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Battle for ‘masawat’ in the age of majoritarianism

Considering the plight of Muslims in India in his new book, Mujibur Rehman identifies with Ambedkar’s pain when he said, “Gandhiji, I have no homeland ... How can I call this land my own homeland and this religion my own, wherein we are treated worse than cats and dogs, wherein we cannot get water to drink?” But shouldn’t the Muslims address the Pasmanda question, too? asks Sanjay Kumar

On 26 January 1950, Dr Ambedkar delivered a speech in the Constituent Assembly. He said “We are going to enter into a life of contradictions. In politics we will have equality and in social and economic life we will have inequality. In politics we will be recognizing the principle of one man one vote and one vote one value. In our social and economic life, we shall, by reason of our social and economic structure, continue to deny the principle of one man one value. How long shall we continue to live this life of contradictions? How long shall we continue to deny equality in our social and economic life? If we continue to deny it for long, we will do so only by putting our political democracy in peril …”

Babasaheb’s warning remains most relevant today when inequality in society emanates from the hypernationalism often expressed in the form of majoritarianism. Dr Ambedkar had warned that without socio-economic equality, our political equality would be incomplete. After 75 years of independence, the Muslim minority in India lags behind in political representation as well as in the socio-economic domain. Mujibur Rehman has raised serious concerns in his recently published Shikwa-e-Hind: The Political Future of Indian Muslims, a scholarly work that elaborates the apprehension raised by Ambedkar in the context of political inequality.

The book is a timely intervention in that it sheds light on the Muslim community’s sociopolitical condition and their possible political future under ever-deepening majoritarian rule. Rehman has applied Babasaheb Ambedkar’s speech quoted above in the context of the Muslim minority’s socio-economic and political condition in India. Citing the Rajinder Sachar Committee and other government and non-government reports, he says that there is a real lack of Muslim representation, all the way from panchayat bodies to Parliament. So in this context, Rehman asks: What is the political future for the Muslim minority? How will the constitutional rights of the Muslim minority be protected? The book is divided into six chapters that address these and other burning issues.

In today’s India, Muslims find themselves “othered” by mainstream society. Some social scientists call them the “New Dalit” because the “idea of India” is being redefined by majoritarian politics after the failure of so-called secular politics. The author also gives recent examples of why so-called secular political parties failed to protect Muslim interests. For example, during the 2020 Delhi communal riots, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leaders did not utter a word, and prior to the riots, during the anti-CAA protest movement, they were silent, too (p 34). The party did not point the finger at the roles of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) governments both at the centre and in neighbouring Uttar Pradesh.

Mujibur Rehman, Shikwa-e-Hind: The Political Future of Indian Muslims, Simon & Schuster India, 360 pages

In Chapter 3, the author introduces the idea of the “Banality of Violence”, and explores the different forms of violence against Muslims. The politics of Hindutva has helped create an environment for different forms of violence against Muslims and normalized them. The Hindu right-wing forces; subdued, reluctant response of secular forces; and lack of enforcement of law – all of these factors have created fear and insecurity in the community. There is a history of violence against Dalits, Adivasis and minorities. This is not a new phenomenon. In this regard, we must appreciate Rehman’s efforts to show historical linkage, in particular to a conversation between Gandhi and Ambedkar in Mani Bhawan, Bombay on 14 August 1931. Ambedkar had said, “Gandhiji, I have no homeland … How can I call this land my own homeland and this religion my own, wherein we are treated worse than cats and dogs, wherein we cannot get water to drink? No self-respecting Untouchable worth the name will be proud of the land.” (p 150) Rahman finds the plight of a Muslim no different today. If we look at violence against Muslims – mob-lynching, violence against beef consumption and riots, including Gujarat 2002, Muzaffarnagar 2013, Delhi 2020, Nuh 2023 – this litany of incidents reflect nothing but majoritarian biasness of what Rehman calls the “saffron system”. (p 189)

Rehman’s book “Shikwa-e-Hind” examines critical narratives of majoritarian rule and the shrinking of secular polity in the context of Indian Muslims. Despite political equality granted by the Indian Constitution, a Muslim experiences structural violence in the name of Hindutva nationalism. Rehman’s previous works include “Rise of Saffron Power: Reflections on Indian Politics” (2018) and “Communalism in Postcolonial India: Changing Contours” (2016). Even amid this gloom, the author is hopeful about a political future for the Indian Muslim, which according to him lies in democracy and a unified struggle for social justice.

