An Indian-Muslim's Ethnie

y.r.rani at y.r.rani at
Mon Dec 11 09:26:56 UTC 1995

Important concerns about causes of communal problems in India have been
brought to our attention.  Looking at these objectively is like walking the
edge of a sharp sword.  It is difficult to stay balanced. (Is this
balancing act what we call "PC"?)

 The problems are painful and complex and are a totally all-consuming part
of everyday life for Mustafa and Hussain and Fatima in Rampur or Kanpur or
Allahabad.  The average Muslim on the streets in UP, Bihar or Bombay, is
poor and probably fairly uneducated.  They follow the lead of their Muslim
leaders, hoping that this guidance will help them not to be "swallowed up
in a Hindu India."  Unfortunately, much of this leadership is urging them
on in the wrong direction.(IMHO)  Indian Muslim leaders need to help their
constituents feel like part of the Indian experience and appreciate the
fact that they are Indians as well as Muslims. This happens far too seldom
and such enlightened leadership is silenced for fear of a fatwa.

No long ago, an elected official from Kerala, a Muslim, was asked to
participate in a ceremony commemorating the opening of some government
facility.  As part of the opening ritual he was asked to light a candle.
He refused, saying this was against his religion.  He was "not a Hindu and
therefore could not light a candle."  Now, lighting a candle before cutting
the ribbon is part of INDIA'S heritage and tradition. . . why would he
refuse, unless he wanted to send a message to the Muslims in Rampur and
Kanpur that they should refuse to be an integral, participant part of
India?!  Nowhere in the Koran is the lighting of candles proscribed!
(correct me if I'm wrong here)  Why not light a candle?  They're lit all
the time at Sufi shrines.  Unfortunately, this type separatist and
confrontive Muslim would undoubtedly say that Sufism is a form of Islam
polluted by its contact with Hinduism (really Zoroatrianism contact came
first before Sufis ever arrived in Sindh. . .).  The point is, what kind of
message is this poor leather worker in Rampur getting?  His leadership is
so far to the right--they make Khomeini look like Santa Claus!

Like it or not, there's a big point that is being made by JB Sharma and
others about looking at Indian History without the blinders concerning what
is termed the Muslim period.  What that history were just history, such as
Algebra is Algebra. . . but history is also a story.  Though it's prone to
be manipulated, distorted and appropriated, we should not create it or
delete it but face it squarely.  How much more difficult to deal with the
problems of Medieval Indian history than the discourse on the slave trade
in the Americas!  (Who would dare defend such human misery!  There is a
tight consensus on that point of history.)  However, in the case of Indian
Medieval history, this consensus does not obtain.

I don't mean to sound like a Sangh Parivarvali, which I am not.  I detest
their Muslim bashing and I think in general that they can tend to be a
rather humorless lot who react strongly to constructive criticism.  Their
vitriolic Uma Bharati style communalist discourse will not help India nor
their cause.  But, some of the points they make about the mis-steps in
direction that Indian has taken ARE valid.

The obvious problems of any discourse of "Civic Culture" in India are
seemingly overwhelming. The inherent cleavages between perceptions of
India's past, the role of the various ethnic/ religious groups and how they
acted upon history and upon one another, are so completely at odds that a
reconciliation in the interpretation and reconstruction of historical
evidence is, to say the least, very challenging.  The divergences between
Hindu and Muslim historical memories and their civilizations' responses and
responsibilities are diametrically opposed.  Almost any reading of India's
"Glorious Past" could be construed as communalism depending on who was
reading it.  The history of Islam's arrival in India and the "Triumph of
the Mogul Empire" is a proud and noble story to a Muslim, but to many
Hindus it is a story of rape and pillage.  Conversely, the story of Hindu
philosophic traditions and their powerful contribution to human thought and
the "Triumph of Indic Civilization" could be an affront to a Muslim who
sees Hinduism as an idolatrous and pagan challenge to the one true God and
the "Islamic invasions" as wars of liberation.  It is obvious that just to
teach "national civic culture" or even  a basic history class in a country
such as India, divided as she is by such sharp distinctions in perceptions
of the past, is a complex issue not easily resolved.

As we discuss these issues from the comfort of our computer terminals, we
must not, as Dr. Conlon reminded us, forget that Muslims in India feel the
prejudice of Hindus everyday.  However, categorically rejecting the culture
in which they live is not going to help them overcome that prejudice.
Being an integral part of India should not imply that one is somehow being
un-Muslim.  That is down right preposterous.  It provides the sort of
negative stereotyping that serves as a powerful rhetorical tool for the
right wing of the Sangh Parivar propaganda machine.  Islamic leaders in
India cling to their out-dated medieval Shari'a laws which are so
conservative that they are no longer even used most Islamisized countries.
If India is to move forward towards pluralism and freedom and justice for
all (Amen) then the leaders of her largest minority need to be forward
thinking and promote the fact that the form of Islam practiced in India is
unique and therefore indigenous.  They should extol their brethren to take
pride in this very Indianess of their lives and culture and the beautiful
influence that centuries of interaction of Islam in India has produced.
How will they rise above the communal divisions if they refuse to light a
symbolic candle for their homeland?

I guess the next generation will tell and they are a very mixed lot.  If
the valid points made by moderate "Hindu Nationalists" are not considered,
I am afraid that the more radical elements will prevail.  This could be a
cruel period of Indian history and an opportunity for productive debate
would have been lost, along with countless lives.  The problems demand a
dialogue in diversity, not demagoguery.  Hindu "fundamentalism" or
"revivalism" is among other things a reaction.  They want all Indians,
regardless of religious affiliation to "light a candle for India."

Yvette C. Rosser

 G R E E T I N G S
     F O R     A

 _/M\_         ,,,,"X",,,,
  /''''''\         %%%%%%
:{  ^¿^  }:        ! *¿*  !
  \ ~ /         *\ @  /*
     Y                 V

 H A P P Y    A N D
  N E W    Y E A R


More information about the INDOLOGY mailing list