"Indian polity is being unfair to Muslims: Shabana Azmi" - The Hindu

Indian polity is being unfair to Muslims, says Shabana Azmi
Shabana Azmi, The Hindu, August 17, 2008

New Delhi: In a stinging attack on the country’s polity, film actress-turned-social activist Shabana Azmi has accused it of being “unfair” to Muslims, making only “token gestures,” instead of addressing the real issues.

She also targeted the Muslim leadership, saying it had not bothered to “clear the air about what Islam actually is” and contended that Muslims should change the image of their religion and community.

Asked on Karan Thapar’s ‘Devil’s Advocate’ show on CNN-IBN whether the country’s politics had been “unfair” to Muslims, Ms. Azmi replied, “yes.”

On whether it was individual politicians, the system or political parties that were to blame, she 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 an important part of its success.”

“You can’t make only token gestures and actually let them be in the state that they are as the Rajinder Sachar Committee report shows. So what happens is that token gestures are made, but real issues are never addressed.”

Asked whether she would say that Muslims were “victims of discrimination,” she said she could not buy a flat in Mumbai “because I am a Muslim.” She said she had read that the same had happened to actor Saif Ali Khan.

On what being a Muslim meant to her, Ms. Azmi said: “I’ve been raised in a very liberal, bohemian family in which religion has not played any part at all. For me, being a Muslim really was about Urdu, about eating biryani and wearing shararas on Id. So the cultural aspect of me was Muslim otherwise, because I am not religious, the religion did not matter. After the riots following the Babri Masjid demolition, I suddenly had people saying, you are a Muslim and hurling it as an accusation … it was a self-consciousness that I have never before experienced … [what] it made me do is say ‘yes, I am Muslim and what do you want to do about it?’ That, I can say, is increasingly happening, particularly in the western world. A lot of young kids today are wearing the burqa, are taking on an identity which really they don’t feel. Just because when you push somebody against the wall that’s what they come up with”

Ms. Azmi, who is a five-time National Film Award winner, emphatically said that Muslims did not need their “own leaders” and to press her point she cited that Jawaharlal Nehru was “a leader for Muslims and that’s the way it should be.”

She accused the politicians of promoting a stereotypical image of the Muslim community and not allowing moderate, liberal Muslim voices to be heard.

“You look at all the politicians, whether it is Atal Bihari Vajpayee, whether it is Indira Gandhi, whether it is anybody, the minute it is a Muslim question, you will get the ‘dariwaralas’ and only all the Maulvis to speak,” said the former Member of Parliament.

Ms. Azmi observed that the moderate liberal voice was witnessing a resurgence in the country unlike in the past.

Ms. Azmi said she viewed “with exasperation, anger, hurt and bewilderment” the way the West looked upon Islam as a threat and treated Muslims as figures of fear and hate.

Talking against the backdrop of violent protests in Jammu and Kashmir over the Amarnath land transfer row, she cautioned that it could create differences between Hindus and Muslims elsewhere in the country and said the crisis should be brought to an end.

“Yes, and if our politicians haven’t woken up to it yet they really don’t know what’s happening,” she said when asked whether the situation in that State was a challenge to the country’s integrity and future.

She emphasised that “the Indian Muslims were in a safer place because the Indian Muslim has a stake and space in Indian democracy.”

“It’s a very huge thing that we are a part of a democracy and Indian Muslims can aspire to become a Shahrukh Khan or an Irfan Pathan or the President of India and that makes the Muslims far more hopeful and far less in despair than in other parts of the world,” the actor said. — PTI

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