For many young Indians, ‘secular’ is a word defining the very nature of what it means to be an Indian today. It is also a word central to the attitude of the Indian state towards religion. It implies a clear separation not only of religion and State but also between a citizen’s private life and his religious beliefs on one hand, and his life in the public sphere on the other. The growing visible presence of Islam in the streets, schools, shops (‘halal’ goods and restaurants) and public life in general is seen by many as an aggression against the Indian way of life.
The triple-talaq hullaballoo is, of course, just a symptom of a deeper problem; many perceive it as the symbol of an invasion by an outside culture into the public sphere. A society which had abhorred ‘talaq’ (Divorce) and ‘sa-gotra’ (same patriline) marriages is uncomfortable with the idea of ‘triple-talaq’ and cousin-marriages.
This behaviour seems to worry many Indians, who see it as a direct attack on their culture and identity, and a desire among the Indian Muslims to live separately from the rest of the Indian society and according to other values.
Behind the vociferous opposition to uniform civil code, Indians see the hands of the Muslim Brotherhood or religious ideologies, whose ultimate goal seems to be to propagate their values and impose them on the rest of the society. The Debate on Muslim Personal Law in India is not about Muslim Personal Law.
The Islamic distinction between ‘halal’ (authorized) and ‘haram’ (prohibited) has become a central question in the daily life of many Muslims in India. Many younger Muslims are getting drawn to their religious rituals and are publically flaunting their adoption of such practices.
The increasing Islamic clatter in society has seen growing display of conservative ethos as against a progressive culture. This has had consequences in schools. Some girls do not attend physical education classes; theories of evolution are criticized during biology classes; and it has even become difficult to teach the stories from ‘Ramayan, Mahabharat’ and ‘Gita’ – the great Indian epics in schools with a majority of Muslims pupils.
In the end, however, the commotion created by the growing presence of the Islamic headscarf and ‘burqua’ together with ‘namaz’ in public places hides the more fundamental issues of how to deal with the rapidly increasing presence of a foreign culture brought in by the aggressors, which seems to keep demanding an ever-larger space in its host society.
It is quite distressing that Muslims, who came to India more than 1200 years back; ruled this country for nearly 800 years and faced the Christian persecution at the hands of the Europeans alongside other Indians for 200 years; struggled against the British, shoulder to shoulder with Hindus, for Indian independence; who constitute the biggest non-Hindu chunk of Indians; are still seen reeling under a crisis of unwillingness to accept India as their “Home Land” and “Mother Land.”
Religion played a patent role in the creation of two independent states, India and Pakistan, defined within the binaries of ‘secular’ and ‘religious’ nationalism. Areas with concentrated populations of Muslims became Pakistans but many Muslims, who remained in India, were spread out geographically within the country and even within the individual human settlements called the cities, towns and villages. Most Indian Muslims have Indian ancestry and not the invaders’ ancestry.
Unfortunately, the remaining Muslims did the opposite. They began to live separate from the rest of the Indians, they started creating in ‘ghetto’ like neighborhoods designated for Muslims. They did not care to assimilate with India. They did not change so that they would be more like the Indians and so less different. They did not get involved in learning the languages of India, dressing the way Indians did or begin to look at the social problems in the way of Indian society. They did not make themselves more like the existing group in order to be accepted. This in spite of the fact that most Indian Muslims have Indian ancestry and not the invaders’ ancestry; and they only needed to revert to the culture and thought of their fore-fathers.
Politicians have had a field day because of this lack of assimilation of Muslims into India. Since a large minority always plays a significant role in determining the outcomes of elections by swinging their votes, some parties used politics of appeasement to win the favour of Muslims. The political opponents then used the Anti-Muslim sentiment to win more votes from the majority. Muslim leadership has connived with the politicians and turned the Muslims into a browbeating and stuffy lot.
Many Indians believe that if those problems are not addressed now, it soon might be too late. It will create a fait accompli and India will no longer be a single nation, but would become a de facto dual-cultural state where people live according to different values, history and culture.
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