PUCL, 2002

Outlook Magazine, Apr 01, 2002

The Day My Spirit Died
I was unable to read the RSS correctly. I was convinced it would accept me as an Indian first and a Muslim afterwards.


It is almost three weeks since my daughter and I escaped the violent mobs ransacking a home we loved and finally a city that had been my karmabhoomi for many decades. I find it hard to comprehend that all the human relationships established over the decades could not save our home from the mob. What went wrong? Could I as an individual have done anything to prevent the violence in Godhra and later throughout the state?

It was Wednesday, February 27, 3.30 pm. I was performing an experiment on optics when my peon informed me of trouble outside. A bogey of Sabarmati Express had been torched at Godhra station. Many kar sevaks had died. Immediately, a shiver ran through my spine. Muslims of Godhra had done a very ghastly thing. The insanity of a few would result in a heavy price for Muslims in Gujarat. As a first step, the burning had to be condemned in a public statement.
Fortunately, many newspapers carried my denunciation quite prominently. I was just praying the storm would pass away quietly. But fate willed otherwise.

Raised in the 1950s on a diet of Gandhian idealism, I dedicated my life to communal harmony and the service of the poor and the helpless of India. That led me to give up an American green card and join Baroda University in 1972. Thirty years later, that idealism is passing through fire.

The most important failure was my inability to read the Sangh parivar correctly. I was convinced that as I lived my life in as secular a manner as possible, with total commitment to the country, the RSS would accept me as an Indian first and a Muslim afterwards. Just one day earlier, the Baroda Savarkar Samiti had invited me to speak on Savarkar Day. I was the first Muslim to be ever so invited. They heard my views on the need for harmony between all faiths. What is
more, they were most appreciative that I came to their gathering. Then the next day disaster struck. I lost my house, my books, my car and, most important, my inner spirit, as my co-religionists had done something horrible 100 km away.
My idealism, my patriotism and my sacrifices for the country were irrelevant to the saffron brigade. What mattered was that I was born a Muslim and, therefore, was a foreign element in their narrow view of nationalism.

As a Muslim I would not want a masjid to ever come up at the Ayodhya site. My Allah is a god of peace and mercy. He would be very angry that so many innocents have lost their lives just so that a masjid be operational at that spot. If Hindus want it, let them have it. The only condition I would place is no more demands on other masjids. And for that too, I would only take the word of the Kanchi seer. He is a truly spiritual person and his word would be morally binding on Hindus as a whole.

L.K. Advani's contribution to the English language is the word "pseudo-secularism". Being a politician to the core, he may not realise that India has no choice but secularism. Any move away from secularism will just reduce India to a magnified version of Rwanda or Bosnia. Secularism is not a goodwill gesture to Muslims. Had it been so, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel would not have it. The statesman that he was, he knew that India could only emerge as a dynamic world power if all her citizens were treated as equals.

There are 140 million Muslims spread over every taluka of India. Their spread and their involvement at the local level is so deep that the VHP slogan of kabristan or Pakistan can only be laughed at. Incidentally, the loss of lives in Gujarat, while horrible, was covered up by the natural growth of Muslims in the country, in just one day.

Equally dangerous is the RSS propaganda that Muslims are a pampered
community. Repeated surveys have shown that Muslims constitute the poorest of Indian society.It is understandable, as most Muslims of India are Dalits who have converted. With reservation policies, the condition of Dalits have improved, while Muslims are totally on their own. Can someone tell me where is the pampering?

Polygamy is cited as a special privilege for Muslims. Here too census figures show that the maximum number of polygamous marriages are among Buddhists, then Jains, adivasis, Hindus and finally Muslims. Is it still a case of pampering?

I hope the RSS realises that Hindu nationalism needs something much more than just a "hate Muslim" platform. Their intellectual supporters, such as Arun Shourie, should apply their mind in this field. Nevertheless, I want my fellow Muslims to rise above this hatred.

Allah is Rabil Alameen, Lord of Everything. He's not Rabil Muslimeen, Lord of Muslims alone. In that sense all men, including Hindus, are our brothers. It is sad that a Hinduism that could produce such icons as Vivekanand and Gandhi is now represented by the likes of Ramchandra Paramhans and Praveen Togadia.

How can a society function with a public sanctioning of violent killings of another community? To lionise a 15-year-old for raping and killing an innocent Muslim girl shows the rot in the VHP. How do we explain rich people gleefully looting Muslim shops? In the final analysis what counts is the character of the people in an organisation.

One last question: who gave the Muslim Personal Law Board the right to represent all Muslims, including myself. Similarly, what right has the VHP to speak for all the Hindus of the country? How many mplb members have suffered at the hands of the VHP?

I have, and therefore can claim, a right to suggest a solution to this vexing Ayodhya problem.

It is time these self-appointed custodians of Muslim and Hindu interests are told categorically that they have no business to interfere in Ayodhya.

(The author is on the faculty of M.S. University, Baroda. He is the Gujarat vice-president of the People's Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL) and the general secretary of the Baroda Welfare Society, an organisation that focuses on the economic and educational uplift of Muslims, particularly women. Temporarily, he is not in Baroda.)

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