Historian Ramachandra Guha on Tuesday called out the liberal thinkers in the country to treat Hindu and Muslim communalists alike.
The strongly worded opinion piece in The Indian Express, a rebuttal to the social activist Harsh Mander’s article titled "Sonia, Sadly" in The IE, kicks off with a Dalit’s advice to Muslims attending their rallies: By all means, come in large numbers to our rallies. But don’t come with your skullcaps and burkas.”
The historian finds the spirit of the advice “forward-looking”.
"Many people, this writer among them, object to Hindus flaunting saffron robes and trishuls at rallies. While a burka may not be a weapon, in a symbolic sense it is akin to a trishul. It represents the most reactionary, antediluvian aspects of the faith. To object to its display in public is a mark not of intolerance, but of liberalism and emancipation."
Guha wrote every democrat Indian, and not just Muslims, has the right to criticise public figures whose speeches and actions are manifestly against the values of the Constitution.
"They (liberals) must promote the interests of the individual against that of the community, and seek to base public policies on reason and rationality rather than on scripture," for this, he said, they (liberals) must have the courage to take on both Hindu and Muslim communalists.
Mander, in his article had spotlighted the plight of Muslims in the country, saying the minority religion has now reduced to be a "political burden". The Situation is such that a large majority of "Indian Muslims feel even more profoundly alone and abandones," he had argued.
Mander's article came on the sidelines on Sonia Gandhi's recent satatement that "Congress suffered because the BJP persuaded people that it was a Muslim party."
Making it clear that by criticising the argument by Mander, he, by no means, is siding with the Hindutva majoritarianism, Guha said persecution and stigmatisation of Muslims by BJP-linked leaders is a matter of deep concern.
"Hindus are in an overwhelming majority in India, their communalism is far more dangerous than Muslim communalism. At the same time, one should recognise that discrimination by caste and especially gender is pervasive among Muslims too," he wrote.
Guha further wrote that he would never deny "a Muslim or Christian compatriot the freedom to criticise a bigoted or backward politician merely because he happens to be a Hindu".
"Just because I happen to be a Hindu too, why must anyone deny me the right, as a secular democrat myself, to criticise Asaduddin Owaisi or Syed Ali Shah Geelani?" he asked.
Quoting from the writings of late Muslim social reformer-activist Hamid Dalwai, Guha said: "real conflict in India today is between all types of obscurantism, dogmatism, revivalism, and traditionalism on one side and modern liberalism on the other".
The opinion piece, however, outraged historians and liberals. Historian Irfan Habib took to twitter to call Guha's opinion "prejudiced on many counts".
It is indeed a prejudiced view on many counts, one may disagree with Harsh but my friend @Ram_Guha is quite off the mark. Even the three names he suggests, who could have redeemed the community seem pretty weak on several counts.— S lrfan Habib (@irfhabib) March 20, 2018
That article is a good example of Islamophobic common sense that permeates liberal opinion and - inadvertently perhaps - provides fertile ground for fascists.— Kavita Krishnan (@kavita_krishnan) March 20, 2018
"While a burka may not be a weapon in a symbolic sense it is akin to a trishul..."— Saba Naqvi (@_sabanaqvi) March 20, 2018
---lead opinion in Indian Express today.
Thank you Ram Guha for enlightening us. I'm about to start wearing a burka now.
"One may disagree with Harsh but my friend @Ram_Guha is quite off the mark. Even the three names he suggests, who could have redeemed the community seem pretty weak on several counts," Habib tweeted.