Muslims Should Learn to Protest Over Issues Other than Islam

The rows over JNU and Rohith Vemula have been missed opportunities for the Muslims of India to express their solidarity with other marginalised communities

A protest for Rohith and the JNU students arrested for sedition. Credit: Shome Basu

A protest for Rohith and the JNU students arrested for sedition. Credit: Shome Basu

Over the past year, we have all been witness to the inappropriate handling of our educational institutions. From the appointment of Gajendra Chauhan as chairman of the Film and Television Institute of India to the de-recognition of the Ambedkar Periyar Study Circle of IIT Madras to the avoidable ‘institutional killing’ – under the garb of suicide – of Rohith Vemula, we finally come to the sedition charges against JNU student leaders Kanhaiya Kumar, Umar Khalid and Anirban Bhattacharya.

A community in deep slumber

If these incidents are a harsh reminder of how political interference with zero regard for the autonomy of universities is jeopardising the future of students, they also hold  lessons for another section that is often at the receiving end of government callousness – the country’s Muslims.

These incidents must surely have agitated India’s Muslim citizens, as they are one of the many sections of the population that are marginalised and persecuted – including dalits, adivasis, women, and sexuality minorities.

However, even as the impact of these incidents was increasingly felt across the nation, the Muslim religious leaders of India were busy issuing statements about why homosexuality must not be decriminalised and why the Supreme Court does not have the right to interfere with the Shariah. Muslim mohallas were amplifying qawwalis and religious sermons, and Muslim youth were either preoccupied with their jobs or seeking solace for the wrongs done to the community by immersing themselves deeper and deeper into the narrow confines of religion – or worse.

This is how a community in deep slumber is allowing one more opportunity of making a statement of intent and unity slip away.

When was the last time that Muslims gathered in large numbers to protest or to demand their right to education and jobs, whether through affirmative action or other means? As a matter of fact, the community didn’t even protest when the current state government of Maharashtra quashed the quota for Muslims in education. Just recently Hardik Patel mobilised the Patel community and demanded OBC status for them (although it’s not worth the demand), as did Jats in Haryana and Gujjars in Rajasthan. Women’s groups, the LGBT community and the youth with their ‘Kiss of Love’ campaign have all at some point organised themselves, raised the issues that are integral to their development, and demanded their constitutional rights. But seldom have we seen Muslims coming out in large numbers demanding their rights.

The limited circle of Muslim protest

We have seen some agitations by the Muslim community, but these have been few and far-between, and were confined in each case to the issue of infringements, real or imagined, of the Shariah and religious laws of Islam. These include the Shah Bano case, the banning of Salman Rushdie’s and Taslima Nasreen’s books, and, most recently, when a peaceful protest turned violent in Malda over a statement by the rightist leader Kamlesh Tiwari against the Prophet Mohammed. These incidents tell us what the priorities of the Muslim community are – and not the false implication of Muslim youths in terror cases, fake encounters, riots and the inequitable distribution of education, health and jobs.

Importantly, violence never helped the Muslim cause. On the contrary, it has only reinforced the stereotype amongst other citizens that Muslims are a violent community. That narrative is then used to justify violence – past or present – against the community. In addition, communal passions are further roused with acts of violence such as in Malda. The statement by Kamlesh Tiwari did not directly or indirectly affect the question of Muslim survival or act as an impediment to the exercise of their  fundamental rights. But it was still blown up into large-scale violence. Muslims, represented by the particular group in Malda, had no qualms about taking the law into their hands when their religion/religious laws/holy book/revered personality was disgraced.

There can be no denying the fact that the Muslim community is heterogeneous, consisting of many sects. But at the same time, the community becomes a silent spectator when their education reservation is taken away, when their educated youth are falsely implicated in terror cases, or when activist-lawyer Shahid Azmi – a messiah for the young men who were falsely implicated in terror cases – is killed. Perhaps one is expecting too much from the community to come out in solidarity with Rohith Vemula or Kanhaiya Kumar.

Precious opportunities missed

It would be disheartening to see the community extending support to the JNU protestors only after the detention of Umar Khalid. What with the present trend of creating a punching bag where a Muslim name is involved, one wonders whether the community would even come out in support of Umar, since the matter does not concern Islam or Allah.

