1984 had two major consequences. First, it radically undermined the Congress’s claim to being a secular party that respected the political tradition of pluralism pioneered by its colonial avatar and consolidated by Nehru in the early years of the republic. The willingness of the Congress under Indira Gandhi to use sectarian issues for political ends had been evident before 1984 but the party’s willingness to sell its pluralist soul for immediate political advantage was most vividly illustrated in the days and months after her death. The Congress, after 1984, stood out more and more clearly as a party that couldn’t even be accused of not having the courage of its convictions because it didn’t have any convictions at all. Pluralism and its traditional opposition to majoritarianism became labels that the Congress used for brand management in particular political contexts, not as principles that shaped its political agenda.
The second consequence of 1984 was that Indira Gandhi’s assassination sealed the Congress’s long transition to dynastic rule in blood. The rhetoric of martyrdom that debases the political utterances of the Congress faithful dates back to that time. From being a great pan-Indian party that made a subcontinent cohere into a republic, the Congress after 1984 regressed into a de- natured dynastic rump.
Let us return to our question, namely, “What makes Modi and the BJP worse than the Congress and its dynasts, given the horror of 1984?” The answer is simple and unedifying. The Congress, by a kind of historical default, is a pluralist party that is opportunistically communal while the BJP is an ideologically communal (or majoritarian) party that is opportunistically ‘secular’. The difference between the Congress and the BJP doesn’t lie mainly in the willingness of the former to express contrition about pogroms it helped organize; it is, perhaps, best illustrated by the fact that twenty years after the 1984 pogrom, the Congress assumed office with a Sikh at the helm who served as prime minister for two terms. More:
Chetan Bhagat, ever the well-meaning bull in a china shop, wrote this weekend about the Indian Muslim. In his regular Times of India column (in a piece headlined “Letter from an Indian Muslim Youth”), Bhagat appropriates the voice of—he doesn’t specify this, but it is easily surmised from the tone and content of the letter—a young Indian Muslim angry at his exclusion from the mainstream capitalist, neoliberal project. The piece is predictably disappointing in its understanding of the Muslim experience in India, but let us put that aside for the moment and discuss first this assumption of voice.
In India, we are perhaps overly protective of identity groupings. If a debate arises over the actions of a religious or caste group, or over the legacy of a historical figure, fear of giving offence sometimes leads to submission to loud voices instead of the safeguarding of freedom of information and thought. It is precisely this kind of criticism that Bhagat seeks to preempt when he writes, with splendid crudity, “I don’t have a name like Ahmed or Saeed or Mirza, anything that will clearly establish me as a Muslim.” Bhagat is saying, I am not a Muslim, so what? But what he is doing is actually pretty sneaky: His disclaimer is in fact a way of positioning himself, to the great majority of his audience, as someone qualified to write on this subject. The understanding he hopes to transmit to his reader through his mea culpa is that he should still be allowed to speak for the entirety of the Muslim population in India.
There are two problems with this. First, while anyone should be encouraged to produce scholarship and analysis about communities or historical figures, Bhagat’s casual ownership of the voice of 150 million people is patently not that. Second: It is precisely because I am an Indian and a Muslim that I would never dare to speak for all of us. More:
Mohammed Hanif is the author of Our Lady of Alice Bhatti and A Case of Exploding Mangoes. In Dawn:
This is the story of two boys who were forced to leave Pakistan long after the partition. The first one was so young that he didn’t know why he was leaving, the second old enough to know exactly why he had to leave, but still couldn’t stop asking: why?
Earlier this year I met a 14-year-old unaccompanied Hazara boy on a Karachi-Bangkok flight. A group of happy Pakistani businessmen were trying their Chinese language skills on him. The boy looked bewildered, he turned to me and said, in Urdu: what language are they speaking? I gingerly told the group to back off, that the kid was a Pakistani. The businessmen seemed well travelled but were quite shocked that a Chinese looking kid could speak fluent Urdu. They left us alone and started to trade the do’s and don’t of haggling in Bangkok brothels.
“Going on vacation?” I asked the boy. “All by yourself?”
“I am in class nine.” He didn’t want to be treated like a kid.
“So why aren’t you in school?”
He told me a story, a familiar story, but I had never heard it from a kid’s point of view. “Abbu has been acting very strange lately,” he lowered his voice. He has a big store on Sariab Road in Quetta. He used to go there every day. Now, most days he just stays home. First he stopped me from going to school. Then he stopped me from going to play on the street. Then he told me that I was going to go to Bangkok.
The boy had little comprehension of the scale of the trouble his community faced. His father is one of the many businessmen in Quetta who have to make a daily choice: go out to work and risk getting killed or stay home and hope to survive another day. The kid believed his dad was just acting a bit weird. More:
The short documentary is a collection of testimonies in which those Ahmadis who have faced persecution narrate the target killings of loved ones, discrimination at the hands of fellow students and what it is like to live in jail as a blasphemy convict.
