When activist Harsh Mander said recently that Muslims chose this country over Pakistan, compared to others who had little choice in the matter, it was not an arrow in the dark. Certainly not so in the case of my family. My family was in Ludhiana at the time of Partition. In the tumult of the ensuing violence, they chose secular India over Muslim Pakistan.
My father was born into a family of maulvis the year before Independence. His grandfather, Maulana Habib-ur-Rehman Ludhianvi, was a founder and the third president of the Majlis-i-Ahrar political party. The party had been formed by a section of the erstwhile Punjab Khilafatists under the aegis of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad. They consistently opposed the Muslim League and its call for Pakistan.
In the provincial assembly elections of 1937, the Majlis-i-Ahrar had success in Punjab, the United Provinces and as far as modern Bihar. The party won to its victories because of the immense popularity it gained through its agitations to ensure the well-being of Muslims and other marginalised groups in the Punjab and neighbouring areas, and because of its social activism, relief work and charity for the needy. It had worked tirelessly in the Quetta earthquake in 1935 and as far afield as Bengal during the famine in 1943.
The party agitated against the Dogra king for the cause of the Kashmiris, with as many as 34,000 agitating Ahraris courting arrest at the height of the movement. Much of this was practiced through Gandhian methods of peaceful protest. My great-grandfather, Maulana Habib-ur-Rehman Ludhianvi, broke the salt law of the British for which he was arrested for the first time and spent over a year in prison. Before he was arrested, he declared at a Congress rally:
“I consider the British government a foreign government. I consider it my duty to expel the British and win freedom for our country. For this, whatever punishment we are given, shall be accepted gladly. So it is the duty of all Indians to boycott British goods and to make the running of this country impossible.”
Subsequently, courting arrest several times for other acts of civil disobedience, he spent 14 years altogether in jail fighting for India’s freedom. Much of the history of Ahrar and Maulana Habib-ur-Rehman Ludhianvi can be found across books such as Tara Chand’s History of the Freedom Movement in India (Vol. III), Ayesha Jalal’s Self and Sovereignty, Samina Awan’s Political Islam in Colonial Punjab: Majlis-i-Ahrar: 1929-1949, and Aziz-ur-Rehman’s Raees-ul-Ahrar as well as from Habib-ur-Rehman’s correspondence archived in the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library.
His sons, Maulana Khalil-ur-Rehman Ludhianvi, and Aziz-ur-Rehman Ludhianvi (my grandfather) also spent a few years in jail.
At Independence and amidst the violence of Partition, Maulana Habib-ur-Rehman Ludhianvi and six of his seven sons chose India over Pakistan. At the behest of Jawaharlal Nehru, Maulana Azad and Sardar Patel, they came to Delhi. My grandfather, Maulana Aziz-ur-Rehman Ludhianvi, founded a secular educational institute, Talimi Samaji Markaz, in Ballimaran in Old Delhi in 1951. The institute taught children up to the primary level and held adult education classes.
Upon my grandfather’s death, my father, Bilal Ahmed Ludhianvi, renamed the school as the Aziz Memorial School, changed the medium of instruction to English, and continued its activities. After he passed away, my mother, Akhtari Begum, took on the reins and continues to run the primary school as its headmistress. It alumni include the current chancellor and vice-chancellor of Hyderabad’s Maulana Azad National Urdu University, Feroze Bakht Ahmed and Aslam Parvez, the politicians Shahid Siddiqui and Haroun Yusuf, and a host of academics, doctors and lawyers.
I have studied for my BA, MA, and MPhil at the University of Delhi and then earned a PhD from Queen’s University Belfast on a Queen’s University scholarship. I also received the Charles Wallace Fellowship in Writing and Translation in Wales. I am Associate Professor at Jindal Global University, author of a book of poems, Ghazalnama, and the translator of The Sixth River, the partition diary of Ram Lal Bhatia whose penname was Fikr Taunsvi. I teach courses in translation across Indian languages, on the politics of friendship, on Sanskrit and Urdu literature.
Like my family, I choose to stay in India, having denied job offers abroad. I teach in India, contributing towards nation-building by educating its youth at an Institute of Eminence.
I refuse to have to prove my identity as a citizen to this government that is run by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh-backed Bharatiya Janata Party. The leaders of the RSS, as we know from its history, had little or no role to play in India’s freedom struggle. They advanced the two-nation theory. Now, they are daring to question the citizenship of other Indians.
My family and I, on the other hand, like countless Muslims, are entrenched in this country, and have given our sweat and shed our blood for it. When so-called “Veer” Savarkar was sending mercy petitions to the British from Cellular Jail, my great-grandfather and his sons, and tens of thousands of Muslims were in prisons across the country, united with other Indians of all religions as brothers and comrades, fighting for Indian freedom.
For the spirit of this secular idea of India, I refuse to accept the discriminatory Citizenship Amendment Act that does not consider Myanmar’s Rohingyas (whom the United Nations recognises as the most-persecuted minority of the world) or Sri Lankan Tamils as worthy of asylum. I refuse to accept the National Register of Citizens that asks people like me to repeatedly prove our identity and citizenship.
Combined together, the NRC-CAA are a discriminatory sieve to discard Muslims, as the BJP and its home minister Amit Shah have repeatedly pointed out through their Twitter handles and at their press conferences. I cannot accept such a law in my India, a secular land that my forefathers and I chose.
And so, I have been part of many civil rights protests that have ensued since the brutal police action against the students of Jamia Millia Islamia and Aligarh Muslim University on December 15. Like my great-grandfather, I refuse to accept tyranny, and dream of an India free from oppression, with the freedom of speech, with the right to protest, with equal citizenship, where there is no weaponisation of bureaucracy by asking people to constantly get into lines for demonetisation or the National Register of Citizens. Instead, I dream of an India where there are enough jobs and good education and health services.
For this idea of India, I peacefully protest. Along with other Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, Dalits, and people of all other and even no faiths, who believe in this idea of India, where as Tagore said, the mind could be without fear, I protest. I appeal that Indians stand in solidarity with each other, let no group be isolated, for that is when autocratic regimes are at their most brutal. We need a politics of friendship and solidarity, which transcends narrow fraternity. This is maitri that is enshrined in Buddhism, that the late BR Ambedkar advocated even over the constitutional fraternity.
While proving my citizenship may not be such a tough task, as history stands witness to my family’s struggles for India and I am an educated member of civil society, I assert that I will not serve any documents to prove my citizenship in solidarity with all those in our country who have no documents. I hope all secular and democratic citizens of India will follow suit.