Fanatics to the fore again

published on November 14, 2009
Balbir K Punj
The Pioneer

The face of ‘change’ that was seen at Deoband when the 30th annual session of the Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind attracted an impressive gathering of several thousand Islamic clerics and other religious leaders was soon exposed to be nothing more than cosmetic. The meeting had a Hindu religious scholar reciting from the Vedas and the very popular Baba Ramdev preaching and demonstrating the benefits of pranayam. Apart from these welcome gestures, the meeting was a huge disappointment for all those who expected the Jamiat to lead the Muslim community into the 21st century.

The 25 resolutions adopted at the meeting are a throwback to the seventh and eighth centuries. Among other things, they espouse no cinema, no television and no reservation for women in legislatures since these are supposed to be ‘un-Islamic’. Cinema being against the tenets of Islam is ridiculous as many of Bollywood’s personalities are Muslims. From Shah Rukh Khan to Saif Ali Khan, the Khans are the dominant actors in the film industry. Then there are numerous Muslim writers, lyricists, music composers, directors, etc.

The worst display of ultra-orthodoxy has come in the form of the resolution rejecting women’s representation in legislatures. The reason given is that by bringing women into the mainstream various ‘social problems’ will crop up. The clerics are simply using religion as an excuse to reject gender equality.

While all this shameful display of orthodoxy may be the Jamiat’s interpretation of Islam, the important question is what was Union Home Minister P Chidambaram doing at the meeting? His attendance has given the gathering a sort of Government approval. Why did he remain silent when the clerics were challenging and rejecting the fundamentals of Indian democracy? What was he doing quietly listening to the antediluvian rhetoric at the event?

True, Mr Chidambaram did speak on the liberating influence of education and how it empowers our children. He could have clarified that when he said children he meant both boys and girls. He could have referred to the widespread reluctance within the Muslim community to send girls to secular schools after the age of 10. How could a Minister of this Government that has time and again underlined its commitment to giving 33 per cent reservation to women in legislatures lend the prestige of the Union Home Minister’s presence to a meeting that condemns this very reservation as unacceptable?

Then there is the resolution rejecting the singing of the National Song, Vande Mataram. The reiteration of an old fatwa that the National Song is ‘un-Islamic’ has come as a snub to the Congress which made the song the source of inspiration during the freedom struggle. Thousands of Muslim patriots have participated in the singing of this inspiring song, marching shoulder-to-shoulder with others against India’s colonial rulers. AR Rahman, a Muslim, has created a popular rendition of Vande Mataram.

Asked on a TV channel whether that makes the Oscar-winning Rahman less of a Muslim, the moving spirit of the Jamiat, Maulana Mahmood Madani, ducked the question. But can Mr Chidambaram answer as to how could a Congressman and a Union Minister remain silent about the anti-National Song rhetoric? And as for the clerics’ objection that the song deifies the motherland, eminent scholars have refuted this charge. It only personifies the nation as Mother India.

The Union Home Minister has spoken at Deoband about the majority community’s duty to protect the minority community. No one can take exception to this call. But why did he fail to point out that this rule has not been followed where Muslims are in majority, as in the Kashmir Valley from where all Hindu Pandits have been driven out? The selective application of this principle of duty of the majority community to protect the minority community is the fundamental shortcoming of our ‘secularists’ and their organisations.

It is this selective application of ‘secularism’ that is a greater threat to our national unity. This has emboldened sectarian leaders to push their communal agenda at the expense of nationalism. The Deoband meeting, for instance, has called upon the Muslim youth to emphasise their separate Muslim identity. And of all the people Mr Chidambaram should be aware as the Union Home Minister how ‘separate identities’ often turn into separatism.

The Jamiat clerics have no doubt condemned terrorism and drawn a line to separate the religious fervour of jihad from terrorism. However, the fervour with which the Jamiat meeting has called for local committees to enforce ‘social reform and religious practices’ does not go so far as to ask them to isolate the preachers of virulent jihadi doctrine and to identify those who recruit youth to turn them into terrorists.

The Union Home Minister was eloquent in condemning the demolition of Babri Masjid. But he shied away from calling a spade a spade when the clerics surrounding him were busy demolishing all symbols of national identity while re-emphasising their separate identity not only in terms of dress and language but even the manner in which Muslims should greet others. Mr Chidambaram’s silence is in line with the attitude of our ‘secularists’ whose otherwise loud rhetoric goes mute in the face of Islamic orthodoxy.

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