In Chapter 4, Rehman examines the post-2014 situation. He deals with issues such as the right to wear the hijab, triple talaq and the uniform civil code, which have been galvanizing day-to-day politics. The Muslim women face unprecedented challenges from the Hindutva ideology. In this context, Rehman critically examines Hindutva’s claim of liberating Muslim women from Islamic patriarchy. He says such Hindutva political propaganda has only served to create more fear and insecurity among Muslim women and has led to their exclusion from mainstream socio-economic discourse (p 200). However, in recent times, Muslim women have fought for their right to wear the hijab in Karnataka and taken part in the movement against Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) – National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Shaheen Bagh, thus challenging Hindutva Islamophobic propaganda.

Chapter 5 discusses Shaheen Bagh protests and the future of India’s citizenship debate Rehman discusses the ‘idea of citizenship’ in the light of Hindutva majoritarian rule. He looks at how CAA-NRC sought to make Muslims second-class citizens. He says that CAA-NRC has damaged the secular, democratic nature of our Constitution (p 261). Rehman also criticizes past secular regimes, particularly the Congress party’s failure to resolve the issue of immigration in Assam, which the Hindu right-wing government capitalized on to table an anti-Muslim Citizenship (Amendment) Bill in Parliament.

I was also a regular visitor to the Shaheen Bagh protest site. I saw first-hand non-political and ordinary Muslim women leading the resistance against CAA-NRC. I agree that the Shaheen Bagh protests broke many stereotypes and myths about the Muslim community, particularly Muslim women, for instance, that they are non-political, and not allowed by the men to participate in political activities. I saw ordinary Muslim women building solidarity with other marginalized groups; musicians, poets, painters, intellectuals, journalists, writers and singers shoring up organic public opinion to counter the ideological project of Hindutva juggernaut. The Shaheen Bagh protests will be considered a milestone in the history of the human rights movement.

Chapter 6 examines the Muslim socio-economic backwardness in the context of emerging Hindutva political power. He looks at Muslim backwardness in two ways: firstly, in the context of the backwardness of Indian people and secondly, taking into consideration factors specific to the community. In my opinion, looking inwards is more important and the author does that in some detail. The author also examines Muslim backwardness across states ruled by parties espousing different ideologies, such as Congress-ruled states, the Left in West Bengal, and the “Gujarat Model” under the Hindu right (p 290). He recognizes that “caste” is the main source of discrimination. But he does not discuss in detail how caste plays the central role in the distribution of socio-economic and cultural power within the Muslim community. Why have the Muslim upper-castes/class still not recognized the century-old Pasmanada movement? The book does not shed much light on these issues. The Pasmanda movement has relentlessly demanded sociopolitical equality within Muslim society. Even the Sachar committee recognized that the majority of the Muslim population belonged to the backward classes.

Rehman argues in his book that Indian Muslims must take inspiration from other movements for civil rights in India, such as the Dalit and Adivasi struggles, and those from around the world, such as the African-American struggle in the United States, to counter majoritarian politics.

Any society cannot progress and the process of democratization cannot be started without addressing the internal contradictions within communities that make up that society. This applies to Muslims, too. The community must accept its heterogeneity and consider the issue of caste, which denies masawat (equality) to the Pasmanda (those left behind). While Rehman’s ‘Shikwa-e-Hind’ does not delve deep enough into this aspect of the Indian Muslim community, it is still a valuable contribution to understanding the changing contours of Indian politics with regard to the minority community.

Forward Press also publishes books on Bahujan issues. Forward Press Books sheds light on the widespread problems as well as the finer aspects of Bahujan (Dalit, OBC, Adivasi, Nomadic, Pasmanda) society, culture, literature and politics. Contact us for a list of FP Books’ titles and to order. Mobile: +917827427311, Email: info@forwardmagazine.in)

About The Author

Sanjay Kumar

Most recently as an ICSSR Post-Doctoral Fellow at the Centre for African Studies, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, Sanjay Kumar researched socio-economic and political Implications of Black consciousness in South Africa and Dalit consciousness in India.

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