Hanan Irfan and Mohd Kashif
A few weeks ago, CPI(M) released a fact-finding report of the February 2020, Delhi Pogrom (euphemised as Delhi “Violence”). The survey reads less like a fact-finding mission and more of a bragging report card of the party accompanied by subtle chastising of the Muslim protestors. It claims to have recorded testimonies of several witnesses and victims. That being true, it is to be noted that despite the verbatim record of several victims, it is CPI(M)’s own commentary and conclusions that have been highlighted. It would be naive to give this report a non-critical reading without analysing the underlying bias and even subtextual connotations. The document starts with a declaration of the amount of labour spent by the party in collecting the testimonies and rehabilitation work and even ends on the same note.
It doesn’t go unnoticed how the report gets all probable misconceptions and clarifications about its allyship out of the way at the very beginning itself, before moving to the testimonies and fact-finding part.
One of the earliest commentaries made in the report read as, “The history of our country shows that fundamentalism and religious bigotry of one community helps fuel its counter in another.”
The false parallelism of an oppressed Minority with the Oppressive Majority as two equals seeks to victimise the minority and whitewash the majority oppressions. This mechanism of equating two unequals wills to eliminate the targetted identity (Muslim) at the same time demands them to cling and be dependent to other so called “Secular” and Non-Muslim Organisation to ensure political acceptance and rehumanised self which is essentially not possible as an assertive muslim political body.
The report further goes on to state– “While Muslim fundamentalists and extremists make inroads into the community in response to the BJP-RSS-Sangh Parivar combine’s supremacist communal agenda, the divisive activities of organisations such as Popular Front of India (PFI),Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI), and Jamaat-e-Islami help Hinduvta organisations to further their game of communal polarization… Such objectionable statements were quoted and published widely by Hindutva organisations, even though they did not represent the opinions of anti-CAA-NPR-NRC protests as a whole.”
The test for “unbiasedness “ or “neutrality” in Indian political discourse is merely both-side-ism and false equivalences.In a report dealing with the genocide of muslims in the national capital,CPI(M) somehow finds it necessary to assure the readers that they maintain a strictly unbiased lens. That, if they oppose the extremism of one side, they condemn the extremism of the other side. This presumed middle ground and self-claimed neutrality is shown by the title of the report itself, calling it a “violence” and not an outright orchestrated pogrom facilitated by the state machinery in cahoots with Hindutva organisations.
The problem with such parallelisms is that it ignores a very obvious power dynamic. Even if , for argument’s sake, we concede to this claim that Jamaat or SIO are inherently extremist in nature, it would still be fallacious to equate fringe minority organisations to widely supported, state-sanctioned Hindutva bodies that hold the power to plan and execute such pogroms. To imply that it is the “fundamentalism” of Muslim bodies that “feeds” the fundamentalism of RSS is to subtly implicate these bodies for crimes they didn’t commit but were actually the victims of. Moreover, what is the criteria for CPI(M) to label something as “fundamentalist”? While for the RSS, it is the planned genocide, communal slurs, virtual control of state machinery and police, access to weapons and the guaranteed impunity, for muslim bodies, the criteria to be classified as fundamentalist is to merely be muslim. Can CPI(M) show an equivalent of RSS and its various brainchild within the Muslim community, be it in terms of intensity or age?
If not, then why the false equivalence? Merely to latch on to sentiments that may get offended by a thorough critique of Hindutva. To prove unbiasedness, minority is a collateral damage to be thrown under the bus. False neutrality is propaganda!
Apart from the false equivalences, also see what kind of dilemma this sort of parallelism puts Indian Muslims into. This inherent villification of Muslim organizations, claiming them to be at par with RSS gives right wing the opportunity to link all the protesters to random organisations in order to mould public opinions against them, like the way Siddique Kappan (journalist wrongfully arrested in Hathras and subected to torture in police custody) was immediately linked to PFI without any basis. CPI(M) tends to defend our people by stressing how these protestors and victims have nothing to do with “these organizations”. Hence, insinuating that there’s something inherently wrong with being associated with politico-religious organizations of the Muslim community. In a bid to save one person, they end up vilifying hundreds others linked to these bodies by their erroneous juxtaposition of minority organization with that of centrally and socially promoted Hindu supremacist organizations that have been actively involved in orchestrated violence. Even if these victims they interviewed were not linked to any Muslim body, there were several others who were and are under unjust arrests. Will CPI(M) defend those protestors or should they be incriminated just because our “allies” think that they are no less than Sangh.
