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A video titled "The real communal face of the Aam Aadmi Party" is doing the rounds, and shows Shazia Ilmi recommending that Muslims become communal. If we go by word counts, we can end the post right here with "OMG communal", but is it really communal in the manner usually condemned?

This is the video

Here's a transcript by a volunteer.

Shazia seated along with long bearded people

Shazia : me to manti hu musalman k liye insaniyat ke khuda ke waste itne secular na baniye

Guy One : nahi nahi humko banna padhega aur kaam karna padhega, humare islam k khilaf jo kaam karoge to hume karna padhega..
Shazia : mein to ulta kehti hu.. Me kehti hu musalman bahut secular hai.. Musalmanon ko communal hona padega pehli baat.. Musalman communal nahi hai.. Apnon ko nahi deta he vo.. Aravind Kejriwal aap ke apne hai. Ham to kah rahe he.. Secular bahut ho gaya musalman. Ya congress ko jita rahe hai, kisi aur ko.. jo apna nuksan kar rahe hai.. Aap log itna secular mat huiye.. ab apne ghar ka dekiye.. Na huiye itna secular...Musalman secular hai.. Dete rahte hai auron ko vote.. Baki partiyon to nahi karthe hai kuch.. hamare vote bighadthe hai. Apna faida sochna.. Bahut controversial baat hai.. lekin saroori baat hai.
Guy Two : kuch baat to aap sahi keh rahi hai wo baat apni jagah sahi hai lekin humare zimme do kaam hai daro aur harao, dare bhi hum haraye bhi hum aur malayi khaye dusre
Shazia : kaam badal dijiye ladho aur jeeto

Guy Two : abhi apne sarfaraz arzoo se baat ki na aur aise bahut sare log hai

Shazia: sarfaraz bhai se puchiyega ????

I want to make this clear that this is how I see this situation. Your mileage may vary. Also note that I have no idea what the Aam Aadmi Party stand on this is. Last I heard, they were condemning. I see a very ignorant person, but not someone who is "communal" or "polarizing" or even aware what the words "secular" and "communal" actually mean (and apparently neither do those sitting with her). Ironically, she actually seems to be talking them down from a communal high.

For those who don't understand Hindi, here's a rough translation:

Shazia seated along with long bearded people

Shazia : I am saying for the sake of God don't be so secular

Guy One : no no, we will have to and act. If you act against our Islam, then we will have to act.

Shazia : I am saying the opposite. I am saying Muslims are very secular. Muslims will have to become communal. Muslims are not communal. They don't vote for their own. Arvind Kejriwal (who is not a Muslim) is your own. I am saying Muslims have become too secular. Either you make Congress win, or someone else and suffering losses on themselves. Don't be so secular, see to your own home. Don't be so secular. Muslims are secular, keep giving votes to others. Other parties don't so anything, only spoil (waste?) our votes. Think for your own advantage. This is controversial, but essential to say.

Guy Two : what you are saying is somewhat right in its own way, but our role/task remains at two things. Fear and defeat [competing candidates]. We fear and we defeat [political opponents] and the rewards are reaped by someone else.

Shazia : change your task and win

Guy Two : you spoke with sarfaraz arzoo now, right? there are  many others like him

Shazia: Ask sarfaraz bhai????

If you go by the dictionary meaning of "secular" and "communal", this above conversation makes no sense. Shazia Ilmi is asking the people to not be secular and recommending that they be communal, but how? By telling them not to vote for those who usually represent their comminity and exploit their votes for political gain. She is telling them to support Kejriwal, who is a Hindu.

In fact, when "Guy one" initially disagreeing with her is a full on Alice in Wonderland moment if you go by the Oxford dictionary. Shazia says for Gods sake don't be secular. Guy one negates this (implying they will have to be secular) if someone acts against Islam and they will have to act. So, acting on a religious threat is passing as secularism for this group.

Either she is doped, or she has learned what secular and communal mean from Indian politics and its unique warped "opposing sides". If you are a Hindu zealot, you are communal, which means if you are a Muslim zealot, you are secular in the name of protecting minorities - essentially, both sides operate from a premise of religious loyalty. It is also how Mayawati actively chasing dalit votes is not seen as communal, because you have to be an upper caste Hindu to be communal. Mayawati is secular. All dalit community should vote for her. This is the brain damage our opportunistic and exploitative political leadership has inflicted on the country by lobbing labels at each other to the point they make no sense.

It is in this that Shazia Ilmi is wading. Recommending that they don't be secular. Meaning, that they don't vote on the basis of being a Muslim minority and bring someone to power who will again use their fear and their efforts to defeat the threat for political profit and forget about them, but to vote for "their own" - who happens to not be a Muslim. So how does communal compute? It doesn't.

Unless the community you are talking is not one of religion but caring. It is a cheesy explanation, but there is no other. It is exactly what Aam Aadmi Party tells everyone - Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, rich, poor, film stars, rickshaw drivers.... that it is YOUR party. If this is to be interpreted as Aam Aadmi Party being communal, then I imagine there will be mass conversions. And all AAP members will aslo change professions to rickshaw drivers, or bankers, or whatever.

