Given that debates in our country boil down to ad hominem allegations ever so often, I may clarify at the very outset that I am no Hindu rightist or Muslim-baiter, having written a book aimed at addressing and dispelling anti-Muslim prejudices in the Indian context. I may also add that I am not in the least a camp-follower of any political leader or political party, and certainly not Narendra Modi or the BJP, whom I have criticized in very many articles, as you can see here and here. My dear friend Shardul Vats, a Hindu from Muzaffarnagar, has written a scathing critique of the Modi sarkar on this very portal, for which he has acknowledged receiving inputs from me, which is not very different from this critique penned by Shehzad, and I also appreciate, though not necessarily agree with in entirety, what Shehzad has called his myth-busting on the Gujarat riots. Thus, I do not represent Modi-supporters, not to speak of blind cult-followers of Modi, known as the Modi-bhakts. Besides, it may be noteworthy that I am a law graduate like Shehzad and there isn’t much of an age difference between him and me either. While he is heavily involved in legal and political activism (in favour of the Congress party, the senior leadership of which seems to have great fondness for him), I have chosen scholastic pursuits or think-tanking, and indeed, both engagement with active politics (provided it is honest and meant to serve genuine ideological goals, without placing party above nation) and think-tanking are very important ways of serving the nation. I do also appreciate that Shehzad filed a criminal case against communal Muslim politician Asaduddin Owaisi.
In the article that I intend to rebut here (and which has seen its rounds of shares in the social media), Shehzad has stated that Hardik Patel has been hailed by the Indian nation, with no anti-reservationist riled up, and the media has been so awestruck by Patel as though he has “won the Nobel Peace Prize” or is worthy of “being made prime minister”. This claim is bizarre and baseless. Yes, anti-reservationists in the media have found a difference in this Patel bid for reservations from others in the past inasmuch that the leader Hardik Patel has floated the idea of reservations for none being acceptable to him as a substitute for reservations for Patels, but the nation at large has found the idea of the Patels being a backward community (the challenges that the rural poor among the Patels face not being caste-specific) laughable and no one, barring possibly some Patels, has defended, endorsed or even condoned the vandalism that Hardik’s supporters have resorted to. One of the two central themes in the article being rebutted happens to be that the nation supports Hardik Patel and hails him as a hero, which is, sorry to say, just false. But yes, the media cannot afford to not report this huge mass movement, and merely informing the public of something does not amount to endorsing it. If anyone can produce even a single instance of anyone from the mainstream national media explicitly hailing Hardik Patel as a hero (the way the likes of the late APJ Abdul Kalam, the late Hemant Karkare, Ashok Khemka and Durga Shakti have been), I would rest my case on this point. Further, he has, referring to Patel, said that those who break the rules win in India. So, may I know which victory of Patel’s is he specifically referring to? Has the OBC status been granted to the Patels seeking it?
The rest of the article delves into the much familiar trajectory of exaggerating Muslim victimhood in India based on largely unsubstantiated claims, some of which, I concede, do have an element of truth in them, but only as much. Let us explore those passages in his piece one by one. He has stated-
“Today, just four out of 100 Muslims above the age of 20 are graduates. With high dropout rates, high illiteracy rates and limited access to schools and skill development centres, the Indian Muslim is severely handicapped.”
“From housing to education, employment to political representation, discrimination among Muslims is rampant.”
While I will discuss the “political representation” bit subsequently, given his more specific statements on the same, it is an undeniable fact that on the whole, Indian Muslims are economically and educationally backward. However, to start with, in a developing country like India, most Hindus are not very well-to-do either, and very many upper caste Hindus are also to be found working as domestic servants, drivers (our family has had Brahmin drivers), labourers etc. Also, while Indian Muslims have a long scholastic history in the Sultanate and Mughal periods, it is a fact that following the Revolt of 1857 in which many Muslims had fought alongside many Hindus to restore Mughal glory, for about half a century, Muslims were largely (obviously, this doesn’t apply to each one of them) reluctant to embrace modern education offered by the British (even though many continued their traditional education, not of much relevance to the modern economy), unlike Hindus, who had resolved this debate much earlier, which created a huge gap, not easy to bridge, for many Hindus subsequently became well-off, while many Muslims had remained backward, and the progeny of the well-off also were well-off, while the economically backward for generations find it difficult to come at par with the well-off. Keep religion aside, I would like the Muslim reader to ponder over whether your descendants are likely to be more well-off than your maid’s (possibly Hindu maid’s) or not. And while I believe that poverty, like terrorism, has no religion and should be seen as a purely human problem (the not-so-well-off upper caste Hindu should not be neglected just because many others in his community are well-off as compared to other communities), it is a fact that special schemes relating to Muslims’ education and employment have been launched in India by governments at the centre (including the current Modi sarkar, as you can see here and here, and I may reiterate that I am certainly no fan of the Modi sarkar) and in the states, and yes, while there may be corruption in their implementation, that is an issue with very many schemes, not only those meant for the religious minorities.
