Two years ago, I was stood in the middle of a protest at Pune University, watching as people came together to protect the rights of Indian Muslims and other minorities against a tyrannical Citizenship Amendment Act and to speak out against the atrocities that were committed when extremists committed acts of reprehensible violence against what were ordinary university students.
Despite that almost inescapable feeling of dread that marked the protests across the country and the background to all of it, there was also a sense of community, camaraderie, and a shared vision for a brighter and better future where people of all castes, creeds, religions, and backgrounds could live without the fear of having their existence threatened by the majority; where any form of supremacy or ideological dogma would be but a distant memory of a more barbaric time for human civilization.
The violence and carnage that caused the protests to happen in the first place were unlike anything I’ve ever experienced in my life. While you read accounts about dogmatically mandated acts of violence and depravity, it was almost surreal watching things play out in almost real-time in videos of students taking shelter from laathi-armed men and blood-soaked visuals of chaos, hate, and blatant discrimination.
The only good thing to come out of it is that it woke a nation out of its collective stupor. It showed people that there was indeed something incredibly sinister afoot and that the small incremental acts of othering of the rights and liberties of minorities were part of a larger plan to erode and eradicate entire cultures. People finally saw a sequence of events that started over a decade and a half ago reach a point that was impossible to ignore or explain away. A fringe extremist Hindutva ideology had established a firm foothold and was now directly acting against a subset of this nation’s people; erasing their rights, identities, and even their lives.
A two-year-long pandemic effectively slowed down both the hate and the attention and alarm that people felt towards the intolerance we were a witness to. Our memories of what happened at Jamia Millia Islamia faded and people turned to other more immediate and pressing concerns like the effects of a series of lockdowns, an economic slowdown, and a lack of regular human contact in general.
The hate, however, never truly faded; it merely lay dormant. The leaders that perpetuated the bigotry bided their time and waited for the right moment to come out of the shadows. Their followers continued to spread hate in whatever way they could; on social media and in their private circles.
Now as we approach some semblance of normalcy with regard to the pandemic, we’ve seen more blatant acts of intolerance than ever before. From the hijab ban to prohibiting meat during Navaratri to the violence we’ve seen during Ramadan across the country this past week; all of it is a continuation of exactly what we’ve seen for close to a decade since the forces of communalism took hold.
Now more than ever, it’s vital that we remember precisely what we were fighting for before the world changed forever. The people that mean to do my people harm will never forget. They remain unwaveringly dedicated to their intolerant goals and will stop at nothing to see us eradicated from every space they occupy.
Supremacists and extremists can not be reasoned with. They’re not trying to find amicable solutions. Their main aim is to establish a cultural, ideological and religious hegemony and move on to the next group that threatens their existence.
We have to come together as a nation and collectively fight for a people that very soon may not have the agency to do so themselves. While the onus is on privileged Muslims like me and other minorities that occupy spaces that typically don’t include us, there’s only so much we can do on our own.
Closeted supremacists and people who perpetrate bigoted ideas exist in every single corner of our country. They’re among our families, our colleagues, our friend groups, and even the people we meet while out socializing. Propaganda through WhatsApp forwards, emails and fake social media posts have the power to radicalize even the most well-meaning individuals.
Historically speaking, it’s not the fringe elements alone that are responsible for violence, prejudice, and intolerance — it’s the actions of ostensibly kind, liberal, and open-minded invididuals who choose to look away.
We need the help of the majority. Don’t ignore the signs because they’re there for everyone to see. We need you to share, amplify and do your bit to help us once again fight the forces of tyrannical bigotry; even if means making the people around you uncomfortable.
Our choices at this moment could define the future of secularism for the nation as a whole and save the lives and homes of hundreds of thousands of people in the years to come.
The idea that the Hindu way of life is being threatened is a refrain that is used and manipulated by fringe elements in a way that taps into an existential fear that all communities have in some form. If you look at most instances of large scale intolerance or xenophobia that’s taken place across the world, a large part of it stems from fear of being ‘replaced’ by the other. It also comes from deep-seated historical conflicts or disagreements between the two conflicting groups. All of this creates a powder-keg like situation where one group feels that the only way to survive is to attack the other.
Indeed, according to Indian journalist Aakar Patel the fundamental underpinnings of Hindutva is the persecution of Muslims and other minorities that deviate from their dogmatic principles. Such bigoted goals can not and should not be legitimized as a dominant ideology in any democratic, liberal nation that believes in the fundamental freedoms of life, liberty, and justice for all.
Currently, the reality of being an Indian Muslim, even a privileged, non-practising one like me is a constant, yet underlying uncertainty about my own place in this country. It’s a ticking time-bomb where with every incident of violence or intolerance you’re not really sure about whether you and your family will one day have to leave the land you’ve called home for generations.
Indian Muslims are as much a part of the fabric of this country as any other race, creed, caste, or religion. The aspirations of the community, while not monolithic, are generally the same as every other community. We have the same hopes, dreams, and aspirations; the same joys and sorrows, and everything in between.
The seeds of division that exist were sown by extremists but it’s the people we called our friends, colleagues, and countrymen that chose to ignore the early warning signs. We all took a vow of secularity as citizens of this republic. Its very definition is enshrined in our constitution. The number of lives that could have been saved if ostensibly good people had chosen humanity over economic growth is something that I think about a lot in the years that have passed since I first saw extremism rear its ugly head. Make no mistake; we can never again prioritize ‘progress’ over actual human lives and moral values if we’re to avoid a repeat of any of this in the years to come.
The reality of the situation is that multiculturalism can and should always be allowed to thrive in society over a single binary or dominant ideology. While disagreements will always occur, we can not ever allow them to override our sense of humanity or infringe on someone else’s personal freedoms. The preservation of life, liberty, peace, and harmony must always come first and it is the continued effort of good people across religions, faiths, and personal ideologies that ensures that there is still hope for a world that can wholly co-exist.
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