As they witness the branding of Umar as traitor and religious fundamentalist on prime-time news, Muslims must ask themselves whether they can afford to lose one more opportunity of making a statement addressed to the state apparatus – that they are in complete solidarity with other dispossessed communities and individuals, who are victims of the same oppression inflicted by the present and the former governments.

The worrying question is: when the main agenda today is not just to arrest Kanhaiya or Umar or throw Rohith out of the hostel, but to assail free thought, speech and action – how much injustice needs to be suffered before Muslims wake up?

Shadab Arab is a research associate at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai.

  • K mansoor

    the author seems to be completely blind to the muslim organisation participation in the struggle since day 1. Different muslim students wings like the students islamic organisation of India, Muslim students federation, Popular front of India and even AIMIM have taken part in the JNU & HCU issues. The author needs to be vigilant at least on social media.

  • Farhan Sumbul

    Writer is very apt in his opinion that Muslims are less vocal when their fundamental living rights are curtailed like the denial of reservations of the arrests of Mulsim youth in the name of terror, but writer misses the larger picture of Muslim’s happening in the case of recent happenings at HCU and JNU. As far as I am involved emotionally with the issues of HCU and JNU, I have witnessed the unrest among the community leaders for this. Agree that Muslims did not took out big rallies carrying the exclusive Muslim identity, but you read the Urdu media particularly and see that how much worried Urdu media was about these incidents. Siasat, Munsif, Aag, Inqelab, Asia Times, Payam e Mashriq, Etemaad and many more Urdu dailies regularly gave major spaces even headlines on front pages for these students agitations. I being the reader of Urdu media also witnessed that Muslim intelligentsia and Urdu media unequivocally raising their concerns for these incidents and extended their support for these students and their struggle for right to dissent and debate.

    Muslim organisations like Jamaat e Islami Hind and the student organization Students Islamic Organisation of India has spoken for the students and took out rallies across the country both for Rohith Vemula and for JNU students. Social media pages of SIO and JIH can be followed for updates on that.








    Recently held three days seminar at one religious varsity of Hyderabad Al Mahd Al Islami headed by Maulana Khalid Saifullah Rahmani, passed a resolution condemning the arrests of students at JNU and raised their concerns on the deteriorating conditions of the Indian campuses.

    All India Muslim Majlis e Mashawarat has been standing with the students of JNU and HCU.

  • Nadeem Khan

    Its height of surprised when you are when your are writing this article, in case rohit vemula issue more than 10 protest alone organized by jamaat e Islami and sio alone in Hyderabad. And more than three press conference organized by jamaat e Islami in Delhi .
    In jnu issue sio is taking this issue from day one even one student beaten mercilessly by bjp in Lucknow and that incident discussed in u.p assembly.
    Even my self participated in more than five protest with jamat team .
    So only request is that please complete your your research work in proper manner then write the article.
    Nadeem khan

  • Abhishek Upadhyay

    The narrative is built around as if Muslims are targeted and exploited deliberately by government or the majority (read Hindus). This is typical of muslim intelligentsia which blames others but not the inherent malaise in Islam. Government has been appeasing muslims for years and Muslims have been part of successive governments. But they have hardly questioned the religious extremism in them or have raised concerted efforts to address them.

    • Shadab Arab

      Firstly, if you would have read the article diligently I am precisely highlighting the ‘inherent malaise in Islam’ that you’re talking of.

      Its good to read lines like ‘Govt has been appeasing Muslims for years and Muslims have been part of successive governments’, but the same does not reflect in reality. For arguments sake it is accepated then one wonders as to why this communtiy has more poorest of poor, more illiterate, more undertrials in jails, more unemployed. These figures are sometimes even worse that for SC/ST. About the last line, if Muslims have been part of the successive governments, one fails to understand as to why the heterogenous community is yet to come on one common platform led by a pan-Indian Muslim leader.

      • Sujad Syed

        Congress did precious little for the Muslims. Now, BJP-RSS wants to take that precious little away!

    • mehfooz

      Its not hindu vs muslim issue. Its a matter related to democracy, freedom, justice for all, unfortunately ruling dispensation want to crush all basic rights and people of india irrespective of caste and religion are out to oppose the nefarious game of few in the ruling establishment

  • Shadab Arab

    Dear AllThank you all for your inputs. I have observed that on several issues Muslims are relatively rational and sensitive. Issues that concern Islam. The only point of this article was to amplify all the religious seminaries as well as rudimentary Muslim organisation alike come on a common platform and condemn the row over these issues! Only such an act of solidarity would have received the much needed attention!

