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The Farce of Fatwas

The country’s home minister is present at a religious convocation and he mentions how he appreciates the fatwa against terrorism and in fact seeks the support of the clerics for the country’s war on terror. In a society that enacts role of town crier everytime secularism is mentioned, such statements merely give credence to those who are being propped up as leaders by default. It also conveys, in an indirect way, that curbing terrorism is the job of one community.

There was absolutely no reason for him to appreciate the Jamiat Ulema-i-Hind for its efforts against militancy, especially when the same organisation was endorsing the Deoband Darul Uloom’s fatwa to Muslims calling upon them not to sing Vande Mataram, a national song, not the national anthem. The declaration stated, “We love our country, but cannot elevate it to the status of Allah, the only one worshipped by Muslims.” It does not stop there, for they believe that such an un-Islamic move “should not be deliberately raised to cause communal discord and law and order problems’’.

Who will cause communal discord? It will be these same mullahs who will incite the people. This is an autocratic move, as much as it is dictatorial on the part of some BJP-run state governments to force school children to sing it.

Forget the communal colour of the controversy for a moment. What should really bother us is the dogmatic nature of such a directive. How many Indians sing the Vande Mataram? Why do we expect school children to know it? Does knowing it make them better patriots? Are they aware it was written by Bankim Chandra Chatterjee as a cry against British oppression? What is the relevance now? We are making children into pawns of our divisive mindsets.

The Muslims are complaining that bowing before anyone but Allah “violates our faith in monotheism”. These clerics ought to know that people regularly bow at tombs. Don’t many Muslim organisations carry around pictures of religious leaders and even rebel political figures in a crass mockery of obeisance? Where is their Islam, then?

On the other hand, we have the BJP’s token symbolic Muslim, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, who said a couple of years ago, “Those who oppose our national song should better leave the country. Their opposition is a reflection of their separatist mindset.”

At a sensitive time when almost every Muslim is an object of some suspicion, the last thing anyone ought to be talking about is separatist mindsets, especially if it hinges on the singing of a song. If people of the North East refuse to sing or do not know the Vande Mataram, will they be asked to leave the country? Would anyone tell this to some Christian or Parsi or even a Hindu?

India has survived the last century without singing this song in schools. A tribute does not come with arrogance but dignity. Forcing false ideas of nationalism on the minds of vulnerable children is fanatical.

Therefore, Chidambaram’s comment regarding terrorism can easily get clubbed with this in the subconscious. If anything reveals the despicable nature of how politicians use religion, then this is it. Instead of making a strong point, even if it meant trying to soothe the frayed nerves of these febrile ideologues, he criticised the demolition of the Babri Masjid. Where is the connection?

He was in full political mode when he talked about a ‘golden rule’ where Hindus protect Muslims and Muslims in Jammu and Kashmir protect other communities. Is this the home minister of our country or some Buddhist monk? Are minorities on dole? Besides, there is a difference between most regions of India and J&K. It is relatively simple for the majority community to live alongside the minorities, which they do until some bigots enter the fray. The Valley’s problems are vastly different. If you have terrorists, the last thing on your mind is defending minorities, although there have been instances of it in the early days. Most of the minorities are not in Kashmir anymore, so this swipe by the minister was crafty in intent: “Alas, some think that the golden rule is dispensable or that it can be applied selectively.” His target might have been the BJP, but it could apply to any group.

He further stated, “Communalism also opposes modernity, rejects the idea of civil society and opposes political freedom to the people.” This is just too pat a remark. The problem is not with communalism but prejudice. If we use the term loosely then we are still left with the question about how to define modernity. What is civil society? We have instances of rape and murder committed within families, among neighbours, and it has no religious colour. Corruption is not communal in nature. What constitutes political freedom? To practise one’s non-religious beliefs? In a nation riddled with penury, illiteracy and paltry health care how would half the population, that incidentally lives close to or below the poverty line, possess any political knowledge, let alone freedom?

If it means going to vote and electing leaders, then it would arise out of the very ethos of divisiveness that the minister seems to oppose, extending to regions, castes and social status. These disparities are encouraged by the political class.

Have the Jamiat or the Darul-uloom ever come to the forefront and fought for the dispossessed within the community? What has been the role of religious organisations during times of riots and such crises? Do they work with traumatised victims as human beings and not merely god’s soldiers? Give us the instance of a single head of such an organisation who is leading such proactive movements. They merely pontificate and pronounce edicts. The opinion of a handful of maulvis cannot be elevated to a diktat.

As a political leader of the ruling party, this was an opportunity for the minister to send out clear signals about more important issues. By giving the thumbs up to one kind of fatwa, Chidambaram has in fact legitimised the concept that will give credence to some regressive measures that have to do with gender. For instance, the Jamiat does not want the central madrassa board’s interference in the running of local madrassas and it has declared that girls over 10 years of age would be educated according to “complete Shariat norms”. There will be segregation at several levels.

I suspect this is exactly what the political leadership wants. It then becomes easier to target such groups. For better or for worse.

FARZANA VERSEY is a Mumbai-based columnist and author of A Journey Interrupted: Being Indian in Pakistan, Harper Collins, India. She can be reached at kaaghaz.kalam@gmail.com

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Farzana Versey can be reached at Cross Connections

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