Tilting at Wind Mills Aren’t We

The Jamiat Ulama-e-Hind Conference held recently, has raised Cain through one of the 25 resolutions that were passed at the conference. The kind of noise that has been generated by this resolution has virtually air-brushed the other resolution out of reckoning. Did the remaining 24 resolutions not deserve closer scrutiny, especially in view of the fact that many of these resolutions had taken off from the recommendations of the Sachar Committee report.

The 24X7 “News” channels that claim to keep us updated on developments even before they occur, have by and large concentrated all their energies on this one resolution which claims that the “Singing of Vande Maatram is Un-Islamic”. Given the kind of attention that this resolution has already received, it may be worth our while to talk about some of the other resolutions before getting into the raging debate of Vande Maatram.

Some of the resolutions passed at the conference, especially those dealing with issues like Jihad, Terrorism, Palestine, the increasing bonhomie between Israel and India, the situation in Iraq, Afghanistan etc, broadly follow the generally accepted positions of the non-aligned movement. Those who increasingly see the world through the unipolar US view point, and all the votaries of “India the emerging Super Power thesis ” may feel more than mild discomfiture at these resolutions but then these gentlemen have never made common cause with NAM and the peace initiative of the Third World.

The resolutions that should cause much more than mild discomfort are the ones, dealing with issues of Education (especially education for the girl child and adolescent girls), reservation for women in the legislature, the proposed National Madrasa Board and suggestions for standardisation of curriculum of modern education in the Madrasas.

The resolutions on women’s education passed by the Jamiat reflect its anti women attitude and is nothing more than a reflection of the positions taken by conservatives, belonging to diverse faiths, on issues of women’s emancipation. The Jamiat resolution demands the setting up of non residential schools for imparting modern education to girls. These schools should, according to the Jamiat, offer education through curriculum that has been especially designed for girls. This apparently post primary course of education is supposed to last six years and envisages that all girls above the age of 10, shall conduct themselves according to the stipulations of the Shariah.

One does not need to be an Einstein to understand the contours of this especially designed curriculum for girls, sewing and embroidery, cooking, bringing up kids, caring for the in-laws and being a good wife, call it Home Science or present it as a Finishing School for Young Muslim Woman it will remain something that was rejected, by those who began working for spread of education among Muslim girls, almost a century ago. This is a project aimed at depriving 50% of the population of Muslims of even the limited rights and independence that they have gained after decades of struggles.

The objective is clear; prevent Muslim girls from joining the mainstream of modern education. The very idea of asking a secular state that it facilitate the enforcing of shariah on women, or for that matter on any section of the population, is preposterous to say the least. Such ideas need to be nipped in the bud.

In another resolution, meant apparently for Muslim males, the Jamiat calls upon the Muslims to acquire modern education, but in the same breath it asks them not to take admission in government or privately managed schools. The reason for this, according to the Jamiat, is that Muslims are cut off from their religious traditions in such institutes and often remain ignorant of the duties and responsibilities necessary for every Muslim.

The Jamiat is silent on the question of the source from where Muslims will acquire modern education given the inability of Islamic institutes to provide this knowledge and the strictures against those that have the resources to impart this knowledge.

The objective is clear; prevent Muslim Boys from joining the mainstream of modern education. The likely result of this should be obvious, Muslims will not only continue to be backward, they will be pushed back further, the fear of losing their Islamic identity will prevent them from demanding and taking their rightful place in the country. Not surprisingly, this is precisely what the votaries of Hindutva also want.

It is quite another matter that a majority of Muslims will pay no heed to these fulminations, An overwhelming majority of Muslims realises, as borne out by the Sachar Committee Report and other studies, that modern education is necessary both for life and livelihood. It is a matter of deep concern that these efforts are being made by those that claim to represent be interests of the community. Why are these worthies bent on convincing “their flock” to commit collective hara-kiri?

