Does the ‘Nation’ want to know: Diverse Muslim ImagiNations. A note from JNU

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Opinion – YFDA .JNU

The ongoing protest programs in our campus uphold various realms of resistance and struggle for social justice to confront emerging waves of state and university level oppressive propaganda. Even while the united struggle of students and teachers has seen successful outcomes, we must acknowledge the shortcomings in dealing with the important multifaceted struggle for social justice. The fight for freedom of expression and social justice must go hand in hand with the just participation of everyone. The rising political manifestations of the oppressed sections of our society, chalking out spaces of activism off the larger reality of deep-rooted marginalization and discrimination have started questioning the deafening silence of the indifferent liberalism of this country. The questions of subaltern discourses have now entered the mainstream with an enthusiastic vigor, in which the age-old institutions of hegemony and dominance have started to crumble. It is the prime need of our time that these varied political and social expressions of the oppressed of India be formulated into a united front, with active involvements of all sections of people.
One of the most creative engagements by the JNUTA and JNUSU in the recent #StandWithJNU movement have been the series of public lectures organised at the Freedom Square, Ad block. The lecture series on nationalism and Azaadi, while challenging the narrow, jingoistic interpretation of nationalism that branded JNU as the hub of anti-nationals, also brought forth multiple imaginations of the nation and the many meanings of Azaadi. While the Muslim responses to the question of nationalism have been one of the most contentious issues in making and remaking the image of a ‘Nationalist’ and ‘Anti-nationalist’ in post-colonial India, critical engagement with them has been missing in the lectures that were designed to critically reflect upon the multiple imaginations of the citizens and intellectuals to the question of nationalism. The absence of a head-on engagement with crucial questions affecting India’s most vulnerable minority community in the current socio-political scenario only strengthens constructed simple binaries – Muslim identity as the mere antithetical conception of Hindutva – thereby sustaining and reinforcing the dominant prejudices and stereotypes regarding Muslims.
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Nearly 70 years after Independence, Muslims still bear the brunt of the unfinished business of Partition: as the significant ‘other’ of Hindu nationalism, as the perpetual subversion of the nation-state, as insufficiently ‘secularised’ for the mantle of progressivism, as unfit for self-representation and self-rule, as not ‘Indian’ enough. Demands for Muslim political parties conjure lurking images of violent extremism and Islamic fundamentalism as the parallel of saffron terror. This is a gross misunderstanding and flattening of ‘identity politics’- defined herein as a political struggle which seeks emancipation from vulnerability and discrimination faced by people on account of their (religious) identity. Clearly, the rubric of ‘class politics’ has failed to achieve this emancipation, primarily because it is led by upper-caste vanguards, whose social location does not allow them to imagine the precarious life and materialized experience of demonized identities. The ‘Muslim question’ is milked by opponents of Hindutva in a classic case of doublespeak: (a) bemoan the victimization of Muslims (b) assert that Muslims should not organise into Muslim parties because of the Jihadi bogeyman.
A close look at history will reveal that there is no singular Muslim ‘question’ or ImagiNation. It varies from the idea of composite nationalism of Hussain Ahmad Madani and Abul Kalam Azad (the so-called nationalist Muslim without any parallel !!!) to the demand of separate Muslim homeland propounded by Jinnah and the Muslim League since 1940s. Both envisaged a Madina in living-together and separation respectively, and at the same time challenged the majoritarian tendencies of mainstream nationalism. In response to the Ashraf Muslims’ dominance in the Muslim political and associational life and among its beneficiaries, the Ajlaf Muslims (lower biradaris) charted out their own agenda for a more equitable social order and allied with Congress in some regions. There were sections who believed that British benevolence was better than the Babu dominance for the emancipation of Muslims, which led to the establishment of Aligarh Muslim University, while there were other sections of Muslims who strongly advocated anti-colonial Indian nationalism and who were behind the establishment of Jamia Millia Islamia University.
Local resistances firmly grounded in the Islamic Political terminologies of Dalim and Madloom (The oppressed and oppressor) indiscriminately opposed both Swadeshi and Videshi oppressors throughout the peasant resistances in Malabar and Bengal, which were often indigestible to the ‘nationalist’. The mainstream nationalists by virtue of their social origin (of being Hindus) became by default the real and secular Indians, and issued the certificate of Indian-ness and secularism to the Muslims by adding the “honorary” prefix of “Nationalist” to those Muslims who allied with them unquestioningly. Pan-Islamic thoughts that deeply influenced generations of Muslim leadership in the late 19th and early 20th century including Azad and Ali Brothers strengthened the united resistance to colonialism in India. However the spatial imagination of sections of Muslim intelligentsia often challenged the idea of Nation and their engagements blurred the boundaries of Empire too.
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The politics of the un-speakabilty of Muslim engagements and bracketing these multiplicities into simple binaries are quite unacceptable. In the immediate aftermath of independence and partition the prominent opinion of the country including the “Nationalist Muslims” was that of rejecting (and suppressing) the right of Muslims to engage in democratic politics by representing the socio-political and economic issues of the community. Even after six decades of independence and in the face of blatant discrimination and injustice towards Muslims in everyday social, political and economic life, the old collective consciousness of indifference is quite resounding. In the context of selective amnesia of Muslim questions, it is time to say – speak with us and not for us; stop the secular gaze of suspicion on Muslim bodies.
Youth Forum for Discussions and Welfare Activities (YFDA-JNU) is a non-political group of Muslim students at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.
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