Ideas and Action for a Better India
A talk by
Senior Journalist and Distinguished Fellow at ORF New Delhi
Monday, July 12th 2010
Lack of social interaction between Hindus and Muslims is widening the physical and emotional divide between the two communities, leading to “shades of uninstitutionalized apartheid” between them. This lamentation came from Shri Saeed Naqvi, noted scholar, journalist and distinguished fellow at the Observer Research Foundation. Delivering a talk on “Inclusive Development of the Indian Muslim Community” at ORF Mumbai on Monday July 12th, Shri Naqvi made an impassioned plea for greater inter-mingling between the two communities at all levels.
In his introductory address, Shri Sudheendra Kulkarni, Chairman of ORF Mumbai lauded Shri Naqvi’s knowledge and grasp over India’s amazingly plural but intrinsically and essentially unifying integrative culture. Moving to the topic of the lecture, Shri Kulkrani drew attention to the importance of inclusive development of the Muslim community to be placed high on top of the agenda of social and national integration in India. “Of utmost importance is the emotional integration between Hindus and Muslims,” he said, adding, “Development should not be discussed only in economic terms. Development with dignity, justice and national unity is what we should strive for.”
Commencing his talk, Shri Naqvi, emphasized that this apartheid is a recent phenomenon. History shows that Muslims and Hindus lived together in harmony for centuries in India. Moving further, Shri Naqvi stressed that a composite culture has been part and parcel of India’s social fabric. He cited Wajid Ali Shah’s contribution to the creation of the entire Krishnaleela in the kathak dance form. Furthermore, he highlighted the influence of Islamic architecture in India with reference to the Cheraman Perumal Masjid in Kerala – the oldest mosque in the country built by the early Arab traders, when Prophet Mohammed was still alive. Shri Naqvi especially grieves about the apartheid that exists amongst the Indian youth today. Their knowledge and interaction in most cases does not extend beyond their own community. This apartheid, he stresses, exists within all of us subconsciously. He referred to an instance when he delivered a talk to a group of students in Allahabad. At
the gathering, Shri Naqvi noticed the lack of awareness amongst both Hindu and Muslim students about the customs and traditions that take place in the other’s personal family setting.
This apartheid, according to him, exists within us without reason and through hearsay. Citing the case of riots in Uttar Pradesh in the eighties, Shri Naqvi discussed the case of the medical college of Aligarh University where stories had surfaced about the Muslim doctors massacring the Hindu patients. However, a visit to the hospital by some reporters revealed otherwise. It is important to note that allegations and instances like these impose damaging labels upon the respective communities. Such representations, according to Shri Naqvi, are the obstacles to inclusiveness of the community.
Shri Naqvi gave many instances of how Islam has left its imprint on the social fabric of the Hindu community and also how the Indian Muslim community zealously retained numerous cultural influences that were distinctively Hindu. He stated the contribution of Kotakkal Haider Ali to kathakali. The Jagannath yatra, he further elucidated, begins with songs written by Sal Baig and devotional songs in praise of Lord Jagannath were sung by Sikander Alam. The best Hindu bhajan in Hindi cinema – “Man tadapat Hari darashan ko aaj” in the film ‘Baiju Bawra’ – was written by Shakeel Badayuni, set to music by Naushad and sung by Mohammed Rafi. Similarly, all the great non-Muslim classical singers such as Mallikarjun Mansur and Gangubai Hangal, held their Muslim gurus in great reverence. These are cultural traits which are essentially and unmistakably Indian in character, which are the result of syncretism of Hinduism and Islam, and any attempt to separate these identities would be futile. “Unfortunately, all these facts are being forgotten and there is a subconscious desire among Hindus and Muslims to forget that they contributed to each other’s cultures,” bemoaned Shri Naqvi.
This tradition of communal harmony came under immense stress due to the trauma of partition, Shri Naqvi said. The history of communal violence and communal mobilization in politics in the post-Independence period further eroded the tradition of shared culture and customs. Ignorance, prejudice and bigotry have given rise to stereotypes, with many Hindus thinking of Muslims as “butchers”, “dirty” and “unpatriotic”. On the other hand, revivalist Islamic movements are busy trying to pull away Indian Muslims – and also Muslims in Pakistan and Bangladesh – from their shared cultural traditions and customs, calling them “un-Islamic”. He referred to the recent terrorist attacks on Data Durbar in Lahore and on Ahmediyas in many parts of Pakistan as illustrations of extreme intolerance towards “diversity within Islam”.
