There’s nothing that the BJP and the RSS love more than the violent Muslim. Over the past six years, if not 60, Indian Muslims have shown incredible patience in the face of extreme provocation. That’s been a problem for Hindutva forces, because how do you manufacture Hindu victimhood if Muslims take provocation silently? Simple: you manufacture the violent Muslim.
Every day, Hindutva hate factories manufacture false stories of Muslims taking to violence and anti-Hindu hate speech. Hate factories like OpIndia cook up stories of Muslims clashing with tribal people in Bihar over land for namaz; add false captions to old, unrelated videos saying Muslims are taking to violence against the RSS and Bajrang Dal.
The protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) must come as a relief to Hindutva hate factories, now that they don’t have to Google for images of protests from Bangladesh and Pakistan and pass them off as Indian Muslims protesting.
Last week saw a major turning point in Indian Muslim politics. Muslim youth across the country decided to break their silence and speak up. Since Narendra Modi became Prime Minister in 2014, Indian Muslim all over India have had an incredible consensus of silence. When we speak, they say, it brings about polarisation. When we speak, our words are twisted by the BJP and the media. When Yogi Adityanath was made Uttar Pradesh chief minister, the silence grew louder. You can meet Muslims giving you theological arguments in favour of silence in testing times.
Pushed to the wall
One lynching after another spread fear amongst poor Muslims. They became fearful of eating even chicken and travelling in trains. Yet, they didn’t complain. Triple talaq was not only made illegal but punishable by jail, and they took it silently. The demolition of the Babri Masjid was illegal, the Supreme Court agreed, only to legalise it by ordering a Ram Mandir to be built on the site. Indian Muslims were relieved they won’t have to apologise for a demolished mosque anymore. From “ghar wapsi” to being equated with Pakistanis, from complete political alienation and marginalisation to the daily taunts on hateful news channels, they take it all with calm, meditative zen.
This was a problem for Hindutva forces, because if Muslims don’t react how will the BJP polarise India? And how will the BJP win elections with Hindu-Muslim polarisation now that the economy has been destroyed? With CAA-NRC, PM Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah are pushing Indian Muslims to the wall.
A Muslim friend recently told me about the discourse on WhatsApp groups of university youth. What is the use of education, they wonder, if we are going to be declared foreigners and put in detention camps? The diabolical mix of CAA-NRC is telling Muslim youth to forget their future. Instead of looking for a job, they should look for their grandparents’ birth certificates. “Producing historical documents couldn’t get us the Babri Masjid land,” my friend tells me of a WhatsApp message, “how will any document save us from NRC when they have decided to get rid of us?”
Amit Shah has openly and clearly explained in rallies and press conferences that the Citizenship Act will be used as a filter to save non-Muslims, and the rest (meaning Muslims) are “infiltrators” and “termites” who shall be “thrown into the Bay of Bengal”. Is there anything left to the imagination?
There’s a growing realisation that silence as a political strategy has not helped Indian Muslims prevent polarisation. Given that the BJP won over 50 per cent vote-share in many states in the Lok Sabha election, what is Muslim silence achieving other than its own dehumanisation?
Political orphans of ‘New India’
I wonder how I would react if I was told that an Orwellian bureaucratic nightmare was being established to make me a stateless person on the basis of my religion.
How would you react to that?
Non-Muslims have the luxury to ponder. Muslims are in panic. They’ve stopped worrying about polarisation and elections. It’s now a matter of life and death. Instead of assuaging their fears, PM Modi is looking at their clothes.
Expecting Muslims to not react to the threat of being made stateless and put in detention camps is like expecting a patient to feel no pain over a terminal illness. The anguish of these protests is not just about CAA-NRC though, it is a catharsis of the alienation and marginalisation of the last few years.
Note how Congress leader Salman Khurshid was shamed into coming out of his house late Sunday night. Indian Muslims are reacting not just to the politics of Hindutva that seeks to dehumanise them, but also to the expedient politics of so-called secular parties who have stopped speaking up for them. The protests by Muslim youth taking place across the country today are a sign that Indian Muslim youth have finally given up firing from the shoulders of Hindu secular-liberals and secular opposition parties.
These protests are leaderless, not organised by any party or politician, not even the much-maligned Asaduddin Owaisi. The lack of mainstream leadership and political representation of Indian Muslims today is dangerous and unsustainable. Emotional, angry young men and women need to be saved from making mistakes that emotional, angry young men and women often do, and for that they need a leader to speak up for them. “Indian Muslims feel orphaned,” is a line you hear often these days.
Those who want Indian Muslims to not react, need to fix the representation problem, most acute in the lethargic Congress party.
Jamia versus Assam
Stone-pelting and burning buses are unfortunate and condemnable. Everyone must try and prevent violence. These incidents will be amplified to aid the “bad Muslims” narrative. Yet the truth is that the protests have been largely peaceful, even though the police and paramilitary forces have been entering campuses, libraries, toilets and homes and using unnecessary and excessive force. At the behest of their political masters, the police is creating a narrative of violence.
These protests have not been remotely as violent as the ones in Assam, where the homes of BJP-RSS leaders were attacked. Not even the home of chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal was spared. Yet, the few incidents of Muslims getting violent in anti-CAA/NRC protests will be amplified to exacerbate Hindu-Muslim polarisation.
You can tell who the protesters are by looking at their clothes, said the prime minister in poll-bound Jharkhand, and he is not talking about Assamese women in sarees. Even if Muslim youth hadn’t been protesting, PM Modi would still have said something by way of rehearsed dog whistle politics. It is difficult to think of an election in which the prime minister and his home minister haven’t made an anti-Muslim statement.
The situation could go out of hand and if it does, there will be only two men to blame. Like the BJP’s dog whistle politics, we don’t need to say who. You can identify them by their white beards.
Views are personal.