By Hasan Mansur
Human rights groups have found themselves in strait-jacket, viewing issues from the Western perspective. Violations of rights of individuals have mattered more than the collective rights of whole communities. Hence till lately, violence against communities as in communal riots was hardly found on their agenda. An outcome of this warped outlook was the preoccupation with state violence against individuals; there is no denying that this custodial violence needs to be monitored, exposed and held in check,; After all the victims of custodial violence are the helpless poor.
But in India where the majority community has a hierarchical structure with its intricate caste system, the victims of denial of fundamental rights are members of the lower castes and the Dalits who are at the bottom of the social ladder. It would do well to remember that Dalits have been at the receiving end for the past 3,000 years and no other society in the world is vitiated with the bane of ‘untouchability’ as ours is, isolated from the so-called mainstream, subject to discrimination even in respect of food and water in public places, discrimination, subtle in cities and blatant in villages. Where they have asserted their rights, members of upper castes have retaliated with violence, burning, pillaging and rape amounting to genocide. In a way, violence against the Muslim poor has been of recent origin whereas Dalits have been victims of oppressive upper castes all along. Hence these Muslims must align themselves with Dalits and acknowledge them as their natural allies.
It passes one’s comprehension that despite Ambedkar’s sharp analysis of the hierarchical society with its inbuilt social injustice and his campaign against it, it should have had little impact on human rights groups here. Another class of people who have been suppressed is the tribal whose right to life depends on forests and the produce found there; tribals have been threatened by urbanisation, industry and intrusion of non-tribals. This erosion of their rights has been low on the agenda of human rights. Perhaps the most oppressed class is women, victims of a patriarchal society, despised and discriminated against despite protestations of all faiths about upholding their honour and dignity. Mahathma Phule, that great Maharashtrian social reformer and mentor of Ambedkar, classed women among Shudras and called them as the most exploited section of the Hindu society. Even the issue of rights of women have not been addressed by human rights groups as they ought to be.
Since the issue of their rights pertain to their status in the community, gender-biased laws which have no basis in the Qur’an must be discarded, like injustice that has arisen out of misinterpretations of verses relating to polygamy, divorce and purdah. Enlightened Muslim men have a special responsibility in ridding women of their patriarchal and feudal bondage. Fortunately, there is a growing awareness within the Muslim community in the country and elsewhere of the true principles of Islam, a religion which does not discriminate on the basis of gender. Indeed human rights, democracy and equality are very much a part of the Islamic heritage. In the struggle for equal rights, Muslim men must make common cause with their women.
The forces of Hindutva led by the Sangh Parivar claim to speak for all Hindus, a claim questioned and refuted by members of the Hindu community. The Sangh Parivar’s views on caste, gender, personal laws, and social justice are medieval, barking back to Manuvada and these violate the fundamental rights of all these classes, not to speak of the rights of the backward classes in the so-called Hindu society. The Hindutva conspiracy is to restore the Manuvada structure of society. Muslims must be educated on this score and made to understand that their natural allies are within the so-called Hindu society who are also struggling to cast away the upper caste strangle-hold. The lunatic fringe of the upper castes has infiltrated into all the mainstream political parties, administration, forces of law and order and, sad to say, even sections of the judiciary in order to enforce its hegemony on the rest of Indian society. A great responsibility lies on the shoulders of non-Muslims too to create awareness of the diabolical nature of the Hindutva conspiracy beside which even Fascism pales into insignificance.
The Muslim community needs to reform itself, set its house in order while seeking natural allies in other communities in order to combat and contain divisive forces who are hellbent on restoring the status quo which was obtained in the Middle Ages. Muslims must be in the vanguard of this struggle for establishment of democratic ethos where the poor and exploited of all communities could come into their own and find a place in the sun.