The Jamiat has, through another resolution, opposed a central government proposal to introduce an All India Madrasa Board to standardise the curriculum for modern disciplines. One fails to understand the reasons for this reservation. The government proposal is not to interfere with the curriculum of the traditional disciplines at all; it is an attempt to create some kind of equivalence with the general school syllabi, in order that those desiring to continue their education after their Madrasa education can migrate to mainstream colleges or universities. The quality of those teaching these subjects and the salaries they draw in the Madrasas will also improve as a result of this proposed standardisation.

Why have they opposed this? Are they afraid of the higher salary that those working under the board would draw? Those teaching modern disciplines will be better paid, even if it were not the Madrasa but the government that were to pay these salaries. This may lead to demands for higher salaries from the Madrasa teachers, something that Madrasa managements may not be too willing to do, because they have been getting this work done on salaries that are little better than subsistence wages.

For more than a decade, a debate has been raging on the issue of 33% reservation for women in the legislatures. Several political parties have come up with rather ingenious arguments to oppose the proposed legislation, but the arguments put forward by the Jamiat are so uniquely anti-women that they take your breath away through their sheer audacity. The resolution says that this will first of all be an instrument to further erode the minimal representation that the Muslims have in the legislatures and secondly, according to the Jamiat, this is a desperate attempt to main stream women and it would lead to several social problems that will lead to increased loss of security for women. This is such a reliable and time tested argument. If women step out of the confines of their homes, they will be exposed to instances of eve teasing and gender crimes. It is so much more convenient to confine women within the four walls of their homes instead of building a campaign for making the country secure for women and demanding strict action against miscreants. There is no easier method of keeping women, socially, economically and educationally backward and deprived than this easy panacea.

All these resolutions are fit only for the dustbin and yet no one from among the large contingent of special invitees from mainstream political parties, that talk incessantly of Social Progress, Defence of Democratic Rights and of gender justice, informed the gathering that the resolutions were not in the interest of the Muslims and that they would in fact turnout to be a major stumbling block in the progress of the entire nation, especially of our women.

The ongoing debate on Vande Maatram needs to be seen in the context of the understanding that finds reflection in these resolutions. It would be worthwhile to recapture briefly the history of the opposition to this song. This summary might help in understanding the politics that informs the articulation not only of those who see the singing of the lyrics as the touchstone of patriotism but also of those who see the insistence on the singing of the lyrics as a conspiracy against Islam.

The lyrics in praise of Durga, written in 1876, by Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay were later incorporated by him in his novel Anandmath, and that is where the trouble began. In the final analysis Anand Math is a text that presents the colonial masters as saviours of Hindus, the Hindus are presented as the only patriotic force and Muslims appear as enemies of the nation, is it surprising that the votaries of Hindutva champion this text with such vigour. The well known historian R.C. Mazumdar, while talking of Anandmath and other texts written by Bankim was to say, “Bankimchandra converted patriotism into religion and religion into patriotism [quoted here].”

Rabindra Nath Tagore, who sang Vande Matram at the 1896 Calcutta session of the Congress, was in 1937 to assess the song in the following words in a letter to Subhash Chandra Bose.

“The core of Vande Mataram is a hymn to goddess Durga: this is so plain that there can be no debate about it. Of course Bankimchandra does show Durga to be inseparably united with Bengal in the end, but no Mussulman can be expected patriotically to worship the ten-handed deity as ‘Swadesh’ This year many of the special Puja numbers of our magazines have quoted verses from Vande Mataram – proof that the editors take the song to be a hymn to Durga. The novel Anandamath is a work of literature, and so the song is appropriate in it. But Parliament is a place of union for all religious groups, and there the song cannot be appropriate.” [Wikipedia]

This is the background in which a decision was taken in the 1930s that only the first 2 stanzas of Vande Maatram will become the text for the national song; this decision was prompted by the popularity of the song that had inspired thousands to stand up against the colonial masters.

History is replete with such ironies, Two stanzas of a song that was part of a text written to fan Hindu Muslim animosity and to be a paean for the colonial masters got transformed into a call of action for Freedom from British Imperialism.

The first two stanzas of Vande Maatram were chosen because the latter stanzas were clearly in praise of Durga and objections were raised not only by Muslims but those belonging to other non idol worshipping religions as well.

