To Each Their Own: Do Indian Muslims have Allies?

Eisha Choudhary for BeyondHeadlines

You’re not to be so blind with patriotism that you can’t face reality. Wrong is wrong, no matter who does it or says it. ~ Malcolm X

These lines from Malcolm X, a popular face among young Muslims, a revolutionary, a Civil Rights leader, unveils the bigotry of people, whose sense of patriotism makes them ignore the organized pogrom on Muslims by extremist Hindus. It yearns them to put their privilege at use, and voice against the oppressive regime and the human rights violations taking place in the country. Because when the majority chooses to remain silent, it conceals within itself the oppression and dehumanization of the minority.

On Sunday, 23 February 2020, bloodletting violence broke out in North East Delhi as a wayward mob of men, young and middle aged, carrying lathis, rods, pipes, pistols, running across, chanting ‘Jai Shri Ram’ chased Muslims and unleashed brutal violence on the streets. It was the morning of February 24, when the images of people, wounded, drenched in blood, flooded the media.

A mob breaking the doors of Muslim houses and barging in, scrutinizing the names of the people, asking them to prove that they are not Muslims, beating them, leaving them unconscious if found so, threatening and abusing the journalists on ground, teenagers ransacking a bakery and other small shops, the pyromania of the goons leading to heavy clouds of smoke filling up the air, describes the situation of the Capital for at least four days.

This inhumanity, organized violence by right wing goons where Muslims lost their houses, businesses and their sites of worshipping, as several Mosques were burnt down, killed over 42 people, injured hundreds and displaced thousands. The pogrom against Muslims has a history of economically weakening them, mentally harassing and segregating them into ‘ghettos’.

In another attempt to further incite fear, a range of live videos from the sites of riots started doing rounds on Facebook where hateful statements like “abhi ek mulle ko azaadi di hai…” (We have just given Azadi to one Muslim man) were made.

Threats of sexual violence, open abuses and cries of help kept coming from the areas till late Tuesday evening. A curfew was then imposed in four areas of North East Delhi including localities of Maujpur, Jaffrabad, Chand Bagh and Karawal Nagar.

Prof. Irfan Ahmad, a Senior Research Fellow at Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity, termed it a “moderate form of state backed warfare” in a Facebook post. He further wrote that “historically, this warfare is straightaway a homage to the dark and ethnic ideology of  VD Savarkar, for whom the notion of Muslims as citizens was impossible.”

When Bharatiya Janata Party leader, Kapil Mishra gave provocative statements in a rally against anti-CAA protestors, rumours started circulating that something might happen in Shaheen Bagh, the single largest protest site. What followed soon was uncontrolled violence after a clash between supporters of CAA and protestors at Maujpur-Babarpur Metro Station.

No FIR has been filed against the leader for inciting ruthless violence despite repeated complaints. Soon after the violence, BJP MLA, Abhay Verma was seen in a video calling the slogan “Goli maro salon ko…” and leading a crowd in Laxmi Nagar. The same slogan was chanted earlier on January, 27 in an election campaign rally by Anurag Thakur. No action has been taken against them either. The slogan has rather become an open call for collectivizing against Muslims.

The BJP government has been pushing the majoritarian agenda and its ultimate goal of Hindu Rashtra since it came to power in 2019. Since then, the Modi government has speeded up its anti-Muslim rhetoric, by events such as scrapping of Article 370 and locking Kashmiri Muslims for more than seven months with total internet shutdown, going ahead with Citizenship Amendment Act, National Register of Citizens, and initiating National Population Register process in spite of nationwide protests against these.

Ever since the peaceful anti-CAA protests and sit-ins began at Jamia Millia Islamia, Aligarh Muslim University, Shaheen Bagh and different places across the country, the BJP leaders have targeted the minority community, vilifying them so much so that any effort made by them in self-defence is labelled as “radical Islam”.

