Thursday, December 18, 2008

Negotiating the Muslim identity

by Sk Sadar Nayeem

In the aftermath of the recent terrorist attack in Mumbai, Indian Muslims were once again made to feel frustrated by the stereotyping they are subjected to. The terror attack firmed up old prejudices against the community. There were several media reports of such prejudices against Indian Muslims that spoke stereotyping after 26/11.

Incident-1: On December 1, a teacher in a prominent school in one of the metros called a class IX Muslim student a Pakistani. The 17-year-old student, Anwara Ibrahim, lodged a complaint with the principal who said the teacher would be spoken to.

Incident-2: 18-year old Kulsum Fatema studies in a central Delhi school. Two days after 26/11, one of her friends came in with shocking message from her father. Dad has asked me not make friends with you because he says Muslims keep bombs and one day they will ditch you.

Incident-3: Zara Rehman, a student in the English department of a renowned Delhi college who wears a headscarf to college was asked after 26/11 by one of her friends “why is your religion so bad?” She asked the question because her mother prompted it.

Incident-4: On 2 December, a passenger was reported to have heckled a Muslim flight attendant on the Mumbai-Aurangabad Jet Airways flight, citing her religion.

These are a few incidents, which show how Indian Muslims have become vulnerable in the eyes of the vast majority in independent India. The tradition of undermining the integrity of Indian Muslims continues. They feel after every terrorist attack in the country that they need to prove their patriotism because divisions are created not only by killers and terrorists who recognise no laws.

The terrorists in Mumbai hoped to revive the polarisation seen after the Mumbai riots and also to an extent after the 2006 train bombings. Being aware of the designs of the terrorists and their masters in Pakistan, Indian Muslims came forward after 26/11, to forge a new togetherness because the Mumbai attack defined positions and issues more clearly than ever before.

The attack made it clear that the terrorists from across the border have been using Islam only to create a sectarian divide among Indians. The proponents of Hindutva seldom miss a chance of identifying Islam with violence, either directly or indirectly. The fact is that the terrorists are attacking the Muslims too. (In the recent terrorist attack in Mumbai, out of 200 people killed, 48 were Muslims). Despite this, India has become a stranger place for Indian Muslims.

The allegation against the community is that Muslims who do not engage in terrorism are nevertheless latent supporters or of terrorism because they don’t make proclamations against it. On the one hand, common Indian Muslims are being killed in every terrorist attack in the country along with other Indians, on the other, the Muslims collective is held responsible. Before speaking, an Indian Muslim is required to first demonstrate that he is not on the side of the enemy.

Thus, Indian Muslims are caught between the proverbial devil and the deep sea. After 1947, Indian Muslims felt guilty for the crime committed by a handful of upper-class Muslim power brokers of dividing India and since then they were isolated in ghettos and were alienated from the Indian mainstream. With the heavy burden of identity, Indian Muslims who had to be abandoned in India with Hindu majority could not relinquish the moral burden of partitioning the country in the face of implacable hostility of a handful of Hindu communalists.

However, in course of time, Indian Muslims started fast changing in attitudes, political style and ambition. After 1970s the new buzzwords among the Indian Muslims were nationalism, tolerance and middle-class aspirations. They tried to leap out of the shell of isolation into a new world challenging orthodoxy. During the 1980s the urge within the community to change became evident. They began to realise the futility of their own communal leadership as well as the policies of the so-called secularists. This shift in attitudes built a wave of confidence for Muslims to modernise and become part of the Indian mainstream. Even Muslim women came forward to create a niche for themselves.

This urge of change among the community stemmed from practical compulsions and a changed economic and social environment. This urge of change was significantly evident without an attack on and denial of Islam.

On 6 December 1992, in that single flush of insanity at Ayodhya was lost the confidence of the single largest minority of India once again. In the aftermath of the demolition of Babri Masjid, the country witnessed notorious communal riots including one in Mumbai. After 1947, Muslims in India seldom initiated communal violence ~ they had once again been victims.

The writer is Business Correspondent of the Bengali daily, Dainik Statesman.

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