PER­SPEC­TIVE

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.

Southasia - - Cover story - By Anees Jil­lani

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.

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