Thursday, March 5, 2020

Hindu-Muslim Amity in India

We took a pledge from you, ‘Do not shed one another’s blood or drive one another from your homelands’. You acknowledged it at the time, and you can  testify to this. Yet here you are, killing one another and driving some of your own  people from their homes, helping one another in sin and aggression against them..’ (2: 92)

‘Lord, we fear he will do us great harm or exceed all bounds’ (20:45)

‘We have put our trust in God. Lord! Do not make us an object of persecution for the oppressors’ (10: 85)

‘Lord, we have put our trust in You; we turn to You; You are our final destination. Lord, do not expose us to mistreatment at the hands of the disbelievers. Forgive us, Lord, for You are the Almighty, the All Wise’.  (60:6) 

‘Truly those who persecute believing men and believing women, then do not repent, theirs shall be punishment of Hell, and theirs shall be the punishment of burning’. (85:11) 

An Unjust World

Today, millions of people suffer injustice, persecution and slaughter at the hands of unjust regimes around the world. In several nations- whether they are Muslim-majority or non-Muslim majority, minority communities are facing legal discrimination and political oppression. Consider the recent events impacting certain peoples, the harrowing accounts of systematic oppression are mind-numbing, and make for depressing reading: genocide of the Bosnian Muslims in Europe in the 1990’s; the ‘ethnic cleansing’ of Muslims in Central African Republic; the high-handedness of the  Myanmar/Burma regime vis-a-vis the Rohingya Muslims; the inhuman treatment being meted out to the Uighur Muslims in China;  the throttling of civic, political and economic freedoms of Muslim- majority provinces in Russia (the situation of Chechnya/ Dagestan, Crimean Tartars, etc); the volatile situation in Kashmir; the fifth-generation/ long-suffering Palestinian refugees;  the situation of millions of refugees from, and internally displaced persons in, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Turkey, Libya, Yemen,  etc.  

The mindset of the self-exalting Pharaohs, hell-bent on persecuting the hapless children of Israel in ancient times, seems to be alive, as if it were, and bedevil, almost every nation and generation of people. The denial of human rights and community interests and political oppression is often serviced in the name of superior race; majority religion; superior caste; pure ethnicity; national culture; secular law, popular will, etc. Not just under despotic regimes, but also under so-called democracies, minority communities and their interests are trampled upon. The national ‘self’ is imagined in such a narrow way that the minorities are treated as the ‘other’ and the law is unleashed to deny and deprive the basic rights of such persons: citizenship, civic and political rights, economic, social and cultural rights, etc. Hence, in the name of socially-codified communal prejudices in such democracies, the human dignity, basic identity, fundamental rights and other collective interests of the minority is unrecognized, and often, criminalized. 

The Darkness in Delhi

As I write this, my city, Delhi, is limping back to ‘normalcy’ after the dastardly, orchestrated, anti-Muslim violence of last week that claimed over 50 innocent lives, and critically- injured hundreds of others, ordinary people going about their everyday lives. Shops and establishments, vehicles and other properties, houses and the mosques of the Muslim community were particularly targetted by the criminal thugs on steroid. The communal fire and riots were ignited and perpetrated with a clear and malicious intent to destroy the peaceful and dignified co-existence of the Hindus and the Muslims of the city for several decades. By attacking the very livelihood of the minority community, the marauders and their political dons hope to break the harmony in society. With every communal violence, the 'distance' between communities increase, leading to 'apartheid-cities' segregating the people from one another, further and further. [Inset: 'A mosque in Delhi's Ashok Nagar was torched and a saffron flag associated with the Hindu far right was placed on the minaret' [File: Sajjad Hussain/AFP/Al Jazeera]

The colossal failure of the Home Ministry under Amit Shah- presiding over law and order of the national capital, including Delhi Police, and the intelligence agencies- in handling the situation; the marked indifference and deafening silence of the ruling establishment- including the city government of Arvind Kejriwal in the earlier phase of the attacks; the abdication of responsibility, and even worse, the  complicity of the Police in perpetuating the thuggery- including by the destruction of security cameras to facilitate arson, rampage and looting - all these have come out in the press and the electronic media, with graphic details and videos emerging on every single day since the violence. 

The current pogrom, and the (lack of) political response on an issue concerning the physical security and identity and economic interests of the Muslim community in the country cannot be seen in isolation.  For, it is directly linked to the domineering attitude in society being displayed and privileged by the ruling dispensation at the Centre and its ideological fellow-travellers in recent times. Almost all commentators today agree that the political climate in the country has in recent years been undergoing a major transformation, especially since the capture of Delhi by Narendra Modi in 2014. 

