The Idea of India

Muslim students imagine a coherent Indian Union despite its national, cultural, and regional diversities. We pledge allegiance and patriotic affinity to the provincial and federal arms of the Indian republic. We invoke and honour the social contract enshrined in its constitution that promises equality, dignity, and other safeguards for the community as a religious minority. We expect the republic to act non-partisan in the process and system of governance and adhere to secular values to facilitate harmony among its diversity-rich membership. This view notably disapproves of the interventionist exposition of the ‘secular’ that enables the state tyranny to regulate and suppress freedom of religion. Conforming to the egalitarian ethos of Islam, Muslim students are committed to bringing justice, reparation, and transcendence against discriminatory social structures, including caste, sectarianism, patriarchy, etc.

“Documentary” Citizenship: The Struggle for Elementary Membership to the Republic

India post-1947, as a political community formed through an impressive union of diverse provincial and cultural entities, idealises single, indiscriminate citizenship for the whole republic. Despite being affected by the geo-political and communal realities of a partitioned subcontinent, India’s citizenship regime has been reasonably egalitarian in offering documentary and elementary membership to its people. Marred by mass migrations, chauvinism and hostilities in border provinces, India had faulted in resolving certain crisis-ridden situations such as Assam. Be it the “permit system” of the 1950s or “Assam agitation” of the 1980s; we have never failed to remind the republic of its duty to administer citizenship non-partisan. We have stood steadfast with the people deprived of their primary political membership and pushed to violence and terror (Baig, 1949; Banatwalla, 1985).

Decades apart, the ongoing NRC update in Assam threatens the excluded (roughly 1.9 million) individuals with horrific dispossession of everything in their lives. The divisive policies and eviction drives by the state aggravate this crisis. Since 2019 India has witnessed massive protests against the BJP’s call to implement CAA, NRC, and NPR. The vengeful RSS-complex has resorted to murderous repression, including the 2020 North-East Delhi pogrom. They wrongfully incarcerated hundreds of activists in jail. Among the demonstrators extra-judicially killed by the police, we have lost our dearest Sahib Aftab Alam (23) from Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh. As the prime petitioner challenging the CAA-2019, the IUML has challenged the flawed and unreasonable classification in interpreting citizenship as a religion-based amnesty. The petition alarmed that the Centre could combine it with an India-wide NRC process. The petitioner argues that Hindu migrants would have legal protection if the CAA applies, but Muslim migrants would not. The only people who have to prove their citizenship will all be Muslims” (Observer, 2021).

Muslim Politics: In Pursuit of Honourable Living

Two factors, socio-economic backwardness and unbridled hate crimes, endanger ‘honourable living’ for Muslims in the republic. Policy analyses and human development indices are tired of explaining the sorry state of the community. Thanks to the IUML deliberations during the UPA-1, an investigative committee headed by Rajinder Sachar submitted a historic report before the parliament. Though the document renewed the discourse on the backward and near-destitute state of the Muslims in many fields and regions in the republic, it hardly inspired any empowerment initiatives. The fact that most of the demography is repressed to the ‘lowered’ caste and class makes the strife for mobility beyond the bare life harder. The lack of communal representation schemes makes it difficult even for the elites. The rise of the middle class is the slowest among Muslims, making them underrepresented in all spheres, from education to political offices. 

Hate crimes in India, unfortunately, account for various forms of actual assaults, including orchestrated mass violence such as pogroms, riots, and mob lynching. Also, the structures of caste, class and Hindu supremacy deprive the community of a dignified life. State violence, its excessive and discriminatory brute directed at marginalised sections, makes lives miserable. We have consistently resisted draconian measures, for example, TADA, POTA, AFSPA, UAPA, and NSA, from the federal and provincial governments. Though vulnerable to judicial and legislative review, our efforts with the 1991 Places of Worship Act remain the only protective cover to religious structures in India. Though our hopes are much tested, we uphold two resolutions against hate crimes. First, seeking protection and accountability from the state, no matter how apathetic they are, and second, fetching solidarity from the broader civil society.

However, the majoritarian governments, from the Congress system to RSS regimes, have not only failed us but have been complicit in violence against the community. The reification of the Hindu nation suffers from the racialising Muslim lives, their past, and present, in India. In doing so, the RSS-complex resorts to hate, polarisation, and apartheid. It ranges from ‘Sanghrabbing’ of symbolic properties like Babri Masjid to heckling the Muslim schoolgirls of their right to headscarves. In response, we imagine politics effectively mobilising the community and seeking anti-caste and ‘good Hindu’ allies against the supremacists from their national fold.