Despite urging the Chief Minister of Delhi, Arvind Kejriwal to act and take necessary action to restore peace in the affected areas, to meet the people, to listen to their appeals, there was no immediate response. A peaceful gathering of people outside his residents demanding action against the ongoing violence in the city on Tuesday, late evening, was treated with water cannons and detentions. In a statement released by Lawyers of Detainees on February 25, four AAP MLAs were accused of ignoring the repeated calls for help from the burning areas.

Muslims celebrated with a sigh of relief when Aam Aadmi Party came into power with a majority in Legislative Assembly elections; 74.9 per cent Muslims voted for AAP which was called “lion’s share of the Muslim vote, significant in a city-state with 13 per cent Muslims” in a media report.

But when Muslims were being decimated and confronted with abject forms of violence, the AAP found refuge in “law and order doesn’t come under us”. Channelizing their vote for political gains, Muslims were soon robbed off their trust and confidence in AAP and its leaders. Put simply, Muslims have been fooled emotionally, once again.

On the other hand, during the anti-CAA movement, Muslims saw their messiah, their imam in Kanhaiya Kumar and Chandra Shekhar Azad, who did not arrive at the sites despite the latter’s own call for ‘Bharat Bandh’ after which the sit-in began at the Jaffarabad- Seelampur stretch. They rather chose the easy way, to condemn the violence on Twitter.

Delhi High Court while hearing for the petition by Social Activist, Harsh Mander, condemned the situation in Delhi by saying, “we cannot let another 1984 scenario happen in this city; not under the watch of this court.” It also criticized the Delhi Police for being spectators as rioters turned the streets into a war zone. However, on the second day of hearing, the court seemed much relaxed and in no hurry to punish those responsible.

The Indian media, complicit, has largely been bent towards furthering the Islamophobic discourse and marginalizing the vulnerable ‘other’.  Rajdeep Sardesai, a senior journalist equivocally tweeting late night on Wednesday said, “Political Hindutva vs Radical Islam has created a volcanic situation.” His false equivalence legitimizes majoritarian narrative and pushes the theory of “both sided violence”, whereas the figures of loss clearly burden a single side.

Sardesai should note that when Zulfikar’s shop is burnt and devastated while the shops on its left and right side owned by Tyagi and Shiva are left untouched, it is imperative to reiterate that it is Indian Muslims who are being targeted, for their religious identity;  the identity which when asserted leaves many uncomfortable. As Mushtaq and Amin (The Caravan, December 31) write, “The liberal solidarity is offered as a favour… Liberals direct how the oppressed engage with the movement; they claim to stand with the oppressed but muzzle their voice in the process.”

When Sharjeel Imam was calling for solidarity from Hindus on “our own terms”, trying to persuade Muslims to assert their identity, he was charged by the draconian law of sedition for the latter part of his speech and locked off.

This solidarity of liberals layered with conditions, the deafening silence of the larger Hindu community in the name of whose God, innocent lives are being taken, the hatred that we have witnessed since December 15, 2019, from police who vandalized universities, goons threatening across protests sites by opening shots, to the nationalist media labelling and running false propaganda, Muslims are overlooking “a steadily escalating persecution of religious minorities in India” (John Oliver Last Week Tonight on 23 February).

Perhaps it is time that we need to ask, how do we still keep faith in the system and institutions that seem biased? Do we expect media to present the truth of brutality discharged on us? Whom do we rely on, to flag off our voices? Whom do we call our allies?

Looking at the political affairs unfolding in India, Muslims should rather work on developing leadership from within; they can’t afford to disown their own.

Post Script: Once again, it is in the fellow empathetic citizens that we find the spirit of brotherhood, to be together, to uphold the values of the constitution and to co-exist. By Wednesday evening there were messages across social media offering help to homeless people, gurudwaras opening their doors to the victims, and camps being set up to organize food collection drives.

(Eisha Choudhary is a Research Scholar at Jamia Millia Islamia. Views expressed are personal)

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