Two people describe how their personal journeys as Muslims in India and their research has made them think differently about identity, social justice and change. Ansari tells about his feelings after the demolition of the Babri Masjid (mosque) in 1992 (followed by large scale violence between Hindu and Muslims): “… I was raised in a very secular environment, as my family was not particularly religious during my youth. I could not really make sense of what had happened. I didn’t actually find the incident very disturbing. […] But I remember quite clearly that after the demolition, my classmates directed strange and sarcastic remarks toward me. […] I was forced to realize that I was a Muslim. “Later, Ansari also got confronted with caste tensions within the Muslim community. His surname ‘Ansari’ used to be a title adopted by the Muslim weaver caste, yet Ansari’s father was not a weaver, but a civil servant. Although he did not feel disadvantaged in the economic sense, Ansari regularly overheard pejorative remarks directed at his lower caste identity. “A sense of contempt subsists against lower-caste Muslims, which is embedded somewhere in the upper-caste Muslim consciousness.”
Ansari analyses how the construction of a monolithic Muslim identity in India (building on a narrative of victimhood vis-à-vis the Hindu majority) has served to maintain upper caste domination within the Muslim community – which mirrors the domination of a small group of upper caste males over most state, business, industrial, media and academic institutions, including even civil society organizations in India. “But such unbridled power in a minority group, like that of the upper castes, is also a cause for concern. The threat of lower caste or gender assertion always looms large. […] In order to tame internal rebellion from lower-ranking sections, they resort to communal violence.“ Religious cleavages, this discourse claims, is fictitious and constructed to polarize along religious lines and thereby “veil the primary contradiction of Indian society, caste […].” This way of arguing is by and large the position of the Pasmanda Movement, a lower caste Muslim movement which has made a strong impact on the Indian polity recently. The Pasmanda Movement challenges the existing privileged structures of power (Hindu dominated, but also upper-caste dominated) which utilize universalistic and modernist vocabulary, yet employ it to suppress other religious communities and lower castes.