Mental health of reformers and dissenters among Indian Muslims

| Updated: 27 November, 2023 2:31 pm IST

Sadaf Vidha is a therapist with a keen interest in exploring the psychosocial aspects of individuals, incorporating elements from clinical material, arts, literature, poetry, politics, and social media. Her approach is influenced by deep psychology, intersecting feminism, Buddhism, and postmodern thought. Vidha utilizes these perspectives in her work with clients, and teaching contexts, as well as her writing and research endeavours. In her article in the India Development Review, “Can India’s mental healthcare system address Islamophobia?” she refers to a lecture ‘The Mental Pain of Minorities’ by Dr Salman Akhtar, an Indian-origin American psychoanalyst.

Using Dr Akhtar’s video lecture as a reference point, Sadaf Vidha addresses the impact of everyday violence on the well-being of Muslims in India and proposes the development of a mental health ecosystem that acknowledges Islamophobia and intergenerational trauma. She has listed all the problems that are generally passed on by Western and some left-leaning domestic media houses, such as house hunting failures where people of Muslim heritage felt that they were being discriminated against, or what the various columnists, journalists, analysts have been calling, ‘state violence’ in the form of bulldozer demolitions of the homes of perpetrators, and hate speeches from politicians of the ruling party.

Sadaf Vidha did raise an excellent point about the Supreme Court of India giving the verdict against same-sex marriages which doubly affected Muslim trans and queer who already face ostracism, discrimination, and violence from their own families regarding their orientation. However, the ‘Islamophobia’ (the correct term is anti-Muslim bigotry) that she refers to has references to lynching cases for beef smuggling, police brutality, and orchestrated riots. Lynching cases are not the norm in a country of billions like India, where less than a dozen cases annually cannot be considered an ongoing Muslim genocide.

Similarly, police cracking down on terror suspects cannot always be brushed away as police brutality, especially given that we have our internal insurgencies like the PFI, SIMI or IM. Currently, the orchestration of riots has been found to be from the AAP and left-wing groups in the Delhi and Nuh areas, evidence of which is with investigative agencies.

There is a genuine concern that the representation of Muslims in government institutions and as parliamentary members and judges is almost negligible, but is it the fault of the majority of Hindus? The Muslim community does not participate in the political process, referring to those joining the so-called right-wing factions as sarkaari musalmaan or takfiri-ing them as not Muslim enough.

Sadaf Vidha also failed to address the Muslim-on-Muslim violence that has been prevalent in the Islamic world since 632 AD, the sectarian conflict between Shias and Sunnis and the modern persecution of Ahmedis. Neither does the author touch upon the honour killings prevalent among the Muslim community or the discriminatory Sharia laws which dictate custodial rights and inheritance rights of daughters and wives as well as the abhorrent practice of triple talaq (banned now but not effectively), muta marriages and halala.

Sadaf Vidha may not have been aware of what the sceptics of Islam, the dissenters or heretics face for their doubts or atheism. Neither does the writer discuss the hatred that exists within the Muslim community regarding non-Muslims and anti-Semitic tendencies. Any affront to any icon or scriptural reference is taken as a call for blasphemy and culminates in ‘sar tan se juda’ events. There is a lack of critical thinking or freedom of expression in the Muslim world and the majority of Hindus are not responsible for this. There has been no demand for a revolution or action to clean up this house and the culture of sleeping dissenters within the Muslim intelligentsia. At least Pervez Hoodbhoy in Pakistan, a physicist, academician, author, and speaker, does discuss the absence of scientific temperament in Pakistan. Where are our Muslim physicists referring to the lack of reasoning and rationality in the Muslim world?

The 174 million Muslims are under the chokehold of the medieval-minded, misogynist, and superstitious mullahs who with their Wahhabi (a hard-line approach) interpretations of scriptures recruit impressionable youth into thinking that religion comes before the nation and that this life isn’t worth considering. Their sermons keep bringing up how they need to prepare for the afterlife by engaging in jihad against non-Muslims. Additionally, they often demonise the integrated and assimilated Muslims such as APJ Abdul Kalam, our missile man, and Arif Mohammad Khan, Islamic scholar, and current Governor of Kerala state, who also resigned from the Congress party in 1986 from the Congress party.

Hamid Dalwai, the outspoken angry young secularist from Maharashtra who was against the triple talaq practice in the 1970s and often batted for the UCC, while condemning Muslim communalism in the same breath as Hindu communalism, had to face censorship from Muslim organisations for calling out their “obscurantist” approach to Muslim issues since 1947. I would like to believe Sadaf Vidha is approaching the issue of mental trauma and Indian Muslims in good faith. The article relies too heavily on the bias of the Western media, which picks up the narratives from left-leaning news portals like The Wire, News Laundry, Quint and Scroll, citing the “Muslim genocide” occurring in India.

These eminent portals and their reporters never connect or question the fact that all terror groups like al-Qaeda, Lashkar-e-Taiba, ISIS, Hamas, Hizbul Mujahideen, the Iranian IRGC, Boko Haram, etc take inspiration from the same scriptural sources, with striking consistency and cooperation. There is no doubt that today’s ‘polarised times’ have put Indian Muslims in a corner, allowing them to assert their religious identity despite their mistrust of their patriotism. However, the answers to questions expressed by the right-wing intellectuals regarding Muslim culture, theology and attitudes are also questioned by those Muslim dissenters, heretics, and sceptics who have been placed to the authorities and never received answers.

A word of advice to Sadaf Vidha from a Muslim reformer who struggles to get justice for her inheritance rights from her father and in-laws, she could do well to take up his article further and include the plight of the dissenters within Islam who want reforms and are looking for ways to give justice to their mothers, sisters, daughters, nieces, and other female relatives since decades. The trauma that they undergo is more than the one the writer has laid out in her original article, due to questioning and doubts being taboo in Muslim culture and an actual physical threat on their lives if found to be advocating change, reform, and space for critical thinking. They do not have recourse to relief, or counsellors or courts because of the lack of tolerance and a culture of acceptance of dissent.

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