February 20, 2020
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Indian Muslims: Us, Them And A Common Ground

That Muslims have been rudderless and at the receiving end are well-documented, but what has not been explored enough is the ferment they have experienced and what has emerged out of it.

Indian Muslims: Us, Them And A Common Ground
Indian Muslims: Us, Them And A Common Ground
outlookindia.com
2020-02-07T12:05:26+0530

Hindu Indian Army. The three words had stumped me when they leapt out of an art­icle written by an Indian Muslim colleague at an earlier place of emp­loyment in the context of Kashmir. But for the sheer audacity of factual misrepresentation, what was more alarming was the writer’s obvious mindset. Des­pite the idea of India as a secular nation that we cherished and celebrated, the three words underlined the chasm that festered within India's two major communities and spoke volumes about the distrust that have come to define Hindu-Muslim ties.

Though we loathe acknowledging it publicly, we have learnt to make peace with the ironies internally. Our collective hopes for cricketing success squarely rest on Mohammed Shami's shoulders every time he charges in to castle the opponent. We are fanatical in our loyalty to Bollywood’s three endearing Khans. We are immensely proud of such icons as our past president A.P.J. ­Abdul Kalam. Yet, many dither when it comes to renting our houses to a Muslim. There are those who love their biryanis and other culinary delights, but are largely suspicious of their faith, culture and nationalist credentials. Many Muslims, as the former Kashmiri colleague's article testified, dist­rusted us equally.

The us versus them has grown with India growing older. Evidence of the distance that separated Muslims and Hindus was to be found even during my time in a West Asian country. Though working and socialising together, a slightest disagreement made us VHP in the eyes of our Muslim counterparts. For some among us, the Muslims were no better than products of conservative madrasas.

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Far from being bridged, the gulf has progressively deepened, and the rhetoric of our leaders is largely to be blamed. Mostly myopic and bereft of the stature of leaders who straddled our polity earlier, none of our public figures on either side have succeeded in transcending the communal fault-lines. Some evidently prefer it to stay that way. Others such as the articulate Asaduddin Owaisi are simply incapable. Given the trust deficit, they come across as more sectarian the more they speak. Fears of being besieged have gained ground on both sides because of the communication breakdown. Not­ions like “Hindu khatre mein hain” have gained currency. Muslims complain of being relegated to second-class citizens.

But after a long gap, the two sides—or at least sizeable sections—seem to have found common ground. Post-CAA, feisty Muslim men and women have hit the streets, Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh included, and for once they are touching a chord. True, CAA is contentious and many support it. But those who don’t—not necessarily Muslims—are finding inspiration and hope among the protestors, braving the weather and at places, police excesses.

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Minus a unifying face or a well-defined hierarchy, the protestors have undoubtedly mastered a unique messaging. Rather than sounding sectarian and making it a fight only for one community, they have pitched their struggle as one for all citizens—swearing by the Constitution, reading the Preamble and waving the national flag. Whether they are right, or wrong, in opposing the Act is besides the point. What matters more is that they have hit upon a language that’s transcending religious divides and is connecting with many.

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That’s no mean achievement, and in this issue of Outlook, we look at the state of India’s Muslims and whether they have found an effective voice. That they have been rudderless and at the receiving end are well-documented, but what has not been explored enough is the ferment they have experienced and what has emerged out of it. If the current tumult has in any way helped communities inch closer, that’s welcome.

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