Wednesday, May 6, 2009


The recent imposition of a Rs 2 crore jazia (infidel tax) on Sikhs by the Taliban in Pakistan's Orakzai Agency has angered the Sikh community in India and re-opened painful historical wounds. This development and the eviction of Hindus from Kashmir Valley two decades back have two things in common. One is the virtual blank out of both by India's mainstream media, as if they were insignificant, and the second is that both acts are products of the same medieval and intolerant mindset that is now threatening to seize control of all of Pakistan.

For some people living in their comfortable cocoons, these realities either do not exist or are unimportant since they do not touch them; their world is moving ahead.

Imran Khan, the urbane, westernised Pakistani playboy cricketer-turned-politician has for long been the darling of India's secular media and the glitterati. One would have imagined that he would have the same progressive, 21st century outlook that his friends in Delhi and Mumbai do. But, no. He is one of the main supporters of the decision of the Pakistan government to hand over Swat Valley to the Taliban. Not just that. He even defends what the Taliban are doing by saying that by enforcing their variant of the Sharia, they are only implementing the Law of Allah ( Watch these revolting videos of their brutally and mercilessly beheading people. You need to prepare yourself to watch them). This defence of the ways of the Taliban from a man whose British ex-wife would have been flogged and perhaps stoned to death for adultery had she been in Taliban territory, is horrifying evidence that the world, at least a large part of it that affects India directly, has not changed at all.

Despite decades of Western education and exposure, Imran Khan retains a Talibani mindset. He is not the only one who does. There are many, many more like him in Pakistan and elsewhere who don't look or publicly behave like the Taliban, but are one with them ideologically as well as in their fight against the US. That is why the US is soon going to discover that the war that it is fighting in Afghanistan and Pakistan is like no other that is has fought, ever. As per The New York Times, the Taliban are ready to have a body count and see "who has broken whose back". That is also why we in India must quickly wake up to the realisation that the Taliban need not arrive in India physically to pose a real threat to this country. They just have to get into the minds of some Indians.

The SIMI and the Indian Mujahideen represent the Indians who have been come under the grip of the Talibani mindset. Even though they have carried out numerous terror attacks and killed hundreds of innocent fellow Indians, fortunately their numbers are very small and influence extremely limited, though they are trying hard to poison more minds. Till now, most Indian Muslims have shown great maturity and kept away from these extreme elements who reject India's secularism and democracy, and want to establish a Taliban type of Islamic state in India.

A couple of months back, however, there was one significant regressive development, the ramifications of which have, not surprisingly, also gone completely unnoticed. The UP Board of Madrasa Education(UPBME) suddenly rediscovered, in progressive 21st century, that "free interaction between boys and girls" is not permitted by Islam. Describing co-education in schools as "anti-Islamic and against the Sharia" the UPBME banned it across madrasas in the state. "Parda" (veil) is essential in Islam and co-education encourages "be-pardagi" (removal of veil). So said Haji Rizwan Haq, chairman of the UPBME, to justify the ban.

The direction in which a part of India is beginning to move should be evident from this seemingly innocuous development which came close on the heels of a similar edict passed by militants in the remote North Waziristan of Pakistan. In India, it has been imposed in India's largest state, bang next to secular India's capital, and not in some forgotten corner that no one knows about. Yet, people in Delhi want to pretend as if nothing has happened. Their own world is changing for the better and that is all they are interested in.

More significantly, not a single progressive, secular Muslim leader of India has spoken against this visible example of the creeping Talibanisation of India's Muslims. They are mute not due to any fear of the Taliban. It is either sheer apathy or a silent approval of this "back to fundamentalism" mindset that has kept them from saying anything. Among the non-Muslims, there are those who argue that since this edict is meant only for madrasas and that too of UP alone, why bother? Let them do what "they" want, some say; how does it affect "us"?

Yes, our world is changing. But for many people living in the real, harsh world out there, it is imperceptibly regressing back to the time when there was excruciating religious intolerance and subjugation, the kind most of us have forgotten about. The world where this is happening does not exist for our cocooned elite yet. Just like the world that faced terror attacks did not till they were hit while having dinner at the Taj on November 26, 2008. That solitary attack on them has already been all but forgotten and everything is back on course.

That is why what is happening to Sikhs in Pakistan is also being ignored, as are all seemingly disparate developments that all point to the fact that as a secular India moves forward into the 21st century, there is a growing Taliban-influenced environmental current which is trying to push a large portion of its population into an isolated bubble frozen in time. It is our collective responsibility to protect them and pluck them from the force of this strong current so that they too can move forward and ahead along with the rest of their country men.

But that can happen only if we have the courage to accept that there is a problem and then display even greater courage and resolve to find a lasting solution to it, without giving into the demands of petty populism.
Readers may also read:
1. Zakaria's Afghan strategy: salvation or surrender?
2. Swat is now Pakistan's flog valley
3. Tackling Islamic terrorism: what India needs to understand
4. Taliban blow up houses of Sikhs
5. News from Pakistan - Lessons for India
6. Pakistan in Sharia quagmire