INDIA’S MUSLIMS ARE buffeted by three inimical forces: one, religious leaders seeking their total obeisance; two, secular politicians laying claim to their votes; and three, born-again liberals internationalising their victimhood.
Indian Muslims are told that they are not safe in India. This is a Hindu majoritarian country. There’s no place for them. They won’t get flats, jobs, or respect.
The three forces work in different ways.
Religious leaders keep their flock in a state of permanent paranoia. How else will they control the faithful and secure their own livelihoods?
Secular politicians view Indian Muslims as commodities. Their votes are precious. They are bought during elections with promises of empowerment and prosperity. The promises are renewed every five years and broken every succeeding five years. Their secularism creates neither Muslim empowerment nor Muslim prosperity.
That leaves us with the third gravitational force—born-again liberals— pinning Indian Muslims to the ideals of liberalism. Born-again liberals, however, have one flaw: they aren’t liberals.
They are pregnant though with good intentions. They genuinely care for Muslims and want them to be treated with fairness. Why then have things gone so badly wrong as recent Muslim-led violence in Hyderabad and elsewhere has shown? The fatal error: Muslims are seen as victims, not a community that needs to be de-radicalised.
Hindus spent centuries and, after Independence, decades as undervalued citizens in their own country. Hindu majoritarianism existed even in the early 20th century. But it was kept in check by Britain’s divide-and-rule policy pitting Hindus against Muslims. The pernicious Pentangular cricket tournament had separate Hindu, Muslim and Parsi teams.
Mahatma Gandhi and other Indian leaders condemned “communal cricket” and the divisions it created in colonial India. Legendary India Test captain CK Nayudu said: “The country is in turmoil today. At a juncture like this, when all of us are thinking in terms of communal harmony and freedom for the country, it is but natural that many young men, some of them leading sportsmen, should feel that we should not indulge in Pentangular cricket.”
The communal Pentangular tournament was dropped in 1946. The Ranji Trophy replaced it. Freedom neared and the fearful British knew there lay no further benefit in communalising Indians through sport or by other means.
The fury unleashed by Partition made Jawaharlal Nehru realise that Hindu-Muslim relations held the key to India’s future as a democracy.
He leaned towards Muslims to reassure them that they were safe in India and that they had made the right choice to stay in plural India rather than theocratic Pakistan.
But like water when a dam bursts, suppressed animosities, when released, can lay to waste all before them.
In India, the communal dam never quite burst. There were leakages and damage but democracy held firm.
The credit for this should go not to bigoted religious leaders, crafty politicians, or born-again liberals. All thrive on Hindu-Muslim divisions just as the British did. The credit must go to ordinary Hindus and Muslims. The vast majority of them remained steadfastly secular and liberal.
Their secularism and liberalism were genuine, not fraudulent like the secularism of vote-vacuuming politicians or the hypocrisy of Janus-faced liberals.
India’s 1.10 billion Hindus and 210 million Muslims live in relative peace, given the nation’s size and complexity. Polarisation has been damaging but India has a long history of healing wounds.
While ordinary Hindus have moved on, embraced education, and joined the workforce, far too many ordinary Muslims remain in thrall to the three forces that should liberate them, but instead keep them shackled.
Religious leaders with a medieval mindset breed radicalism in Muslim youth. Politicians have a vested interest in keeping Muslims fearful of the “other”. How else can they ensure their votes? Liberals have the greatest potential to liberate Indian Muslims but they turn out to be false Gods. For them, Muslims are like an exotic species—to be protected, patronised, lionised, and coddled. But never empowered.
An empowered Muslim would see through the pretence.
What Indian Muslims need is liberation from medieval religious dogma that plants the seed of violent radicalism.
Young Muslims must join the mainstream, be startup entrepreneurs, study at IIT and IIM—and still keep their faith.
Young Hindus have combined the two: education and faith. To live up to their full potential, India’s Muslims must do the same. Education first, faith second.