Indian Politics

Yes, It Makes No Sense To Compare Religious Majoritarianism In India And Pakistan

 

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Of course Pakistan is not an ideal place to be a minority. This piece is no defense of Pakistan’s record on minority rights. Pakistan can and should do much better. Now that we have cleared this bit, let us compare the situation of minorities in India with the situation of minorities in Pakistan. I write this piece as rebuttal to an essay written by one Sadanand Dhume.

In his piece Dhume has expressed concern over the direction in which India is going with respect to minority rights. However his argument still revolves around the notion that India may have its shortcomings but it makes no sense to compare an inherently pluralistic society like India to an inherently intolerant and monolithic society like Pakistan.

Dhume refers to Pakistan’s Shia population as a minority and I accept that categorization. Shias make up to 15% of the Pakistani population. 2% are Hindus and 1% are others. The population makeup of minority and majority populations in India and Pakistan is very similar.

Now let us examine some of the claims made by Dhume:

Among many other absurd theories peddled by Hindutva ideologues there is a popular myth that Hindu population of West Pakistan at the time of Partition was around 22% which came down to 2% due to slow ethnic cleansing carried out by the State of Pakistan over 70 years.

Dhume writes:

In undivided British India, in 1941, the areas that constitute today’s Pakistan were about 78% Muslim; the rest of the people were Hindu, Sikh and Christian. Today Pakistan is 97% Muslim…By contrast, in India the Hindu majority has declined gently from 85% of the population in 1951 to a shade under 80% today. In short, religious minorities have shrunk dramatically in one country while growing over time in the other.

Fact Check

There were in fact 17% non Muslims in West Pakistan and 83% Muslims. At the time of Partition most of them moved to India and less than 2% were left in Pakistan. So Pakistan started with a 2% Hindu population. Indian Punjab had over 30% Muslims and after the Partition only 2% Muslims remained on the Indian side of  Punjab. This was a population exchange. Not ethnic cleansing as is often argued by Hindu extremists. Today the Hindu population share of Pakistan is slightly higher than what they started with just after the partition. For a detailed research on the subject please refer to this blog.

Dhume is however right about the increase in the population share of Muslims in India. He is wrong when he puts this fact as evidence of Muslims’ well-being in India. There are three reasons due to which Muslim population has grown faster than Hindu population in India.

  1. Most Muslims are poor. People in the lower income bracket have more children. In Dhume’s own country, USA, a third of all families (33%) are classified as low income families. 44% of all children in US come from these families.
  2. Muslims have a lower rate of female foeticide as compared to Hindus.
  3. Due to certain unhygienic practices, Hindus have higher infant mortality rate. Muslim children in India are 17 percent more likely to survive infancy than Hindus

Even Pakistan’s Hindu population has grown at a faster rate as compared to their national average because most Hindus in Pakistan belong to lower income groups.

Dhume went on to make a rather bizarre claim. He reckons that minorities in India are treated better than minorities in Pakistan because Indian cricket team wears a “neutral blue” outfit rather than wearing a Saffron colored Hindu outfit. Sometimes appearances can be deceptive, still Dhume does not come across as a person who would believe North Korea is more democratic than USA just because North Korea calls itself ‘Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’.

Beyond this point I write on Muslims are really treated in India. It is a long and harrowing read.

A recent study published by PEW ranked India fourth after Syria, Iraq and Nigeria in a list of countries where social hostilities involving religion is very high.  Here I list a number of issues faced by Muslims in India that are not faced by Hindus in Pakistan being a minority.

Hindus in Pakistan do not face massacres and mass rapes like Muslims face in India on a regular basis. Nellie, Bhagalpur, Mumbai, Gujarat, Muzzafarnagar are just few of the many examples that can be found in recent history. To constantly live with the feeling that one day, due to some event not connected to you, a mob will attack your house, rape and kill you and your family is a miserable way to live.

Hindus in Pakistan are not constantly held responsible for the crimes done by Hindus in other parts of the world. Muslims in India are answerable for any crime committed by a Muslim anywhere in the world.

