Muslims and the UCC: The Fear of Majoritarianism Is Real and Can’t Be Brushed Aside

Muslims are watching what is being done to them, so they cannot believe what they are being told.

“I can’t believe what you say because I see what you do.”
∼ James Baldwin

Muslims are being advised to not let the fear of majoritarianism hold them from considering the civil code reforms for the betterment of their community. How long will they continue to put off reforming their social customs and stagnate? Along with this, it is also said that Muslims should get out of the ‘siege mentality’ and look fearlessly at the world with an open mind.

While listening to all this, I recalled ‘India Against Corruption’, which had gripped the imagination of the people 10 years back. Ramlila Maidan was filled by thousands of people who used to visit it to have a darshan of Anna Hazare in the hope of a revolution in India. At that time, those refusing to be part of the crowd were looked upon with suspicion. A friend said that the whole atmosphere of the place, the imagery, the slogans raised there reeked of majoritarian sentiments and it was disquieting, especially for Muslims. Hearing this, another friend said, “Will Muslims not participate in this great national movement just because it has a little majoritarian flavour? Is it not their narrow mindedness that keeps them away from this national moment? Can’t they come out of their chauvinistic thinking and join the larger national stream?”

I was also reminded of the much venerated Jayaprakash Narayan movement in the 1970s. One of the slogans popular in that movement was, ‘गाय हमारी माता है, अब्दुल गफ़ूरवा उसको खाता है’ – a reference to Abdul Ghafoor, the then Congress chief minister of Bihar, as a beef eater. A large number of Muslims were also involved in that movement. One of JP’s associates drew his attention to this anti-Muslim slogan but he didn’t pay much attention to it. He did not let his secular sensibility create a fissure in this unifying moment. This slogan, liked by the majority, kept on being raised. After all, there was a bigger purpose and could the Muslims not tolerate this slogan to achieve that? At that time, the word ‘majoritarianism’ was not popular. Everyone knew that the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh gave muscle to the JP agitation. Surely Muslims would have been shamed by asking them whether they would allow the fear of communalism to stop them from being part of this great national movement? Muslims participated in it despite feeling the dominance of the RSS. The fear of communalism did not prove to be an obstacle.

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Whether it was Ram Manohar Lohia or JP or Vishwanath Pratap Singh, Muslims supported each one of them, knowing well that they were all taking the support of the majoritarian Jana Sangh or the Bharatiya Janata Party. But keeping in mind the larger national objective, Muslims did not abstain from supporting them. They enthusiastically supported Arvind Kejriwal, realising well that his instincts were majoritarian. Its result is very much in front of our eyes.

Majoritarianism was neither an imaginary scare then, nor is it now. It was and is a real threat. Earlier it was dormant, now it is dominant.

The question is, why have secular politicians never hesitated to side with majoritarianism? Why did they repeatedly tell Muslims that they should give up their hesitation and join hands with them in the larger national interest? Be it the case of the Samyukta Vidhyaka Dal governments in various states in the 1960s or the Janata Party nationally in 1977, this was the argument given. The Jan Sangh was part of the Morarji Desai government. The same logic came up in 2013 and 2014. It was said that Narendra Modi should be made the prime minister for the cause of national development. Why should the majoritarian scare be allowed to stop us from voting for the Modi-led BJP?

Well, nine years have passed and majoritarianism in its worst form is ravaging India. Or it is probably wrong to say it this way. Majoritarianism will never cause Hindus to suffer the way Muslims and Christians do. A Hindu is not forced to sing Vande Mataram or chant ‘Jai Shri Ram’. A Hindu is not beaten up for carrying meat or cooking and eating it at home. A Hindu man is not arrested for marrying a Muslim girl. A Hindu husband does not face jail for deserting his wife. A Hindu’s house is not demolished with bulldozers for participating in an agitation.

Therefore, what majoritarianism means for Muslims can never be the same for Hindus and the latter can never directly feel its magnitude or its severity. For example, sensible Hindus may feel some discomfort when the slogan of Jai Shri Ram is raised during the centenary celebrations of Delhi University, but they may not feel fear the way Muslims would. Muslims remember that this is the slogan used while killing one of them or humiliating them.

I just read author Jacinta Kerketta’s comment, “A visit to a friend’s house last night on the occasion of Eid al-Adha. She cooked food. We ate together. I was applying henna on her hand late at night after everyone had gone to sleep. She wanted some colour. I asked “How do you feel?” She said, “There is anxiety about our religious identity. We are scared.””

Will Hindus ever feel this anxiety, this fear? And was Jacinta’s friend’s comment about her being scared an overreaction? Can that friend, who is certainly a Muslim, be told that she should defy this fear, and consider with an open mind the social reform proposals of this government?

If majoritarian politics tells Muslims that it is doing something for their good, should Muslims remain trapped in their fears?

Similarly, there are good people who say that Muslims should be free from a ‘siege mentality’. This is a strange demand. Muslims will never get a house in mixed, open localities, would not be allowed to share open spaces, they can’t even offer namaz freely. Everywhere they will be pushed into the corner of the city and locked in ghettos, yet they will be asked not to remain imprisoned in a ghetto mentality.

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The actual victims of a ‘siege mentality’ are Hindus and not Muslims. They are in fact being told that they are a community under siege and that they must beware of danger all around them, in the form of Muslims and Christians. The danger is within and they need to remain alert. Bangladeshis, Rohingya are plotting to take over their land. Muslims are luring their girls, grabbing their jobs by getting themselves educated. They are being told to be ever-vigilant, to watch their surroundings. So whose is the ‘siege mentality’ and who needs to break free from it?

Muslims are watching what is being done to them, so they cannot believe what they are being told. For example, Zakia Jafri cannot believe that this government is carrying out legal reforms with the intention of doing good to Muslim women like her and that they should support it. And Zakia is not just a name.

Do we want to say that the politics which thrives on anti-Muslim hatred and violence, is concerned for the welfare of Muslim women? And do we think that she will believe this?

Apoorvanand teaches at Delhi University.