His cap and beard and repeated references to the Quran in public speeches notwithstanding, Asaduddin Owaisi does not “speak for Islam” – Islam can do very well without his help, thank you. Owaisi, the president of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen, speaks for Indian Muslims and identifies as a secular nationalist Indian Muslim.
The facts are clear. Seventy-five years of Independence have served Indian Muslims less than well. One does not need to look at the Sachar Commission Report to understand just how economically and socially backward Muslims remain.
What is less clear if one is not at the receiving end of it is the subtle and not-so-subtle discrimination that ordinary Muslims face every single day – in the job market, in trying to rent or buy a house, or to even get basic educational or medical needs met.
Add to this the open hostility now visible on the streets and the mobs in saffron emboldened by an administration that looks away at best and is often complicit in aggression against Muslims.
If there was any doubt whatsoever on where many state governments stand, refer to the recent developments in the Bilkis Bano case, where convicted gang rapists and murderers have been set free by the Gujarat government in flagrant disregard of legal norms and moral imperatives.
To top it all, legislatures at the Centre and in many states are making it clear that India is now a Hindu state and that minorities better fall in line or face the consequences. Laws are passed that are clearly unconstitutional and courts fall over themselves in clear judicial overreach to go after Muslims and those who support their demand for their legitimate rights.
What Owaisi is really saying is:
A. Muslims are a downtrodden discriminated against minority and the situation is getting worse by the day.
B. Neither the “secular” parties nor the majoritarian dispensation that sweeps the country have truly represented Muslims and tried to make them equal partners in the Indian project.
C. There is a clear effort underway to take away rights of all minorities under the Constitution and to delegitimise their demand for cultural identity.
D. Muslims can no longer depend on the state for meeting their basic needs or simple protection against discrimination and violence at the hands of majoritarian mobs.
E. Muslims need to organise, choose leaders who serve their communities and participate vigorously in democracy to be heard and represented.
Do not believe the compromised media that is quick to label Owaisi as a rabble rouser. Instead, listen to his speeches. Owaisi constantly says “do not resort to violence”, “participate in democracy”, “protect the Constitution”.
He constantly challenges the state to arrest him if he speaks a single word against any community or indulges in communal politics – for the record, not a single arrest to date, although he has been the target of many prohibitory orders.
Owaisi speaks for those who have no voice, for those India is failing. I have never met him. I do not belong to the Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen. I am a secular Indian Muslim. I stand with him because of what he says and who he speaks for.
For great evil to prevail in the world, it is only necessary for good men to do nothing. It is time to stand up and be counted.
Tariq Ansari has been associated with the Indian media for the past 35 years.