India exerts constant pressure on its Muslim minority to prove loyalty to the Nation via majoritarian themes. Allegiance to the national anthem or the national flag is not good enough. A Muslim has to deify the nation into Bharat Mata and Sing hymns for the deity. Vande Mataram or else…

In India Hindutva extremists openly call for the rape of Muslim women, even ask people to dig out dead Muslim women from their graves and rape them, such people are rewarded by the masses during elections.

There is no pressure from the Pakistani society to take away the rights granted to Hindus under the Hindu Personal Law. In India there is massive pressure from the Hindu society to bring in Uniform Civil Code that will dissolve the Muslim Personal Law and ask Muslims to abide by the customs that Hindus deem correct for them.

Pakistan does not put restrictions on the dietary habit of Hindus and other Non Muslim citizens of Pakistan. A Non Muslim citizen of Pakistan is free to consume alcohol and eat pork. In India beef is banned in many states because beef is consumed mainly by Muslims and Dalits.

The politics of Pakistan is not focused on Hindus. You will hardly find any talk shows on Pakistani channels discussing Hindu matters. The Hindu society of Pakistan is not constantly under pressure from the media or the politicians. In India almost every issue can be linked to the Muslim minority. Hindu majority of India is obsessed with Muslim issues. Even the population explosion of India is blamed on 14% Muslims and not on 80% Hindus of India.

Muslims in India are regularly jailed for years (sometimes for decades) on terrorism charges fabricated by the police. Eventually they are released by the courts due to lack of evidence but are never compensated for the decades lost in prison.

There are hundreds and thousands of internally displaced Muslims in India who have lost everything during majoritarian mob violence, these people settle in slums. The Govt provides no assistance in their resettlement.

Every few days a new video emerges in India where a Hindu mob is seen lynching a Muslim man, where a Hindu mob appears to unleash brutal violence against Muslim families including women, children, elderly and the disabled.

There are hundreds and thousands of Hindu extremists on Indian social media who threaten and abuse Indian Muslims in the most vile and vulgar ways.

As Aakar Patel puts it:

That is the main thing that would have disturbed me as a Muslim, I think. Having lived through the reality and understood it, one would then be confronted with this relentless, middle-class Hindu focus on Muslims as the problem. See any story in The Times Of India and go through the comments written by readers. I have been writing in Pakistan’s papers longer continuously than any other Indian and I assure you that either they are editing their nastiness out of reader comments, or we Indians have some truly vile people in our midst and they are not a small minority.

In Pakistan those who attack minorities are seen as terrorist. In India the media uses terms like ‘activist’ or ‘vigilante’ or in one case ‘animal rights group’ to describe people who brutally lynch innocents on the streets of India, record their act on camera and proudly post it on social media for everyone to see.

On the creation of Pakistan Dhume writes:

Pakistan was carved out of British India in 1947 for an explicitly communal reason: as a separate homeland for Muslims based on the belief that Indian Muslims constituted a distinct nation, and that Hindus and Muslims could not live together in peace as compatriots.

Savarkar and Golwalkar are considered to be the most eminent ideologues of the Hindutva ideology that rules over India today. Both Savarkar and Golwalkar through their extensive writings supported the Nazi action against Jews. Golwalkwar wanted to carry out a holocaust against Indian Muslims. He even prepared a district-wise plan for the extermination of Muslims.

The two nation theory and the idea of a homogeneous Hindu Rashtra was first peddled by Hindus. The Muslim leadership remained divided over the idea of Pakistan. In fact most Muslims rejected the idea of Pakistan and chose to live in an India which they believed would remain pluralistic and secular.

Finally I would like to agree with Dhume that it is borderline ludicrous to compare India with Pakistan on minority rights. In fact it is ludicrous to compare India with any other country on minority rights.

Sure, let us talk about imposed religiosity

Noise pollution is a menace in India. The honking, the loudspeakers, the marriage drums and the constant noise of flowing traffic that starts early in the morning and continues late into the night. In principle any reasonable person would agree with Sonu Nigam and Suchitra Krishnamurthy that using loudspeakers for Azaan at unearthly hours is unacceptable.

Use of loudspeakers in public spaces should be strictly regulated at any time of the day. It is important to cultivate respect for quiet surroundings. Some countries like Australia wont allow flights to land in their major cities during night hours. A good uninterrupted sleep is vital for healthy functioning of mind and body.

