[Speech delivered at a convention titled Ď50 Years of Indian Independence and Muslimsí organised by All-India Muslim Forum in Lucknow on August 10, 1997. From Liberation, September 1997]
Brothers and Sisters,
The golden jubilee of independence is being celebrated with grandeur. But as far as people are concerned what is the real state of affairs? The number of people who live below the poverty line is almost equal to the entire population on the eve of independence. Among Muslims in particular 50-60% people live in extreme poverty. Over 50% of adult Indians are illiterate and among Muslims this percentage will be far greater.
So, an overwhelming majority of Muslims who make up more than 12% of Indian population live a life of misery and deprivation and 50 years of freedom hasnít brought any notable improvement in their lives.
Pakistan and Bangladesh, erstwhile parts of India are now independent countries and Muslims there are in an overwhelming majority religion-wise. But in India, though their population outnumbers the number of Muslims in both these countries, they are a religious minority. In India overwhelming majority of people are Hindus and a deep-rooted mutual distrust and animosity persists between Hindus and Muslims.
Indian state is a constitutional state; that is, officially it has no state religion and it professes secularism with the claim of granting equal status to all religions. But the nature of state is determined more by the nature of the people composing it rather than by constitutional declaration. As Hinduism is the dominant religion in society, in real life it became more equal than others. People comprising the state, i.e. all its wings, be it executive, legislature or judiciary, are generally biased in favour of Hinduism.
State plays a dual role. On the one hand, it accords one or the other kind of privilege to Muslims in the name of minorities but, at the same time, it makes them feel the pressure in all the other spheres of society. Muslim response towards state is marked by a sense of alienation, of counterposing of his imaginary nationality to the real nationality.
So even in a constitutional state political emancipation of Muslims is not complete. We have seen how Congress, the party which Muslims trusted most, became impotent in face of aggressive Hindu onslaught. In the Calcutta AICC session the other day, they retracted from the earlier promise of offering an apology on Babri Masjid demolition and restricted themselves to just expressing grief. But what is so special about that? Even in 1992 when the mosque was demolished, I think they did express grief.
The United Front government too, which came to power on a secular plank and missed no occasion to cash in on the Babri Masjid issue, has so far not done anything concrete on the matter and even their promise in CMP of referring the matter to the Supreme Court under Article 138(2) remains unfulfilled till date. My point is that such is the pressure of dominant Hindu religion that even the constitutional state and the secular parties are rendered impotent.
We can easily imagine the fate of secularism when a party like BJP which openly advocates a Hindu Rashtra, i.e. a state which shall have Hinduism as the state religion, comes to power. The very identity of Muslim people will be at stake.
Now there are two ways to face this challenge. One is that of restricting oneself in oneís shell and counter Hindu fundamentalism with some kind of Muslim fundamentalism. This path, I think, will be counterproductive. The other path is to join hands with genuinely secular forces and fight for the establishment of a truly secular society in India.
The dichotomy between oneís identity as a Muslim and a citizen, or as a Hindu and a citizen, can only be resolved through a secular division between a political state and the civil society. This process has remained unfinished in India.
The crisis posed by Hindutva also brings a historic opportunity before Muslim masses to reassert their identity. Now what identity should it be? We communists are totally opposed to any imposition from above by the state against the wishes of Muslim people. But I think a lot of discussion is going on among Muslim intelligentsia circles on reassertion of identity in the modern context.
In this context, I think the question of status of women in Muslim society, the problems arising out of polygamy and divorce are crucial. In Muslim countries like Turkey and Tunisia polygamy has been banned and even in Pakistan and Bangladesh lots of restrictions are placed. So this is a question which I think enlightened sections among Muslims must seriously ponder over.
Now there are demands of reservation on religious basis as Muslims. But at the same time from among Muslims demands are coming up for effective reservations for backward Muslims listed in Mandal Commission. Even the demand for reservations to dalit Muslims is gaining momentum. So this question too merits serious attention.
In your bid to check Hindu communal forces you aligned with Congress and later on with different centrist parties but this strategy of short-term gains only complicated the problem.
New generations of Muslim youth are aligning themselves with the forces of the Left as they understand that the Left is the only consistent, secular force and also that the fight for secularism is part and parcel of a broader democratic transformation of the country as a whole.
The more the struggle for secular India proceeds, I think, the condition for a democratic confederation of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh will mature and we will be able to rectify the historic blunder of 1947.