Mahatma Gandhi extended support to the Khilafat Movement which was launched against the British betrayal of the Muslim world, after World War I, under the guise of binding treaties – the Mc Mohan Hussein Agreement, Sykes-Picot Agreement and Balfour Declaration. It was this historic betrayal that is at the root of the mess the entire Middle East finds itself in, today.
Gandhi participated in the Khilafat conference, and at the same time, he had launched a separate, India-specific, Non-Cooperation Movement. Participants of the Khilafat Movement and the Non-Cooperation Movement formed a joint resistance group and established a larger coalition against the common enemy – the British empire. They held joint non-violent protests throughout the country, which, though ineffective in their primary objective, had unrelated gains which were no less significant. The period saw revived bonhomie between Hindus and Muslims much to the advantage of many later joint struggles. Its success lay in reassuring each other and instilling a sense of mutual trust.
In light of the question of whether Muslims should participate in Dalit protests, one could go back to the 1920s and borrow wisdom from Ali’s and Gandhi’s book. But, one must not forget that such a coalition was possible when both weighed each other’s strength in parity. They were nationalists as much as they were Hindus and Muslims. This, of course, doesn’t mean that the leadership from both sides were shrewd (which they were, but largely not) only and enough, so as to identify in their comparative strengths a plausible coalition. They were as much committed to the other’s cause as much they were for their very own. A Gandhi wouldn’t be a Gandhi laying down his life for the minority community if it wasn’t for his commitment. He wouldn’t be the same old man in his efforts to establish the credibility of the nascent nationalist institution, the Jamia Millia Islamia, who would get his grandson enrolled and state that he wouldn’t shy from begging if that was needed to meet the institution’s financing.
Their political acumen and respect for India’s syncretic culture withstanding, the larger question is whether the solidarity amongst the masses could have been possible without the common masses considering the other group as equal?
Fast forward to 2018, this question still holds relevance when we are planning for Dalit Muslim unity. Do Dalits consider Muslims equal by virtue of power?
Do ordinary Muslims see Dalits differently from the way the Brahmanical system views them?
When the answer to these questions is in negative, it’s no that wonder they get amplified at the leadership level as well.
Since independence, neither did you have a Muslim mobilisation against atrocities meted out to Dalits, nor did you have a Dalit leader in the past 50 years speaking against the religious bias in the presidential order that restricted religion from forming the eligibility criterion in reservations – thereby effectively blocking the Muslim community from benefitting from the states’ policy of affirmative actions.
That Muslims, after years of marginalisation, are staring at record lows in all developmental indices today is a testimony to the fact that none, not even the Dalits, voiced their concern.
Now, already too late in the day, when there are genuine voices coming from the grassroots and efforts at forging that long-missing solidarity are taking place, we should not just be optimistic but we must also stay focussed on being equals while fighting for equity, on raising the right questions and on extending support to only the right causes.
Hence, for Muslims to argue against participating in the Bharat Bandh called by Dalit outfits would be only akin to repeating the wrongs of the past. For Dalits to turn Hindus under the effect of an impending ‘perception blow’, and staying dumb on the vital questions related to minority rights, would be a repeat of their historic blunder.