Most people are in their third phase (delta phase) of their sleep at dawn. Unless the sound is too loud it is quite unlikely that a person in the third phase of sleep could be woken up by any noise coming from a distance. However if this sleep cycle is broken due to any reason then you cant blame the person for being edgy and annoyed throughout the day.

It is unlikely that Sonu Nigam or Suchitra Krishnamurthy live anywhere close to a mosque. Sonu Nigam posted a recording of Azaan he could hear from a distance in early hours of the morning. While this Azan may be loud enough to disturb those living in the vicinity of the mosque(mainly Muslims) it is nearly not loud enough to disturb anyone who lives at a distance especially someone who is in the delta phase of his sleep.

Half-celebs creeping out of the woodwork to oppose Azaan has less to do with a desire to seek quiet surroundings and more to do with the exponential rise of anti Muslim bigotry that is fast becoming a hallmark of Indian society since Prime Minister Narendra Modi swept to power in 2014. This is evident because they are singling out Azaan as one source of discomfort that is worthy of their attention and condemnation.

They call it imposed religiosity. And I agree with them on a broader principle. Religion cannot be an excuse to invade someone’s personal space. Religion cannot be an excuse to cause discomfort to the masses.

Air quality Index (AQI) is used to measure the quality of the air. AQI in the range of 200-300 is considered very unhealthy. AQI in the range of 300-500 is considered hazardous and most countries would issue a public health warning much before the air quality breaches that mark. During the Diwali season parts of Delhi record an AQI of 500. This poisonous air invades everyone’s personal space regardless of their religious affiliation. There is reduced visibility on the roads due to heavy smog resulting in vehicle accidents. Thousands of people are hospitalized for burns due to firecrackers and there are hundreds of calls to the fire brigade to respond to Diwali related fires at properties. All this at taxpayers expense. Sure, let us talk about imposed religiosity.

In 2015 there were 197 crematoriums in Bombay. Only 11 out of 197 were electric crematoriums. All others use wood to cremate the dead. Most of these crematoriums are situated amidst densely populated areas. There has been no attempt or desire on the part of Hindus to  modernize these crematoriums. The smell of burning human flesh lingers in the area for hours depending on number of people cremated everyday. Sure, let us talk about imposed religiosity.

Every year millions of idols are immersed in the water systems of India as a part of Ganesh Utsav and Durga Puja rituals. A good number of these idols are made out of ‘Plaster of Paris’ which can takes years to dissolve in water. The idols are painted with chemicals that contain heavy metals like lead, iron, copper and mercury. These chemicals don’t dissolve at all and eventually end up in the soil that is used to grow crops and vegetables. Decline in quality of food affects every Indian irrespective of religious affiliation. Sure, let us talk about imposed religiosity.

People all across India light bonfire to celebrate the festival of Holi. This adds to the air pollution but more importantly it leads to increased deforestation. The colors used in Holi often contain toxic chemicals like copper sulfate and lead oxide. These chemicals again end up in water systems and eventually in the food we consume. Shopkeepers use large plastic sheets to protect their shops from dye based colors that ruin the shutters and signboard. Sure, let us talk about imposed religiosity .

Hundreds and thousands of cremations take place on the bank of river Ganges everyday. If the cremation does not burn the body completely, the remains are dumped into the river. Many poor families who cant afford cremations simply dump the body in the river. The bodies flow downstream creating a apocalyptic scene where decomposing bodies end up on the banks only to be eaten by dogs. River Ganges is a national asset and a country that claims to be secular should protect it from imposed religiosity.

Now let us come back to to the issue of noise. It is not uncommon during Hindu festivals to have huge loudspeakers playing very loud music late at night. Most of which has absolutely nothing to do with religion. Then there are Devi Jagran Jagrata or rhythmic chants that carry on throughout the night on loudspeakers mounted on the top of Hindu Temples.  Sure, let us talk about imposed religiosity.

