What have Indian Muslims learnt from current protests?
By Nawaz Ahmed Khan
No one could have predicted that just three days would immeasurably change the political future of Muslims and student politics in India. The lower house of the Indian parliament passed the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) with a majority of 311 votes out of the total 543 votes on 10 December, 2019. The next day, it was passed in the upper house with 125 out of 245 votes, and signed by the President of India. When the old seemed to quietly accept this discriminatory and non-inclusive Act, the young took the charge of protesting against it. Recognizing that the Act exclusively discriminates against Muslims, the protests started from Muslim minority universities, i.e. Jamia Millia Islamia and Aligarh Muslim University. As the news of police brutality on students from these universities broke out on 13th and 15th December, 2019, they became the epicenter of nationwide protests. These were led by Muslim women and students of various colleges, prominently in ‘Muslim ghettos’ of different cities across India.
Shaheen Bagh, a locality in the Muslim majority area of Jamia Nagar, Delhi has garnered attention for one such show of resistance. The strong women leading the sit-in protest started it after the police entered the Jamia Millia Islamia University on the night of 15 December, 2019. The Shaheen Bagh chakka jam model, albeit not new, has motivated many across India to start this kind of women-led protests.
The anti-CAA protests have met with a strong crackdown from the state forces. They have faced and are still facing police action and brutalities mainly because of their Muslim identity. The Uttar Pradesh police killed more than 25 protestors, arrested hundreds and looted many. Despite video proofs surfacing of UP police destroying public and private property, no action was taken against them. Instead the UP-Chief Minister announced that his government will ‘take revenge on the protesters’. A list of individuals from the Muslim community was subsequently released who were accused to have incited violence and damaged public property. These people were asked to pay compensation for the loss and damages. One wonders why this swift action and anger were missing when an inspector of the UP police was killed in Bulandshahr by a mob that he was trying to control.
The legal battle against the Act hasn’t been heartening either. On 22 January, the Supreme Court refused to put a stay on the Act and gave additional four weeks of time to the central government to reply to all the petitions filed against the law. The recent judgements of the Supreme Court on the Ayodhya dispute, its delay on hearing the case challenging the abrogation of Article 370 and its comments on the 13th and 15th December Jamia protest violence, have created doubts about the fairness of the judiciary. One has to understand that the Courts are very different from the Parliament. They are not chosen by the people and hence, they have the additional burden to ensure public confidence in their institution for legitimacy.
The so-called “secular” and “liberal” parties also started their protests against the CAA. Till date five states have passed resolutions against it. One such party is Trinamool Congress of West Bengal. However, eight MPs of the TMC were absent from the Parliament during the time of voting. In June, 2019, one of the MPs of the party, Mahua Moitra, delivered her famous speech, “7 signs of fascism”, and openly opposed the UAPA Amendment Bill in the Parliament. However, her party boycotted the proceedings in the Lok Sabha and did not vote against it. The UAPA is widely and mostly used to target Muslim, Dalit and Adivasi voices. These instances show the contradictions or, to some degree, the hypocritical nature of this party and their leaders.
Another such political party is the Aam Aadmi Party, which tried to counter the hard Hindutva of the BJP with its soft Hindutva in the 2020 Delhi assembly elections. The chief minister of Delhi and the party president, Arvind Kejriwal, said in a TV interview that if the state government had Delhi police under them, they would have ended the Shaheen Bagh protests in just two hours. In another show of their pro-establishment stand, they openly supported the Central Government’s decision to abrogate Article 370 from the state of Jammu and Kashmir, the only Muslim majority state in India. Article 370 was considered as the bridge between India and J&K. Sharjeel Usmani, a research scholar from AMU who was slapped with charges last year for calling a public meeting at AMU Kennedy House lawns to mark the 27th anniversary of the demolition of Babri Masjid, rightly said about the AAP, “This is the so-called larger alliance that we are asked to accept and welcome. Aam Admi Party is ideologically bankrupt and it’d go and sleep with any fascist party any given day if it would get to win elections.”
