurs like ‘Pakistani’ and ‘terrorist’ to their faces, especially in the wake of terror attacks, and most Muslims I have interacted with (and on this point, I have interacted even with bearded, skull-capped ones whose religious identity is visibly evident) have told me that they have been slurred in such a fashion only once or twice, and I may also point out that as a Hindu, I have also sometimes (though not always) been made to feel uncomfortable in Muslim-majority gatherings and localities in India, and some other Hindus have also shared such experiences with me. Also, it’s not as though only Muslims have to encounter such slurs or not-so-pleasant remarks about their community – ask Bihari Hindus, Bengali Hindus and even Sindhi Hindus like myself! And the third kind of discrimination is Muslims being subjected to untouchability like Dalits in some villages, but that is disappearing fast, and in such villages too, Muslims are invited to Hindu homes and for Hindu weddings, though served food in different utensils and given different cutlery (which I strongly condemn), but even among Muslims, there are those who practise their own kind of caste discrimination evolved in South Asia. Discrimination by some Hindus needs to be fought against, but that is one thing and bashing the entire Hindu majority (or most of it) is quite another, and the latter does little to bridge the Hindu-Muslim divide, but specifically dispelling misconceptions about the other religious grouping on both sides in the spirit of humanitarian affection does help to bridge the divide.

The detentions of innocent civilians in terror cases or killing of innocent civilians in fake encounters (another issue flagged by Azad and other such Muslims in an open letter to Chetan Bhagat, a piece different from Azad’s rejoinder to Srivastava’s article in Tehelka), cuts across religious lines, and has happened with Hindus in Assam and Naxalism-infested regions and Sikhs in Punjab, and has little to do with hatred on religious lines (but instead greed for promotions and medals), and has even happened within Muslim-majority countries like Morocco and Turkey that have seen violent secessionist movements. To cite fake encounters of innocents branding them as terrorists as the basic cause of terrorism is to gloss over the fact that it was terrorism in the first place that led to the excesses by rogue elements in the security forces. Fake encounters of Hindus too take place with respect to regular crimes (not only terrorism), as the Ranbir Singh episode in Uttarakhand demonstrates.

While I condemn any and every kind of discrimination, the cause of such discrimination in the form of denial of accommodation or sporadic slurring or even if we count as discrimination the killing of innocent Muslims in fake encounters, lies in the fact that some Indian Muslims have resorted to terrorism, which brings us to Azad accusing Srivastava of showing “dubious concern over Indian Muslims being usurped by ‘global jihad’.” Why should this concern be seen as dubious when some Muslims from Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu have joined the ranks of the ISIS to kill innocent Syrian and Iraqi Christians, Yazidis, Shias and even Sunnis who don’t accept their worldview? Why should this not be seen as a concern when we have a terror outfit, the Indian Mujahidin, which, by way of its very many bombings in various Indian cities, like Delhi, Jaipur, Bangalore and Ahmedabad, has taken the lives of many innocent Indians, including Muslims? Can we forget the attack on the Akshardham temple in Gandhinagar? And if acts of terrorism by some Indian Muslims can be rationalized (even if not justified) by pointing to anti-Muslim violence in the riots in Gujarat in 2002, then why not also rationalize (even if not justify) the anti-Muslim violence in Gujarat by pointing to the burning of a railway coach in Godhara? Is it more acceptable for Muslims to dehumanize Hindus than vice versa? I understand the responsibility of the majority to make the minorities feel secure (this also applies to the Muslims, especially Sunnis, of Kashmir, in the light of the Hindus still living in the valley and those who have returned), but that apart, the minority interacts with more people of the majority than vice versa; so, logically, there should be less stereotyping from their end, even if there is more insecurity on the part of the minorities, though some people from the minority targeting the majority is not a symptom of insecurity. We have a well-entrenched system of law and order, thanks to which we have seen the convictions of hundreds of Hindu rioters in the Gujarat riots cases (including of politicians like Maya Kodnani) and even, the 1984 anti-Sikh riots cases (though some of the big politicians among the accused have yet not been convicted), as also hundreds of rogue soldiers responsible for human rights violations (recently, justice was done in the Machil fake encounter case, though a lot more needs to be done in this regard, but a lot more needs to be done in Pakistan where perhaps no one has been convicted for gross human rights violations in Balochistan and the erstwhile East Pakistan), and even many Muslim terrorists (though not one of them responsible for killing Hindus in Kashmir in 1989-90 has been convicted so far). Judicial recourse, with all its weaknesses in India (which need to be overcome), is the only way forward to secure justice, not compromising on the rule of law to kill innocent people of any community for crimes committed by some of their co-religionists, and this applies to Muslims as much as Hindus. Also, for those trying to childishly disassociate terrorists completely from the community the terrorists come from or the ideology that they believe they derive their legitimacy from, should realize the fallacy in their contention. I agree that terrorism is not a Muslim monopoly but in the context of terrorists, be they those killing in the name of jihad or Ranvir Sena terrorists who killed innocent Dalits or those who bombed the Samjhauta Express and mosques in Hyderabad, Malegaon and Madosa or Khalistani terrorists who killed innocent Punjabi Hindu civilians or those Maoists in India killing innocent voters by bombing election booths or even Catholic fanatics resorting to terrorism in Northern Ireland or the Jewish Defense League that targeted Soviet civilians in the United States or the Tamil Tigers of Sri Lanka who forcibly recruited children and bombed banks and marketplaces (interestingly, more innocent civilians have died at the hands of non-Muslim terrorists in India as well as in Europe, where only 3 out of 249 terrorist attacks in 2010 were carried out by some Muslims, though since terror attacks by Muslims take place in some of the most prominent urban centres, they tend to attract more media attention), the civil society has to ideologically fight every kind of terrorism by placing the terrorist in his/her social background and what inspires him/her to commit these heinous crimes. It is neither practically possible nor should it be desirable to conceal the religious identity of the terrorist or what led him/her to take up such inhuman activities. This is not to say that the Quran advocates violence against innocent civilians. It doesn’t, the verses advocating violence being contextual, as in the Gita, and the Quran does have several verses - 5:8, 5:32, 6:108, 49:13, 60:8 and 109:6 - to mention a few that speak of peace, religious tolerance and human brotherhood, and it is a lie that peaceful verses are not to be found later in the book, for verse 109:6 appears after many of the supposedly violent verses. I know of the website run by an apostate and basher of Islam who has offered a cash prize to anyone who can disprove his allegations against Prophet Muhammad (but there are books by apostates of other religions criticizing their former religions too, the most famous one being Why I Am Not a Christian by Bertrand Russell, and there’s also Why I am Not a Hindu by Kancha Ilaiah, indeed leveling very strong allegations, and yes, there are verses in the Bible like Deuteronomy 13:12-15, 1 Samuel 15:3 and Matthew 10:34 seemingly advocating violence against “non-believers”, which are even cited by Christian extremists, though most Christians treat these verses as contextual), but practically, he is the judge of the debate, or to go by what he is saying, the “readership” of the website, a rather non-defined entity. In fact, he has acknowledged that he came across a Muslim who “intelligently argued his case and never descended to logical fallacies or insults” and while that Islam-basher “did not manage to convince him to leave Islam”, that Muslim earned his “utmost respect”, which implies that practically, the Islam-basher is the judge of the debate. Likewise, that Islam-basher has mentioned with reference to a scholar of Islam he debated with, that the latter was “a learned man, a moderate Muslim and a good human being” and someone he (the Islam-basher) has “utmost respect for”. So, that Islam-basher’s critique of Islam, whether valid or invalid, has no relevance in terms of making blanket stereotypes about the people we know as Muslims, or even practising Muslims. By the way, that Islam-basher bashes Judaism too.

A counterterrorism strategy would have to entail promoting the peaceful, mainstream interpretations of the Quran and other religious texts in this respect, and it is heartening that even many otherwise regressive Muslim clerics in India and abroad have strongly condemned terrorism, explaining how it is antithetical to Islamic theology, aside from Indian Muslims carrying out demonstrations against terrorism, and having refused to bury the bodies of nine terrorists killed in the 26/11 attacks.

And yes, all those advocating conspiracy theories about terrorist attacks attributed to Muslims (including the killings of the Kashmiri Hindus) being carried out by other entities ought to read my article The Conspiracy Theories About the 26/11 Mumbai Attacks and The Hypocrisy of the Islamist-Sympathizing ‘Liberals’: The Case of a Pilgrimage by Kashmiri Hindus.