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During major Hindu festivals, Pandals are installed blocking busy streets. Whole sections of the towns are closed down. There are hundreds of Yatras all across India where devotees block major roads and use public transport for free. Recently a Hindu guru was allowed to destroy a national asset like the Yamuna plains because he wanted to teach people the art of living. Hundreds and thousands of Crores of tax payers money is spent on organizing Hindu festivals all across India. Sure, let us talk about imposed religiosity.

It beggars belief that people who are hardly concerned about declining food quality, destruction of water ways, rising air pollution and disruption of normal life due to religious festivals would oppose Azaan merely because they want to make their surroundings more livable. The growing chorus against the Azaan led by half-celebs is not rooted in the desire to make India a better place for its inhabitants. They simply don’t want to be reminded of the fact that they share “their” country with Muslims. Azaan keeps reminding them of the Muslims around them.

Muslims can and Muslims should do away with Azaan on loudspeakers especially during hours that can disturb people’s sleep. And all right minded Hindus would agree that protecting the land and waterways of India is way more important than protecting aspects of their religion, tradition or culture.

Not Your Hindustani Musalman

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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

 

 

Where does India stand as compared to countries with Muslim majority?

Annoyed by the regressive attitude of some Indians, the Savarna Liberal thundered “Do we want to become like Saudi Arabia?” This has become a liberal tradition. Pick a random Muslim country and present it as the worst case scenario. India is supposed to guard its higher values so it does not turn into a hell hole like some random Islamic country. In this blog I will try and see where Muslim countries stand as compared India which is of course a country with a progressive and liberal outlook.

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Female Parliamentarians of Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia’s male to female ratio at birth is same as that of United States, Australia, Norway or UK. India’s male to female ratio is among the worst in the world. Only two other countries have done worse than India. There are 50 million fewer females in India as compared to males. This skewed ratio is a result rampant female foeticide. The biggest female genocide in the history of humanity is happening in India. But let us ignore this for a while and pretend that India is significantly better than any random Muslim country.

India is the only country in the world where half of its population does not have access to toilets. The first known toilets were built in 2800 BC. In few weeks we will be in 2017 AD. Just by this measure India becomes the most socially backward society in the world. All major Muslim countries have been able to provide toilets to their citizens. Recently Bangladesh declared that it has ended open defecation. But perhaps there may be other things that make India significantly better than Muslim countries?

Only 12% of seats are held by women in the Indian parliament. Pakistan, Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Somalia all have a higher proportion of seats held by women in their parliaments as compared to India. On UN’s gender index India is behind all major Muslim countries including Bangladesh and Pakistan.  A child born in India is far more likely to be malnourished than a child born in Democratic Republic of Congo, Zimbabwe or Somalia.

Iran, Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh, Indonesia all have better literacy rate for females as compared to India.  In spite of being the most conservative countries, Saudi Arabia and Iran have achieved cent percent literacy among females. While India has a seen a massive 10% decline in female workforce participation in the past decade Saudi Arabia is seeing a record increase. A recent report on honor killings in India has documented an 800 percent rise in such cases.So not only are these countries better for women today, these countries are continuously improving as India regresses.

Bangladesh is the only major Muslim majority country in the world that has a worse record on child marriage as compared to India. Even in India a girl born in a Hindu family is more likely to become a child bride as compared to a girl born in a Muslim family.

Now let us have a look at some other issues like capital punishment. India is a progressive country that applies capital punishment in the rarest of the rare case but a barbaric country like Saudi Arabia regularly beheads people for crimes and dissent. It appears we finally found an issue on which India is better than Saudi Arabia. But wait, India has killed 11,820 people in police custody in five years. These people are often killed as a result of extreme torture inside lockups. Hardly any police officer is brought to justice for these killings. In fact in some cases policemen have been rewarded for killing people in fake encounters. It is safe to assume that Indian state carries out these murders as a matter of policy.

Saudi Arabia and some other Muslim countries have blasphemy laws. Surely India can’t be as regressive as Muslim countries.  India is a free society where freedom of expression is a protected value. However I am not sure why India regularly jails people for “hurting religious sentiments”. A Muslim cleric was arrested and beaten in court for a mild criticism of a Hindu festival. A Muslim preacher is facing charge of promoting enmity between communities because in his opinion Mecca is holier than Amritsar.

