The extent to which our society is getting polarised along religious lines is very disturbing. If this is the state of affairs almost seven decades after independence, what might happen a few decades later? This is not the time to attribute responsibility to different parties or communities. This is a moment of self-reflection; of trying to find out what gives rise to this mindless violence.
The other very disquieting fact is how the electronic media and sections of the Hindi print media have taken upon themselves the responsibility of being the custodian of the nation’s interest. The arrogance and intolerance in their coverage reflects a very ominous trend in the history of journalism. I have experienced this recently.
The Jamia incident is not a big affair, it could have been easily sorted out, but it was turned into a campaign against a university. Our doors are open to non-Muslims; our teachers are drawn from all communities. Compare our record with that of other so-called secular universities where Muslims have limited access — Benaras Hindu University, Allahabad University, Delhi University itself — then what are we questioning?
A student at the London School of Economic (LSE) was nabbed very recently by the police — does it mean that the LSE has become a hotbed of terrorism? This is senseless. I think we have to fight back. We have tolerated this nonsense for far too long. We should take on the media and demonstrate to the people that they are not trustworthy and are out to basically sensationalise events.
Jamia Millia is being seen as the Muslim institution that it is not; it is a secular institution funded by the Central Government. The question of legal aid is not being looked at from the perspective of a teacher’s responsibility to her students.
As the head of the institution, I feel I have an obligation towards my students. And I am not using the taxpayer’s money for it. But the real issue is of principle. If this had happened to a non-Muslim student, I would have done the same. I am also upholding the rule of law. Why have we forgotten the principle that says that an accused is innocent until proven guilty?
In the ultimate analysis, our society, which has gone through the Khalistan movement and experienced terrorism in the Northeast, must look at these incidents in a more cool-headed manner. Because you can’t fight it by reacting in a hysterical manner. Also, our police is becoming more politicised and communalised. We haven’t reoriented them into becoming the custodians of the secular values enshrined in the Constitution.
Over the past 10 years, there has been a systematic pattern — Deoband University, an institution with a glorious record, has been targeted. So has Nadvat-ul-Ulema in Lucknow. Aligarh University has always been targeted, despite its being a modern institution with its doors open to all. Is there a pattern in this madness?
We need to reflect on these issues. The alienation is very deep, and has to stop. But instead of supporting us, which would also mean supporting an institution committed to secular values, there are attempts to undermine our secular foundations.
And now we are dealing with a younger generation of Muslims. I believe in a liberal, eclectic and pluralist idea of Islam, but I suspect this vision will not be shared by those who are feeling insecure and excluded, socially and culturally. Why have the guilty in Gujarat not been punished? Why? Why? Why is the VHP and Bajrang Dal not banned for killing innocent Christians and desecrating their churches?
I regard myself, as do millions of others, as part of the edifice that is called India. The idea of India is my idea. There is no India without me, and I will not let that change. We have already taken certain steps to counter subversive ideas that might fracture our secular society.
I appeal to civil society and the media to let us live in peace, and get on with our simple and innocent job — pursuit of knowledge. There is a limit to what one can tolerate. Nobody dare question our commitment to education, and our loyalty to the Indian Constitution. (Courtesy: Tehelka Magazine, Vol 5, Issue 40, October 11, 2008)
---Mushirul Hasan is Vice Chancellor, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi