It’s the season of Minority drum-beating again. If you are a conspiracy theorist, you will link Shabana Azmi’s interview with Karan Thapar to the recent happenings in Jammu and Kashmir, given the timing of the interview. She is one of the darlings of the secular establishment for very eclectic reasons. More on this point later.
Unlike in the past, Shabana Azmi does not restrict her angst to just "Hindu chauvinists." Her latest angst is all-encompassing. It strikes at, and questions the very foundations of Indian democracy.
Although Muslims are safer in this country than in other parts of the world because they have a stake and space in Indian democracy, Indian democracy is unfair to Muslims, says Shabana Azmi, actor and former MP.
…Azmi said, "I think there is not enough understanding of the fact that in a democracy how you treat the security of the minority must be a very important part for the success of a democracy. You can’t only make token gestures and actually let them be in the state that they are as the Rajinder Sachar Committee report shows. So what happened is token gestures are made but real issues are never addressed."
Indian democracy doesn’t deny voting rights to Muslims. Indian democracy ensures adequate representation in government and all democratic processes. Indian democracy does not prohibit Muslims from owning property anywhere within India. Indian democracy grants Muslims the freedom to practise their religion and run institutions as they deem fit. Indian democracy doesn’t allow non-Muslim private institutions to discriminate against Muslims on the basis of religion. Indian democracy allows Muslims to start and run business enterprises. Indian democracy allows Muslims to seek employment in both private and government sectors. Indian democracy allows Muslims to serve in the Indian defence forces. Indian democracy allows Muslim artists the freedom to depict symbols of other religions in a way that offends the sentiments of the adherents of those religions. Indian democracy grants Muslims Indian passports thereby affirming their citizenship as Indians.
Let’s also see how Indian democracy ensures that Muslims feel safe in India. Indian democracy assures the safety of Muslims mainly through political parties of all hues including the communal BJP: the communal BJP even has a Muslim cell. Because they are minorities and by virtue of their general backwardness, Muslims are accorded reservations in various social, economic and educational spheres. In addition, their minority status gives them bountiful Haj subsidy, a system, which says that Indian democracy deeply cares for them. Indian democracy has enabled the Parliament to enact a legislature whereby Muslim institutions are not subject to state scrutiny–another gesture of goodwill. For fear of sending out the wrong message to the Muslims, the Indian state pays lip service when home-grown Muslim terrorists are regularly apprehended.
Shabana Azmi needs to now substantiate exactly why she feels that Muslims are insecure in India. Equally, she should explain how even one of the aforementioned measures qualify as "token gestures." But she does offer one substantiation.
She said she couldn’t buy a house in Mumbai because she was a Muslim. "I wanted to buy a flat in Bombay and it wasn’t given to me because I was a Muslim and I read the same about Saif (Ali Khan). Now, I mean, if Javed Akhtar and Shabana Azmi cannot get a flat in Bombay because they are Muslims, then what are we talking about?"
Blanket statements like that don’t address the question of how this is related to her criticism of Indian democracy’s safeguards vis a vis Minorities. Even countries steeped in democratic traditions haven’t had members of any Minority community as the head of state. Ironically, the leaders of, and self-styled Minority defenders like Shabana Azmi actually perpetuate the sense of victimhood among the Muslims by reminding them of their wretched lot and blaming it on external factors/groups/communities. Indian Muslims never really made a big deal when Abdul Kalam became the President. The general mood was one of happiness. However, a Muslim intellectual with a "Dr" prefixed to his name suddenly found that Kalam was not a "true" Muslim because he quoted from the Bhagavad Gita, among his other faults. What message does this convey to ordinary Muslims? Yet, it is such "intellectuals" that the media highlights as representative voices of Muslims. At any rate, it would be a gross error to call Shabana Azmi an intellectual. So, what draws the media to her?
Shabana Azmi is one of the few darlings of the media because she represents a very rare breed: a secular Muslim. India doesn’t have too many of them. Most of the Muslim leaders/intellectuals/scholars that the media features or interviews, speak almost like a typical Mullah. Not so Shabana Azmi. She knows her roles well. She wears her feminism proudly–she always refers to herself as an actor, not actress. Until recently, she displayed a Bindi on her forehead in public. She spoke at length about how Vipassana was "intense." She fought a powerful Imam a few years ago. She does her bit on AIDS. She utters the required platitudes about secularism to a media that wants her to affirm their own biases. And so she’s able to dismiss the Amarnath agitation in these words.
That’s why I am so distressed over what is happening in Kashmir. For heaven’s sake it should be brought to a stop and it should have been brought to a stop right when they started that nonsense.
But she’s cautious to not mention anything remotely related to Amarnath or Hindu. It’s just Kashmir. However, the Kashmir nonsense started about two decades ago. Strange, she doesn’t refer to it. It is also interesting to note that she does not, even once, condemn the government for unleashing state-sponsored violence against the Hindus. Her criticism of Indian democracy about the security of Muslims is just the latest disguised demand for according special treatment to Muslims.
But Shabana Azmi is not the problem. It is our public discourse that glorifies nonentities like her and actively seeks her opinion on issues beyond her grasp. What is her claim to fame apart from earning acclaim as a talented
actress actor? But then, Karan Thapar interviewed her. He, of the sudden- removal-of-Modi fame.
Postscript: Amid all this din, an important aspect has escaped our notice. This interview, and a spate of articles that are trickling in over the past few days follow a sinister script. They are geared to deflect public attention away from the ugly game being played with Hindus in Jammu. Instead of calling it by its real name, the media is attempting to metamorphose this into a loss of communal amity in J&K, and its all-India implications fantasy tale. The sooner we recognize this, the better for all of us lest this transform into another version of the Ayodhya agitation, where Hindus were continuously put on the defensive.