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Syeda Hameed | 27 NOVEMBER, 2015

'I Am An Indian And A Muslim....'


NEW DELHI: I find myself linked with Aamir Khan in shared grief.

I do so because I am a Muslim and an Indian, this is true of him and me plus 130 million Indian Muslims. We are all proud that we are Muslims and proud that we are Indians. We all belong to this country and this country belongs to us. The last eighteen months, however, have shaken this belief to the core, so much so that not only Muslims but many non Muslims as well have expressed sentiments similar to what Aamir said at the conclave a few days ago.

The words he spoke about his fears echo my fears when I face a new day replete with new invectives that are hurled at me. My world crashes around me each day when I read the news and random voices across the country direct me to go to qabristan (graveyard) or Pakistan (now Bangladesh has been added to the list). The message written everywhere in large font is to ghettoize the world into exclusive enclaves. Along with this vocal demand, there are bands of Shiv Sainiks and others of their ilk who appear with weapons to show that their words are not empty threats. Police is then directed by the state to protect the potential victim, a clash ensues and then...violence begets more violence. Aamir may have a police tukri guarding his gate but sometimes the police quietly join the marauders and the situation goes ballistic.

My thoughts veer to 2002 Gulberg Society in Gujarat when 13 years ago, over several hours, with police standing by, a mob lynched and burnt Ehsan Jafri, honorable Member of Parliament along with his family members and neighbors, 40 in total, for only one fault, being Muslim.

Today the country is ruled by the same dispensation that lynched and killed Jafri and over 1000 Muslims within 72 hours after the burning of the Sabarmati Express.

So what are we to do? All of us Indians who believe in a secular and democratic India?

We need to recall our own history and derive our lesson from it. To start with Aamir, he needs to remember that he is the descendant of one of the greatest men who walked this earth, a man who stood shoulder to shoulder with Gandhi and preceded the father of the nation in asking for Mukammal Azadi in 1912 even before the word Purna Swaraj was coined. He was Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, a man we Indians, regardless of our politics, have forgotten. In 1923 he became the youngest Congress President, in 1940 he was once again elected to the same office and in 1947 he became independent India's first Education Minister. While he was immersed in freedom struggle, suffering harshest prison terms, he wrote his most magnificent translation and commentary on the Quran, the unparalleled Tarjumanul Quran.

Two years ago, in Kolkata, on the terrace of the Victoria and Albert Museum Aamir Khan in the presence of the Governor of West Bengal released my biography entitled Maulana Azad Islam and the Indian National Movement, under the auspices of the Maulana Azad Institute of Asian Studies. The elite of the city were present. I reiterated my request to this great actor and humanist to make a film on Maulana Azad at a grander scale than Attenborough's Gandhi. I said that this was the need of the hour to give the world a man who understood the pristine spirit of Islam as it was revealed to the Prophet. In a post 9/11 world we needed Azad as never before. Two years later, today the need for such a public documentation is much greater in a world rocked by Islamic State and the slaughter of innocents in the name of Islam.

At a critical juncture of India's history, when the divide and rule policy of the Brits had created deep fissures between the two communities which would ultimately lead to partition, Azad gave a talisman to all Indians; not just to the Muslims, as is wrongly read by many. He addressed the Congress Ramgarh session 1946 with words that every single Indian needs to read and imbibe. He spoke in beautiful flowing Urdu which mesmerized his listeners with its powerful cadence. It defied translation; only his younger friend and comrade Jawaharlal Nehru could render it in English.

'I am a Muslim and profoundly conscious of the fact that I have inherited Islam's glorious traditions of the last 1300 years. I am not prepared to lose even a small part of that legacy.... But I have another equally deep realization born of my life's experience which is strengthened not hindered by the spirit of Islam. I am equally proud of the fact that I am an Indian, an essential part of that Indivisible unity of Indian nationhood, a vital factor in its make- up without which this noble edifice will remain incomplete.'

He then talks about the confluence of the cultures on the Indian soil. 'Just as a Hindu can say with pride that he is Indian and follower of Hinduism so can a Muslim claim being Indian and follower of Islam. A Christian or follower of any other religion can make a similar claim' He speaks of eleven hundred years of common history which has enriched India with common 'creative and constructive' achievements. He talks of language, poetry, literature, culture, art, dress, manners, customs bearing stamp of 'this common life'.

His next words seem like they were spoken today not 75 years ago. 'If there are any Hindus among us who desire to bring back the Hindu life of a 1000 years ago and more...They are just dreaming... If there are any Muslims who want to revive their past civilization and culture which they brought a thousand years ago from Iran and Central Asia, they too dream and the sooner they wake up the better. These are unnatural fancies which cannot take root in the soil of reality.... Our shared life of a thousand years has forged a common nationality. Such moulds cannot be artificially constructed. Nature's hidden anvils shape them over centuries. The mould has now been cast and destiny has set her seal upon it.'

These words were spoken seven years before Independence and Partition. They were spoken by a Muslim who represented a party consisting of all religions, castes, classes which had one single objective.

Today our polity needs to relive these words and act them out in real time. But more than parties these words are for you and me, people who have become despondent, depressed and demoralized by the daily verbal lashings by those who believe in destroying the spirit of nationhood while professing love for Bharat Mata. But instead of splashing Azad's thoughts across the length and breadth of the country we choose to forget them. I deliberately use the words 'choose to forget' because this year the government officially declared that Nov 11, Maulana Azad's birth anniversary would not be observed since it fell the same day as Diwali. No one from any dispensation bothered to protest. It is so easy to do nothing.

As his most illustrious descendant will Mr Aamir Khan and all those who follow this brilliant artist take heed and act now to save the ethos of this wonderful watan of ours?

(Syeda Hameed is a former Member of the Planning Commission, dissolved by the current government)

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