Minorities and the Indian State

What India has witnessed in recent decades – Nellie (1983), Delhi (1984), Mumbai (1992-93), Gujarat (2002), Kandhamal (2007) – are nothing short of crimes against humanity, pogroms targeting religious minorities with the complicity, connivance, even sponsorship of state actors. Report after fact-finding report keeps pointing towards police partisanship and the devious role of communal outfits in communal conflagrations across the country. The consistently partisan role of the police is another facet of the same problem.

The impunity enjoyed by the masterminds and the perpetrators of ‘mob terror’ has in turn given birth to ‘bomb terror’. If this is bad enough, even more disturbing is the partisan conduct in the investigation of terror acts by security agencies. Over the years, a pattern has emerged where frequently young Muslims are detained, framed, tortured and damned only to be declared ‘not guilty’ by the courts in most cases. That’s after long years on incarceration with no accountability for the trauma and devastation inflicted on the accused and their families. On the other hand is the facilitation of the acquittal of Hindu extremists booked in acts of “saffron terror” and police officers guilty of “extra-judicial” killing of citizens in fake encounters.

IMSD fully supports the over decade-long demand of secular activists for a law to curb communal crimes incorporating the doctrine of command responsibility. Such a law must address a range of issues pertinent to hate propaganda, build-up to and the subsequent eruption of violence. These include:

  • Teaching of prejudice through doctored history books
  • Hate Propaganda and demonisation of target groups
  • Rumour-mongering
  • Arms training by communal groups
  • Vigilantism and moral policing
  • Communalisation of the police and other security agencies
  • Communal misuse of draconian laws
  • Doctrine of command responsibility to hold senior officers and communal masterminds accountable for their acts of commission and omission
  • Adequate relief, rehabilitation and reparation measures

India’s prevailing culture of impunity must end. The vicious cycle of ‘mob-terror’ and ‘bomb terror’ must be broken.

The fact that Indian Muslims are victims of institutionalised discrimination resulting in their growing educational and socio-economic backwardness and political underrepresentation (in Parliament down to village panchayats) vis-à-vis other socio-religious communities has been brought into sharp focus by the reports of the Sachar Committee and the Ranganath Misra Commission. Both made important recommendations to address the existing democracy deficit. Both have been as good as forgotten.

The uncaring attitude of self-proclaimed secular parties combined with the fierce opposition to the recommendations by the Sangh Parivar constituents in and out of Parliament again ensured that as in case of mass crimes no corrective measures are initiated to ensure non-discrimination and equal opportunities to Indian Muslims.

IMSD supports the demand for affirmative action and diversity programmes to address the issues of widespread poverty, educational and socio-economic backwardness and the political under-representation of Indian Muslims as recommended by the Sachar Committee and the Ranganath Misra Commission.

IMSD recognises the fact that while there is no caste in Islam, castes – Ashraf, Ajlaf, Arzaal; roughly corresponding to upper castes, OBCs and SC-STs among Hindus – are very much a part of the Indian Muslim reality. It therefore calls for the factoring in the realities of the hierarchical caste-based society or biradaris in the design of policies and programmes to address Muslim backwardness. We therefore support such policies and programmes for affirmative action in favour of Muslims, which factor in the reality of caste. In particular, we demand that the benefit of reservations for SCs must be extended to Dalit Muslims and Dalit Christians.

IMSD categorically rejects the two-nation theory propounded by Jinnah, Savarkar and others. Religious minorities across the sub-continent continue to be the worst victims of the tragic partition of the country. We believe that the formation of Bangladesh in 1971 was the strongest refutation, in practice, of the two-nation theory.

Indian Muslims are second to none in their loyalty to the nation and we denounce the Sangh Parivar’s daily demand for proof of the same from Muslims. Those who had no role to play in the country’s freedom movement are the least qualified to question others’ patriotism.

IMSD endorses the view that though we do not accept the ideology that led to the creation of Pakistan, we cannot deny the reality of Pakistan.

Along with all the peace-loving people who constitute the majority both in India and Pakistan, IMSD supports friendly relations between neighbours, people-to-people contacts and a nuclear weapons-free South Asia. IMSD cherishes the dream that all the SAARC countries will sooner than later come together to form a South Asian Union and a peaceful and prosperous region.

Issues Indian Muslims Must Address

Muslims must know that the syncretic or composite culture that India is so proud of would have been impossible if people from different religions had not known how to distinguish between popular culture and essentials of their religion.

Muslims only need to recall the examples of Sufi saints such as ‘Gharib Nawaz’ Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti, Hazrat Nizamuddin, Baba Farid and numerous others who attracted non-Muslims towards them, providing shared public space for people irrespective of religion, caste and gender.

Common cultural practices – shared language, music, modes of dress, food habits, festivals ­– promote peaceful co-existence and good neighbourliness in a plural society.