Where is the evidence of the Indian state or society actively discriminating against Muslims when it comes to access to education and skill development? I am not denying that there are some Hindus here and there with a discriminatory mindset (and while two wrongs never make a right, there are such people of many communities across the globe, not to speak of discrimination among Indian Muslims themselves on sectarian, gender and linguistic lines – for example, since the 1980s, in Aligarh Muslim University, professors who are not Sunni men don’t practically have equality of opportunity as those who are, and in the Deoband Madrasa, South Indian and Gujarati Muslim clerics often have a tough time owing to the UP-Bihar lobby), but Indian Muslims, even in rural areas, often study alongside Hindus in the local schools. While some have suggested that Muslim-majority areas are particularly backward as compared to Hindu-majority areas, it is easy to carry out a study only of a certain section of the society and point to its woes as though those woes are exclusive only to that section and not the nation as a whole, and interestingly, a study in Uttar Pradesh revealed that regions which were backward in terms of girls’ toilets were also, in general, backward in terms of infrastructure (including boys’ toilets), for which the local panchayats/municipalities and the state government are to blame, which negates the allegation of a specific gender bias, and likewise, another such study on access to schools can negate the allegation of communal bias, and my acquaintance Mr. Shams Tabrez from the Bhagalpur district of Bihar tells me that some Muslim-majority villages in his district are better developed than some Hindu-majority villages. Shehzad himself, in another piece for the Indian Express, has pointed to “a report” that shows that “40 per cent of all Muslim concentration areas lack hospitals and schools” (which implies that 60% are not lacking in schools and hospitals), mentioning no corresponding data pertaining to Hindus, who in the developing country that India is, certainly don’t always have convenient access to education and health care. Of course, not having access to basic facilities is a sad state of affairs for a large section of the Indian population, and should be a matter of concern for every right-thinking Indian, but this most crucial issue for India is certainly not religion-specific. As of 2006, Muslims actually even fared better than Hindus when it came to literacy in several states.
I may also mention that some point to the migration of financially elite Muslims to Pakistan at the time of the partition as the reason for Muslims’ backwardness, but that is a flawed argument. For one, the partition riots were indeed horrendous and no one should be forcibly displaced, but the migration occurred on both sides. Further, even had many more financially well off Muslims actually stayed back, while Muslims may not have statistically been as backward on an average, how would their staying back have necessarily helped the genuinely economically backward Muslims? While I am not a votary of Hindus helping only Hindus, Muslims helping only Muslims and so on, what have the rich Muslims in India particularly done to uplift their poor co-religionists for us to imagine that more of them staying back would have helped the impoverished Indian Muslims? Some even blame Nehru’s land reforms for making those erstwhile zamindars of UP and elsewhere, who were Muslims, worse off, but that fate was suffered by zamindars all over India (as beautifully depicted in the movie Lutera), most of whom were Hindus. Even many non-leftists agree that the zamindari system was a historical injustice and land reforms were necessary to undo the same.
I also find the statement of Indian Muslims being “severely handicapped” to be a subtle dig at the Hindu population of India. Muslims from economically backward backgrounds, like APJ Abdul Kalam, Nawazuddin Siddiqui and the Pathan brothers, have made it big to be loved by India at large, and there is no reason to believe that other economically backward Indian Muslims cannot climb the ladder of success. And in fact, many of them have, as Swaminathan Aiyar eloquently points out in this piece about Muslim entrepreneurs in India. Even the sociologists Laurent Gayer and Christopher Jaffrelot, whose edited book Muslims in Indian Cities – Trajectories of Marginalisation is full of exaggerated notions of Muslim victimhood by only focusing on the problems of Muslims in certain cities but not making any worthwhile study of whether these problems are universal in those cities, have this to say-
“(A) new Muslim middle class is emerging here and there, around economic niches long occupied by Muslims (near export, leather goods, Unani medicine) but also beyond the traditional Muslim economy (agribusiness, IT, pharmaceuticals, real estate). Moreover, this burgeoning middle class is no longer composed exclusively of traditional mercantile communities but, increasingly, includes successful entrepreneurs hailing from the lowest sections of the Muslim community, such as the Ansaris (a lower caste traditionally associated with weaving) and Qureshis (an ‘impure’ caste traditionally involved in butchering), as well as Silawats (masons) and Malis (fruit and vegetable sellers).”
