OPINION

Questioning Muslims’ loyalty

Reviews of the recently released film, Mulk , remind me of the 1974 classic, Garam Hava , in which the late Balraj Sahni excelled himself in the role of Salim Mirza. Both films deal with the question of the loyalty of Indian Muslims and their place in the country.

Garam Hava , which was set in Agra in the immediate aftermath of Partition, focussed on the forced eviction of Salim Mirza from his ancestral home as a consequence of his brother’s migration to Pakistan. Mulk is set in present day Varanasi. Murad (actor Rishi Kapoor) is victimised and his loyalty questioned because one of his nephews becomes a terrorist. The larger question that both films raise is the same: Can Indian Muslims ever be loyal to the country or must they face mistrust and hostility merely because of their religion? The knee-jerk answer to this is that terrorism has no religion and acts of individuals should not tarnish the image of an entire community. But this is not enough. Here are three irrefutable parts of evidence that show that the loyalty of Indian Muslims should be beyond doubt.

The first is Brigadier Mohammad Usman of the Dogra Regiment, the highest-ranking officer killed in the India-Pakistan War of 1947-48 at the age of 35. He was posthumously awarded the Maha Vir Chakra, the second highest award for bravery. Less known is the fact that during Partition, repeated attempts were made by Muslim League leaders — and according to some reports by Jinnah himself — to persuade him to choose Pakistan with the prospect of being appointed the first Chief of the Army Staff (CoAS). He refused because of his commitment to a secular India. Had this brilliant officer lived, he may have become India’s first Muslim CoAS.

The second is of Havildar Abdul Hamid of the Grenadier Regiment. Single-handedly, with his recoilless gun, he put out of action six Pakistani tanks in the battle of Khem Karan, arguably the most decisive encounter of the 1965 India-Pakistan war. He was killed while attempting to destroy the seventh. Abdul Hamid was posthumously awarded the Param Vir Chakra, India’s highest military honour. He was 32.

The third is of Captain Haneefuddin of the Rajputana Rifles who was killed while leading a unit at a height of 18,500 ft during the Kargil conflict in 1999 while trying to evict the enemy from a strategic position. He was 25. He was posthumously awarded the Vir Chakra, India’s third highest military honour, and the area where he died was renamed Sub-sector Haneef.

These are the three most celebrated Muslim martyrs who died fighting Pakistan. They answered with their blood the question that Garam Hava and Mulk raise. I am certain there are many more such martyrs who are not so well-known. Their numbers would be much greater if Muslims, now barely 3% of the armed forces head count according to unofficial figures, were represented in the armed forces in proportion to their population.

The writer is University Distinguished Professor Emeritus of International Relations, Michigan State University