Ayodhya, CAA and beyond: India's Muslims caught between compromised identity and cuts in citizenship rights​

Presently Muslims don't feel represented, which makes their insecurities graver. They feel that they have been struggling for 'respect' and 'acceptance' all the while, but now their struggle is reduced to mere survival.

Tarushikha Sarvesh August 05, 2020 09:52:57 IST
Ayodhya, CAA and beyond: India's Muslims caught between compromised identity and cuts in citizenship rights​

The current situation of Muslims in India appears to be quite precarious. The sociopolitical developments in the recent past have forced the community to look within and contemplate a change in approach in order to get some control over the future possibilities in the given situation. Different patterns of thinking and approach appear to be emerging among the disparate sections of the larger community to tackle their current situation. They are struggling with their image in their own eyes as well as with the external projection.

There seems to be a sense of collapsing grandiose façade of the community in terms of its history and legacy, which is forcing the Muslim population to rethink its position and approach. Their approach seems to be endorsing the understanding that when you are not able to find common memories from the past, finding common aspirations can be the way forward.

The past narratives of empowerment through claims over history and design of the country seem to be ineffective in keeping their morale high. The two dominant narratives that helped the community make sense of its existence are proving ineffective. The stories of past glory and choices made during the Partition — which were used for validation of their existence and for the projection of a certain image of valour and accommodation for their rightful claims in modern India — have been rendered infructuous in the recent past.

Some members of the community feel that the reason it is failing to make the legacy visible and impactful lies in its rather random and individualised approach, instead of a collective imagination in political and social terms. The idea of a Muslim Ummah is also considered responsible for being an impediment in the development of a collective sociopolitical consciousness and imagination of the community as citizens first. A section of Muslims claims disillusionment with the Ummah due to the deficient international solidarity contrary to their expectations on many internal social and political matters.

There is a sense of deep cynicism developing differently among different sections of the Muslim community.

The lower strata is more worried about being dispossessed of land and space due to the fear triggered by narratives propelling the CAA-NRC debate. The middle-class Muslims are going through mixed feelings of insecurity and secondary citizenship. The lower and middle-class Muslims also feel let down by the elites of the community. They feel they are imagined by the elites only as the "paak" workforce supply to them. These classes of Muslims seem to be struggling for their image both within and outside the community.

On the other hand, the upper echelons of Muslim community fear the imminent radicalisation of Muslim youth. However, this seems to be a common concern to the members of different strata in varying degrees in their given situations. They feel the current political environment has the potential to breed well-intentioned but naïve individuals with radicalised outlooks that would do more harm than good to the community's already distorted image. Muslims wish to be spared from the Savarkar-Jinnah entanglement. They feel education among Muslims should be a top priority to counter the negative image alongside a more thought out approach to save the community from being further ensnared by false images and false promises.

They are losing trust in almost all political parties but at the same time, they also blame the incautious approach of the community for hampering the growth of some parties — that were supposedly in their favour. They have a sense of guilt and loss when they see the political parties trying to save themselves from being imagined as outright Muslim sympathisers. A section of Muslims in Uttar Pradesh expressed concerns that they let down the political parties that could have protected them better if they conducted themselves more responsibly.

They feel that some Muslim leaders like Azam Khan and Maulana Nazeer Ahmad Qasmi of Western Uttar Pradesh damaged their prospects by undue remarks and provocations. Muslims also feel that such leaders damage the image of the political parties with which they are associated: The Samajwadi Party, in this case. Most sections of the Muslim community have begun to feel that assimilation is the way forward. They have a guarded approach to recent incidents and issues because of which they have suffered continuous setbacks — whether triple talaq, the plight of CAA-NRC protesters, abrogation of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir, or the Ayodhya verdict. Their recent conversations are evident of the fact that they fear losing life more than losing their identity.

Presently Muslims don't feel represented, which makes their insecurities graver. They feel that they have been struggling for 'respect' and 'acceptance' all the while, but now their struggle is reduced to mere survival. Staying out of jail by avoiding any such unfavourable situations has become their primary concern in the current sociopolitical scenario. They feel they have to reconcile and make peace with the image of a 'minority' community in a real sense — more in terms of perception than numbers — at least for the time being. They are encouraging people to stay away from defensive arguments and provocative claims.

Aligning their thoughts and approach with the current sociopolitical configuration seems to be the option chosen by most sections of the Muslim community as they feel their voices are not heard and if anything goes awry, they will not have anyone to protect them. Their helplessness is evident and to an extent, they are assigning their hapless situation to the lack of scientific temper pervading in their community for their continuous losses and targeting. However, lack of scientific temper is a common trait of most communities in India but lately Muslims appear to be deeply introspecting their approach towards education and their own image as well.

Community members are being discouraged against making unqualified claims and opposing decisions of the ruling BJP. Suggestions are also being made against questioning individual leaders like Prime Minister Narendra Modi or Home Minister Amit Shah as it would only feed into the personality cult. If need be, the whole party should be held accountable for any unreasonable decisions.

Members of the community feel that the current political scenario is such that will provoke people to become radicalised and this will convince other communities of the brutal image of Muslims projected in society, which in turn promote prejudice against them. They are anxious about any approach that might further distort their image. Their anticipation of the unknown abyss in which they might find themselves makes them more insecure as a community. They feel their mistakes are being keenly observed and counted.

They fear if they err anymore, the trajectory of Islamophobia will move from covert to overt to psychopathic levels.

Muslims in India feel they are caught in a double bind between compromising their cultural identity for survival and cuts in their citizenship rights. On the one hand, they are incessantly losing their sense of belonging and on the other, they feel the urgent need to be visible in their effort towards the national enterprise.

The author is assistant professor of sociology, Advanced Centre for Women's Studies, Aligarh Muslim University. Views expressed are personal

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