[With reference to casteism among Indian Muslims, it may be mentioned that it was an influence of Hindu practices continuing even after conversion to Islam, with no basis in the Muslim scriptures, and equally, it is often contended that a hereditary and hierarchical caste system has no basis in the Vedas, and is a gross misinterpretation. The often-cited Purush Sukt of the Rigved talking of castes emerging from different body parts of the creator can be interpreted in a completely different fashion, given that God, as per the Vedas and Upanishads, like, for example, the Quran, is formless, and in that context, He has been ascribed names based on His attributes, like ‘Brahma’ for being the creator (the Quran uses the term Al Khaliq for God in the same context, and even the Quran does metaphorically refer to God as having eyes, hands etc.), and so, the creator manifesting itself in the creation of the human society meant that different occupations served as all being integral to the society as body parts, not about any being superior or inferior, and the Purusha Sukta also refers to Earth, worshipped as a mother-goddess, as having emerged from the feet of the creator! Also, the very same Rigved also carries a verse talking of how a certain person follows a different occupation from both his parents, which shows that caste was initially neither meant to be hereditary nor hierarchical.]
Besides, if the condition of Indian Muslims were such and Hindus were so very discriminatory, there wouldn’t be so many prominent Muslim public figures in all walks of life, including not only sports, cinema and other fine arts, academic research, politics (India has had a Muslim, Salman Khurshid, as its foreign minister) and business, but even in the security forces (many Muslims have won gallantry awards), intelligence agencies (the IB was until recently being headed by Ibrahim Khan, a Muslim) and among those entrusted with scientific research for India’s defence (we all know of the late Dr. Kalam!), nor would there be the usual harmonious coexistence between Hindus and Muslims, cutting across socioeconomic strata, in educational institutions, workplaces and recreation centres, even in BJP-ruled states. Even under the Modi government at the centre (which, as mentioned earlier, I am no fan of), we had without any state intervention whatsoever, screenings of movies like pk, a film criticizing Hindu extremists and even questioning several mainstream Hindu beliefs and practices, and Haider, a film supporting the Kashmiri Muslim separatists and critical of human rights violations by rogue elements in the Indian Army (a taboo subject for many Hindu rightists, and those contending that the film was, in any way, biased against the Kashmiri separatists should read this article), with Haider even winning National Awards from the government as also Sania Mirza, a Muslim tennis player, getting the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award, S. Christopher, a Christian scientist, becoming the Defence Resrearch Development Organization (DRDO) chief, and Syed Akbaruddin, a Muslim bureaucrat, continuing as the spokesman of India’s foreign ministry, even getting a further promotion, with their religious identities not coming in the way, and yes, life has continued just as usual for Muslims and Christians, going to educational institutions (my college in BJP-ruled Gujarat inducted Muslim employees under a pro-BJP vice chancellor, and after Modi becoming PM, a Christian teacher became registrar – not to say that the BJP had any proactive role in this, but to say that there wasn’t any negative role either), workplaces and recreation centres, often alongside their Hindu friends. In fact, this BJP government at the centre apologized to the people of Kashmir when two innocents were killed by some rogue soldiers in a fake encounter, and also struck a peace accord with the fanatically Christian Naga rebels.
On housing, however, I would have to confess that Shehzad makes a fair point. However, not speaking of him as an individual, many Muslim communalists and left-liberals do rightfully condemn very strongly the Hindus doing so, but without trying to impartially evaluate the causes, though desiring that we sympathetically delve into the causes of what makes some Muslims resort to terrorism (but according to them, there’s no need to sympathetically understand Hindu rioters in the same vein, and such people even had issues with the movie Kai Po Che doing the same, where it showcased a Hindu who lost his mother in the Godhara train-burning resorting to anti-Muslim violence, even though that movie wasn’t in the least anti-Muslim). Discrimination against Muslims indeed exists in the context of being sold or rented out flats or bungalows in very many (though not all) Hindu-majority localities, but that again either has to do with a general sense of aversion to non-vegetarian food being eaten in their property, which is a legitimate choice for them to exercise (Hindus can lie about being vegetarian, as some acquaintances of mine did while renting an apartment in Gujarat, but given that vegetarians among Muslims are extremely few and far between, many would find it hard to believe that a Muslim is a vegetarian even if he/she really is one!) or the suspicion about terrorism, which does not mean that such real estate holders imagine all Muslims to be terrorists, but given that all major terrorist attacks in India’s big, cosmopolitan cities (be it Delhi, Mumbai, Pune, Bangalore or Ahmedabad) have been carried out by some Muslims, they view any Muslim stranger as possibly being a terrorist (and it matters little in this context what the causes of terrorism by some Muslims are or that Muslim terrorists in India and abroad, including in Muslim-majority countries, have also killed Muslims, for a non-Muslim does not wish to be bombed by a terrorist, even if that terrorist also poses a threat to his/her own co-religionists), and such a possibility of one’s rented out flat or bungalow being used to plot terrorist attacks can invite the wrath of the police or at least invite unpleasant occasions of questioning. Sikhs too faced this discrimination till the mid-1990s when Khalistani terrorism was at its peak (as pointed out by Kashmiri Muslim writer Basharat Peer in his much acclaimed book Curfewed Night), and those from the northeast do so too, given that there are secessionist insurgencies in that region, and going by a survey conducted by the Centre for Civil Society (CCS), which is a globally reputed think-tank, there are actually many more landlords in Delhi averse to renting their property to live-in couples, irrespective of religion, than those averse to renting their property to Muslims, and indeed, it is not as though there aren’t any Muslims living in Hindu-majority localities. Also, given that left-liberals expect us to sympathize with, even if not support, terrorists, we can certainly do the same with paranoid landlords.
Shehzad further goes on to contend-
“A Patel may have been Gujarat chief minister for one-fourth of its existence, but since 1982, for the last 53 years, there has been no Pathan, Khan, Ali or Zaidi as the CM of Maharashtra, which was also formed in 1960 along with Gujarat.”
While someone from a certain community being elevated to an office like that of the CM of a state is a valid argument to suggest that the community as a whole cannot be seen as perennially oppressed to say the least, no one from a certain community becoming CM does not automatically suggest marginalization, for voters are not expected to vote for say, a Muslim, just because he/she is a Muslim. And Shahzad himself concedes that Maharashtra has seen a Muslim chief minister before 1982 (and so had several other states, like Bihar, Assam and Rajasthan). He was AR Antulay, who was forced to resign after being convicted by the Bombay High Court on charges that he had extorted money for a trust fund he managed, and indeed, corruption has been typical of Indian politics since the days of Chanakya. And yes, offices like CMship or PMship cannot, on the whole, be a valid touchstone. India, Pakistan and Bangladesh have all seen a woman as prime minister, while the United States hasn’t had a female president – so, now, should we assume on this basis that South Asian women are more empowered than their American counterparts?
And while I fully agree that no foreign country has to set the benchmark for India, leave aside Muslim-majority countries, most of which have no exemplary record of religious tolerance, how many provincial governors has the United States had who have not been Christians or Jews? The answer is – zero. And the trend is similar across much of the West.
He further states-
“As a matter of fact, the last time India, other than in Jammu and Kashmir, had a Muslim CM was in 1982.”
“Some 35 million Muslims live in Uttar Pradesh which sends 80 MPs to the Lok Sabha — not one of them is a Muslim.”
So, are MPs meant to represent everyone in their constituency or only those of their own caste or religion? Barring some specific issues, largely, everyone, cutting across religious lines, has the same aspirations – access to education, health care, jobs, roads, irrigation, a climate conducive to doing business (whether as a street vendor or running a big corporate house) and security from communal riots and terrorist attacks. As far as law and order is concerned, MPs have no role to play, with that role performed by the state governments. Besides, very many Muslim MPs have not utilized their constituency development funds in their Muslim-majority constituencies properly, and in the previous Lok Sabha, many of them hardly spoke in parliament. So, Shehzad’s much hyped “political representation” doesn’t boil down to much. Also, on what basis can he claim that there weren’t many Muslims who voted for Hindu candidates, including those of the BJP, in UP? I know some Muslims personally from Gujarat, Maharashtra and Delhi who voted for the BJP (though I did not), owing to promises of economic development, and the BJP apparently got many Muslim votes in Gujarat and Rajasthan. One may question as to why the BJP did not field any Muslim candidates in UP or more Muslim candidates across India, but while being no supporter of the BJP, I must say that it is entirely their choice as to who they wish to field from where.