The ‘Hindutva’ brigade’s hard-line nationalism seeks to systematically remake the Republic in its own image, moving away from the nation’s original, secular moorings. Whereas the freedom fighters/ founding fathers of the Indian nation-  Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Patel and Maulana Azad, BR Ambedkar, etc- recognized the contributions of all in the land to its making and envisaged and adopted a secular Constitution with fundamental rights- including minority rights- enshrined in it, the majoritarian 'nationalism' of the present dispensation seeks to establish the primacy of the Hindus by relegating the rights and interests of the minority to the periphery. With the Hindutva-brigade infiltrating all public institutions, and the courts  shying away from doing their duty of zealously enforcing rights of the people- often in deference to claims of ‘national security’or to the expediency of the executive with its brutish majority in Parliament; the capture/reconfiguration of the State seems like the ‘new normal’. According to social scientists and political theorists such as Pratap Bhanu Mehta, Christopher Jaffrolot and Satish Deshpande, a Hindu- ‘majoritarian state’ is in the making/already here; and a process of ‘Dalitization’ of the Muslims -incremental exclusion/ marginalization through policies of stealth and subterfuge, including by making them politically irrelevant through communal, majoritarian consolidation- is happening in society. [Inset: Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan of the Khudai Khidmatgars and Mohandas Gandhi of the Indian National Congress both strongly championed Hindu–Muslim unity]. 

The CAA-NRC Debate in India

Many observers of Indian politics today fear that the current project of privileging one religious (majority Hindus) community over the other (minority Muslims) will destroy the very edifice of Indian republic as envisaged under the Constitution. The foundational document of the Indian State promises justice and equality for all, regardless of religion, gender, caste, language. It is instructive to note that the Constitutional protection of equality before law extends to both Indian citizens and foreign persons in the land. However, the newly-enacted Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) brings in a liberal regime for a segment of illegal migrants from the non-Muslim communities - "Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Parsis and Christians"- to claim refugee status and a path to citizenship in India if they are here from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, the neighbouring nations of India, on or before 31 December 2014. By excluding ‘Muslims’ from the category of migrants entitled to apply for the granting of citizenship, or even recognition of the status of refugees; the legislation is entrenching religion-based discrimination.  

The government seeks to justify the indefensible by invoking the protective nature of the legislation vis-a-vis ‘refugees’, whereas it is the same government that was only recently seeking to deport the Rohingyan Muslim refugees from Myanmar. Consider the discrimination here: a Muslim minority group fleeing religion-based persecution in the neighbourhood of India is sought to be subjected to mass deportation procedures on the ground that they have entered India without valid papers, and as such they are liable to be deported as illegal migrants, whereas non-Muslim illegal migrants from other neighbouring states of India are being granted protection. Clearly, the issue is not 'illegal' migrants; it is the 'Muslim' identity that is problematic for the present dispensation in India. This kind of segregation between two classes of ‘illegal migrants’ on the ground of their faith amounts to wrongful discrimination and is violation of the Constitutional requirement of Equality (Article 14) and the judicial requirement of administrative fairness: equal treatment of the same class of persons is a Constitutional imperative and cannot be wished away by executive fiat. 

Barring Assam and the north-eastern States with a history of migration-related complexities in society, the grant of refugee status, and a path to citizenship to non-Muslim migrants included in the law is not being opposed by anyone. However, the legal problem is the selective exclusion of the Muslim refugees on account of their faith. The implicit politics behind the law seems to be Islamophobia: Muslim nations are oppressors of all religious minorities, and that the Muslim refugees are not worthy of legal protection by the Indian State. Hence, the politics of the legislation regrettably seeks to humiliate an entire community on the basis of its religious identity: it is messaging Muslim migrants that you can never ‘belong’ here; you cannot have an equal standing in this land! If the definition of 'racism' is class prejudice, the anti-Muslim citizenship act is no less an evil than that. The moral emptiness of all arguments in support of the faith-based, discriminatory-legislation is very much apparent to anyone who is concerned about justice,  equity, decency, empathy or basic humanity in this country.     

Even more insidious is the proposed project of the National Register of Citizens (NRC), when it is combined with the CAA. While ostensibly a benign, bureaucratic exercise- the creation of a national register of Indian citizens, to be written up after carrying out throughout the country a house-to-house enumeration; the devil is in its details, and implications for those who are excluded. Coupled with the CAA, the NRC will create a situation where millions of Indians will be potentially declared doubtful citizens and/ or, stateless persons. While all other religious communities- even if they are declared doubtful citizens/stateless persons- can have  a path to citizenship thanks to the CAA, the Muslims-especially the most marginalized and impoverished segments among them- will be disproportionally affected in this exercise to determine who is entitled to the ‘right to have rights’ in the country. Since the Hindutva ideological/political objective is to exclude Muslims from the social fabric through putting a permanent veil of illegality around them, the CAA-NRC combine is the chosen way forward.  

