Indian Muslims Need To “Correct” Their Image, Says Indian Vice President

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India

NEW DELHI:  Have Indian Muslims taken too much for granted? Is there a need of newer impulses to respond to new situations? Vice President of India Hamid Ansari posed these questions while giving the Khuda Bakhsh Oriental Public Library Memorial Lecture at Patna, Bihar (December 12). The theme of his lecture was, “Identity, Citizenship and Empowerment.”

The Khuda Bakhsh Oriental Library, one of the oldest libraries in India, was opened to the public in 1891 by Maulvi Khuda Bakhsh Khan. It was declared as an institute of national importance in 1969 by an act of Parliament. Managed by an administrative board headed by governor of Bihar, the library is fully funded by the ministry of culture, with its director handling the regular managerial responsibilities.

Describing the library, as “amongst a handful of its kind in the world,” the golden jubilee of which is being celebrated this year, Ansari said: “It is a unique collection of Persian and Arabic manuscripts, described by a visitor as an ‘enclosed garden of precious things.’ These testify to the richness of the civilization of Islam…  One characteristic … is the diversity of the … dialogue conducted over centuries between peoples of diverse stocks and traditions and the interaction between Islamic values and the historical experience of Muslim communities.”

Deliberating on identity of Indian Muslims, Ansari said: “India is not a part of the ‘Muslim World’ but is not away from it; not a Muslim majority state in statistical terms yet home to the third largest community of Muslims in the world; not a society focused on Muslim welfare only but one in which the Muslims, as an integral part of a larger whole, constitutionally claim the attention that every other section does. The Indian Muslim community also has a history of engagement with the larger Muslim world and has contributed in intellectual, cultural and material terms to its enrichment.”

His aim was “to explore two aspects of the interaction that has characterised the Indian experience,” Ansari said. He posed the questions:  “Have the Muslims allowed their parameters to be frozen in time and taken too much for granted? Have they been sufficiently critical? Is there a need of newer impulses to respond to new situations?” Referring to “reality” portrayed by Sachar Committee Report that “examined the ground situation pertaining to identity, security and equity, highlighted facts emanating from official data and made recommendations for corrective and affirmative action,” Ansari asked: “What conclusions do we draw from our experience of six decades in terms, firstly, of the conceptual framework and, secondly, of the actual experience?”

Secularism, “accepted as part of the basic structure of the Constitution,” Ansari said, “pertains to three sets of relations in a society: between religion and the individual (freedom of religion); between the state and the individual (citizenship); and between the state and religion (separation of state and religion).” “The basic debate in India on the meaning and content of secularism has ranged on two principal approaches, namely (a) neutrality of the state vis-à-vis religions to ensure a basic symmetry of treatment between citizens of different religious communities and (b) prohibition of religious activities in the functioning of the state. The former implies respect for and implementation of rights given to religious minorities. The record of six decades shows that flawed practice has at times tended to dilute these principles,” Ansari pointed out.

Accepting that “practice has fallen short of the promise,” Ansari analysed the Indian Muslim mind. “Insecurity, frustration and uncertainty characterised the Indian Muslim mind in the immediate aftermath of Partition,” he said. Their grievances centred on five core concerns security, employment and reservations, Urdu, Aligarh Muslim University and Muslim Personal Law, he said. “The community’s internal discourse on these as also in the wider Indian circle is, therefore, of relevance. It was articulated through the ulema, political leaders, intellectuals and the general public. In many cases, these categories over-lapped; their responses varied. The record of six decades suggests an unduly defensive approach, sporadic and emotional rather than systematic and rational. The internal discourse repeated an old lament,” Ansari said.

“Suggestions for possible corrections were few, unfocused and far in between,” because of which, Ansari said, “an inter-community dialogue to seek correctives did not emerge; this enhanced distances.” Ansari emphasized: “There is, specifically, a requirement to address three challenges.” These include, he said: “Sustained, candid, and uninterrupted interaction with fellow citizens without a syndrome of superiority or inferiority;  involvement of  all segments of the community, particularly women who constitute half the population and are to be empowered in social responsibilities as equal partners with Muslim men; and self-empowerment in areas where competence already exists, making the best use of government assistance that is available, and creating capability to benefit from the opportunities being offered by an expanding economy.”

“The failure of communication with the wider community has tended to freeze the boundaries of diversities that characterise Indian society. People have tended to live together separately. As a result, stereotypes have been developed and nurtured,” Ansari said. “There is therefore an urgent need to correct the image, go beyond identity issues, project a more holistic view of Muslims as normal human beings and fellow citizens with the same rights and responsibilities as other citizens,” he said. “Islam’s emphasis on observance of ethical principles in interaction with all human beings should help Muslims to propel a positive image,” Ansari asserted.

Highlighting the need of “social awakening,” particularly with regard to status of women, Ansari pointed out that “in this effort, religious texts are not an impediment, social custom is.” “The endeavour should be inclusive; the traditionalists, who have a wider social reach, have to be included and reminded of Islam’s teachings on the status of women as also of the imperative of our times. What is needed is a virtual revolution in our approach to this question. The examples of education of women in Muslim societies like Indonesia, Malaysia, Iran and Turkey, and its eventual impact on the status of women in society, can be emulated with benefit,” he said.

“The social and economic rejuvenation of Indian Muslims is important for its internal dimension, as also for revitalising India’s traditional engagement with, and contribution to, the Muslim world beyond our borders,” Ansari stated. To keep the process on a progressive track and prevent regression, Ansari said: “The key seems to lie in a sincere, unconditional and uninterrupted dialogue and requisite corrective action within the framework of the Constitution. All segments of society, majority and minority, have a national duty to do so.”