There is a constant pressure on minorities in India to adopt a Uniform Civil Code which is simply a euphemism for Uniform Hindu Code (like beef ban). Pakistan, Bangladesh and Indonesia allow customary laws for their Hindu population without continuously hounding them for reforms or trying to impose Sharia over them. Pakistan, Bangladesh and Indonesia have taken tough measures against Islamist extremism with a number of Islamist extremists either killed in army action or hanged after due process. India has never hanged a Hindu terrorist since Godse. Even the most dreaded Hindu terrorist Maya Kodnani is out on bail even after getting convicted in the murder of 96 men, women and children. Indian jails are full of Muslim, Dalits and tribals. The brutalization of minorities in India is among the worst in the world outside of war zones.

In most parts of India beef is banned because of a Hindu religious law that gives a holy status to the cow. People who are arrested on the charges of eating or selling beef are either tortured in jails or are simple killed by Hindu militias. In most parts of the Muslim world there is no restriction on minorities if they want to consume alcohol or pork. Some Muslim farmers in Morocco supply pigs to the European market. Malaysia is famous for its pork delicacies. There are pork shops in UAE. There are only a handful of Muslim countries that ban pork and alcohol for non Muslims. Perhaps only Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) is an arm of US department of State that performs security assessments of cities overseas. Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and UAE all fall under the low risk category while  Indian cities like Delhi and Bombay are classified as Medium risk cities with a cautionary note about sexual attacks on women.

For a moment let us ignore all this and focus on the real issue of Saudis exporting extremism to countries like India. In a special investigation conducted by NDTV on the foreign funding of Madrasas (Islamic Schools) it was revealed that Saudi Arabia only contributed Rs 4.5 Cr since 2013. A good part of this is sent by Indian Muslims working in Saudi Arabia but let us ignore that for the sake of argument. India has a population of around 170 million Muslims. So Saudi Arabia is investing $ 0.001 per Muslim per year in India to spread their version of Islam. Either this is the best return on investment ever recorded or savarna liberals don’t know what they are talking about.

But please don’t be disappointed after reading this. Let us be happy thinking that women still can’t drive in Saudi Arabia. 99% of women in India don’t have access to a car while 100% women in Saudi Arabia can’t drive a car. This should be considered the sole point on which we can say with utmost confidence that India is far better place than Saudi Arabia to be a woman.

All the facts mentioned in this blog are easily verifiable.This of course does not mean that Muslim majority countries are Utopias, far from it. There is a lot of progress to be made on gender justice, women empowerment and education. Progressive Muslims in these Muslim countries are working on these issues and perhaps that is the reason they don’t get the time to obsess with Hinduism or India. They are too busy fixing their own society to be bothered about others. Hope Savarna Liberals stop sniffing the cocaine of superiority complex and start working towards the betterment of India and Hindu society.

Hindutva’s Don Quixotesque Obession

68868180The famous Aurangzeb road in Delhi will now be called A P J Abdul Kalam road. From the social media conversation around the issue it was soon clear that the issue was not about Kalam, it was all about Aurangzeb and the desire to erase Muslim history from India. In a sting operation, convicted terrorist Babu Bajrangi was caught on tape explaining how he felt after killing helpless women and children. “I felt like Maharana Pratap” he said. In his mind he was not killing innocent Indians. He was convinced that he was protecting helpless Hindus from invading Mughals. Unfortunately this sentiment is widely shared in the Indian society. Babu Bajrangi is the Jihadi John of India and he gets free time from jail so he can attend weddings. This is possible because many people empathize with Babu Bajrangi.

The underlying ideological position of renaming road is exactly the same as the underlying ideological position of demolishing Babri Masjid. A large section of Indians have been brainwashed into believing that Taj Mahal, one of the most iconic building of India should be converted into a Shiva Temple. Such bizarre ideas stem from the ideological position that anything that reminds of the Mughal rule also brings back the humiliation of the great Hindu civilization succumbing to the barbaric Muslim invaders. These memories have to be erased and Hindu hegemony has to be re-established. Only then India and the Hindu civilisation can be reinstated to its former glory.

