Lessons from Last Millennium
Amnesia on Babri Masjid
Freedom Vs Protection
The second millenium has folded up and a new one greets us. Stretched before us is a vast agenda of undone work, a huge pile of problems and issues which have marred the progress of Muslims in the last centuries. We could have conveniently ignored the turn of the millenium as it neither forms a milestone in the lunar calendar nor does it in any manner pertains to the faith we follow. But we are impelled by the urges of the society and the age we are living in. If the world and the natures that sorround us, are taking stock of their situation, we can ignore the opportunity only at our own peril, for we cannot remain immune to the dominant forces that shape this globe and the human society, of which we are an essential part.
The century that has just departed, has left us with an awful balance sheet of too many red spots, inadequate assets, vast liabilities and hardly few souces to hinge hope. Strewn before the Indian Muslims is an arena that will be an awesome obstacle course. The 20th century had sapped our resources and energy totally. The first half of it saw the building up of the communal volcano. It roared and spewed fire and stone all through the latter half consuming lives, burning to ashes sources of livelihood, threatening existence, ruining culture and rendering insecure all those who were not found on the trail of destruction.
Barring pockets of peace and prosperity, the blessings of 20th century, the most productive in the entire human history, bypassed Indian Muslims. Carrying the signature of communalism, it improverished us by all means and in all manners. The thoughtless Partition of the country only added to our misery. It orphaned the 120 million of those left in India. A similar number in what later came to be called Bangladesh were rendered destitute while the ones who constituted Pakistan became the perpetually churning mill of ethnic turbulence. Hyderabad and Jammu & Kashmir, the by products of the unfortunate partition suffered (or still suffering) grievous injuries. And our contribution to this disaster and disgrace has not by no means been small.
Our journey of self-inflicted tragedies begins with the fall of the moth-eaten Mughal empire of Delhi in 1857. In rejection of modern education we rejected the new tools of dominance, thereby consigning our future to wastebin of history. The lag in modern education caused by this costly lapse has only widened with the time and manifested itself in disparity, discrimination and alienation. Partition was the logical consquence. Perhaps much of it could have been avoided if only Muslims of India had cared to produce a few more Sir Syeds, resisted the temptations of sentiment; voted for pragma in place of dogma, and , taken cognisance of the changing norms and approaches to dominance. Alas! This was not to be. Economically dispossessd, politically clueless, educationally backward, culturally impoverished, socially disorganised, Muslims in India would find the last century an era wasted, an epoch lost and an opportunity squandered.
But springs of hope are eternal. Indian Muslims will need to begin a new journey by living down the past without forgetting its lessons. In India of 21st century, they will find enormous opportunities, hope, goodwill and cooperation, even from the most unthinkable quareters. Their situation is certainly far better than Jews in several countries of Europe at the dawn of 20th century, at least in the eyes of law. A community as big as theirs cannot simply be wished away in a democracy.
But then Muslims will have to mend their ways, discard the old mindset, shun the sloth and callousness of the past; learn to respect the modern rules of the game. Identity based on Islam can be a great rejuvenator as it will impel them to be good to all, not alone to themselves. They will need to master the strtegies of people who have risen from subordination through the history. They will need to shun the ghettoised thinking of yore, break out of the cocoon and use the modern tools of dominance.
The destruction of the Babri Masjid has come back to haunt the BJP-led union government and continues to prick the national conscience. As days pass by, the nation and its justice-loving people will find that the crime is as unforgettable as unforgivable. The nightmare kept the Vajpayee government on tenterhooks in the two houses of the Lok Sabha during the first fortnight of December and is stoking up embers of dissent among its own ranks. No wonder if in the days ahead the schisms within the party should widen the rifts. Babri Masjid would be just one factor contributing to this.
Crimes of Babri Masjid magnitude have never been erased from the memory of the people and nations at large. Its perpetrators will find that pursuit for justice will ultimately entangle them in knots and prove their undoing. The recent brouhaha in the Lok Sabha was- significantly- provoked by a lobby within the BJP members of Parliament which was incensed over some chargesheeted ministers holding key portfolios in the government when others have been forced to quit in the past. In a democratic process such calls for fairness are natural. Though let us hasten to add that these calls are not coming from those who have any genuine love for Babri Masjid. But then one is forced to salute the Indian democracy where mass crimes are not easy to be suppressed, be it anti-Sikh riots of 1984 or post demolition pogroms of 1992-93.
But what we realise is that it will not be sufficient if the memories of Babri Masjid come in handy for mere pot-calling- the kettle-black game. Unlike pogroms, the justice could be within reach here. The dead cannot be revived but mosque and monuments can be rebuilt, though sans their antiquity. What we need is that there should be genuine effort to expedite the process of justice without the least concern for the end and the consequence. Even the aggrieved party, the Muslims, have committed themselves to abide by what the courts say ultimately. But for those turning the mosque into a source for mutual recriminations, it seems the title suit pending with the Allahabad High Court is least important. It is extremely unfortunate, for it renders an entire segment of justice-seeking people without hope.
It is sad and shameful for a nation that shrinks from bringing to account the perpetrators of a crime that was committed in the glare of the light of international media. Not alone this. Some of them have been rewarded with offices that actually confer the duty to check such crimes. If indeed they are let off on specious grounds such as difference between a crime (misuse of office or corruption) and an act of political nature, the nation may expose itself to limitless violence and mayhem that would pass much more stricter scrutiny. In fact none of the daily dose of crimes in the insurgency-infested areas can ever be subjected to judicial scrutiny if political motives are alone to be judged. Such nebulous explanations will only make the nation subjected to the law of the jungle. It is therefore apt to ask if the nation can afford such risks and risky excuses. If the answer is in the negative, one could well judge what a tinderbox the nation has become in providing a political party a ruse to ascend the ladder to power.
Malayalam writer Surayya Kamala Das is a valuable accretion to Islam in an environment where Islam is under heavy assault from hostile forces in the media, intellectual circles and the academia. Just like her entry into Islam, her defence of Purdah is also significant in that the lady with the acerbic pen has sought to challenge the orthodox feminists on their own turf. Das, instead of being apologetic about ‘Purdah’ (or Hijab as is referred universally now) has chosen to uphold the institution and has carried the freedom versus protection debate into the feminist camp.
Surayya’s assertion that purdah offers protection to the weaker sex is a significant push for the Islam’s argument that women could enjoy more freedom within secure boundaries of their rights and biological role. The West or the Western concept of freedom only undressed them and assigned them inferior role. So far the debate had remained in the realm of Islamic and the western concept being merely divergent perceptions with American mathematician Dr.Jeffery Lang lending considerable weight to pro-hijab viewpoint (Struggling to surrender published by Amana Publications).
What is perceptible from the debate is that the tide is slowly but steadily turning against the Western propaganda supported feminists argument that hijab suppresses the women’s rights. American journalist Maryam Davis had found more women working at Teheran’s Meherabad Airport than London’s Heathrow. Kuwait University produces more women graduates than any university in the west and Afghanistan had a better proportion of Women workforce than India’s, at least till before Taliban took control of Kabul. Indeed the enlightened sections of Muslims have realised that the West could only be countered by restoring the women their right to education, employment, financial independence within the hijab. Stirrings of the new awakening are altering the perception on a vast swathe of lands. Islam’s new warriors such as Surayya Kamala are ready to repulse the forces of darkness still further.