Indian Muslims safer, but face discrimination: Shabana Azmi


New Delhi : Indian Muslims are in a "safer place" as they have a "stake and space in Indian democracy" as compared to Muslims in other parts of the world, feels noted Bollywood actor Shabana Azmi; but she is unhappy that there is still discrimination against the community.

Accusing Indian politicians for promoting a stereotype image of the Muslim community, Azmi, in an interview with television journalist Karan Thapar on CNN-IBN's "Devil's Advocate", also blamed the community for allowing themselves to listen to the fundamentalists.

Apprehending that the lingering Kashmir crisis could lead to a Hindu-Muslim divide elsewhere in the country, Azmi, also a noted social activist, sounded bitter for being unable to buy a house in Mumbai because she is a Muslim.

Reposing her faith in the country's democracy, Azmi said: "I think Indian Muslims are in a safer place because the Indian Muslim has a stake and space in Indian democracy."

"It's a very huge thing that we are part of a democracy and Indian Muslims can aspire to become a Shah Rukh Khan, can aspire to become Irfan Pathan, the President of India, and that makes the Muslims far more hopeful than those in other parts of the world," said Azmi.

Azmi's interview is to be telecast at 8.30 p.m. Sunday.

She said that Indian democracy lacks the understanding of security for minorities while Indian politics makes only "token gestures" to Muslims but never addresses the "real issues" afflicting them.

"I think there is not enough understanding of the fact that in a democracy how you treat the security of the minority must be a very important part for the success of a democracy," she said.

"You cannot only make token gestures and actually let them be in the state that they are as the Rajinder Sachar Committee report shows. Token gestures are made, but real issues are never addressed."

Responding to suggestions of discrimination against the Muslim community, Azmi said with a tinge of bitterness: "I cannot get a house in Mumbai. I wanted to buy a flat in Mumbai and it wasn't given to me because I was a Muslim and I read the same about Saif (Ali Khan)."

"Now, I mean, if Javed Akhtar and Shabana Azmi cannot get a flat in Mumbai because they are Muslims, then what are we talking about?," said Azmi.

Responding to Thapar's query on her feelings about the Western perception of "Islam as a threat and Muslims as figures of fear and hate", Azmi said she felt "exasperation, anger, hurt and bewilderment".

But she agreed with Thapar's suggestion that part of the onus is on Muslims to change the image of their religion and community.

"I think it is. I would accept that. I don't think that the Muslim leadership has bothered to clear the air about what Islam actually is," she said.

She added that "the community is also allowing itself to listen to the fundamentalists, who actually are not their leaders at all."

Asked if Muslims need their own leaders, Azmi said: "No, no, no, no. Jawaharlal Nehru was a leader of Muslims and that's the way it should be. You don't need a Muslim leader for that."

She also blamed politicians for promoting a stereotype image of the Muslim community and stifling their moderate and liberal voices, but added that there was a fledgling resurgence of liberalism in the community.

"You look at all the politicians, whether it is Atal Bihari Vajpayee, or Indira Gandhi or anybody, the minute it's a Muslim question, you get all the dariwalas (bearded people) and Maulvis only to speak," she said.

She, however, added: "There is a resurgence of the moderate liberal voice which is now taking on the affairs of the community."

Azmi also agreed with Thapar's suggestion that the present crisis in Kashmir could create a Hindu-Muslim divide elsewhere in the country.

"Absolutely. I can see that happening. That's why I am so distressed over what is happening in Kashmir. For heaven's sake it should be brought to a stop and it should have been brought to a stop right when they started that nonsense," she said.


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