By Nahid Sarwar
These days I am compelled to remember the architects of modern India, who made every effort to fill the political and social institutions with secular and liberal color. Because of Baba Sahib Ambedkar’s efforts, the fundamental human rights of every Indian have been ensured in the Constitution of India. It is a great pity that today this very concept of citizenship is being dismantled in a strange and bizarre legal dilemma. So, the philosophy is that if any community is to be expelled, the related laws must first be amended and every illegal and unconstitutional act must be justified under the sophistication of legality.
People like Gandhi, Nehru, Maulana Azad, and even Patel had the courage to take up this task which would have been extremely difficult for them at a time when a new country was created, the wound of division hadn’t completely healed and communication was broken between Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs. The project was not easy, but it was just their commitment that acted as a bridge between completely broken relationships. There are neither bridge builders anymore nor those who mend broken bridges.
The ‘chosen trauma’ resurrected
Over the past few decades, it seemed as if the pain of the Partition of India had faded from our memories as the environment of hostility had eased out. Structural prejudice and discrimination against the weaker sections have existed since ages but the atmosphere of hatred did not spread throughout society. But, now a plethora of ‘creative’ words have been added to the vocabulary of our social relationships. The slogans used during the Partition of India have been resurrected but with very bitter accents.
Once again, the same suffocating atmosphere has returned to us with great intensity. It has gone so far as to deprive Muslims of their existence and human qualities. Growing hatred for Muslims, their names, their cultural traditions and their ways of worship has created a shocking sourness in our social relationships. It seems as if everything has changed overnight. Today, the situation is such that those elite Muslims for whom communal atmosphere or communalism was just a part of scholarly debates or intellectual pursuit, are also scared to leave home in the morning thinking whether they will be able to return safely later. The protection of life has taken utmost priority over all other priorities of life.
There is no way of saying when and where one will get into trouble at any moment. Even while travelling in trains and buses, opting extreme caution is a reality in our society today. Xenophobia and Islamophobia are on the extreme rise. Social boycott of Muslims in public places and exclusion of Muslims from civil society are not mere coincidences but an attitude which is growing day by day. Successful attempts have been made to intervene in the internal affairs of Muslims and humiliate them and then constantly target their religious institutions. Blunt criticism and attacks on the existence of Muslims have surpassed all previous experiences of oppression. Political parties and the media have played a very unpalatable role in this whole process. Today, social and economic misery that is plaguing the Muslims of our country is unprecedented.
A persistent dilemma for Muslims
We are repeatedly reminded of our Muslim identity, as many outdated and prejudiced pretexts are attached to us. It becomes very difficult to break this image, but we have to find ways to break the prejudice. It is necessary to make our presence felt in political and economic institutions. The entry itself has a tradition of institutionalised discrimination but it is imperative to challenge it. It can be said with certainty that apart from this, Muslims have no other choice. The only way forward for us is to be socially and politically aware and vigilant and to create a critical consciousness within ourselves. Muslims need to understand that the script of communalism is written, prepared and regularly targeted at one community. Years are spent in the preparation of communal riots, whether small or large-scale, and then an atmosphere of hatred is created against a particular section of society. Ashutosh Varshney has shown us that both the Congress and the BJP governments have done equal harm to Muslims, as communal riots have been orchestrated under the shadow of these two parties.
It is such a difficult time that the word ‘Muslim’ brings negative images to many non-Muslim. As soon as they hear the name ‘Muslim’, the image of a lesser and conservative mortal and that of a terrorist appear in their mind. It is the culmination of a sustained negative perception about a community. The moment there is a trouble in the country, all the blame is put on Muslims. This is a double-edged sword which works both ways. Our fellow citizens go further into despair and the government is absolved of its responsibility by attributing blame to Muslims. While the whole world is looking for new ways to deal with a dangerous disease like the coronavirus, our media and some citizens are investing their time to make it a Hindu-Muslim communal episode. Here, media and political parties continue to reinforce their prejudice by taking out a Muslim aspect in every issue.
The way out
There is a psychology of fear and hatred that has settled deep inside us as a nation. Hence, the more intense the trade of hatred, the more powerful the flowering of love and compassion needed. In South Africa, Nelson Mandela and his partisans beautifully transformed the relationship of oppression between whites and blacks into social harmony. It is important for us to know that creating awareness of one’s own misery and helplessness, understanding one’s own backwardness, identifying one’s weaknesses is the first link in this chain. It requires hard work and perhaps a lot of hard work in the field of education and civil society participation for our own development. We have to reconsider the traditional ways of thinking that there is one homogeneous reason for the rise and fall of Muslims. In order to find a solution to our problems, it is necessary to learn from the communities that have endured oppression and injustice. We have to study how they understood the problems they were facing and how they adapted to the modern society. When the situation inside us improves, we may have a positive attitude towards solving the problems that come up from outside.
Nahid Sarwar is a doctoral candidate at the Department of Social Work, Maulana Azad National Urdu University, Hyderabad.
Cafe Dissensus Everyday is the blog of Cafe Dissensus magazine, based in New York City and India. All materials on the site are protected under Creative Commons License.
Read the latest issue of Cafe Dissensus Magazine, “Poetics and politics of the ‘everyday’: Engaging with India’s northeast”, edited by Bhumika R, IIT Jammu and Suranjana Choudhury, NEHU, India.