Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Shias focus on acquiring political clout, carve a distinct identity

Maulana Kalb-e-Sadiq attends Shia board's conclave in Lucknow
The Shia community seems increasingly restless in India, especially, about their lack of political clout.

There is a feeling that voice of Shias is not heard and the political parties also ignore them as they are considered a minority within a minority.

Besides, the Shia populace also feels that the Muslim leadership, which is by and large Sunni, doesn't give the Shias proper attention.

It is not that the problems which Shia Muslims face are different from the issues that concern the Sunnis or Indian Muslims as a whole. But as small sects, communities and groups in the country are aiming for political clout, the Shias also feel that they must be counted.

They also feel that there was not proper representation of Shias in the umbrella organisations like All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB). Shias feel that they have been neglected at almost all the forums and  this should end now.

Shias also realise that they aren't a minuscule minority either. The Shia population in India is estimated between 2-3 crore [20-30 million] which is similar to the Sikh or Christian population in the country and several times more than the Buddhists or Jains.

The only difference is that Shias aren't concentrated in any state or region. It was in this backdrop that the Shia Personal Law Board was created. As the top Shia leaders remained with the AIMPLB, most had doubts that the All India Shia Personal Law Board (AISPLB) would be taken seriously. In fact, many in Shia circles felt that it would not survive for long.

But the Shia Personal Law Board's recent conclave [March 13-14] has indicated that there is a strong feeling among Shias to carve a separate identity at the national level. After all, when Muslim communities ranging from Mevs to Raeens and Hindus--from Gujjars to Jats, closing ranks for better bargaining power, why not Shias?

A speaker said that when small sub-groups can force governments to accept to their demands by sitting on railway tracks, why couldn't Shias do it. It was an example though and he clarified that Shias weren't going to block railway traffic by sitting on tracks.

But then the speaker further said that, if we can't ensure victory to a person in the elections on our own strength, we can at least ensure the candidate's defeat. The message was loud and clear. Shias want political parties to take them seriously.

It was a major victory for Shia leader Mirza Mohammad Athar when the leading Shia cleric Kalb-e-Sadiq attended the Shia Personal Law Board's recent convention. Maulana Kalb-e-Sadiq, who is senior vice-president of AIMPLB, not just sat on the dais but also gave a speech and supported the resolutions passed at AISPLB meet that was held at the historic Sultan-ul-Madaris in Lucknow.

The speakers said that while there had been a so-called elite among Shias in the past, the fact was that general Shia populace was living in penury and facing greater hardships. Shia leaders from different parts of the country, including Kashmir, were also present.

It was decided to press the governments for nominating Shias is the Muslim bodies, government boards, apart from legislature. The focus was also on issues like establishing separate Shia Waqf Boards and strengthening educational institutions.

The state government was urged to name streets in UP after the names of secular Shia leaders including former Nawabs of Awadh. There were resolutions on the long-standing demands particularly putting pressure on Saudi Arab government to lift the ban on constructions at the cemeteries in Jannatul Baqee, as also allowing the pilgrims to kiss the Rauza-e-Rasool.

It was felt that separate waqfs would lead to better management and upkeep of Shia shrines including Imambadas, Ashurkhanas, Shia mosques et al. It must be mentioned that the Shia-Sunni schism isn't as pronounced in India as in other countries.

Besides, the sectarian differences haven't led to tension historically except in Lucknow, where also it has been more publicized (and exaggerated), than it has been on the ground level, particularly in terms of violence. Other than political aspects, social and cultural issues also came up for discussion.

See earlier post regarding Shia population in India on this blog: Indian Shias And Their Lack of Political Representation