Forget ‘Sarkari Mussalman’, there is no place for even a ‘good Muslim’ in India’s current political climate.
It has been a few weeks since the release of my father Lt Gen. Zameer Uddin Shah’s book The Sarkari Mussalman. Even before the release, the book had managed to create ripples with one particular chapter ‘Operation Aman’ that dealt with the army quelling the Gujarat riots of 2002, with my father at the helm of affairs.
But before haters could get their hands on the book, faceless trolls on Twitter were enjoying a field day, batting on with a volley of abuses, one of which read like this:
Another relative who is a Right-wing supporter kept posting new things on his timeline:
A personal message sent by my uncle, actor Naseeruddin Shah, was shared by the same relative to gain sympathy from the troll army which read like this (the relative also merrily shared my uncle’s number on Twitter along with the screenshot):
Another troll replied to his vitriolic tweet by typing that the character played by Naseeruddin Shah in Sarfarosh seems to be his real personality.
Another troll tweet read like this:
This entire storm in a teacup for nothing. None of them even read the book, but they drew their own conclusions because of the ‘M’ factor. So the big question: Why the title The Sarkari Mussalman?
The term ‘Sarkari Mussalman’ is used as an oxymoron. The title itself is satirical. Trolls need to seriously understand the nuances of literature and humour.
‘Sarkari Mussalman’ is an epithet given to a government stooge who has sold his soul to the establishment, one who has no empathy with the community, his/her loyalties lie with Sarkari bosses. The book’s prologue succinctly defines this meaning.
The pro-establishment ‘Sarkari Mussalman’ chooses not to challenge the stereotypes of their community, but positions themselves as a courtier and the voice of reason among the majority elite. They define their religion in a way that is acceptable to the establishment and project themselves as a modern rationalist by being submissive or worse, by actively pandering to bigotry against co-religionists. The term also means that they have sold their soul to the government for 40 pieces of silver and cannot, in any way, be relied upon by their community.
The media uses them to reinforce stereotypes about Muslims and in return, they earn ‘brownie points’, and sometimes, lucre on the lecture circuit and through publishing contracts.
Hamid Ansari – former Vice-President of India had quipped in his usual affable self, “Refrain from using adjectives as they qualify the noun.”
Not just Twitter, the book title Sarkari Mussalman was debated on TV channels. Not to mention, one channel even got the name of the book wrong and called it Sachcha Mussalman.
Some have questioned the book’s timing, even though it is quite obvious because the author retired from government service last year (as the vice-chancellor of Aligarh Muslim University).
In my life, I have encountered several ‘Sarkari Mussalmans’ who appear on TV debates with me and maintaining a straight face, toeing the government line, not deviating from the rulebook, and appearing holier than the Pope, and sometimes, crossing all Rubicons of decency.
It could be a deep-rooted inferiority complex, a kind of Stockholm syndrome where the hostage ‘Sarkari Mussalman’ starts feeling pangs of empathy or even feels a sense of gratitude towards the captor just because one has been offered a token post or some other breadcrumb.
Then there are some who are simply agent provocateurs of the Islamophobia lobby who find ample reasons to denigrate Islam.
Even the atheists do not disrespect other’s beliefs and choices as much as these people do – like when author Taslima Nasreen puts up pictures of herself eating a meal during Ramzan and mocks believers.
Evelyn Beatrice Hall in The Friends of Voltaire penned the phrase “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to death your right to say it”. This holds truer today for freedom of expression than ever before.
However, propagating bigotry and spreading falsified versions of history to suit one’s political agendas should not come under the purview of freedom of speech.
So where does the Muslim community go from here? In a political atmosphere that is charged with venom, there is no place for even a ‘good Muslim’, even if one has served the country for 40 years with distinction in army olives, fought wars and was involved in counter-insurgency operations. As it is, the Muslim community is shorn of leaders. A serious reorientation is needed. The community seriously needs to introspect whether smearing a person with muck just to seek vendetta helps the cause or does it shame the community as a whole? There is no looking back now. More than 71 years have passed since Partition, and we have witnessed too much gore and bloodshed already. Disenfranchising the community further by othering them emotionally will only alienate citizens who live and die for India.
And here’s my humble request to the trolls and the actual ‘Sarkari Mussalmans’: Please stop sending us to Pakistan. If the Indian Muslims had any affinity for the neighbouring country, they would have left lock, stock and barrel a long time ago. They would not be serving the country with honour for decades and tread a path you would not like to put your children on, i.e., sending them to war to safeguard national interest. Indian Muslims have no love lost for Pakistan.
In the current circumstance, the Muslims of the country have only one way forward – not to retreat into a shell of self-pity and wallow in victimhood; to look at role models who did their job in government service or otherwise without selling their souls.
Saira Shah Halim is an educator, a civil and human rights activist and also the daughter of Lt General Zameer Uddin Shah.