Terrorists Have No Religion: Indian President

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS) India Correspondent

NEW DELHI: The two-day International Conference of Jurists on Terrorism and Rule of Law held in the capital city (November 21-22) strongly indicates that concern of the Indian government about terrorism is certainly not confined to only apprehensions about Pakistan-based elements planning and supporting militant elements here. The conference was inaugurated by President Pratibha Devisingh Patil and the valedictory address was made by Vice-President Hamid Ansari. A brief analysis of the speeches made by Patil and Ansari suggests that the Indian government is concerned about challenges posed by terrorism to peace within the country and the lapses in the system, which have failed to check the threat posed by militant elements. While Patil focused on the former aspect, Ansari emphasized the latter.  Interestingly, neither Patil nor Ansari mentioned Pakistan or linked terrorist attacks the country has faced with any particular religious and/regional group. During her inaugural address, Patil stated: “Ours is a pluralist society. As a vibrant democracy of more than one billion people, India takes pride in its multi-cultural, multi-ethnic and multi-religious milieu. A democratic ethos infuses the life of the Indian people and the nation. Through respect for plurality and democracy, India celebrates its unity in diversity. We remain firmly committed to democratic governance, the rule of law, respect for human rights and religious freedom.” “As a responsible member of the international community, the conduct of our foreign relations since independence has been to promote peace and development and create a better world, free of terror. We have pledged ourselves to a policy of zero-tolerance towards terrorism, from whatever source it originates, wherever it strikes and whosoever it chooses as target,” Patil emphasized.

Patil asserted that “no idea, no cause whatsoever, can justify terrorism.” “Terrorists belong to no religion for they are not apostles of peace but messengers of death and destruction. We have to be overwhelmingly careful that terrorists do not succeed in their evil designs of sowing seeds of misunderstandings and causing fractures between cultures in the international community,” she said. “Instead, we must steadfastly work towards building bridges of understanding between the different cultures of our planet based on respect for rule of law, the protection of democratic values and strengthening of common institutions,” she pointed out.

Describing terrorism as a “perverse global phenomenon,” Patil said that “the struggle against it must be carried to the world stage.” “Terrorism easily transcends borders and thus becomes a transnational crime. Being a crime against humanity, it ought to be recognized as a common enemy of all nations. A terror threat against one, is a threat against all,” she stated. “It is incumbent on the international community to ensure that there is an effective legal framework for the prevention and elimination of terrorism and to bring to justice the sponsors, abettors and perpetrators of terrorism,” Patil pointed out. Acknowledging that “differing theories and ongoing debates have impeded an internationally acceptable definition of terrorism,” Patil said: “We need fresh ideas and creative thinking to provide a strong edifice to international law and to maximize complementarities amongst nations.” She highlighted the need to “evolve a system of sharing best practices amongst criminal justice practitioners across regions and across legal systems, besides providing for country based capacity building assistance for rounded implementation of international legal instruments against terrorism.” “We must be pro-active, committed and persevering in our actions to combat the global threat of terrorism. We owe this to the people we serve and to our future generations,” she said.

During his address, Ansari voiced his concern on “lapses” in the Indian system leading to its “failure to deliver.”  Elaborating on the recent trends in study of the Rule of Law, Ansari pointed out: “Political scientists have argued that an organic development and entrenchment of Rule of Law in a developing country context requires three essential conditions: (i) certainty, meaning equality before law and absence of arbitrary abuse of authority; (ii) perpetuity, the ability to bind future regimes and officials of the state to today’s rules and institutions and (iii) certitude that resort to violence is legitimate and controlled.” Turning to India’s approach, he said: “We remain committed to democratic governance, transparency, inclusive development and the implementation of Rule of Law. Our practice, however, has been marred by lapses resulting in a failure to deliver it in sufficient measure. The supremacy of Rule of Law has been challenged by corruption and the malicious influence of money power; both are made possible by departure from norms of good governance.”

What is noteworthy and also commendable that both Patil and Ansari, respectively, gave emphasis to the role that Indian government has to play in combating the challenge posed by terrorism and lapses which have emerged as “a significant threat to national security.” It is rarely that the country’s leaders have acknowledged their role and responsibility in failure to effectively check the menace posed by terrorism. Against this backdrop, Patil and Ansari’s comments suggest that Indian government has acknowledged that threat posed by terrorism cannot be checked by only holding external elements responsible for the same.

Paradoxically, the two-day conference was also witness to a slight diplomatic tension, when remarks made by a speaker made an envoy walk out of the hall. Saudi Arabian ambassador to India Faisal-al-Trad walked out when former Union Law Minister Ram Jethmalani in his speech made comments against Saudi Arabia’s Wahabism and Osama bin Laden as responsible for terrorism. Union Law Minister M. Veerappa Moily, however, indulged in “damage-control” exercise by laying stress in his address that comments made by Jethamalini were his own, with which he totally disagrees, and not of the government. Subsequently, Trad returned to the conference hall.

“Terrorism cannot be attributed to any particular religion, as no religion teaches terrorism,” Moily said. Among other speakers, Justice Awn S. Al-Khasawneh, judge of the International Court of Justice asked Jethmalani not to make sweeping statements. He said: “The message from this conference must not be fear-mongering, but tackling terrorism within the framework of law. Combat it with methods such as combination of cooperation among countries by preaching the message of law and peace rather than fear mongering.”