Monday, December 28, 2015

Travails of being a Muslim in India - by Ram Puniyani

Professor Ram Puniyani's latest article in the Secular Perspectives discusses accusations against Muslim film stars of the Bollywood that are now routinely lobbed by Hindutvadi forces for their comments on the growing intolerance in India. It can be reached by clicking here.


Shahrukh Khan; on the occasion of his fiftieth birthday few weeks ago had said that there is a growing intolerance in India and that being non secular is the worst crime for a patriot. In response to this the Hindutva cabal descended on him and he was labeled as anti-Nationalist, unpatriotic and that he should go to Pakistan.
It is not the first time that Shahrukh Khan is being subject to such base abuses and charges of being anti national. In 2010, when he supported the idea of Pakistani cricket players to be allowed to come for IPL matches, Mumbai Hindutva group Shiv Sena protested intensely and the posters of his film, ‘My name is Khan’ were torn. At another level he has also been the victim of global Islamophobia as he was interrogated and strip searched twice in America. The other stars who have received similar fate are Aamir Khan and Dileep Kumar (Yusuf Khan). In the current times Aamir Khan while talking on the occasion of Ramnath Goenka Excellence in Journalism Award function shared his anguish that his wife Kiran Rao feels unsafe particularly for their son. To this Yogi Adityanath, the BJP MP retorted that Aamir Khan is talking like Hafiz Sayeed of Pakistan and that it will be better if he goes to Pakistan.
One also recalls the plight of thespian; Peshawar born, Dileep Kumar when he supported the film by Deepa Mehta, Fire. The Shiv Sena volunteers protested in front of his house wearing underwear’s. (1998). When he was awarded Nishan-e-Imtiyaz, the highest civilian honor of Pakistan, there was a lot of protest that he should not receive it. He went on to accept the honor. The Hindu nationalists in their spree of hurling abuses on him called him anti National, un-patriotic etc.


Prof. Puniyani writes, "One recalls that in the wake of acts of terror like Mecca Masjid, Malegaon, Ajmer and Samjhauta Express; number of Muslim youth was being arrested recklessly. After Hemant Karakare’s investigation showed that it was the Hindutva groups with Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur, Lt Col Purohit, Major Upadhayay and Swami Aseemanand; who have role in those acts of blast; the arrest of Muslim youth got a respite. In the wake of that I remember having attended a meeting organized by group Anhad (Act Now for Harmony And Democracy) in 2009. The theme of meet was ‘What it means to be a Muslim in India?”. With great disbelief I heard prominent Muslim writers and activists pouring their heart out and confessing that they do feel that Muslims are being given a differential treatment and they have started feeling the pain of being a Muslim. Most of these friends are known mainly for being activist or for their literary contributions, much beyond their religious identity. This is what currently Naseeruddin Shah said that lately he is being made aware of his Muslim identity. And on similar vein Julio Rebeiro said that ‘as a Christian suddenly I am a stranger in my own country’.
 India has been a democracy with good space for secular, plural values. This has been much better than most of the countries in South Asia, where the democratic processes are comparatively weaker. Countries like Saudi Arabia are nowhere close what we have achieved in matters of democratic processes. It is disgusting to hear when India is compared with these countries in some way. We have been pursuing a path ahead towards better human rights, not a regressive path which countries with authorization, semi fundamentalist regimes have been pursuing. To say that Indian Muslims are better off than the Muslims in Pakistan or Saudi Arabia is degrading our own system which has emerged due to the freedom struggle, our system which is trying to keep Indian Constitution as the reference point. Needless to say we do need a course correction and those following the politics in the name of religion need to be countered to preserve our democratic-plural values." 
Last week, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi met his counterpart in Pakistan - Nawaz Sharif in Lahore on his return trip from Moscow giving an air of hope that the tense relationship between the two nuclear armed countries will cool down. However, his gestures outside don't seem to coincide with what his bigotry-ridden Hindutvadis are doing inside  India making life of Muslims and other non-Hindus almost impossible there.

If he is serious about warming relationship with others and against sectarianism that plagues his country, he needs to speak louder and make it a cardinal principle of his BJP party and the alliance. Otherwise, he will be sending mixed messages and turn India into a messy future that is highly polarized across religious fault lines.

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