Rabwah, is a town of District Jhang with the highest population of Ahmadis in Pakistan. The town is also home to some who have been convicted of blasphemy and under the anti-Ahmadi Ordinance of 1984, making them prisoners in this town.
A major chunk of the report was filmed in Rabwah and identities of some community members have been hidden for the sake of their security. The young man who shares the story of the horrors his family faced after his brother was accused of blasphemy has now left Pakistan. Therefore, we took the risk of showing his face on-camera. The town still provides a sense of security for the rest, so the condemned could speak with hidden faces. More here.
The 2006 Sachar Committee report on the status of the Muslim community in India found that Muslims were amongst the poorest of the poor in the country.
How do we square that with the fact that up until 1857 Muslims had ruled parts of India for over 800 years? I mention this fact because, in the minds of some people, Muslims had expropriated all the wealth of India during this period and oppressed all the non-Muslims.
India has been independent for a little more than 60 years, so this transformation from being the owners of the land to being the poorest of the poor could not conceivably have occurred during this short period.
So, did the decline of the Muslims occur during the less than hundred years of British rule between 1857 and 1947? If so, how?
I don’t know. I am writing this post partly to find out and partly to discharge a long-owed debt to Dr. G.M. Mekhri, a remarkable man in my opinion, who I met just once in the mid-1980s and have never forgotten because he had a very unique perspective on this issue.
Dr. Mekhri had a hypothesis that intrigued me. I don’t really know if it would survive a rigorous test but that seems beside the point. What fascinated me was the audacity and innovativeness of his thinking and his ability to communicate the excitement of such thinking to a younger generation. More:
Pervez Hoodbhoy in The Express Tribune. The writer teaches physics at Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad. These remarks are excerpted from a recent talk he gave in Washington DC to Pakistani professionals settled in America:
My green passport requires standing in a separate immigration line once my plane lands at Boston’s Logan airport. The ‘special attention’ from Homeland Security, although polite, adds an extra two to three hours. I belong to the fortunate few who can get a visa, but I am still annoyed. Having travelled to the US frequently for forty years, I now find a country that once warmly welcomed Pakistanis to be strangely cold. The reason is clear.
Foreigners carrying strong negative feelings — or perhaps harmful intentions — are unlikely to find enthusiastic hosts. I know that the man who tried to bomb Times Square, Faisal Shahzad, a graduate of the University of Bridgeport, is my compatriot. So is Aafia Siddiqui, our new-found dukhtur-e-millat (daughter of the nation). Another Pakistani, Farooque Ahmed, with a degree from the College of Staten Island, made headline news in November 2010 after his abortive attempt to blow up DC Metro trains.
If such violent individuals were rarities, their nationality would matter little. But their actions receive little or no criticism in a country consumed by bitter anti-Americanism, which now exceeds its anti-Indianism.
Example: after the Faisal Shahzad news broke in early May 2010, TV channels in Pakistan switched to denial mode. Popular anchors freely alleged conspiracies against Islam and Pakistan. None revisited their claims after Shahzad proudly pleaded guilty in June. Calling himself a “Muslim soldier”, he read a prepared statement: “It’s a war … I’m going to plead guilty a hundred times over”. More:
Mohsin Hamid in Dawn. The writer is the author of the novels Moth Smoke and The Reluctant Fundamentalist.
The reason can’t be that their large numbers pose some sort of ‘threat from within’. After all, Ahmadis are a relatively small minority in Pakistan. They make up somewhere between 0.25 per cent (according to the last census) and 2.5 per cent (according to the Economist) of our population.
Nor can the reason be that Ahmadis are non-Muslims. Pakistani Christians and Pakistani Hindus are non-Muslims, and similar in numbers to Pakistani Ahmadis. Yet Christians and Hindus, while undeniably discriminated against, face nothing like the vitriol directed towards Ahmadis in our country.
To understand what the persecution of Ahmadis achieves, we have to see how it works. Its first step is to say that Ahmadis are non-Muslims. And its second is to say that Ahmadis are not just non-Muslims, but apostates: non-Muslims who claim to be Muslims. These two steps are easy to take: any individual Pakistani citizen has the right to believe whatever they want about Ahmadis and their faith.
But the process goes further. Step three is to say that because Ahmadis are apostates, they should be victimised, or even killed. We are now beyond the realm of personal opinion. We are in the realm of group punishment and incitement to murder. Nor does it stop here. There is a fourth step. And step four is this: any Muslim who says Ahmadis should not be victimised or killed, should themselves be victimised or killed. More:
Gaze at it however long from the outside, little makes sense. Pakistan resembles a house designed and built from the inside, piece-meal, with varied sub-standard materials, by perennially distracted architects.
