The Federal webinar: ‘The othering of Muslims is a reality’

Leading Muslim intellectuals discuss the trials and tribulations of being a Muslim in today’s India

Leading Muslim intellectuals on Saturday warned that the process of othering of Muslims in India is underway, and called on all sections of the society to reject it.

In the run-up to the assembly elections, especially in Uttar Pradesh, politicians including Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath have resorted to communally charged narratives. Adityanath’s statement that the state will witness a “80 per cent versus 20 per cent” election was one of several instances where the ruling party or those associated with it have openly issued polarising messages. The “secular” parties, on the other hand, have largely kept quiet, perhaps not wanting to be seen as “appeasing” the minorities.

The Federal on Saturday (February 5) organised a seminar with Muslim intellectuals to discuss these developments. The attendees were Anas Tanwir, Supreme Court advocate and founder of the Indian Civil Liberties Union; Zafar Bakht, member, Indian Muslims for Secular Democracy, Allahabad; Khalid Anis Ansari, associate professor, sociology, Azim Premji University, Bangalore; and Dr Mohammad Jawed, Congress MP from Kishanganj, Bihar. The session was moderated by S Srinivasan, editor-in-chief, The Federal.

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In his opening remarks, Tanwir said the othering of Muslims is not limited to the political sphere. What the country is witnessing is systematic discrimination across all areas, he said, adding that all political parties have fallen into a “Hindu-Muslim binary”.

“I remember somewhere around 2019 the Congress president Sonia Gandhi said that we lose because we are seen as a Muslim party. This admission in itself indicates towards otherisation of Muslims in politics.”

There is a race now to prove which politician is the real Hindu, he said. “Secular parties fell into this Hindu-Muslim binary. Once you are showing that don’t call us Muslims… we are better Hindus you are falling into a trap.”

By falling into the trap, the secular parties are suggesting that a large section of the Hindu society does get radicalised by the mere survival or assertion of Muslims, he said.

Zafar Bakht said that with the rise of Mandal politics, the Congress got displaced in the north, which provided an entry to communal forces. He quoted from a book by Javeed Alam, chairperson for Indian Council for Social Science Research, called Who Wants Democracy? 

What he argues in the book is that the dvija caste [Brahmins, Kshatriyas and Vaishyas] started to lose… they were always with the Congress. The Congress always had an upper-caste elite, who sort of controlled the party. With the rise of the Mandal parties in UP and the cow belt, the Congress got displaced. These people whom the elites saw as rough, below their standards, they started assuming power. The upper castes who were with the Congress realised that in order to hold on to power, they needed to take a right-wing turn. Hence the politics of kamandal. Mandal and kamandal are standing opposed to each other even today,” he said.

Dr Jawed said “there is no doubt” that the situation is “not pleasant in today’s India”, but he also sounded a note of optimism. “We have lived together, shared happiness and sorrows for more than a thousand years. We will get back to our previous routine very soon,” he said.

Watch the full webinar above.

(The webinar was held on February 5, 2022; this article was published on February 6)

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