In the beginning of January 2020 two very disturbing events were reported from Pakistan. One was the attack on Nankana Sahib, the holy shrine where Sant Guru Nanak was born. While one report said that the place has been desecrated, the other stated that it was a fight between two Muslim groups. Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan condemned the incident and the main accused Imran Chisti was arrested. The matter related to abduction and conversion of a Sikh girl Jagjit Kaur, daughter of Pathi (One who reads Holy Guru Granth Sahib in Gurudwara) of the Gurudwara. In another incident one Sikh youth Ravinder Singh, who was out on shopping for his marriage, was shot dead in Peshawar.

While these condemnable attacks took place on the Sikh minority in Pakistan, BJP was quick enough to jump to state that it is events like this which justify the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). Incidentally CAA is the Act which is discriminatory and relates to citizenship with Religion, which is not as per the norms of Indian constitution. There are constant debates and propaganda that population of Hindus has come down drastically in Pakistan and Bangla Desh. Amit Shah, the Home minister stated that in Pakistan the population of Hindus has come down from 23% at the time of partition to 3.7% at present. And in Bangla Desh it has come down from 22% to present 8%.

While not denying the fact that the religious minorities are getting a rough deal in both these countries, the figures which are presented are totally off the mark. These figures don’t take into consideration the painful migrations, which took place at the time of partition and formation of Bangla Desh later. Pakistan census figures tell a different tale. Their first census was held in 1951. As per this census the overall percentage of Non Muslim in Pakistan (East and West together) was 14.2%, of this in West Pakistan (Now Pakistan) it was 3.44 and in Eat Pakistan it was 23.2. In the census held in Pakistan 1998 it became 3.72%. As far as Bangla Desh is concerned the share of Non Muslims has gone down from 23.2 (1951) to 9.6% in 2011.

The largest minority of Pakistan is Ahmadis, (https://minorityrights.org/country/pakistan/) who are close to 4 Million and are not recognised as Muslims in Pakistan. In Bangla Desh the major migrations of Hindus from Bangla Desh took place in the backdrop of Pakistan army’s atrocities in the then East Pakistan.

As far as UN data on refugees in India it went up by 17% between 2016-2019 and largest numbers were from Tibet and Sri Lanka.  (https://www.un.org/en/development/desa/population/migration/publications/


The state of minorities is in a way the index of strength of democracy. Most South Asian Countries have not been able to sustain democratic values properly. In Pakistan, the Republic began with Jinnah’s classic speech where secularism was to be central credo of Pakistan. This 11th August speech was in a way what the state policy should be, as per which people of all faiths are free to practice their religion. Soon enough the logic of ‘Two Nation theory” and formation of Pakistan, a separate state for Muslim took over. Army stepped in and dictatorship was to reign there intermittently. Democratic elements were suppressed and the worst came when Zia Ul Haq Islamized the state in collusion with Maulanas. The army was already a strong presence in Pakistan. The popular formulation for Pakistan was that it is ruled by three A’s, Army, America and Allah (Mullah).

Bangla Desh had a different trajectory. Its very formation was a nail in the coffin of ‘two nation theory’; that religion can be the basis of a state. Bangla Desh did begin as a secular republic but communal forces and secular forces kept struggling for their dominance and in 1988 it also became Islamic republic. At another level Myanmar, in the grip of military dictatorship, with democratic elements trying to retain their presence is also seeing a hard battle. Democracy or not, the army and Sanghas (Buddhist Sang has) are strong, in Myanmar as well. The most visible result is persecution of Rohingya Muslims.

Similar phenomenon is dominating in Sri Lanka also where Budhhist Sanghas and army have strong say in the political affairs, irrespective of which Government is ruling. Muslim and Christian minorities are a big victim there, while Tamils (Hindus, Christians etc.) suffered the biggest damage as ethnic and religious minorities. India had the best prospect of democracy, pluralism and secularism flourishing here. The secular constitution, the outcome of India’s freedom struggle, the leadership of Gandhi and Nehru did ensure the rooting of democracy and secularism in a strong way.

India so far had best democratic credentials amongst all the south Asian countries. Despite that though the population of minorities rose mainly due to poverty and illiteracy, their overall marginalisation was order of the day, it went on worsening with the rise of communal forces, with communal forces resorting to identity issues, and indulging in propaganda against minorities.

While other South Asian countries should had followed India to focus more on infrastructure and political culture of liberalism, today India is following the footsteps of Pakistan. The retrograde march of India is most visible in the issues which have dominated the political space during last few years. Issues like Ram Temple, Ghar Wapasi, Love Jihad, Beef-Cow are now finding their peak in CAA.

India’s reversal towards a polity with religion’s identity dominating the political scene was nicely presented by the late Pakistani poetess Fahmida Riaz in her poem, Tum bhi Hum Jaise Nikle (You also turned out to be like us). While trying to resist communal forces has been an arduous task, it is becoming more difficult by the day. This phenomenon has been variously called, Fundamentalism, Communalism or religious nationalism among others. Surely it has nothing to do with the religion as practiced by the great Saint and Sufi traditions of India; it resorts mainly to political mobilization by using religion as a tool.

