Why Chetan Bhagat shouldn’t speak for Indian Muslims


Though written in the voice of an Indian Muslim, the author’s take is in fact the standard response of the textbook majoritarian

Prayaag Akbar Mail Me
First Published: Mon, Jul 01 2013.T
Jama Masjid during Ramzaan. Chetan Bhagat postitions himself as a young Indian Muslim angry at his exclusion from the mainstream capitalist, neoliberal project. Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint
Jama Masjid during Ramzaan. Chetan Bhagat postitions himself as a young Indian Muslim angry at his exclusion from the mainstream capitalist, neoliberal project. Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint
Updated: Mon, Jul 01 2013. 04 28 PM IST
Chetan Bhagat, ever the well-meaning bull in a china shop, wrote this weekend about the Indian Muslim. In his regular Times of Indiacolumn (in a piece headlined “Letter from an Indian Muslim Youth”), Bhagat appropriates the voice of—he doesn’t specify this, but it is easily surmised from the tone and content of the letter—a young Indian Muslim angry at his exclusion from the mainstream capitalist, neoliberal project. The piece is predictably disappointing in its understanding of the Muslim experience in India, but let us put that aside for the moment and discuss first this assumption of voice.
In India, we are perhaps overly protective of identity groupings. If a debate arises over the actions of a religious or caste group, or over the legacy of a historical figure, fear of giving offence sometimes leads to submission to loud voices instead of the safeguarding of freedom of information and thought. It is precisely this kind of criticism that Bhagat seeks to preempt when he writes, with splendid crudity, “I don’t have a name like Ahmed or Saeed or Mirza, anything that will clearly establish me as a Muslim.” Bhagat is saying, I am not a Muslim, so what? But what he is doing is actually pretty sneaky: His disclaimer is in fact a way of positioning himself, to the great majority of his audience, as someone qualified to write on this subject. The understanding he hopes to transmit to his reader through his mea culpa is that he should still be allowed to speak for the entirety of the Muslim population in India.
There are two problems with this. First, while anyone should be encouraged to produce scholarship and analysis about communities or historical figures, Bhagat’s casual ownership of the voice of 150 million people is patently not that. Second: It is precisely because I am an Indian and a Muslim that I would never dare to speak for all of us. I see the great variance in outlook, experience and especially opportunity that exists even within my own family. I compare my own privilege with the rest of Muslim India. I can understand why my views on the publication of The Satanic Verses might differ from a man or woman with a greater love for religious scripture. I cannot claim to speak for the lot of us.
Bhagat does not suffer such inadequacies. He drops, somewhat confusingly, the Indian Muslim voice for a moment to explain that he is an author of fiction, which means he might well be making fabrications—he leaves that to you, dear reader, to decide. This is another artless pretence, as if fiction writers are regularly permitted to write abject nonsense in op-eds—they are not, and certainly should not be allowed to in the future, millions of adoring readers or not.
Bhagat has a canny perceptiveness that sometimes serves him well. He has identified a major problem with the political experience of Indian Muslims, which is the capture of a great deal of the community’s vote by political parties who play the “secular card” without offering much else, especially quantifiable economic and political benefit.
This is a point that has been made numerous times. Where most differ is in the solution to this problem. Bhagat’s solution, though written in the voice of an Indian Muslim, is in fact the standard response of the textbook majoritarian, steeped in its favourite imagery (maulvis make an appearance in the first paragraph, skullcaps in the fourth) and couched in its favoured paternalist idiom.
What Bhagat is doing here is talking not as the Indian Muslim but to the Indian Muslim. His argument is basically a well-tuned representation of the argument Hindu nationalism has with Indian Muslims. As he points out first: “There is no shortage of Muslim achievers. There are Muslim stars in almost every field.” I imagine he means Shah Rukh Khan and Zaheer Khan and A.P.J. Abdul Kalam and others like them. The implication here is that the success of some from the community is indication that any Muslim “with a modern outlook and a desire to come up [sic] in life” should be able to achieve identical success. What seems like a neurotic celebration of Muslim achievement is in fact a stick that is used to beat the rest of the community with: Look what those people have managed to do in India. Why can’t you do the same? Bhagat fails to see, or perhaps understand, the forms religious discrimination can take; there is scant acknowledgment that it even exists in India.
His cloying condescension is hard to take: “We don’t need it as a handout. We are willing to work hard for it.” Again, his implication adheres to that hoary Hindutva chestnut: that the experience of Muslims in India has been of the “secular” state apportioning handouts and freebies that the community has unthinkingly grasped at. Someone should perhaps explain to Bhagat that Muslims have worked as hard as any other community before and since independence; that, as the Sachar Committee Report showed, it is the state that has, in fact, failed to provide service and opportunity for such a substantial number of its people.
What Bhagat will not admit is that this piece is the latest in his sporadic series in support of Gujarat’s chief minister Narendra Modi and the bring-BJP-to-power-2014 effort. His argument is with the “secular” parties, the Congress and regional parties that garner Muslim votes, like the Samajwadi Party or Trinamool Congress. There is merit in this argument, as these parties’ abysmal record with Muslim communities, and their pandering to the most regressive elements within these communities, has proved. But—and this is only my suspicion—I wonder if his desire is the uplift of the long-marginalized Muslim community, or if this piece is a roundabout expression of his vexation with a religious group that he believes might well keep his favoured party and candidate out.
Years ago, I went to Madhya Pradesh to report on the last assembly elections there, a battle between the Congress and the incumbent BJP. I was fresh out of college and very indignant about the nature of minority politics in India. I was sitting, on one of my first days there, in a Muslim neighbourhood in Bhopal, talking to a group of young men. I asked them what the BJP had done for them.
“Nothing.”
I asked what the Congress had done for them.
“Nothing.”
I became excited. “Don’t you see,” I said, “why there is no difference between them? Neither of them do anything for you. Why should you think one is better than the other?”
One of the men, a taxi driver, said there was a difference. “It’s a personal thing. You know when the BJP is in power, these gangs, they can come to our mohalla, they can start a fight, break or burn something. We can’t respond. We go to the police, they won’t file a case. I suppose it’s a question of safety.”
I hadn’t used that exchange in my journalism until I wrote this response today. It was this man’s belief, and visceral as it was, it was unfair to the Shivraj Singh Chouhan government, which had a good record in these matters. But that man opened my eyes about two things. That I, from the elite, had a substantively different experience of my country than any disprivileged Indian, Hindu or Muslim. And that I should never presume to lecture people about the political choices they make. For the poor especially, the vote is their one connection with their political environment, with the factors and decisions that will shape their lives. They do not make that choice without thought.
Prayaag Akbar is the associate editor, The Sunday Guardian.

