Views from Srinagar
IN India, Muslims seeking a due consideration of their political rights, values, culture and identity, now simply seems impossible; even to visualize. Particularly Modi at the helm of affairs the stifling conditions have noticeably exacerbated only. Muslim existence in India virtually stands reduced to a day-to-day battle for mere survival now.
Sensitising news that “Rickshaw driver’s son forced to change surname from Sheikh to Shubham cracks UPSC” has created a buzz all over the place. Indeed it’s an occasion to celebrate much deserved success of a real underdog. Ansar Ahmad Shaikh comes from a most backward and currently severely draught hit Marathwada region of Maharashtra. He being poorest of the poor certainly was a debilitating factor for a 21 year old Muslim boy. Being a Muslim has been his real trepidation, however. To pursue success, Ansar was “forced to adopt a Hindu identity” to find accommodation in a Pune neighbourhood. Sheikh is not acceptable and Shubham only could be an enabling factor to “get accommodation and food without hassles”.
For three years a Muslim boy had to adopt a Hindu identity to survive in a society that claims to be egalitarian and secular. That needs no further elucidation to describe how deep the prejudice against Muslims has seeped in ordinary Indian mindset. Yes the ordinary man harbouring intolerance towards a common Muslim is a real cause of worry. Elite classes, having multiple vested interests, are invariably found to be contaminated with one bias or the other. It’s also indicative of how deep down the malice against Muslims has percolated.
After toiling really very hard and braving ingrained discriminations and inherent handicaps, finally a happy beginning seems to be in sight for young Ansar Sheikh. Successfully overcoming the hurdle of UPSC, the young Muslim boy is confident to assume his natural identity: “now he is determined to proudly flaunt his Muslim name and minority background and work for communal harmony as a government officer”. What a travesty, a young Muslim in India has to be talented, laborious, moreover, successful to feel confident to assume his natural identity.
Ansar Sheikh seems to be fortunate enough to claim his identity back. How many amongst the 160 million Indian Muslims can muster such a confidence of asserting their identity, freely? Obviously the odds are heavily stacked; 34 against 160 million. 34 Muslim candidates only were able to clear the UPSC this year. The consequences are not difficult to anticipate if a steadfast Muslim in contravention of present prevailing conditions in India decides to assert his/her identity. He/she will get surely censored hence ostracised as extremist if not terrorist straightaway. Jawaharlal Nehru University student Umar Khalid after his release from Jail posed a very pertinent question: I had defended myself that I am not a Muslim. But I thought what if I were a Muslim? What if I came from Azamgarh, wore a skull cap? I felt like the guy in the book ‘reluctant fundamentalist’. And still you can’t ask me such questions.” Umar Khalid has succinctly portrayed the ordeal of perilous existence an Indian Muslim is going through.
What would have been the fate of Umar Khalid, if he happens not to be a self-professed atheist? Was he not initially profiled as a Pak sponsored Jaish terrorist? If he had been an observing Muslim, it would take him at least ten years to prove his innocence. The acquittal of Malegaon accused after ten long years, simply “is a reminder of a recurring injustice”. There can be no two opinions about the fact that: “The Malegaon case also indicates how simple it is for investigating agencies, either the ordinary police, or the Anti Terror Squad (ATS) as in this case, to charge Muslim youth with acts of terror”.
Ansar Sheikh is one of the fortunate 34, amongst the 160 million Indian Muslims. The articulate Umar Khalid is only one amongst the 160 million Indian Muslims to be able to garner some degree of support from liberal intellectuals. His JNU teacher in an article in Indian express “Umar Khalid, My Student” ardently mounted a defence in his favour. While mentioning host of his other qualities the worthy teacher, still found it fittest to emphasize Umar Khalid’s little knowhow of religion; “I remember how he grinned at his own ignorance when there was a discussion on Islamic jurisprudence. “Ma’am,” he laughed and said, “I know nothing of all this.” And another article in IE in the same vein “Umar Khalid, my son” seems to be more forthright in celebrating Umar Khalid’s ostensible absence of faith “Umar chose not to take the path of his father. A politics that thinks only for Muslims is not for him. Breaking away from his family, he turned an atheist and an ultra-Maoist”. Umar Khalid chooses his path no qualms about that, “Unto you your religion, and unto me my religion”.
Will they also respect a Muslim for what he is? This privilege seems to be reserved for a Muslim only who chooses to become their mirror image. The so-called liberals and pseudo intellectuals equally intolerant towards the unique Muslim characteristics too are no less than chauvinists. Fascists after all are closed minds; in case of Muslim identity, liberals also behaving as absolutists, sums up the real irony of India. To hell with such encumbering conditions, those hamper a Muslim to assume his/her identity, without any fear of intimidation or inviting prejudices. Where there is no dignity in life, is that a life worth of living? And the place that by design denies the dignity of life, is that place worthy of living?