The way in which Kerala state machineries, civil society and the political leadership denied a convert to Islam his final wish to be buried in a Muslim Kabarstan and allowed the ‘rationalist’ family members to cremate at their home shows the very Brahminical underbelly of the oft celebrated ‘progressive’ ‘secular’ Kerala. Najmal Babu aka T N Joy is not an unknown face to Kerala, and being one of the leading figures of the radical left movement in Kerala, he and his conversion to Islam has always been in the news. He had already given letters to the Masjid committee to bury him there after his death, and had repeatedly said it to the media and in the interviews. Having seen Hadiya’s case, it is no wonder that the Brahminic rationalism is exposed again in Kerala.
But, this leads us to ask telling questions on the question of conversion and its aftermaths, not only in life, as could be seen in Hadiya case, but in death also, as Najmal Babu’s and also the earlier case of Muhammed Haji aka Simon Master’s death, a Christian convert to Islam whose wish was also to be buried in a Mosque was turned down by the family, would show us. The cold response of the state and society earlier towards the murder of Faisal, another convert to Islam, by RSS would add up to the dangers to be faced by conversion. It is no news that Kerala always showed and placed its ‘other’ in Islam and Muslims, evidences such as the UAPA prisoners being mostly from Muslims, Muslim majority districts being labelled as ‘mini Pakistan’, state machineries taking special efforts to tap the emails of Muslim leaders, legible demands for Muslim political representation always being portrayed as ‘communal’ and ‘sectarian’, substantially Muslim populated regions being highly underdeveloped in terms of educational institutions and socio-economic facilities, demands for an Arabic University being vehemently rejected by a public campaign and many more would testify to this fact.
Let alone the case of the public manifestation of Muslim political self, as ‘terror’ and ‘fanatic’ labels and narratives which hunt each and every Muslim activist and organization, be it in campuses or elsewhere in the national public sphere. As the Najmal Babu incident would tell us, it is even the most intimate political choice of a person, conversion, which is not allowed to be performed. As he himself had once said, the left would bluntly continue equating Muslim organizations with the right wing forces, and it shows, more than their intellectual bankruptcy, the very Brahminic core they carry within.
Much has been said on how a Muslim ‘other’ has been created and maintained in India so that the political parties and their discourse here sustain, and each and every day multiple examples come from all over the country, be it in the continuing encounter killings in UP; shockingly the recent one in Aligarh, the bail given to the murderers of Junaid, party tickets being given to the lynch mob leaders, high cut in distributing minority scholarships, the ‘secular’ parties suggesting themselves to keep away from Muslims so that they don’t turn out to be a political liability and upto today when the Delhi High Court has allowed the CBI to file a closure report in the case related to Najeeb Ahmed. It is this stark vulnerability of Muslims, especially boosted after the Babri masjid demolition and continued through the Gujarat pogrom which forced the radical left activist T N Joy to convert to Islam and take the name Najmal Babu, as he strongly believed conversion to be the extreme form of possible political solidarity.
Of course, beyond this external political reasons, Babu had also acknowledged how the spiritual dimension of Islam renders him a new life-world, and that how much he had enjoyed his new life, which he called as journey towards Allah. Conversion of the novelist Kamal C Chavara to Islam in protest to the injustice being done to Najmal Babu and the earlier conversion of whole family of Faisal should also be read along this line. The political potential of Islam and conversion as an anti-caste gesture is very well known and the left is yet to acknowledge the spiritual potential thriving from Islam, and would always perplex in the face of religious assertions or vocabularies, as was evident in the ‘Insha Allah’ debate in JNU. ‘Insha Allah’, being an everyday vocabulary for Muslims, would of course bring in the spiritual politics along, carrying the high potential for political transformation, as the very basic tenets of Islam would inform us. It is not even strange to notice that still the SFI JNU unit believes Islamophobia as a mere jargon created and propagated by some facebook activists!
Starting from the most intimate act of conversion, via the political subjectivity of Muslim organizations or individuals and up to the public performance of religious vocabularies, the very core of Islam and Muslim sociality evades every attempt to divide the public and private life, which is why even after Najmal’s death, conversion to Islam troubles the ‘secular’ public sphere. Najmal Babu’s choice and his death is not only an occasion to recall his contributions as a socio-political activist, but also an apt moment when the ‘secular’ fabric of the ‘progressive’ spaces comes bare, and makes possible the very contradictions and pretenses there to come out visible in daylight.