Also read: Strangers in the house: The adverse effects of solidifying ethnic boundaries The first, by Hilal Ahmed takes an innovative approach to understanding the evolution of Muslim politics in north India.
The author focusses, in particular, on the discourse related to Indo-Islamic historic buildings such as the Jama Masjid in Delhi and the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya as a means for understanding the construction of Muslims as a political group by a variety of actors.
Both are also, sadly, apologetic in tone, taking great pains to prove that Muslims are loyal subjects of the Indian state — a strategy used by minority elites to secure their position within the power structure since the colonial period.
Fortunately, such simplistic approaches to the study of Indian Muslims are waning.
On the flip side, if Indian Muslims are not oppressed, then what exactly was the Partition trauma about?
As academic literature produced on Indian Muslims in recent years tells us, there are no simple answers to these questions.For the most part, however, scholarship on religious communities in India has continued to repeat the notion that the most significant divide in that country – and the one that creates conflict most frequently – is the one between Hindus and Muslims.While this simplifies a much more complex reality, it subtly reinforces the logic of the two-nation theory.A new generation of scholars is emerging from different disciplines whose work is grounded in empirical research.Two recent books, for instance, shed light on the complexity and diversity among Muslims in India through the lens of political history.Most of the scholarship on Indian Muslims produced in the last 50 years mimics the Orientalist approach in two important ways: it views one of the largest Muslim populations in the world as a homogenous and unified group; and, for the most part, it views that population through the lens of the north Indian urban elite.Books such as Hasan Suroor’s His work, instead, focuses largely on middle-class, urban, north Indian Muslims as he argues that there has been an “awakening” among India’s Muslims which is driving them away from their supposed historical insularity and conservatism.In that sense, then, Indian Muslims certainly are a minority, particularly when one considers the growing influence of Hindu right-wing forces since the 1980s. For Pakistanis – and particularly for those whose families migrated from India – this question is a source of endless curiosity, not the least because the answer either justifies or undermines the very notion of the Pakistani nation-state.If Indian Muslims, in fact, are oppressed then – regardless of Pakistan’s myriad internal troubles – the people of Pakistan can still breathe a sigh of relief that they live in a land of their own.To use the word ‘minority’ for them, therefore, is misleading: they are the third-largest Muslim population anywhere in the world, after Indonesia and Pakistan.Minority status, however, refers to a group’s relative power vis-à-vis other groups rather than to its numbers alone (note the case of women everywhere or blacks in South Africa during the apartheid).