The report further repeatedly points out how CPI(M) was involved in this secular project of the masses while simultaneously de-linking it from any shred of Muslim-ness. Not just de-linking, but very consciously opposing any visibility of Muslim socio-political aspirations.Just the mere visibility of Muslim-ness in a political space somehow warrants the tag of “extremism” and “fundamentalism”. This indiscriminate branding of anything and everything Muslim as extremist is the exact modus-operandi of the hindutva government. When Narendra Modi insinuated about the anti-CAA-NRC protestors, “Kapdon se pehchaane jayenge”, was it not a reference to Muslims looking like Muslims? Protestors and students were assaulted, detained and charged under draconian laws just for their religious identity which is inherently seen as extremist. As such, the difference between the impression of Muslims in the eyes of sangh and CPI(M) is merely that the former has power to take actions against the assumed “fundamentalism” while the latter doesn’t. CPI(M) needs to understand that they are as much of an outsider as the rest and this self-claimed allyship doesn’t give them any right to speak from a place of authority on our movement and determine what colour it is to be painted into.
The report further reads, “A crucial aspect of the protests was that the women leading the protests did not allow their stage to be used for Muslim fundamentalist propaganda; on the contrary, anyone trying to do so was not allowed to speak.”
Even before beginning the main content of the report, CPIM felt the need to exonerate Muslim protesters and hence itself by constantly claiming they were nothing but secular. This bid to present an acceptable version of protesters is itself Islamophobic because it downplays the primary background of persecution and hence protests: the Muslim identity. “Muslim women did not allow their stage to be used for Muslim fundamentalist propaganda.” This statement does nothing but imply there was some concerted effort by “Islamists”(men) to hijack the movement and Islamise it. Thus, putting the onus on Muslim women to detach themselves from anything remotely Muslim. This also forces a belief that Muslim women are somehow different and detached from the Muslim community and its aspirations. The CPI(M) takes the liberty to not only villify muslim men and dissociate them from the movement and Muslim women, but also to attach its own interpretation of the women’s struggle. Somehow, Muslim men become the fringe in CPI(M)’s imagination. This also stinks of infantilization of Muslim women who acted like good girls and deserved a special mention , who, acted like a buffer between the “fundamentalism of both sides” and hence made the protests secular. CPI(M) is getting all the tough talk out of its way. Firstly, clarifying its stands by only the secular nature of the protests and never saw any religious undercurrent and then unbiasedly accepting the presence of “criminal elements” on both sides. They only support the good Muslims guys, the innocent, unarmed, quiet, and dead.
The report further reads, “In the following week, instead of the violence being controlled, it escalated. Crowds gathered from both sides. Criminals among them used guns, country made bombs, petrol bombs, acid, stones, and bricks to attack the other side. The role of agent provocateurs cannot be discounted.”
CPIM claims that criminals on both sides incited violence.Their argument being, the equating of one Muslim man , Shahrukh Pathan waving a gun to defend his family amidst police brutality and the collusion between the police and the Hindutva mob. Somehow brandishing a gun in self-defense and that of several unarmed protesters without harming anyone, is an equal crime as that of Hindutva goons armed by the state that resulted in the death of many muslims. Even if you accept their argument, you can very much see the subtextual bias against Muslims in the report as among all the people accused of violence, only one person’s face has been revealed in the report, and it’s not of Kapil Mishra or Rambhakt, it is of Shahrukh Pathan, the sole Muslim name who is still under arrest while the Hindutva goons roam free.