Studies across the world have shown that in societies where there is social intermingling between people of diverse faiths and cultures, there is lesser possibility of mutual prejudice and stereotyping. IMSD strongly condemns those Muslim worldviews and organisations that discourage or declare it sinful for Muslims to socially interact or intermingle with non-Muslims, participate in the festivals of others etc.

In today’s urban environment, where people from different religio-cultural backgrounds and traditions live in close proximity, peaceful co-existence demands civic sense, mutual respect and accommodation, some consideration for others’ sensibilities. This is a demand that all citizens are expected to meet, irrespective of the religion or the region they come from. Muslims, too, need to examine some of their own practices in this context. Noise pollution through loud-speakers over mosques or temples is not a religious but a civic issue.

  • Reforms in Muslim Family Law

While observing that the oppression and exploitation of women is rampant in India across communities IMSD upholds the constitutional principle of justice and non-discrimination between the sexes.

Of particular concern to IMSD is the issue of Muslim personal law. We believe that all existing personal laws applicable to people of different religious communities in India discriminate against women one way or another and therefore urgently need change.

In case of Muslims, IMSD opposes the triple talaq (instant divorce), halala marriages, underage marriage, muta marriage, polygamy, female genital mutilation, sex slavery and many other practices prejudicial to women. There can be no ‘Islamic’ justification for these practices to be permitted in India or elsewhere in the world. The Quranic injunctions which are clearly meant to uphold women’s dignity and equal rights cannot be interpreted to justify subjection of vulnerable women to degrading practices.

IMSD fully supports the demand for a complete overhaul of the Muslim family law in India based on the Constitutional and Quranic principles of equality, justice and freedom. We call for immediate legal abolition of the practice of triple talaq, halala (as practiced), and polygamy (in today’s context). IMSD strongly condemns female genital mutilation and supports an end to this practice.

  • Equal Access to Sacred Spaces

IMSD fully supports the demand of women from different faiths to access sacred spaces. Asking women to stay away from religious places of worship or reverence just because she is a woman violates her dignity and self-respect and goes against all modern values of gender equality. IMSD fully supports Muslim women’s right to pray inside mosques; a right that women enjoyed during the lifetime of the Prophet but which has been denied to them by the patriarchs of Islam. It also supports women’s equal access, on par with men, to dargahs.

  • Women and the Veil

Among Indian Muslims, the purdah system that was on the decline in many parts of urban India has revived in a big way since 1990s. While respecting the right of individual Muslim women to dress as they deem fit, we condemn any attempt by any individual or organisation to compel women behind the veil in the name of Islam and oppose the threats and punishments meted out to them. IMSD rejects the false claim that wearing the veil is an Islamic obligation for all Muslim women.

  • Uniform Civil Code

In recent decades, the Sangh Parivar has repeatedly invoked Article 44 under the Directive Principles in the Constitution that stipulates: “The State shall endeavour to secure for the citizens a uniform civil code throughout the territory of India.” The Hindutvavaadis who never tire of reference to Article 44 are entirely silent on other Articles (38-50) under the Directive Principles? ANNEX 5

That is because for the Sangh Parivar, the question of a uniform civil code is not about gender justice; rather, it is one more stick to beat Indian Muslims with.

IMSD supports any endeavour by the State to bring about a uniform civil code. Endeavour, in our view, can only mean encouragement of nationwide discussion and deliberation on the issue aimed at evolving a national consensus and not imposing the codes of any one religion, culture, tradition on others. In all such endeavours uniform justice must be the sole criterion.

  • Girls’/Women’s education

Census data shows that Muslim women are far behind men in literacy. In recent years, however, it has been observed across India that given the opportunity, Muslim girls/ women are outpacing Muslim boys/ men in education to an extent that ‘marital mismatch’ has become a matter of serious concern. Certain clerics are propagating that the solution to this problem lies in limiting girls’/women’s education. IMSD condemns this approach; the onus lies on Muslim boys/men to catch up with girls/women in their thirst for knowledge and higher education.

  • Supremacism

IMSD presumes that people follow the religion which they do only because they believe it to be THE ‘right’ or ‘true’ religion. It is one thing to hold such a belief, quite another to be a supremacist. IMSD rejects supremacism which is the worldview that a particular age, race, species, ethnic group, religion, gender, social class, ideology, or culture is superior to other variations of that trait, and advocates those who identify with it to dominate, control, and subjugate those who do not. IMSD rejects the worldview of supremacist Muslims.

Ibn Arabi, the great Sufi theoretician said:

Do not praise your own faith exclusively so that you disbelieve all the rest. If you do this, you will miss much good. Nay, you will miss the whole truth of the matter. God, the Omniscient and the Omnipresent, cannot be confined to any one creed, for He says in the Quran, wheresoever ye turn, there is the face of Allah. Everybody praises what he knows. His God is his own creature, and in praising it, he praises himself. Which he would not do if he were just, for his dislike is based on ignorance.