The Ladder and Megaphone: Studentship for Mobility

Honourable living for a group, i.e., comprehensive socio-economic well-being and the ability to withstand hostile social forces, will only be possible through meaningful political participation. CH Muhammed Koya reminded the students that a community must access and exercise powers in not just the political offices but also the bureaucracy and judiciary (Kuttikkulam, 2013). The IUML story of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and a brief moment in the West Bengal of the 1970s records rare cases of Muslims accessing power in post-colonial India. Coincidentally, the Sachar committee documents Muslim lives in Kerala and Tamilnadu faring better in the indices of education, employment, urban and economic life (Sachar, 2004). 

Muslim students define education as a great leveller against disparity and a ladder to self-respect and social mobility. In a remarkable address, CH Muhammed Koya told the students, “dears, you must not be slaves to anyone. Strive up in life so that you are not hewers of wood and drawers of water for anyone. March ahead to the campuses holding this green and crescent flag, dreaming of a future in which identifying with Islam, and proclaiming adherence to its glorious faith, will not make you inferior to anyone. Dream of a better tomorrow which equips you all to enter the schools, colleges, and universities as proud, unapologetic Muslims, to participate, to discourse curriculum and to realise your bright future” (Koya, 1978). 

We have resisted every attempt to dilute minority rights in education. Our leadership has persistently advocated the cause of Aligarh Muslim University and Jamia Millia Islamia, though barely sufficient, but two notable institutions of higher learning. The organisation remained resilient with the students of AMU for the restoration of minority status and to ensure a peaceful academic atmosphere on the campus during the turbulent 80s. Though unsuccessfully, we negotiated for better empowerment measures for the community, repeatedly espousing the 15-point program for minorities, including Urdu, Personal Law, cultural rights and Waqf properties (Banatwala, 2004). 

We recognise that the Muslim political efforts are far from securing its goals, and the pragmatism it demands is too racialised. The aggressive nationalism, polarisation, and state violence from the RSS regime further deteriorate the possibilities. Nevertheless, our studentship and exposure to the elite academic environment shall better equip us towards empowerment efforts for the community. Animating hope with Allama Iqbal, we shall vocalise our repressed aspirations; Dayār-e-ishq meñ apnā maqām paidā kar! Nayā zamāna na.e sub.h o shaam paidā kar!

The Struggle for Equal Access to Prosperity

Muslim Students recognise that they must rightfully pursue equality of opportunities to prosperity through social, educational, and political empowerment. In order to achieve it, Muslims must undertake valiant efforts to dismantle the crime of the subcontinent, the evil structures of caste discrimination, and other repressive power relations, including class and patriarchy. To ameliorate the underrepresentation of oppressed communities, we have called on federal and union governments to strengthen affirmative safeguards. Sahib Muhammad Ismail of the Muslim League asserted at the constituent assembly. “Sir, there is only one more point which I have to touch upon. When we speak of reservations and rights and privileges, the bogey of communalism is being raised. Sir, communalism does not come in because people want their rights. When people find that they are not adequately represented, they rightly feel that they must have due representation and then such a demand comes up….. Therefore, I say that one of the ways of removing disharmony and producing harmony is to make provision for the people’s representation in the services and to make them feel that they have got a real share and an effective share in the governance of the country” (Ismail, 30 November 1948). 

We have espoused, implemented and defended reparatory measures in our political capacities, including separate electorates and anti-caste reservations. For example, in 1958, we prevented the Communist government’s push for economic criteria to undermine the anti-caste principles of reservation. In 1964, the IUML government introduced effective community quotas that would match the OBC classifications. In 1985, IUML successfully backtracked the INC government from advancing an economic criterion-based travesty of the scheme. Meeting Prime minister Indira Gandhi, the msf leadership had made the most impassioned persuasion for Mandal recommendations (Sait, 2008).

Our political program imagines a more significant welfarist role for the state in prosperity for citizens. While defending people’s property rights, we denounce the monopolisation of production and the market. The movement has called for comprehensive labour rights and redistributive measures in the broader interest of the people of the republic (Thangal, 2013). We seek the republic to guard the interactive and integrative potential of economic life to have its full and free play without any hindrances, like social boycotts, discriminatory interventions from the state or hegemonic market forces (Banatwalla, 2002).