Thursday, January 28, 2016

Tanweer Alam on the silence of Muslim leaders on Rohith Vemula's death

India’s Muslim leadership (political, social, religious) seems caught in a bind – even a time warp – making it akin to a species bound towards extinction. Fascinated by self created narratives of victimhood and marginalisation, the community leadership is rarely able to empathise with other similarly marginalised groups – dalits, tribals, women, the poor of all castes and faith communities that make up a distinct category in themselves.

One remembers the great Urdu poet Ghalib’s couplet: 
Rakhio Ghalib mujhe is talkh nawai me ma’af/ 
aaj kuchh dard mere dil mein sawa hota hai 
(Pardon me for this unpleasant talk, Ghalib/ today I have severe pain in my heart). 

The “severe pain in my heart” is caused by the cold indifference of the faith community’s leaders over the death of Rohith Vemula, a bright dalit scholar at the University of Hyderabad. His avoidable death was planned in a Machiavellian fashion by some ghoulish minds. Only technically was it a suicide.

By talking about the lukewarm response of the Muslim leadership one is not denying that a very small segment of it has shown solidarity with people protesting Rohith’s death. But the general perception among common Muslims is that they are the most discriminated against, marginalised and oppressed group in the country. Sociologist Imtiaz Ahmed recently said – during a talk in Jamia Nagar, Delhi – that this was not the whole truth and several other groups share these difficulties with Muslims.

The silence of Muslim leaders from mainstream political parties on this issue is understandable as they generally are bound to follow the party line. But what is stopping Muslim organisations, community/ religious leaders, activists, intellectuals from taking a position on issues of national importance? Why don’t they get involved in the struggle for larger causes?

Former foreign minister Salman Khurshid writes, in his book At Home in India: The Muslim Saga, “I have always strongly believed that political leaders from the minority communities need to speak on issues that concern the majority community or on those at least that can be described to be of relevance beyond their own communities. It is important for our democracy that in theory and in practical terms Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs or others be seen as leaders of the country and not of their communities alone.”

This is not to deny that the Muslim community suffers from illiteracy, unemployment, poverty, systemic discrimination and institutionalised prejudice. But there are other groups also which face similar, if not the same problems.

Muslims expect and get support from other social groups, including upper class, privileged Hindus. Other groups too expect, rightly, that the Muslim community speak on matters affecting them. Despite periodic pogroms against Muslims, they still remain one of the biggest beneficiaries of democracy in India. Nowhere in the world has such a large population of Muslims enjoyed 68 years of uninterrupted democracy. It reflects the vision of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad who was asked, after Partition, how he saw the future of Muslims in a divided India. Azad said they would thrive if democracy thrived.

However, Muslims do not seem to be participating in the process of strengthening democracy. They need to internalise the processes and norms of democracy. They must participate in major discourses in the country and stand up for the marginalised, whether they are LGBT, dalits, Sikhs, Christians, tribals, women or working classes.

Outrage over intolerance has been a major political development in the country. But seldom has a prominent Muslim organisation or community leader participated in programmes organised against it. Muslims of India should keep in mind that the country is enveloped by a single political and moral ecology. We cannot survive outside this complex web of social concerns, struggles and relationships. Our national life is, and has got to be, run according to the lofty standards set by the Constitution.

We must take care to protect democracy and human rights. It’s only then that the Indian political ecology will be protected. That we have failed Rohith should always remind us not to fail other Indians.



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