Books the disappearing Muslim

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Salman Khurshid, the prominent lawyer, Congress leader and former foreign minister, positions his new book, Visible Muslim, Invisible Citizen, as a response to his colleague Shashi Tharoor’s recent tome, Why I Am A Hindu. But, as Khurshid quickly acknowledges, his task is substantially different.

Salman Khurshid, the prominent lawyer, Congress leader and former foreign minister, positions his new book, Visible Muslim, Invisible Citizen, as a response to his colleague Shashi Tharoor’s recent tome, Why I Am A Hindu. But, as Khurshid quickly acknowledges, his task is substantially different. Tharoor made a valiant, if perplexing, bid to distinguish his religious faith from Hindutva. But who really believes Hindutva is about religion rather than politics, concerned with articles of faith rather than a power grab, a theological movement rather than a supremacist, majoritarian assertion? Tharoor seeks to justify his private religiosity, his appreciation of his faith, while Khurshid takes it upon himself to justify the faith, Islam itself, and to justify the place of Muslims in India. It’s an awful indictment of who we have become that Khurshid feels compelled to take on this task “primarily for the benefit of Hindus, many of whom in recent years have been forced to misunderstand Muslims and Islam”. For Muslims, Khurshid suggests that they ask themselves-as if such a question were not already being asked and is indeed perpetual and without answer-“how to continue the adherence to their fundamental beliefs and yet make their religion compatible with modern times”.

By setting himself such an onerous, didactic task, Khurshid hamstrings himself and his book, producing a rather dry, occasionally dull, primer to some of the discussions taking place in the editorial columns of national newspapers and the drawing rooms of the high-minded. In one chapter, he reproduces (almost in its entirety) a series of pieces published in the Indian Express about the accelerated ‘disappearing’ of Muslims from public life. Unfortunately, it is in these extended quotes that one finds any passion, rather than in Khurshid’s own too-judicious prose. Listen, for instance, to Saeed Naqvi’s condemnation of Ramachandra Guha’s muddleheaded, invidious argument that a burkha and trishul are somehow analogous: “he (Guha) is a creature of un-institutionalised apartheid which means separate development… the undeniable truth will be that he has grown up only with his ilk.” Irena Akbar is altogether cooler, a mocking eyebrow raised: “While the hardliner’s ‘good Muslim’ eats only vegetables, chants ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’, is seen nowhere near a cow, and speaks chaste Hindi; the elite left-liberal’s ‘good Muslim’ eats biryani, kebabs, recites Urdu poetry and organises ghazal evenings… When he/she begins to defend the burkha or the topi, let alone wear one, he/ she becomes ‘too Muslim’ for comfort.” Shamsur Rahman Faruqi makes much the same point as Akbar: “Personally, I am against the burkha, the hijab, the skullcap, the unkempt beard, the whole works… At the same time, I do admire every attempt by a minority in a democracy to make a statement of its identity.”

This is the crux of Khurshid’s book, so neatly encapsulated in its title. For Muslims to be acceptable as citizens of India, they must be invisible. As Rahman points out (in the op-ed Khurshid quotes), the “marginalisation of Muslims has been an ongoing project since shortly after Partition, though not with such venomous intensity as of today”. Surely the marginalisation is no longer ongoing but complete. Muslims, at 15 per cent of the population, have next to no representation in India’s Parliament. At the same time, sundry political leaders call routinely for Muslims to be sent to Pakistan.

In another of his lengthy quotations, Khurshid shows that Jinnah (rich irony) wanted to partition India only to recreate Pakistan in India’s image. While the Hindutva brigade (rich irony) purport to despise Pakistan, all the while working to create an Indian facsimile. Khurshid shows, though anyone who is paying attention already knows, that our leaders are pushing Muslims away, alienating them, insulting them and then demanding that they express their love for a nation whose inclusive ideals have been ransacked.

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