Dalits are resisting gau rakshaks, why are Muslims silent?

The latter don't constitute a homogenous community with a unity of purpose.

 |  4-minute read |   12-08-2016
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The ideology of cow protection encodes within itself a pernicious politics of discriminating against the "other". It results in two large segments of the Indian population - Dalits and Muslims - becoming marginalised.

Skinning and consuming the cow are considered acts of "pollution" by upper caste Hindus. It is not surprising, therefore, that the upper caste Hindus, with their elaborate rules of purity and pollution, were the first to emphasise on the "sacredness" of the cow. The commodification of the cow today serves the same purpose: to hegemonise the Dalits and represent the Muslims as the perpetual "other".

Dalits have resisted the attempt to make this upper caste Hindu mentality that of all Indians.

Also read - Modi on gau rakshaks: How to woo Dalits and alienate Muslims

The political efforts of BR Ambedkar, Kanshi Ram and Mayawati have seen to it that Dalits today are able to mount a veritable challenge to cow vigilantes.

The mobilisation of the Dalits in Gujarat made national headlines and created ripples across the country. Even the prime minister was forced to make a statement despite the danger of denting his traditional support base.

gau-raksha-embed_081216041115.jpg Dalits were attacked by gau rakshaks in Gujarat's Una on the allegation of skinning a cow.   

Such a voice of resistance is, however, absent within the Muslims although they are equally hurt and brutalised by the cow vigilantes. Why?

One obvious reason is that the structure of either community is different. Dalits across the country experience untouchability in very specific ways and it is this experience of untouchability which makes them a cohesive, homogenous community.

Also read: How Modi reached out to Dalits without alienating gau rakshaks

On the other hand, Muslims are stratified along caste lines and the experience of upper caste Muslims masquerades as the dominant experience of the Muslim community as a whole.

The killing of Mohammad Akhlaq and others do not shape the consciousness of the Muslims on the whole, at a pan-India level, because the victims happen to be low caste Muslims.

The Muslim leadership is basically an upper caste leadership and that's why issues related to low caste Muslims never bother the entire community.

Amid the rhetorical call for equality, one only needs to remember Hashim Ansari. He waged a legal battle for 40 long years over the Babri Masjid issue, but his death in July 2016 was not even marked by the formality of a condolence meeting. Ansari's only fault was that he was born in a low caste weaver family.

There was a time when Muslims and Dalits were represented by others: primarily the Congress and the Left. Over the years, however, they have charted their own course of struggle and have mounted a counter-narrative which has effectively challenged the dominant upper caste narrative.

Learning through struggles, they have realised that only they can represent their best interests and have refused to accept the leadership of "upper caste parties" like the Congress and the Left.

The Muslims, on the other hand, are still led by others despite being taken for ride by both the Congress as well as the Left parties. The problem in being led is that the community loses the initiative to act on its own agenda. Its political habitus only gets active only when someone else gives a call on their behalf.

This is not to suggest that Muslims do not protest at all. But when they do, they have to bring in the religious category of "Islam" than acting as "Muslims" as a sociological category.

Why is it that the huge inequality in terms of access and the lynching of Akhlaq do not even register a protest from the Muslim community?

That the community and its leadership must share the blame for this pitiable state of affairs is just one part of the answer.

More importantly, one needs to take into account how the community itself has been represented by the hegemonic political forces like the Congress, Left and the various parties in favour of "social justice".

Time and time again, these political forces have represented Muslims primarily as a religious community where matters of Islam take precedence over everything else.

Even the Left, despite ruling over a substantial Muslim population for 25 years had utterly failed to evolve a counter narrative among the Muslims. Not only this, it actively colluded with the reactionary Muslim leadership to throw out author Taslima Nasrin, in effect reproducing an essentialist Islamic image of the Muslim community.

Over the years, Muslims themselves seem to have internalised this image of a religious community. The dominant Indian politics about Muslims have taught them that they will be heard only when they leverage Islam. Leveraging the everyday living concerns of Muslims hardly has any takers.

Writer

Arshad Alam Arshad Alam

The writer is a social and political commentator.

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