It is time all of us should think of wearing black bands on Eid. The festival, which falls on Monday, is supposed to be a joyous day for all those Muslims who return to their normal routine after a month of fasting and special prayers during the period of Ramzan.
But a shadow has fallen on Eid. This we cannot ignore. We can only protest against it – against the suspicion, and fear, and violence that has been deliberately made to stalk this country.
All those three elements – suspicion, fear and violence – will take out the laughter from what is meant to be a day of joy. In his Mann ki baat radio broadcast on Sunday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi greeted the nation on Eid, as he had routinely done in the past as well. It seems he does not know that a deep sorrow will more than tinge Eid celebrations in India this year.
A black band is synonymous with sorrow, with mourning. It should be worn by all, not by Muslims alone, because what is being done to the Muslim community, slowly, brazenly, with impunity, will become everybody’s sorrow in the future, even those labeled as belonging to the majority community.
We can already see signs of it – mammoth victories for the Bharatiya Janata Party in successive elections have neither mollified Hindutva nor appeased it. It is an ideology predicated on being angry in perpetuity over an ever-growing list of constructed grievances from the past.
The only restraint to Hindutva’s anger playing out in all its horrific sadism is our morality. But that is slowly being hollowed out from us.
Once our core becomes the sole nesting place for an ideology, as it happened, say, in the Soviet Union or in Afghanistan under the Taliban, we will then set upon each other with the ferocity of brutes.
Morality was certainly hollowed out of those who demolished a makeshift mosque on June 7 in Ambay Enclave, near Sonia Vihar, in Delhi, and brutally beat up a freelance journalist, Basit Malik, who went to report on it. Morality had been certainly effaced from the core of those on a train on June 22, who abused and tormented three brothers, residents of Ballabhgarh in Haryana, before stabbing them. One of the brothers, a teenager, died.
These two are classic examples of the consequences awaiting us when ideology replaces morality. This substitution happens over time, gradually, through indoctrination. Hindutva has been attempting the substitution for a while, but inarguably with greater confidence and chutzpah ever since the Modi-led government came to power three years ago.
Hindutva’s strategy has been to demonise Muslims, portray them as constituting India’s Fifth Column, those duplicitous Indian citizens who secretly pine for Pakistan, forever working to break and weaken the country.
Their alleged disloyalty to the nation is then sourced to their religion, which, it is claimed, imbibes in them a deep hatred for idol-worshippers. Muslims hate what Hindus love – from temples to cows, from Sanskrit to yoga. The reasoning is that their hatred is inevitable because their motherland is not their holy land, prompting them to accord primacy to the ummah or community over the nation.
Once such ideas are granted sanctity and inculcated into people, these then become ersatz morality. It justifies even violent actions. Hate becomes a positive value, an inspiration to act.
This was so at Ambay Enclave in Delhi. Objections to a makeshift mosque stemmed from the paranoia of Muslims growing in number who are attracted – it was presumed – to a place of prayers. After all, haven’t Hindus been told repeatedly that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence funds mosques and madrasas to lodge its sleeper cells, which are to execute heinous acts on Islamabad’s order?
But such suspicions cannot be invoked, at least in the eyes of law, to justify the demolition of a mosque. Thus, taking a leaf out of Hindutva’s book of stratagems, the Hindu assailants in Ambay Enclave conjured a grievance – that the site of the makeshift mosque was where a temple had stood earlier. The wrath of Hindus was, therefore, understandable, or so it was implied.
Before such a crowd of people harbouring ideology without a sliver of universal morality, it was perhaps impossible for the journalist Basit Malik to escape his Kashmiri Muslim identity. Our names are prisons from which we cannot ever find a release. This is truer for a Kashmiri Muslim – seen as prone to pelting stones at soldiers, turning out for the burial of slain terrorists in large numbers, and demanding freedom.
From this follows the thought that opposing Muslims and hitting out at a Kashmiri are ideas placed higher in the hierarchy of such moral values as non-violence and compassion. Hindutva has grafted this truth in many of us.
All the above tropes were present in the train incident, too, in which the three Muslim youths were stabbed. Regardless of whether the fight began over seats in the train, what is of singular importance is that their community identity should have come into play.
It was, therefore, justifiable for their assailants to suspect the three young men of possessing beef. The “other” is always dehumanised – so their caps were pulled off, their beards tugged at, and they were chased around as a predator does its prey.
Hatred spawns suspicion, which fuels anxiety – anxiety for yourself, for your community, for your nation. Anxiety generates aggression and violence, at once justified because of ideology having replaced morality. Ideology is now our higher calling. Of this process, which Hindutva has initiated and crafted, the three Muslim boys became victims.
The Kashmir morality play
Let us not leave out the morality play that has been underway in Kashmir for decades. Forget its origins, whether it is the Indian state or Kashmiris, or both, to blame for the interminable barbarity over there.
For us, Kashmir is a lesson in becoming aware of the price to be paid when ideology – whether of the state or the people – begins to masquerade as morality. The chains of morality restraining the brute in us are then ripped off and havoc is wreaked. This brute takes birth in us because of our anxieties, fears and grievances.
And so if security forces shower a protesting throng with pellets and blind them, as they did several times during last year’s protests in Kashmir, if an Army officer ties a man to his jeep to protect his convoy from stones that people would pelt, as a Major did in the Valley in April, then the sheer absence of morality is also marked by last week’s incident when namazis in Srinagar lynched a Kashmiri police officer on the night the Quran was revealed to the Prophet Mohammed centuries ago, and then dumped his body into a drain. On June 16, the growing absence of morality had been demonstrated by the attempts of armed men who killed six Kashmiri policemen and sought to disfigure their faces.
Black band: A sign of protest
Certainly, the Indian state under its Hindutva managers must bear a great, not complete, measure of blame for the retreat of morality from our public arena. It refuses to take a peace initiative in the Valley because the violence there fuels a virulent reaction from segments of Hindus outside Kashmir. That is to Hindutva’s advantage.
It will not take exemplary punitive action against the perpetrators of Hindutva violence because, well, it communally polarises the society from which a rich dividend of votes can be harvested now and in 2019, which is when we will have our next Lok Sabha elections.
The black band will symbolise our collective mourning at the receding of morality from our public life.
But why wear it on Eid?
This is because there can be no denying that the Muslims are, as of now, the principal victims of that scary human condition in which ideology is morality. But this condition will claim others as well, regardless of their class, caste, and religion. It could just be an innocuous university student voicing his opinion or a villager caught selling his cow.
It is against this scary human condition that the black band will become a symbol of mourning. But let the black band be also a protest against our own selves, for having allowed this substitution to make such quick headway. But, above all, the black band will also be a warning to each other of what we might eventually become – brutes without restraint or compunctions.
Ajaz Ashraf is a journalist in Delhi. His novel, The Hour Before Dawn, has as its backdrop the demolition of the Babri Masjid.