Worldwide Locations

Worldwide Locations

Coexistence and Conflict: Hindu Muslim Relations in India

Hindu-Muslim tension in India today. (thebigdurian/Flickr)

Hindu-Muslim tension in India today. (thebigdurian/Flickr)

QUESTION

I actually wanted to ask you to talk about the issue of women and the violence that they go through due to communalism. I feel that in the Gujurat riots and others women are often innocent victims of communalism, and my question is what are the concerns that you have about the violence that is affecting women, and what efforts have been taken to mitigate that violence?

SHABANA AZMI

In the Gujurat case of communal violence, more cases of women being raped were reported and talked about. Rape was used as an instrument to establish the humiliation of the community, and this was a very terrifying thing. It is a very difficult thing in India because a rape victim does not often openly come out and speak about that. It requires a lot of courage. And because in the Gujurat case there were so many NGOs and groups like that which went in to research the situation, more of this information came out. There was a total failure of any sort of confidence-building efforts by the police or any part of the state administration. It was because of these NGOs and other groups that women felt secure enough to come out and speak about it. Even in Parliament, some of the political parties were saying that there was a gross exaggeration of the facts or that none of it actually happened. I saw a police officer on television being interviewed. He was asked why they had not been registering individual cases of rape against the women. And he replied very callously that when a whole building is burning you do not register every single shop individually that is being burnt. He said this so callously and it was really frightening. Rape is being used as an instrument of communal violence, particularly in regard to the women’s honor as a representation of her community’s honor. In India women’s groups and NGOs have been working very hard to see that work on this issue gets done. I think many groups have been reporting on these issues, but they are still greatly understated. This type of violence is being used increasingly against women and that is very terrifying.

QUESTION

I found your talk really interesting and refreshing in the sense that you exhort the liberal moderate voice to come forward and form coalitions. You also talk about resolving one’s religious space. I wanted you to say a little bit more about how you would reconcile these two because it is really a slippery slope when you start preserving your own religious space in order to go down the path of extremism.

SHABANA AZMI

That has been the traditional mistake. The moderate liberal has felt that he should not go anywhere near religion, and that is why I said that religion is too potent a weapon to be left to the zealots alone. And also what happened is that the moderate liberal was kept out of the dialogue, because particularly with Muslims, the liberal was told that he was not a practicing Muslim and so therefore did not count. That is not true! Why does only a practicing religious identity make somebody a Muslim? There are other definitions of how you become a Muslim. But this kind of self-consciousness is problematic-because of how you said that you should keep these two apart, and there is still a very strong argument for that-I think one should do it more as a recognition that in a deeply religious society like India, to give up that space would really be a mistake I think. So that is the balance that you need to maintain. I think that to practice religion in you’re your private sphere, but in the public sphere to say that the state should have nothing to do with it, is possible.