This entire history had to be repeated because the recently concluded conclave of the Jamiat ulama-e-Hind has claimed that the singing of this song is against the tenets of Islam. The gentlemen making this claim have forgotten that the then leadership of their organisation had approved of the decision to identify the first 2 stanzas of Vande Maatram as the national song.

But those were different times, the Jamiat was in the forefront of the Struggle for freedom and the Ulemas were publically attacking the votaries of Pakistan. Those were times when the Jamiat stood with the overwhelming majority of Indian Muslims who were along with the rest of the nation dreaming and fighting for a free and secular India. The Jamiat, as it stands today, has been reduced to an organisation of conservative and revivalist forces, at least that is what one gathers from a majority of their resolutions.

How is it that the singing of Vande Maatram did not emerge as a threat to Islam for so many decades but has become one now?.

And as for the Hindutva champions of this song, one wonders at their total lack of interest in the other national song of India “Saaray Jahan say achcha” is it because the author of “Saarey Jahan” was a Muslim or because there is no attempt in the song to turn “patriotism into religion and religion into patriotism” as evidenced in Vandey Maatram? The mere singing or not singing of this song cannot be taken as proof of any one’s patriotism or lack of it for that matter, neither can singing of it make you into a non believer in Islam nor can the refusal to sing it, turn you into a devout Muslim.

17 thoughts on “Tilting at Wind Mills Aren’t We”

  1. “Sarey Jahan sey acha” is similar to India shining campaign. Liberals have rejected Indian Shining of the sangh parivar.


  2. While I agree with the spirit of this post, there is something about “Vande Mataram” – the first two stanza that is the national song – that has never been understood by its detractors as well as supporters. The remaining stanzas may be in praise of Durga, but the first two stanzas are not in praise of any deity. In fact all the orthodox Islamic furore is about the first two words – Vande Mataram – which they tend to translate as prayer to the mother, which would be indeed anti-Islamic and can’t be allowed in Islamic terms. In fact these words mean “singing the praise of the mother” – “Vandana” in Sanskrit means not a religious prayer but singing the praise – of anyone – human or divine or even an idea or an institution. Terms like Puja, Archana and Arati have religious connotations. But Vandana and Stuti are not religious prayers. They simply mean singing the praise.

    In fact singing the praise of the mother is very much in line with the spirit of Islam – there is a verse in Quran that says that Jannat (Paradise) exists at the feet of the mother. Looking from this angle, Islam expects the Muslims to respect and praise their mother.


  3. It’s very clear to me that the issue is not the actual substance of Vande Mataram and what it might mean if translated, and whether or not Islam enjoins worship of the mother and so on. The issue is very simply about coercion. One test after another is set for various kinds of groups to prove their nationalism, and Muslims face these tests most often. So overwhelming is this unquestioned category called nationalism that various CPI(Maoist) leaders now lay claim to being of all things, “patriotic”. Of course, some kind of distinction can be made between the two terms (nationalism = love of the state versus patriotism = love of the people), but this very distinction is made necessary because of the need to state one’s loyalty to some other comparable entity if one questions the Nation – then it becomes “our” land, “our” people etc.
    Sohail’s valuable post contextualizes the current position of the Jamiat ulema-i-Hind in terms of the history of its own emergence and of the Vande Mataram song, but I have a different point. As an uncompromising advocate of democracy, however difficult and messy that makes our political task, I insist that if any kind of symbol at all is resisted by any group, that symbol needs to be rethought very seriously, including and up to the flag and national anthem.


  4. Well, I interact with a lot of believing religious Muslims, with whom I have close friendship. Some of them are orthodox and some are not so orthodox. I know for sure that as far as they are concerned, it is a question of what that phrase means and whether it is Islamically allowed. As long as it is Islamically allowed, they have no problem singing it. In fact, one of them didn’t even bother to check the translation – he simply doesn’t have problems singing it, – he opposed that fatwa very strongly. And he is not an exception.