In fact, the same question can and indeed, by Shehzad’s line of reasoning not only with respect to “political representation” but whataboutism that he has so consistently employed in his piece (more on that subsequently), actually even should be posed about J&K, which is the only Muslim-majority state in India. How many non-Sunni, leave alone non-Muslim, CMs has J&K had since its accession to India, given that it consists of Hindu-majority Jammu, and Ladakh with a Buddhist and Shi’ite population, not to forget the Hindu, Sikh, Christian, Shi’ite and Ahmedia minorities of Kashmir, especially the Hindu minority of Kashmir that has actually been subjugated, with most of it having been forcibly displaced from the valley? Peerzada Mansoor, a PDP politician, actually even once explicitly said that a Hindu CM will be a curse for J&K! Contrast this with Ram Vilas Paswan, a Hindu, once saying that Bihar must have a Muslim as CM. While I appreciate that the party Shehzad supports, the Congress, fielded a Kashmiri Hindu woman Khem Lata Wakhloo (who had been abducted by militants in 1991 and had been in their custody for two months) from the Sonawar constituency in Srinagar against Omar Abdullah for the last elections there and has fielded her in 2002 and 2008 as well, has the Congress, National Conference or PDP ever projected a non-Muslim CM-candidate for J&K (not to say that it must, but I am just employing Shehzad’s line of reasoning)? And conversely, going by Shehzad’s line of reasoning that I don’t even subscribe to, why did his own Congress party not have a Muslim as chief minister in any Hindu-majority state after 1982? However, to be fair to Shehzad, he has explicitly criticized all political parties for this, though I repeat that I don’t share his point of view.
This approach of chief ministers from minority religious groupings in any province in any country or even a prime minister from a minority religious grouping being a must is indeed silly and juvenile. But Shehzad has, in another article, very conveniently stereotyped most upper caste Hindus, cutting across political party affiliations, as being intrinsically casteist and communal. While I know that a minority of Hindus, identifying themselves as left-leaning, may like to showcase their intellectual elitism, irreligosity and strong support to the Dalits by supporting baseless statements like these, just like a minority of Muslims may derive pleasure in denigrating their scriptures in particular, it doesn’t the help the cause of bridging the Hindu-Muslim divide in India by having Muslims cheer for these left-leaning Hindus who instil in Muslims an exaggerated sense of victimhood, but not asking them to introspect and look at reforms within their own community*, or having Hindus particularly hail and cheer for Islam-bashers, even if they have Muslim names, when there have been such critics of one’s own faith in all religious groupings and a critique of religious texts, valid or invalid, doesn’t mean that one can make negative generalizations about a religious grouping.**
He has further stated-
“And all the time we have sanctimonious right-wing politicians who pontificate to Indian Muslims about how minorities are being suppressed in Pakistan — as if Indian Muslims can do anything about what other Muslims do in their sovereign country — but in the same breath refuse to see that the same brand of majoritarianism they complain of, could exist here too with the roles of suppressor and suppressed reversed.”
So, Shehzad means to say that the brand of majoritarianism that exists in India and Pakistan is the same? Well, that is not so by any logical yardstick. While I have no hesitation in conceding that majoritarianism in Pakistan isn’t, on the whole, as extremely prevalent as some of us may imagine it to be, the majoritarianism there is definitely much more widespread and more lethal than in India. India doesn’t have discriminatory laws against its religious minorities like the blasphemy law in Pakistan or the law that restricts the Ahmedias’ civil liberties and religious freedoms in Pakistan, nor have the religious minorities here faced any systematic ethnic cleansing that has reduced their percentage in the Indian population (as is the case with the Hindus of Pakistan, and sections of the minority communities of Pakistan have almost never been involved in rioting or terrorism, the scenario in India being different, given the Khalistanis, Indian Mujahidin and some terror groups in India’s northeast invoking Christianity), nor did the saffronized textbooks of the previous NDA government present such blatantly biased and distorted versions of history as we see in Pakistan.