The Aam Admi Party has weeded out all the prominent left leaning leaders and is now positioning itself as a long term alternative to the BJP. By renaming Aurangzeb road they have sent out a signal to the Hindutva brigade that they empathise with the larger cause of Hindutva. The move to rename Aurangzeb road is disappointing for Muslims who believed that Aam Admi Party will never indulge in communal symbolism. Parties like MIM will go to Muslims and reiterate the fact that they can never trust so called secular parties because all of them use secularism to hide their alignment to the larger cause of Hindutva.

Muslims don’t see Aurangzeb as their hero. This is evident from the fact that a sufi saint Shah Muntajab whose tomb is barely a kilometre away from Aurangzeb’s tomb attracts millions of more devotees than Aurangzeb’s tomb does. Renaming Aurangzeb road sends a message to Muslims that the politics of Babri Masjid is still alive. In the aftermath of the Babri Masjid demolition thousands of Indians have lost their lives in riots and terrorist attacks. Any communal politics which is similar in nature to the anti Babri Masjid movement is bound to make the minorities nervous.

Historians have presented varying views of Aurangzeb’s legacy. Some depict him as a tyrant and some depict him as simple man who rejected the philandering ways of his predecessors. If someone says that Aurangzeb should be erased from History “because he tormented Hindus” then why not erase Guru Golwarkar from the public memory for his passionate defence of the holocaust? The Jaipur High Court has a towering statue of Maharishi Manu in its premises. Only recently a UP khap panchayat ordered that two Dalit girls be raped and paraded naked because their brother dared to fall in love with an upper caste woman. And this is surely not an exceptional case of injustice against Dalits. There are justifications of such acts in the Manusmriti. Anything that may be offensive to women,Dalits or minorities can be acknowledged and even celebrated as a part of “Hindutva” history but anything remotely offending to the upper castes should be erased?

I find it amusing when some Pakistanis deny their pre Islamic ancestry. Pakistan has a full scale project of rewriting history where they focus only on the real or perceived acts of goodness done by the “Muslim” Kings who came to invade the Indus valley from central Asia and Afghanistan. But rewriting history is not so easy. You may feed your population a bunch of lies but it is harder to convince the wider world about your version of history. Same is the case with India and its Hindutva project. The more India tries to distort history the more it aligns with the nationalist ideology of Pakistan.

Around the world when people think about India they think about population, call centers, poverty, democracy and yes the Taj Mahal. Petty acts like renaming of the roads won’t erase India’s Mughal legacy. It will only expose the Hindutva brigade as bunch of insecure people who have absolutely no confidence in their own ideology, who are embarrassed of their past and uncertain of their future.

Uniform Civil Code And The Majoritarian Agenda

In the west the liberal movement is demanding that polygamy should be made legal because people having multiple partners is a reality and the government has no business to tell people how they should form their civil unions. In India however the push is to ban things. Ban beef, ban polygamy, ban porn, ban dance bars, ban noodles. Just ban anything that the Hindutva elites are uncomfortable with.

Some people have a special obsession about freeing Muslim women who they say are being treated as slaves by evil Muslim men in India. If you believe the ongoing narrative you can be forgiven for thinking that most Muslim men in India have multiple wives who are being employed as baby producing machines so Muslims can beat the demographic advantage Hindus have over Muslims.

Forget the fact that the sex ratio is cruelly tilted towards Indian men due to rampant female foeticide in all communities including Muslims. There are simply not enough women to marry men. Polygamy is rare in India and not specific to Muslims.

BJP has always brought up three issues before elections. Abrogation of article 370 which gives special status to Kashmir, building a grand Ram Mandir at the same place where Babri Masjid was demolished by Hindutva extremists and the implementation of Uniform Civil Code. Abrogation of article 370 is about establishing complete Indian domination over Muslim majority Kashmir that went into dispute after partition and hence has special status. Building of Ram Mandir has a symbolic meaning that finally Hindus have arrived and the construction of Ram Mandir by demolishing a mosque will firmly establish the second class status of Muslims in India and finally the Uniform Civil Code that aims to replace the personal laws with one unified code that will be decided by the majority.

