In September 2015, the Allahabad High Court, that had heard a complaint that many madrasas, or Muslim theology schools, did not hoist the country’s flag on national days, asked the Uttar Pradesh government to ensure that these schools unfurled the flag on Independence Day and Republic Day. Muslim organisations were surprised with the order, and while many groups agreed with the court, they wondered why they had to announce their patriotism by flying the national flag on religious institutions.
In the week following the attack on a military camp in Uri, civil society groups in Mumbai organised meetings to protest against the incident and to honour the Indian soldiers who lost their lives in the attack. Muslims have often said that they have had to express their nationalism more vociferously than other Indians. As invitations went out for the meetings in Mumbai, it was clear that Muslims were in the forefront of the protests.
One group, the Indian Muslim Intellectual Forum, held two meetings — one at Azad Maidan — in the pouring rains and another in a public hall. Salim Alware, a member of the group and an educationist, said that he finds it difficult to explain this to his son, a teenager. “To be very honest, whenever there is an incident like this, Muslims come out in large numbers to show their patriotism,” said Alware. “My son finds it odd that we have to condemn every terror attack but I have been an activist since my student days. Muslims have always been expected to record their protest, now the expectations have increased.”
Participants at the meetings talked about the insecurity in the community whenever there was a terror strike, especially if the origin of the attack is traced to Pakistan. “Everyone should protest against these incidents but Muslims feel that they have to be the first to condemn it so that they are not accused of keeping quiet,” said MA Khalid of All India Milli Council, which took part in one of the meetings. “We feel that we have to send a message across that we are part of the mainstream and we are with the nation.”
Noorjehan Safia Niaz, founder of the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan, which successfully challenged the ban on women from entering the sanctum of the Haji Ali dargah (the shrine trust has two more weeks to appeal against the high court’s order) was invited to one of the meetings but could not attend it. She said that Muslims, like other Indians, have to protest against any attack on the country. “But there is an additional need (for Muslims) because of the allegations made against the community, especially in the last two years. The debate about nationalism has grown and the definition of who is a nationalist and who is not has changed,” said Niaz. “There is a constant need to prove that we are part of the country.”
“If there is anything, we are suspected and our patriotism is suspected,” said Alware. “We feel insecure; it is the truth. I do not think any other group has to do it (the protests),”
Feroze Mithiborwala, a writer and a citizen activist who was among those who stood with placards at a meeting, said, “In many ways, the protests were a natural reaction – Muslims were sad about what happened to the families of the dead jawans – but there is pressure on them to condemn (an act of terrorism that can be tracked back to Pakistan). There is a feeling of insecurity when there is a terror attack by Pakistan.”
Despite the anguish felt at the constant need to declare their patriotism constantly, Alware felt that it is a job that has to be done. “It is a sign that we are with the country in times of crisis, and not just to show our patriotism.”