In another article, Shehzad has also mentioned that Indian Muslims “suffer from the same levels of discrimination as the blacks did in USA during the sweltering heat of racial segregation”. This is exaggeration that crosses any sane limits. Indian Muslims are not legally made to vacate their seats in a bus for Hindu passengers, they are not barred from having a meal in the same eateries, they are not denied voting rights and the examples can go on and on. To equate the present condition of Indian Muslims with what the American blacks suffered under legally imposed racial segregation is to insult the historical memory of the sufferings and struggle of the latter.
Shehzad further contends-
“And the most diehard proponents of the Uniform Civil Code are okay with claiming tax benefits as an HUF (Hindu Undivided Family) under the Income Tax Act or support laws against eating one animal because it is against their religious beliefs.”
This is a bizarre generalization about “diehard proponents of the Uniform Civil Code” that include not only hypocritical Hindu rightists who love a beef ban but desire dissolution of Muslim personal law, but secularists like myself who don’t support bans on beef or cow slaughter and going by the same principle that religion should be a personal affair, believe that just like we have a uniform criminal law, tort law etc., it is only desirable that we have uniform family law, cutting across religious lines, in conformity with modern human rights conceptions of personal liberty and gender equality. The proponents of a uniform civil code have included Muslims like one Tariq Ansari who has forcefully voiced his support for a uniform civil code in this article, which is also critical of the Hindu right, and actor Saif Ali Khan who, in his piece slamming the Hindu rightist idea of love jihad, has also supported the idea of a uniform civil code. And yes, since Shehzad does seem to be so very fond of “the secular, cosmopolitan, Nehruvian narrative of India”, which even I am, it would be worth noting that while the Hindu right may be seen as those loudly shouting for a uniform civil code these days, it is a directive in the very same constitution that confers all Indian citizens religious freedom.
He further contends-
“Those who crib about Article 370 granting special status to Jammu and Kashmir don’t talk about the much greater autonomy granted to states like Nagaland and other North-Eastern states under Articles 371-A, 371-B and so on.”
Firstly, this statement is factually incorrect. Article 371-B of the Indian constitution dealing with Assam gives it no autonomy of whatsoever nature. Yes, Articles 371-A and 371-G have provided for some kind of a power to the legislative assemblies of Nagaland and Mizoram respectively to veto any law that is inconsistent with their local customary laws, but neither Nagaland nor Mizoram has a constitution or flag of its own, the way J&K does. As a lawyer, Shehzad would do well to recall that most laws passed by the Indian parliament are applicable to the territory of India (including the northeast) except J&K. However, I may clarify that I have no problem with the autonomy conferred to J&K, Nagaland or Mizoram.
Then, he says-
“If Haider petitions the court and the government for legitimate rights it is called minority appeasement, but when Hardik orchestrates violence he is lionised, romanticised and given huge media space that ends up both legitimising and oxygenating his movement, no matter how contrary it is to the Rule of Law.”
While what he has referred to as “legitimate rights” here is somewhat ambiguous, he seems to have put what he is trying to say more clearly in another article, where he cites the example of Haider Pathan (a lawyer who had topped his BCom, unlike Hardik Patel, who had scored less than 50% – surprisingly, even coming from my generation, Shehzad uses college scores as a touchstone to judge people, even though some of the best lawyers and activists were not college toppers) demanding scholarships for Muslim students as amounting to minority appeasement. Well, even I would certainly call that appeasement, since a Muslim child and a Brahmin child from families with the same income level should be entitled to the same scholarships. That the economically backward among the Muslims constitute a higher percentage than among the Brahmins is no reason to discriminate against the economically backward Brahmin! And sorry, coverage of an event doesn’t necessarily lionize it, and the Patel stir was a big issue that deserved to be reported.
Further, Shehzad says-
“So think. What if Haider Pathan did what Hardik Patel has done?
I am sure half our talking heads on prime time television would have strategically analysed how Pakistan and its ISI have funded him while the rest would diagnose how his ‘Islamic beliefs’ have led him on a path of jihad and destruction. The truly evolved ones would tweet about Haider being an ISIS agent on a mission to expand the Caliphate.”
