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Book Review : Hasan Suroor

Indian Muslim Spring

Hasan Suroor

Rupa Rainlight

Pages 198.

It is generally held that Indian Muslims vote “en masse”, that they are a Vote Bank to be cultivated by affirmative action or by the bogey of `minority tag’ , both of which have been exploited by the spectrum of political parties in an unholy conspiracy for electoral gains. It is assumed that as part of the largest Minority grouping in India they are comfortable with such political and ideological  positioning.

Refusing to fall in line, journalist Hasan Suroor dispels this stereotype in his book. He says Muslim youth today wish to be independent minded and liberal,  able to exert  free will and free choice in the same manner as the majority community.  He says an Indian Muslim Spring  has been happening quietly these  last two decades. These youth reject the era of  `self—styled’  Muslim netas  who make the community their political victim. However he does agree that an obsession with identity and symbols continues—the skull cap, beard etc.

It may well be the story that journalists have missed. Coming as the book does, at the doorstep of the Parliamentary General Elections 2014, much of his surmise may be  tested and proved otherwise. But whatever the outcome, it is compulsory reading for those who watch such developments in  the South Asian diaspora carefully; lest Muslim Spring become a `catchy contagion’ here, a precursor to unfolding events that go unnoticed,  ready to turn politics as we know it, upside down.

Islam is the second-largest religion in India, making up 14% (19.4%  Census Report 2001)of the country’s population. There is no doubt today that Islam which came to India via the Malabar coast with Arab traders in 7th century, has become an integral part of India’s cultural heritage and economic rise.  Therefore a question located in the historical past always emerges when such matters are debated—why have Indian Muslims who spawned ruling dynasties and a ruling culture here cornered themselves into believing they deserve a minority mindset in post—independent India? Where did they go wrong?  Certainly affirmative action for Indian Muslims who were once rulers, must come from a radically different construct than  that of Blacks in America.

It is commonly supported by historical evidence that many ruling or `ashraf families’ of  Muslims from the states of  Avadh, Hyderabad, Junagadh and principalities of Murshidabad etc, migrated to Pakistan, because they were unable to take their relegation from ruler to ruled.  This was inevitable in the Jinnah dominated Muslim discourse in the post 1920’s  Congress years. However, once in Punjabi Pakistan, they were equally unable to hold on to their tenuous past becoming a dominated sub culture termed as Mohajirs or migrants. In India the ensuing  hiatus in Muslim political leadership, fell into the lap of  fundamentalist mullas and clerics. Fueled by limited and vested interests they turned the community away from progressive education and liberalism to a narrow world view. What Muslims thus gained in espousing  a schizophrenic Vote Bank identity, they lost out in mainstream opportunity. This realization is partly generating the momentum for a Muslim Spring that Hasan speaks of.   The author authenticates this by quoting voices of Muslim youth across a cross—section. It should act as a timely precursor to generate further academic research. Important impact could come too from mainstream TV media–if Muslim youth is ready to herald change what could possibly hold them back—the nation would surely like to know. Mainstreaming the Indian Muslim should be a national agenda. It is after all their rightful place. Kudos to Hasan for stating it boldly.

Manju Kak