Are Muslims safer in Pakistan than in India? An intriguing question but a pertinent one, given the realities on both sides of the sub-continental divide.
Muslims in India face an identity crisis.
Ibecame friends with an Indian Muslim during my first trip to India in 1985. I was intrigued about the state of Muslims there, particularly after hearing so many stories about their plight. She told me that she and her husband always faced the dilemma during India-Pakistan cricket matches when they invariably ended up supporting Pakistan while her children were always for India. She is even now my friend and says that this is no longer the case; the family without any hesitation whole-heartedly supports India. So something definitely has changed during the past 25 years.
There was a time that the Urdu press in Pakistan used to periodically carry big headlines about anti-Muslim riots in India. I don’t remember seeing one for a long time now and perhaps the 2002 Gujarat riots was the last time that we heard and read about it. The state of tolerance and secularism has certainly improved in India, especially after the riots in Gujarat, despite the fact that Narendra Modi continues to be voted to power by an overwhelming majority.
So does this mean that the Muslims in India are safer than in Pakistan? Ask an Indian Muslim if he felt safe after the Mumbai attacks; or does he feel comfortable walking in the street after an act of terrorism in his city? The answer is probably going to be no; and this is the sad part. And this perhaps explains the reasons behind the formation of Pakistan.
A Sikh was president of India when Indira Gandhi was assassinated. However, he could not help the Sikh military generals, high court judges and even a secularist like Khushwant Singh from being hounded by the mob. But things have changed as now India has a Sikh prime minister and this goes to its credit. What will happen if a Sikh again kills a prominent and popular Indian leader? Would we see a repetition of the 1984 riots? Let us hope that this will not be the case.
This is not to say that this kind of persecution does not exist in other countries, including Pakistan. Let us not forget that the Muslims, despite being scared after the 9/11 attacks, survived in the United States and the country passed without any major an- ti-Muslim mishap. England presented a similar example after the attacks on its Underground in 2005 despite constantly experiencing racial tension and a big Muslim presence in the United Kingdom.
It goes to the credit of the West that they have reached this level of tolerance in their society and one only hopes that we can reach it as well in our lifetime in South Asia. Tolerance is something which we have almost forgotten in Pakistan: we make fun of the Hindu gods but are willing to kill the other person if anything is said against our religion. We deplore European actions against head-scarves but never protest against the constant Saudi ban on all non-Muslims to travel to the holy cities of Mecca and
Medina. We have put to use almost all the temples left behind by the Hindu migrants at the time of partition for everything except as a place of worship, but are unwilling to forgive or forget the destruction of Babri Masjid. What to talk of being tolerant towards against other religions, we bomb mosques, of all the places, belonging to other Muslim sects: so Taliban who are Deobandi routinely attack Barelvi mosques and shrines throughout Pakistan; and Shia places of worship are a favorite target of Sipah e Sahaba in the Punjab and in Karachi.
Things are not good in Pakistan and Pakistan is no longer a safe place which it used to be a couple of decades back. Despite this, Muslims do not have the feeling of persecution and discrimination after each terrorist attack that a Muslim in India may experience. Muslims are not picked up here because they are Muslims after terrorist attacks in Malegaon, Ajmer Sharif, Hyderabad Mecca Masjid, Kanpur, Benares’ Shehtala Ghat, Haryana’s Mewat or the Samjohta Express train.
Shabana Azmi will not have a problem hiring a house in Pakistan as she did in Mumbai. No one can dare burn even a single verse of the Quran here. An Indian regardless of his religion will be welcomed anywhere in Pakistan including at a Jihadi home; he would be treated as a guest. As opposed to this, every Pakistani, regardless of what religion he professes is viewed as a potential ISI agent. A Hindu Indian can criticize the United States but if an Indian Muslim does, he is immediately labeled as an associate of Al-Qaeda and trained by some Tunda or Lungra. The SIMI (Students’ Islamic Movement of India) may be a small group but every Muslim youth is seen as its potential sleeper cell. The fate of Gujarat’s Muslims is known to all; many of the riot victims continue to live in camps and desire to become invisible in their ghettos to the Modi followers. The literacy gap between the Muslims and the non-Muslims was brought to the fore by the 2001 census. There are hardly any Muslims in the Indian intelligence services and few in the army and civil service.
The fact of the matter is that Muslims in India have to constantly reiterate their Indian identity. They are first seen as Muslims and then as Indians. This is obviously not the case with the Muslims in Pakistan. Many of the terrorists caught in India may be Muslims but obviously not all Muslims are terrorists.
I was in France when Pakistan conducted its nuclear tests in May 1998. While walking I bought tikkas from a guy selling them on the street and asked him where he was from; `Iraq’, `and you’, he asked. Upon hearing the word Pakistan, he refused to take money from me and kept saying `Islamic bomb’, `nuclear power.’ I was pleasantly surprised and wondered if the Muslim Ummah is really spread all over the world.
If the Muslims form one Ummah, then why do we have 55 Islamic States? And why are the Muslims killing each other in Pakistan? And why did the Iraqis fight a war with Iran for ten long years? The fact is that the Muslims do not form one Ummah. It is just one of our identities amongst the many, as Amartya Sen would say. This is something that every Indian must remember: an Indian Muslim is just one of the many identities of that person. He may be a Keralite Muslim who has nothing in common with a Kashmiri Muslim except his religion; he is otherwise a Keralite; a male; part of youth, may be a communist; a South Indian; and most important of all, an Indian. The writer is an advocate of the Supreme Court and a member of the Washington, DC Bar. He has been writing for various publications for more than 20 years and has authored several books.
Muslims in India are identified by their faith first and not their nationality.