Indian Republic at 60- Am I Indian First or Muslim First?
Syed Ali Mujtaba
On the 60th anniversary of Indian Republic someone asked me a question; are you a Indian first or a Muslim first? The first thing I did was to thank him for asking this. Answer to this is sought by many "prominent" Indian Muslims and I am indeed honored to inadvertently sneak into this category. The latest ones in the list before me were APJ Abdul Kalam and Sharukh Khan!
I know it’s a very philosophical question 'who am I'? However, without going any further, let me try to handle this. It’s like seeking answer to; are you child of your father first or your mother first? The answer is both. I am born in India and I am an Indian and it’s a geographical term. I am born in Islamic faith and so I am a Muslim, and it’s a religious term. I am an "Indian Muslim" is the short answer. Now let me elaborate my point.
Khan Abdul Wali Khan, the Pukhtoon leader was asked similar question; are you Pukhtun first or Muslim first? He replied; “I have been a Pukhtun for six thousand years, a Muslim for thirteen hundred years, and a Pakistani for twenty-five years. I am the one who is contained with all of these features."
Now let me take you back to the history of this question that reverberated in the entire debate during the run up of India’s Independence and Partition. Many Indian Muslims were asked to clarify their position. They took pains to explain that religious and national identity is like two wheels of a cycle and both are essential for a ride. Multiple identities are inevitable and the individual, the society, and the polity have to adjust to such realities.
As per my knowledge this question was first asked to Maulana Mohmmmad Ali, one of the siblings of "Ali brothers" fame, who spearheaded the Khilfat movement in 1920 and credited to have imported Gandhiji to India from South Africa. Later, on when he fell out of the Congress, he was asked the same question; are you Indian first or Muslim first? What a sad commentary on one of the illustrious sons of India.
After independence this debate was suppose to have settled down with the creation of Pakistan and Bharat, that’s India. However, this has not. It continues to be tossed up to embarrass ordinary Indian Muslims and to create unnecessary tension in the society.
This question continues to be one of the smartest arrows in the quiver of the RSS establishment. They equate religion with national identity and by that token being a Hindu alone is an Indian and the people adhering to other religious faith are not second class Indian citizens and should not enjoy equal rights as those of the Hindu brethren.
My take on this is, for thinking people, nation is a political temporal realm and religion is spiritual realm. In a democracy there is no problem with it. In religiously governed dictatorship of many forms, such as the bigoted wing of Hindutva, Islamists and similar trends in other religions the religion and state is one and the same. Of course in that state no one of a differing view is tolerated.
For thinking people, nation is a political temporal realm and religion is spiritual realm. In a democracy there is no problem with it. In religiously governed dictatorship of many forms, such as the bigoted wing of Hindutva, Islamists and similar trends in other religions, the religion and state is one and the same. Of course in that state no one of a differing view is tolerated.
My take on this is to retort back; are you a Hindu first, or a Brahmin first, or an Indian first? If you move to Australial will you be a Hindu first, a Brahmin first, an Indian first or an Australian first?” How does a Hindu and an Indian reconcile to one’s religious and national identity if he or she is not living in the geographical boundary of India?
Religion is very personal thing to an individual. I am a Muslim and so also my other country men. They are Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, Jains, Zorashtrians, and many others in our plural society. I owe loyalty to my country India and its constitution and yet I practice my religion very freely and without prejudice to others' views or faiths.
If we look at India's canvass, Hinduism welcomed all religions with equal zeal when they knocked our shores and because of its openness, one finds a beautiful spread in terms of art, culture, architecture and music. The southern shores of India welcomed Judaism, Christianity, and Islam with open arms. We have a first synagogue, first church and first mosque in Kerala, a synthesis that is difficult to see in any other country. India therefore stands tall among the communities of nations where pluralism has come to stay. Even the most evolved societies of Europe are still grappling with the plural values.
I have always maintained, we could discuss any thing particularly religion with open mind and with sobering affect. But when we mix other agenda, a conflicting situation arises.
Look at the passion that India- Pakistan cricket matches generated some time back. It was an unfortunate Muslim who had the audacity to clap when Pakistanis scored, and a quick label was fixed on him that he was anti India and a Pakistani. At the same time when a Indian who is settled abroad backs India in sports certainly, the people of those countries do not even pause or think this as an aberration to their citizenship or loyalty.
When Pakistan President Parvez Musharaff clapped and appreciated Indian Cricketers victory in Pakistan, no one raised any hue and cry. In fact he went a step further to quip that the Indian Captain MS Dhoni looked cute in his long hair. His comments did not made him pro Indian and anti – Pakistani but it did made a difference to mellow down the debate; Indian first or Muslim first?
So folks at the end, it’s all in our heads. how we look at the glass of water, whether it’s half empty or half full. The only way for a decent survival in a plural society like India is to steer the path of secularism and democracy and strive for peaceful coexistence.
Syed Ali Mujtaba is a working journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org