Really? I haven’t heard anyone on any TV channel saying that the MIM or Azam Khan or all those who don’t want Salman Rushdie and Taslima Nasreen to be allowed to stay in India to be linked to the Pakistani establishment or the ISIS! Nor did I hear anyone in the media saying that about the congregation that turned up in hundreds to mourn judicially convicted terrorist Yakoob Memon (true, there was a large congregation to mourn Bal Thackeray as well, but two wrongs don’t make either right) or the violent mob protesting in Azad Maidan in Mumbai in 2012 against the killings of Muslims in Bodo-Muslim riots in Assam (as if Bodo lives don’t count) and even the killings of Rohingyas in Myanmar, in spite of the Indian government already having given considerable financial aid to the Rohingyas. In fact, in the media, the debate about the death penalty awarded to Memon and the very justifiable mourning of Dr. Kalam overshadowed the terrible attacks in Gurdaspur, Punjab, by Pakistani terrorists. So, does one call the media biased against Muslims? This is the media that has given more space to ridiculous and arguably inconsequential statements of Hindu rightist leaders, but relatively much less space to Kashmiri Hindus being obstructed from going for their pilgrimage to the lake Kosur Nag or being allowed to resettle in their homeland on their own terms (which should be fair enough, for they did not leave on their own terms).
Shehzad concludes his article by saying the following-
“Between Hardik and Haider lies the one word that describes us aptly — ‘Hypocrites,’ for whom anything that resembles Haider is worthy of hate and anything that spells Hardik is worthy of being made prime minister.”
I have already clarified that most Indians don’t see Hardik Patel to be an ideal choice for the post of prime minister, nor do they hate every Muslim. But when did Shehzad last raise his voice for the Kashmiri Pandits, except when he accuses the Hindu right of viewing them as the only victims of the Kashmir conflict or when people explicitly ask him where he stands on the issue of the Kashmiri Pandits, in response to which he says he is willing to work for them?! But since he wants anyone feeling strongly about Article 370 of the constitution to also have to feel strongly about Article 371-B, anyone feeling strongly about a uniform civil code to voice his/her dissent against beef bans and so on, where are his articles incisively discussing Hindu victims of riots and militancy, like the Kashmiri Pandits? If there are none, then who is the hypocrite?
By exaggerating Muslim victimhood the way he has, Shehzad is doing no service to the Congress (a party I am no fan of, me being a supporter, though not an uncritical admirer, of the AAP), especially given that if his claims of Muslim victimhood are true (which they are largely not, as I have established), then the Congress, which has ruled India the longest, shares the maximum blame for the same! Many Muslims, on reading such a piece, would be inclined to vote for the MIM, and many Hindus would be turned off reading it and inclined to vote for the BJP out of Hindu rightist sentiments, for the form of secularism advocated by Shehzad boils down to Hindu-bashing. Well done at promoting secularism, Shehzad!
Also, though Shehzad hasn’t mentioned this, those of his line of thinking point to slurs that Muslims are subjected to from time to time. Bihari, Bengali, Marwari, Sindhi and South Indian (“Madrasi”) Hindus are indeed also sometimes subjected to slurs, and most Muslims I have interacted with (and on this point, I have interacted even with bearded, skull-capped ones whose religious identity is visibly evident) have told me that they have been slurred in such a fashion, if ever, only once or twice in years (indeed, you wouldn’t have seen Muslims being slurred to their faces frequently). It is totally wrong to think that anyone with any degree of anti-Muslim prejudice (it is important to note that the degree often varies) actually maltreats individual Muslims while interacting with the latter (on the contrary, even many non-Muslims with some degree of anti-Muslim sentiment, are often close friends with some individual Muslims, are fans of Muslim actors and singers, may visit Sufi shrines with reverence and may even love ghazals and qawwalis), and as many liberal Indian Muslims would tell you, there is also no dearth of Indian Muslims harbouring prejudice, to varying degrees, against Jews (in spite of usually never having interacted with, far from being maltreated by, any of them), Hindus and Westerners. I also may mention that as a Hindu, even though I come from the majority community, I have sometimes been made to feel unwelcome in some Indian Muslim gatherings, but that doesn’t mean I consider that to be oppression or that I stereotype Indian Muslims. Also, some Muslims often presume that public functionaries not being proactive in doing their work are being biased, though those very functionaries may generally be not very sincere or efficient.