    Issues such as test of patriotism in a democracy etc don’t figure in their discussions. I think it makes sense to interact closely with the common believing Muslim population and take into account what the beilieving Muslims think, if they are not influenced by the fatwas of orthodox Ulemas.


  5. Of course, the point I am trying to make is that what the intellectual academics often imagine to be a social group’s stand, may not be realistic at all if one is disconnected from the social group itself – the stand of the orthodox religious leaders of that group may be very far removed from the stand of the common people of that group itself – for reasons of selfish vested interests.

    As a responsible citizen of a democracy one should not play into the hands of the orthodox religious leaders, rather see what the people of that group think, if only they are not controlled by their orthodox leaders.

    This post above itself mentions the other objectionable fatwas issues along with this one – such as those related to women’s education. If this school of orthodox Ulemas can issue such fatwas which are harmful by the admission of the writer of this post, then I don’t see why only one fatwa of this group of Ulema should receive a sensitive support in the name of democracy – without even seriously examining what the people of that group are thinking if they are not influenced by the orthodox fatwas.


  6. I do not make any claim to be an intellectual academic, i lack the wherewithall for such an exalted position. I do not claim that i interact with lots of muslims, whether of the believing or non believing category. I am trying to make a slightly different point.

    I am suggesting that all Muslims “as people belonging to a group” do not have the same opinion on almost anything. and because they have different opinions, there can not be one spokesperson for all the muslims.

    for example even in matters spiritual, a majority of Indian muslims, venerate one sufi or the other, despite deoband being avowedly opposed to the practice. now those who venerate the sufis are not likely to fall over each other in following a deobandi fatwa. If the schisms are so deep in matters of faith, can muslims have a uniformity of opinions on the issue of singing, Vande Matram or Anything else, or on issues of educating the girl child, or going to get educated in govet run or privately managed institutes.


  7. Sohail Hashmi,
    Yes, that’s precisely the point I was trying to make – even if Deoband issued this fatwa, there are Muslims who oppose it
    and don’t mind singing it and their opinion matters too. We must not think that an orthodox religious leader is the spokesperson for all the people in a community and support whatever s/he says. There are always people with different opinions in every community. Precisely because of the support and importance given to these religious leaders, Muslim community specially has been often let down by the policy makers in India, who tend to support the powerful religious leaders. Very often the common people in a community do not want what the religious leaders want them to do.

    To complicate matters further, a lot of people do get influenced by these fatwas – if you go to the Deoband website, you’ll see people actually write to them to ask about whether the most mundane affairs of daily life are Islamically allowed or not. In fact, someone had asked them this question about Vande Mataram in April this year and Deoband advised them exactly what they said on 2nd of Nov. This query and its reply are on their website, dated in April. There is another query on that website which asks whether a Muslim should respect all religions as equal paths leading to God and the answer was no, respecting all religions is unislamic or something to that effect. You can comprehend the implications of this.

    Left to themselves, these people wouldn’t think the way an orthodox school wants them to think, but when they hear these fatwas, they get swayed by them. A lot of them have the fear that they may be excommunicated from Islam if they don’t follow suit. On the other hand, there are also people who oppose these fatwas. So, the people who want or do not want something in a democracy is a lot more complicated issue than simply going by the command of any religious leader. I think we both agree on this.

    As for the “intellectual academic”, that was meant for Nivedita Menon who is in academics.


  8. One small point, as per scriptures, there is no place for clergy in Islam, the quram addresses it self directly to the believer. so there is no islamic authority that excommunicate a muslim, unlike hinduism or the zorastrians who can expell someone from the faith.