Thus, the right-wing supporters aren’t the only people who have tried to harm the Muslim-led Shaheen Bagh movement and change its nature. Sarkari Muslims and Savarna liberals have also tried to discredit the movement. Sarkari Muslims majorly support the ruling regime and its decisions because of their personal interest, while the Savarna liberals do so because of their poor understanding of the movement and their Islamophobic nature. They are unable to comprehend the fact that Muslims are targeted because of their Muslim identity and if one is targeted because of his/her identity one should publicly assert it. For these liberals, Kejriwal singing Hanuman Chalisa is not a problem but Muslims chanting their religious slogans is, as it supposedly leads to the polarization in society. One must ask: Why does the weight of holding the “secular” values and their “Idea of India” always rest on Muslims? Why don’t they direct this question to their privileged self? Tweets by Shashi Tharoor or Justice Katju asking Muslims not to chant their slogans or wear hijabs and skullcaps only show that it is possible to be anti-Sangh and an Islamophobe at the same time.
Liberals around the world have always played a questionable role in resisting power. During the Civil Rights or Black Empowerment Movement in America, they were seen as the ally of the racist government. Malcolm X even proclaimed in a speech, “The Negro revolution is controlled by foxy white liberals, by the Government itself. But the Black Revolution is controlled only by God.” This statement is still very relevant today. Perhaps, the only ally Muslims today have are Dalits and Adivasis who have been tortured and dehumanized by the regime and society. The liberals have always criticized Muslims for not having intellectual leaders and for following Maulanas (religious leaders). However, when a young Muslim intellectual and scholar like Sharjeel Imam leads a protest, they accuse him of helping the ruling party. These liberals accuse anyone except the upper caste Hindus who actually vote for the BJP.
The silence of left-liberals, the attack of Savarna liberals and some Muslims (only to gain legitimacy from others) and the media trials of Sharjeel Imam have only shown how right he was in saying, “When Dalits rally around their caste identity, our liberals become ‘casteless’, similarly when Muslims seek redistribution, liberals become ‘secular’ and accuse us of ‘identity politics’.” I think the problem with liberals is their desperation. In desperation to become the leaders of the oppressed, the privileged liberals have always played a negative role in the long run. They come and try to set their own rules, misrepresent their leaders and change the discourse of the protests due to their lack of knowledge and poor understanding of the problems and discriminations. Their privileged position plugs them from recognizing the actual problem. And when they talk, they talk with a presumption that what they speak and think is the only truth. How wrong we were to think of them as our allies. But is this the first time any vocal Muslim has been humiliated and tortured by the media and society?
Apart from media trials, the other trial that the minorities face in India and around the world is the police trial. Andre Liebich defines ‘minority’ as a form of “inequality and inferiority, not merely numerical but substantial inferiority.” Going by this definition, we can say that Dalits too are a minority in India. According to the Status of Policing in India Report 2018, the percentage of Muslims in prisons is 19.8%, which is 5.6% more than their population percentage of 14.2% in India. The percentage of Dalits in prisons is 22.35% compared to their 16.2% share in the total population of India. According to an analysis by Irfan Ahmed and Zakaria Siddiqui, published in the EPW in 2017, 74% Muslims and 70% Dalits or SCs are non-convict. This indicates the problems inherent in our legal, police and judicial system.
One could ask: If the situation of minorities in India is so bad, what is the international community doing? What is the UN doing about it? Frankly, we should not harbor hopes from them. They see India only as a big market to sell their products and will not do anything that will harm their relationship with India. We have an example in Myanmar, a country which has murdered more than 24,000 Muslims, raped and tortured thousands and still, got away with it. Aung San Suu Kyi, whom the Rohingya regarded as their ideal and defender of democracy, was seen defending the military and politicians who persecuted them at the ICJ. Now, with the signing of China-Myanmar economic corridor or the CMEC, they also have the support of China which can use its veto power to safeguard Myanmar’s interests.
Therefore, we must choose our allies wisely. If solidarity from a community comes with conditions, we should be prepared to fight this long battle for our rights alone.
Note: I am thankful to Asna Jamal, a first year Mass Communication student at MCRC Jamia Millia Islamia, for helping me with the initial editing of this article.
Nawaz Ahmed Khan studies aeronautics at Jamia Millia Islamia. He is from Bhopal. He is interested in reading books and articles on politics and history, playing badminton and doing social work.
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One Response to “What have Indian Muslims learnt from current protests?”
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