In the unfinished basement are the “minorities” — those deemed capable of sanctuary but incapable of being seen above the surface. They are the Christians, the Hindus, the Sikhs, the Ahmadis, the Shi’as, the Queers and the Transgendered. All must remain silent, none can be heard. Remember when a blasphemy rumour ignited Christian villages in Punjab, last year? Remember the cases of forced conversions of Hindu families? Remember the kidnapping of Sikhs? Remember the attacks on Shi’a processions and mosques? Those are the results when basement-dwellers, silenced communities are seen or heard.
There are laws which provide the infrastructure, the divisions of this house. It protects the majority by keeping the minority out of sight, uncounted and unheard. The Hindu cannot get her marriage recognised, the Ahmadi cannot call his place of worship a mosque. The Shi’a cannot fly his banner. These are the laws of the state — drafted in 1974, in 1978, in 1984, in 1992. It is this very structure which dehumanises millions of Pakistanis, every moment of every day. More:
Against all hope, secularism remains a myth. Meera Nanda in Himal Southasian. Meera Nanda’s most recent book is “The God Market: How globalization is making India more Hindu (2010)”.
Asha Dangol / Himal Southasian
The defeat of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in India’s general elections last year was greeted with relief by secularists and democrats everywhere. Not entirely unreasonably: they read the fact that the BJP lost a solid 3.4 percent of its previous poll share as evidence that Indian voters had rejected the majoritarian politics of Hindu pride and prejudice, peddled by the BJP and the rest of the Sangh Parivar. The general consensus is that the ideology of Hindu nationalism, or Hindutva, has lost its appeal among the urban youth and middle classes – that secularism has won and “God has left politics,” to borrow the elegant title of a recent essay by Delhi journalist Hartosh Singh Bal. Market reforms and globalisation emerge as the stars of this saga. Both the friends and critics of the BJP agree that it is the fervour for making money in India’s roaring economy that doused the flames of Hindu nationalism from the hearts of the middle classes. But that is not all. The ‘free’ market, we are told by a section of influential Dalit intellectuals, will not only free India from the menace of communal violence, but will also lift the curse of caste oppression. It is fair to say that the gospel of globalisation is gaining ground in India.
The story about how the markets defeated the BJP goes as follows. Hindutva appealed to the middle classes and youth back in the bad-old-days of the 1980s and 1990s, when these groups were feeling beleaguered and angry due to the failures of Nehruvian socialism and ‘pseudo-secularism’, which, in their view, gave undue preference to Muslim and Christian minorities. But in the nearly two decades of economic liberalisation and foreign investments that began in the early 1990s, India has witnessed a great burst of economic growth. As a result, the Hindu middle classes are angry no more. Far from feeling beleaguered and discriminated against, they have become more cosmopolitan, more self-confident, and more willing to take on global challenges and seek out global opportunities. Indeed, so confident is the Great Indian Middle Class that it has claimed the 21st century as India’s Century. And so the critics ask: What use can such forward-looking people possibly have for the past glories of Hinduism, about which the stodgy old men in khaki shorts keep harping? This story has found great favour among the self-proclaimed Friends of the BJP, who want the party to drop Hindutva altogether, or at least to make it sound less communal, and emerge as a ‘normal’ pro-market, pro-defence, anti-‘minority-appeasement’, right-of-centre party. More:
Historical revisionism is erasing minorities from Pakistan’s school textbooks and fostering religious extremism. Afnan Khan in the Guardian:
Since 2006 I have been following the issues of historical revisionism and religious exclusivism in Pakistan’s state school system, which is responsible for educating about 50% of school-going children (who in turn represent half of all school-age children). What I found was a pattern of cultural and religious homogenisation instilled in children from the time they learn to read, right through young adulthood.
While the authorities seem in no hurry to fix errors and upgrade the syllabus to international standards, they seem very keen to use the textbooks for propaganda purposes.
Some of the mistakes are elementary. A physics textbook for 14-year-olds asks students to calculate the time it would take for a brick falling from the top of a 45ft-high building to hit someone standing below. Since it doesn’t say how tall the person is, the result cannot be calculated accurately. An English textbook for the same age group also has trouble with its punctuation. For example, it asks: “How did Hina fall ill” – without a question mark. More
In this overwhelmingly Muslim country, other religions are often relegated to second-class status; their believers are barred from equal pay, educational opportunities and housing. John M. Glionna reports from Islamabad in Los Angeles Times.
Followed by a gaggle of children, Julius Salik walks a muddy dirt track in one of this city’s squalid Christian slums, past open sewers and ramshackle homes with stick roofs.
With a weary sigh, he motions to a row of neat brick apartment buildings just a few hundred yards away. “Muslims live there,” says the 60-year-old social worker and former federal minister. “Good construction. Big houses. Big cars.”
Pakistan, he says, is a place of extremes. Muslims represent the vast majority of this Islamic homeland’s 162 million residents. They control the legislature and economy, often leaving minorities to endure second-rate status.