A Com­mu­nity in Tur­moil

India Today - - INSIDE -

As most com­plex com­mu­nal con­tro­ver­sies do, it started out as a mere tri­fle. Tucked away in the Byzan­tine con­fines of the old, princely city of In­dore, there lives a 73-year-old woman called Shah Bano. Ten years ago, when her pros­per­ous lawyer-hus­band di­vorced her in the tra­di­tional Mus­lim way af­ter 43 years of mar­riage, she did a most un­usual thing: She went to court seek­ing a small main­te­nance to feed her­self. To­day, she is mak­ing his­tory. Her search for a small sus­te­nance has led to an un­prece­dented Is­lamic resur­gence not seen in the coun­try for decades. It has ren­dered the Mus­lims a trou­bled, tor­mented com­mu­nity, torn by a se­ri­ous in­ter­nal schism be­tween the vo­cal fun­da­men­tal­ists and sub­dued but de­ter­mined lib­eral mi­nor­ity. More vi­tally, it threat­ens to up­set the elec­toral equa­tions on which the arith­metic of na­tional pol­i­tics has been based since In­de­pen­dence.

Not since pork-and-beef fat-smeared car­tridges caused the great up­heaval of 1857 has a sin­gle non-po­lit­i­cal act caused so much trauma, fear and in­dig­na­tion among a com­mu­nity. Claim­ing that the Supreme Court judg­ment, grant­ing Shah Bano Rs 500 a month as main­te­nance from her hus­band, was a sac­ri­lege as it amounted to in­ter­fer­ence in the Shariat law, ule­mas raised the cry of “Is­lam in dan­ger”. Mus­lims came out in lakhs across the coun­try, chant­ing “Shariat bachao”.

“For Mus­lims, the im­mi­nent dan­ger is to their cul­ture and iden­tity, not to their lives and property,” said Maulana Abul Lais, emir of Ja­maat-e-Is­lami-Hind, sum­ming up the new fear cam­paign. And if com­mu­nal Mus­lim groups protested across In­dia by burn­ing ef­fi­gies of for­mer Supreme Court chief jus­tice Y.V. Chan­drachud, the au­thor of the con­tro­ver­sial judge­ment, Hindu Ma­hasabha re­tal­i­ated by hand­ing out the same treat­ment to ef­fi­gies of Maulana Zi­aur Rah­man An­sari, Union MOS for en­vi­ron­ment, who leads the fun­da­men­tal­ist charge within Congress (I).

Noth­ing else, nei­ther the recurring tragedy of com­mu­nal ri­ots nor the trauma of eco­nomic de­pri­va­tion, had ever caused such tur­bu­lence be­fore. From the miserly shikara owner in Sri­na­gar to the pros­per­ous Gulf-re­turnee in Ker­ala’s Mal­la­pu­ram, from the har­ried Ben­gali-speak­ing im­mi­grant in As­sam to the in­su­lar Me­mon in Kutch, the con­tro­versy has cut into the in­ner­most core of the Mus­lim re­li­gious iden­tity. IN­DIA TO­DAY, JAN­UARY 31, 1986


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