On Muslims and Bias

'Lalit' magazine published a special number on Vijay Tendulkar. It contains an article, originally published in English by 'Communalism Combat' and translated in Marathi. Titled 'Muslim aani Mee' [Muslims and I] the great playwright speaks about how he developed a deep bias against Muslims without even meeting any Muslim till the age of twelve.

Tendulkar speaks of some experiences that are quite common to all maharashtrians. Those who sported a beard were advised to shave it off for the fear of being mistaken for being a Muslim when the communal tensions grew. Like Tendulkar, many of us have heard the common expression 'Manoos Ahes ka Musalman?' [Are you a human being or a Muslim?]

On my visit to New Delhi I was shocked [quite literally] to see a street named after Aurangzeb. He was a villain to us. 'How could anybody think of naming a street after him?' I asked the people who accompanied me. 'He was a good General of his Army' my Senior answered, a Tamil Brahmin who was well read in history and who was also a staunch Hindu. I was taken aback. I had not realised that the historical events can be seen from different perspectives.

All these thoughts come to my mind because I read Tendulkar's article and I also wrote to Mirza Yawar Baig complaining that I was finding it difficult to get a copy of the Holy Quran in Marathi. Mirza Yawar Baig is a renowned trainer who is fervently trying to disabuse the misgivings in the minds of all about Muslims. He promptly obtained a Marathi copy for me.

Do Muslims also display secularity, I asked myself. Surprisingly I did not have to go a long way to find examples. Peer Mohd. Attar, a worker in the organisation where I work, always took lead in organising Satyanarayana Pooja at the work place. He actually was a sought after man for his oratory and organising skills.

And my Driver, Sharif, is an ardent Ganesh devotee. He goes to the Siddhivinayak Temple at Prabhadevi [which Amitabh and Jaya Bachchan also visit]. He often offers a hibiscus flower to the Ganesh idol kept on the dashboard of my car.

Both Peer Mohd and Sharif display a very healthy respect for another religion. They are more secular than me and many others I know.

Why is it so? Does it have something to do with our upbringing or education? You decide.

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