Sunday, September 19, 2010

MUSLIMS AND HINDUS, THE GOOD GUYS AND THE BAD

A couple of years back, a friend of mine was looking for a tenant for his flat. A property dealer rang him up to say that he had a 'party' that was willing to pay twice the going rate. Intrigued by this unexpected offer, coming as it was from three students, he asked about their backgrounds. The answer was not surprising: they were from the Valley.

His answer was immediate and negative. Was it because they were Muslims, I asked? No, he said, and I believe him, he would have given the same reply had they been Hindus or Sikhs whose parents were still in the Valley. He simply did not want to risk getting involved in any anti-national activity, willing or coerced. The boys might have been perfectly innocent, but he had no way of knowing that. And the sweetened deal, which would have been made even sweeter, was not going to tempt him to make himself vulnerable to all kinds of avoidable complications and troubles.

Unfortunately, our English media, populated by numerous rootless wonders, have been running programs and publishing columns on how Muslims are being unfairly discriminated against in cities and towns when it comes, among other things, to letting houses and flats. The villains, as you would have have guessed by now, are primarily Hindus like my friend and, by extension, me. We and our religion, according to these preachers of a modernity that is disconnected to and, in many cases in denial of, historical and contemporary societal dynamics, are standing in the way of India becoming a truly secular nation and the society becoming genuinely cosmopolitan, the kind they want their kids to grow up in, the kind in which kids of the three Khans of Bollywood are going to grow up.

In this perfect KJo film world of theirs, India's Muslims are the secular and progressive guys and Hindus who have not broken free of their dirty religion are the communal and regressive goons who are anti-Muslim, anti-change, anti-secular.

A couple of days back, Rajdeep Sardesai's CNN IBN telecast yet another sting operation whose prime objective could only have been to incite hatred in Muslims against Hindus and to convince impressionable deracinated Hindus, many of whom will never personally experience a difficult Hindu-Muslim situation in their lives, that ordinary Hindus detest Muslims and do not want to socially engage with them for no real reason except hate. It showed that they do not let flats to Muslims in Mumbai and are, thus, most guilty of ghettoising urban India.

As if on cue, Shobhaa De followed it up with a column today about how Muslims are being denied admission into colleges of repute in the city, two years after 26/11. The city -- read Hindus -- is marginalising Muslims, she says, adding helpfully that it is a fact that everybody knows but nobody talks about. Though she rightly concludes that we must not forget 26/11 which was the handiwork of hardcore terrorists, she too blames Hindus for "killing the spirit of innocence" of young Muslims.

Can it be anybody's case that a community can remain completely insulated from the actions of a few, particularly when there is a long history that dishonest historians want people to forget but which gets transmitted, as it has for thousands of years, from generation to generation? Can anyone claim that ordinary citizens are blind to the legacy of India's Partition that is awakened every time there is a terror attack by terrorists who recall the religious divide that led to it? Can anyone believe that ordinary people are unaware of what is happening in Kashmir?

When the Khalistani movement was at its peak, people were afraid to let out their houses to Sikhs. This was despite the fact that there had never been any animosity or hatred between Hindus and Sikhs ever. All that has been forgotten because post that unfortunate phase, Sikhs have not built walls around themselves or done anything that may fracture social relations. Their distinct religious identity does not come in the way of their being socially secular and more progressive than most other Indians. Can the same be honestly said about Muslims who chose a secular India over Pakistan after Partition?

Who is really marginalising Muslims in India? Is it the Hindus or is it Muslim religious and political leaders who are deliberately, sometimes provocatively, widening the social and political gap between them and Indians professing other faiths? What is Zakir Naik effectively achieving under the garb of teaching Islam? Is not the Deoband seminary guided Jamiat-Ulama-I-Hind attempting to effectively quarantine India's Muslims, to make them secede from India socially, and by natural progression, politically in the long run? Is SIMI not already engaged in the pursuit of that long-term objective, an Islamic state in India, directly and through its sword arm, the Indian Mujahideen? Does anyone need night vision goggles to see what Deoband-inspired ideology has already done to Pakistan, what Pakistan in turn is threatening to do to India by cleverly inciting Indian Muslims?

Why, then, are the dangers of marginalisation seen by those cocooned in Pali Hill only when the rest of the society tries to protect its way of life and even itself from real danger, but not when Muslim leaders and organisations build bigger walls in the name of religion to abdicate their responsibility to adjust to a multi-religious society? Why are Hindus always shown to be the bad guys and Muslims the aggrieved, helpless minority? Why is it that no one has made any attempt to address the unshakable belief of Mumbaikars that powerful locals and politicians were involved in 26/11, or to assuage their fear that terrorists will strike again? Is the marginalisation of Muslims in Gujarat going to be reduced or increased by endlessly blaming Narendra Modi and Hindus for the riots that followed the burning of the rail coach carrying Kar Sevaks at Godhra?

Fear of Muslim reaction only partly explains the pusillanimity of the so-called secular elite. It is also apparent that some distinguished members of this club have lost touch with much of their own selves and reality, past and present, and live in another world. That is one reason why they are unknowingly setting the stage for unprecedented violence by fanning -- and that too from the wrong direction -- completely avoidable communal hatred and intolerance while pretending to do the opposite.

Somehow they seem to have convinced themselves that being anti-Hindu is a prerequisite for being pro-Muslim and modern. This is the disastrous formula they are using to dampen the spirit, the confidence, the belief of those who have not yet lost their memories, their pride and their connect with the soul of the living religion of their ancient land, and turn them into a defeated people and their religion into a joke that befits being followed only by inferior and unintelligent people who belong to medieval times.

Perhaps in their hearts some of them know that this is a fundamentally illogical stance. But they continue to pursue it possibly because they believe it is this that has driven Muslims into the lap of the Congress and also pulled impressionable, rootless Hindus to it out of disgust for their religion and co-religionists. They have also manifestly convinced the even more rootless Congress dynastic leadership, or the other way round, that this is a winning formula at the electoral box office, one that has delivered two consecutive hits, one that is fail-proof, given the arithmetic of the electorate. The fruit that it has yielded to them is too sweet to let go.

So, bad guys, if you really want to get rid of the black mark that you are being stamped with relentlessly and save India from the cauldron into which it is being pushed, there is much you need to do. But all will come to naught unless you find a way to beat the arithmetic.

Related reading: For the today of a few, the tomorrow of India
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