If we look at the bigger picture all these issues are about establishing a majoritarian hegemony over minority, especially Muslims, who form the largest minority group in India. So what does Uniform Civil Code really mean? Well we don’t know the exact answer to this question because there is no draft document that has been presented for public consultation. However when Uniform Civil Code is discussed some issues are highlighted regularly. It is said that Uniform Civil Code will make it illegal for Muslim men to get into a polygamous marriage. Uniform Civil Code will give better inheritance rights to Muslim women and will make it harder for a Muslim man to divorce his wife.

Now let us look at these issues independently. Why should polygamy be made illegal? Because it is unfair for men to given the right to marry more than once but the same rights are not available for women. That is a fair argument. To rectify this issue, the government can make it legal for both men and women to enter into a polygamous relationship. Next question is why should only Muslims be allowed to enter a polygamous relationship when others are barred from it? That is a fair point too. No one should be barred from entering into a polygamous relationship. Many Hindus nominally convert to Islam just to get into a polygamous relationship. Most prominent among such cases are Dharmenda and Hema Malini. Ironically both are associated with the BJP.

There is another argument that is often made in support of asking for a government imposed ban on polygamy. “No woman wants to share her husband” they say. I agree that most women would hate the idea of sharing their husbands with another woman just like most women wont like the idea of their husbands cheating on them. However extra-marital affairs are a reality. More than ever before men and women are getting into relationships after marriage. The rate of divorce has dramatically increased since the availability of access to social media. Consenting adults should have the right to form a polygamous relationship if they wish to do so. Government has no business to tell Dharmendra , Hema Malini and Prakash Kaur how they should be living their lives as responsible adults.

Now let us talk about the fundamental question. Is polygamy worse than monogamy? In India since there are 50 million females less than males due to rampant female foeticide it can be argued that polygamy will further reduce the chances of men finding a partner. This is by far the most logical argument against polygamy. Ideally polygamy is not advisable in India but people do fall in love after marriage and have children from their extra marital affairs. Polygamy provides those children with some rights. Would you rather prefer Hema Malini to be Dharmendra’s lawfully wedded wife as she is now or a mistress who enjoys no legal rights for herself and children born out of such arrangement? Add to that the social stigma of being a mistress.

Polygamy can be just as bad or good as monogamy. It is up to the responsible adults to decide what they want from their life without allowing the government to enter their bedrooms. The same argument applies to same sex marriage.

The issue of instant talaq (divorce) is less complicated. There is a genuine push among Muslims to stop that practice and turn it into a more formal process. In spite of all my disagreements with religious leaders like Zakir Naik he has done well to oppose instant divorce. There is nothing wrong in government making it mandatory for couples to go through a formal process of divorce but an out of court negotiated settlement is preferable in India where millions of cases are stagnant in the justice system. People prefer to get on with their life and find new beginnings. No one likes to spend thousands on lawyers to get tareek pe tareek.

Financial settlement after the Muslim divorce has been an often discussed topic since the Shah Bano case. Should a woman be entitled to life long maintenance from her ex husband? This is not an easy question to answer. If the children are young then the father should be responsible for at least half the care and expenses of the children until they become adults. If the woman has sacrificed her career for the family then of course the woman should be entitled to some compensation too. Codification of this law will help Muslim women. Then there is something called the Nikah Nama or the prenuptial agreement. Any modern law will accept a prenuptial agreement as legally binding. Muslim women can use this agreement to include divorce settlement clauses.

According to Islamic traditions a girl child is entitled to half of what a male is entitled to in inheritance. Parents can only give away a third of their wealth to charity the rest goes to children and other relatives. Some people say it is discriminatory against women and Muslims argue that since women are entitled to dowry from the man it is fair for them to have half the inheritance. Ideally everyone should be free to do whatever they like with their wealth. There are cases where people have given their wealth to their cats. So I am still not sure what reforms people want in this area when any “liberalization” would mean people can still distribute their wealth unevenly between their children.

There are major feminist issues in India like closing the gender population gap, family planning, education, hygiene and access to better medical care. When people ignore these humongous challenges and focus on non issues like polygamy and hijabs then it is reasonable to assume that they are driven by something else rather than an honest desire to see the welfare of women.

