Off-centre | Hydra-headed communalism: Ending double standards is the only way forward

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Communalism is hydra-headed. How else to explain the pervasive double standards that plague us when it comes to calling out so-called “minority” communalism? In Iran and elsewhere, women are protesting against mandatory hijab with cries of aazadi, uncannily resembling our own abortive student protests. But in India, we want not just the “freedom” to wear the hijab, but veil faces too, even within the premises of so-called secular, state-funded institutions where uniform dress codes apply.

When Shivalingas, with surfaces defaced, inside wells and wazu-khanas are asked to be carbon-dated, there are objections because communal peace may be disturbed. But the disrespect already meted out to broken icons, religious symbols, and shrines is considered par for the historical course. A conquered people have no or little rights, but why must free and equal citizens of a country not wish to reclaim and restore their desecrated past?

We celebrated Bhai Duj, just a couple of days after Diwali or the Festival of Lights, commemorating the sacred ties between brothers and sisters. But two well-known public figures, T Raja Singh and Nupur Sharma, have had dark Diwalis, unable to celebrate Bhai Duj either. The former is still in jail while the latter, in an undisclosed location, lives under the shadow of death threats.

What are their offences? Both referred to an incident in Prophet Mohammad’s life which is well-documented in Islamic scriptures. It concerns his marriage to Ayesha, who was recorded to be six when she entered wedlock. The reference in question is found in the compilation of the recorded sayings of Prophet Mohammad by Imam Muhammad al-Bukhari. “Recognised by the overwhelming majority of the Muslim world to be the most authentic collection of reports of the Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad,” Sahih al-Bukhari is a collection comprising of over 7,500 Hadith in 97 books.

What is more, the reference which attracted the ire of so many occurs not only or twice or thrice, but at least ten times in Sahih al-Buhari. It is also found in other Hadiths than al-Buhari’s. Generally speaking, the event in question is not disputed by most Islamic scholars and commentators, although there is some debate over Ayesha’s age at the time of her marriage and its later consummation.

The Hadith, or record of the words of Prophet Mohammad, is a major source of Islamic law or Sharia and, along with the Quran itself, considered a model for Muslims to follow. But instead of discussing, debating, or exploring whether everything contained in the Sunna can be followed in today’s day and age, any mention of some of its contents seems to invoke an outrage. Even outcries on the lines of “Sar tan se juda” — decapitation — separate the head from the body, followed by death threats or actual killings follow.

But in today’s day and age, when information is so easily available, one cannot enforce such blanket bans. People will check references, read, reflect, and make up their minds. Even if they are afraid to speak up openly. Secularism in India, therefore, cannot mean the licence to insult Hindus and their revered deities or heroes while not only threatening but also committing homicidal attacks against those who are perceived to give offence to Muslims.

Neither the state nor society can afford to go soft or look the other way when confronted with both militant and ‘constitutionst’ Islamism. Merely locking up or suspending Hindu “offenders” like Nupur Sharma or T Raja Singh is actually to deflect from and ignore the real problem. Unfortunately, well-educated and experienced Members of Parliament such as Asaduddin Owaisi, who take an oath of allegiance to the Indian Constitution, contribute to the problem rather than trying to solve it.

On the other hand, nationally-minded Muslims such as the articulate, well-read, open-minded, and highly talented Shazia Ilmi are cancelled by opposition parties and critics, as happened during her New York visit last month for a well-known literature festival. A gang of naysayers boycotted her event. She even needed police protection. Some of those who led the charge are fellow writers and intellectuals. Their virulence is therefore inexplicable except as a displaced attack on Narendra Modi, whom one of them called “Divider in Chief” in a cover story for a famous international news magazine. It would seem that Ilmi’s only sin is that she, a Muslim, is also member of the BJP! Unfortunately, her own party has not given her the support and encouragement that she deserves.

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Also Read

Off-centre | The future of communal politics: Name it accurately to overcome it

Off-centre | ‘Sar Tan Se Juda’ and the persistence of the two-nation theory

Off-centre | ‘Sar Tan Se Juda’ in Hyderabad: What is the way forward?

Off-centre | ‘Sar Tan Se Juda’ in Hyderabad: What is the way forward?

Off-centre: The Hyderabad communal cauldron: The role of the Owaisis

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Now let us look at the original provocation that led

If Muslims are so sensitive to any reference to what is actually recorded in their scriptures, shouldn’t they also refrain from disparaging others’ faiths? What, then, of the comedian Munawar Faruqui, whose clips poking fun at Sri Ram and his consort Sita are still widely circulated, with raucous laughter after expletives used in the same sentences as Hindu deities. Hindus, of course, have a great sense of humour and are a famously tolerant lot; they must have laughed the loudest. But, when Faruqui was taken into preventive detention before a show at Indore, the world media mocked India for incarcerating “a comic who did not crack a joke”. On the other hand, these same media houses remain silent when it comes to the “sar tan se juda” threats. This is also true of secularist Indians, both in the media and in civil society.

To return to Hyderabad and Majlis Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM), how can we forget that “Maulana” Abdul Wahed Owaisi brought his family and party into power by communalising the Hyderabadi electorate? Or that T Raja Singh, the sole Hindu MLA from Hyderabad, is now doing the same thing and is courting a prison term just as Owaisi did some 64 years ago? Or that the BJP, desperately trying to increase its footprint in Telangana, knows that without consolidating the Hindu votes, it has not chance to seize power? Given the intricacies of this Hyderabadi imbroglio, it is now easier to understand why T Raja Singh is considered a “dangerous” man and still languishes in prison.

This is the concluding part of the “Sar tan se juda” series.

The author is a professor of English at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Views expressed are personal.

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Off-centre | Hydra-headed communalism: Ending double standards is the only way forward
Off-centre | Hydra-headed communalism: Ending double standards is the only way forward
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