Kamlesh Tiwari’s murder in Uttar Pradesh is still under investigation, with multiple theories being put forward. On one hand, the police have arrested three people, who are Muslims, and after initial denial, is now giving a communal angle to it. Kamlesh’s family, on the other hand, laid the blame on state BJP leader Shiv Kumar Gupta from Thatheri. While the police investigation proceeds, there is a communal frenzy that has been created in the wake of the incident.
Not wanting to miss any opportunity, the Hindutva Right-wing digital army immediately jumped into action. On the first day, they posted the most derogatory tweets and hashtags about Islam and Prophet Mohammad. Very soon, that transformed into a call for total boycott of Muslims with the #मुस्लिमो_का_संपूर्ण_बहिष्कार.
The motivation behind these tweets was to clearly exacerbate hatred, incite and polarise. This was an open proclamation that Muslims can be insulted with the most disparaging abuses about their faith and no action will be taken in India. In fact, some of the handles that were making these abusive tweets trend are followed by top BJP leaders and ministers. That is the level of impunity currently enjoyed by Hindu Right-wing adherents in India.
In the near future, such divisive and hateful messages are most likely to increase, especially with the Ayodhya title dispute verdict nearing. BJP leader Gajraj Rana from UP’s Deoband has already appealed to Hindus to buy swords instead of jewellery and utensils on Dhanteras because of this impending judgment.
The mainstreaming of hate has become so blatant that it is not just restricted to social trolls anymore. The language of these ‘Hatred Games’ has also percolated into daily conversations.
— आज तक (@aajtak) October 15, 2019
What could be the reply to such toxicity? Instead of letting the Hatred Games continue, some people launched a campaign called #ProphetOfCompassion on Twitter as a reply to the toxic barrage of tweets against the Prophet. These tweets spoke of love and compassion that Prophet Mohammad advocated. Soon it was trending globally with messages of compassion pouring in. A potentially explosive situation on social media, with people disparaging each other’s faith, was somewhat averted.
Many raised concerns about how I, as a Leftist, participated in this Twitter trend praising the Prophet? Aren’t Leftists supposed to be avowed atheists? Some also said that I have finally revealed my “true colours, my inner Islam” through this thread. I am under no obligation to publicly announce my relationship with the religion I was born into. Neither the Constitution of India, nor Islam as a religion forces me to make that claim public. But there is something deeper that we need to address here.
Three people were arrested during the 2016 JNU row, but only I was linked to Pakistan, accused of having visited Pakistan twice. My political beliefs as a Leftist did not shield me from such stereotyping. Najeeb Ahmed, missing from JNU for the last three years, was also linked with the ISIS. No one cared to apologise to me or Najeeb’s family even when the fake news was busted by none other than the Delhi Police. What was it, if not our names and the blatant Islamophobia that made me and Najeeb vulnerable to such stereotyping?
A Muslim is always expected to distance himself or herself from the faith, if he or she wants to be considered a ‘Good Muslim’ and a progressive citizen. Such obligations are not binding for people of the majority religion, whatever be their ideology. A Hindu can say he or she is not a believer, but can jump to defend Hinduism or Hindu identity in public without any problem. A practising Muslim, on the other hand, can never be a ‘Good Muslim’ or a progressive citizen. But the point is whether you are a practising/semi-practising Muslim/non-practising Muslim, you will remain at the receiving end of the same corrosive hate just because of your identity.
These vitriolic trends on social media against Islam, calls to boycott Muslims, communal violence against Muslims and the felicitation by BJP ministers of those accused of such violence are not isolated from each other. The fact that from ordinary people on social media to top ministers can make rabidly communal statements and get away with it, reflects a design. Both flow from the same hatred and are an effort to constantly remind Muslims of ‘their position’ in the country. The licence to make such statements is just a small distance away from the urge to lynch a person on the street.
These are efforts to criminalise an entire faith and establish that the people belonging to this religion can be humiliated in every possible way. That directly sabotages the constitutionally guaranteed right of every citizen to openly practice their faith.
The expectation, even from some progressives, that Muslims should invisibilise themselves, or at least their faith, goes against the very tenets of our Constitution. We need to remind everyone that the right to practice any faith is a guarantee made to citizens by the Constitution of India, and not a largesse from any community. And Muslims of India are equal citizens of this country, not fair game.
The author is an activist and former JNU student. Views are personal.