Retired Supreme Court Justice Markandey Katju recently said that, India was never a secular country, where most Hindus are communal and so are Muslims. Justice Katju is often defined as an outspoken man who is not always politically correct, and rightly so. But politically incorrect statements do not mean always they are factually incorrect statements.
Though I agree with Justice Katju that both Hindus and Muslims are communal, as a Muslim, I would say that communalism is far deeply entrenched in Muslim minds than their Hindu counterparts. And probably this is the reason why most Indian Muslims could not actually integrate with the society at large for so many years, which resulted in their slow alienation from the ‘others’.
Being born in a mixed-value Muslim family where the parents were moderate — but not highly liberal, while the grandparents and relatives were highly orthodox, I saw and gained perspective of growing up in such environment. I realised that for Hindus, education came first, religion came second and nation came third, while for Muslims, religion came first, education came second and nation did not figure anywhere. While I do not mean to discredit millions of Muslims who are actually helping in nation building across India, I think somehow some Muslims are reluctant to embrace the nation and nationalism as they should have, often making them targets of the now-famous Anti-National barb by the Hindu nationalists.
The problem lies within, as many Muslims who generally get touchy by being made to feel now that they are living in Hindu-stan, have somehow always believed the same. Though they were born here, went to school here, worked here, but they never felt they belonged here as they believed India is not their natural habitat. The same was fuelled by the polarising politics of this country where one party made them believe that Muslims have to keep them in power, else the party of the “others” will trouble them.
The Muslims got so entrapped in this permanent black-hole of Indian politics, where to save themselves and their identity from the “others”, they became more and more closed, and more sensitive and paranoid towards the “threat to their religion”, which prevented their growth and integration with the larger society.
Now, the question is, what is the future of Muslims in India while the government of the “others” is in power? Since Muslims cannot go to Pakistan, as many Hindu nationalists would like them to do, the onus lies with Muslims only. To co-exist, to develop and to help in nation building. For that to happen, I believe, Muslims must stop wearing religion on their sleeves and focus on developing the community, which comes through good education, good values and good habits.
I also think Muslims need to stop competing with Hindus about who is the bigger bigot. Since charity always starts at home, to bring a change, one must change themselves first. Muslims must start doing the right thing than being in constant denial and/or conflict, which includes being sensitive to others’ faith, customs and comfort.
If cow is sacred to Hindus, Muslims must shun its use. If Azan on a loudspeaker brings discomfort to others, it can be stopped. If Friday prayers eat precious road space, it can be avoided. If culling a goat at home during Bakr-Eid discomforts your neighbours, it can be avoided. Being out on lunch with friends or colleagues and saying out loud that “I don’t eat jhatka meat” never helps and makes you look different. Instead of that declaration, you can simply order vegetarian food for yourself.
And lastly, Muslims, I think, must stop feeling insecure and shun the overused Minority status quickly, as this Minority-Majority business has helped no-one except those in power. Muslims would do well by being defined as equal citizens by merit and not by being tagged as minorities. And equality comes from acceptance, confidence, education, liberalism and prosperity.