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Up Against Orthodoxy…

Indian Historian Ramchandra Guha has described Marathi writer Hamid Umar Dalwai (September 29, 1932 – May 3, 1977) as India’s Last Liberal in his publication ‘Makers of Modern India‘. The name Dalwai is unfamiliar to most Indians! Dalwai, who hailed from a poor Muslim family in Ratnagiri District in Konkan Region of the western Indian Province of Maharashtra, made an attempt to change the attitude of Indian Muslims towards Democracy and Modernity.

Dalwai established the ‘Muslim Satyashodhak Mandal’ (‘Muslim Truth Seeking Society’) in Pune on March 22, 1970. Through this platform, he worked towards reformation of ill practices in the Muslim community, especially towards women. He was against Triple Talaq, a form of instant Islamic divorce that has been used by Muslims in India, especially adherents of Hanafi Sunni Islamic schools of jurisprudence. Triple Talaq allowed any Muslim man to legally divorce his wife by uttering the word talaq (the Arabic word for divorce) three times in oral, written or, more recently, electronic form. The Government of India declared the practice of Triple Talaq illegal and unconstitutional, making it a punishable act, from August 1, 2019. Dalwai, a follower of the Jayaprakash Narayan Movement (a political movement initiated by students in the eastern Indian Province of Bihar in 1974 and led by the veteran Gandhian Socialist Jayaprakash Narayan against misrule and corruption in the Provincial Government), also helped many Muslim women get justice, apart from encouraging Muslims in acquiring education in Local Language (Marathi) rather than Urdu. Dalwai further tried to make adoption an acceptable practice in the Indian Muslim community. He was one of the proponents of a Uniform Civil Code for all Indians! Secular-minded Dalwai wanted to eliminate sectarianism from India.

Hamid Umar Dalwai

Dalwai’s essay ‘The Burden of History‘ (1968) is still quite relevant. In the current Indian political scenario, this article is a must read for both Hindus and Muslims. “The opportunity to build the future of any individual or society does not come always. The Muslim community had lost the first opportunity to embrace Modernity through learning English together with the Hindus by bowing to the pressure of the Deoband Ulemas. After a while, History gave them another opportunity… that was to join hands with Hindus to strengthen Indian Nationalism. However, they also lost that opportunity because of the idea that Hindu and Muslim societies were separate and parallel!” he wrote.

Dalwai used to believe that there was no rationalist self-critical section among Muslim youths in India. According to this Social Reformer, if Hindu Communalism was the cause of Muslim Communalism, then Muslim Communalism was responsible for Hindu Communalism, as well! He urged the Muslim Intellectuals to avoid the concept of a Parallel Society, and to separate Religion from Politics. To them, the idea of Liberation was to keep the structure of Muslim Society in India unchanged. Perhaps, that is why a section of the Muslim community still tries to keep Islamism as a fundamental notion even in the present structure in India.

Indian Muslims

At the same time, Dalwai believed that the younger generation of Indian Muslim Society could change the society. According to him, it would be the third, and perhaps the last, opportunity for them to liberate and modernise Indian Muslim Society. He advised the Muslim youths against following the instructions of Ulemas, as well as repetition of the historical mistakes that were committed! Had they freed themselves from the misconceptions of history and tradition, they could learn the Human Values in a proper fashion.

Dalwai stressed that the Muslim Society must be integrated into Secular Indian Society in order to attain the Universal Indian Nationality. “To achieve this goal, it is important to form a small modern, liberal and secular class. People, like me, are actually trying to do this. I believe that religion cannot be the foundation of an ideal society. It means that no religion, Hindu or Islam, can be an instrument of ideal social order. I believe that the Muslim Society, as a minority community, can demand equal rights and opportunities in India. However, they cannot demand special status or privileges. I also believe that Kashmir is an integral part of India, and every Pakistani aggression on the Indian soil should be met with a strong response,” he mentioned.

Dalwai’s Book

Dalwai had raised another important issue in his works. He wrote: “I consider Hindu Nationalists’ attempt to counter Muslim Communalism as suicidal. Hindus can easily defeat Muslim Communalism by making greater social progress and becoming modern. Hindus cannot eradicate Muslim Communalism by becoming more orthodox. I am against the Medieval Orthodoxy of all religions, including Hinduism and Islam?” His words, as mentioned, are quite relevant even in today’s context. With the progress and empowerment of the majority Hindus, other societies in India will move forward and follow the path of modernisation. The Marathi author stated: “If Hindus want to hold on to their religion, they will never be able to free Muslims from the shackles of orthodoxy. The modernisation of the thought process of Muslims depends on the modernisation of Hindus.

Indeed, it is difficult to liberate a society from prejudices… However, it is more than necessary. The Social Progress depends on the answer to who is doing that and how? The sooner the Indian Muslim community realises this, the better for them, said Dalwai.

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