By Afshan Khan, BeyondHeadlines
The book, ‘Of Saffron Flags and Skullcaps: Hindutva, Muslim Identity and the Idea of India’ provides insight into the origins of Hindutva, what has been happening in the last couple of years in India and its threat to the secular fabric of India. He makes us smile, laugh, tense and most importantly, the curiousness never dies throughout the book.
We have just seen how the name of a station was changed from ‘Mughal Sarai’ to ‘Deen Dayal Upadhyay Station’, and how many places and roads are being renamed. Ziya Us Salam had already dealt with such moves and he called it ‘reinventing the history’. People who wonder what is the problem with Deen Dayal Upadhyay’s name can also have a look at this book because he deals with the thoughts of people like Deen Dayal Upadhyay and many more. The author argues that he was a man who “quite never accepted our Constitution” and a man who was an early practitioner of ‘we’ and ‘they’ philosophy. “within the Hindu fold, he was a votary of the caste system as an essential tool for social cohesion”, the author argues. Now, his point is clear, Upadhyay’s views do not fit with the Constitution of India.
Ziya criticises the move of RSS and BJP at attempting to appropriate Mahatma Gandhi, Bhagat Singh, Sardar Patel, and Ambedkar. ‘A choose and pick policy is applied to fill the gap in their own narratives.’, Ziya argues. When they want to put down Nehru, they try to glorify Ambedkar. The author reminds that Ambedkar had drawn a parallel between Savarkar and Jinnah. Here the journalist Ziya reminds the Rohith Vemula case and sharply remarks, had they been a follower of Ambedkar, Rohith would have been alive.
The book deals with the debate over Savarkar’s take on the cow being ‘Holy’. He gives reference of his essay, ‘Care For Cows, Do Not Worship Them’ to argue that those who are involved in mob lynchings claim to love Swami Vivekanand and V.D. Savarkar do not have an idea of what they stood for. Ziya Us Salam reminds that Vivekananda wanted people to take recourse of beaf and the Bhagavad Gita and; Savarkar had ridiculed the idea of cow dung and urine used to purify the impure. He quotes Jyotirmaya Sharma who has written that for Savarkar, worshiping cow is like an insult to humankind.
Almost every Muslim’s heart has the same story to tell about the stereotyping he goes through but only a few have that capability of powerful expression, as Ziya Us Salam, who has honestly and perfectly brought those stories with loaded logics and references. After describing his personal experiences of how people stereotyped him on his Muslim Identity, he wonders, “Why can’t I live my life like a little stream that joins the mainstream yet manages to retain its identity?” Here, the book does not attempt at opening the wounds of Muslims by recalling the memories when they were accused of supporting Pakistan in an India-Pakistan match, but gives sensible answers to those accusations with the use of humour.
He has also discussed the ‘The Myth of Holy Cow’, a book by D.N. Jha which provides a detailed discussion over the myth of Cow being a sacred animal. He reads Vedas and Bhagvad Gita on the position of beef eating and traces the evidences which show how beef eating and serving was a normal thing and not just human beings but deities ate meat. His argument is simple; the cow was never a sacred animal, the idea of not slaughtering the cow was not religious one but an economic one. The decision of not killing the cows was because of our agrarian economy. So, ”Economic need became religious Creed” (p.71)
The book sharply criticises any discussion about the Muslim appeasement. All the three parts of the book provide a lot of references to make his point valid and countable. His arguments are derived from historians to social scientists and Intellectuals to enlighten us on the discussed themes. The book illuminates, guides and above all, enlightens us.
With a huge discussion about the proponents of Hindutva and their critique, one might get an impression that he is putting everything into a bowl but he has done it smartly and arranges them all perfectly.
one of the unique things about the book being he has not held Modi responsible for ‘Othering’ of Muslims and the rise of Hindutva but argues that ever since independence, even before that, the process had been started. In fact, Being a ‘Secular’ Muslim in India has never remained an easy affair.
He expresses his anguish against Modi regime for the reason that for the first time in the History of India the murder accused got awarded, at worse for the first time a murder accused was wrapped in the national flag on his last journey.
On one hand where the advocates of Hindutva are indulging in hate speeches and spreading hatred, in a contrast, there emerged an Imam, Rashid who makes us feel proud. Despite of his son being killed in a communal violence, he appealed people not to indulge in any kind of violence because he did not want any revenge and says that the Quran is his inspiration.
The author clarify the misconceptions regarding Islam with quoting the verses of Qur’an itself rather than taking position of Western scholars as many people of academic background tend to do. This book is clearly not an academic research but it might help those interested in the relevant debates about Hindutva, Muslim Identity and the idea of India.
He has smartly drew a distinction between the works of RSS and its history in dividing the nation, with the role of Jamiat Ulama E Hind and its contribution in independence movement and uniting the people for a common cause. However, a certain section of Muslims have a problem with the way Jamiat works today and this is the angle which is missing in the book. He does criticise the Clerics within Muslim Community for not engaging with the Qur’an intellectually and not welcoming the ‘questions in religion’, this proves that he wants reform within the community as well.
The age old issue of Dalit conversion has been given space in the book with sincerity and the author honestly accepts the fact that egalitarian principle of Islam is not the reason behind their acceptance of Islam but the alienation within the Hindu society forces them to do so. He describes conversion as a weapon of protest. “In our country, a person can leave his religion, adopt another faith but his caste follows him.”, His remark draw the attention towards the ongoing menaces of caste system in India. He discusses the problems of caste in India but ignored the role of caste in making the idea of India which might disappoint some readers but overall the book is very promising for the readers looking for a relevant book dealing with the current problems in India. The book has humour, beautiful presentation, connectivity in arguments and above all optimism.
Unlike the other writers, he does not leave us with a depressing ending, rather he offers optimism. Remember how the tricolour wristband unites all the Muslim pilgrims during Haj. He emphasises to engage with each other’s culture and religion. ‘a thousand years ago, we had Al Beruni who studied Vedanta like none else. Then we had flowering inter-religion dialogue during the Mughals…’, he adds.
His comment on the spirit of India “Much like life which defeats death every day to see a new sunshine, India too shall rise from the ashes of hate violence, bigotry and exclusion. After all, inclusive India has always won against the forces of exclusion.” (p.238), beautifully captures the hope regarding the changes in the socio political scenario in India.
Book title: Of Saffron Flags and Skullcaps: Hindutva, Muslim Identity and the Idea of India
Author: Ziya Us Salam