Whether India should have been partitioned or not is a subject which is widely argued and discussed, more in India than in Pakistan. But what no one can dispute is that the price of Partition has continued to be paid by the minorities in both countries, and to a certain extent, in Bangladesh.
In India’s Muslim Spring: Why is Nobody Talking about It? author Hasan Suroor presents divergent views. But first let’s come to a major shortcoming in the publication. The slim volume is confined to urban India, when, according to the 2011 census, almost 70 per cent of the country’s population lives in rural areas. So, when you talk or write about Indian Muslims you simply cannot forget those belonging to rural areas. Strangely, Suroor ignores them.
The writer, who was a child in the 1950s, recalls in his prologue that when his family moved from Lucknow to Delhi, they were unable to find decent accommodation in the better parts of the city. So, out of lack of choice they had to settle down in a Muslim ghetto in the walled city. They found a house in Ballimaran, a locality where incidentally Mirza Ghalib had spent the better part of his life. This gave Suroor an opportunity to study his coreligionists from close quarters. That was before he moved to the UK.
However, on recent visits to Delhi, the London-based author discovered that young Muslim males have started sporting beards and females have taken to wearing hijab. But he cautions hastily, “Don’t judge them by their beards and hijabs. Go and talk to them, which is what I did, and you might be surprised, as I was, to discover how well-adjusted, optimistic and nationalistic today’s Indian Muslim youth is.” An India-watcher and a frequent visitor, I have also found Muslim young men and, more than them, young women, making progress in different fields, particularly in the field of communication. Unlike their predecessors, they have no affinity for Pakistan. When they migrate, they go to the West like Hindus, Christians and Sikhs do.
Suroor rightly blames the media for misrepresenting Muslims. It is the clergy or the obscurantists among them who are chosen to present the viewpoint of the community. They don’t choose the bright, well-educated and progressive young Muslims because they will not give them an ‘exciting’ copy in an atmosphere where good news is no news.
A myth that needs to be debunked, and Suroor does it in no uncertain terms, is that Muslims are a monolith entity. Comprising 14 per cent of India’s population, they are estimated to be 177 million. They rank third in the total number of Muslims in the world, after Indonesia and Pakistan. Speaking different languages, belonging to different sects and spread all over India, they cannot be termed a single unit, which is why there is no such thing as the Muslim vote bank. A Muslim in North India is much more likely to be agonised by the growing popularity of Narendra Modi than a Muslim in South India would be.
This is not to mean that they don’t have to face prejudice, even now. Suroor speaks of Muslims being termed “Babar ki aulad” and rightly clarifies that Muslims came to India well before the Mughals entered the subcontinent.
Indian Muslims (and I am not referring to the Kashmiris) are no longer ardent supporters of the Pakistan cricket team in Indo-Pak encounters at home or outside South Asia, and yet, Suroor says, they have to tolerate such remarks as “Kal apki team buhat achcha kheli,” when the Pakistan team wins a cricket match.
However, Suroor is wide off the mark when he states that had there been no Partition the Muslim population in India would have been double what it is now. He overlooks the fact that had there been no Partition there would have been no Bangladesh, which is why the population of Muslims would have been almost three times their present numbers.
Yet another error occurs when he says that the condition of Indian Muslims is better than Bohras in Pakistan, Bahais in Iran or Arabs in Israel. Suroor should realise that the Bohras in Pakistan practise their beliefs without any hindrance and their places of worship have never been desecrated. Maybe he is confusing Bohras with Ahmedis.
Pakistan bashing by prominent Indian Muslims is very much an in-thing, which is why the writer doesn’t think twice before calling Pakistan a failed state. This is perhaps because extremist Hindus wait for an opportunity to pounce on them. When Sania Mirza married Pakistani cricketer Shoaib Malik her patriotism was questioned by no one less than Bal Thackeray, who commented in the editorial of Shiv Sena’s mouthpiece Saamna, “had Sania’s heart been Indian, it wouldn’t have beaten for a Pakistani. Henceforth, Sania will not remain an Indian.” Likewise, Shahrukh Khan had to face a tough time when in 2010 he lamented that no Pakistani was selected to play in the third edition of the Indian Premier League. Shiv Sena went for his jugular and along with other extremist Hindu groups threatened to disrupt the screening of his film My Name is Khan. Khan had to say that his remark was misunderstood.
But then, according to the author, there are the fearless among the Muslims also. A case in point is Shabana Azmi who, reacting to the widely-aired comment, “Not all Muslims are terrorists, but the fact is that all terrorists are Muslims,” retorted “What nonsense! Are all Tamil Tigers Muslims? Are all Naxals Muslims? Or are all so-called Maoist guerrillas Muslims? Such sweeping generalisations don’t help. It puts the whole community on the defensive. When you are called a Muslim as though it were a term of abuse it makes you edgy … and makes it difficult for you to be objective about your community.”
Despite some weaknesses in the book, I would unhesitatingly add that Hasan Suroor is more often than not balanced in his views. Proof, if proof be needed, is his narration of the Shah Bano case.
One last comment: will a Pakistani Hindu be able to write a similar book about his community, and if he does, will he be able to find someone to publish it or a bookseller to place it on his shelves? The answer is bound to be in the negative.
India’s Muslim Spring: Why is Nobody Talking about It?
By Hasan Suroor
Rupa Publications, India