[Following is a guest post by Dr. A. Suneetha. She is a Senior Fellow at Anveshi Research Centre for Women’s Studies, Hyderabad. She is also the coordinator of Anveshi.]
In the aftermath of Babri Masjid demolition and the rise of the majoritarian Hinduism, the framework of ‘competitive communalization’ has become restrictive in thinking about the situation of Muslims in the country, especially the question of why the burden of ‘communalism’ has been borne disproportionately by Muslims (Tejani, 2008), even to the extent of Muslim articulation of dissent and disaffection being called communal. More importantly, it also does not explain the exclusion of Muslims, their concerns, interests from the domain of secular-nationalism. This has become increasingly so after the Sachar committee report which has made us understand this exclusion as systemic to our secular public domain.
In the just divided state of Andhra Pradesh the process of secularization betrays both these tendencies: One, despite a very strong left lineage, specifically Muslim concerns, history, interests and mobilization have largely remained outside the pale of putative Telugu identity, culture, history and literature. Two, specific articulation of Muslim interest, identity, culture and history, runs the risk of being labeled communal. At certain junctures, it appears as if, unless specifically Muslim articulations are excluded, an issue/concern/ interest/movement cannot become secular. At several moments during the progress of the recent movement for a separate state of Telangana, which opened up questions of Telugu identity, language, culture, apart from resource-distribution through a secular articulation of disaffection about regional backwardness, this character of the secular identity of the Telugus in the state came to the forefront. Even as the promises of the unitary linguistic identity and its historical claims are getting questioned and the need for re-writing of history is getting recognized, issues raised by the local Muslims continue to get tagged onto the same history, memory and identity thereby configuring them as ‘divisive’ and ‘communal’.
The Nizam controversy (2010)
2009 agitation for a separate Telangana state began with the protests by students of Osmania University against the Government Order that permitted students from every part of Andhra Pradesh to apply for government posts in Hyderabad district. Support from the 9 Telangana districts poured in. Kalvakurti Chandrasekhar Rao went on fast and soon, every influential leader and political party joined the protests, demanding a separate state, except CPI(M) and All India Majlis Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM). The Marxist Leninist party New Democracy also joined the protests. This movement saw huge burst of cultural creativity, popularized through a module-event called Telangana Dhoom Dhaam. A popular song at these events was ‘Nizamu sarkaroda’ – a song composed by the (united) Communist Party against big landlords during the Telangana Armed Struggle between 1944-1950 (Sundariah, 1972). References to the ‘Nizam’ and ‘razakars’ revived at this moment making the Muslim intelligentisia and activists, who were active participants in the Telangana struggle, extremely uncomfortable. For the Telangana activists, the song symbolized their fighting spirit against the ‘autocratic’ state and useful in challenging their image of a slavish culture of ‘dora, nee banchen’ (I am your slave, my lord) propagated by the coastal Andhra culture industry and politicians. However, for the Muslims, the connotations (Srivatsan, 2010) were entirely different – of the forceful identification with the Nizam, who has been canonized as the most feudal aristocrat in the popular culture and the left historiography and as anti-national due to his refusal to integrate Hyderabad state with the Indian Union. Some Muslim formations (such as Muslim Forum for Telangana and Civil Liberties Monitoring Committee) also pointed out that the popular songs of that era, when sung in the current Telangana struggle, not only are a-historical but also feed into the current anti-Muslim tendencies where all the historical referents and contexts have got reduced to ‘singular Muslimness’ in the contemporary Telugu discourse on secularism and Muslims. Even as the Telangana intelligentsia responded with more careful re-consideration of the legacy of the Nizam (Jadhav KR, 2011) references to the anti-razakar legacy of the Telangana people continued, prompting questions about the politics of this popular memory. As is well known, the communist party led movement was suppressed with much more brutality by the Indian army after 1948 integration. However, such suppression has not been memorialized as much as the attacks by the ‘razakars’ (Srinivas J, 2010). Secondly, it also begged the question of what is it at the current juncture that has led to the revival of the memory. Has the 2009 Telangana movement for a separate state enabled a re-alignment of the caste-class formation in such a way as to articulate an anti-Muslim sentiment in the form of ‘anti-razakar’ memory?