The Relevance of Identity

Identity

It is the context that gives identity its meaning. Depending on the context a man can be identified as a friend, father, husband, doctor, runner, blogger, Hindu, vegetarian etc. A person being a vegetarian is hardly relevant to his skills as a doctor but may be relevant if he is looking to be employed as a chef at a diner that serves non vegetarian food.

In this blog post I will discuss the case of Mihir Sharma, a Delhi based journalist and author who writes extensively on the subject of Indian economy. Mihir has been a subject of a online campaign in which the right wing element on the social media want him to admit to his “Christian identity”.

The case of Mihir Sharma

In a recent interview to News Laundry Mihir was asked about the online campaign against him. He said he was brought up as Christian and this sparked a new round of bigoted commentary against Mihir on the social media. An Australia based doctor tweeted.

https://twitter.com/WrongDoc/status/609172691577212928

In the interview Mihir does not identify himself as Christian or religious. Mihir had refused to comment his religious identity so the accusation that he went to lengths to deny “that is a Christian” is simply a lie. Mihir identifies himself as an atheist and a rationalist who is “not in the least religious”.

For Dr Bhavin Jadav, the fact that Mihir was brought up in a Christian family was enough to establish his identity as a Christian. The idea that a person necessarily has some religious identity and that identity is determined at birth has its roots in the caste system of India. From the interview it is clear that Mihir had no qualms about discussing his family’s religious background. Earlier Mihir had declined to comment on his religious identity and he was right in doing so. Let me explain this by using the example of Dr Bhavin Jadav.

After looking at his name an upper caste patient asks Dr Bhavin Jadav if he belongs to the “lower caste”. Should Dr Jadav explain his caste affiliations to his patient or should he simply decline to dignify this irrelevant and possibly bigoted question with an answer? Let me respect the good sense of Dr Jadav and assume that he will decline to answer and even ask his patient to find another doctor if he is not comfortable with his name. Mihir did the same. He refused to bow to the bigotry and bullying by the right wing.

For a moment, only for the sake of argument, let us assume that Mihir is a practicing Christian. As long as his religious beliefs do not impact his work as a journalist and an author who writes about economy then it is irrelevant to discuss about his personal beliefs.

The campaign to force Mihir to admit that “he is Christian” has a purpose. First purpose is the disassociate him from the perceived Hindu identity that Mihir gets from his name and the second purpose is to launch Ad Hominem attacks against his columns. Instead of writing another column explaining why they disagree with Mihir they want to say that Mihir is wrong or prejudiced because “he is a Christian”.

Other Common Methods Employed By Bigots

There is nothing new about bigots using the social media to spew venom against cultures and communities against which they carry deep seated hatred. Bigots use a limited number of tricks and are quite often very easy to spot. The commonly employed trick is to use tragic situations like civil wars and crimes in distant lands to dismiss the idea of co-existence with the group they despise at home. If you speak about co existence and Multiculturalism they will try to link the idea of peaceful co-existence to terrorism.

“Multiculturalism” is the co-existence of diverse cultures, where culture includes racial, religious, or cultural groups and is manifested in customary behaviours, cultural assumptions and values, patterns of thinking, and communicative styles.

Then there are those bigots who propagate the idea that a person cannot be a decent human being while remaining a Muslim or a Christian. Although in the case of Mihir Sharma we have already seen that his disassociation with religion hardly made any difference to how he is perceived by the bigots.

Quite often bigots do not make any sense. If we look at the tweet below it says “So what Islam needs are a lot of Muslims who actually don’t believe in it”. It is like saying “So what free market economy needs are a lot of people who actually don’t believe in it”. Perhaps Mr. Pradhan wanted to say that the world needs less Muslims but he couldn’t bring himself to say that openly so he just wrote this.

Countering Bigotry

The best way to counter bigotry is to counter and destroy their argument using reason. A bigot’s argument is based on half truths and lies and is usually very easy to destroy using logical arguments. If your engage with a bigot in an argument then ask for specifics because bigots thrive on generalizations. If they talk about reforming a particular community ask them about specific ideas that they have in mind, they rarely come up with solutions because their focus remains on demonizing the people they despise. Always ask them for evidence on which their view is based. Challenge their evidence. Bigots are counting on you remaining quiet. Surprise them.