The state of India&’s religious minorities, particularly the Muslim community, has long been a subject of interest for researchers from India and abroad alike. Numerous studies, research papers as well as non-fiction titles have pointed out the various flaws in our “secular structure”and elaborated on how India&’s Muslims continue to strive for an equal identity in the Indian socio-political structure.
The continued conflict in Kashmir has only added to the worry as separatists as well as our immediate neighbour on the West attempt to contest it on the singular principle of Muslim majority, while ignoring the historical relevance as well as the Instrument of Accession. On the other hand, petty politics and unchecked defenders of Indian patriotism have let us down by not only fuelling tension through their provocations but also giving ground to those who test the patriotism of our Muslim community from across the border.
A recent offering from Aleph Book Company provides sufficient insight into the “Other” in our society and reasonably explains the view from the other side of the aisle.Being The Other: The Muslim In Indiaby Saeed Naqvi, eloquently addresses the debate on the state of Muslims in India and more importantly,the offering,point by point, addresses sufficiently all those issues that the so called defenders of Indian patriotism seek to hurl against the “other”. “In Allahabad University, during the Babri Masjid-Ram Janmabhoomi agitation, I put a simple question to the packed audience consisting of teachers and students, almost equally divided between Hindus and Muslims. ‘Have the Hindus in this audience ever seen the inside of a Muslim home?’One or two murmered,‘My father knew Persian’ or ‘My mother cooks chicken’ as evidence of his or her emancipation from religious parochialism,”Naqvi mentions on the back jacket of the hardbound book. “But, no, none of them had ever been to a Muslim home. Likewise, the Muslims in the gathering had never visited a Hindu home.At that moment, a truth hit me between my eyes. We have lived in a state of uninstitutionalised apartheid for decades,even centuries.” Saeed Naqvi does not beat around the bush but comes straight to the point.
The nine chapters of the book,fortunately,make no effort to patronize and flaunt the practices of a particular community or shy away from or confront the issues raised by those on the opposite end. Given that the book is written partly in a memoir format, the credentials of the author become significant.Does one blindly trust the author? No.Naqvi has been a reporter and foreign correspondent for over four decades. In fact, he started his journalistic career as a staff reporter with this paper and by now has travelled almost the length and breadth of India and visited over a hundred countries in pursuit of stories. He has covered many wars since the country&’s 1971 war with Pakistan, which resulted in the creation of Bangladesh,including the civil war in Sri Lanka, 1971; the Sino-Vietnam war, 1979; the US bombing of Libya,1986; the first coup in Fiji,1987; the Nicaragua war, 1989; Operation Desert Storm,1991;the US occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq,2003;and the Syrian civil war, 2011. Besides virtually every Indian leader of any importance,he has interviewed world statesmen like Nelson Mandela, Fidel Castro, Muammar Gaddafi, Henry Kissinger, Benazir Bhutto, Hamid Karzai, Shimon Peres,Yitzhak Rabin, J R Jayewardene, Hashemi Rafsanjani and scores of others.His writings have appeared in several national and international publications, including BBC News, the Sunday Observer, SundayTimes,Guardian,Washington Post,Indian Express,Citizenand Outlookmagazine.
Naqvi is one writer readers can rely upon. In this remarkable book, partly a memoir and partly an exploration of the various deliberate and inadvertent acts that have contributed to the “othering”of the 180 million Muslims in India, the author looks at how the divisions between Muslims and Hindus began in the modern era. The British were the first to exploit these divisions between the communities in the 19th and 20th centuries. In the run-up to Independence,and its immediate aftermath,some of India&’s greatest leaders,including Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Vallabhbhai Patel and others, only served to drive the communities further apart. Successive governments, whether formed by the Congress or BJP, compounded the problem by failing to prevent (if not actively supporting) tragic events like communal riots in Gujarat,Mumbai, Muzzafarnagar, the breaking of the Babri Masjid and so on. As a reporter and editor, Naqvi covered all these events (except Partition), and in the book he shows us,with acquity and insight,how each of these resulted in the shaping of the discontent of the Muslim in India. “…What we see today is a pale shadow of the harmony that once existed.
Everywhere there are incidents of the sectarian murder, communal propaganda and divisive politics. And there seems to be no stopping the forces that are destroying the country,” regrets Naqvi in Being The Other: The Muslim In India. Almost one-third of the book is a memoir while the rest comprises the author&’s observations and eyewitness accounts of various seminal events in the contemporary Indian history. The author hopes that when the readers have finished this account,he or she “will have gained a measure of understanding of what is being lost to communalism”.