When I first heard the news about the Dadri incident, I was too shocked to have an immediate reaction.
I never really thought that I’d see a headline like it, not in my country and in my lifetime. At the time I reasoned it out. There are crazy people doing crazy things everywhere. This would simply be another of those extreme stories, far away from me and the reality I believed in. I ignored it, didn’t bother too much about it, although it pained me.
And then I heard about the incident in which apparently a few people had attacked their co-worker because they assumed that he might’ve eaten beef on Eid, ultimately killing him with an air embolism.
I lost my faith in people at that.
Now, I’m not a politically savvy 19-year-old who can debate party policies and all that jazz, but I am a citizen of this country, and of the world. I love my country with all my heart. I also happen to belong to the second largest religion in the world, one that is a minority in my country, and one that I admire and respect. Now, my life is at stake for supposedly having consumed certain foods that weren’t taboo to eat until now; in a country and city I have loved and that have been a part of me. How can I be okay about it?
I’m a 19-year-old Indian Muslim and I have a beef to pick with the world that judges my beliefs and religion.
It doesn’t take a lot to understand that what was done should not have been done. If we’re living in a country that calls itself secular, the secularity is not subject to the rules of others and only applicable to some people or situations. We live in a world where people go around assuming that a Muslim kid brought a self-made bomb to school. We are faced with the idea of Trump leading in the polls in the USA, planning to ban my people, all of them, from entering the country, and we have people agreeing with him. And we have the attacks in Paris and rise in Islamophobia consequently. See, it’s always the innocents being attacked. The vulnerable people who had nothing to do with the violent image painted of us by people who don’t like us, and the media. It’s all so smothering, as if our very existence is an error of nature. And it’s rising all over the world- and now in my country as well.
Families of those who killed the man in Dadri say that the Muslim family should’ve known better than to do something like ‘this’ in a Hindu majority city. Is that how we, any people of a differing religion, are to live? At the mercy of extremists in a supposedly secular India? I may still be young, but I’m pretty damn sure that’s not how equality works.
The irony of all this, in a way, is that I literally haven’t ever eaten beef.
My family hasn’t. It’s just a personal choice. But the right to eat it is not void because of that. The right to eat it is not a privilege. It is not a privilege for members of my community to be allowed to pray Friday namaaz. It is not a privilege for us to practice our religion in the way we see fit, without harming others. It is not a privilege for us to stay in a country where “unity in diversity” was considered the motto and secularism was stressed upon; it’s a right guaranteed under the constitution our country is built on.
Hinduism is different from India, is it not? Or is that what the fight is about? Making India the synonym for Hinduism?
When my peers discussed this, their first reaction was indignation, certainly, but of a ‘safer’ kind. I go to a Jesuit college. Most of them are Christians. Most of them have willingly given up beef, not for religious reasons but simply because they just don’t like the taste and are not interested in it. It is not a political statement for them; their life is not at stake. But then again, they aren’t as haunted by the horrors of Dadri as I am, or, I’m assuming, a Muslim would feel.
The intolerance, unfortunately, isn’t developing in a one-dimensional way. It’s not just us Muslims v/s the world: that we could solve, through a little dialogue and hope. The reactions to these incidents are also worrying. Muslim extremists killed the Bangladeshi bloggers who preached about free will. The rise of groups like ISIS is a result of the feeling of being unsafe that Islamophobia creates in Muslims. The closing off of the refugees from entering and seeking shelter in various European countries and the USA would lead to more friction between people and a more hostile environment where nothing would be solvable. The various attacks of the ISIS have led to people attacking Muslims all over Europe: stories of mosques and Qur’an’s being vandalized are everyday news. It’s a vicious cycle with no end, and it’s everyday people like us who’re trapped in it.
What’s worse is that even people who are liberal and voicing their opinions are also being frowned upon. It’s almost as if there is no middle path; it’s either pro-Hindutva or anti-India.
Take, for instance, Aamir Khan quoting his wife (who is Hindu, by the way). Suddenly, there was an outpour of defensiveness from the right-wing (and Anupam Kher) about how India is, in fact, not intolerant. Fast-forward a few days to the march led by Mr Kher himself, and there were reports of communal violence at the very same march. Irony much?
These contradictions bring about such a conflict in my heart. What can I do about all this? Is the government to blame? Are the people and their fears in an increasingly unstable world responsible for this? I have no clue. My mind is a tangled mess of fear of different colours; fear for my country, fear of my countrymen, fear for my religion, fear for my life and other’s lives, and fear and anger about this intolerant attitude that seems to be rising everywhere.
It’s easy for me to talk about it; I’m sitting comfortably in my room on a bed, typing this on a MacBook.
But it’s not any less painful. It’s a feeling of haunting and being hunted, something out of Auden’s Refugee Blues.
One could say a lot of Muslims have done a lot of damage to this world. I would tell them that yes, they have. But it’s absurd to point fingers at one faith and say they’re the root cause of evil in the entire world. It’s a tiny, broken minority: not all of us- which is a statement that holds true for almost every religion.
I’m not very religious, and I’m a bad propagator of my own religion. But I do believe that the right for people to practice their religious sentiments shouldn’t be taken away from them. And even beyond that, what if people just learnt to see each other as humans first? And not as “Hindus” or “Muslims” or any of the thousand differences that coexist in the world? What have we, as a race, come to the 21st goddamn century for, if we’re going to revert to racism when we should be united against this mindless medieval violence? Can we not see that we are, by forgetting our fundamental values of freedom of speech, thought, action, and yes, religion, basically letting them win?
I didn’t understand what a ‘minority’ meant for a very long time.
I was naïve, I guess. I thought, ‘Oh, what rubbish, no discrimination happens anymore, it’s all lies!’ I didn’t want to believe I was part of a faith that people scorned, that my country had witnessed terrifying histories of communal tensions– and that these tensions are still present today. But then I started making myself more aware.
I used to think the saying “history repeats itself” was a stupid idea. Why should it if it was a mistake, right? And one day I realised we seldom learn from our mistakes.
India has been stuck in a rut of communal clashes for a long time, and after all these years later, apparently nothing has changed. The only way to fix it is to actively change our perceptions of the people around us. It’s really not that hard.
2015 ended on a rocky note for the secular, democratic India.
Aamir Khan was in trouble and so were we. So were all the people who are returning their awards- because clearly returning something that is a mark of appreciation of your professional excellence is a gimmick as part of a conspiracy against the government. So were all the people raising their voice on social media about the justification of this. So, almost, was Mr Amitabh Bachhan with his plea for tolerance- that loaded word that in itself indicates tension rather than harmony- at the opening ceremony of KIFF 2015. So was the President, Mr Pranab Mukherjee, for speaking about plurality. So were pretty much everybody who dared to speak about the increasing interference of non-secular politics in the everyday life of our country.
In response, here is the first guest post of 2016 by Seher Dareen, student, Muslim and Indian, as she talks about a country that is slowly becoming not-hers.
Does India’s mad-cow disease have no cure?
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