Saturday, November 10, 2012

Seema Mustafa's Azadi's Daughter Journey Of A Liberal Muslim is brave, innocent and honest

It is interesting that journalist Seema Mustafa and historian Ramachandra Guha have written about their liberal identities almost at the same time. On Friday (Nov 9, 2012) evening by Vice President Hamid Ansari has released her book, Azadi's Daughter Journey Of A Liberal Muslim (Imprint One; Rs  395). She writes in the Preface: " I am a Muslim culturally, not religiously. This is not a declaration but a fact that many who reads this book will have to keep in mind to understand the truth of what is being said." She also notes: "I have to confess that being 'Muslim' to my mind is not a big part of my life and experience. It is an identity that I decided to exercise somewhere along the way to counter the stereotype of the ignorant, dirty, illiterate, fast breeding Muslim that seemed to be spreading through India." And she confesses: "Besides I have not done too well as a Muslim, religiously I mean, but I do like to believe that my contribution as a mother and as a journalist has not been as insignificant."
This confession of the liberal creed is fascinating and it seems to come at a time when there are no clear dangers of a right-wing upsurge as there was in the 1990s or even during the time when the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was in power leading the NDA government. But it is good that people from Indian elites -- Seema Mustafa and Ramachandra Guha --do not fight shy of delcaring their elite status and background - are stating what they believe in when some of the narrow-minded among the same class are more than dithering. Of course, both Seema and Ram are not defining liberalism in a polemical way. They do not get bogged down by definitions. Seema uses secularism as an alternative word for liberal and in a simple way. So it is difficult to get into definitional duels with her on the ideology of secularism.Ram too is not fighting the battle of liberalism at the definitional level. The two are not saying what is it being a liberal, and what are the issues. They are narrating their beliefs and experiences in a straightforward manner. But this is about Seema's book. I have just read the excerpt from Ram's book in Outlook and could not miss the parallel accounts of Seema and Ram.

There is a certain continuity in the political traditions of which Seema and Ram are a part, and in more ways than one inheritors of a legacy.

She also reveals the harsh realit shefaced when she decided to fight the election in Domariaganj in Uttar Pradesh. She was given the ticket for Janata Dal and then it was taken back because Ajit Singh wanted his own man there. She decides to fight on her own, and she faces a no-holds barred hate campaign from her Congress rival Moshina Kidwai. She also remembers that Rajiv Gandho came to campaign in neighbouring Faizabad did not come to Domariaganj when he learnt that Seema was the candidate. She was told this by a Congressman long after Rajiv's assassination.
She also explains that the attachment which Muslims families have for ther family members in Pakistan is purely about family concenrs and that this should not be confused with an attachment to the country, Pakistan. Seema does not hesitate to tackle the prickly issues and give the simple reasons behind them. It is this simplicity of heart that is disarming. She reveals the simplicity again about the Shia-Sunni divide, and she rightly sees the attempt of the RSS and the BJP to move closer to the Shia side. Of course, she does not look into the complexities of the Shia and Sunni theological worldviews. In a way this simplified view she has of things is charming. The words, liberal and secular, are really problematic. The achievement of Seema in this book is that she uses them as simple counters for a tolerant and civilised view of things. So, though I think secularism is a false and faulty worldview, and liberal should stand for accepting the incompatible views in the world, I found this book convincing because Seema stands for a humane view and way of life which is what matters most at the end of the day. There is another place and another occasion for demolishing the silly certainties of secular and liberal ideologies!

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