The report gives a constant impression, via the testimonies, that the right-wing is killing Muslims yet the immediate commentary following it shows reluctance to acknowledge any movement arising out of religious identity. It only proves that the Left only wants to fight the right wing for selfish political gains but on the bodies of Muslims, Muslim bodies are the battlefield for their tug of war. After every few stanzas, the report finds it is necessary to include how even though the muslims sustained more damage, the violence itself was both sided, however imbalanced. In his subsequent address to parliament, Amit Shah attributed the violence to provocation from the local muslims who had participated in the “clash”. Had Shah possessed a bit more grandiloquence and subtle finesse in his words, he would come eerily close to the commentary of this report!
On “Linking the broad-based movement against CAA/NRC to the communal violence”, the report has to say, “The movement undoubtedly mobilised a large number of people from the Muslim community, but it was definitely not confined to them. Large numbers of people from other communities were also part of the protests. And, the movement was for the defense of the Constitution, its secular principles, the rule of law, including equality before law.”
It is astounding how people who claim to be our allies are unaware of Muslim sentiments. It can be assured that no Muslim went to the protest thinking they need to save the Constitution. The Citizenship laws were passed in a perfectly constitutional manner. Muslims went out on the street to save themselves. To put this burden of a fantastical revolution on a minority, to save the country and constitution which has characteristically oppressed them, is devious. Would our allies disown us for protesting for ourselves? Had it not been for any higher morals, would we still have any sympathy from the CPI(M)?
One must be wilfully ignorant to not understand that the protesters carried the tricolour and constitution not as a proof that they’re out to save the country, but as just strategic self-defence. Just as the strategic self-defence of patriotism they’ve been doing for 70 years, just as the strategic self defense of the men singing Jan Gan man while half dead with the police standing over their bodies. Public, exhibitory nationalism has always been a mode of self-preservation for Indian Muslims. A bunch of Muslims together is already seen as a threat,the identity suffices for the label of extremism(“kapdon se pehchaaane jayenge”); a flag or a constitution may perhaps dilute the antagonism. It is desperation for us. These are the defences we have naturalised and to disregard the history and sentiments behind the symbolism, in order to steer the discourse in a completely different direction is clearly mal-intentioned.
The CPI(M) commentary is a confused curious case of reigning in the excesses. They condemn the Hindutva forces but not too much lest they appear Hinduphobic. They pledge their solidarity to muslims as victims but not Muslims as Muslims, or muslims as retaliators.
Sharjeel Imam, perhaps the most important name in the movement, had reiterated multiple times that we need to call people to our protest at our own condition.Not to forget, Imam has been attacked by the state not just for registering and building the protest, but mainly as a “radical Islamist”. It would be interesting to see whether CPI(M) would defend Imam who chooses to be vocal about his religious identity, like several other protestors.The allies must acquiesce to our demands instead of painting it with their own imaginations. CPI(M), though not in power, still has a voice as compared to the invisibility of Muslim voices. They chose to use their visibility to further invisible Muslims.If one is attacked as a Jew,” said Hannah Arendt “one must defend oneself as a Jew. Not as a German, not as a world-citizen, not as an upholder of the Rights of Man”. The report counts all the islamophobic incidents and communal violence yet maintains that the protesters weren’t out there for themselves or to assert their identity to live as Muslims. This attribution of a higher cause of saving the country and constitution to Muslim protestors isn’t just as simple as misdirection, but enforces a detachment from rallying around our Muslim identities. It is to say, the protest of Muslims against the rightwing is acceptable, until they fight on the behalf of the entire population. The moment we choose to associate the islamophobia violence with islam, we will be abandoned even by our allies, CPI(M) report makes desperate attempts to exonerate muslims of their Muslimness. It is almost apologetic on the behalf of visible, vocal Muslims.It stands by the dead, charred, slit Muslims who can no longer assert their identity. The alive must still save the constitution.
Note: The document does a relatively fair job of recording the testimonies of victims of the pogrom. However, what’s deeply unsettling is the biased commentary ,misdirected deductions, and party glorification being ensconced in a “fact-finding” report.
Hanan Irfan is a BTech student studying in Kolkata. Mohd Kashif has completed his Master’s in French from JNU.