Hafta letters: Ambedkar's views on Islam, Aarogya Setu data concerns, politics and family
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Hafta letters: Ambedkar's views on Islam, Aarogya Setu data concerns, politics and family

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By NL Team

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Rebuttal to the article written by Anand Ranganathan on Ambedkar's views on Islam:

Ambedkar in his writing, “Pakistan Or The Partition Of India”, wrote: "Hinduism is said to divide people and in contrast Islam is said to bind people together. This is only a half-truth. For Islam divides as inexorably as it binds. Islam is a close corporation and the distinction that it makes between Muslims and non-Muslims is a very real, very positive and very alienating distinction. The brotherhood of Islam is not the universal brotherhood of man. It is brotherhood of Muslims for Muslims only. There is a fraternity, but its benefit is confined to those within that corporation. For those who are outside the corporation, there is nothing but contempt and enmity. The second defect of Islam is that it is a system of social self-government and is incompatible with local self-government, because the allegiance of a Muslim does not rest on his domicile in the country which is his but on the faith to which he belongs. To the Muslim, ibi bene ibi patria [Where it is well with me, there is my country] is unthinkable. Wherever there is the rule of Islam, there is his own country. In other words, Islam can never allow a true Muslim to adopt India as his motherland and regard a Hindu as his kith and kin.”

Ambedkar wrote these lines in the 1940s about the Sub-Continent Muslims. I will try to answer the points he has raised one by one and clear out the misconceptions Ambedkar had.

The first point Ambedkar raised is about the brotherhood of Islam. The concept of Brotherhood in Islam is as old as Islam itself. Muslims around the world are bound to each other with a bond called “Ummah” based on their religious ties. The brotherhood of Islam teaches people from different races to help each other out from Arabs to Turks, Punjabis to Javanese.

That’s the reason current Muslims around the world are tilted towards Palestine over Israel and during Ambedkar’s time, we had a Khilafat Movement in 1919 to protect the Osmania (Ottoman) Caliphate. It totally depends on person to person how they perceive this brotherhood. Gandhi used this Muslim brotherhood or Ummah to raise the Khilafat Movement in the sub-continent against the Britishers. Muslims, on his call, joined hands with the Congress which was at that time a Hindu upper caste party.

Ummah was first popularised in the Constitution of Medina under the leadership of the Prophet himself where different tribes of Muslims, Jews, Christians and other Pagan religions were referred to as Ummah. It was not a Muslims-only fraternity, as referred to by Ambedkar.

In the medieval ages also, different Muslim rulers around the world have fought wars against each other, have tied with non-Muslims hundreds of times, and killed each other without thinking about the brotherhood. Ambedkar is wrong in thinking this brotherhood is the only thing that bounds Muslims against non-Muslims. There are other parameters which play important role in the picture like social, economic and linguistic factors.

The only reason there are so many Muslim countries rather than a single Muslim country under a Caliph is because even if Muslims have brotherhood amongst themselves but that is not the only reason, they will stick to each other. Arabs (Muslims) helped Britishers (non-Muslims) defeat the Ottoman empire (again Muslims) in Arabia because they didn’t wanted Turkish-speaking Turks to rule over Arabic-speaking Arabs.

Brotherhood in Islam is an outer sphere that binds Muslims across the world. So, an Indian Muslim can be sympathetic towards Palestine but will not go and fight against Israel. A Malay Muslim can be sympathetic towards Chechnyas but will not hold it against their ties with Russia.

The concept of Ummah has changed from time to time. From tribal brotherhood, it changed to religious brotherhood. In the current post-nationhood period, it has changed to a nation brotherhood.

For example, if a Hindu labourer from Uttar Pradesh is beaten in Saudi Arabia, his Muslim companion from Uttar Pradesh will not be sympathetic towards the Arab for being a Muslim, but towards his Hindu friend because of same linguistic and social ties. Ambedkar talked about Muslims not having brotherhood amongst all humans, but brotherhood amongst themselves.

This is not a Muslim problem but a human problem. Humans tend to group themselves and help each other out against each other. This trait is found in Hindus, Christians, Sikhs and all other communities as well.

If I try to explain it: Suppose someone has Rs 1,000 to spare and decides to donate it. It’s a human nature to first help people to whom he's related. If there are no relatives to help, he will donate it to his community in his city or state. He won't donate it to the needy in, say, Africa because they have a greater need for that money.

The second point Ambedkar raised against Muslims is “the allegiance of a Muslim does not rest on his domicile in the country which is his but on the faith to which he belongs” This is a quite old argument which doesn’t hold good in the 21st century. There are no holy wars being fought in the world. All the conflicts are mainly territorial disputes.