    The practice of excommunication is essentially an Indian construct and one sees it everyday in practice in the villages of west UP and Haryana where young hindus marrying out of their castes are excommunicated along with their families and even forced to leave their villages.

    as for muslims visiting the deoband web site to seek guidence in matters spiritual or secular, their is no dearth of gullible people like this in all faiths, witness the millions who rubbed their nails together for months together, because a so called
    yogi had told them that this will lead to hair growing on their bald pates. go to the samagams and satsangs organised by the likes of asa ram bapu and you will find thousands seeking guidance from these self proclaimed bhagwans, the faith healers christian prechers pander to the same sentiments of the gullible.

    so please do not present this as something unique to the islamic faith. every body has a right to behave stupidly, and many excercise that right without prejudice to caste, creed , faith or gender.

    and finally one must be a little carefull about generalisations like” A LOT OF PEOPLE DO GET INFLUENCED BY THESE FATWAS” what is the basis of this broad generalisation. Where is the data who has conducted the reserach and what is the sample size. The only generalisation that is true is the one that states that ” ALL GENERALISATIONS ARE WRONG”. How would you react to the statement that all the whites are christians or that all hindus are vegetarians, you would immidiately react and reject both assertions, why don’t you use the same sense of discrimination when it comes to muslims


  9. sohail!…how dare you suggest those who rubbed their nails together are gullible fools?? It works I tell you! I am a living, and hirsute, embodiment.


  10. Sohail Hashmi,
    In fact, excommunication from FAITH is not a Hindu construct – from caste it is. As for excommunication from Islam, you are right that Quran addresses itself to the Umma. But I was not presenting it as an Islamic construct or unique to Islam, was just bringing to your notice that it happens – that’s the reason why a lot of people consult the Ulemas and the Ulemas hold so much of power over them – these people genuinely believe that they will be excommunicated if they don’t follow the Ulema.

    I have been arguing all along that the Ulemas should not be given so much of prominence and their fatwas should not be taken so seriously as to build one’s democratic standpoints on its basis, so I don’t see how my argument is different from yours.


  11. “I rest my case” was in response to Aarti Sethi taking umbrage at my ridiculing those who claim and believe that rubbing nails lead to hair growth on the cranium.

    As for Daisy’s comment i am not ready to throw in the towel just yet. i am yet to be convinced that “ulemas hold so much power” on a “lot of people”.

    Several issues are involved here

    What is the measure of Lots of people?

    are they, in terms of their proportion to the total muslim population more than the proportion of Hindus that go to, consult and follow the likes of

    Ram Dev, Asaram Bapu, Amritaanadmai Amma, Mata Nirmala Devi, Satya sai Baba and a horde of others, who organise, meditation camps, satsangs, pravachan sessions and such like.

    The question that needs to asked is why is Ramdev on every channely other day.

    he question that needs to be asked is aren’t these people akin to the ulemas, both in terms of their following and interms of the antediluvian ideas that they propound.

    The question that needs to be asked is why aren’t these demi gods and godesses ever singled out for what they are doing?

    the other question that needs to be asked is why are the votaries of Hindutva on television 24X7 and those who stand for secular values given such short shrift.

    These questions need to be asked with greater urgency because the opinions of many bigots from among these are incresingly being accepted as opinions of Hindus per se. And that in my view is far more dangerous because Hindus are 85 % of this country’s population and those who claim to speak for them can wreak havoc on this land, as they have done in Ayodhya and in Gujarat and in Maliana and in countless other places including Malegaon.

    I am not for even an instance suggessting that similar questions need not be directed at the Ulemas, my piece is one effort in that direction and there are many others asking these questions, go to the url link below to see what some of them are saying


    And as for excommunication that takes place in the name of Caste is excommunication from religion as far as Hinduism is concerned. For a hindu without a caste is only someone who has a white skin and has taken on a Hindu sounding name and goes around selling Hare Krishna literature on street corners. These “” HINDUS by choice”” are not part of Hindu Society. A hindu is born into a caste and when he is barred from the caste he is out of the pale. No brahmin will perform any ritual for people who are out castes.

    So let us not delude ourselves. Let us argue that not only Ulemas but also all manner of god men, god women and such other charlatans should not be given so much bhav in a country that does not tire of proclaiming its democratic, moden state status.


