Though the Indian Constitution ensures freedom of religion and freedom of organisational activism, the underlying political condition has never been comfortable for a Muslim activist
Dr Khalid Khan | Clarion India
IN September, a 19-year-old Dalit girl in Hathras of Uttar Pradesh was raped; she succumbed to the serious injuries and was secretly cremated. Her family back in the village was isolated from the world in the name of police protection. Denial of access to the media and activists to the victim family was justified in the name of law and order.
Media reports of negating rape and character assassination of the victim girl poured in. A fiction of conspiracy of provoking caste violence is manufactured. Four innocent youths find themselves plotted as a villain in this fiction on their way to visiting the family of the victim in Hathras. Two among them, namely, Mohd Masud and Atik ur Rahman, are active members of a student organisation, Campus Front of India (CFI). Siddiq Kappan, the third one, is a journalist while the fourth person is the driver of the vehicle in which they were travelling.
The allegation on them is their links with Popular Front of India (PFI) which the UP government wants to ban. The FIR accuses them of carrying pamphlets with plans to create a website, with a motive of gathering foreign funds to trigger caste riots. The police claimed that a conspiracy of creating communal unrest in Hathras was under way and it alleged an instrumental role of PFI in it.
The state government is framing terror charges on them to deflect the attention from the incident. Their link with the PFI is used as a justification for this allegation. But the question is: why does the government consider PFI so dangerous an organisation? Interestingly, a detailed analysis of the allegation on PFI reveals that its active role in socio-political controversies focussing on minorities is treated as a threat.
However, the eventual result of most of the allegations proves to be humiliating for the government and media. The recent major allegations on this organisation are as follows;
The organisation has been alleged of conspiring Love Jihad by luring Hindu girls. The case of Hadiya–a young girl from Kerala who converted to Islam and later married a Muslim boy — was blown out of proportion to establish this perspective. The PFI was alleged of conspiracy behind her conversion. Her marriage was annulled by the Kerala High Court.
Finally, her case was transferred to the Supreme Court where the myth of the Love Jihad was busted. Hadiya herself thanked this organisation on record for extending support in her legal battle.
Another allegation is PFI’s active role in funding protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act 2019. Protests have broken out across India against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act 2019 which seeks to amend the definition of an illegal immigrant for Hindu, Sikh, Parsi, Buddhist and Christian immigrants from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. The protests against it evoked due to the omission of Muslims from this list.
The apprehension looked reasonable for two reasons; first, specifying religion in citizenship goes against the constitutional commitment of equal treatment of every religious group. Second, this Act was passed in the backdrop of the National Register of Citizens in Assam which excluded a larger number of Hindus than Muslims from the citizenships.
It is argued that CAA is passed to grant citizenship of the non-Muslims not included in the NRC. The apprehension of replicating similar procedure across India also triggered protests all over the country. The PFI has been vocal against CAA since the beginning. This active involvement is being portrayed as unlawful.
In February 2019, the Jharkhand government banned this organisation in the state alleging anti-national activities and links with ISIS. It was banned in February 2018 also but the Jharkhand High court quashed the ban. The Jharkhand HC again set aside the ban in April 2020. The organisation, however, maintained that the Jharkhand government was targeting it due to its active involvement in the fight against mob lynching in the state.
The failure to establish the allegation indicates that the ground reality differs from political perception. Arndt-Walter Emmerich (2019) in his book Islamic Movements in India: Moderation and its Discontents, analyses the emerging trend of Muslim-minority politics in India focussing on activists, members and affiliates of the PFI. Drawing qualitative evidence undertaken since 2011, the book suggests that the assumption of Muslim politics and the Islamic movement being incompatible with the democratic political framework of the modern nation-state of India and elsewhere needs further scrutiny.
The book highlights the PFI’s practice of moral vigilance and agenda of self-cultivation to generate support, solidarity and social cohesion among its followers. It also demonstrates how the movement provides political education and legal aid and promotes a rights consciousness that appeals to its members. It shows how the PFI reaches out to its young Muslim support base by facilitating religiously inspired welfare activism such as disaster and riot relief work and social services.
The interview with the members of CFI reveals that the Hathras visit by the four people was a part of similar welfare activism. Portraying such activism as a threat to national security and social harmony is uncalled for. The arrest of these four activists and indifference of the civil society in the aftermath reaffirms the deep-rooted prejudice against Muslims.
Though the Indian Constitution ensures freedom of religion and freedom of organisational activism, the underlying political condition has never been comfortable for a Muslim activist. Affiliation with a Muslim movement is always considered dubious. The PFI is the latest name on this list. This kind of portrayal of an organisation which has been active in a social movement is largely connected with the structural factors.
This organisation has, indeed, been highly vocal on issues related to Muslim minorities but such reaction is not an exception. Minority group activists are often a more radical critique of the majoritarianism than their majority group counterparts. The majority-activists generally join the movement with well-defined liberal views. However, minority activism is the result of emotional outbursts due to segregation and discrimination. Therefore, the personal experience turns their activism more radical than the majority activism.
The objective of majority activists is guided by moral commitments and they strive to build a multiclass alliance. The cost of building such an alliance is the loss of radical voices in the movement. The Gandhi-Ambedkar debate and the Gandhi-Jinnah debate are the best examples to highlight the different reactions of activists belonging to different groups. Gandhi wanted to persuade caste Hindus to allow concessions for the depressed classes, while Ambedkar wanted to apply political pressure to secure the rights of the depressed classes.
Similarly, Jinnah was more radical in bargaining concessions for the Muslim minority, while Gandhi was focussing on Hindu-Muslim unity. The failure to devise a common ground led to the adverse consequences i.e. communal violence culminating into the partition.
After almost seven decades of independence, the challenges are still present in modified forms. Apart from the framing by government organisations, the silence of civil society on such framing is also worrying. These silences create a vacuum which the minority group activists try to fill up. These allegations and silences emerge from the questions of how society perceives the Muslim minority group; What means being a Muslim? Is it about faith? Is it social or political? Is it cultural?
The fact of the matter is that Muslims are still struggling to have their independent political agency based on their notion of being a Muslim. The emerging movements and political parties among the Muslim community are the outcomes of realisation of this crisis. Any movement by the Muslim minority may have Islamic articulation due to the very fact that Muslims are a religious group.
The government and civil society should get rid of the obsession of treating every Islamic movement as a potential terrorist movement. The concern of the institutions should be guided by the constitutional framework rather than prejudices. The success of any democracy lies in building a common ground for dialogue with diverse groups. The very idea of respecting diversity should also encompass respecting political articulations based on diverse identities.
Khalid Khan is Assistant Professor, Indian Institute of Dalit Studies, New Delhi. The views expressed here are author’s personal and Clarion India does not necessarily subscribe to them.