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Secularism dies in J&K

Balbir K. Punj

The secular stance drops off from the Muslim community once it gets into majority position in any political system. The Jammu and Kashmir Assembly has recently passed the Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Bill. The legislation declares that Shariat law is the law of the land. Significantly, the bill, moved as a private member's bill by the Leader of Opposition Abdul Rahim Rather, got support cutting across party lines.

Even more important, the words of caution from the former law minister of the earlier PDP government, Muzafar Hussain Baig, were brushed off. That the bill violates several customary conventions even in the Muslim society of Kashmir was overlooked. Baig warned that the bill was so worded that a large number of inter-religious marriages would become invalid once this bill became the law. The bill would thus affect many Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs who were inter-marrying in that part of the country. Baig even warned that the bill would "disrupt many families."

Standing four-square against the call for "pure" Shariat from his colleagues, Baig told them that pure Shariat would mean, "We have to cut off the hands of the people who steal." But the mood in the legislature was even more orthodox than our neighbour's. In this environment, warnings of members like Baig became a cry in the wild.

In the rest of the country, Muslim leaders and their pseudo-secular allies are all for secularism. But as the example from Srinagar reveals, once they are in majority, the same leaders drop the secular cloak and become the exponents of orthodoxy. If in a Muslim majority state like J&K Shariat can be raised to the level of the law of the land, there is no doubt that it will be the civil law if ever the Muslim community gets the upper hand in the rest of India as well.

In fact, that the "secularists" of India are the B-team of the Muslim fundamentalists is an old story. In the Twenties, led by Mahatma Gandhi, the secular pack joined the Muslim bandwagon protesting the abolition of Khilafat in faraway Turkey. The Muslim agitation on the issue soon turned violent. In the process, innocent Hindus became targets.  Thousands were killed, hundreds raped and property belonging to Hindus were destroyed. Hindus fell victim to a "secular" violence.

The vivisection of India which resulted in the birth of Pakistan would not have been possible but for the active support of the communists in the Thirties and Forties. All the intellectual arguments that Mohammed Ali Jinnah needed to support his demand for the creation of a state based on religion were provided by the Left. Today, both wings of the erstwhile Pakistan have shunned secularism and are Islamic states where the minorities (read, Hindus) are second grade citizens. In Bangladesh, the Hindu population has dropped from 30 per cent to about eight, and in Pakistan, from 24 to 1.5 per cent. In the Shah Bano case as well, the "secularists" refused to stand by the liberal Muslims and extended their helping hand to the fundamentalist sections of the community.

Contrast this with how the Hindu dominated India reacted after Independence. Though the wounds of Partition were fresh, still it chose to become a "secular" republic. Independent India moved to change the civil law applicable to Hindus by bringing it at par with the liberal democratic thinking in the modern world. Even though the lawgiver Manu had laid down Hindu laws, enlightened opinion within the country was for drafting an entirely modern set of laws and not resurrect the old laws, however, sacred they were considered to be. Hindus denied themselves the luxury of multiple marriages that were sanctioned by the old laws, gave equal inheritance to women and brought women to the same level before law as men. In fact, any gender discrimination in India is punishable by law; so too is the age old untouchability that has been abolished by law.

Many Muslim countries that have made Shariat their criminal as well as civil laws are facing worldwide cries against the inequity, harshness, even barbarism to which citizens are subjected to under this dispensation. In Saudi Arabia, for instance, even carrying the books of your religion if you are not a Muslim, is forbidden. Any publication even hinting at any criticism of Muslim practices and theology, is enough to land one in prison.

In our neighbouring Pakistan, a woman's story of detention for a perceived violation of Shariat law caught the world's attention. Under this law, even a complaint about a perceived criticism of Islam is enough to bring about a death sentence with the onus of proving one's innocence squarely on the victim. In the J&K Assembly, the mover of the MPL(S) bill, Rather, has sought to deflect public fears on the introduction of this law by asserting that, "Shariat applies only to civil issues and not criminal issues here." But who can guarantee that it will not be extended to criminal law as well? Almost all Muslim majority states have done this.

In fact this is exactly what the jihadis are demanding: "pure" Shariat law should be enforced without any mercy. Osama bin Laden and his supporters are saying that even Saudi Arabia is not Islamic enough. When the Taliban held sway in Afghanistan, the girls were shut inside their homes; they were prohibited from going to school. People perceived to have violated the Shariat were hanged publicly in football fields (no Muslim in India protested this barbarism then). Taliban-like regimes are the dream of the jihadis, whether in India or in Europe.

Every now and then we see news reports that in some European country or the other some of these sleeper cell members have been arrested and incendiary material recovered. Recently, the UK police arrested a few who were conspiring to kidnap a British soldier, torture him and then behead him, taking care to televise the event. The barbarism involved can only be imagined.

The barbarism of Shariat ruled societies is so ghastly that even liberal Muslims are shaken by it. But the mindset of the majority of the community continues to view such "pure" Shariat as the ideal society they should strive for. And they are doing it. The threat of upsetting existing regimes through sabotage and terror by the jihadis is now a global phenomenon, and even in remote areas, security agencies are finding sleeper cells of jihadis either aligned to Osama bin Laden or independently carrying out his agenda of global terror to establish "pure" Shariat laws across the globe.

(Courtesy: Deccan Chronicle; February 16, 2007)

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