Years of Struggle Dr Mohammad Manzoor Alam (SEPTEMBER 15,2010)


Years of Struggle

In this second part of his IOS Silver Jubilee article Founder-Chairman Dr. Mohammad Manzoor Alam describes one of the difficult phases of Indian history, particularly from the Muslim perspective, and how the Institute responded to the challenges.

The point of time at which the IOS was established was crucial in India’s history. As winds of change were blowing and happy tidings for a prosperous future for the nation were in the air, a sinister attempt was also being made by a sizeable section of the political elite to persecute the Dalits and minorities, marginalise them and deprive them of the fruits of India’s economic progress.

For the previous two years, the RSS and its fronts like VHP, Bajrang Dal, BJP, ABVP and allied organisations had put the country on a boil. Since 1984 they had been carrying out incendiary yatras, making inflammatory speeches against Muslims, triggering well-orchestrated anti-Muslim riots. As usual, the governments at the Centre and in the states were merely silent spectators. That was certainly a difficult period in the history of Muslim Indians.

As the juggernaut of the violent and vicious Hindutva movement rolled on, leaving a trail of Muslim blood in its wake, the saffron ideologues began to proffer all kinds of interpretations and explanations of, and justification for, the wanton killings and destruction. One of these was that it was a “reaction” to the conversion of about 400 Dalits in Meenakshipuram of Tamil Nadu to Islam. That is, the Babri Masjid demolition movement was launched to avenge the conversion of those Dalits to Islam and to teach a lesson to Muslims.

But the question was, if the Sangh wanted to teach a lesson, it should have taught it to the Dalits, not Muslims.

Another justification for the sustained anti-Muslim carnage was even more ridiculous. Saffron ideologues said the Sangh was forced to counter VP Singh’s Mandal agenda (i.e., caste justice) with kamandal (Hindutva) politics. This was the justification for the mass murder of Muslims. The cynical calculation was that if Hindu castes could be united by sacrificing Muslims and using their blood as cement to keep Hindu castes together, be it so.

This kind of politics was not new to India. Everytime the Dalits and lower castes have tried to rise and demand equality with upper Hindu castes over the last hundred years or so, the votaries of Hindutva have invariably diverted the focus of anger to the imagined sins of Muslims and derailed the efforts of the lower castes.

One example of this was the formation of the avowedly anti-Muslim RSS in the early twenties of the last century and the rise of Hindu Mahasabha with the assertion of Dalit rights by Baba Phule and Dr Ambedkar. Another example was the turning of caste conflict among Hindus in Gujarat over reservation in educational institutions in the 1970s into Hindu-Muslim riots.

The Ayodhya mobilisation was part of that old pattern of derailing the demands of lower-caste people’s rights by through channeling the anger against Muslims.

Most of us know that caste is the lifeblood of social, political and economic life in India. Take the list of a thousand car owners or owners of homes in well-off areas in cities and you will find that not even twenty would be Dalits. Other lower castes may be fifty at best. This shows economic disadvantage of lower-caste Hindus. It also shows social segregation as the prime locations in cities are out of bounds for them.

Much of our politics revolves round caste considerations. You get a party ticket mainly because of your caste, and you often vote for someone because of caste. Parties have an eye on caste, and governments can only ill-afford not to take it into consideration. Look at the brouhaha over inclusion of caste in the next census. Those who hope to benefit from the inclusion fight for the inclusion, those who fear loss of power fight for excluding it. Caste matters both ways.

What has often been ignored is the adverse effect of caste conflict among Hindus over the wellbeing of Muslims. That is why one of the important clauses in our vision document was the study of caste and caste politics in order to protect Muslims from the adverse fallout of the caste conflict among Hindus.

Right from our first year in existence we began studying issues like this and the role of the state machinery in maintaining rule of law and the supremacy of the Constitution. It was quite clear that in the contest between the state and the mob, the lawless Sangh mob, the mob had always been the winner. In all this Muslims have been the victims and, less often Dalits, Christians, Sikhs and tribals, too, have suffered.

We organised seminars and symposia, produced books and research papers on these and other vital issues like education, livelihood, and physical security. Identity concerns like the study of Muslim role in India’s political freedom, Muslim contribution to India’s cultural heritage, its arts, crafts sciences and technologies and the protection of identity-related rights have been important areas of our research and activism. The identity issues-related studies on madrassahs, Shariah interpretation, and institutions like darulqazas and daruliftas and, in particular, the state of Muslim awqaf in India, too, have remained in IOS focus.

The awqaf in India are among the largest assets any community in the world holds as a collective inheritance. We have conducted serious studies on the issue, published valuable books, organised international seminars and established special programmes for the optimum utilisation of this dormant and barely used asset.

The IOS has over the years brought together ulema, lawyers, judges, bureaucrats and academics on a single platform to work out the modalities for action on the awqaf front. This is a work in progress.  g

Go Back