Category :- English Bazaar Patrika / OPED

Pakistan and Indian Muslims

Ram Puniyani

‘Go to Pakistan’ has probably been most often used phrase used against Muslims in India. Recently in yet another such incident the SP of Meerut, UP has been in the news and a video is circulating where he, Akhilesh Narayan Singh, is allegedly using the jibe ‘Go to Pakistan’. In the video he is seen shouting at protestors at Lisari Gate area in Meerut, “The ones (protestors) wearing those black or yellow armbands, tell them to go to Pakistan”. His seniors stood by him calling it ‘natural reaction to shouting of pro Pakistan slogans. Many BJP leaders like Uma Bhararti also defended the officer. Breaking ranks with fellow politicians, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi of BJP, criticised the said officer and asked for suitable action against him. Interestingly this is same Naqvi, who earlier when the beef related arguments were going on; had stated that those who want to eat beef can go to Pakistan.

Interestingly this is probably the first time that any BJP leader has opposed the use of this jibe against the Indian Muslims. True to the dominance of trolls who support divisive politics, Naqvi has been trolled on the issue As such vibe ‘Go to Pakistan’ has been a strong tool in the hands of aggressive elements to demonise Muslims in general and to humiliate those with Muslim names. One recalls that when due to the rising intolerance in the society many eminent writers, film makers were returning their awards, Aamir Khan said that his wife Kiran Rao is worried about their son. Immediately BJP worthies like Giriraj Singh pounced on him that he can go to Pakistan.

The strategy of BJP combine has been on one hand to use this ‘go to Pakistan’ to humiliate Muslims on the other from last few years another Pakistan dimension has been added Those who are critical of the policies of BJP-RSS have on one hand been called as anti National and on the other it is being said that ‘they are speaking the language of Pakistan’.

Use of Pakistan to label the Muslims and dissidents here in India has been a very shrewd tool in the hands of communal forces. One remembers that the ‘cricket nationalism’ was also the one to use it. In case of India-Pakistan cricket match, the national hysteria, which it created, was also aiming at Indian Muslims. What was propagated was that Indian Muslims cheer for Pakistan victory and they root for Pakistan. There was an unfortunate grain of truth in this as a section of disgruntled, alienated Muslim did that. That was not the total picture, as most Indian Muslims were cheering for Indian victory. Many a Muslim cricketers contributed massively to Indian cricket victories. The cricket legends like Nawab Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi, Irfan Pathan, and Mohammad Azaruddin are just the few among the long list of those who brought glories for India in the field of cricket.

Even in matters of defence there are legions of Muslims who contributed to Indian efforts in the war against Pakistan all through. Abdul Hamid’s role in 1965 India Pak war and the role of Muslim soldiers in Kargil war will be part of Indian military history. There have been generals in army who contributed in many ways for the role which military has been playing in service of the nation. General Zamiruddin Shah, when asked to handle Gujarat carnage, does recount how despite the lack of support from local administration for some time, eventually the military was able to quell the violence in some ways.

During freedom movement Muslims were as much part of the struggle against British rule as any other community. While the perception has been created that Muslims were demanding Pakistan, the truth is somewhere else. It was only the elite section of Muslims who supported the politics of Muslim League and later the same Muslim League could mobilize some other section and unleash the violence like ‘Direct Action’ in Kolkata, which in a way precipitated the actual process of partition, which was the goal of British and aim of Muslim League apart from this being the outcome of ‘Two Nation theory’.

Not much is popularized about the role of great number of Muslims who were part of National movement, who steadfastly opposed the idea and politics which led to the sad partition of the subcontinent. Few excellent accounts of the role of Muslims in freedom movement like Syed Nasir Ahmad, Ubaidur Rahman, Satish Ganjoo and Shamsul Islam are few of these not too well know books which give the outline of the great Muslim freedom fighters like Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Ansari Brothers, Ashfaqulla Khan.

Immediately after partition tragedy the communal propaganda did the overdrive to blame the whole partition process on Muslim separatism, this totally undermined the fact that how poor Muslims had taken out massive marches to oppose the Lahore Resolution of separate Pakistan moved by Mohammad Ali Jinnah. The whole Muslim community started being seen as the homogenous, ‘The other’ and other misconceptions started against the community, the one’s relating them to atrocities of Muslim kings started being made as the part of popular folklore, leading the Hate against them. This Hate in turn laid the foundation of violence and eventual ghettoisation of this community.

The interactive-syncretism prevalent in India well presented by Gandhi-Nehru was pushed to the margins as those believing in pluralism did not actively engage with the issue. The economic marginalization of this community, coupled with the increasing insecurity in turn led to some of them to identify with Pakistan, and this small section was again presented as the representative of the whole Muslim community.

Today the battle of perception is heavily tilted against the Muslim community. It is a bit of a surprise as Naqvi is differing from his other fellow colleagues to say that the action should be taken against the erring police officer. The hope is that all round efforts are stepped up to combat the perception constructed against this religious minority in India. 

Category :- English Bazaar Patrika / OPED