Indian Icons Whose Perspective Of Muslims And Islam Will Shock You

By Saif Khan:

If you happen to be a staunch secular Indian then it is but obvious that you happen to be wary of the growing tide of Islamophobia in the country. India, as a civilization, has always been synonymous to openness and multiculturalism. But another aspect of the Indian civilization has been grossly under-represented is the fierce bigotry, which Islam and Muslims have had to face in this land since the 19th century. Equating Islam with violence and barbarism is something which is not nascent.

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The late great Edward Said had stated in an interview to the Time Magazine in 1979 that some 60,000 books had been written so far disparaging Islam and Muslims. To many, Islam appears to be a religion of hate and what is baffling is that this is one prejudiced mindset which is not only shared by millions of educated Indians but also some iconic figures in our history who have now assumed a larger than life figure and have been placed above criticism. This has led to a natural inclination among non Muslims to think that Islam essentially preaches hatred, Muslims are taught to kill non Muslims in the Quran, they happen to be extremely aggressive and Muhammad was a fanatic who spread his religion at the tip of the sword.

vivekanandaThe great saffron saint, Vivekananda, stated in the World Parliament of Religions that he hails from a civilization which holds all religions as true but astonishingly, the same Vivekananda while answering a few questions of the Editor of Prabuddha Bharat said, “Every man going out of the Hindu pale is not only a man less, but an enemy the more.” Vivekananda did not even hold Prophet Muhammad in high regards. He said, “He (Muhammad) was not a trained yogi and did not know the reason of what he was doing. Think of what good Muhammad did to the world and think of the great evil which has been done through his fanaticism.” Vivekananda’s perception about Islam can be judged from his comments about the Quran. Vivekananda stated that the Quran advises Muslims to kill the Non Muslims if they did not become Muslims.

tagorRabindranath Tagore is a household name in India but he too had some extremely unfortunate notions about Islam (as well as Christianity) which earn him a place in this list of Islamophobic Indians. In a letter written to Sri Kalidas Nag, Tagore stated, “There are two religions on the Earth which have distinct enmity against all other religions. These two are Christianity and Islam. They are not satisfied with just observing their own religions but are determined to destroy all other religions. That’s why the only way to make peace with them is to embrace their religion.” Tagore’s flawed analogy if repeated by a political leader today would earn him the title of being ‘communal’.

Dr BR Ambedkar, the Father of the Indian Constitution, is generally remembered for his no holds barred attacks on Brahmanism but he also made some exceptionally negative comments about Islam in his book “Pakisan or the DrAmbedkarPartition of India”. He wrote, “To the Muslims, a Hindu (and any Non-Muslim) is a Kafir. A Kafir (Non-Believer in Islam) is not worthy of respect. He is a low born and without status. That is why a country ruled by the Kafir (Non-Muslim) is a ‘Dar ul Harb’ (i.e. the Land of War) to a Muslim, which must be conquered, by any means for the Muslims and turned into ‘Dar ul Islam’ (i.e., Land of Muslims alone). Given this, not further evidence seems necessary to prove that the Muslims will not obey a Hindu (or for that matter any Non-Muslim) government.” Dr Ambedkar also wrote, “Those who are outside the corporation (of Islam) there is nothing but contempt and enmity.” Unfortunately, Dr Ambedkar could not see through the most obvious stereotype about Islam and died in a state of Islamophobia.

sardar patelSardar Patel, the Iron Man of India, was a known Muslim basher and had a habit of making communally charged and insensitive comments. When the Direct Action Day led to the now infamous Calcutta killings, Sardar Patel wrote a letter to C Rajagopalachari in which he said, “A good lesson for the League because I hear that the proportion of Muslims who have suffered death is much larger (than the Hindus).” Mr Patel frequently questioned the patriotism of Muslims and during one of the debates in the Constituent Assembly, he advised those who were demanding reservations for Muslims to go and live in Pakistan.

Jawaharlal nehruIndia’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, was largely a secularist but he too cannot be absolved of Islamophobia. In his book, The Discovery of India, while discussing about Crusades, Nehru labeled Islam and Christianity as “aggressive religions”. He also stated that by the time the Turks and Mongols had taken over the mantle of Islam from the Arabs, “Islam had become a more rigid faith suited more to military conquests rather than the conquests of the mind.” Nehru held the opinion that, “The Muslims who came to India from outside brought no new technique or political or economic structure. Inspite of religious belief in the brotherhood of Islam, they were class bound and feudal in outlook.”

mahatma gandhiMahatma Gandhi, The Father of the Nation and the one who raised the slogan of “Sarva Dharma Sambhava” was also a bit ill informed about Muslims. Although he consistently praised the Prophet but his writings do not indicate much fondness for the Muslim community. In an article titled, “What May Hindus do”, Gandhi wrote, “Though the majority of Musslamans of India and the Hindus belong to the same ‘stock’, the religious environment has made them different. I believe and I have noticed too that thought transforms man’s features as well as character. The Sikhs are the most recent illustration of this fact. The Mussalaman being generally in a minority has as a class developed in a bully. Moreover, being heir to fresh traditions he exhibits the virility of a comparatively new system of life.”

Though, in my opinion, non violence has a predominant place in the Quran, the thirteen hundred years of imperialistic expansion has made the Musslamans fighters as a body. They are therefore aggressive. Bullying is the natural excrescence of an aggressive spirit. The Hindu has an ages old civilization. He is essentially non violent. His civilization has passed through the experiences that the two recent ones are still passing through. If Hinduism was ever imperialistic in the modern sense of the term, it has outlived its imperialism and has either deliberately or as a matter of course given it up. Predominance of the non violent spirit has restricted the use of arms to a small minority which must always be subordinate to a civil power highly spiritual, learned and selfless. The Hindus as a body are therefore not equipped for fighting. But not having retained their spiritual training, they have forgotten the use of an effective substitute for arms and not knowing their use nor having an aptitude for them, they have become docile to the point of timidity and cowardice. This vice is therefore a natural excrescence of gentleness.” Gandhi’s words are indicative of his views. While on one hand he lays heavy praise and kind criticism on the Hindus, on the other hand, he labels the Muslims as having “an aggressive spirit”, accuses them of having “as a class developed into a bully” and says they are “fighters as a body”.

The objective behind bringing to light the bigoted opinions of such icons is to fuel introspection. There is a general tendency among people to hold Muslims responsible for each and everything which goes wrong be it partition or terrorism. And when the Muslims begin to defend themselves, they are accused of “self-ghettoization” and portraying themselves as “victims”. It’s time that the Indian society sheds silly stereotypes about Islam. The Quran does not sanction violence against Non Muslims. Instead it states that, “There is no compulsion in religion” and “To you, your religion; to me, mine.” It is in India’s self interest that it realizes the mistakes which it has committed in construing Islam and accepts Muslims as patriotic citizens of the land without any skepticism.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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