By Arshad Alam*
As a community, Muslims in India have always been burdened to prove their loyalty to the country. They are repeatedly asked to take tests of nationalism and patriotism in order to prove their love for the country. Whether it is cricket match against Pakistan or the matter of singing the national song, accusatory fingers have always been cast on Muslims, reminding them that as a community, they will always have to go through this test of loyalty.
Forget about the ordinary Muslims, even the outgoing Vice President, Hamid Ansari, was roundly criticised by the government for his assessment that India Muslims were feeling very edgy with the new government in power. He was asked to go where he felt comfortable: which meant that he was being told to migrate to a Muslim majority country. Coming from an illustrious family which was part of the national movement and himself having served the country for long, such a parting shot would continue to singe the outgoing VP for years to come. And yet one is painfully aware that such a treatment of Muslims in India is not the first nor even it is going to be the last.
They are community caught in a perpetual loyalty test. Seventy years after Muslims decided to choose this country as theirs, they still have to give these periodic loyalty tests. No other community in India has to go through this demand to display their patriotism publically. No other community can understand what it means to be a Muslim today in India. To reduce this just to the current government would be an exercise in simplification. Muslims have always had to tread a fine line due to their identity and have been punished at times for even speaking their mind. There is a way of ‘looking’ at the Muslims in the country and that way has been decades in the making. Singling a political party for the affairs on Muslims today is crass simplification and an attempt not to go into deeper introspection. Not just parties, but Muslim leaders also are to be blamed for such a state of affairs.
Madrasas have been treated as belonging to a dark sphere in Indian society. Part of the problem, of course, is with the madrasa authorities who have deliberately kept the madrasas out of any scrutiny because they have to protect their financial needs. But the bigger problem lies with successive governments who have refused to modernise madrasas and have treated the population therein as a captive vote-bank. In their desire not to interfere in their curriculum and functioning of madrasas, they have perpetuated social, economic and intellectual backwardness amongst Muslims. It is not surprising therefore that despite their existence in the Indian subcontinent for centuries, there is very little that is known about them especially by those who are in power today and who do not happen to be Muslims. The BJP has been born out of a warped understanding about Muslims. For them, the Muslims are the internal enemy: a minority which remains perpetually maladjusted due to their religion. The fact remains that their ideologue Savarkar always suspected the Muslims for their allegiance to the country because Muslims Punyabhumi (holy land) and Matribhumi (motherland) were not the same. Islam in India, despite centuries of presence, was to be treated as an eternally foreign religion.
But other so called progressive political parties are no better. During its heyday in Bengal, the then Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee termed the madrasas in Bengal as breeding grounds of terrorism. The fact remains that Muslims and their madrasas have been anything but anti-national. During the freedom struggle, they were at the forefront of the struggle against the British. The role of Deoband in cementing the tie up with Congress Party cannot be discounted. In the process, they brought scores of Muslims within the ambit of the freedom movement. Deoband must be taken to task for other problems which it has beset the community with; chief being its conservative interpretation of religion, but then there were many such conservative forces amongst the Hindu community also. Why blame Deoband alone?
It is not that those in power do not know the history of Deoband. They very well do and it is recorded in the annals of history. Then why is it that they are singling out madrasas to exhibit their patriotism? It was another matter if the UP government had sent a common circular to all government aided institutions. But what we have is the specific targeting of a community to force them to prove their patriotism. Such a move can only be a product of gross suspicion and abhorrence of a community. It is logical to ask whether the Uttar Pradesh government can carry on with its daily business despite harbouring deep suspicions about a large number of its minority population. The problem is that they have reaped benefits through such a politics of hate and suspicion and there is no reason why they are going to abandon it soon after coming to power. It was the anti-Muslim which brought them to power in Uttar Pradesh in the first place. Showing them their proper place is not just an outcome of suspicion; it is also a message to the Hindus who voted them to power that they are putting the Muslims in their proper place by humiliating them.
The Hindu Right is in a win-win situation. If the Muslims reject the move to sign the national anthem as an imposition, then they will be castigated as traitors. If they decide to sing it, then the Hindu Right will claim that that have taught the Muslims a lesson and shown their proper place. In both these situations, the die is cast in favour of the Hindu Right. The Muslims must devise a strategy not to fall into such a trap. From some of the reactions which have come from the Muslim clergy, one can only say that they have willingly walked into that trap.
*Arshad Alam is a www.NewAgeIslam.com columnist.