Sahil was killed on Delhi streets because the mob thought he was Muslim. When a Muslim hears this, the first reaction isn’t a “why” but silence. When they read about Tabrez Ansari and Pehlu Khan’s murder, there is no outrage that spills onto the streets demanding justice and freedom. Why are Muslims in India so passive? Perhaps, if you were to scratch the surface, you will see the festering wounds of India that have refused to heal in 72 years. It all goes back to Muhammad Ali Jinnah.
Like Pehlu Khan, Tabrez Ansari also died of a cardiac arrest. Murder charges against 11 accused who beat Ansari for seven hours have been dropped by the Jharkhand Police. The statue of justice not only has her eyes covered, but her mouth taped and her ears plugged too.
None of us is surprised that a murder case didn’t invite charges of murder. News of mob lynching itself doesn’t shock us anymore. Even dilution of the rule of law doesn’t. But humiliating the dead by denying how the victim has died, with documented proof in the form of viral videos that anyone could see, is a new normal.
Tabrez Ansari suffered a subarachnoid haemorrhage (bleeding in the space between the brain and the tissue covering the brain) and clotting of blood in the lower layer of the skull. Human bone is four times stronger than concrete. The sheer brute force needed to fracture the skull is about the force that 500 kilograms would exert in standard gravity. Can you imagine the force of the hate within a person to hit someone like that?
The Jinnah legacy
Yet, the passivity of Muslims is a Partition legacy. The Partition is still fresh in our memories. Trains full of corpses are still running through our minds, reminding us that we were wronged by a community that wanted an exclusive “paak” (pure) land for themselves. If the bloodied history wasn’t enough, conversations at home, RSS shakhas in every other ‘mohalla’, fake forwards on WhatsApp and movies high on nationalism keep the trauma fresh and unhealthily thriving in our psyche.
Pakistan’s Quaid-e-Azam Jinnah impacts the lives of Indian Muslims today more deeply than any other pre-Independence leader ever has. Ideally, Muslims of India should have only been identified with someone like Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, a patriot, who served as India’s first education minister and under whose leadership IITs, School of Planning and Architecture, and the University Grants Commission were set up. But instead of Maulana Azad, it is Jinnah that Indian Muslims find themselves getting associated with, today more than ever. And all Indian Muslims got from this forced association is the image of ‘traitors’ who ‘always put religion above nation’. It’s another thing that Jinnah was a pork-eating, wine-drinking namesake Muslim who gave two hoots about Islam.
The Jinnah legacy has come full circle in the 21st century in India where religion is indeed put before the nation. You are first judged for your religion and once it is established which community you belong to, your patriotism is assumed accordingly. You are asked to go to Pakistan because some Muslims in pre-Independence India chose the other side. Of course, just like in Jinnah’s case, here too facts don’t matter or become common knowledge – out of the total 94 million Muslims in British India, 86 per cent did not have the right to vote.
Silencing into shame
Indian Muslims have indeed turned passive. How else do you survive in a land where the popular content is all about hating on the Mughals, synonymous with Muslims, and the valour of those fighting ‘barbaric Muslim invaders’ who ‘looted, plundered and destroyed’ the Hindu-Indic culture of India? It’s almost as if the Muslim is being silenced into shame. And those victimising Muslims are the real heroes of modern India, not rifleman Aurangzeb, who, while serving in Kashmir, laid down his life for the nation and whose two brothers joined the Indian Army soon after. This Aurangzeb cannot hope to be a hero in the eyes of nationalist Hindus while the other Aurangzeb, the one who ‘destroyed the Kashi Vishwanath temple’, is the perpetual villain to be remembered every day. At some point, a Tabrez Ansari will be identified and made to pay for the excesses of the cruel Mughal king.
Survival of the fittest doesn’t work for Muslims in India anymore. You survive only as long as you go unnoticed. Tabrez was beaten up for allegedly stealing a bike, something that wasn’t even found around him when he was caught. It was just something that the mob communicated among itself and decided to believe. Tabrez was identified. Just like Junaid was, while travelling in a train wearing a skull cap. Gauraksha (cow protection) is no longer the smokescreen. Asking a “Tabrez Ansari” to chant ‘Jai Shri Ram’ is the real caveat.
The whataboutery of why lynching of Hindu victims is not reported as extensively as those of Muslim victims does nothing other than drive home a simple fact: religion remains the only sticking point in identifying which hate crime is acceptable and which isn’t. But when was the last time, in India, that you saw a non-Muslim being asked to say ‘Allahu Akbar’ while being beaten to death? And when was the last time you saw Muslims garlanding people accused, and convicted, of lynching? If you can’t see this difference, you are part of the mob.
The last time we saw incidents of barbaric hate crimes on social media and elsewhere were when the ISIS used to release videos of beheadings or photos of mass killings or of places being attacked. The attackers filmed themselves and chanted that only their God was great. If the cases of mob lynching and hate crimes in India are only comparable with the crimes committed by the ISIS then that alone explains how big a trouble the country is in.
India needs to heal. Band-aids won’t work to heal deep wounds. Compensation to victims isn’t the answer to the problem of mob lynching. Our past is coming to haunt us, and if we don’t address the psychological wounds of the hate from our past, our future will also be haunted by the ghosts of the many Tabrez Ansaris, Pehlu Khans and Subodh Kumars.
The author is a political observer and writer. Views are personal.