Thursday, September 15, 2016

The View From The Other Side

Noted journalist Saeed Naqvi talks about the trends in India today while on a recent visit to Kochi 

By Shevlin Sebastian

In early July, noted journalist Saeed Naqvi had gone to his ancestral village of Mustafabad (80 kms from Lucknow). While there, he noticed that the people were crying. “One elderly woman told me that she had not eaten for two days, because of what she had seen on TV." 

What the woman saw was a video of two Muslims – Rizwan and Mukhtar – who were forced to eat cowdung, and drink urine, in Haryana because they were suspected of transporting beef.

“The ordinary people don't like bad manners,” says Naqvi. “There is a certain sense of aesthetics in the country. These brigades of young men, who are doing this, are brittle. They are not part of the Hindu ethos.”

Naqvi had come to Kochi to give a reading as well as have a discussion about his non-fiction book, 'Being The Other – The Muslim in India'. (Publisher: Aleph; Price: Rs 599).

In the book, Naqvi dwelt on the personal as well as the social. So, he talks about his early life, growing up in Awadh, as a member of a distinguished family. He has also had a storied journalistic career, travelling to 110 countries, seeing first-hand, numerous wars, like the civil war in Sri Lanka and the US bombing in Libya as well as interviewing numerous national and international personalities.

However, today, Naqvi is worried about the way the 180 million Muslims have become 'The Other' in Indian society. “This is far more intense in the cow belt of North India,” he says. “Whereever there has been Muslim rule, communalism has grown. In places like Bengal, Kerala and Tamil Nadu, it is not that intense.”

And, in all this churning, a fight is going on for India's soul. “The battle is for the kind of Hinduism the people want,” says Naqvi. “The other is the caste battle. The top castes are worried that the lower castes are trying to topple the structure. So the top castes want to target the Muslim as 'The Other' and try for Hindu consolidation. On the other hand, the lower castes want to co-opt the Muslim and knock the structure down.”

In all these swirling currents in Indian society, Muslims, as well as members of other minority communities, are going through a state of high anxiety. “And so also are my secular Hindu friends,” says Naqvi. “The country has a silent majority which is tolerant.”

Meanwhile, when asked whether the numerous riots, which have convulsed India every now and then, will ever stop, Naqvi says, “It will only happen if we have a political leadership that thinks differently.” 

Thereafter, he offers a quick suggestion. “If the population of Muslims is 14.2 per cent, why not allow 7 per cent to be part of the police?” says Naqvi. “If there is a riot in Muzaffarnagar (Uttar Pradesh), why cannot a mixed force be sent there?”

He also wants Muslims to change, too. “There should be an edict that will ensure that students, who go to madrasas, should attend regular schools,” he says, citing his own education at the prestigious La Martiniere school in Lucknow.

"I have another suggestion," he says. "Muslims should stay away from clerics and Hindus from communal politicians." 

(Published in the New Indian Express, Kochi, Thiruvananthapuram and Kozhikode) 

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