The best example around India against this vague statement is India’s neighbour, Bangladesh, where people emphasised their Bengali identity over their religious identity. Less than 30 years after Independence, East Pakistan became Bangladesh when their Bengali identity was threatened.

If you use Anand Ranganathan's style of playing devil's advocate, Indian Hindus who have migrated to the United States should be loyal to their domicile, the United States, and should not poke their nose into India’s internal matters. But it's seen repeatedly that they get more involved in India's internal matters than those in their current domicile country.

On the other hand, Indian or Pakistani Muslims are more involved in their local politics and governance in countries like the UK. Good examples are Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, and Mohammed Azim, the mayor of Birmingham.

Ambedkar lived in a period that was the very initial days of nationhood, and didn’t have many real-time examples of how each community will behave in this 20th century concept. Even if he was living in the 20th century, he looked at Muslims through a medieval period lens.

The last point Ambedkar raised is “Islam can never allow a true Muslim to adopt India as his motherland and regard a Hindu as his kith and kin”. This could be a point that can be raised in 1940s, but after 1947, it was made irrelevant when Muslims from what is now India refused to move to an Islamic Pakistan. Instead, they remained in the land of their forefathers, where they had lived with their Hindu kith and kin through generations.

Even in his own home state of Maharashtra, it is next to impossible to find Muslims whose family moved to Pakistan. Why will a Malayalam-speaking Muslim move near a Punjabi-speaking Muslim, leaving behind his Hindu Malayali kith and kin?

Ambedkar had always looked at Islam as an outsider to the sub-continent. But the people who converted to Islam have been natives of this land for centuries.

Article 25 of the Constitution directs the government to undertake “social welfare and reform” for Hindu institutions. The term "Hindu" included a person professing Sikhism, Jainism, and Buddhism. The Hindu category excludes Muslims and Christians. Some scholars even believe this article was included to prevent Dalits from moving to other religions.

This should be looked together with the Indian Constitution order of 1950 which says, ”No person who professes a religion different from the Hindu religion shall be deemed to be member of Scheduled Caste.”

By this very law, Ambedkar put the nail in the coffin on millions of Indian Muslims whose forefathers converted to Islam for a life of equality. A Muslim manual scavenger can never get the support from the state which his Hindu kith and kin will get. Ambedkar forced landless Muslim castes to always live in dearth without any affirmative action that the state should take to uplift them, as it is doing with their Hindu kith and kin.

Arshad Khan

***

Dear NL team,

I am Prabhjot, a long time NL subscriber (since 2016), burrraahh. I seem to belong to your usual audience segment: phoren-residing (Sydney) with research background (PhD, post-doc in medical physics).

I have been meaning to write to you for a long time, but life kept happening. In the time of Covid-19, my life has also entered the quiescence phase, here comes my email.

Like most of your audience, I also feel part of the crew, especially NL Hafta and Awful n Awesome. I simply love all of you, even though at times I cringe at Anand and Madhu’s comments.

I recently came across some Greek philosophy — three sequentially arranged words, ethos, pathos and logos — which made me realise that the structure/style makes a presentation and discussion very palatable even when there are extreme views. I wonder if a similar structure is taught in journalism school as best practices.

I have a few suggestions:

- It would be great if you can do an investigation/story on the journey of some of the Indian anchors to Looney-land.

- Please can you add links (to places/shops) to HOMP podcast.

- Start a book-club type podcast (could be monthly) and, where possible, even get the authors to join in.

- Give opportunities to subscribers to own a part of NL.

- I would love to promote NL to my friends. You can help me (existing subscribers) by providing some promotional/branding material like short articles, video clips, podcast clips that can be shared.

I hope you guys come to Sydney some time and would love to meet you!

Best wishes,

Prabhjot Juneja

***

Love your work.

I wanted to point your attention to the Aarogya Setu App. Government agencies have been pushing for the adoption of this app and there are news reports that the app would be mandatory for metro and airports when lockdown is lifted. Even Zomato has made it mandatory. (See here and here.)

There are data privacy concerns about this app. Can the government make a public good contingent on sharing my data all the time? It would be interesting if such compulsions are applied for other government services. We would not want this to become like Aadhaar, i.e get it or get lost.

Thanks

Harsh Kumar

***

Hi Hafta team,

I am a long-time female* subscriber (since 2015, I think) of Newslaundry. I wanted to write from some time, but I am lazy and usually don't have any useful insights.

I don't think I have anything important to say even today, but I got particularly motivated to speak out after listening to the bit about "Arnab and Palghar" in Hafta 273, because it's something I have been thinking about since last week.

