The monsoon this year has been stuttering and stammering for attention. In comparison, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government and the Bharatiya Janata Party’s outreach divisions have had no such trouble for three years. They have been consistent and unabated in giving us outbursts of divisiveness targeted at minorities. We have been participants and victims in this unrelenting blitz on people’s identities, cultures and their right to participate in India’s democracy as equal citizens.
The idea of citizenry has been eroded. The garb of democracy has allowed all this to pass, with many unable to take notice of the systematic numbing of our minds. A few bread crumbs of change are thrown in here and there, which are promptly broadcast by online foot soldiers to portray a new India even as our social weave is persistently torn apart. On the other side of the aisle is a totally inept Opposition that has no ethical standing to counter this onslaught. It has therefore been left to the larger society to remain steadfast in their opposition. This is much easier said than done.
The Hindu majority community is told by brash politicians, suave gurus and a tendentious media that their fear of Muslims and Islam is real and they should not shy away from expressing it. Hindus at large are under threat, is the underlying rhetoric. I sometimes hear upper-caste Hindus use the word persecution while referring to their own struggles. To my ears, the use of this word by people of social and cultural privilege is an act of violence.
The BJP makes sure these fears remain intact and has also been able to co-opt other caste groups into this imaginary cultural-economic-religious aspirational stairway. Their main targets to achieve this end are, naturally, Muslims and Dalits. Every few weeks, the Modi government or members of the Sangh Parivar launch a missile on contentious issues such as the demand for a Uniform Civil Code, the protection of the holy cow, imposition of Hindi, attacks on Dalits, the lynching of Muslims, instigation of violence in educational institutions or armed assaults on Kashmiri protestors.
The Right has successfully undermined the sense of security within the minority community, at the same time vilifying every aspect of their socio-religious life. They have been greatly aided by the Islamophobia that hangs over the entire globe. This is a two-pronged attack. Change rules in the name of regulation, use violence in the garb of internal security, allow members and non-governmental cultural allies to spout venom and let social media warriors permeate hate. While these actions are active, they use every opportunity to diminish Islam historically and in its contemporary form.
Islam in transition
Islam is not treated like any other religion and hence Muslims have to either reject it entirely or accept their Hindu-ness, implying that their humanity comes from this association. Otherwise they are depicted as rabid Islamists or sympathisers. The game of good Muslim vs bad Muslim is played ever so often. The Sangh Parivar conveniently exploits the words of Muslims who have moved away from Islam or are atheist for this propaganda. Their denouncement is used to affirm Islam’s inherent tyranny.
All this is happening at a time when Islam in India is going through a very critical phase. We have to face the reality that young Muslims in pockets across the country are being radicalised. They are being brain washed into endorsing parochial social practices and enforcing oppressive conservatism. A dangerous interpretation of the Quran and of social order is being accepted as god’s word. Integrated Islamic-Hindu practices are slowly but steadily vanishing. Orthodox and myopic religious leaders and their cohorts, with immense power to control their community, are changing the fabric of the Islamic faith. These religious leaders, like some of their counterparts, Hindu swamis, are just hate-mongers.
It is also true that some young men have left India to fight in Syria alongside the Islamic State. There are many Muslims from the older generation who are unable to understand this shift and do not have the energy to fight. Others are struggling to come to terms with this downward spiral. Devout Muslim men and women from within the community are afraid to speak up. They have immense faith in their religion and live in its splendour, desperate to retrieve its soul.
Islam is Indian. It is as Indian as Hinduism, Christianity or Buddhism. We must embrace its Catholic ideals and offer a helping hand to all those who are touched by its inherent sensitivity. We have to empathise and participate as fellow citizens in this struggle. How, when and in what form must be decided with their concurrence. But we need to be there as caring, dependable partners in safeguarding Islam and its people. Islam is under siege and we need to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with all those brave Muslim women and men who raise their voice of protest.
Unfortunately, we have done exactly the opposite. We have been rabble-rousers, stereotyping and painting all Muslims with the same brush. We have insisted on framing discordant discourses that separate the Indic from the Abrahamic. In the name of scholarship, these pigeon holes have only stifled mutual understanding. We constantly point fingers and make them feel like undeserving, singularly evil, second-grade citizens.
Muslims in this country are told on a regular basis that they are lucky to be in India. Call for change and challenges emanating from Reformist Muslim movements are quoted only to further tarnish the religion. This unrelenting stigmatisation only perpetuates radicalisation.
Radicalisation comes from insecurity and a desperate need for validation. When young people from an already marginalised community are bombarded with fear, instigation, abuse, suspicion and malicious accusations, overtly and through innuendos, they become easy prey for barbaric mad-hatters who spread their message via deep sea fibre optic cables.
The Hindu majority needs to hold itself as responsible for the turn that Islam has taken in some parts of the country. Let us not bring this discussion down to Muslim appeasement, which is only another way to further weaken their spirit and keep them from being emboldened. They have been through that and now we have pushed them to the other end, the deep end.
For the BJP, it is simple math. The more that Muslims can be cornered, the greater the consolidation of the Hindus. It is up to us, the majority, to change the tone and course of this conversation. Our own backyard needs cleaning, but we also do have the cultural strength to participate actively in the Islamic discourse. And through this engagement we will learn and our own misconceptions will be addressed. We brandish a diverse India, but we are just a country of multiple entrapments. It is time these are brought down. That is the only way to change the course of our future.