No more fun­da­men­tal­ism

As­sam’s Mus­lims refuse to be shack­led by the per­ni­cious pol­i­tics of limited iden­ti­ties

India Today - - COVER STORY - By Kaushik Deka Fol­low the writer on Twit­ter @KDscribe

Mo­ham­mad Ba­harul Is­lam, 62, the head­man of Sa­niadi, 40 km west of Guwahati in Hajo sub-di­vi­sion, limps. He was in­jured in a blast at the vil­lage square in 1984. “We were pun­ished be­cause we voted for the Congress while the rest of As­sam boy­cotted the polls. No­body knows who was be­hind that blast,” he says. Sit­ting at the lo­cal pri­mary school, Is­lam and a group of elders pon­der out­comes of the Lok Sabha polls. They are dis­il­lu­sioned with politi­cians and refuse to be wooed on the ba­sis of their re­li­gious iden­tity.

“If you have come here think­ing that we would de­mand restora­tion of Babri Masjid or more mosques and madrasas, you are wrong. I don’t care what hap­pens to Babri Masjid; all I need is that when I go to an of­fice, I must get my work done quickly and with­out pay­ing a bribe,” says Akmat Ali Taluk­dar, 55, a teacher. “In­stead of madrasas, we need bet­ter schools and op­por­tu­ni­ties for our chil­dren,” adds Fa­tima Begum, 51, a teacher. This is the gen­eral sen­ti­ment in Sa­niadi, a vil­lage of some 6,000 people, half of them Ben­gali-speak­ing Mus­lims, 30 per cent As­samese-speak­ing Mus­lims and the rest Hin­dus. The vil­lage is proud of Maz­ibar Rah­man, 38, who topped the madrasa ex­am­i­na­tion in 1992 but now ad­vo­cates English-medium ed­u­ca­tion. “Just be­cause I stud­ied in a madrasa doesn’t mean I would grow a beard and wear kurta-py­jama. That’s stereo­typ­ing, of­ten helped by me­dia. The prob­lem is in the madrasa cur­ricu­lum which fails to keep pace with de­mands of the mod­ern world,” says Rah­man, now an IT con­sul­tant with TCS.

It’s stereo­typ­ing that ag­i­tates most people in Sa­niadi. “We live in As­sam, not Afghanistan,” says Ab­dur Rah­man, 62, a re­tired teacher. “We have our own cul­ture. If some id­iot bans cell phones for women, that’s his prob­lem. My wife uses a mo­bile phone.” No won­der then that Arz­ina Ahmed, 30, a co­op­er­a­tive ju­nior in­spec­tor, or Mar­jina Akhtar, 40, a house­wife, don’t iden­tify with the im­age of a burqa-clad woman. “I feel scared at pub­lic places but not be­cause I am Mus­lim. Men are badly be­haved in In­dia,” says Arz­ina.

Sa­niadi’s Mus­lims say they’re not scared of BJP com­ing to power. “BJP was in power from 1999 to 2004. We were not harmed,” says Rupc­hand Ali, 61, a teacher. He’s echoed by Imran Hus­sain, 21, an MTech stu­dent at Guwahati who is home to see his par­ents: “BJP started sev­eral de­vel­op­ment projects of which the Congress is now reap­ing the ben­e­fits.”

The opin­ion over Rahul Gandhi and Modi is di­vided, but Sa­niadi’s res­i­dents are unan­i­mous in their de­mands from the next govern­ment— bet­ter ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tutes, roads and pub­lic trans­port, a mod­ern hospi­tal, re­form and vig­i­lance in PDS sys­tem, more govern­ment sup­port for farm­ers and em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties for young­sters. Is­lam, a Congress loy­al­ist, says this time he will back Modi over Rahul be­cause “he talks about de­vel­op­ment and is­sues that con­cern us”.

“I don’t care what hap­pens to Babri Masjid. I must get my work done quickly with­out pay­ing a bribe.” AKMAT ALI TALUK­DAR

Teacher

Pho­to­graph by ANU­PAM NATH

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