*Such left-liberals who keep harping on the problems of Dalits and Adivasis, or Muslims and Christians targeted by Hindu extremists, ought to speak up more openly against riot-motivating Muslim politicians like Azam Khan (who hasn’t even been charge-sheeted for his alleged role in the riots in Muzaffarnagar and Sahranpur, unlike Maya Kodnani and Babu Bajrangi, who were duly convicted and spent some years in jail, after which they were rightly or wrongly conferred bail), those Muslims in Kashmir who drove out the Hindu minority of the valley (none of whom have been convicted, unlike hundreds rightly convicted in connection with the Gujarat riots for the massacres in the Best Bakery, Ode, Sardarpura and Naroda Patiya, and the Kashmiri Hindus haven’t even been rehabilitated the way the Muslims driven out from the village of Atali have), anti-Jewish hatred among Muslims in India and elsewhere, Shia-Sunni violence (which does occur in India in places like Lucknow), the intolerance of Ahmedias who are socially boycotted and occasionally violently targeted in India by Muslim extremists in India and whose right to free speech and freedom of religion is to a great extent legally denied in Pakistan, refusal to accept progressive verdicts of the Supreme Court as in the Shah Bano case, curtailment of females’ rights in Muslim communities in India in different ways, like disallowing them from playing football or acting on stage or forcing them to wear burqas in many cases, non-Muslims not being given equal rights in many Muslim-majority countries and being violently targeted in our neighbouring countries (if such left-liberals can shout against injustices in Iraq and Gaza, they can and should certainly look at our immediate neighbourhood), blasphemy and apostasy laws in Muslim-majority countries and so on.
Besides, with all due respect, those who shy away from condemning Jinnah for the Direct Action Day riots (before which Jinnah said he wanted India divided or destroyed and after which he said he didn’t want to discuss ethics) or are willing to give him the benefit of doubt, those who shy away from condemning Kashmiri separatists like Yasin Malik for killing and driving away the Kashmiri Hindus or are willing to give them the benefit of doubt (as for the conspiracy theories and rationalizations offered about the exodus of the Kashmiri Hindus from their homeland, have a look at this piece, and it is noteworthy that none of the Kashmiri Muslim perpetrators have been convicted, unlike hundreds rightly convicted in connection with the Gujarat riots for the massacres in the Best Bakery, Ode, Sardarpura and Naroda Patiya, and the Kashmiri Hindus haven’t even been rehabilitated the way the Muslims driven out from the village of Atali have, and while the media has rightly consistently supported the Muslims of Atali, it has actually been biased against the Kashmiri Hindus on some occasions – so much for our national media, on the whole, being supposedly biased against Muslims) and those who shy away from condemning Azam Khan for the riots in Muzaffarnagar and Sahranpur (it is noteworthy that he has not even been charge-sheeted in spite of sting operations suggesting his involvement, while Maya Kodnani was rightly convicted) or are willing to give him the benefit of doubt (and I reiterate that I am not stereotyping all Indian Muslims – there are many of them who condemn the likes of Jinnah, Yasin Malik and Azam Khan in unambiguous terms) have no business to be spitefully critical of those shying away from condemning Modi or those who give him the benefit of doubt for what happened in 2002.
**Speaking of apostates of Islam (“ex-Muslims”) criticising their former religion, there is a fairly well-known website run by an apostate and basher of Islam who has even offered a cash prize to anyone who can disprove his allegations against Prophet Muhammad (but there are books by apostates of other religions criticizing their former religions too, the most famous one being ‘Why I Am Not a Christian’ by Bertrand Russell, and there’s also ‘Why I am Not a Hindu’ by Kancha Ilaiah, levelling very strong allegations), but practically, he is the judge of the debate, or to go by what he is saying, the “readership” of the website, a rather non-defined entity.
In fact, he has acknowledged that he came across a Muslim who “intelligently argued his case and never descended to logical fallacies or insults” and while that Islam-basher “did not manage to convince him to leave Islam”, that Muslim earned his “utmost respect”, which implies that practically, the Islam-basher is the judge of the debate. Likewise, that Islam-basher has mentioned with reference to a scholar of Islam he debated with, that the latter was “a learned man, a moderate Muslim and a good human being” and someone he (the Islam-basher) has “utmost respect for”. So, that Islam-basher’s critique of Islam, whether valid or invalid, has no relevance in terms of making blanket stereotypes about the people we know as Muslims or even practising Muslims. By the way, that Islam-basher bashes Judaism too.
And it is worth mentioning that I have encountered several practising Muslims on discussion groups on the social media, who have, in a very calm and composed fashion, logically refuted the allegations against Islam on such websites.
Indeed, several apostates of Islam have explicitly stated that while they personally left Islam thinking that the extremist interpretations are “right” and moderate ones wrong (as is the case with apostates of many other religions), that doesn’t in the least mean that that they are suggesting that most people identifying themselves as practising Muslims support violence against innocent people (as you can see here and here).
(With inputs from my friend Akash Arora.)