Legislative Assembly Debate (December 2010)
In the winter session of 2010 legislative assembly, this tension between secular Telangana-ism and Muslim ‘communalism’ came to the fore. By this time, the government had charged hundreds of false cases of rioting, arson, attempt to murder, sometimes even SC/ST atrocities act on the Telangana activists, especially students. Most of the opposition parties protested against this unjust use of law and stalled the proceedings till the government agreed to make an announcement regarding the withdrawal of these cases. Towards the end of the debate on this issue, Akbaruddin Owaisi, the floor leader of the AIMIM party, supporting the opposition, also sought their initiative in withdrawing cases against Muslim youth and students in the old city, that have been pending since 2007 Mecca Masjid blast, despite their acquittal by the lower court. He argued that such a move would assure the Muslims that they were also part of the Telangana. “But, after the blasts in Mecca Masjid, the government started arresting Muslims. Then the police fired upon Muslims, coming out of mosque…There was the Bhaskar Rao commission which didn’t come out with anything….It didn’t stop there. It continued with arrest of innocent youth. 100 young men, students among them, were detained, tortured and booked under different sections. The court has acquitted them now. Even after their acquittal, they continue to be harassed, their families continue to face difficulties and they are not given jobs..I demand that the government apologize for making so many Muslims suffer like this..Not a single political party in the state has raised this issue in the Assembly. Are they not part of Telangana?”
Even as the government responded positively, his well-reasoned demand was uniformly condemned by all the parties across the spectrum as a ploy to divide the Telangana issue on a communally divisive line. While it is well-known that Majlis Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM) did not support a separate Telangana state, despite acknowledging the grievances of Telangana (evident in its submissions to the Girglani Commission), it was difficult to understand how the inclusion of Muslim detentions would ‘communalize’ the problem of state-sponsored illicit detentions.
Communal tensions in Telangana (2011)
The Muslim protestations were not borne out of false alarm. After the Telangana movement picked up momentum, several small towns with small or significant Muslim population, including Hyderabad– Hyderabad (March 2010) Karimnagar (August 2010, March 2011), Tandur (Feb 2011) and Miryalaguda (July 2011) and Siddipet on (9th October 2011) –began to bristle with communal tension. Dismissed by Telangana supporters as a ploy to defeat the demand for a separate state, these nevertheless showed the deep cleavages wrought by history and kept alive by later path of social, economic and cultural changes in the state. On our fact-finding trip to the Siddipet town on 12th October 2011, we found the town’s 22% Muslims tucked away in six remote colonies, intent on keeping a low profile. A decade of petitioning has given them a marriage hall without any facilities. They talked to us about many attacks, big and small, in villages in and around the town – Nangunur, Velkatur, Pullur and Gangapur where isolated Muslim families were harassed, threatened and beaten up by people from Hindutva outfits such as Hindu Vaahini to the Akhil Bharat Vidyardhi Parshad (ABVP). Muslim community elders in Siddipet chose not to expose such incidents and sought to ‘solve’ them through the mediation of the local political representatives. Even as they were concerned about the safety of Muslim families scattered in villages, they feel hemmed in by the situation where any discussion of such events would brand them as anti-Telangana.
In Siddipet, space in the market yard and in front of the shops – or what was allotted to the Muslim vegetable or fruit vendors (one of the most common forms of livelihood of urban Muslims) by the municipality – was the bone of contention. Marwari businessmen joined hands with the upwardly mobile backward class, dominating the vegetable market yard in the tussle. While words flew about each other’s faults, it was clear that increasing assertion of this caste-class combine in the context of the Telangana movement had fuelled the tension. While the ‘Hindu’ traders were back in the business, the ‘Muslim’ traders were not being allowed to.
But, more difficult to comprehend was the way the event was perceived and responded to by the progressive Telangana activists. They did not want to meet the affected Muslim families (or the Hindu shop-owners) because they wanted to avoid Telangana movement getting the taint of communalism, and wanted to preserve their secular credentials. The fact that Hindus in the town were overwhelming in number and that small Muslim traders suffered the most did not seem to merit their attention. Even though the response changed in the latter days with uproar from Hyderabad, the delay in response had caused the existing cleavages to deepen. The ‘Hindu’ backward class women vegetable vendors who we spoke to likened the Muslims who they fought in the market-yard to the ‘razakars’ that their grandmothers fought, all of sixty years ago. A selective memory was being mobilized in the wake of the Telangana movement to make sense of tension between contemporary Muslims and Hindus. Muslims across the political spectrum in Siddipet, including those who were in favour of a separate Telangana state, expressed misapprehensions about it.
