I write this today as a Muslim, a practicing Muslim who believes in the tenets of Islam, in Ramzan, in namaz, and I believe I can continue to be liberal and secular while being proud of my faith. The Quran that millions across the world read has the first word revealed to Prophet Mohammed as “Iqra” (read). The Quran I have read has given the world some of the best physicists and mathematicians like Ibn Sina who would probably mock at the theory that the world was flat. The Quran that I read each day during this holy month of Ramzan teaches me empathy and compassion through fasting that helps me relate to those who go without food each night.
Among the many reasons that I write the column, the biggest was the brave assertion by Naseeruddin Shah in his piece in Hindustan Times where he writes, “I cannot recall a time when Muslims were suspected en masse of being unpatriotic.” He goes on to say, “The nightmarish possibility of my children being someday confronted by a mob demanding to know their religion could be inching closer to reality.”
Naseeruddin Shah is part of an industry where colleagues have mostly shied away from displaying a spine or taking a stand, including those who have been feted as superstars. And every time Naseer has taken a stand in the past, whether in supporting Indo-Pak friendship or attending the book launch of Khurshid Ahmed Kasuri in 2015, he has been labelled anti-national and seen protests against him by the right wing. In 2015, he spoke to a newspaper saying he was targeted because he was a Muslim. “I do not actually understand why anything said as a compliment to Pakistan must be construed as anti-Indian. If I say Imran Khan is great, does that make Sunil Gavaskar any less a cricketer….”
I must also add a disclaimer that Naseer was among the courageous few who dared to praise my book and lend his support for the second edition of Gujarat Files last year. Two movies which played an important role in documenting the horrors of the Gujarat carnage of 2002, Firaaq and Parzania, would not have been possible minus Naseer’s stellar performance. It is therefore that I think that I can humbly point out a few fallacies in his argument in the column he wrote on Indian Muslims.
Neither Naseer saheb nor I claim to speak for the Muslim community, nor must we, for we sit in a privileged position that does not allow us to witness what Muslims in a new India have been witnessing on a daily basis.
It would be unfair to suggest that Muslims were better off during the UPA for not a single recommendation by the Sachar Committee or the Justice Srikrishna Committee were implemented by the “secular” Congress. And the BJP is nowhere close to the healing touch it promised Muslims during elections.
In fact, all one hears from the BJP and its sister organisations is talk of minority appeasement by the Congress, which, in reality, is such a sham that Muslims of the country continue to slip down the worst possible denominators of development.
To ask Muslims to focus on education and hygiene and get out of the victim mode is like quoting Naseer himself from his famous Muslim reformist film “Khuda Kay Liye” where he mocks “Kissi ke doctor banney se pehle aap is par aitraaz karein ki usse operation karna nahi aata” (the absurdity of criticizing somebody before he studies medicine for being unable to conduct an operation).
Naseer and many liberal Muslims who have the privilege of sitting in swanky living rooms, operating out of our MacBooks have not witnessed first-hand the fear of moving into Muslim ghettos in Mumbai like Mumbra, Deonar and Bhiwandi which went on to become a safe zone for Muslims post the 1993 carnage in which thousands of Muslims were killed.
My family was forced to move from the cosmopolitan Sahar village to the rather lower middle-class Deonar which was considered safer. My brother and my father applied for a credit card thrice while we lived in that area and were which was rejected on all occasions.
We were told later that these companies have specific instructions to not issue cards to Muslims living in ‘such’ areas. The building in which we stayed was next to the famous Deonar dumping ground and the abattoir from where the stench would fill the neighbourhood. But we and many like us continued to stay there because it was “safe”.
Despite maintaining the best of hygiene, we had to live with the stink and airborne diseases. BMC workers who would mark their presence every morning in the swanky neighbourhoods of Mumbai like Peddar Road didn’t mind taking days off in our neighbourhood with the garbage piling up because we (the Muslims and our many lower middle classes companions) could live with it.
Another problematic assertion in Naseer’s column is that Muslims must stop feeling victimized. I have and continue to believe as a Muslim who has had to bear two communal riots that the community, like most communities in India, has been resilient and has chosen to put its dreaded past behind it, voting in every election for a change. But when every day you have videos emerging asking Muslims to chant “Bharat Mata ki Jai” before they are thrashed and cattle traders are lynched in public, the Muslim of the country does not feel a healing touch on the scars of the past.
If indeed we are so concerned about the plight of Muslims, their education, hygiene, then the topic of discussion should be to ensure that Muslim-dominated areas, government schools for Muslims have the same level of cleanliness and attention paid to them as other areas of Swachh Bharat. Muslims in this country have moved beyond the pain of the Babri demolition, but if the well-being of Muslims is indeed the criteria, those in power move on from Ayodhya and lets discuss corruption in the Waqf Board whose proceeds could help get Muslims access to higher education and a better status in society.
The alleged participation of Indian Muslims in ISIS is 0.0002 percent of the total number across the globe. To fault them for this and use it as an excuse to deny the 99.99 percent Muslims a dignified life is the worst one can offer to one of the largest minority in the country which has a glorious past in the country’s freedom struggle. And which is now, as I keep hearing from many around me, leaving me feeling like a “second-class citizen”.
(Rana Ayyub is an award-winning investigative journalist and political writer. She is the author of ‘Gujarat Files’, a book on the politics of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah in Gujarat.)
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author.