by Nirmala Carvalho
On 15 August 1947, India and Pakistan were born. The event sparked mass migrations and equally large-scale violence between Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs. Today, “India is truly a secular democratic country and I am proud to be an Indian Muslim,” a Muslim politician says.
Mumbai (AsiaNews) – India on 15 August will celebrate the 64th anniversary of its independence, a date that marks the division between India and Pakistan. In the days and weeks that followed partition, mass population movement took place. According to 1951 data, more than 7 million Muslims moved to Pakistan and an equal number of Hindus and Sikhs moved in the opposite direction. The governments of the two new states were prepared to face such a huge migration. On both sides of the border, acts of violence and murder were perpetrated. The actual number of dead is unknown. The lowest estimates put it at 200,000, the highest at 1,000,000.
On the occasion of India’s independence, Asif Zakaria, a 40-year-old Mumbai municipal councillor for the Congress Party, spoke to AsiaNews about it. “It is great to be a Muslim in India. India is truly a secular democratic country and I am proud to be an Indian Muslim. Indian Muslims in India are happier than Muslims in Pakistan or even in any Islamic states. And while there have been incidents of violence against the community like the catastrophic Gujarat riots, the Indian Muslim community enjoys freedom and dignity in secular India.” Ultimately, “I do not feel discriminated at all,” he said. “There has never been a feeling of being either sidelined or even a minority”.
Speaking about his community, Zakaria noted that, regrettably, the Muslim community lacks education and that development for the Muslims has been rather slow. There is “a wide chasm between the rich and the poor Muslims, while the rich ones are well educated and enjoy a high standard of living and their education gives them an independence to rationalise, the poor sadly rely on ‘so called leaders’ who do not always teach the authentic teachings of Islam.”
For Asif Zakaria, “Religion and politics must never be mixed. Importantly, I have been elected for the constituency at large and it would not be proper for me to discriminate in favour of only one community. I am working for the civic betterment of the entire community and [. . .] a stable social environment where tolerance, peace and interconnectedness flourish.”
Education is a major problem though. “In the interior areas of India, children go to madrassas, where education is religious. Madrassas need to impart secular education and help pupils become aware of issues of civil society, rights and other important issues [. . .]. Regrettably, far too often, many imams have a stranglehold on the people and label any voice of dissent as either ‘reformist’ or less Muslim. This needs to change.”
Because of this, Islam is seen as violent and radical. “The politicisation of Islam is a tragedy,” Zakaria noted. In reality, “Islam does not teach to cause inconvenience to others by praying in or blocking the streets. However, these things happen. Hence, there is a need to address issues at a grassroots level. Moderate voices are a minority, but slowly they are making progress.”
“India,” he explained, “is a great secular country, and we look forward to a time when people of every ethnic, linguistic or religious background can live in peaceful coexistence, mutual tolerance and harmony.”