Shabana Azmi and I sat on the same bench in the Rajya Sabha for six years, side by side. Both of us were nominated members and we often talked on the problems facing the country. I found her in the mould of her father, Kaifi Azmi, who fought through his poetry the ugly forces of fanaticism and prejudice. His articulation of the plight of the poor was reflected also in Shabana's talks and thought. To dub her a communalist or biased is unfair to Shabana and the Muslims like her because they point out the wrongs in their community at the risk of facing their ire. What she said about renting a house by Muslims in certain localities in Mumbai is as much truer in Delhi or elsewhere. I discovered this to my horror when I was the Resident Editor of The Statesman at Delhi. A Muslim correspondent in The Statesman had returned from London after a stint of fellowship in training. After vainly searching for an accommodation for some weeks, he complained to me that as soon as the house owner came to know that he was a Muslim the common pretext was that they did not rent out the house to those who were non-vegetarian. In fact, they did not want to rent the house to a Muslim. The Statesman had to rent a house in its name and give it to the Muslim correspondent. This was some 30 years ago. I do not think that the situation has very much changed. I find a handful of Muslims living in the elitist colonies at Delhi. I have heard from the well-to-do-Muslims that they do not get a house in a decent locality. Muslim ghettoes are thickening and also increasing. Hindu civil society should ponder over the situation in a country which claims to be a secular polity. Before the partition, the demand for dividing the country on the basis of religion told upon social contacts but they were still normal. Now social contacts have visibly decreased. Both the communities are concentrating in their "own localities." In a way, Hindus and Muslims are living in the world of their own. How does a child who grows up in a Muslim ghetto rise above the environment which is polluted with preaching and propaganda? His wish to break away from prejudice may be strong but his helplessness is equally pathetic. The limited contact with Hindus and that too confined to business or service makes him prey to the underworld or whatever the name it has assumed now. The attitude meted out to him by the police pushes some in the community from dissent to disloyalty. Picking on persons like Shabana shows that the space for liberalism is shrinking in the society. The majority community should introspect and go into the reasons instead of "shooting at the messenger" as she puts it after seeing the abundance of criticism. The uproar against Shabana reminds me of the plight of nationalist Muslims before independence. They were vehemently opposed to the partition but the Hindu-minded Congressmen would suspect them for not speaking out enough. They are now history. But their courage and determination to oppose the division is a shining chapter of independence struggle which is seldom remembered, not even by the Muslims in India. I found Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, one of the tallest leaders in the Congress, helpless after the partition because the Hindus who applauded him before the formation of Pakistan cared less for him and many of them even suspected him. I am surprised how the Hindus can forget that Shabana raised her voice for common civil code which she wanted to be enforced in India as was the case in America. Indeed, she was overwhelmed when we in the Rajya Sabha adopted a unanimous resolution to condemn the Imam Bukhari of the Jamma Masjid at Delhi. When Bukhari wanted the Indian Muslims to respond to the call of jihad and fight by the side of the Taliban, Shabana proposed that the government should arrange a plane to airdrop the Imam at Kabul. He was so furious that he and his henchmen showered choicest abuses on her and issued a fatwa against her. The Rajya Sabha resolution, I am sure, strengthened her belief that the heart of India was secular, despite the pressure exerted by communalists among the Hindus and the Muslims. However, it was distressing to see the vandalisation of M.F. Hussain's work by a Bajrang Dal brigade at Delhi. Some 10 persons destroyed the parallel cultural summit where the Hussain works were exhibited. The astonishing part is that the police, despite various earlier requests for security, were not there to control the hooligans. One other thing unexplainable is the attitude of the Cultural Ministry which provided funds for the official summit and connived at by not displaying the Hussain paintings because it wanted to avoid "controversy." E-mail: