By Aijaz Zaka Syed
“Where do we go from here?” asked a US-based Indian Muslim friend the morning after India lurched further to the right with the smooth passage of the Citizenship Amendment Bill. Yet another ostensibly wild and crazy idea on the Parivar’s agenda has been ticked off and with such ease.
Who would have thought that it would take less than 72 hours for the world’s largest democracy to dump the much-vaunted Idea of India? Out go the window all the blessed Gandhian ideals of inclusivity and tolerance and naïve Nehruvian notions of secularism, pluralism along with Dr B R Ambedkar’s much-celebrated secular Constitution and its absurd principles of equality before law. Clearly, as Orwell would have put it, all are equal in Indian democracy but some are more equal.
But give credit where it’s due. Only Modi’s BJP and its clever Parivar could have pulled off the impossible feat of selling indefensible legislation that so brazenly discriminates against Muslims as a law to save the “persecuted religious minorities” with a straight face.
Listening to the repeated interventions of Modi’s doppelgänger, Amit Shah, in Parliament you would be forgiven to think the BJP chief is perhaps the best friend and well-wisher religious minorities could have hoped for. Suave, soft spoken and ever reasonable, Shah repeatedly assured “our Muslim brothers and sisters” that they have nothing to fear but the fear itself.
What is most galling about this whole charade is the conduct of the so-called secular parties like the Janata Dal (United) of Nitish Kumar, YSR Congress and AIADMK, who chose to go with the BJP despite the openly discriminatory nature of this legislation.
But why blame anyone for our woes when most Muslim organisations, except for a couple of usual suspects, did not utter a single word in protest against the Bill, let alone come out on the streets to protest it? Considering the fact that the BJP did not have the majority in Rajya Sabha and needed the support of parties like JD(U) and YSR Congress, one wonders why no Muslim organisation or group thought of lobbying with Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar or Andhra Pradesh chief minister Jagan Mohan Reddy, both of whom have good relations with the Muslim leadership in their states.
The question is important given the fact the Opposition needed less than a dozen more voters to defeat this biased legislation. Perhaps raising these questions now is pointless and like crying over spilt milk. But learning from one’s mistakes is important in order to avoid them in the future.
And make no mistake, we are going to be faced more such existential questions, again and again, as long as this regime remains at the helm. This may just be the beginning of a long and tumultuous ride.
Some of my friends ask why we Indian Muslims have to get so worked up about the new Citizenship law as it has nothing to do with us. They couldn’t have been more wrong.
By deliberately and specifically targeting Muslims, the new Citizenship law clashes directly with the secular principles enshrined in the Constitution as it excludes a community on the basis of its faith. This law is inherently unconstitutional because the basic idea of India has been violated. “Those who believe that religion should determine nationhood…that was the idea of Pakistan; they created Pakistan,” as Shashi Tharoor puts it.
Coming on the heels of the disastrous NRC (National Register of Citizenship) project in Assam that again specifically targeted Muslims, this legislation is so brazenly and openly anti-Muslim that even the government’s traditional apologists in the media are finding it hard to defend.
And by passing this law, the BJP has altered the very character of the Constitution. But now that the law is a reality, what is the way forward? Of course, the law will be and is already being challenged in the Supreme Court.
There was a time when such laws and such highhanded actions by powers that be had been unthinkable in this country. And even if they were somehow bulldozed through, you had the reassuring presence of the judiciary to confront all such tyranny. But when the courts fail to rise to the occasion and intervene to protect the Constitution and the rights it offers us, where do you turn for justice?
In the words of Faiz Ahmed Faiz, kise wakil karen, kis se munsafi chahen?
This is why I would not be holding my breath for the intervention by the country’s highest courts.
In any case, we are still waiting for the judiciary to break out of its reverie in the case of Kashmir. And we all know what happened in the case of Ayodhya. And look at the alacrity with which the top court has dismissed all 19 review petitions.
So where do we go from here? What is the way ahead for India’s beleaguered Muslims? Soon after the 2019 Election verdict, I had warned that with the massive mandate at its disposal and its brute majority in Parliament, the BJP would try to shape the republic, its Constitution and its democratic institutions in its own image and hue. And this is what it has set out to do in earnest.
Kashmir, Triple Talaq, Ayodhya, NRC, CAB and next the nationwide hunt of Muslims, or termites, as the Home Minister chooses to call them.
Already, no arm of the republic is beyond the overarching influence of the Parivar, be it the Election Commission, the judiciary, bureaucracy and security forces. It is only going to expand in months and years ahead, further cowing down the Muslims and other minorities.
What do we do now?
What do we do now? We can either surrender ourselves, totally losing our identity and accepting to exist as second class citizens or ‘non-citizens’ with no self-respect and perhaps no rights — a la Rohingya. Or we choose to fight back to protect our identity and existence with dignity and our rights that India’s Constitution grants us.
I am not talking of confrontation but of the need to organise ourselves. We need to work on our strengths to protect our rights and our future in this country that has been our home for nearly fourteen centuries. The first mosque in India had been built during the lifetime of the Prophet, peace be upon him.
This country belongs to us as much as it does to the next Indian. We do not have to be apologetic or defensive about our existence in this country. It is time to assert our ownership over this land that has several generations of our ancestors buried in it.
At the same time, we need to build bridges with our Hindu brethren whose majority remains reasonable. They are our biggest hope and allies in this war for an inclusive India.
Wherever we are, we must reach out to our non-Muslim friends and neighbours to address their misunderstandings about Islam and Muslims. This is the key to many of our problems. This is something that Muslims who have lived in India for millennia should have done. We are paying for the indifference and apathy of our forebears. If we fail to do our bit, our future generations would not forgive us.
Whatever the future has in store, we need to prepare for it. We cannot afford to lose hope. We cannot give in or give up. Indian Muslims need a new road map, a whole new approach to reinvent and empower themselves.
Avoiding confrontational politics and emotive issues, we must focus all our energies on the real challenges and problems facing us like our economic deprivation and educational backwardness. This setback is not the end of the world if we draw the right lessons from it.
Aijaz Zaka Syed is an award winning journalist and editor. Email: Aijaz.firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter @AijazZak
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