Muslims in India live in constant fear. To bring about social reforms, it is first necessary to create a congenial atmosphere. Unfortunately, the Modi government has miserably failed on this front.
The common perception that is gaining ground regarding the Uniform Civil Code (UCC) is that Muslims are vehemently opposed to it, that they enjoy preferential rights above constitution and thus have no regard for the laws of the land. Once again the community is under the impression of misgivings.
Muslims as law abiding citizens
Muslims are as respectful of the country’s laws as other Indian citizens. They have as many rights enshrined in the constitution as citizens of other faiths do. Anyone who violates the law is charged under the same Indian Penal Code (IPC).
From laws pertaining to everything, from domestic violence, land disputes, rape and murder to forgery and dowry, Muslims, as Indian citizens, follow all the rules that come under the purview of the country’s civil and criminal laws.
As with other citizens, Muslims’ regular affairs, such as day-to-day economic activities, dealing with banking systems and life insurance policies, to list just a few, are governed by the uniform laws of the country. Muslims do not feel uneasy in obeying these laws.
In fact, they don’t even bother with the question of if these activities are Islamic or un-Islamic, yet the media’s discourse around the UCC has been articulated in a way that makes many of us believe that Muslims are more loyal to Islamic systems of justice – that is, more adamant about implementation of Sharia law in India – than the secular one.
This misplaced public perception is truly tragic and unfortunate. Muslims have been given as much right to practice their religion as that awarded to other communities in the country. Articles 15 and 25 of the constitution testify to this. However, Muslims’ practice of faith is singled out as the one to be suspected of being against the spirit of Bharat Mata.
Muslims in India consider themselves the victims of time. They live in perpetual fear of poverty and communal violence, of constantly being suspected of sympathising with terrorists, and more recently, the diktats of the gau rakhshaks (cow protectors). The fear has crippled the Muslim community to such an extent that they are helpless to overcome it.
At times, attempts are made to scare Muslims through the fabrication of idioms like ‘love jihad’. The frightening spectre of ghar wapsi or ‘homecoming’ is just one more addition to their sense of restlessness and pessimism.
The anxiety is so ingrained among them that the community has developed a guilty conscience for anything they do and practice. Significantly, some women even avoid wearing the hijab while travelling in case they are singled out or attacked.
In this environment of insecurity, any talk about reforms concerning the Muslim community, such as the on-going triple talaq controversy, the modernisation of the madrasa system of education or even the idea of a UCC, is likely to make them suspicious about the intentions of the government.
Fear and reform are contradictory
Fear and reform are antithetical to each other. They simply cannot go together. To bring about social reforms, it is first necessary to create a congenial atmosphere. Unfortunately, on this front, the Modi government has miserably failed. Instead, the rhetoric of BJP leaders has only widened the gulf.
Muslims in India are very adaptive. They are uniquely different from those in the Middle East. The way they participate in the social and political affairs of the state bear witness to their democratic and secular credentials. Their appearance and habits, tastes and attire, and conventions and traditions are purely indigenous, similar to those of any other community in the country.
Muslims are not hostile to reforms provided the community is taken into confidence. Already the voices of thousands from the community have come to the fore to review the context of the triple talaq in one sitting. However, there are still many who fear the intentions of decency behind such reforms.
‘While Muslims breathe in fear, the very overtures of reforms by the BJP government stand hollow,’ is a common sentiment among members of the community.
Sarfraz Adil, a medical practitioner, expresses his concern: ‘They are the same people who never said a single word to support an old tired lady, Zakia Jaferi, during her long struggle to get justice for the brutal murder of her husband and other fellow residents of Gulberg society. Where were they sleeping when hundreds of Muslim women were raped and gang raped in communal riots., from 2002 Gujarat carnage to the 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots? Why did they not come out in support of a girl, Zahira Shaikh, who was fighting cases for justice against the beasts who set Best Bakery on fire where 28 people were burnt alive? Uttering talaq to a woman is a lesser thing in comparison to the above crimes committed. They have nothing to do with worsening situations of Muslim women.”
Many anguished Muslims share Adil’s concerns. The government in power, if it wills, has both the resources and opportunities at its disposal to address the most critical grievance – fear – of the Muslim community. So long as a sense of deprivation persists, the community will remain skeptical of reforms. And that is not acceptable for a nation looking forward to be a super power.