 

URGENT: A Letter from Indian Muslim Youth to #ChetanBhagat


JULY 1, 2013

If you agree with the following Text and wish to be one of the signatories of this letter, please send your signature (Name, Profession , City/State) at activist.journalist@gmail.com by 12 PM tomorrow (2nd July 13).

Dear Mr. Bhagat,

At the very outset, let us make it clear that we are not fans of your regressive fiction. Therefore, we write to you not as crazy fans but as Indian Muslim youth, who felt utterly patronized, insulted and hurt after reading your article, ‘Letter from an Indian Muslim Youth’ . You might have not realized this, but in pretending to render “a strong modern Indian Muslim voice’’ to the youth and the Muslim community at large, you have ripped them of their agency. You have reaffirmed stereotypes that many in the community have been fighting against. Heard of the Muslim god and his flock?

Sir, one does not need a name like Ahmed or Saeed or Mirza, or even be a Muslim to show one’s genuine concern for the community. One just needs to see beyond one’s own prejudice and biases. Believe us, this disgusting piece of your writing made us more nauseous than any of your (or Madhu Kishwar’s) love-verses to Modi. Your article is nothing but an extension of the thought process that anything Muslim is backward and regressive. Since you have assigned to yourself the task of bearing the moral burden of the community, would you care to explain what a ‘Muslim cap’ is?

We agree with you when you say political leaders make promises that go empty post elections. And that there are Muslims who have achieved much without any ‘’cap-wearing politician’’ helping them. But who is this leader that you are suggesting; one who would understand ‘’the desire’’ of the Muslim youth ‘’to come up in life’’ and ‘’inspire us to do better’’? Is it by any chance the mass murderer, Narendra Modi?

You know what hurts? That people pretend to care for you when they don’t. When in fact they use you to grind their own axe. How cleverly you turn everything that the Muslim youth face today – “being frisked with greater attentiveness, denied renting an apartment” – into a product of the community’s inherent backwardness, as if it bears no relation to the increasing communalization of our polity and society.

What makes you think that the ‘cap’ wallahs exercise a great deal of influence within the community? Interestingly, one particular party has been lately seeking a lot of photo-ops with precisely these kinds of community leaders. Make no mistake Mr. Writer. They don’t.

“Because of you”, you write castigating an imagined Muslim leadership, “people feel we vote in a herd.” Now, isn’t that really clever, Mr. Bhagat. People feel we vote in a herd because certain parties never tire of screaming hoarse about ‘minority appeasement’ and ‘vote banks’, even though, any psephologist or political scientist, or even an ordinary Muslim youth at Chai dukaan will tell you that Muslims vote just like any other community does: according to a mix of factors: local, national but above all, keeping in mind who will preserve their interests best. And their interests do tend to include the safety of life and livelihood.

We are sorry, Mr. Bhagat, but the ‘’democratic republic’’ you talk of is not so democratic. If it were so, Afzal Guru wouldn’t have been executed to ‘’satisfy the collective conscience of the nation’’. Muslim youth would not have fallen prey to minority witch-hunting, and their killers not decorated with gallantry awards. Adivasis in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Orissa would not have been ripped of their fundamental rights to live with dignity. Dalit poets would not have been falsely charged under sedition laws.
Loving one’s nation is well and good, but being blinded by patriotism is not. Why do Indian Muslims always have to prove their allegiance to India? Why can’t they also be critical of their country?

The party whose path you are treading has had Indian Muslims pass through too many Sita-like ordeals of fire, Agni Pariksha. You may have the privilege to turn a blind eye to the post-Babri Masjid Demolition violence, the Gujarat pogrom, but many others don’t. How then do you think a leader who doesn’t even have the integrity to apologize for his complicity in the Gujarat pogrom represent Muslim youth’s aspirations for ‘’scientific way of thinking, entrepreneurship, empowerment, progress’’ and above all, ‘’personal freedoms’’? And just by the way, have you heard of the word, ‘Justice’?

Sd/-
Name Profession City (State)
1. Rafiul Alom Rahman, Student, Delhi University, Delhi
2. Mahtab Alam, Civil Rights Activist and Journalist, Delhi
3. Javid Parsa, Student, Maulana Azad National Urdu University, Hyderabad
4. Zulaikha Jabeen, Researcher and Activist, Raipur, Chhattisgarh
5. Shahnawaz Malik, Journalist, Delhi
6. Abdullah A Rahman, Student, TISS Tuljapur
7. Abu Zafar, Journalist, Delhi
8. Mahtab Azad, Development Consultant, Araria (Bihar)
9. Ali Amir, Student, TISS Mumbai
10. Gauhar Iqbal, Eauntropneur, Delhi

Miyan Modi- poem for the anniversary of Gujarat genocide of 2002


Submitted by admin4 on 27 February 2013 –  twocirclews.net

A poem 

By Asma Anjum,

Dark clouds gather
Choking smoke fumes
We run for cover as they howl
He is coming, he is coming.
Ears have gone blind and minds are frozen
He is the one they say who has played the perfect development orgy
[A stripped emperor smiling at his ‘new’ clothes? ]
Never mind we have the lowest human development index
Carcasses , cadavers, skeletons too, are now vexed
[For his fear they don’t tumble out now from the closet! ]

He rode here this far
Calling us all Miyan Bhai Musharrafs, Auranagzeb ki aulad
[ he envies us, he doesn’t have one!]
Armed with the panache of a media savoir-faire
The synthetic CM simulates the wolf cry
All made up, all made up , he is media- manufactured
We cry.
All made up.

Decorated with thousand skulls round his taut neck
Like pearls a king flaunts among his subjects
But the skulls are breaking fast
They will not be dug out from the debris of democracy,
[The debris is being flattened by us all!]
No luck you say as that crooked King Richard 3rd freshly had?
When his skull was ’re’ captured from a car park
It was broken into two
A sword, I swear, was thrust into his skull
[Poetic justice for a loyal brother!]
Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown!
He killed his nephews but not before kissing them tenderly
No kisses and hugs for Miyan bhais ,we know well enough
[not even a good bye kiss , you see!]
How many more, they ask him
3000 Gujaratis ( ! ) were not enough
[four more zeroes and you get teen karod Gujaratis! ]
But this time it won’t be a made to order thingy.
He grins.

Rather I would chalk out a new “G “plan.
Listen and quiver, listen and quiver
Will be their fate
Forever condemned to a sorry state
How else, you tell me, to keep ’them’ straight?
My media acumen and my media bouncers will tear them to pieces
Raj dharm , he winks, I know well.
Now I will show them what is Hindu[tva] dharm ka raj
The nephews were lucky, they were kissed before death
I will make them die [daily] a thousand deaths…..

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