Religion is just one aspect of identity in a multi-faith and multi-lingual society like India, argued Shri Naqvi. Regional, linguistic and class affiliations also matter. Mahatma Gandhi spent 21 years of his life in South Africa having gone there at the behest of Baba Abdullah, his friend. Baba Abdullah wanted a good Gujarati lawyer. In this instance, regional parochialism was stronger. Today, we are suffering from amnesia: we have forgotten these interwoven bonds that existed and formed an integral part of our society. However, Naqvi sahib also reminded us that the upper echelons of society belonging to different faiths bond well, even though the lower sections of society continue to be victims of social and economic exclusion. Furthermore, Shri Naqvi answering a query put forth by a member of the audience stressed that religion has, in every society, been part and parcel of the life of the poor more so than it has been of the rich. He quoted Akbar Allahbadi who wrote a couplet that aptly describes the divide among the Muslims in society – “Islam ki asmat ka kya zikhar karoo humdum. Council mein bahut sayyad, masjid mein faqt jumman”.
As Shri Naqvi notes, a distinction should be made between faith and culture. Muslims in India and the rest of South Asia, he said, should realize that they share a common culture with other communities. This common culture can and should be cherished, without Muslims weakening their faith in Islam. Giving the example of Kazi Nazrul Islam, who is hailed as the national poet of Bangladesh, Shri Naqvi said that his poetry was suffused with references to Shiva, Durga and Kali, and yet he was a devout Muslim who performed namaz five times a day. In comparison, Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore was a “secular” poet. In spite of Tagore being a non-Muslim, Bangladesh adopted his “Amar Shonar Bangla” as its national anthem. Indeed, Bangladesh’s separation from Pakistan itself is a clear proof that religion alone cannot be the glue to keep a nation united.
Moving to a more contemporary perspective, Shri Naqvi expressed concern over the fact that so-called secular parties shy away from fielding Muslim candidates in states and constituencies where the Muslim population is sizeable for fear of losing the elections due to polarization of the Hindu vote. As a result, Muslim representation in the Rajya Sabha in states like Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and other states has remained very low. According to Shri Naqvi, “the cancer runs very deep. Part of this represents prejudice and part of it is self-defeatism of the Muslim.”
A question that Mr. Naqvi has debated on several occasions is the need for “liberal Muslim leaders” to represent the Muslim populace. In his view, this is meaningless. It is misleading to think that only a Muslim leader should represent the Muslims. It contradicts the secular nature of our polity. He reminded us that, up until 1964, the undisputed leader of Indian Muslims in India was Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. He stressed on the need to move beyond sectarian lines to mainstream the 150 million people into the larger populace. To ensure inclusiveness of Muslims in Indian society, we need a liberal leader – whether she/he is a Muslim, Hindu, a Christian, a Sikh or anyone for that matter. He ended his talk with a quote from Oscar Wilde that aptly concluded his thoughts on the issue – “We are all living in the gutters… Only a few of us are looking at the stars.”
Dr. Zahir Kazi, President of Anjuman Islam, the largest and oldest educational institution in Mumbai, presided over the function. He opened his speech with critical remarks on the gross under-implementation of the recommendations of the Sachar Committee report, which was developed under the aegis of Justice Rajinder Sachar who was in charge of the 7 member committee hired by the Prime Minister of India. The inclusive growth of the Indian Muslim community that is needed, which the report highlights is sadly lost in vote bank politics.
In his remarks, Dr. Kazi highlighted findings of the Sachar Committee report in various public services and private sector institution. In the banking sector, Muslims contribute 12% toward the transactions in nationalized banks, but less than 2% of the population has access to credit. Moving on to representation of Muslims in public sector employment, he stated the appalling figures of only 3% in the Indian Administration Service, 4% in Indian Police Service and 4.5% in Indian Foreign Service. With some optimism, Dr. Kazi described the emergence of a new generation of educated, talented and patriotic Muslims, which is ready to play its due role in nation-building. He emphasized the need to improve the “Diversity Index” in all areas of education and employment.
Shri Sudheendra Kulkarni delivered the closing remarks commending Shri Saeed Naqvi for his knowledge of India’s diverse and plural tradition of which Islam is an inseparable part, notwithstanding partition. Shri Kulkarni also expressed his sincere gratitude to Dr. Zahir Kazi for his rich contribution to the debate and his role within the sphere of inclusive development. The hall remained packed with eager and attentive minds for three hours and the audience heard Shri Naqvi’s talk with rapt attention. Many eminent personalities such as Charles Correa, Dr. Zeenat Shaukat Ali, Justice A.S. Uraizee, and social activists Feroze Ashraf and Asif Ali Khan, were also present.