In the recent past, India has witnessed political and social turmoil on many occasions. For instance, the constitutional amendment in 1985 made by the then Prime Minister following the Supreme Court judgement in the Shah Bano case; or the demolition of Babri Masjid in 1992; communal rioting in Mumbai and Gujarat 1993 and 2002 — shocked the secular people as these incidents threatened to divide the nation on communal lines.
Senior journalist Seema Mustafa has described these anxieties and concerns in her book Azadi’s Daughter: Being a Secular Muslim in India. The book is a memoir by the author, who was brought up in a secular, progressive and politically active Muslim family. Her father, Colonel Saiyed Mustafa, settled in Lucknow after retirement. Her mother was popularly known as Azadi and thus the book’s apt title, ‘Azadi’s daughter’.
Seema has worked for major newspapers during her long career as a journalist. And, also unsuccessfully contested the Lok Sabha poll from Uttar Pradesh in 1991. In Azadi’s Daughter... she has written on the predicaments of the Muslims in the aftermath of Babri Masjid demolition, Gujarat riots, growing incidences of terrorism, the fate of the Muslims and the treatment meted out to them in the light of these acts.
In the late ’90s, the opposition party often alleged that the ruling dispensation ‘appeased Muslims’ or harped on ‘votebank politics’. So it was interesting to know how the Muslim community actually votes. The author says the greatest ‘Muslim’ leaders have been Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, V P Singh and Lalu Prasad Yadav. She says that the Muslims have never voted for their community’s leaders, but for those who they felt would provide them security. For decades, development was a secondary issue. Now, their focus has shifted to issues of employment and development. Therefore, they have discarded the Babri Masjid issue.
On mixing religion with politics, the author says, Muslims in India do not like religious outfits adopting political hues. The two are seen as separate here, even though the conservatives claim that in Islam, religion and politics are inseparable. That is why the author argued in the book that political fatwas issued by religious leaders or institutes have gradually become irrelevant.
Seema also debunks the tendency to club all Muslims in the country into a monolith without any individual, cultural or gender differences. For example, she says, a Muslim in Kerala has culturally more in common with the Hindu in his state than the biryani eating Muslim of Awadh. They eat different food, speak a different language and often find that religious identity is not sufficient to bind them together in one orthodox grouping.
As far as women’s rights are concerned, the author says that the females from all communities have been working on reforming personal laws and empowering their gender. And, therefore it is ironic that those very people, who could not legislate 33 per cent reservation for women in Parliament and state assemblies, are concerned about a personal law impacting a small percentage of women. The book is a must read for those seeking to understand the mindset of Muslim community in India.