Is the cost of being a Muslim liberal too high to be paid by ordinary Muslims?

The Hindu Liberal-Left must take the time to engage with the Muslim public sphere not just by quoting Urdu poetry and enjoying Sufi music and admiring Mughlai cuisine, but also by visiting madrassas and Islamic seminaries to understand to what extent they are communal.

Ramachandra Guha’s ‘trishul-burqa’ analogy has once again revived the debate about Indian Muslims and their socio-political outlook. Indian Muslims seem to be bored and fed up of reading and watching these debates and have developed a kind of indifference towards such insensitive deliberations.

Remarks such as “they don’t know enough about Muslims” are increasingly common among Muslims when these debates are tabled. That Hindus have become used to see Muslims only as Muslims, and not as Muslim citizens, is so painful and worrying that it now reflects in their political deliberations.

This is a dangerous development and it needs rethinking by non-Muslim citizens and public intellectuals. As a Muslim, I can say that in an ordinary Muslim mind, the difference between secular and right-wing politics has become very thin.

On terrorism, for example, there should be a fair recognition that a large number of Indian Muslims are simply not convinced with the mainstream perspective. It is easy to accuse Muslims of living in the state of denial but it is more dangerous not to ask them the reasons.

There are three key issues that perhaps blur the difference between the role of a public intellectual and anti-Muslim populist. Interestingly, those who defend Muslims from anti-Muslim perspectives, as in the case of Ramachandra Guha, the defense too sometimes become a liability for Muslims.

First, for too long, Liberals and Leftists have been oversimplifying the phenomenon of Hindu communalism. They want Muslims to accept that the mainstream “nationalist narrative” of the Hindu Mahasabha and RSS should be taken merely as the reactionary product of Muslim communalism. To stop Hindu communalism, therefore, Muslims must sacrifice something. So this becomes a long list, with no end in sight.

Second, even if Hindu communalism were historically the product of Muslim communalism, and BS Moonje, NC Kelkar’s earlier intellectual deliberations are discounted as “reactions”, the Left-Liberal combine assumes that Indian Muslims are still employing the same political narratives as they did before Independence. Third, their simplified prescription that Muslims must become “progressive” and “secular” and come out from the “medievalist ghetto” is, highly simplistic.

One is beginning to feel that a liberal is a better liberal only if he happens to be a Hindu too.

But the Muslim mind has a different story to tell. He won’t buy these arguments so easily, though his side may not be heard in this noisy public sphere. Beyond question, Indian nationalism has seen a systematic exclusion of the minority and Dalit imaginations, so much so that a Muslim cannot question the image of Bharat Mata and cannot question Vande Matram.

It pains Muslim to hear that Indian children are taught that Muslims are outsiders, invaders who looted this country and the implicit solution — revenge. It pains every Muslim to read RSS literature and know that Muslims are not only national security threats, but must be identified with countries from where worldwide security threats emanate, such as Pakistan, Bangladesh, and even Arab countries – that this is true not only in the present dispensation but from the 1950s.

It is not easy to accept that Hindus, increasingly, are asking the question, Why are you here, why don’t you go to Pakistan?

For Indian Muslims, to prove they are both nationalist and Muslim is far more difficult than for Shashi Tharoor or any other Hindu Liberal-Left person to say that he is both nationalist and Hindu. Perhaps the cost of being a Muslim liberal is too high to be paid by ordinary Muslims. They are expected to sacrifice so much that they lose their Muslim identity, something a Hindu liberal does not have to consider.

A common Muslim does not find the parallel between Hindu and Muslim communalism a substantial argument, but a political compulsion. Even the allegation of Muslims living in a “medievalist ghetto” is nothing but the intellectual appeasement of an increasingly majoritarian public space. It is strange and surprising to see Hindu liberals so unaware of Muslims’ public spheres in India and how there are many individual and collective struggles to reform the society, indeed not to westernize them.

When Hamid Dalwai and his likes say that “among Indian Muslims, there is no such liberal minority leading the movement towards democratic liberalism”, they necessarily expect Muslims to be subjected without critical minds. The debates which Muslim intellectuals have about Western philosophies tell us that they are not irrational minds. What you need is to engage with them and let them engage with the wider audience in a democratic process of dialogue among perspectives. Had the late Mr Dalwai told his Hindu friends that the first educational movement led by Kerala’s Salafi reformers, Nadwatul Mujahideen had advocated for co-education and that had led for mass literacy campaigns in the early 1920s, Mr Dalwai would have been careful in invoking a blanket denial of Muslim liberals.

It is clear that Hindu liberals are unaware and perhaps in denial of the existence of a vibrant Muslim public sphere which is as rich as Hindus’ in debating rationally the issues of common good, mostly in the vernacular. The Hindu Liberal-Left must take the time to engage with the Muslim public sphere not just by quoting Urdu poetry and enjoying Sufi music and admiring Mughlai cuisine, but also by visiting madrassas and Islamic seminaries to understand to what extent they are communal, in comparison with Hindu communal spaces.

They must discover that the bogey of “Muslim communalism” needs to be revisited, especially now when Muslims are in their weakest-ever state. The institutional capability of the RSS communalism is always downplayed by Hindu Left-Liberals, perhaps for political populist purposes. Muslims are constantly aware of the fact that the RSS agenda is secure with or without the BJP, precisely because of its ability to flexibly work across the political line.

The dream to become an equal citizen of this country should not be in exchange for a Muslim’s personal, religious, linguistic, cultural and sexual identity, as long as these identities are chosen with free will. The problem with “Hindu Liberals” and “Hindu Communists” is that they are able to maintain their identity as Hindu, Liberal, Leftist, Democrat, all at the same time, but Muslims don’t seem to have the same flexibility.

Hindu political leaders, meanwhile, have been switching political sides conveniently. The Congress party can oscillate between soft Hindutva and socialism, the Communist parties can behave as mainstream Hindu parties — but Muslims are simply not permitted to enjoy this flexibility. When the RSS and Hindu Mahasabha accuses the Congress of being “pseudo nationalist”, the Congress party adopts a flexible interpretation of nationalism, by allowing hardliners into its ranks. When the Congress is called “pseudo-secular” because it is ostensibly appeasing minorities, the Congress became sensitive to the charge and stalled the social justice agenda for Muslims.

Indian Muslims believe that our public intellectuals, including Ramachandra Guha, cannot afford to be “anti-Hindu” when the majoritarian populism is the new normal.

Written By : Umair Anas, New Delhi Based Researcher

Courtesy: Indian Express

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