Month: February 2017

Not Your Hindustani Musalman


A Muslim poet has written a poem that supposedly explains that there are all kinds of Muslims in India and it is not fair to see them through a narrow stereotypical lens as is often the case. They belong to different sects, different professions and they have different outlook towards life. I believe the poet has done a commendable job in expressing his views in a manner that is soothing to the ears. The poet is also gentle in his mannerisms and he comes across as a very decent human being.

From the contents of the poem it is clear that this poem is addressed to Hindus. You don’t need to convince Muslims that they are just as diverse as the wider Indian community. They know it already. They live in that diversity. This poem is an appeal to Hindus who have developed selective amnesia towards the existence of Muslims in India. The poem appeals to them that they should try and expand the horizons of their perception so they stop seeing Muslims from their narrow stereotypical lenses.

Like everything else this poem also exists in a context. India is going through a phase where crude religious nationalism is at its peak. Minority Muslims are expected to behave in way that conforms with the new standards being set for them by Hindu nationalists who are now in power. A good Muslim is a thankful Muslim, a good Muslim does not conform with the ideals of his faith but with the ideals set by the majoritarian forces.

In this context  this poem appears to present a picture where a typical Indian Muslim believes that Mandir and other places of worship are just as holy as his own place of worship. Of course everyone would love that sentiment. It is a good feeling to see people accept every faith as their own. But is this picture anywhere close to reality? No it isn’t. A typical Indian Muslim, like almost every other Muslim in the world believes that idol worship is among the greatest of sins.  However a statistically negligible minority of Muslims may be worshiping idols in a Mandir, there may even be this diversity among Muslims but it is so rare that it is statistically negligible.

And the same applies for Muslims who consume alcohol. While you may have come across “many” Muslims in your elite circles who drink, compared to the total number of Muslims in India such Muslims make a tiny, statistically negligible minority.

The main concern with the poem is that fact that it highlights those kinds of Muslims that are a tiny minority, probably because such Muslims are more acceptable to Hindus, while ignoring the typical Indian Muslims who reject any form of idol worship and never consume alcohol. A more generous interpretation of the poem could be that the poet only wants to talk about exceptional Muslims so the exceptions automatically prove the rule. But given the context and era in which this poem is written, this poem comes across as an attempt to redefine Indian Muslim in a way that is more acceptable to Hindus.

Citizenship is a non negotiable concept. A person cant be stateless. A person has to belong. It is the most fundamental right. Even the worst criminals in the world have a country to which they belong. They don’t become stateless on account of their criminal behavior. While this may not be the intent of the poet, this poem inadvertently ends up defining an Indian Muslim. Any Muslim who does not fit into this narrow definition is not a Hindustani. What is the identify of such a Muslim? Are they not Hindustani Muslims?

Indian Muslims have lived in India forever. They are not Arabs. Indian Muslims have been living on the Indian land for just as long as anyone else. Before Hindus knew Muslims as Muslims they knew them as their own brothers and sisters. Why should there be a need to explain to Hindus the nature of Muslim society? If after 1400 years of existence of Islam in India, a Muslim feels the need to explain to a Hindu something as basic as existence of diversity among Indian Muslims then it is reasonable to assume that Hindu India has isolated itself from India’s Muslim minority.

Some people like the poem because they saw it as a definition of a Good Muslim, others liked it because they saw it as an attempt by the poet to reach out to the Hindu community. What is a poem worth if it does not speak in multitudes. That said, how many people would have liked the poem if it had highlighted some uncomfortable facts about the treatment of Muslims in India? Very few. Sociopolitical poetry should drag us out of our comfort zones so we start looking at the world in a way that is more just and fair.

Here is a another poem. This poem wont make any headlines. But this will make you think about the Hindustani Muslim.

Not your Hindustani Musalman
By Abul Kalam Azad

Urine settles on the pores
Of my detained tongue
As Azaan sneaks in through the holes
Under the prison walls

I am the Muslim
Whose clock freezes
Under piles of terror charges,
Whose ears go numb
With echoes from third-degree chambers

My bones are fodder
To the bricks of Dadri,
My foetus is the crown
On the spears of Gujarat,
My palms are the raised pillows
To the bent heads of Hashimpura

I am the Muslim
Whose breath hangs
On a black wire
Curling like a snake
Around the loudspeakers
Of neighborhood temples

My feet never touched the lips of Ganga
for I was eating beef with the Asuras’,
My eyes never read the Gita
for they kept looking for the thumbs of Ekalavyas’

I am the Muslim
Whose fist raises
When untouchable fingers break
Between the Manusmriti’s pages

My lover goes missing
Among the thickets of corpses
Without names or stories
Under the womb of Jhelum

I am the Muslim
Whose window sills carry
The scent of gunpowder
Fom occupied nights

Three headed flags
Thrust their saffron fangs
Upon my lips
To mimic its anthems

I am the Muslim
Who shakes in fright
Clutching his beard
When a stranger bombs
Faraway planets

I am the tenant
Every owner evicts

I am the refugee
Every border rejects

I am not your Hindustani Musalman,
For it’s a door I am forced to knock,
The one that is never opened

I am not your Hindustani Musalman,
For I am killed
For not being one

I am not your Hindustani Musalman
I am not your Hindustani Musalman