Many scholars have, in recent times, questioned the effectiveness and prudence of the NRC exercise, considering the extraordinary hardship and suffering unleashed by the State in Assam on its usual residents, in the name of creating a NRC there. The process of documentation- claiming, verification, exclusion-related litigation, etc.- in its entirety has been a virtual punishment for its most impoverished citizens. No wonder, the last two months have witnessed an unprecedented, country-wide political  protests against the designs of the government on the CAA-NRC issue. University students, public intellectuals, farmers, Muslim communities around the country have been protesting against these divisive policies. Several State governments also passed resolutions against the CAA-NRC. Despite the Prime Minister contradicting his Home Minister who was stridently advocating for the NRC, and seeking to reassure the people about the NRC, the trust-deficit in the country is too deep to reassure the people. 

In the meanwhile, the government is bent on going ahead with the CAA, dividing the people on religious lines. In States where the BJP is in power, it has used Police to shoot down and crush political protesters. In Uttar Pradesh, with Yogi Adityanath sitting on the Chief Minister’s post and openly inciting “revenge”on protesters, the mindless killing of over 20 persons, and the brutal crackdown at the Aligarh Muslim University campus, was noted with shock and disbelief by people. State machinery and police has been unleashed elsewhere as well, with routine invocation of “sedition” and other grave crimes against the State being alleged to discredit the citizen’s political protests. In the run-up to the riots in Delhi, the ruling establishment has been waging a relentless, hate campaign against the anti-CAA protesters.  The most divisive legislation in India’s history has already claimed over 80 lives in the country; yet the political and legal struggle by the ordinary Indian people for the  soul of the Constitution continues. The Hindutva brigade’s assault on the idea of India, and subversion of foundational values after infiltration and capture of public institutions in the country, poses an existential challenge for the secular nation- with grave implications for minority rights in an era of far-right radicalization in society.        

‘Paigham-i-Sulh’: A Prayer for India 

Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (as) of Qadian (1835-1908), one of the greatest sons of India and the man who claimed under Divine Guidance that he is the Avatar of the Hindus as well as the Imam of the Muslims of the Later Days wrote an important book on Hindu-Muslim relations in India, shortly before his death in May 1908. In this book, Hadhrat Ahmad (as) spoke of the need for the Hindus and the Muslims to live like ‘limbs of the same body’ and to preserve and retain communal harmony and social peace for collective progress of their common land. Despite more than a century passing by, the words of profound wisdom left behind by this great saint of Hindustan continue to speak to thoughtful people everywhere, providing ideas to think through religious differences in shaping a common destiny for their nations. In this final book, the Promised Messiah (as) counselled the two great communities of India to show tolerance and respect for each others’ sacred personalities and agree on common grounds  based on ‘the dictates of justice, wisdom and the well-tested human values’. Hadhrat Ahmad (as) states: 

‘... notwithstanding the hundreds of differences between us, Muslims and Hindus alike share one thing in common, i.e., we all believe in God, the Creator and Master of the Universe. Also, we belong to the same denomination of God’s species and are referred to as humans. Furthermore, as inhabitants of the same country, we are mutual neighbours. This requires that we become friends to each other, with purity of heart and sincerity of intentions. We should dispose kindly to each other and be mutually helpful. In the difficulties pertaining to religious and worldly matters, we should exercise such sympathy towards each other as if we have become limbs of the same body....

The Hindus and the Muslims are two great communities inhabiting this country. It is hard to believe that either of the two, for instance the Hindus, would one day gain total domination over the Muslims, and turn them out of this country altogether. Likewise, it is not possible for Muslims to expel the Hindus from their homeland. It should always be borne in mind that Hindus and Muslims are indispensable to each other in this country. If one is beset with a calamity, the other will inescapably share it. If either one intends to humiliate the other, out of egoistic pride or vanity, then it will not escape the consequent disgrace itself. And if anyone among them falls short of showing concern for his neighbour, then he too will suffer the ill effect of his callousness. Anyone who contemplates annihilation of the other is like one who saws off the branch on which he is sitting. 

With the Grace of Allah, you have also got a measure of education; it behoves you now to eschew grudge and promote mutual love. Similarly, the dictates of your wisdom require that you abandon the course of callousness and adopt an attitude of compassion and sympathy... In precarious times such as these I invite you to truce, as reconciliation is urgently required by both nations. Many a calamity is befalling the world... Moreover the Divine revelations which God has conveyed to me further confirm that if people do not mend their evil ways and practices and do not repent their sins, the world will be further visited by other severe calamities...

It is highly essential that Hindus and the Muslims should come to terms with each other and if either of the two parties is guilty of such excesses as obstruct the path of peace, they are better advised to desist from pursuing that course. Otherwise, the entire blame for the sin of mutual enmity will be borne by the faulting party...difference in matters of religion can only play a negative role when it disregards the dictates of justice, wisdom and the well-tested human values. It is to avoid this danger that man has been fully fortified with a clear sense of judgement and common sense. He should thus always carve a path for himself which never deviates from the path of justice and good sense. Again it should not violate the commonly experienced human sensibilities. Also it should be remembered that day to day petty differences cannot obstruct the course of reconciliation...’ [Paigham-e-Sulh: A Message of Peace (1908)].