Change the language

The one who controls the language, controls the debate. Today Indian Muslims are in a peculiar situation where they are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. And interestingly it is all a product of language. ‘Secularism’, which was the refuge, not only of Muslims but all those who believe in our Constitution and in the freedom and dignity of all Indians, is a term that has now lost all credibility. It has come to mean “Muslim lover = Paki lover = Anti-national.” Muslims have been so effectively ‘othered’ that anyone who even attempts to stand by them, automatically commits political suicide. Being Muslim is a crime, it is treason, it is the reason to be suspected, demonized and hated. Consequently, secular parties and candidates are saying explicitly or implicitly, “Even if you vote for us, please do it quietly and clandestinely and don’t talk about it. This is for your own good. Your company is the ‘kiss of death’.”

Leaders from Muslim intelligentsia also believe this and have been advising whoever listens to them to do the same. They have been advising politicians who propose schemes for the economic or educational upliftment of Muslims to implement these schemes without talking about them too loudly. That this is anathema to all politicians who get their breath of life from talking about whatever they do, is countered by the warning that if they talk in this case, they will be sealing their own fate. That Muslims are an integral part of the population of India and citizens of our country and not beholden to anyone for this, is simply ignored in the face of present day reality where Muslims are not only being murdered but their murderers are being protected, applauded and rewarded publicly and shamelessly. This behavior not only doesn’t result in unpopularity for the politicians engaging in it, but results in political gains. Polarization seems to be the order of the day for every politician.

India is one of the poorest nations in the world, with one of the youngest populations and an education system that has totally failed. What does this mean? It means that we have a lot of young people who have no future to look forward to. Slogans don’t produce goods and services. Nobody will invest in a nation that is ridden with strife and conflict, has untrained people who are almost untrainable, massive corruption, crumbling infrastructure, no safety and security and no signs that any of these issues will ever be addressed. Instead our focus seems to be on what ancient kings allegedly did, dictating to people what they should eat, who they should worship, pointless and hugely expensive exercises designed to disenfranchise and make our brothers and sisters strangers and jail them, not for what they did, but for who they are. Is that the best focus of our national attention, resources and energy? Is this what we need today? Will this somehow, magically, alleviate poverty, educate and empower us, create jobs, give us good public health and make us prosperous and happy? We claim to be among the most intelligent people on the planet. I wonder how then, we can behave in such unintelligent ways. Brotherhood is a state of the heart. Not words in a document called the ‘Constitution of India’. Hearts must change. Hearts must be detoxified. Hearts must be cured from the hatred that we have allowed into them. Attitudes must change. Attitude drives behavior. Behavior drives results. What dominates our attitudes in India today? Love or hate?

To illustrate with an example, apartheid and racial segregation ended in South Africa in 1995 when they gained independence and Nelson Mandela became the first President. However, read any South African newspaper, website or blog, listen to any TV discussion or debate, speak to anyone in the street and all you will ever hear is the language of race. People talk about Blacks and Whites and Indians and Coloureds. This is reflected in South African politics and is becoming more and more clear, aggressive and potentially destructive. When a White South African looks at a Black South African, he sees a Black, not a South African and vice versa. And this happens while the Constitution of South Africa states clearly that no race has superiority over any other race and that all South Africans are equal citizens entitled to the same privileges, protections and dignity. That is on paper. But it appears that the change has not happened in the hearts of people.

This is what has happened in India over the past 70 years since our independence. The formation of Pakistan based on religion landed us with a legacy of divisiveness which Indian Muslims have borne the brunt of, for no fault of theirs. Vote bank politics became the norm and is openly practiced. ‘Appeasement of minorities’ is the slogan used for what is essentially vote bank politics which every party has always used. Political parties created this poison. Not Muslims. But Muslims are blamed for it. Everybody has vote banks. Today it has reached the stage where you are told to vote for this or that candidate or party because they are of your religion, not because of their performance in government or outside it. The common fault of all political parities is  not in the creation of vote bank politics but in its continued use. Elections must be on the basis of a track record of governance. Nothing else. Compromise is the name of the game and frankly I think this is a characteristic of being Indian; that we compromise on everything. That is why we live with atrocious things which in any other country would have resulted in a revolution but in India life continues because we compromise.

I think the time has come to take a stand. This is my stand.

