POLITICS

Why Rajnath Singh's Comment About ISIS And Indian Muslims Is Problematic

Love is a two-way street.

28/11/2016 2:56 PM IST | Updated 29/11/2016 1:41 PM IST
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A Muslim boy looks on as he holds a placard at a rally organised by a Muslim charitable trust in Mumbai, India, November 26, 2015. REUTERS/Shailesh Andrade

Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh just gave a glowing endorsement to Muslims of India -- or so it would seem from a statement he made on Sunday. "I'm sure the threat of radicalisation by ISIS won't be an issue in our nation because people who follow Islam in India love the country," he said at a conference.

The context of his remark is the steady and growing incursion of the members of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) into India over the last several months. So far, as many as 68 people have been arrested by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) and its affiliates for having alleged links with the ISIS, of which 50 have been held this year alone. It is believed 67 Indians have joined the ISIS through the diaspora, though the NIA suspect the number could go higher. Some 20-odd men and women from Kerala alone are believed to have been recruited from the Middle East, most of whom are highly qualified professionals, coming from economically well-do-to families.

The first part of Singh's comment, given the grim seriousness of the threat, seems flippant

To his credit, Singh added the following proviso to his remarks: "I have stated clearly that no innocent should be troubled and none of the offenders should be spared." His statement comes closest to an official acknowledgement of the human rights abuses perpetrated by the security forces out on a mission to nab "terrorists", during which the innocent often pay a tragic price for their religious affiliations. Ishrat Jahan's death in Gujarat, in 2004, in a contentious encounter killing is an example the Indian state should never forget.

But the first part of Singh's comment, given the grim seriousness of the threat, seems flippant. To begin with, it treats Indian Muslims as a monolith -- without economic, political and social distinctions -- as if they form an indistinguishable group. But worse still, the reasoning behind his unconcern about the ISIS's influence on India sounds like a non sequitur.

READ: NIA Is Hunting For This Kerala Man Who Allegedly Recruited Indians To The ISIS: Report

As a concept, radicalisation may be related to religious indoctrination, but it is far too complex a process for its source to be pinned down to that one factor alone. Religious fundamentalism also doesn't operate in a vacuum, but in correlation with a myriad other factors -- political, social and economic, in a variety of combinations, often involving all three, and maybe a few more. So, for Singh to presume that radicalisation can be prevented by love for the nation alone, the idea seems merely that -- presumptuous.

What does loving one's country mean anyway? Love is a loaded word in any context, but especially so when it involves the entire nation. It's worth doing a quick recce.

Does loving one's country preclude the right to feel dissatisfied with the political dispensation ruling it? Does it allow room for outrage against social injustices perpetrated by one community towards another? Can it coexist with the feeling of being betrayed by the economic policies of the ruling government?

AFP/Getty Images
Kashmiri Muslims pray during the Friday prayer in Jamia Masjid in downtown Srinagar on November 25, 2016. TAUSEEF MUSTAFA/AFP/Getty Images.

Now consider these facts.

A Muslim man was lynched by a mob in Dadri village in Uttar Pradesh on the suspicion of keeping beef in his fridge at home. A Muslim couple was beaten up mercilessly by Bajrang Dal activists in Bulandshahr, again in UP, for sullying Hindu localities. A section of the country that Singh expects Indian Muslims to "love" has made the term "love jihad" -- which aims to put an end to inter-faith marriages -- a part of its everyday vocabulary. The government, which Singh is a part of, wants to impose the Uniform Civil Code to fight regressive practices like triple talaq (the oral unilateral divorce that Muslim personal law currently allows men to use to divorce their wives) and polygamy. But the same government is reluctant to implement the recommendations of the Sachar Committee's report, meant to empower Muslims in India.

So, to suddenly put the onus of ensuring no radicalisation takes place within their community on Indian Muslims, simply because they "love" their country, is to deprive them of the complexity of choice and thinking. Such an injunction takes away from them the right to have complex positions on the workings of the Indian state. For instance, by Singh's logic, Kashmiri Muslims critical of the Indian army's excessive use of force in the Valley would be all seen as not loving their country.

Love is a two-way street. A relationship based on love between two parties cannot be successful unless it is equitable, reciprocal and mutually respectful. Singh, speaking on behalf of the Indian state, expects Indian Muslims to love their country. But is the government of the day confident that the sentiment is mutual?

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