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Interview with Dr. Nyla Ali Khan on oppression against Muslims in India

South Asians of all religious communities paid the enormous costs of nation-building for India in 1947 and 1971 -- gutted homes, ravaged lands, and meaningless loss of lives, Dr. Nyla Ali Khan said in an interview with the Balkans Post.
Dr. Nyla Ali Khan

“Millions of Indian Muslims changed the course of storms, and by going through various trials and tribulations, brought the caravan of freedom to a hopeful juncture. They proved that they could offer sacrifices for a noble cause, and none could bend their will and courage,” she said.

The following is the transcript of the interview:

BP: The Indian government has taken its Hindu nationalist agenda to a new level with a succession of policies. What’s your take on these developments and how would they affect India’s Muslim population?

Nyla Ali Khan: South Asians of all religious communities paid the enormous costs of nation-building for India in 1947 and 1971 -- gutted homes, ravaged lands, and meaningless loss of lives.

Millions of Indian Muslims changed the course of storms, and by going through various trials and tribulations, brought the caravan of freedom to a hopeful juncture. They proved that they could offer sacrifices for a noble cause, and none could bend their will and courage.        

Their sustained enthusiasm lent fresh vitality to the hard struggle for independence from colonial oppression. History will always cherish the courage they displayed along with their Hindu and Sikh compatriots. However, they are now being called upon for a harder struggle, greater sacrifices, and renewed resolve for accomplishing a secure future in the country they believed in. (#Delhi2020)

Despite the rise in majoritarianism and cultural supremacist politics in India, several people, of every community, are upholding the freedom of religion and right to life and liberty by their acts of compassion.

The courage of the Hindus of Ashok Nagar, who defied the Hindutva mob and came out to protect their Muslim neighbors, is much more powerful than the vitriol spewed by those who think they call the shots.

In the meantime, the conflation of religion and politics by the ruling party of a “democratic” and “secular” India gnaws at those of us who are invested in pluralism -- Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, and Christians. It's important to draw a line of demarcation between Hinduism and Hindutva.

The transformations associated with the phenomena of fundamentalist politics that we are witnessing with the riots in Delhi was exemplified by the earlier revocation of the autonomous status of Jammu and Kashmir as well as the curbing of civil liberties and rights in the the Kashmir Valley.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its votaries seek to negate the rulings of the Supreme Court of India on several counts.

The spectacles of the demolition from the Delhi riots and revocation of Kashmir autonomous status have been staged as instances of mass hysteria. In both instances, henchmen of the ruling part are trying to spur followers on by an overwhelming sense of celebratory hysteria.

At the end of the day, common people with strong cultural anchors will retrieve the nation from the clutches of polarizing elements.

BP: In August 2019, the Indian government scrapped the statehood of India’s only Muslim-majority state of Kashmir and locked up hundreds of its politicians and activists without charge. What’s your view on this development and how would if affect Kashmir?

Nyla Ali Khan: As I’ve said on other forums, the Constitution of India seeks to guarantee respect for rule of law, independence of the judiciary, and integrity of the electoral process. But time and again, provisions of the Constitution of India have been breached in Kashmir, and the ideals that it enshrines have been forgotten.

In Kashmir, rights relating to life, liberty, and freedom of expression guaranteed by the Constitution, embodied in the fundamental covenants and enforceable by courts of law, have been flouted. The revocation of our special status, without consultation with the State Legislative Assembly, makes it clear that parliamentary democracy in India has been unable to protect a genuine democratic set-up in Kashmir.

Heads of governments cannot avoid their ethical and moral responsibilities toward the peoples of States in a federal country. The lives of those people cannot be torn asunder by paramilitary forces. After all, secularism means that all people have equal rights irrespective of their faith and religious leanings, and that everybody should respect the other’s feelings.

It is my belief that in a federal set-up the best way for emotional integration and national unity is not the over-centralization of powers but its decentralization leading to the restoration of power in the hands of federating units, which have acceded to be a part of the federation. The constitution of a country provides a strong framework, but it is for those who are responsible for the smooth functioning of institutional mechanisms of government to implement constitutional provisions.

Today, I would like to see those provisions of the Constitution of India implemented in Kashmir to restore our fundamental rights.

BP: Also, in December 2019, the government approved a citizenship law that would expedite citizenship for every major religion in the region except Islam. Coupled with a citizenship test, observers worry the policies will disenfranchise India’s 200 million Muslims, 14 percent of the population. In your opinion, what’s the Indian government’s objective?

Nyla Ali Khan: In the wake of recent happenings in Delhi, the discourse of nationalism has been affecting to make sense of the absurd loss of life that has occurred.

In order to assert itself, a nation-state needs to draw clearly etched borders, so it can define itself in opposition to other nations.

But I would point out that those who seek to portray India as a homogeneous nation are erasing a shared past.

Bloody maneuvers to destabilize the British Raj were employed by the Muslims as well as the Hindus of colonial India in a joint effort to oust the oppressor.

The composite culture constructed by the two communities was an inherent part of pre-colonial India as well, but is expunged by those who attempt to disseminate a unitary discourse of nationalism.

The militant nationalism of such people/organizations does not evolve into critical nationalism.

Critical nationalism is an awareness that unless national consciousness transforms into social consciousness, so-called "liberation" would be a continuation of imperialism.

The federal government of India has yet to realize its obligations toward minorities.

India’s progress will be greatly hindered unless the federal government as well as the majority community assure minorities that their honor, liberty, and rights will be fully protected.

In a diverse country, it is not only for the majority community to approve laws, but the minority community should also feel that constitutional amendments and laws will bring peace, security, and honor to them as well.

The Citizenship Amendment Bill seeks to give citizenship to only non-Muslim religious minorities from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan, who are supposedly fleeing persecution. It does not accord the same privilege to Muslim minorities, who might be fleeing religious persecution as well.

In effect, the Citizenship Amendment Bill flouts the principle of secularism and rights relating to life, liberty, and freedom of expression guaranteed by the Constitution for non-Muslims and Muslims alike.

At this critical juncture, we must learn to cross the frontiers of culture, nationality, language, and citizenship in order to make humanist responses to the belligerence of majoritarianism and ensuing loss of human rights.


Dr. Nyla Ali Khan is the author of Fiction of Nationality in an Era of Transnationalism, Islam, Women, and Violence in Kashmir, The Life of a Kashmiri Woman, and the editor of The Parchment of Kashmir. Nyla Ali Khan has also served as a guest editor working on articles from the Jammu and Kashmir region for Oxford University Press (New York), helping to identify, commission, and review articles.