There is a sense of humiliation, fear among Muslims: Irfan Habib

Irfan Habib.

Irfan Habib.  

Prof. Irfan Habib has said that the “discriminatory” Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and talk of a nationwide National Register of Citizens (NRC) had filled Muslims with a “sense of fear”.

“Yes, there is a sense of humiliation apart from fear, especially among the poor that they would be subjected to discrimination and repression because any citizens’ register after this bill will concentrate on Muslims, and perhaps Nepali Hindus or Sri Lankan Tamils; but basically against Muslims,” the eminent historian said in an interview with The Hindu.

“My sense is the BJP government would not have a citizenship charter across the country in one go. They would go State by State and say how they are putting Muslims in place. I mean they have reduced a State into a union territory without any sanction from the constitution just because it is a Muslim majority State,” he asserted.

This, he said, had become clearer in the recent elections in Britain, where Hindus didn’t vote for the Labour Party, which they traditionally supported, because the party had criticised the BJP government on the dilution of Article 370. “I saw a newspaper headline which said ‘Hindus bring about the defeat of Labour because of Kashmir’.”

On the repeated assertions by Union Home Minister Amit Shah that Indian Muslims had no reason to fear the CAA and NRC, Prof. Habib retorted: “Why should they not fear? He has called them ‘termites’. Don’t they remember the Gujarat riots where he was one of the accused?”

He also said the new law was targeting Muslims by “omitting” them. “How will they distinguish between a Bangladeshi and a West Bengali Muslim. They both speak Bengali. What is the guarantee that they [authorities] would not say that you went to East Pakistan and returned?

Asked about a perception among some Hindus that Muslims were ‘overreacting’ to the new law, Prof. Habib said most people didn’t realise the significance of the “exclusion”. “Afghanistan is less of a neighbour than Myanmar but Indian conscience is not stirred by what is happening to Rohingyas in Burma. It is stirred only by what is happening to a Hindu or a Sikh family at the hands of the Taliban — very few numbers, very rare. And if you are a North Indian, you don’t care about Tamils in Sri Lanka or Muslims in Sri Lanka, who speak Tamil. You look the other way. It is a very discriminatory sympathy.”

On a distorted version of history being served to students, the professor emeritus at the Aligarh Muslim University said: “It is alright if you have no idea of the past, what is dangerous is, if you have a wrong idea of the past. Now even Ashoka is out because he speaks of religious tolerance. Now they are attributing virtues to Skandagupta, which Skandagupta would have been surprised about.”

He also took exception to the Home minister’s comment holding the Congress responsible for the Partition on religious lines.

“It is the kind of language that Godse spoke. They don’t tell us what they did for the freedom of India. As you know Savarkar gave the two-nation theory in 1937 and in 1938, Golwalkar said Muslims can’t be citizens. This was long before Partition. I was a university student when Gandhiji was murdered, and the RSS people distributed sweets. When [Vallabhbhai] Patel tasked them with it, Gowalkar didn’t even deny it.”

Prof. Habib also cited the example of Pakistan to illustrate his view on why the common Indian was buying into a distorted version of history.

“This can be said of Pakistan also. When Partition happened, Jinnah said there will be no distinction between Muslims, Christians and Sikhs. In the 1950s, after the horrible ethnic cleansing, Pakistan was fairly a modern state. Then, of course, the appeal for religion came and everything was forgotten... And then religion stepped in [state policy]. Exactly the same thing has happened here with a longer distance because of the nationalist past.

“I think we are going the same way. For about 40-50 years, nothing happened until these chaps (BJP) came to power. Of course, riots happened but nobody imagined this everyday fear. It is affecting the courts also.”

Asked if the judiciary was succumbing to the ‘national will’, he said: “It started with the judiciary controlled Assam citizenship census, continued with the Ayodhya judgement, and also the way they [judiciary] are behaving over Kashmir.”

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Printable version | Apr 9, 2020 1:44:42 PM |

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