Indian Muslims: Are they ‘invaders’, ‘scumbags’ or equal citizens?
By Adil Khan 28 December 2019
Two Hindu students in Kolkata, India walking a blind Muslim to a Mosque (Source: https://www.kalerkantho.com
Broadly speaking most Indian Hindus seem to entertain three perceptions vis-à-vis the Indian Muslims – that Muslims are: (i) ‘invaders’ and thus have no place in Hindu India; (ii) ‘scumbags’, liars, cheats and terrorists and thus be shunned; and finally, to some (iii) they are equal citizens and thus be treated accordingly.
Muslims are Invaders and thus have no place in India
Muslims are ‘invaders’ and thus are outsiders, is the core logic that defines Modi/BJP’s Hindutva policy which is inherently sectarian and is fundamentally, anti-Muslim. However, before we go into debating the merit of this logic, let us conceptualize ‘invaders’ in historical/international political contexts.
People have moved from one country to another for centuries, some permanently and some temporarily. Some through invasions and others through migration. Even the upper caste Hindus especially the Aryan Brahmins that are at the vanguard of Modi’s Hindutva movement said to have come from Persia/Central Asia. Therefore, the moot question here is not how people move from one country to another and settle, through migration or other means, but whether the movement and settlement of people from one country to another, those that have occurred through invasions are necessarily bad? Or in other words, are all ‘invaders’ bad? In order to answer this question, we need to understand the nature of invasions and the outcomes.
An historical/political analysis of invasions reveal following scenarios: (i) there are those that invade to loot and plunder (Sultan Mahmud of Gazni’s, Nadir Shah’s invasions of India); (ii) there are those that invade, occupy and make the occupied land their home and exploit and marginalize the local people through race-based subjugation and dispossessions (English settlers in apartheid South Africa/Zimbabwe); (iii) there are those that invade, occupy, settle and rule through decimation and near-annihilation of local indigenous population (Anglo-Saxons in USA, Australia, New Zealand and Spanish/ Portuguese in most of Latin America); (iv) those that come, conquer and establish colonial administration to exploit and siphon off the wealth of the colony (British in India and in numerous other former colonies; the Dutch in Indonesia etc;) and finally (v) those that invade, conquer, settle and adopt the invaded country as their own home and contribute to its economic wellbeing, administrative and territorial consolidation and also to its cultural enrichment – the Mughals in India is a good example of this.
Mughals, the Muslim rulers of India who mostly belonged to the Sufi brand of Islam (except Aurangzeb) that came from Afghanistan never imposed its religion on its subjects. They expanded and consolidated the territory to constitute two/third of what we know these days as India; introduced a fully functioning decentralized administrative and judicial system; constructed fine infrastructure and irrigation facilities; nurtured and promoted a blend of art, architecture, literature and music that are now uniquely Indian. During the Mughal reign people of all religions is reported to have lived peacefully in mutual respect and at economic level, the British economist Angus Maddison points out by making an important distinction between the Mughals, the settler/developer invader and the British, the colonial invader of India that at the time when Mughal empire fell, India’s share of the world economy was 24.4% and when British left, it collapsed to 4.2%.
So broadly speaking, there are two kinds of invaders – those that are predators and those that are promoter/developer. By all accounts, Mughals – who were also Muslims – fall under the latter category and therefore, Modi’s blanket assertion and stigmatization of all Muslims invaders as evil is not only an utter falsehood but maliciously divisive.
Muslims are ‘scumbags’ and thus be shunned
Someone recently wrote in social media that “The anti-Muslim sentiments in India is not a new thing. I remember talking to many educated Indians, mostly secular and congress supporters, over many years, who talked about ‘India’s Muslim problems’, ….blame Muslims for many kinds of ills in India…..” . The same person also reports that “even though many Indian Hindus do not support lynching, murder and marginalisation of Muslims, many do hold very negative view of Muslims”. Indeed, there is no denying the fact that some Hindu Indians do regard Indian Muslims, if not Muslims in general as liars, schemers, barbaric, basically as scumbags! Let me share a personal experience of mine to illustrate this.