Mahboobnagar by-election March 2012
The apprehensions and tension regarding ‘secularism’ of the Telangana movement reached its zenith during the election to Mahboobnagar assembly constituency in March 2012 (Mohd. Ismail Khan, Two Circles.net, 21 March). The Telangana Rastra Samiti (TRS), in a strategic move, fielded a Muslim candidate Syed Ibrahim against its main opponent, BJP, which fielded a dominant caste candidate, Srinivas Reddy. The campaign was viciously communalized by the BJP where it called the TRS candidate Syed Ibrahim and the 40,000 strong Muslim voters of the constituency razakars and anti-national. Contrary to the expectations of the TRS, Mahboobnagar was the only constituency in which they lost with a narrow margin of 1800 votes among the 7 assembly constituencies. This loss was interpreted by Muslim formations such as Muslim Forum for Telangana and others as a deliberate one that resulted from lack of support and campaigning for Syed Ibrahim.
Does it enable us to conclude that the Telangana movement is particularly non-secular, or that it relied on the mobilization of the Hindus, or that the trends in the last four years are entirely due to the aggressive expansion of the Hindu formations, including the BJP? Perhaps it is not easy to do so, as at each point, the non-party Telangana formations and the movement carefully responded to the criticism. After the Nizam controversy, attempts have been made to incorporate the positive elements of his legacy. Siddipet was visited by members of the political Joint Action Committee and others. After the Mahbubnagar fiasco, the Telangana political Joint Action Committee made sure that adequate support and campaigning was done for the TRS candidate from backward class in the Parkal by-election to ensure his win. More importantly, forums such as Deccan Archaeological and Cultural Research Institute, Singidi Telangana Writers Association, Telangana Charcha Vedika and Hyderabad Book Trust have sought to revisit the event of ‘integration of Hyderabad state’ into the Indian union to even raise issues of propriety and legitimacy of this action by the just-formed Indian state. But, despite the responsiveness of the Telangana movement, the epithet ‘razakar’ is in the air, to be used whenever needed, against the Muslims.
Telugu identity, history and the Muslim past
In fact, we need to go to the founding moment of the state of Andhra Pradesh in 1956 to understand the predicament of Telangana Muslims. Nine districts from the erstwhile Hyderabad state, now split into Kannada, Marathi and Telugu speaking areas were merged with the Telugu speaking areas of Madras Presidency that were already functioning as the first linguistic state since 1953. After obtaining the unwilling Osman Ali Khan’s acceptance to its sovereignty, the Indian Union had managed to crush the Telangana Armed Struggle of 1948 and the Communist Party’s turn towards ‘Vishalandhra’ after its withdrawal of the armed struggle helped the process of the amalgamation of two different regions into a larger linguistic state.
Even as new histories of the region are being written (Datla 2013, Bhukhya, 2009, Venkat, 2011), messing up the neat story of the Telugu nationalism – casting off the yoke of the British colonial dominance and later, that of the Asaf Jahis and of its founding moment – as an amalgam of the sacrifice by Poti Sriramulu and the communist struggle against the last Nizam – the figure that haunts the Telugu Muslims is of that of the ‘razakar.’ Razakar was a private volunteer force that the pre-1948 Majlis Ittehadul Muslimeen under Qasim Razvi — who has been memorialized as the chief villain in the story, especially in the historiography of the Telangana region and its integration with the Andhra state — raised to defend the ‘freedom’ of the Hyderabad state against the mighty Indian state. Though the force was active for less than two years, it has lived on in popular memory, appearing in all the incidents outlined above.
