I am not sure if I am alone in feeling this — I think I am not — but given the nature of public discourse in matters of religion, it doesn’t strike me as surprising that more people (no matter what their religion) do not talk about this.
Recently, Girish Karnad played the ‘defender of Muslims’ game by taking offence to VS Naipaul’s writings and calling him ‘anti-Muslim’. Karnad, apparently “has Muslim friends” and that seems to be enough to establish his secular credentials. Never mind the fact that Naipaul is married to a Muslim woman who has children who are Muslim. No force on god’s secular Earth can stand the righteous rage of someone who “has Muslim friends”. Not unless Naipaul appends all his Muslim relatives’ names to any criticism of Islam that he might have.
It seems to me that a lot of secular talk that goes on around us on an everyday basis, demeans Muslims — especially Indian Muslims. People looking to assert their secular credentials use their ‘Muslim friends’ as trophies. And what is even sadder is that our so-called secular intelligentsia laps it all up thirstily.
Exactly how does having Muslim friends make one more secular than the next person? What if (for the sake of argument) someone does not have Muslim friends? Does he or she become unworthy of having secular thoughts?
And it is always a very particular sort of Muslim that such people talk about — the offended Muslim, the victimised Muslim, and the persecuted Muslim. They never talk about a Muslim who could do without all this mollycoddling. Never a Muslim who might wish to remain unburdened by identity. If at all they do, it is always in a very patronising (bordering on insulting) way.
For example, a social worker might be applauded for his efforts, but his Muslim identity is brought into this appreciation and it is implied that it somehow makes his achievements even greater. The underlying sentiment seems to be ‘he has achieved so much in spite of being a Muslim’ or; ‘he has actually bothered to care for the well-being of others in spite of being a Muslim’. Why this condescension? Is being a Muslim some kind of a handicap? Are Muslims, by themselves, somehow less capable of achievements than other people? Are they less capable of compassion than followers of other religions? Why always this tone of surprise?
Everything secularists do in order to better the condition of Muslims in India seems to send out a singular message of discord. It seems to say that Indian Muslims are Muslims first and Indians second, that they are somehow less Indian than their countrymen.
If I were an Indian Muslim, I would feel offended.
The history of the Congress has been built upon a legacy of pitting one community against another and making them vie for resources. To this end, right since independence, Indian Muslims have been told by the people who promised to represent them that they don’t have enough and that everyone else wants to cheat them of what is rightfully theirs.
Such self-proclaimed ‘defenders of Muslims’ have, as history has shown, often turned out to be vultures that prey on the sense of manufactured victimhood. Indian Muslims do not need to be treated thus. If anything, there is more of a need to start treating them like simply all other Indians.
That, sadly, has not happened for a long time.