In 1999, I was posted by the UN in Sri Lanka. After arriving in Colombo, we checked into a hotel and began house-hunting. In the same hotel was this Indian gentleman from Mumbai, a senior executive of a multi-national company who was posted in Sri Lanka as the company’s representative. Like us, he and his wife also got into the business of house-hunting. In most evenings, we would sit around drinks and exchange with each other our house-hunting experiences. One day, we found a house, left the hotel and moved into our rental house. However, after about a week of staying at the rental house when we realized that the landlord reneged almost all the agreed contractual agreements, we broke the lease and moved back to the hotel. After moving back to the hotel, we found the Indian couple who still had not found a suitable house. They asked us what happened. We explained that the landlord did not keep any of the contractual obligations. Without batting an eye-lash our new-found Indian friend, an upper caste Hindu from Mumbai, quipped back, “The guy must be a Muslim”. He said this without realizing that we ourselves are Muslims. To him Muslims are wicked, liars, schemers etc. etc. My wife however reminded the guy that our temporary landlord, “is a Tamil Hindu”. The point to note here is not the religious background of our deviant Sri Lankan landlord nor that every Hindu Indian looks at Muslims the way our newly found Indian Hindu friend in Colombo did, but the fact that many Indian Hindus do harbour a very negative mindset vis-à-vis the Muslims is a fact. However, it is equally important to acknowledge that such perceptions may not be completely without basis. Therefore, it is equally important to probe deep to find out why Muslims in India, a repressed minority or for that matter, minorities in constrained contexts, behave the way they do.
Social scientists would argue that in any society where marginalization and discrimination of communities occur along religious, racial and/or in whatever lines over a long period of time, the marginalized community do tend to take recourse to deviant means to mitigate their hurdles and vent frustrations, some in not so civil manner. In India, Muslims and Dalits who suffer from these maladies have been deprived of their dignity and been subjected to stigmatization over a very long period with obvious effects, who do reveal these characteristics from time to time. In this regard one may recall how similar marginalisation and stigmatization of minorities – the blacks in USA and the Pakis (that included mainly the Bangladeshis) in UK contributed to unpleasant behavioural patterns among these repressed communities. However, in both countries, things got better after civil rights movement in USA that broke the colour barriers and policies of equal opportunities in both USA and UK that helped blacks in USA and Bangladeshis and other minorities in UK, to educate. They, the blacks and the minorities then joined the workforce and moved up, gaining in dignity and in the process, changed their behaviours dramatically, such that in UK there are now several Members of Parliaments from the minority non-white communities and the Mayor of London, Sadek Khan, is of Bangladeshi parentage.
In India, where discrimination and marginalization of Muslims were politically/socially constructed by the colonial British seems to have continued in one form or the other, till to date – according to India’s 2005 Sachar Committee report, Muslims are the most “backward” (a term used in Indian academic and legal discourse to describe the historically dispossessed and/or economically most vulnerable communities, not meant to be pejorative) where Muslims that constitute 14% of the Indian population, comprise 2.5% of the Indian bureaucracy. As most social psychologists would point out that the marginalized communities are also the most susceptible people to deviant behaviour, it is hardly a surprise that some Muslims are indeed, deviant if not delinquent. Therefore, what is needed in India is not furthering of dispossession of Muslims and deepening and expansion of repression-induced deviant behaviour something that Modi and his Hindutva gang are doing to bring ‘glory’ to India and ending up doing the opposite but to shun exclusion and promote inclusion.
In the current highly charged situation that Modi’s Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA)/National Registration of Citizens (NRC) have prompted it is difficult to predict how things would evolve in India in the coming days. However, if history is any guide and given that America’s race relations and UK’s race venoms had to reach its ugliest before it ceased, Modi government’s CAA/NRC may be the India’s meanest before things get better, and the good news is that things may be moving in that direction.
Indian Muslims are equal citizens and be treated accordingly: “Youth Ki Awaaz” (voice of the youth)
Indeed, along with the ugliness, the CAA/NRC may have also brought India’s virtuous and the Bill has also revealed its stark generational divide in terms of treatment of its Muslims.
India’s younger generation particularly women who have been at the forefront of the CAA/NRC protests where scores have died and many injured, have made it clear that they do not carry the disgraceful psychological hangover of their elders. They abhor the idea of Hindu/Muslim divide and discrimination based on religion.
A CAA/NRC protester (Source: https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/12/father-hates-muslims-india-law-protests-divide-families-191225033648847.html)
Some especially young female protesters have projected generational divide on Hindu/Muslim issue more poignantly. They report that they do not fear the government but are intimidated more by their older generation, especially their bigoted parents especially, dads. Aljazeera reports that a young female protester has claimed that she was not bothered by the riot police who were firing live bullets but was afraid of her “Hindu father finding out her whereabouts and halting her education” as he may punish her for joining a protest that favours the Muslims. However, the good news is that she and her young colleagues have remained undeterred, basically saying enough is enough, old ways are not their ways and that Muslims in India are same as everyone else and must be treated equally and with dignity, accordingly.
As Enoch Powell is now a history and an uncherished memory in UK, so would Modi and his malicious sectarian Hindutva idea are likely to be one which would pass as bad dreams, probably sooner than later!
1] M. Adil Khan is a former UN senior policy manager and currently, an Honourary Professor, School of Social Science, University of Queensland, Australia