Secularism is the other side of the coin from Hindutva or any other religious extremist ideology for that matter. This is how the language is being controlled by calling it ‘Sikularism’ for example and all its other permutations. Indian secularism has always been unique – I mean its idea – in that it means equal respect for all religions; unlike secularism in Europe, which means absence of religion altogether. All through my childhood and youth, I saw symbols of this equal respect for all religions in all official spheres in many ways. Whether it was done sincerely or not, it was done. Whatever someone may have felt in his heart, he or she didn’t spew hatred in their speech nor did they openly promote violence towards one section of the population. Being Indian meant that I was equal to every other Indian and this equality, respect and freedom meant so much for us that we overlooked so many other logistical, societal and infrastructural problems. We compared ourselves to other highly developed countries where the ‘trains always ran on time’, but there was no freedom, and we felt blessed. Today it is majoritarianism that seeks to replace respect for all. Indian citizenship meant only one thing. Today it is sought to be made into a multilevel affair with different rights and privileges for different people based on who they worship. History tells us that in modern times, all theocratic societies have failed. They have either languished and decayed or disintegrated outright. That is where we seem to be headed. That is what we need to rescue ourselves from – move the narrative out of the ambit of religion into the ambit of governance. We have reached a crisis stage. If we don’t speak out and stand up to resist, we will have to live with the consequences of our lethargy and cowardice. That’s our choice.

Ask yourself, where our scarce national resources are really needed? In useless and potentially disastrous exercises of trying to make our brothers and sisters into strangers? Or in combating poverty, disease, crime, building an education system and investing in infrastructure? Will demonizing Muslims enable all this to happen?

A government is elected to govern. That is the only basis on which it should be judged. Its religious ideology is immaterial. Its performance as a government is not. A government must govern with justice, efficiency, compassion and integrity. Not dictate to people about what they should eat or wear, who they should worship or marry.  A national government is just that – national. It can’t become a government FOR one group of citizens and AGAINST another group of citizens. We have a nation with a robust constitution and legal system. But we have huge problems in implementation. Our critical, life threatening issues are poverty, unemployment, safety & security, total breakdown of law enforcement, legalized corruption and blatant oppression. We have reached a breaking point where if these issues are not addressed we will implode and disintegrate as a nation. None of these things have anything to do with Muslims.

Just ask three simple questions.

  1. What is the religion of the farmers who have been committing suicide?
  2. What is the religion of the perhaps more than 300 million youth who are not only unemployed but are unemployable thanks to our failed education system?
  3. How will killing or disenfranchising or whatever else is planned for Muslims, help those who are committing suicide or who are unemployable?

My proposal is that our language must change. Focus instead on issues that really matter and hold the government accountable for their performance on those issues. Promises not met as well as gross failures in four main areas: Safety & Security of life and property, Breakdown of law and order, Economic collapse of the small scale and unorganized sectors and the failure of the Education system creating unemployability. I don’t care which government is in power. If it addresses these issues; if it can guarantee safety and security of all citizens, enforce the law, create entrepreneurship to uplift the poor and create jobs, and focus on health care, I will vote for that party. So should you. As I have said earlier, a government is elected to govern. And it must be held accountable for governance. Nothing else matters.

I propose that we change the language of the debate. Speak only and only about Principles of Governance. That is all that matters. Religion is immaterial for the Government of India. Religion is personal and must remain that way. For the government what matters is governance. Let all those who are interested in the welfare of our nation ask what has happened to governance today? Ask whether or not it is the right of the citizen to demand good governance from their elected government? Let us stand together and demand accountability. If anyone brings religion into the debate, discard them outright. Talk about governance, rule of law and economic upliftment of our people. It is only then that everyone will be able to stand together on the same platform without fear or shame. It is only then that we will have One India. That is what I want. What do you want?

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Language is the carrier of culture. You are spot on about how secularism has been hijacked by the “Us vs Them” brigade. Divisive politics is a at a dangerous high – but what will cause people to take that leap of faith and change the language?

Aliuddin Hyder

Absolutely spot on, it has to be seen by all, understood and implemented.

Zahid Qadri

I think today “one who controls the hashtag, controls the debate” too. Things have come a full circle. The internet was hailed as the protector of free speech and its been turned into this venom spewing Hydra. Like everything else, our lack of participation is our fatal folly. Let’s engage, participate and do our best. Democracy is a dialogue and when citizens don’t participate, it quickly turns from a monologue to a hate speech!

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