India is a land of contradictions (read hypocrites), and this contradiction is best seen when the prime-time 9 PM news is telecast. The anchors and the “experts” shamelessly censure people whose views do not match theirs. This is done sans logic, with an emotional appeal to the “sacred”. A recent example of this was the bashing of AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi on various news channels regarding his statement on the number of Kashmiri Muslims martyred in the recent attacks on an army camp in Sunjwan.
Worth asking is what harm there is in being proud of the people from one’s community. It doesn’t always mean limiting those people to the narrow confines of a group. It can also mean celebrating our diversity and acknowledging what that part contributes to the whole. Being offended by such pride is akin to persecuting the Rajputs for revering Padmavati as their idol when “she belongs to India”. The controversy in this case is largely because the M-word was involved. Unsurprisingly, the anchors were using the examples of Muslim martyrs like Abdul Hameed to argue that a ‘shaheed’ has no religion.
The statement by Mr. Owaisi was also seen as a way to politicise the army. But is the army really an apolitical institution? It is nothing more than mere tokenism to say that the army is secular, that there are codes of conducts, while ignoring the deep structural inequality within the system.
For example, the current skewed structure of the army, where majority of its personnel hail from a few North Indian states, paints a different picture than what we are made to believe. This majority consists of the traditional martial races, an imaginary category developed by the British to exclude the ones who were not loyal during the war of 1857. The Indian Army in its present form has retained that political character, a legacy of the colonial rule, and Muslims have been the worst victims of this vicious design.
This is no innuendo towards the intent of the army. But, let’s not forget that they also come from the society we live in and are inadvertently shaped by its biases. The facts speak for themselves. According to CNN IBN’s Minority Report, of India’s one million soldiers, only 3% (around 29,000) are Muslims. A recent study published in EPW by a former Infantry Colonel Mr. Ali Ahmed indicates that India has trained about five times more Afghani cadets as officers than Indian Muslim cadets, while its own Muslim population is five times larger than that of Afghanistan. It is true that these figures are in line with the general exclusion of Muslims as studied by the Sachar Committee. Nonetheless, what can explain giving officers’ training to Muslim Afghani soldiers in much higher proportion than ours?
The Indian psyche is haunted by Muslims. The ghoul of Savarkar’s logic of the community’s fatherland and religious land being different and hence the divided loyalty still obsesses our elites. The narrative is framed by turning a geopolitical question into a civilisational struggle, where the “Hindu” India is up against the “Muslim” Pakistan.
There is a need to increase the proportion of Muslims in the army if the army has to be secular and apolitical in its essence. This has practical benefits too, both for the Muslim community and the army. Muslims will be able to respond to the negative stereotype that we see on social media. At the same time lead perhaps the people of Kashmir will see their political struggle as removed from a religious one. Besides all this, given the diverse social, cultural, and geographical context the army gets involved in during its operations, diversity will always remain an asset.
Tomorrow again a Muslim youth will be asked the certificate of his patriotism and will be quoted these figures to prove how his community is a traitor. And when he will try to respond by drawing attention to the numerous Muslim martyrs, he will be smacked by the anchors for the communal counting of the troops. Muslims are thus destined for shame in every direction. Mr. Owaisi should therefore be congratulated and not criticised for bringing attention to this issue, which could have slipped through the Indian consciousness.
The author is a part of the Youth Ki Awaaz Writers’ Training Program.