Saturday 16 February 2013

Ali Asghar Engineer: critical Muslim, progressive secularist

India's foremost critical Muslim and advocate of political secularism, Ali Asghar Engineer has relaunched his campaign to do away with communal and sectarian violence. A defiant activist from a Dawoodi Bohra background he has had a tense relationship with this offshoot of Ismailism, but remains actively engaged and committed to its internal reform through the Progressive Dawoodi Bohra Movement. However, since 1993 his key platform is the Center for the Study of Society and Secularism, which he uses as an outlet for his variant of  Islamic Liberation Theology. (cf also the post of 2 April 2011 on what makes a progressive Muslim).

His recent publication of a Five-Point Formula for turning the world's largest democracy into a 'riot-free' society is a reflection of his progressive thinking about the role of religion in public life and lifelong commitment to non-violence.

The proposed reform agenda is evidently geared towards a long-term approach as opposed to the 'quick-fix' solutions offered by politicians whose commitment he dismisses as fickle and usually lasting no longer than it takes for riots to peter out, until the next upsurge in violence. Not surprising then that the first two points are propositions for educational reform and stimulating critical thinking.

1) A total change in syllabus, especially of medieval history and modern history pertaining to freedom struggled and division of the country in 1947. It is regrettable that even after 64 years of our freedom our approach to medieval history has not changed. We still use utterly simplistic versions of medieval history resulting in controversy of demolition of temples.

 2) Focus on value-education. Today the entire focus of our education is promoting career rather than character. In our education system, for lack of values, career has become most important and character building has been completely marginalized.  I do not want to discuss reasons here but it is indeed a great tragedy for us. Also, our education system produces conforming mind rather than thinking mind. An education system which fails to produce thinking and critical mind is worth nothing. Our education system produces only career-oriented mind.

3)  Reforming the police system: Our police are product of the same education system and it also gets influenced by uncritical stories in media about minorities and other weaker sections of society and hence has been horribly communalized

 4) Enactment of Communal Violence and Targeted Bill. This law, if passed, will go a long way in curbing communal violence as it fixes responsibility on concerned officers. This Bill has been drafted very carefully by responsible secular activists [...] lying in cold storage,  it should be immediately revived, if necessary by some amendments and enacted. [...] This Bill also ensures adequate reparations and compensation in the event of outbreak of violence.
 Perhaps somewhat utopian, but nevertheless crucially important is the inclusion of 'cosmopolitanism' as a necessary quality for 21st-century living, his final point reads:

 5) Mixed and cosmopolitan living: With every riot Hindus and Muslims begin to leave mixed areas and get polarized religion wise. It greatly harms the cause of integration. In such events communal propaganda and rumours become far more effective. Government should not register any society unless it has members of all communities in it i.e. Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Parsis and Sikhs as well as Buddhists and Jains. In our country caste and religion wise societies are quite common. In Singapore, as per law no society will be registered until all religious and ethnic communities are included.

Read the whole manifesto here

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