Azad also questions who the regressive Muslim clerics in India are, whether they are Shia or Sunni, and it seems that he would like an exhaustive list of the same, implicitly denying the fuss created about Muslim clerics being regressive. For one, I would count as regressive those clerics in Deoband who decreed a few years ago that women working in sectors other than nursing, sewing and medicine in the same offices with men, was haram. I count as regressive Imam Bukhari of the Jama Masjid who supported the destruction of ancient Buddha statues in Bamiyan by the Taliban, something that was otherwise strongly condemned by very many Muslims across the globe. If one wants a longer list of regressive religious decrees, he/she would do well to read the book The World of Fatwas (a fatwa is a religious decree to do or not do anything, and is not necessarily a death-warrant; the misnomer arose with some fatwas to kill Rushdie and Nasreen, though there have also been a few progressive fatwas, such as one from Farangi Mahal promoting girls’ education) by Arun Shourie, and though I do not agree with all the assertions and inferences in the book, it does indeed do a commendable job of exposing regressive clerics in our country, and this is not to say that all Muslim clerics in India or elsewhere are regressive, and I, for one, particularly like Maulana Wahiduddin Khan from our own country for his forward-looking outlook. The complaint against regressive sections of the Muslim clergy comes not only from Hindus but even many sections of Muslims. Arif Mohammed Khan, a great intellectual whom I have had the honour of knowing personally, resigned from his ministerial post in Rajiv Gandhi’s cabinet over the government conceding to the demands of regressive clerics following the Shah Bano case. Tehelka has carried several articles by Muslims disappointed with regressive sections of their clergy, such as South Indian Muslims Are Not Keen on Issues Related to Identity by Maqbool A. Siraj (dated 13th November 2010) and The Imam’s Wrong Call by Zokia Suman (dated 3rd September 2011), and though I don’t personally endorse everything these articles say (the second one even echoes some of the exaggerated narrative of Muslim victimhood that Azad points to, which I disagree with, though the first one is brilliant in my opinion, though going a little too far in its North India-South India binary), I do indeed agree with their disillusionment with many sections of their clergy for having failed to address real social issues within the Muslim community, particularly pertaining to women and dispelling communal notions. Far from addressing these issues, much of the clergy has only encouraged regressive attitudes. I may add that the clergy has, by and large, even failed to even so much as try to systematically deconstruct and dispel misconceptions about Muslims as a monolith, and the activities of much of the clergy have, in fact, been the cause of some of the misconceptions.

Azad has felt the need to rebut Srivastava’s article on the ground that a lie repeated multiple times comes to be accepted as the truth. Well, indeed, it is precisely this very conviction that got me to write this rejoinder as well, for I view the truth differently. The lie I wish to rebut as a mission is the exaggerated narrative of Muslim victimhood in India (or, in other words, Hindus in general being a very oppressive majority), for this lie, other than strengthening Muslim communalism, when coming from Muslims as also Hindus claiming to champion secularism, also offends Hindus and strengthens Hindu communalism, and both the communalisms feed off each other by stereotyping the other religious grouping in a negative fashion by pointing only to its communalists. And though we, Indians, have to set our own standards and do justice to our citizens, irrespective of what happens elsewhere in the world, Indian Muslims do enjoy better civil liberties and better security of life and property than even Muslims in Pakistan and many other Muslim-majority countries do, not to speak of the non-Muslim minorities in those countries, and this is especially significant for those romanticizing Pakistan and/or a global pan-Muslim fraternity.

To reject any constructive criticism by using terms like “anti-Semitism”, as many Israelis do, “Islamophobia” as the likes of Azad do , or “anti-national” like Hindu rightists and other jingoistic Indian nationalists do when the subject of human rights violations by rogue elements in the Indian security forces in Kashmir and the northeast is raised (many Pakistanis have the same attitude when you point out the human rights violations by rogue elements in their security forces in Balochistan and the erstwhile East Pakistan), is not the solution to any problem, and we should rather address contentions logically, taking them on face value, rather than allege prejudice, and even prejudiced people (barring possibly those blatantly spewing hate-filled venom), I believe, deserve engagement if we want to modify their standpoint.

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