In my view, Shazia Ilmi's only crime is monumental ignorance. It would not matter so much if it were a random worker, but a politician getting a ticket to contest elections in a country where communal politics rules ought to know the basic meaning of the words secular and communal, regardless of how they get warped in use. That said, it is impossible to know everything we don't know, till we find ourselves ignorant. I doubt if Shazia Ilmi is going to be confused about this again.

About the "polarization". It is a BJP con being run on social media that takes advantage of more political labels that can be flung regardless of meaning. To polarize anything, you need two entities. You speak with Hindus about Muslims, in a manner that highlights differences, you are polarizing. You speak with Muslims about Hindus in a manner that highlights differences, you are polarizing. You speak with Hindus about themselves, or Muslims about themselves, where is the polarization? It is merely conversation pertaining to the community. If speaking with Muslims about Muslims were polarizing, then BJP probably needs to trash the Ram Mandir from its manifest, yes? It isn't, which is why no one is screaming bloody murder about the manifesto, like they are, about Togadia, who is inciting Hindus about minorities (as opposed to talking about Hindus themselves). If Togadia spoke of the need to build a Ram Mandir, as long as he didn't mention other communities in a way that created ill will about them, he wouldn't be polarizing (though that one is tough, since Togadia has turned himself into a polarization symbol - but say if Modi spoke.)

Speaking of Modi and secular and communal, the BJP people yelling about criticism of secularism and promoting communalism may want to check out his Jammu speech. He pretty much knowingly rejects secularism and stops an inch short of thumping his 56 incher on being communal - within careful boundaries of the Model CODE of conduct.

Lastly, taking this opportunity to recommend YET AGAIN that AAP have some kind of code of conduct for representatives to follow when they interact on behalf of AAP. It is not merely about saying the wrong things, but as this incident proves, it is also about finding the right words for what people want to say. Given the state of our education system, public intellect and political stupidification, the abilities of various people to articulate the AAP view on various subjects will fluctuate wildly, and standard protocols will help bring some stability for everyone's speech. Shazia Ilmi is hardly the only reckless speaker in AAP.


An old email in a group I participate in, had this woman write something really wonderful, in less than perfect English. Frankly, I had no problem with it, but when people praised her, this is what she wrote:

Well I'm a bit shy and my english is also not so good and to add to it I get very little time for mails so I may not respond frequently but I do catch up whenever I get time.

And my response:

I can understand the time bit, but don't worry about language. Its communication that counts. I loved chatting with an Israeli, whose English was like "Chai possible baba?" and one of my favourite trekking guides was this guy who spoke with foreign trekking clients like "tommorrow breakfast ready 6am. no late"

I think Indians stress good English too much (and consider 'bad English' with contempt). Another hangover from the British Raj education. Language is about communication, not grammar and spellings. My standing invitation to all people worried about 'not good enough English' is to think of themselves as foreigners and exotic. After all, it IS true. English is not your main language. That is not inadequate. It is exotic 😉

These days, immersed in human rights and living conditions as I am, I invariably get "You should write about...." and I invite them to write what they think is needed and I will publish it. Most of them refuse saying that their English is not good enough.

A few brave it, and astound me and my readers with their words. Witness the Afghan Life series on this blog itself. Gity Yousafi, an utterly incredible woman, speaking up for women's rights in a place where she describes women as being traded like cattle in marriage.... you think anyone who matters cares about grammar and punctuation and spelling more than that?

Aware that I am, that this is a much silenced voice, I find it more important to let it shine through and love it as it is, rather than rephrase it in my words - as usual someone else speaking for them, even when they try to speak for themselves - not a chance I will do that. I would rather eat my keyboard.

Reminds me of a party conversation:

Confirmed Bachelor: Kids are these messy, stinky monsters who lack volume control and tact and live to contradict you.

Evangelist Mom: You mean you don't like them.

Confirmed Bachelor: Heck no! I respect them for it. I wish I could be exactly who I am.

Correction is a process of changing something unacceptable to something acceptable, or applying your own meanings to something someone said. I would never correct a voice speaking up with much courage, breaking through shrouds of silencing oppression. It doesn't get any more real than that. The woman was not educated at Oxford, she never picked up fancy HBO slang. It is what she was saying that was more important. As long as it was understood, language was just the tool, and it was working excellently.

One of my readers was aghast when I started this series. I used to put the article, and then below, mention the writer. Gauri thought I'd gone mad to write like that, but she loved it when she realized it was a real Afghan woman. Now, in the beginning of the post, I introduce the writer. That is all it takes for the writing to be recognized as the reality rather than careless language.

British english has its flavour. US english has its flavour. Indian Hinglish has its flavour. Similarly, Baloch and Afghan people do English in their own styles. Even people with good English have their eccentricities, and I know plenty of doctors who not only write illegibly, but type awful grammar. Just as I know many people who write gracefully, eloquently. In every case, I find that the writing tells me much about the person. Why discriminate and respect one kind of English and correct the other according to that?

That said, when I do chat interviews, I end up correcting a lot. Chat or SMS writing is often shortened to phrases and butchered words (one huge reason I've never done an interview on Twitter :D), which don't make sense in the article. Then, in the interest of communication, I string things together, fix grammar glitches that emerge, Capitalize, punctuate as needed so that the meaning comes across. But I still don't change the words. If the purpose of listening to someone is understanding what they say, then we must listen to them as they are, not as we would like them to be.