Title: Being The Other: The Muslim in India; Author: Saeed Naqvi; Publisher: Aleph; Pages: 299; Price: Rs 599
This was intended to be a memoir but ended up being a ‘procession of images’ with a bearing on Muslims in India, more specifically on the rapid ‘Othering’ of the community after independence in 1947. Veteran journalist Saeed Naqvi’s “Being The Other” is a truly remarkable account of all that has gone wrong with Hindu-Muslim relations in the world’s largest Hindu-majority country.
Unlike many others, the scholarly Naqvi blames both the Congress and the BJP for the worsening Hindu-Muslim ties although its greatest beneficiaries were hardcore Hindu fundamentalists. Naqvi came from a family steeped in politics. And they were never convinced by Congress claims that Mohammed Ali Jinnah, Pakistan’s founding father, was solely to blame for the gory partition of India.
“Partition, in a way, was the gift the Congress gave to the Hindu right, which in the fullness of time, is today’s Hindutva,” Naqvi says. From then on, it has been a story of slow and steady decline for Indian Muslims. Today’s 180 million Muslims cope almost daily with a biased State. How could Jawaharlal Nehru, the one Congress leader Muslims trusted almost blindly, not have foreseen this state of affairs?
Naqvi takes us into the sorry saga of Hindu-Muslim killings in the country, starting from 1947. It has become commonplace to blame Muslims for all sectarian conflicts although they are invariably its worst sufferers. But communalization in India, Naqvi warns, did not take place unthinkingly. It was a deliberate step towards saffronized nation building.
What really shattered the Indian Muslim’s confidence in the Indian political class was the Babri Mosque’s 1992 razing in Ayodhya. It dealt crippling blows to centuries of syncretism. The mosque’s destruction triggered one of the worst outbreaks of communal conflagration. And as Naqvi points out, sadly, every communal incident leaves unanswered questions that are never probed, the truth somehow always kept hidden and the allegations of guilt hurled at the victims themselves. As for the perpetrators, they almost always get away.
Islam’s experience with the Hindu civilization was wholesome and led to the greatest multi-cultural edifice the world had known. The pity is that this is being chipped away by electoral politics. Today, the Hindu-Muslim separation of the mind is deeper than anything preceding it. Naqvi warns that Muslims and non-Muslims have been parcelled into hostile camps.
Today, there is no public outcry when Muslim innocents are picked up by security agencies on dubious charges. Naqvi warns of the consequences: “With every such arrest, more members of the community turn against the State and may even be persuaded to join militant groups or take to arms. It is a vicious circle. If injustice becomes the law, resistance becomes duty.”
Yet, things could have been radically different – if only the political and personal will of the country’s tallest leaders had risen above electoral and sectarian considerations. Naqvi hopes that young politicians who have been untainted by 1947 and what followed break the India-Pakistan logjam. Of course, that is easier said than done.
A victory for political Hindutva will not be a victory for Hindus. Muslims would not be the only ones to lose; every Indian will. A country divided by sectarianism or shaped along communal lines will no longer be India. “It will be a retrograde nation ruled by belief, superstition and authoritarian impulses, a replica of failed states and religious dictatorships around the world where tyranny has displaced democracy, human rights, justice and liberty for all.”
“Being The Other” is a book for every thinking Indian.
(M R Narayan Swamy can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)