The Tribune, March 27, 2017
The anti-Muslim pitch
We need to recognise it for what it truly is
The signs: A sinister plan seems afoot, not just in UP, but across India.
BEWARE India! You are being led into a civil war. Or, you are already in it. This is not a rhetorical statement. In UP, slaughterhouses are being demolished, closed down forcibly, small mutton shops are being gutted. Livelihood of thousands is under threat, that too by the orders of the government which had promised to work for all. In Jaipur, a hotel owned by a Muslim is surrounded and attacked in daylight, its employees beaten up by a mob, hotel is evacuated, sealed, the owner is hounded, the police joins the marauders. Youth are being arrested for Facebook posts on the new CM in UP.
I know what would be the reaction of many of my co-nationals. That the number of these incidents is insignificant when compared with the population of India. That Muslims can always change their food habits. Why are they stuck in the business of slaughterhouses, a cruel job? They can always find alternative ways to live. Why do they insist on eating beef, making their women wear burqa which makes them look strange and suspicious! That was the rationale behind the demand to double-check them when they come to the booths.
This is a war on the Muslims of India. It needs to be said in these very words. And the spread is wide. Thousands and thousands of Muslims in Assam are being evicted from their habitats in the name of preservation of forest lands and yet the national mind fails even to register it.
Just before the election, a 16-year-old Muslim boy is detained in a police station in Uttarakhand on the charge of abducting a Hindu girl, and is sent dead to his poor parents by the police. His murder at the hand of the state apparatus fails to make news. No cry of justice for him.
A Muslim student disappears from a university and all the media can do after five months is to discover that he had affinity for terrorists. It is not only the physical injury that hurts. It is not only a Muslim of UP who is feeling a prisoner of this nation called India. The message of the results was clear enough, but to make it stark, a man was put in charge of UP whose existence is defined by his anti-Muslim hatred. It is this insult which pains Muslims more.
It was humiliation not only for Muslim men, but Muslim women as well, when the media joined the BJP in claiming that they have taught a lesson to their men by voting for the BJP in the recent Assembly elections.
By closing down the slaughterhouses, the economic backbone of the poor Muslims is being broken. They are being forced to be slaves of the wishes of the state which itself is turning more and more Hindu with each passing day. The resolve to change the living style of Muslims could have been reported by the media two years ago, when the Home Minister asked the BSF to plug the gaps in the borders of India and Bangladesh, stop the transfer of cows to Bangladesh with the aim of making Bangladeshis forget their habit of eating beef. Can one miss the symbolism of this exhortation?
Let us not confuse it then by saying that it should not be narrowly seen as a Hindu-Muslim thing, that it is an attack on the syncretic culture of India. Let us also not compare with the attack on Adivasis in Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand, or on Dalits across India. This is because, as my friend Shahnawaz explains, a news of the arrest of a bearded man in some distant land does make all bearded men suspect, fit to be arrested and even lynched. The feeling of the fear of living under this ‘legitimate suspicion’ is distinctly Muslim. And we have seen Adivasis and Dalits joining anti-Muslim alliances, politically and socially. Dalits can be made Hindu and Adivasis too, it is the Muslims alone which are the last stumbling block in the project of making India a Hindu land. And since it is impossible to eliminate them totally, they need to be effectively subjugated, confined to their ghettos and disempowered, so that Indian polity is not contaminated by the Muslim touch.
That we are so reluctant to speak the ‘M’ word is itself a proof of what has changed in India. And Muslims themselves have started pleading with parties not to utter their name for it may antagonise and infuriate Hindus.
As it is, the Christians have just disappeared from our consciousness. We lack the sensibility and empathy to realise the depth of disappointment, anger and frustration of Muslims. To most of us their fears sound hallucinatory. Muslims across India have suffered multiple displacements. They do not any longer resent being ghettoised even with popular consent. But now, their psychological displacement is getting complete. While observing their present being invisiblised, they also see themselves being monumentalised and their cries and shouts drown in the celebration of these syncretic pasts, Sufi music, Taj Mahal and Lal Quila. The celebration of Urdu looks so obscene when you realise that a paper in Urdu in your possession can land you in jail.
Let us record that the educated and the media reported and exalted the pious and hard lives of the hate-mongers and murderers, that they weaved stories of their love for the animals with a singular aim to humanise and legitimise their hatred of Muslims. Why do Mulsims fail to find place in such kind hearts? The fault must lie in them.
Let us put it on record that India was pushed into this war by its ruling parties, the governments that they created and fostered disaffection towards a large section of society and stoked violence against them. Let it be recorded that the finest minds of the educated youth who form our civil services and the police collaborated in this with the murderers. Let it be said that we went about our lives unperturbed when our neighbours were doubling with pain and not allowed to scream even for it would sound a sectarian cry.
It would be a long war and we would come out of it one day, with stories of the banality of violence and our shame of participating in it and mutilated bodies.
Victims are being blamed for forging victimhood; asked to free themselves of this imaginary cage. This duplicity would be noted in some distant time. We would not be there then. But let us stand witness to what is being done on our behalf and call it by its name. That much we can do at least.
The writer is a Professor of Hindi in Delhi University