  • Sujad Syed

    Your article is well written. I feel there could be another problem. Muslims are scared that if they exclusively organize a big peaceful protest march to highlight social injustices to all the marginalized sections of Indian society as well as for Muslims, you never know in today’s India, a riot could be engineered & police firing ordered, akin to a fake encounter!

  • Raihana Azmeera

    I too agree with the commenters as I personally witnessed students coming out under the banner of SIO in support of the current HCU N JNU causes. However we should also be vocal about the problems within the community.

  • Shuja Shakir

    I totally agree with Shadab Arab on this count. However, I have few
    reservations. In the cases cited in the article, Muslim behavior is typical of overall
    minority behavior. While I personally would love to have Muslims demonstrate their
    presence in the cause of broader social issues affecting a cross-section of the
    society, I doubt whether any other minority does that as an exclusive group. For
    instance, I haven’t seen Christians, Sikhs or Jains coming out in support of
    Kanhaiya or Rohit in their capacity as a distinct religious entity. Therefore,
    issue goes beyond why Muslims or any other minority groups are more sensitive to
    the religious issues than social ones. The real conundrum is most minorities do
    not find themselves sufficiently integrated in the socio-economic mainstream so
    as to identify themselves with matters the majority or other communities
    identify with. For this a greater degree of compassion, mutual trust, love and
    respect for each other’s culture than we actually show is called for. We need
    to build a harmonious social order first, in order to function as a cohesive
    political unit. Until then I think expecting minorities offhand to join in what
    everybody else is doing is putting the cart before the horse.

  • Mohamed Jansher Khan

    Well written and it is clearly reflecting an outrage of an Indian Muslim who had been losing his/her identity since Babri demolition. Having spoken about the incapability of Muslims to stand with the oppressed and to stand for the rights and to stand against the unequal treatment, the author somehow ignores the fact that Muslims are living as a minority in a multi religious society. The intersection of oppressive treatments are very huge and threatens to the very existence of the community. Hadn’t the author failed to address the “Sickular” notion of Indians where the responses of Muslims be it from Kashmiris, Muslim Political parties, Religious factions, Oppressed sections had always treated as the “Muslims response of Islam”?

    Had you not taken into accounts that the very next response by the Muslims after Babri demolition?
    Had you not taken into accounts that the issues which are being addressed by the Muslim political parties and leaders?
    Had you not taken into accounts that the participation of Muslim students in the current struggles?
    It is Okay even if you don’t noticed it.

    But how often do you see a possibility for the Muslims in India to come hand and hand and to speak for the oppressed within their community and outside?

    The voice of Minority not all minorities but only the Muslims responses were always targeted with the notion of Islamophobia.

    At last please do acknowledge that Islam is a religion of easiness and never perpetuate for solutions through violence.

  • mehfooz

    Correct your facts first, your research is worthless,placing muslims in dock only, inferiority complex abound, in rohith case muslims were the prime supporter and in jnu too, in other cases too the community played important role. What do you want? You want to put muslims as a soft target for the bullets of security forces, you are not aware of ground realities, there is sea difference in muslims and other communities, we cant take measure like other violent communities take, as far as muslim personal law is concerned it is utmost important issue for the community to raise its voice,I think you are not mature enough to understand why? . You may be right to some extent but to blame Muslim for every ill is not good, first try to understand the whole scenario in present days india than put your views

  • suhailmkoya

    No body needs muslim support that is the main issue, the moment muslims supports an issue the right wing will become extra powerful , just try to get an islamic scholar to JNU , they (students) wont even allow him inside the campus ,they themselves know that it will back fire. The humans against facisam movement in Kerala deliberately avoided all muslims organisations because of this fear, In this country you can talk about all the marginalized communities dalists adivasis kissan masdoor but the moment you mention muslim you looses all the legitimacy , just closely watch Khanaya kumar speech , how he avoid mentioning the term muslim even once.

  • deboo

    I’m glad that I read this article.
    I’m also glad that this page has a Comment Section.