Muslim Identity in India

I attended a talk by a prominent author today, reflecting on the Muslim identity in the Indian society. I guess it also dealt with the diasporas of Muslim communities in India. And it was quite educational, even though it focussed only on two towns in India – Ahmedabad and Bhopal.

I went to the talk mainly hoping to learn about something else related to the society. The speaker did not touch on those topics at all, but I learnt a lot more about the state of Muslim identities in the society.

Firstly, it made me realise that I need to read a lot more about the Muslim identity in India. Living in a city like Bangalore makes you blind to the state of Muslims in most other states, particularly one as communally charged as Ahmedabad.

The author mentioned that there are no strong Muslim figures in politics, economy or the local mafia in Ahmedabad. I found this rather surprising, given the state of Muslims in that city. Every one is aware of the Godhra riots and the fallout, and the following rise of Modi (surprisingly to me). Muslims have a lot to fear in Gujarat. Ironically, this is one state where one would expect peace, as it is the birth place of Gandhi and all that. But either way, why isn’t there a political bigwig, businessmen or any such strong presence in the state?

Also, how much are their identities – culturally and politically – being directed by the Middle East culture? I keep hearing that there is an increasing number of muslims who send their children to madarasas. I hear that people are growing more communal, putting religion before country. But a lot of the research that I do read says otherwise. The truth probably lies in between. Yet, there is a rising link between the muslims in the Middle East and the ones at home. Every person has a relative there. Then again, half the people from Kerala also have relatives there.

But is the culture dictated by those regions? Do muslims here grow more rigid, accepting ideals from there?

Bangalore is expected to be the next Mumbai and Ahmedabad, given its growing popularity and decreasing tolerance level. A couple of years ago, I would’ve flicked away such statements.  But I notice the divide (new or new awareness in me, I am not sure) and I wonder if this would happen. I keep asking people if they are seeing more women wearing the veil in Bangalore. They all say no… but I have a feeling there are more women wearing the burqa. Young girls. And the keep it on. And that is a little freaky. Any time you see such outward signs of religion, trouble is not far behind.

Most cities in India have muslim localities. True, they might interact with other cultures in the society but there are segregated area for each culture.

As the author pointed out today, each city has ‘sections’ or buildings where people of one sect are more in number. Muslim communities tend to be more obvious I guess, as they are more in number, have several community-related shops and mosques around the place. In Bangalore, there are certain areas that are well-populated with muslims. At the same time, many of these are also business establishments, traditionally handed over from family to family.

Many saree and other clothing stores in the centre of the city are owned by muslims. And they have traditionally been a part of my landscape as far as I can remember. It isn’t just nostalgia speaking when I say I want these business establishments to stay. It is the crucial question of balance in any society. The businesses have to be spread evenly across the cultures to keep the power balance right.

I guess the talk brought up more questions in my mind. About the future of muslims in our country. They might be a minority but they are no where a small number. For every city, they form at least 30 percent of the population. It is hard to hate and reject 30 percent of the population, particularly in a country like India. Also, if we choose to push these minorities to the fringes, it damages the fabric of Indian society in a way I cannot explain.

Minorities have been persecuted in India for centuries. It was first the Dalits, or who are called the Dalits now. They were called the untouchables, the Harijans and other things. Perhaps that is simply because Indians are actually quite racist. It shocks me when someone says “We are Indians. We are Hindus. We are vegetarians.”

These are three completely different things, with no relation to one another. We are not a hindu country. Pakistan is a muslim nation but India is a Secular country. Secondly, hindus are not really vegetarians. There is a small percentage of people who choose to be vegetarian. The rest – we love our meat. So on what basis is anyone calling Indians a hindu country and vegetarians at that? The Hindutva policy should really be banned in a country that is as volatile and emotional like India is.

It’ll probably not happen in my lifetime. But I sure hope for something better in the next couple of generations at least.

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