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'Gujarat's Muslims are terrified of Modi'

November 12, 2012 14:55 IST

With Azadi's Daughter -- The Journey of a Liberal Muslim Woman, Seema Mustafa chronicles her journey from the violence-ridden 1980s when she covered riots in Assam, Punjab and Kashmir. She says the book heavily borrows anecdotes from her personal life, and presents her views on not only her personal journey but also reflects upon the issues that riddle the Indian Muslim.

In Azadi's Daughter, which was released by Vice President Hamid Ansari on November 9 in the capital, she talks about how the Indian Muslim woman is now asserting her rights strongly than ever before, and how, at the same time, Indian Muslim youth are struggling with despondency. She also comments on how events such as the Shah Bano case, the demolition of Babri masjid affected the Indian Muslim.

In conversation with rediff.com Priyanka, Seema Mustafa talks about various issues affecting the Indian Muslim.

What is the most vivid memory you have of your early childhood years in Lucknow or in Delhi, something that characterised a secular-modern and a Muslim household?

There were quite a few anecdotes, which I realise now are quite exceptional. In one such incident, a cousin and I went to a library in Delhi, I was 14, and a woman asked us if we were Shias or Sunnis. Both of us hadn't heard of it and neither of us knew. So, we went back home and asked, but were told it really didn't matter.

We were taught that it was tolerance that prevented the secular from becoming fundamentalist.

While growing up years, how did you understand being a Muslim meant?

We had Maulvis at our home as my grandmother thought that we should study the religion. But my family was never disciplinarians.

When I went to college, everybody said well you don't look like a Muslim and that's when I realised that people make a difference. There are certain stereotypes attached with Muslims.

The book claims to 'lay at rest lazy assumptions about the Indian Muslim women.' What is your interpretation of the Indian Muslim women today?

I think the stereotyping of the Indian Muslim women in a burkha, seeing her as a backward woman who doesn't have any aspirations is completely wrong. They are far more assertive about her rights today. They want to study further and more women are studying and taking jobs

What is helping them?

There is a realisation that you can't keep them shackled and that economic uplift will happen only when everybody is educated and is working. I also make a point in the book that though more number of Muslim women are donning the parda, the hijab in many countries worldwide, their numbers are decreasing in India.

Is wearing a burkha still seen as a sign of regression?

A burkha is a sign of deep regression, and I don't think you can romanticise it. I think the moment the woman wears it, she is accepting subjugation. Whether she is doing it consciously, or subconsciously the whole message is that I accept that I have to cover myself up because that's the way my man wants me to be

How is the Indian Muslim woman today struggling to keep up her identity, do what she wants to do and also somehow manage what she expected to do? Are her struggles similar to that of a contemporary Hindu woman?

I think there is a difference. For instance, Karva Chauth has become very corporatised, they have become huge. I don't think Eid has become bigger than what it was 20 years ago. The Indian Muslim woman today is able to do what she wants to do, she works, she brings her children and keeps her identity there, but she is a little more emancipated in the exercise of that identity

What is your interpretation of how the Shah Bano case impacted the Indian Muslim woman?

Uptil the Shah Bano case, all women who had become destitute after a divorce or talaak could claim some amount, and it was a criminal offence not to allow her that. That's how Shah Bano was claiming her right. But the government overturned it.

At that time, there were protests, but the elite Muslim women never came out in the open and did not assert themselves. It started a huge debate and a need for reforms was initiated. It laid ground for work on a standardised nikah nama. It was for the first time the Muslim women were talking openly about it.

What changed for the Indian Muslim after the demolition of the Babri Masjid?

It had huge impact on not only the liberal and secular voices within the Muslim, but it also impacted the other secular voices nationwide.

I think it was a major blow on the secular foundations of this country because for the first time the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party worked together at different levels to ensure that the blow is dealt to the Indian Constitution.

Muslims for the first time felt extremely insecure because they felt the state couldn't protect even a monument.

But still, there was resilience within the community and a very strong voice fighting back.

After the violence against the Sikhs in 1984 broke out, I have pointed out in the general election that followed, the RSS had issued a blueprint to its cadres to vote for the Congress, and hence it got a massive majority in Parliament.

It was the consolidation of the majority vote, which had never happened earlier, not even after the partition.

Wasn't it a sympathy vote?

No, it was far more cynical than that. There was a sympathy vote to some extent, but it was more than that. Indira Gandhi wasn't such a tremendous force.

There is also a chapter in the book where you explain why Indian Muslims are not terrorists.

The reason is the resilience, the pluralism, the secularism and the democracy of the country. In India, if you are angry you can go and change the government and be part of the regime change

The majority is secular.

What is the dynamics of a Hindu-Muslim riot?

The nature of communal violence has also changed. In the 1980s, during the riots I covered in Assam, Punjab, Kashmir, it was observed that the riots were usually preceded by days and days of rumour spreading. The two communities are pitted against each other.

There was no case; just rumours go on and on. I remember the riots in Aligarh triggered after a mere dispute between biryani stall owner and a customer.

But the violence started changing, which was very visible in Gujarat. People were killed with impunity. Women were attacked brutally, which had never been seen before.

Do you think the Muslims in Gujarat are afraid of Narendra Modi?

They are terrified of him. They won't vote for him. The majority of the Muslims will not vote for him; it's a myth.

There have been now numerous instances when young Muslims are being rounded up and implicated in terror cases? How is it impacting the Muslim community?

This will probably have an impact worse than Gujarat. You are going into every home and arresting people across the country.

The political bodies do not comprehend the level of anger against them.

What is the agenda? Why do you think the state is doing this?

This is where 9/11 comes in. This is identity targeting against the community.

The idea is to just keep targeting the Muslim so that you are in control and keep the community subjugated. This is the larger plan, borrowed from the US post 9/11.

But what the Indian state does not realise is that it is huge minority here in India. There are also many more people, apart from the Muslims who are not going to tolerate this.

What are the challenges before the Indian Muslim youth today?

In my view, though the Muslim woman is coming out, the Muslim youth has become far more despondent. They feel they are not being able to move further.

I used to see the same despondency in the eyes of the Dalit youth in the 1980s when the violence was targeted against them.

How it is going to be for the Indian Muslim youth for the next five years?

Bad. It is going to be the same. I don't see any change in policy.

But the Indian Muslim is still looking for secular options. The Indian Muslim thinks very differently.

Priyanka in New Delhi