Dear fellow-citizens of the Islamic faith,
I have never liked the phrase ‘Indian Muslims’. The reason for my discomfort with that description is that it is deeply divisive. It also homogenises you, making you ‘Indian Muslims’ first and last and nothing else. It also in its subtext splits your identity into two parts, where ‘my’ focus is on the ‘Muslim’ and not the Indian. Have you ever wondered why we never hear the phrase ‘Indian Hindus’?
In this lies a very old and stubborn habit of mind which reflects the fault lines of our society, the deep divides in our individual and collective psychologies.
We are in reality a divided nation where all that connects the two communities are the economic services that you provide society. In every other aspect of life, you are ‘unknowns’, even suspect in the eyes of many. But this categorisation is not the intent of my column today. I am forced to ask you some difficult questions since I believe we are in a crucial phase in our history.
Generalisations are odious and I do not want to generalise. But allow me to make what can be called a broad-brush observation. Individual exceptions apart, ‘Indian Muslims’ have taken that description without challenge. By this I do not mean to say you have not protested about it; you have interiorised it within yourselves, so much so that you have become complicit, by default perhaps, in your continuing ghetto-isation.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the way you respond to happenings, political, social, military around the world but more sharply to events nearer home. Would you not agree that a great many of you seem to think, speak, act as ‘the community’, ‘the qaum’, almost flock-like, moved by a herd-instinct to defend yourselves against ‘the majority’?
Of course you must be vigilant, alert, against the bullying instincts of Hindutva. But why should you remain — again, I am excepting individual exceptions — so deafeningly silent when manifest wrongs are perpetrated by your own ‘co-religionists’?
Wrongs are wrongs and should be responded to as sensitive human beings should react to wrongs.
I am deeply disappointed by the fact that apart from some wise and brave individuals, so many of your leaders remained silent when children were massacred in Peshawar. I was waiting — and continue to do so— for powerful Muslim Indian voices, condemning that savagery. I have wondered why I have not heard a collective outcry of disgust. Could it be because you perceive the present Indian government as pro-Hindu? If this is the reason, it is nothing but an alibi. I also thought of another reason, which I hope is completely wrong. I wondered whether your America-sceptic stance on the Palestinian issue made it difficult for your leaders to condemn the Taliban, since they are at war with the U.S. If this has even a semblance of truth, I don’t know what to say. I am certain that neither one of these ‘reasons’ offer a full explanation. But then, why have I not seen multi-denominational public rallies of condemnation across this country led by your leaders? I wait for the day when not just the first but the wisest and most daring voices are raised by your leaders against terrorism that speaks in Islam’s name. Do not allow the words of the Holy Quran to be used as religious and political tools by anyone, whoever he may be.
I also wait for the day when you, the simple folk of your faith raise your voices against any Islamic religious leader who refuses to condemn violence. There is an urgent need for socio-religious introspection within your community and it has to come from within and not forced upon you. The multiple voices within your faith have to be heard and respected.
Please — and this is crucial — goad your leaders to speak up for gender equality. Do not give a handle for narrow minds to say ‘Oh, the Indian Muslim keeps his women in medieval backwardness’. Don’t, please, oblige the Hindu bigot by giving grist to his mill.
Do not misinterpret this appeal as a right-wing demand to prove your loyalty to ‘India’. It is most certainly not. I write to you since I sincerely believe that there is need for fearless thought and action within the Islamic world. Many in this country, by instinct and conviction, stand by you, in fact, as you because like you they are human beings who happen to be citizens of the Republic of India. They get branded, quite often, as anti-national or pseudo-secularists. Strengthen their hands so that they can strengthen yours and India’s. Don’t let them down.
India has been enriched by you, like the world has, through your great legacies of the heart and mind. The time has come for that legacy to show its capacity for a new and bold leadership that breaks out of cast-iron moulds.
Yours in admiration and hope,