The continuing crisis of conscience of my Left-liberal friends just received four jolts. They are faced with a distressing dilemma: who is the worst enemy—their Islamist buddies or Hindutva opponents?
The latest jolt first. An angry mob of Muslims pelted stones last week at Nankana Sahib in Pakistan, arguably the holiest of Sikh shrines after Harmandir Sahib – the Golden Temple. It is the place where Guru Nanak was born in 1469. The mob was led by men from the family of Mohammad Hassan. Hassan had allegedly abducted and converted Jagjit Kaur, the daughter of the granthi or priest of Nankana Sahib. Jagjit Kaur after her conversion is called Ayesha.
In widely circulated video clips, Hassan’s brother threatens to change the name of Nankana Sahib to Ghulaman-e-Mustafa. Ghulaman means slaves and Mustafa (Arabic: مصطفى), one of the names of Prophet Muhammad, means the chosen or preferred one. You can actually hear the attackers shouting, “No Sikh will remain in Nankana.” This was especially scary because there was a small band of Sikh pilgrims trapped inside the shrine.
The gravity of the situation could be assessed by the fact that Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh personally requested both Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan and Prime Minister Narendra Modi to intervene immediately. His appeal was not only to rescue the trapped pilgrims, but also save the historic gurudwara.
Hassan’s brother claimed that he had been beaten up by the Pakistan police at the behest of the minority minister so that Jagjit Kaur went back to her community: “These Sikhs have been pressuring us to send the girl back to them. But that will never happen because she is a Muslim now.” Ironically, the incident took place just the day after the birthday celebrations of Guru Gobind Singh, the last Sikh guru.
Those who still believe that Hindutva is their enemy are largely ignoring this shocking and live demonstration of Muslim religious violence and intolerance in our neighbourhood, possibly compounded by abduction, conversion, and marriage if not rape. There is an elaborate infrastructure for such activities in Pakistan. Long ago, Los Angeles Times reported on the modus operandi. The victim is usually a poorer Hindu girl, frequently a minor, abducted by a man working for or protected by a powerful religious or feudal boss. Her family is threatened if she does not sign in a court that she is converting willingly. In religious or civil courts, the groom is often frequently accompanied by armed goons so that the rubber-stamping of the abduction, conversion, marriage becomes a foregone conclusion.
What is obvious is that this appears to be the last phase of the ethnic cleansing of Hindus and Sikhs in Pakistan. After the decline of the non-Muslim population from an estimated 14.2 per cent in undivided Pakistan (includes both East and West) in 1951 to 3.7 per cent in Pakistan (1998) and 10.4 per cent in Bangladesh in 2001. The numerous reports and instances of the abduction and forcible conversion of women, often backed by local authorities, is sure to expedite this process.
Isn’t it strange that throughout the anti-Citizenship (Amendment) Act protests, the focus has been rarely on persecuted Hindus in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, or Pakistan whom it was supposed to benefit, but usually on the plight of Muslims in India which the CAA did not concern directly? The incident at Nankana Sahib should be a wakeup call to those who persistently ignore the facts and lessons of sub-continental and international history.
The third shock was delivered by Taslim Ahmed Rehmani, former chairman of Progressive Front of India (PFI), now secretary of the Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI), who admitted last week on national television that in November 2017 he had said, “All Hindus are not terrorists but all terrorists are Hindus.” For those interested in the genesis and morphing of extremist organisations, the Kerala government in a petition asking for a ban on PFI in 2012, with ISIS and proscribed Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) links.
The second shock was delivered by former Jawaharlal Nehru University student leader Shehla Rashid. On 30 December 2019, she put out a series of tweets endorsing Muslim identity politics. In one, she said, “The mammoth Indian state is turning its machinery fully against Muslims, trampling upon them socially, culturally, economically and physically. If you want to be an ally, let the community lead and don’t call their concerns ‘extremist thoughts’ or ‘conspiracy theories’.” This sounded very familiar, in line with arguments which claimed that “La allah illallah,” the fundamental article of Muslim faith used as a watchword at political rallies was not communal, but a slogan like “Bharat Mata Ki Jai” was. Of course, those who know Rashid to be a soft-Islamist were not taken by surprise even though her Left-liberal supporters were dismayed.
Just a few days earlier, Left-liberals were treated to their first of recent shocks. Ayesha Renna and Ladeeda Farzana, hailed as “sheroes” of Jamia Milia Islamia by the likes of Barkha Dutt, were revealed to be not just soft Islamists as their hijab might have suggested, but as supporters of jihad. Ladeeda had, in fact, invited people to “learn about our ‘Jihad.’”. After being heckled as Muslim radicals, they erased most of the incriminating posts on social media. It is a different matter that Renna had apologised for criticising Pinarayi Vijayan’s Communist-ruled government in Kerala.
Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister, made the mistake of thinking that cultural nationalists were the greatest enemies to his idea of India while minority extremism could be managed.
I think the time has come for Left-liberals to draw a line separating themselves from all fanatics, fundamentalists, and extremists, regardless of their religious or ethnic identities. Else partisanship in illiberalism will be the last nail in the coffin of liberals.
The author is a Professor and Director at the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla. His Twitter handle is @makrandparanspe. Views are personal.
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