Sunday, September 20, 2009

Are we not Individuals?

Remember the final of the 1st World T-20 championship in 2007– a match that would I have remembered for Misbah Ul Haq’s brilliant performance but remember it sadly for the stupid comments by Shoaib Malik during the closing ceremony - I want to thank everyone back home in Pakistan and Muslims all over the world. Thank you very much and I’m sorry that we didn’t win, but we did give our 100 per cent. To this day, I find it difficult to believe that Shoaib actually believed that his victory would bring joy to Muslims across – an assumption that brands individuals merely as clusters of people who think alike, purely based on their religion.

Sub-consciously, in lot of our thoughts, we identify people not just as individuals with their own ideologies and thoughts but as groups who work collectively and are driven by certain sets of beliefs – religion possibly being the most important one. We indulge in major stereotyping about each other – in every Hindu-Muslim discussion, it comes down to Muslims are fundamentalists, they cheer for Pakistan at cricket matches, they marry four wives, they do not go in for family planning and will soon overwhelm Hindus in India. It is debatable how much of this can stand scrutiny, in fact; the TOI carried an article recently of how polygamy is more rampant in Hindus than in Muslims.

Hindus believe that because of the wide splinter groups in terms of castes and communities, they are divided while Muslims are united and so they thrive. Ask the Muslim and he thinks that it is a free fall with Shias Vs Sunnis Vs Ahmediyas, Arabs Vs Africans Vs Asians and he looks at Hindus as one block. Hindus believe that minorities have been pandered to in this country and they are doled out favours by everyone – however, look at the statistics and see how under represented the Muslim community is in the judicial, civil and public service in the country.

Stereotyping is not a brush that only Hindus use to paint others with; Muslims equally believe that Hindus are the dominant community out to wipe out the minority community – their reference points being Mumbai, Gujarat, Delhi etc. But both communities need to understand each other and not get absorbed by these kinds of limiting beliefs. When the Government pandered to the minorities by sucking upto the likes of Syed Shahabuddin and Imam Bukhari, they created a fear mindset in the minds of the Hindus, who start believing that that no one cares for them because they are not united as Hindus and so they need to group themselves.

In 1986, when Supreme Court ruled that Shah Bano, an old Muslim woman, was entitled to alimony after talaq by her husband, the Rajiv Government with a brutal majority, fearing the Muslim reaction, passed an act, which in effect nullified the Supreme Court's judgment and upheld the Muslim Personal Law, thus denying even utterly destitute Muslim divorcees the right to alimony from their former husbands.

In 1988, the Indian government banned all imports of Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses under the Customs Act, after two MPs went to Rajiv Gandhi and said that the ‘Verses’ would create a law-and-order situation (the book is still banned in India). Banning the book has set a precedent which cannot be revoked – so MF Hussain is booted out of India, Anand Patwardhan’s movies cannot be released and every artist has to think twice to ensure that their works do not hurt the sentiments of people, who seem to be waiting in queue to be offended.

Bending State Laws on a mere alimony case, banning a book, providing financial assistance to minority institutions are mere examples of the Government’s high handedness which have made Hindus apprehensive. Muslim leaders claimed victory for these actions by the Government but at what price? They isolated the majority community who begun to believe that all the Government cares for is the minority sentiment. And who benefits from such clumsy actions?

A few Muslim leaders who claim that they represent the community but the average Muslim has no stake in this and he remains a pawn who is used by the Government and their so-called leaders for vote bank politics. But when he sees that the Government only listens to the Shahi Imam and his ilk, he thinks that the only way to assert his rights is to side with them. So, Shah Bano and Salman Rushdie become symbols of this assertion; India’s relationship with Israel becomes an anti-Muslim conspiracy, any talk of a Uniform Civil Code becomes an assault on his religious beliefs.

Now, it is easy for the Muslim community to blame the majority for their lack of progress and so demand reservations in various spheres of life. But Muslim intellectuals need to ask themselves as to what is the cause of their ghettoisation and poor social and economic situation – discrimination or lack of education? Reservation benefits only the creamy layer and merely drives the wedge between majority and minority communities more. It breeds mistrust and actually inculcates a higher degree of groupism, rather than undermining it – inner reform is more important.

In debates, the situation in Kashmir and North East are bandied about to illustrate the way the Government treats the minorities. But look deeper, the issue is not of discrimination – the issue of non-performance and repeated governmental failures. The way innocents are treated by policemen in Kerala are just as callous as in Kashmir but when we look at the event through religious eyes, it appears a case of Muslim harassment.

Yes, there are instances of discrimination – if Gujarat happened, there were riots in many other places in India too where the majority community suffered. Statistically, one cannot compare deaths and look at how one pogrom is bigger than the other – the administration is just as blind in its compensation, the useless Government officer does not care if it is a Muslim or a Hindu, until his palms are greased.

Governments run away from taking tough decisions and wait for the situation to boil over but still remain passive – Indira Gandhi created a Bhindranwale to get Sikh votes, isolated Assam by turning a blind eye to infiltration and finally fell a victim to her own machinations. Rajiv Gandhi played the Shah Bano card and V P Singh countered with the Mandal and BJP used the Kamandal with the Ram Mandir issue – all various political tricks which have brought us to where we are now. The Uniform Civil Code is an important piece of legislation because it strives to bring all communities under one tree – how can a so-called secular nation have different Personal Laws, when it I supposed to treat all religions alike? Can a certain religious text, which supposedly, has a divine sanction, be more important than the law of the land?

It is important that communities sit together and understand each other, doing away with all kind of middlemen who are only out there to exploit issues. The State, the middlemen like the priest and religious institutions like the Church and the All India Muslim Personal Board have absolutely no locus standi in our day to day lives and are in no way representatives of our communities.

We are individuals, human beings who need to be treated just as that – not vote banks that are herded across by social and political groups that claim to represent us. Secularism has lost its way in the country and become a mere eyewash – as a philosophy, it is important but the direction that it has taken, has ensured that is just another –ism to divide people.

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