You see, most (or almost all) of my close and extended family are super Modi fans. Also, this relationship is not new — I grew up on a healthy diet of RSS, VHP, BJP, etc. We have many family friends who are members of the Sangh, VHP, ABVP, and I believe I have met the previous Sarsanghchalak as a kid (I definitely met someone important). You get the picture.

So naturally, when "Palghar" happened, I got bombarded with communal memes on all my social media accounts. Adding fuel to it was the bit by Arnab.

Now the problem is I am not aligned with my family on most issues. I am not confrontational, so they might not know, but I hope they have guessed it by now. Anyhow, since I grew up with them, first I don't (read can't) disregard their opinions every time. Second, I kind of understand where they are coming from on certain things. To get to the point, I believe in the case of "Palghar", at least some from the Right were saying that had the incident happened with a minority community, then certain groups would have immediately drawn communal conclusions. I don't know if Anand was referring to this as "selectivity".

I was finally going to reply to one of my cousins, when I played both arguments in my head and here is how it would have gone, had I replied:

Random family member: If someone else other than a sadhu had died, you would have certainly made a bigger deal, and painted it with communal colours, irrespective of the facts. Our priests don't matter.

Me (You all already made this argument, so just summarising): As per the current evidence, this particular incident wasn't motivated due to communal hatred, so the religion of the victims is irrelevant. It would be a false equivalence if you compare this incident to the lynching of the minority communities, which in fact is a hate crime.

Random family member: But many times it's not, you see what you want to see; finding patterns is a human tendency.

Me: I don't and here are so many examples where lynching was communal. So there is a pattern and it's getting more blatant under this administration, yada yada.

Random family member: You blow things out of proportion and always condemn members of your own community. Have you seen any minorities ever do that? Why don't they condemn when someone from their community is at fault?

Me: (This "they" keeps coming up, but...) I am not blowing it out of proportion. It's not baseless to assume that hate crime happens more often against minorities than it does against the majority, not just in India, but everywhere.

Me and random family member: (Sensing this is pointless to continue) Let's end this conversation and exchange recipes.

At least in my family, we know when to stop!

Here is how I concluded things from this imaginary exchange. We didn't reach a conclusion because we were talking about two separate things. In the context of the incident alone, my facts were correct, but in the hypothetical, my family's logic rang true — not as a counter-argument but as a standalone statement. I think Anand keeps talking about this often.

It's possible that statistically, communal lynching is a small part of a bigger mob-lynching problem, yet the word "lynching" is almost always associated with a communal crime in India. I have no idea if there is any data to support Anand's point, but each group will continue to believe the anecdotal evidence they have, irrespective.

I am a designer, so I have studied qualitative and quantitative user research. I may be wrong, but I think that if you want to understand behaviour as opposed to habits, you need perform qualitative studies — which often just involves understanding the context, things people believe in, and how they behave. So collecting or presenting large quantitative data is not going to settle any arguments here. This problem is further compounded by the pattern of media consumption, as you very well know.

As I am already past the word limit, I also wanted to express solidarity with the subscriber who wrote about his parents' sudden turn to bigotry. Welcome to the club! You can perhaps mute WhatsApp groups, or quit talking to extended family, but you can't really avoid your parents, can you? More so when you know they are not really bad people.

I think it's wrong to put all Modi supporters, even Sanghis or right-wingers, in the same bucket. For example, you all keep concluding that most right-wingers are either influenced, intellectually inferior, or have nefarious motives. I don't have specific instances to give as examples, but that's the impression I have gotten.

I don't buy this argument. All the family I talked about: many of them are PhDs in various fields. It's not just academics, collectively they have read everything from Amir Khusrau to Shakespeare to Arundhati Roy. They can probably open a library! And I know reading alone is not enough, but they have travelled the world and met different kinds of people. They are not sexist, blatantly casteist, or even very religious. Some were not born very privileged, but understand their current privilege. Some of them are the most charitable people I know.

Yet they all have a worldview that is not progressive on some of the most fundamental issues. There are reasons for it and some of them are understandable, if not valid. I think the other side should make an effort to understand those reasons. NL vs NL would be a good format for this, if all sides decide to participate.

That brings me to NL's appreciation bit. Since, this is my first letter to you, I must add that the Newslaundry team is super awesome and I will continue to support you as I have in the past. I can only prove my loyalty by saying that I was listening to Hafta while on an epidural waiting for my son's delivery :) I very much hope your revenue model succeeds: all the very best for future!

If you do read this on the podcast, please just use "N" because I have referenced my family.

Best,

N

*I don't know if you ever checked the male/female subscriber ratio, but I do hope there is equal representation now.

Brief Bio: I am an instructional designer and I have been living in the US since 2013. I have a three-year-old son and, like everyone else at the moment, I am waiting for the Covid crisis to be over and thanking my stars for the privilege I enjoy.

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