Beyond Equations; A Note on Muslim Difference in JNU

Shyamolie Singh

The politics of false equivalencies will kill us, will leave us even more at the mercy of this violent nation-state than ever before.

Whether it is comparing PFI and RSS, the “potential patriarch” Shafin with the other patriarchs in Hadiya’s life, (shukriya to the leading feminists of this country) the comparison of competing communalisms, and the politics of equating the slogans of neel salaam/assalaam/inshallah with that of the Brahmanical festivals of Durga Puja (by seeing politics in a secular framework, instead of visualising a politics that actually critiques and rejects Hinduism), this untenable, mistaken comparison cannot go on. Holding up the project of competing communalisms is exceedingly dangerous. This project has no conception of power, of power difference, and of the actual, material, religious, and critical differences between that of Hinduism and Islam. I am writing this in the context of this campus specifically, and not at this moment, in the context of the country at large, even though these debates are directly connected.

This campus and its reductive, Islamophobic, casteist mainstream left organisations have replicated these frameworks of competing communalisms, and have argued repeatedly that if one rejects ABVP, one must also reject SIO (and other Muslim organisations, even though they seem to currently be obsessed with SIO and its positions on many things). It is, to put it crudely, the sanghi-musanghi position. This position also argues, as seen in the recent debates on the slogans, that politics must be a secular space, and one cannot “mix religion with politics” (as seen in the recent horrendous parcha by the lovely autonomous, independent left organisation that deals in kadi ninda and ek vote ek vote politics).

There can be, and have been, in some senses, three major responses to this. One is of course to point out that the parliamentary left on this campus is hardly a secular space. It is a Hindu space, and a casteist, Islamophobic Hindu space. But this is in my opinion the most rudimentary critique of the competing communalisms project. It is important to point out their hypocrisy and the fact that people in glass houses should not throw stones. But this can only be step one.

The second position would be to point out the competing power positions of organisations like SIO with that of the ABVP. SIO is not a “force” (inshallah, it will be) on this campus, a Hindutva government is at the centre, this country is essentially a Brahmanical Hindu nation state, so Muslim organisations are not the same as Hindu organisations, that minority and majority religious politics is different. But this in my opinion, is a slightly problematic position, because it does not take into account futurity, change, or hope; and it does not in essence, differentiate between Hinduism and Islam, it only examines their current positions of power.

It is, in my opinion, a position with no real critique of Hinduism itself, and certainly no rejection. We cannot only reject Hinduism because a Hindutva government is in power, we must reject it regardless.

The third, and in my opinion, a slightly more coherent critique, would be to defend Muslim politics itself. In a time where everything from queerness to gender to the name and safety of the nation to the fragile project of secularism is being invoked in order to demonise, vilify and end any possibility of Muslims representing themselves, their politics, their desires, their lives, one cannot merely speak about the abstract freedoms of doing such politics (god knows we do enough freedom of speech crap in this campus while condemning the content of what is apparently being defended), but we must speak about such politics itself.

By establishing a position that religion and politics cannot mix, by saying that if we condemned haathi ghoda palki and do not condone Durga Puja, you should also condemn slogans of inshallah and you should also condemn the politics of organisations such as SIO, the parliamentary left on this campus is establishing a safe ground for it to escape from critiques of Hinduism itself.

First off, it is a ridiculous position. Religion is a deeply political thing. Religion can be a deeply liberatory thing. We do not critique Hinduism and Durga Puja celebrations on this campus because we believe that student politics should be some rarefied, secular, atheist space. We critique it because it deserves to be critiqued – for its inherent inequality, its violence, its foundations of caste, its complete lack of dignity for many of its apparent constituents, who are forced to remain in its hold despite the humiliation it gives them. The position of secularity is a deeply flawed one. The project of secularism is a deeply flawed one.

Instead – it is the right to move away from Hinduism, the right to do a different politics, whether one is situated in the realm of Buddhism or Islam or Christianity or Sikhism or any faith that truly has the potential for liberation, for freedom, for equality, that we must defend. Perhaps we can begin to speak from here, instead of merely pointing out the hypocrisy of the left position; perhaps, we can speak about what we really should be speaking about: the dreams that many radical thinkers have dreamt, of a future without inequality, of a future full of hope, of Begumpura, of feminist queer utopias, of fantasies of loving and living, rather than hate and violence.

To want to do this – to practice it in one’s own life, such as Hadiya has chosen to do, or such as Faisal chose to do; to want to practice it in organised politics, of wanting to do a politics that does not reproduce the humiliation and indignity that the so-called progressive politics does; of wanting to make our universities spaces where students like Najeeb are not brutally attacked beyond measure – what better dreams could one chose to dream?

In Kancha Ilaiah’s Post Hindu India, the book for which under he is under life threat (not that he has not been under threat for the inspiring life he chose to live, and his radical writing for years and years now), he wrote a dedication that I will hold close to my heart for a long time. It goes like this: “For The God who created all human beings – men and women – equal and in his likeness; prophets who taught and practised equality – Buddha, Jesus, Muhammad, Marx and Ambedkar; and my mother and father who were born equal, lived unequal and illiterate and died unequal.”

The author is a research student from JNU and a Queer activist. 

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