Mamata Banerjee believes Muslim appeasement will bring her votes. She could scarcely have imagined that one day, a cry of protest against such a policy would arise from among the Muslim community itself.
Fifty Muslim residents of Kolkata have written a letter to chief minister Mamata Banerjee, specifically addressing two recent incidents. The first being the assault on the junior doctors of the Nil Ratan Sircar Medical College (NRS) and the other being the attack on ex-Miss India Ushoshi Sengupta in Kolkata.
In both cases the assailants were Muslims. The letter has asked the chief minister to not remain passive because of the communal identity of the assailants.
Bearing the brunt
The fact that politicians like to remain in the good graces of the minority for the sake of electoral gains is not a new phenomenon. However, ordinary Muslims have to bear the brunt of this – they have to hear accusations of being pardoned despite having committed a crime or getting opportunities even when they are not qualified enough, apparently all because of their religion.
Since the politicians appeasing Muslim minorities are out of reach, some extremist Hindus have even taken to lynching innocent Muslims instead.
Truth be told, the responsibility of this resurgent violent Hindutva and toxic Islamophobia must squarely be placed on politicians, especially Hindu politicians, and their policies of minority appeasement.
When I was driven out of Bengal many years ago, I, who had never committed a crime, it was done simply to ensure the Muslim votes during the upcoming Panchayat elections in the state.
Where had this progressive Muslim civil society been then?
It is the responsibility of the majority to ensure that the minority feel safe and protected.
Yes, it is important. But those who insist on making sure the minority citizens never face the consequences of their crimes are wrong. Just look at West Bengal, for instance.
If the Muslims citizens had chosen to speak out against this much earlier it would perhaps have made the politicians a lot more careful and Islamophobia would not be so rampant.
Now, the question remains, did these self-aware Muslim citizens not know the extent of Mamata Banerjee’s relentless minority appeasement since 2011? She believes her Muslim citizens are ‘dairy cows’; she has gone on record to say she will not punish a cow, which provides her gains.
So, has this self-aware group of individuals taken to criticising her policies only after the results of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections? Because Muslim appeasement now might have an adverse effect. These people are surely aware of Mamata Banerjee’s previous resolution to provide monthly stipends of Rs 2,500 to about 30,000 imams. She had also promised land to imams for them to make houses. Not for once did the CM make any such similar promises for the priests or religious representatives of other communities. In the long run, these promises have done more harm than good to Muslims.
When, despite being a Hindu, Mamata Banerjee was praying like a Muslim, none of these open-minded progressive Muslim individuals had come out and said, “No, you don’t have to play at being a Muslim for our votes. Follow your own religion and consider all citizens of the state as equal, strive for the betterment of all. Behave with us in the same manner as you behave with the rest of the people of this country.”
Has this conscious community ever protested the fate of the Kashmiri Pandits who were driven out of the Valley by Muslims there? I have only seen these Bengali Muslims shed tears when they heard news of oppression of Muslims by non-Muslims. When Islamic terrorist outfits like the ISIS, Boko Haram, Al-Shabaab slaughter Muslims, when the rich Saudi Arabian Muslims persecute poor, working-class Muslims, these self-aware progressive Muslim citizens do not feel the need to protest.
A sign of hope
Imam Barkati of the Tipu Sultan mosque had issued a fatwa against me in broad daylight at a public meeting in Dharamtala, in the heart of the city of Kolkata. He had put a price on my head — for anyone who would murder me. There had been many police officers at that meeting that day, but let alone arresting the imam, no one even questioned why he did something that was ostensibly against the laws of the country.
Rather, I remember the police providing him with security and then CM Buddhadeb Bhattacharya and his ministers showering him with favours. To be honest, politicians have never appeased ordinary Muslims. They have mostly supported the anti-women, anti-modern, uncivilised, uneducated, uncultured fundamentalist Muslims, the ones perennially against human rights.
However, despite their usual silence, it is still a sign of hope that at least a small section of the Muslim community of Bengal do not want this policy of appeasement to continue. Of course, the responsibility of the actions of some rogue elements does not fall on every one belonging to that community. Even then, if some people come forward to shoulder that weight, in order to educate and raise awareness among their fellow people, to make them understand the importance of rising above one’s religious identity and concentrating solely on one’s own achievements, then there is a chance of betterment. And perhaps politicians will then learn to see Muslims as more than dairy cows, they will learn to regard them as human beings.
The author is a writer and commentator. Views are personal.