Friday, August 19, 2016

About Laughing During the Dark Days: A Letter to Zakir Khan

(picture from net, illustration purpose only)

Dear Zakir Khan,

Good that you asked me this question; why many people in India love to hate Muslims? You, in fact, did not use these words, instead you asked, ‘why our acquaintances have contemptuous perception about Muslims?’ I can feel your pain and I share it. Contempt for anything comes, as the old adage goes, from familiarity. We need to tweak it a bit to make it suitable for our times. It makes sense and sounds feasible when we change it by saying, strangeness also brings contempt. Muslims as a generic religious group, despite its innate sects and factions, and liberal, moderate and extreme ideological anchors, has come to have become the strange ‘other’ for anybody who hails from other religious groups. In India, this contempt and hatred for Muslims have become all the more pronounced these days.

The historical reasons for pitching Muslims against Hindus vary depending on the historical time that we consider in order to analyse this hatred. The Hindu-Muslim strife in India, if seen in the right perspective never had religion as its fundamental reason. More than religious differences it was the politico-economic power differences that had created strife amongst these two religious groups. The geographical conception and imagination of India as an undivided subcontinent is first of all a religious imagination which was a result of the geographical conception and imagination created by the British colonialism in the Indian subcontinent. Till then, India was never the ‘female’ (Bharat Mata) form as we imagine today literally (visually) along the geographical boundaries of our country. Innumerable chieftains and local kings were making adjustments with the dominant powers including the Mughal power and it simply continued under the British rule too. Most of the rebellions till 1857 were basically for ‘tax money’ based on the land and agriculture and commerce within and without it. Religion was a subtext in the discourse of power in the Indian subcontinent.

By the mid 19th century, consolidation of the British power in India had evoked political resistances against the British and those movements had to be based on a common cultural ideology in order milk out political unity amongst the local kings and chieftains who enjoyed the support of both the Hindus and Muslims. Political unity of India could not have been possible without imagining a geographical nation which was a unified India. Common heritages and cultures had to be dug out, unified and re-codified for the purpose of imagining that physical nation and the available historical research was leading to the Vedic Hinduism, travelling over Mughal and Sultanate periods, rise and fall of Hindu kingdoms and Buddhist kingdoms, the resurgence of Hinduism with the arrival of Sankaracharya in the 8th century and so on. Importantly, when the imagination of a large Hindu nation was taking place here the Indian Muslims were also a part of the nationalistic risings against the British. However, sooner than later they realized that the dominant groups that led the anti-British movements by and large were having Hindu leanings which obviously had forced the Indian Muslims to have their own socio-political organizations not only for being a part of the nationalist struggle for Indian Independence but also for reforming the Muslims communities spread all over India from its own trappings of tradition and religious orthodoxy.

This history is known to us and also the aftermath of it. When the British left, they had already divided India into two; almost half a century before the British had divided Indian Hindus and Muslims into two mutually opposing factions by dividing Bengal into East and West Bengal, which later we would see once again becoming the arena of political contention between India and Pakistan. Partition in 1947 and the pogroms that ensued further created emotional ruptures between the Muslims and Hindus in India. Surprisingly, the Sikh community which had been bearing the brunt of partition patched up emotionally and culturally not only with the Indian Muslims but also with the international Muslims. However, an imaginary nation has been still in the minds of the those people who keep on believing that an undivided India could be realized through outnumbering Muslims in socio-cultural and politico-economic  spheres by periodical attacks for flimsy or concocted reasons.

Over imagining a nation with expanded political boundaries only because it was imagined so at some point of history is the present problem that India is going through. We all know that India has to have a world supreme military power as well as fascistic political will to destroy all other nations spread all over this region and bring them under the so called undivided India. Indian political leadership including the present one in power with dominant Hindutva ideology knows it well. Yet, both the Indian Muslims and Hindus imagine their country as Bharat Mata, a lady standing with her iconographical attributes filling in the physical contours of the geographical map of India which all of us had learnt to draw when we were in school. The recent evocation of Gilgit and Balochistan by our Prime Minister in order to checkmate Pakistan in the Kashmir issue, despite all its political, militaristic and social implications, inadvertently has also brought something which the Hindutva ideologues have been not wanting to come to the fore; the real geographical map of India. In a worst case scenario if India is forced to cede Kashmir and PoK, then our Indian Map will be seen without that part that stands for the head of our Map/Bharat Mata. Suddenly, the stark truth stares back at our face. Our cultural imagination which has always cemented the political imaginations lay in tatters, which our Prime Minister had not thought of doing.

Suddenly, the Indian Muslim has become Kashmiri Muslim. Kashmiri Muslims are those people who want to take Kashmir to Pakistan, they say. In the din of Hindutva, we forget the fact that the constitutional provision had given them the right to self determine, which India fears that given a chance would prove detrimental to the larger imagination of the Hindutva ideology. Hence, now within India, Indian Muslims are no longer the real other; the real other are those people who stands for Kashmiris’ right to live peacefully and determine their future political course. Today, Indian Muslim is all those people who stand against the Hindutva. Within the Indian Muslims, the Indian state has found two different types of extremists; one, those who support Kashmiris and two, those who support the ISIS. The beef eating Muslim is no longer a threat as the Indian people have exposed the hypocrisy of the Gau Rakshaks. Today Indian Muslim has taken a new identity; they are one with Dalits, social activists and all those media people who are called the Presstitutes.

India’s political and cultural leaders always knew that the rupture between Hindus and Muslims would worsen as time went. Hence, all their efforts have been to appease both the religious groups without giving a chance for the other to attack the political establishments. This tightrope walking done by most of the central and regional governments in a way paved way for the negative consolidation of politics based on religious fundamentalisms. Today, without addressing the Hindu terrorism we cannot address Muslim terrorism, at least in India, and vice versa. One has begotten the other. Social media is one place where one could see bigots from both the religious groups making rampant attacks on each other based on falsehood and blind faith. These avenues of politico-cultural discourses have never helped in patching up differences. The more the Hindu fundamentalists quote from ill digested knowledge of Vedas and other religious scriptures, Muslim fundamentalists counter them with their equally ill digested understanding of Islam. Religion has become a footnote in the war of egos than providing an avenue for informed socio-political and cultural critique.

The efforts of Indian cultural producers to create a nationalist Muslim in the mainstream novels and films also have taken a backseat knowing well that such attempts would no longer serve any purpose. The other has been created and in turn it has created further others. The only problem is that many of the Indian Hindus laugh at the Muslim ways (I have heard someone saying that Muslims wear elder brother’s kurta and younger brother’s pyjama) but they fail to see that they are also being laughed at for carrying the obvious religious marks all over their bodies; look at the Indian Hindu males and females wearing reams of threads around their wrists, rings of various effects in fingers and the Brahminical tuft on their heads even when they wear three piece suit and speak both King’s and Queen’s English. A progressive society always laughs at itself. When it starts laughing at others and forget to laugh at itself, remember that it has started degenerating and it has revived some kind of orthodoxy which is fundamentally against human refinement. Ability to laugh at and laughed at is a symptom of social refinement. India has lost it. That’s why a stand up comedian is arrested for spoofing the mannerisms of some cultural icons. A society that becomes largely intolerant towards the others forgets the fact that it has already become a laughing stock before the world.

So dear friend, when you are laughed at, just reassure yourself that those who laugh at you have already drawn their boundaries and have declared to the world that they have stunted themselves and have become socio-cultural and political dwarfs and their laughs do not eke out fear and revulsion but pure sympathy for their gigantic ignorance that needs clinical support than logical retort or debate.

Yours sincerely


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