हमीद दलवाई

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Remembering Hamid Dalwai, and an age of questioning

- Dilip Chitre

This article was published in Indian Express on 3 May 2002. Published here with the permission of Vijaya Chitre

Hamid Dalwai
It is now 25 years since Hamid Dalwai died of progressive kidney failure at the age of 44. In the past one quarter of a century, his legend has survived and grown as a remarkable Indian social activist of Muslim origin. Denounced as an infidel by self-styled Islamic religious authorities, he braved their invective and serious threats to his own life and to his family, championing modernisation, liberalisation, and integration of Muslim communities in India so that they could take their own place in a pluralistic, secular Republic of India.

Hamid Dalwai Dalwai’s focus was on the secondary status of women in Indian Islam. The abandoned victims of oral divorce moved him to launch a campaign for reforms in Muslim personal law, and he believed that a uniform civil code was the only answer to guarantee fundamental human rights to all Indian women.

Dalwai was born in a Marathi-speaking Muslim family on the Konkan coast of Maharashtra. He outgrew the segregationist attitude of his family and his community and joined, while still at school, the youth wing of the Socialist Party — the Rashtra Seva Dal. Moving later to Mumbai, he joined Ram Manohar Lohia’s faction of the socialist party as a full-time worker.

When Hamid Dalwai realised that his Hindu colleagues’ vague liberalism and secularism offered no solution to the problem of modernising Indian Muslims, he devoted himself to educating Muslim opinion from within. Out of his discussions emerged Muslim Politics in Secular India, now a classic When he realised that his Hindu colleagues’ vague liberalism and secularism offered no solution to the problem of modernising Indian Muslims, he decided to devote himself to educating Muslim opinion from within the Muslim community. He travelled all over India to meet Muslim leaders, religious as well as social and political, and had discussions with them. Out of these discussions and his observations and perceptions came the little book Muslim Politics in Secular India that has now become a classic. I was associated with the English version of the book, which I verbalised in English as Hamid Khan (as I used to call him) dictated the contents to me in his chaste, lucid Marathi.

But my friendship with Hamid Khan dated much earlier. I knew him as a Marathi creative writer six years older than me. In 1954, the then aspiring Marathi novelist Bhau Padhye and the upcoming short story writer Hamid Dalwai came to see my father, Baburao Chitre, founder-editor of the Marathi literary magazine Abhiruchi. I had just published a few review articles in the Marathi weekly Mouj and had my first poems accepted for publication by the literary monthly Satyakatha in which Hamid’s early short stories had begun to appear. But Hamid sacrificed his enormous talent for the sake of reforming and modernising Muslims. His only two published literary works in Marathi are Laat (The Wave) — a short stories collection — and the short novel Indhan (Fuel).

Hamid could not bear the obscurantism which made members of his family and his community to cling to obsolete beliefs and medieval ways of thinking in the contemporary world. He believed they were refusing to participate in the making of a forward-looking pluralistic society enriched by many traditions that transcended a single religious world-view.

Indhan is Hamid’s only novel. It is a deeply perceptive view of small-town life in rural Konkan and the inter-communal tensions it contains. While Jotirao Phule and Bhim Rao Ambedkar, in the 19th and the 20th century respectively, launched their modern egalitarian struggle against the pernicious, anti-humanistic caste system, Dalwai focussed on a similar aspect of Islam that divides mankind into believers and infidels and divides the world between an area of peace where all who dwell are believers and an area of conflict where infidels resist the message of Allah.

Both Brahminical Hinduism and fanatical Islam are iniquitous social ideologies that implicitly encourage intraspecific aggression in the name of spiritual uplift. As categories, ‘dharma’ and ‘adharma’ are identical to ‘dar-ul-Islam’ and ‘dar-ul-Harb’. It could be argued that Krishna, anticipating the Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him), taught Arjuna the doctrine of ‘jihad’ in both its spiritual and this-worldly aspects. Perhaps this is why modern Brahminical fundamentalists talk just like the Shia Ayatollahs of Iran and the many Sunni mullahs in the mixed world of Islam.

The language of the Q’uraan is, however, Arabic and not Turkish or Persian. Hence the conflicts within the supposedly homogeneous Dar-ul-Islam. South-Asian and South-East Asian Muslims are peripheral and inferior to these two conflicting ethnolinguistic groups in the Islamic world. This, too, is similar to the conflicts within the Hindu world. When it comes to the crunch, fundamentalism does not flinch from proclaiming a ‘jehad’ or a dharmayuddha. They become equally severe against their own species and indulge in genocide.

Indhan’s narrator is a Muslim whose rational, liberal, pluralistic, democratic view of society separates him from both the Muslim and the Hindu characters who are the dramatis personae of the story. His compassion for his family and community does not blind him to the flaws in their thinking and their knee-jerk reflexes to situations. He has a larger sense of society that includes the Hindus but those Hindus, too, are by and large communal and regard the Muslims as ‘others’.

Indhan was first published in 1965, 18 years after partition and 15 years after it proclaimed itself a sovereign secular democratic republic. It was also the year in which India had a war with Pakistan. Its historical ethos contextualises this novel and makes it, 25 years after its author’s untimely death, a classic of Marathi and pan-Indian fiction.

The dark clouds that have surrounded not only our republic but all its South Asian neighbours at the beginning of the 21st century poignantly bring home to us the fact that literature outlives the crisis of civilisation it depicts, if it dares to see through it.

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