  12. Sohail Hashmi
    I am not a votary of Hindutva and have always opposed very strongly Ayodhya, Gujarat and so on. I am no fan of any Baba etc and am not a supporter of the tendency of mass following them. The entire problem here is that you people are categorising and labelling me too quickly, without even knowing anything about me. Just because I talked against the power of Ulemas, it doesn’t necessarily mean I am a Hindutva supporter and won’t speak against them – they are as despicable to me as any Ulema, Christian, Sikh, Jain orthodox priest or any other orthodox religious leader – I don’t make a difference between religions in this matter – perhaps you do.

    And that shows a religious orthodoxy of another kind, which is even more dangerous because it is not so easily apparent as that of the orthodox leaders.

    As for my case, I am not much concerned about religiosity and hence, any kind of religious orthodoxy is not going to receive any support from me, no matter from what religion. You can call me by whatever name you like, it doesn’t concern me and won’t change my stand. Because I am very clear that selective support or rejection of religious orthodoxy is not the solution of any problem in this world.


  13. I did not accuse you of any of these things, had i thought that you belonged to any of those, i would not have bothered to respond, for the simple reason that i know from personal experience that a a dialogue is possible only between those who are agreed on a basic frame work. I would not, for instance try to convince a supporter of militay dictatorships that democracy, despite all its short comings, is preferable.

    what I was trying to point out was that

    (A) like all other genealisations, statements that see an entire community as uniform a are wrong.

    (B)religious bigots are the same everywhere and that the ulemas and godmen/godwomen serve the same masters

    I believe that e focus on the negative role of the Ulemas alone without also talking of similar tendencies among the majority would lead to a lop sided understanding of the precariois situation that we find ourselves in. I have tried to suggest an alternative alternative course of action, different from the prescription of the ulemas, by rebutting their resolutions on women’s education, the question of reservation for women, their demand that girls above 10 follow sharia ets.

    I also disagree with the formulation that a large number of muslims follow these ulemas in their secular lives. I should know, i have had deep links with the tribe.

    Barring rehetorical debating points that one tries to score in such exchanges, if we are agreed on the basics, then we are on the same table.


  14. Sohail Hashmi,
    If you were following my comments on Swiss Minarets post by Naeem, you would have known how many I referred to the Hindutva problem there, though in brief. Since I said it there, I didn’t repeat it here.

    Please read me comments again – I didn’t say people follow these Ulemas – in fact since the very first comment, I have been arguing that all the people don’t follow the Ulemas and there are varied voices in every community. What I did say was that a lot of people get swayed by these fatwas – that is, left to themselves they wouldn’t be like the Ulemas want them to be, but momentarily they get swayed by them. And it is this momentary madness that does the damage that the country takes a long time to recover – whether it is a Hindutva brigade riot or a communal tension caused by the fatwas or the Pope’s statement that in this century he would like Asia to become Christian etc.

    I have been saying since my very first response to you that we agree on the basic point, but you haven’t been listening, so agitated you have been by my remarks.


  15. Dear daisy,

    You now seem to be saying the same thing over and over again. Part of our commenting policy is to ensure that discussions and posts are about ideas, and do not get monoplised by incessant back and forth about about the personalities of people. No one has labeled you or called you anything, much less a votary of Hindutva. I find it suprising you would say so, because whether it is Sohail on this post, or Naeem in the other post, it is in fact you who have labeled people. It is you who alleged that Naeem was a supporter of the Saudi regime, and you alleged that while you did not make distinctions between religious orthodoxies of various hues Sohail did. So before you start flinging wild accusations against people I would ask you to go back and read what you have written about others on this forum who have thus far been attempting to have a civil conversation with you. Not only is this sort of behaviour ungenerous, its frankly disingenuous.



  16. Aarti,
    I have been responding to Sohail’s comments directed towards me and I don’t see what’s wrong with that – if they keep on asking similar questions, it’s not my fault if my responses sound similar. Responses are directed by the nature of the queries.
    I have to respond when I am asked about why I said something or what I think of some issue.

    Now that Sohail and I have agreed that we both agree on certain basic issues, why are you inciting me to begin a fresh argument again?

    And if I respond to you then I am supposed to be at fault? Why don’t you look at your conduct before pointing fingers at me?


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