Islamic seminary Darul Uloom Deoband has proved once again how it does more harm than good to the image of Muslims and cause of the Islam not only in India but also all over the world. I do not know how representative it is of Indian Muslims but I am sure that sooner the latter ignore it and its supporters, better it will be for them. The Mullahs running the seminary would like to keep the Muslims always on a confrontationist mode; for them reconciliation and getting on with life have no meaning. But then, they alone are not to blame. Indian politicians, particularly those who thrive on vote-bank politics, keep these Mullahs afloat, thanks to the thoroughly faulty and highly undemocratic electoral system of first-past-post system (which enables a person to get elected by winning less than even 10 per cent of the votes cast) that we have.
After demanding all of a sudden that the acclaimed writer of Indian origin Salman Rushdie should be prevented from attending the forthcoming literary festival in Jaipur, the seminary now says that there should be a life-ban on his entry into India. Its “Vice-Chancellor” Maulana Abul Qasim Nomani has said, “This man (Rushdie) should be barred for life from entering into India and the government cannot give the excuse of PIOs. The government has several ways of keeping the writer out of the country and it is a matter of faith.” Noting that under the existing provisions, a Person of Indian Origin (PIO) can visit the country without any visa and that Rushdie could be possibly be trying to come here likewise, he added “but the implications of legal rights that overseas Indians have…can be tested before competent authority or before the courts, if the need be.”
One wonders why all of a sudden Rushdie has become an issue with the Deobandis. They say that Rushdie hurt their religious sentiments in his book, The Satanic Verses. But that book was written way back in 1988 and India was the first country in the world to ban it. Nomani, and, I bet, none of his colleagues have ever read that book. Nearly 24 years have passed since the book was written. Rushdie, who has his ancestral properties in India, has been regularly coming to India. The Deobandis did not protest against all his visits these years. Why now?
It is all because of the coming assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh where the Congress party has injected a highly divisive communal element by promising reservations to Muslims in jobs and education. The party wants Muslim votes, come what may. The Muslims constitute nearly 20 per cent of the state’s population. The party, particularly its general secretaries Digvijay Singh and Rahul Gandhi, has been systematically appeasing the Muslims for the last few years by keeping the UP elections in mind. The history of Partition of the country has not deterred them. On the eve of the elections, the UPA government at the Centre issued an “executive order” of reserving 4. 5 per cent reservations within the 27 per cent quota for the OBCs. Union Law Minister Salman Khurshid says that eventually, the Muslim-share will go up to 9 per cent. That the Election Commission has stayed the executive order in the poll-bound states till the election process is over is a different matter altogether.
As I have been constantly pointing out the evils of reservations in this column, let me mention the illogic behind the reservations for Muslims on religious ground. I do agree that overwhelming majority of the Muslims in India is poor and backward. But then so are the majority Hindus. Just take the official record as cited by the Ranganath Misra Commission, supposed to be the basis for providing the Muslims the reservations. Looking at economic criteria like the worker participation rate (WPR), defined as per centage of workers to total population, Muslims register a low WPR of 31.3 per cent compared to Hindus (40.4 per cent) and Christians (39.7 per cent). But as US-based academic Vivek Gumaste points out, this low number is skewed by the dismal 14.1 per cent WPR for Muslim women. When analysed separately, WPR for Muslim men is 47.5 per cent—marginally lower than the national average of 51.7 per cent and not a significant difference that would warrant reservations. But then why are there fewer Muslim women workers? It is because of the likes of the Deobandis, who do not want women to be educated and work!
In fact, Gumaste is right in quoting a survey by the National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER), which provides a better perspective and says that Hindus and Muslims, at a national level, run neck-and-neck on average annual household income (AHI) of Rs 61,423 and Rs 58,420 respectively. An average Hindu household has an income of Rs 168 per day, while an average Muslim household earns Rs 160 a day. And if one goes by the Indian Human Development Survey, annual household income of Muslims is better than SC, ST and OBC categories, which constitute 70 per cent of the Hindu community. The below poverty level statistics state that Muslims are on a par with Hindus in rural areas with figures of 27.22 per cent and 27.80 per cent. Only urban Muslims with a BPL rate of 36.9 per cent appear disadvantaged. In healthcare, the infant mortality rate (IMR) is the worst for Hindus (77.1). Muslims fare better with an IMR of 58.8 and Christians top with an IMR of 49.2. In education, Christians have the highest literacy rate countrywide (80.3 per cent), while Muslims stand at 59.1 per cent. It is below the national average of 64.1 per cent but far above the literacy rate among SCs (54.7 per cent) and STs (47.1 per cent).
The point is that Muslims are not as discriminated in India as it is made out by the Congress politicians. They are as bad or good as the majority Hindus, more or less. Of course, they lag considerably in higher and modern education, but one of the most important reasons for that is the strangle-hold of the backward-looking Mullahs, whom the Deobandis promote, over the community. And here, unfortunately, the Congress is pursuing a highly competitive politics in appeasing the Deobandi cause. Its stand on the latest controversy on Rushdie is highly ambiguous, with its spokesman Rashid Alvi asking the government to take a stand so as not to hurt any one’s “sentiments”. No wonder why Deobandis are confident that the Manmohan Singh government will succumb to them on the Rushdie issue.
As it is, and this I had pointed out once in this column, consistency is antidote to India’s enemies of reason. Deobandis, for instance, are very particular that Rushdie has offended their religious sentiments, but they do not see any rationale behind the anguish of many Hindus that late Maqbool Fida Hussain displayed consistently Hindu Gods and Goddesses in the nude. The Hindu extremists did not allow the shooting of the film Water just because its theme was exploitation of Hindu widows. Worried over a backlash from Christians, the government banned the screening of the religious thriller The Da Vinci Code, which, ironically, was highly successful in Christian-dominated United States and Europe.
Clearly, in India it is common to succumb to the threats of protestors against creative persons, whether they be writers, artists or filmmakers. Books and plays questioning some of the thoughts and actions of Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and BR Ambedkar have evoked passions, and some of them have been proscribed. Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses and Arun Shourie’s Worshipping False Gods have been banned. If those who advocate the restrictions are from the so-called “Right-wingers” or “Hindutva” side, then the so-called liberals and secularists will go to any extent of condemning the move, as evident in the case of Hussain and the shooting of the film Water. But if there are demands for the ban against the creations of “Right-wingers” (like Rushdie and Shourie), then they go to any extent of rationalising it.
Unfortunately, in this game of inconsistencies, the Congress has played a leading role, though as I write this, there comes the bizarre news that the BJP is also going to protest against Rushdie if he attends the Jaipur festival. It may be noted here that when The Satanic Verses was banned, Rushdie had had written in a letter to the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi: “Let’s remember that the book isn’t actually about Islam, but about migration, metamorphosis, divided selves, love, death, London and Bombay.” The book is a furious, vivid argument about whether cities like those two—and countries like India—are strengthened or threatened by the extreme or unorthodox.
But Rajiv Gandhi did not see the reason then. I do not know whether Manmohan Singh will see it now. If he does not, it will be a matter of Shame, which, incidentally, happens to be the title of Rushdie’s third novel, published in 1983.
By Prakash Nanda