Indian Muslims: From darkness to dawn.

Untold India September 23, 2021

TBy Hasan Ghias “The darkest hour is just before the dawn”, says an old English proverb. Are we living through our darkest hour since the foundation of our republic? Perhaps yes; perhaps not. The worst may still be in store, or we may have hit rock bottom. Nobody knows. Three distinct climacterics characterize the trajectory of Indian Muslim history since the nineteenth century, one occurring in each of the three centuries. While we can trawl through the pages of history, and its multiple narratives, to draw our own lessons and conclusions about the first two, it is the third event that poses complex challenges that we have to grapple with and find our way forward through numerous snares and confounding developments to discover opportunity in adversity. The end of Mughal rule was accompanied by the catastrophic consequences of the rebellion of 1857. Pulverized by merciless reprisals, the Muslims of India were in a state of pitiable turmoil. Emotionally charged responses, ranging from meek submission to defiant rage, resulted in enormous confusion but little direction. It was against this backdrop that the great pragmatic visionary, Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, picked up the fragments of the dashed hopes and destroyed morale of his community to piece together a cogent and reasoned response and a blueprint for revival. The Aligarh Movement was born and played a historic role in shaping the destiny of Muslims in the colonial state and thereafter. The second cataclysmic event in the history of post- Mughal India, with consequences for Indian Muslims more abject and dire than those that followed the great rebellion, was the tragic partition of India. Confused, directionless, suffering from loss of self-esteem, devastated by violence against their lives and property and relentless attacks on their identity, the Indian Muslim community yet again searched for direction. For decades, fed on deceptive promises and imbued with false hopes, far from seeing their aspirations realized, they were silent witnesses to their relentless marginalization that pushed them down to the bottom of the socio-economic ladder. This time no Sir Syed appeared to provide a reasoned and cogent response. Even the wise sage, Maulana Azad, whose predictions proved prescient and prophetic as the community hurtled down the route to disaster, found it beyond his tired capacity to weld together the hapless Muslims who chose to stay. In any event, he did not live long enough to see the pathetic picture fully emerge. Just as the nineteenth and twentieth centuries witnessed major turning points in the lives and fortunes of the Muslims of India, the twenty first century saw its own watershed moment in May 2014. The political order changed dramatically, perhaps irrevocably. The general election results were understandably received with trepidation by the Muslims and the promise of ‘sabka sath, sabka vikas’ was perceived with some scepticism. Worse was yet to unfold. The stunning victory of the BJP, which fielded not a single Muslim candidate in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections of 2017, confirmed their political irrelevance in India’s most populous state. The potent and poisonous canard of Muslim appeasement conveniently glossed over the fact that while Muslims constitute 19% of the population of Uttar Pradesh, their representation in the administration, judiciary, police, provincial constabulary, and the public sector falls woefully short. During the 2019 parliamentary elections, the ugly face of brute majoritarianism was on full display. The BJP swept to power with an even bigger majority than in 2014. The sustained disempowerment and marginalization of Muslims in independent India gathered fresh momentum in 2014 and snowballed in 2019. Even as the economy was suffering from the double whammy of demonetization and a clumsily enforced GST, high on the legislative agenda of the re-elected government was triple talaaq. Never mind that the Supreme Court had already declared the practice invalid; it was still very important to punish with imprisonment a crime that never happened. That done, what next? Kashmir of course. How handy the old chestnut of Article 370! Substantially hollowed out anyway, why not deliver it a death blow, particularly when approbation is assured? Along with Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, out goes Article 35A that restricts the right to own real estate in Kashmir to residents of the State. Several other states of the Indian Union have similar protections, but a Muslim-majority state is an anachronism, so it’s demographics must be changed. There are several instances where Union Territories in India have been elevated to the status of states, but Kashmir is the sole example in the history of independent India when a full-fledged state has been degraded to two Union Territories. Curtailing the rights of a few million Kashmiris is a walk in the park when compared with the gigantic task of disenfra