  • Exceptionalism

The views of those Muslims who argue that Islam and Muslims are exceptional, very different from all other religions and its followers, are identical to the view Islamophobes have about Islam and Muslims. IMSD rejects both the Islamist and the Islamophobic argument about Islam’s exceptionalism.

  • Narrow-mindedness, Bigotry, Intolerance

IMSD rejects the attitude of those Muslims who are quick to condemn all kinds of social practices as bidat (innovation) and therefore prohibited to Muslims. IMSD is proud of Muslims who have made valuable contributions over generations in virtually every field of human endeavour: music, cinema, arts, literature, paintings, sports.

To anyone who preaches narrow-mindedness and bigotry to Muslims, we quote the words of Jalāl ad-Dīn Rūmī, whose Masnavi is considered as being the “Quran in Persian” by many Muslims:

Don’t fall down the well of Scripture,

Use the words to keep moving.

Many are trapped in the Quran

and the Bible, holding to a rope.

It’s not the rope’s fault.

Let the well-rope pull you out.

Then let the well-rope go.

  • Extremism/Terrorism

IMSD firmly rejects the resort to violence as a means of conflict resolution: socio-economic, political, cultural or religious. It strongly condemns all acts of terrorism, including state terror anywhere in the world. IMSD denounces organisations and individuals who engage in, aid and abet terrorist acts and condemns those who seek to justify it. Acts of terror can never be justified.

  • State Subsidy in Religious Matters

The question of state subsidy for Indian Muslims going to Mecca for Haj is frequently raised as a glaring example of ‘Muslim appeasement’. The fact is that many Muslim religious and political leaders too are opposed to Haj subsidy. They argue that since Haj is a once in a lifetime obligation only for those with means, the subsidy is “un-Islamic” and must be stopped.

IMSD supports the withdrawal of all subsidies and other forms of state support for any kind of religious activity, including the Haj subsidy.

  • Apostasy and Blasphemy

A secular state has laws which define crimes and prescribe punishments for the same. But, by definition, it cannot entertain any notion of sin. Both apostasy and blasphemy may be considered grave sins before Allah, but they cannot be considered as crimes to be punished by a secular state. Those whose religious sentiments are hurt have every right to protest in peaceful, democratic ways. But citizens cannot be allowed to take the law in their own hands for that will only lead to moral policing, vigilantism, mobocracy. A Muslim has as much right to opt out of Islam as a non-Muslim has the freedom to enter it. IMSD therefore opposes the concept of death for an apostate (murtad). The right of citizens to critical examination and rational inquiry into any and every religion cannot be curtailed in the name of blasphemy. In the current skewed and narrow discourse underway within the Muslim community where every sect considers the rest outside Islam, the issue of blasphemy needs to be cast aside as it is a serious impediment to an open and free discourse within the Muslim community, for inter-faith dialogue and the development of free thought. The very thought of blasphemy creates a climate of fear among Muslims and deters the individual from any form of critical inquiry and intellectual debate.

  • LGBT community

Muslims who believe that homosexuality is a great sin are entitled to their view. However, IMSD opposes homophobia and the criminalisation of gay and lesbian sexual orientations. IMSD supports abrogation of Article 377.

  • Degrading Punishments, Death Penalty

IMSD opposes all degrading medieval forms of punishment – lashing, cutting of hands, stoning to death, crucifixion. It also opposes the death penalty which has already been outlawed by more than 100 countries.

  • Family Planning

For many years now, the Sangh Parivar and other Hindu communal outfits have carried out a sustained propaganda that Muslims oppose family planning because they want to increase their population so that Hindus can be turned into a minority “in their own country”. This baseless propaganda has done immense damage to the image of Indian Muslims in recent decades. Census figures clearly show that Indian Muslims are somewhat behind other communities in the practice of family planning but this gap is consistently narrowing. Numerous studies in India and elsewhere demonstrate that a family’s decision to limit the number of children is closely linked to education and economic well-being of the family. Ironically, though a growing section among Muslims is adopting family control practices, there remains a clergy-promoted perception among many that Islam is opposed to birth control. IMSD condemns the sangh parivar for spreading the vicious and baseless propaganda about unbridled growth of Muslims and we also question the dogmatic stand of the Muslim clergy in India claiming that Islam forbids family planning. On the contrary, Islam encourages Muslims to limit their family for reasons such as health of the woman, financial constraints, family welfare etc.

  • Vaccination/Immunisation

IMSD fully supports polio vaccination and other immunisation programmes for children. It strongly condemns those who oppose it, whether on religious grounds or on the bogus claim that it is a surreptitious method of sterilising Muslims.