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.