In contrast, what has remained unacknowledged and undocumented in the political history of the state, despite the recent efforts to re-visit the history of the period, are the effects of the episode called Police Action or Operation Polo on the Muslims of the region. This period saw massive killings of ordinary Muslims, destruction of their properties and subsequent dispossession from homes and jobs, especially (but not confined to) in five districts of Marathwada and three districts in current Karnataka. This episode remains shrouded in silence (Jairath and Kidwai; M.A.Moid, 2010, Swaminathan Aiyer, 2012,), officially and unofficially, with Sunderlal Report remaining buried. Most Hyderabadi Muslims prefer not to speak about it while the Telugu speaking Muslims have had no opportunity to do so till now. The official four-volume history of Hyderabad state, commissioned by the then Congress government after 1956 (Rameshan, 1966) has no mention of these events. P.Sundariah’s history of the communist party’s role in the Telangana Armed Struggle, compiled in 1972, while mentioning the atrocities committed by the Indian army on common people and the party cadre between 1948 and 1950 has no mention of atrocities committed on Muslims by the army or the mobs that accompanied them. Inukonda Tirumali’s history from below, Against the Dora and the Nizam, published in the 1990s, that contested communist historiography also has no mention of the fate of Muslims – peasants or landlords after the fall of Hyderabad. Scores of personal memoirs written in 1950s, prominent being K.M.Munshi (1998) and Ali Yawar Jung (1949) or later by a few communist leaders also do not mention any of these. The most recent in such popular-political histories was brought out by the Andhra Pradesh Congress party (Rama Rao) in 2008 – where the subtle distinctions between the nationalists, communists, arya samajis, congressites, social reformers, language enthusiasts get erased in the struggle against Nizam. Most of the memorializing, popular and political, of this period highlights what counts or what is important to the nationalist-secular history of this period – of the ‘autocratic’ nature of Nizam, of the feudal oppression of peasants by the landed aristocracy, of the atrocities of razakars on peasants. Muslim interest and political agency get categorized into pro/anti nationalist or pro/anti-communist or pro/anti royalists but fail to explore their anxieties as an emerging minority in the region’s politics.
In the post-liberalization school textbooks introduced during the Chandrababu Naidu’s regime, even the Hinduised regional history (Chekuri, 2011) of Telugus does not figure in the school syllabus (Deepa et.al 2006) whereby even a mention of Qutub Shahi and Asaf Jahi dynasties has been deleted depleting the limited space that Muslims may have in the region’s memory. With adequate demonization of All India Majlis Ittehadul Muslimeen and the Muslims associated with it, politically active Muslims from outside Hyderabad have to tread a careful path vis-à-vis the mainstream political parties and the administration.
The vernacular Muslim literary movement that emerged in the 1990s, called Muslimvaadam (Muslim ideology) has begun to powerfully articulate this lack of space for specifically Muslim concerns in the Telugu public sphere, problematizing mainstream Telugu culture’s indifference to Muslims, their lives, history and culture, and aligning with the dalit-bahujan politics and concerns. In a series of writings [Fatwa (1998) Aza (2002), Watan (2004), Mulki (2005), Jakhmi Awaz (2012)] poetry, fiction, non-fictional writings on Muslim identity, reservations etc., they announced the arrival of the Telugu Muslims as a political voice. And it is they who are asking why the low caste Muslims who suffered during Operation Polo should bear the burden of ‘integration’ even today. Khaja, a prominent poet of this movement points to the strange predicament that this popular memory has put Muslims like him in: On one hand, a Muslim like him gets labeled as an inheritor of razakars and on the other, he remains suspect and un-owned by political formations in the contemporary period. Is it because owning him also means owning his complex history and bigotry that he has been subjected to? Why should the overriding narrative of formation of Andhra Pradesh be the memory of razakars and the valiant fight against them by a combination of communists, nationalists and others? What have been the effects of this narrative on the lives and voices of Muslims in Telangana and other regions? What kind of historical narrative allows us to override the memory of razakars to make way to speak about the lives of ordinary Muslims like him? What is the meaning of secular-national identity for Telugu Muslims when their history, losses and suffering remain unnamed and un-nameable? When their very entry into the Telugu identity has been through this rite of passage, can they inhabit this space and dream about the promises that it makes?
What can be said at this point is this – that while the concerns of the Telangana movement are developmental and secular, and its cultural articulation of regional backwardness intensely rich, its receptivity to Muslim political aspirations and concerns still remain caught in the larger ideology of Telugu nationalism and linguistic identity, which had cleared it of the taint of Muslimness.
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