It is not just interesting but very significant that at least three persons, of whom two are relative strangers, sent me an article that has recently appeared in Pakistan’s Daily Times. Written by Tufail Ahmad on “Democracy and Indian Muslims” (March 16), it argues how India is the “best Muslim country today”. The article is clearly inspired by Bollywood cine idol Shahrukh Khan’s signed article where he talks of discrimination, and Pakistan’s extremist Hafiz Saeed’s invitation to him and other Indian Muslims to come and live in Pakistan.
The writer, who lives in Washington, goes on to list the “complete political and religious liberty” enjoyed by Indian Muslims in the form of a “free legislative environment”. The article makes some interesting points about the state of affairs in Pakistan and its “discriminatory Constitution”, wondering why any Indian Muslim would leave India for Pakistan. It points out that effectively, India is a “Western country”, with its multi-party system, individualism, liberty, a free press and rule of law.
It is an obnoxious article as it is based on fallacies and half-baked sentiments with little to no attempt by the writer to explore the realities. First of all, India is not a Muslim country; it is a secular, socialist and democratic republic. This, alone, establishes the fallacy of such comparisons. The article seeks to make this connection between Indian and Pakistani Muslims that might have been true for the generation that went through the agonies of Partition, but is certainly not true for those who have lived in Pakistan as a sovereign country for decades now, and for Indian Muslims, who stayed back and never took the opportunities available to them during 1947 and a few years after, to move to the new nation. As an Indian Muslim born and brought up post-Partition, this connection is offensive, as we live in a country that is different, a milieu that is distinct, and an environment that makes for different experiences and thoughts. There is no hankering for Pakistan, no “we are the same people” balderdash, with Indian Muslims being Indian, and Pakistani Muslims being citizens of their country.
Underlying this argument of Muslim “nations”, is a genre of communalism that draws its inspiration from such comparisons. It looks upon the larger polity of democracy to basically suggest that Indian Muslims should be happy where they are, and not look at Pakistan as an option. It, therefore, feeds into the communal rhetoric of right-wing forces who seek to brand Muslims in India as “Pakistanis” and “anti-nationals”. It does not even try and recognise that Indian Muslims looks upon the Pakistani Muslim as a foreigner. There are some divided families, but here, too, the ties are becoming weaker with passing generations.
It is also amazing how easily South Asians living in the US equate democracy, freedom and liberty with the “West”. The best compliment they can give a country is that it is a “Western” nation. India is democratic not because of the British but because its founding fathers took exceptional care not to become a theocratic state with a Constitution that is based on a secular and democratic preamble. It is not a “Western” Constitution but one wedded to the conditions on the ground, considering diversity a strength and turning pluralism into an asset.
So, to the friends who brought the said article to my notice: Indian Muslims are not, and never have been interested in becoming Pakistani citizens. They have never questioned Indian democracy or India’s commitment to secularism, although in recent years, events have shaken their faith in the country they regard as home. It is the communalists of all hues who question this belief and it is this communalism that has to be fought to ensure that secularism is not weakened and India does not become prey to the divisive agenda of right-wing forces. The message that the three friends were sending out clearly was, understand Indian Muslims, how fortunate you are. But then, the “fortunate” barometers for secular Indians are linked inextricably to the success, or otherwise, of Indian democracy and not how Muslim countries in other parts of the world are faring.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 23rd, 2013.