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IMO EXCLUSIVE: Prof. Juzar S. Bandukwala speaks on India's Hindus and their secularism

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Prof. J.S. Bandukwala has been a fearless crusader against communalism in Gujarat. On several occasions he had to pay a heavy price for his outspoken activism. His modest home faced mob frenzy thrice. His house was attacked by mob when he sided with Dalits during the anti-reservation stir of 1981. He had to again bear the brunt a year later when he complained against police ill-treatment of Muslims. Again, for the third time his house was attacked by Hindu mobs during the post-Godhra communal riots of 2002. All the while, Prof. Bandukwala has chosen to fight for secularism in India and remains unfazed. Prof. Bandukwala did his doctorate in Physics from the US, and returned to India in the '70s to teach at Baroda's MS University because he did not want to join the flight of scientific talent from the country.

Prof. Bandukwala in an interview recently spoke to Kaleem Kawaja and talked extensively about India's Hindus and how they see and relate themselves with fight for secularism in India. Kaleem Kawaja is a prominent social activist living in Washington D.C. area in United States. Kaleem Kawaja works as an Engineering Manager in the Space Science program of NASA. Mr Kawaja is originally from Kanpur, India. He obtained a Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur, and a Master of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering from Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute, New York. Kawaja is one of the founders and current Treasurer of Association of Indian Muslims of America (AIM), an organization based in Washington DC. He is a well known activist in the Indian- Muslim, American- Muslim and Indian-American communities in the U.S. He is a trustee and past President of the Muslim Community Center, one of the largest Islamic Centers in metro Washington DC. Kawaja frequently writes articles in Indian, Muslim and American newspapers and blogs on diverse issues of the community. He also often speaks as a panelist in seminars and conferences.

Here are the excerpts of the Interview.

Kaleem Kawaja: Prof Bandukwala, you are a very learned and distinguished social activist and fighter for secularism in India. Many of us wonder as to what extent the Hindu society in India and Gujarat is secular.

Prof. J.S. Bandukwala: Janab Kaleem Kawaja, you are a distinguished writer. I read your articles. Statistical figures on grave sociological issues are never possible. It is like drawing lines on water. People change their thinking, their views and even their prejudices from time to time. But one angle about India can be stated clearly: Gujarat is more communalised than other states in India. This confuses scholars from abroad because Gujarat was supposed to be the land of Gandhi and Narsinh Mehta. But Gandhi had little impact on Gujaratis. Oddly the man who reflected the Gujarati mind best was Kanhaiyalal Munshi, popularly known as K.M.Munshi . His work on Somnath ,its destruction by Mehmud Ghazni and his dream of rebuilding the same, touched Gujarat deeply. Today, Gujarati communalism is rooted in what happened at Somnath about one thousand years ago.

Kaleem Kawaja: In the aftermath of the partition of India and the awful Hindu-Muslim violence what helped secularism survive in India?


Prof. J.S. Banukwala: Yet we can never ignore that India is a secular democracy with equal rights for all citizens, including Muslims. Note that this was inspite of the horror of partition. This was possible because of Gandhi and the nature of the freedom struggle. More important Gandhi's assassination left a deep impact on Hindus all over the country. The Indian constitution was drafted at that time. Further, Nehru lived long enough to make secularism a reality.

Kaleem Kawaja: So what caused setback in India's secular society?

Prof. J.S. Bandukwala: But over time old prejudices returned. Kashmir and the wars with Pakistan revived communalism. The RSS and L.K.Advani realised the potency of Babri Masjid and used it to the hilt to turn the clock back.

Using religious symbolism, such as worshipping of Ram's slippers, and sending bricks from every village to Ayodaya, tempers were raised high against Muslims. Yet the impact was maximum in Gujarat. The RSS used this Ayodaya movement to rope all castes firmly within the saffron brigade. It is no wonder the tragedy of Godhra occured, and again used to the hilt by Modi for political supremacy.

The flip side is equally noteworthy. The male female ratio is frightening. News report daily about women committing suicide because they could not beget a son. The treatment of Dalits within Hindu society is still very poor. Dalits cannot enter most temples. Yet using the communal card, the RSS succeeded in turning them into foot soldiers. Most of the violence in 2002 was caused by Patels, Tribals, OBC, and Dalits. Though the maximum hatred against Muslims come from Gujaratis settled in the US. That is a painful . It is strange that those who abandoned India accuse me of being anti national, little realsing that I gave away my green card way back in 1972 to return and help my country and my community.

Kaleem Kawaja: Why in your opinion Muslims are near the bottom of the socio-economic and educational ladder in India?

Prof. J.S. Bandukwala: One last point concerns Muslims within India. Our leadership should have used the post partition period to reform and
transform our community. Instead the focus was on religious rights, as defined by the ulema. The vision was to protect poor Muslims from being lured into Hinduism. To give you an example, the region between Vadodara and Surat had 23 Darul Ulooms, which are the equivalent of a University. Huge funds flowed to raise posh centres that produced more and more ulemas, who sadly lacked the skills to operate in a modern India. All they could do was to lead prayers. Otherwise most had to be supported by an already poor community.

As against this fact, there was not a single engineering or medical or even science college in this region. Bohras and Khojas had financial, managereial and educational resources, but were tragically cut off from the Muslim mainstream . Even so eminent a man as Ahsan Jafri was not acceptable to the community as long as he lived, because his views were not palatable to the ulema. Note that after 2002 Muslim society has changed sharply and for the better.

Kaleem Kawaja: Will Muslim youth of today be able to break the stereotype and emancipate the community?

Prof. J.S. Bandukwala: There is a sharp rise in boys and girls wanting to go for higher education. There is a greater trend towards business, influenced by the fact that it is difficult for Muslims to get jobs outside. Most important, Muslims have become politically more mature.

Hopefully future generations will play the political game in a way that we may have an Obama like figure becoming the Chief Minister of Gujarat. Inshallah.

[Kaleem Kawaja is a community activist based at Washington DC. He can be contacted at kaleemkawaja@gmail.com]
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