Indian Rumis and the shadows of anti-Muslim violence

Ye pukar saare chaman main thi, vo sahar hui vo sahar hui,

Mere ashiya’n se dhua’n utha to mujhe bhi is ki khabar hui

(There were calls everywhere of the impending dawn

as smoke rose from my home, I also came to know about it)

Kaleem Aajiz

“itna musalman to hun k maara ja sakun (I am Muslim enough to be murdered), Manto is famously quoted saying when leaving India for Pakistan. Manto’s work does not talk a lot about his experiences as a Muslim but Manto was reduced to his immediate religious identity in that moment. Which Indian Muslim does not resonate to this feeling? The moments when your personal politics, your ideologies, how you see life—does not matter and vulnerability and otherness takes over the conversation. To put it outrightly, it does not matter, whether you are a practicing Muslim or not—our system will remind you of your Muslimness in more ways than one—the most traumatic of them being violence.

Recently, while the discussion around demuslimization of Maulana Rumi was gaining momentum, I was going through a collection of poetry of Dr. Bashir Badr, it suddenly stuck with me how we often reduce him to romantic poetry, taking cue from Maulana Rumi’s romanticization. Dr. Badr was born in Babri Masjid’s Faizabad, now Ayodhya, is a poet bearing the trauma of Anti-Muslim Meerut violence. The side of him where he rose from the ashes of Meerut and shifted to Bhopal, where his unpublished work got destroyed in the violence are seldom talked about. This is the poet who famously wrote:

log toot jaate hain, ek ghar banane main,

tum taras nahi khaate bastiya’n jalane main

(people break to build a single home 
You don’t feel sorry for burning settlements) 

Further, at a mushaira in Karachi, before narrating this sher to his audience, he added how he cannot narrate it in his own homeland i.e. India:

faakhta ki majboori ye bhi keh nahi sakti,

kon saanp rakhta hai uske aashiyaane main

(how helpless the bird is, cannot even tell

who put snakes in her abode)

One of his works aptly illustrates the pain of proving Indian-ess and to not be the “other” in your own homeland:

Hindustan ka sachcha wafadaar kon hai?

Hindustan ka sachcha wafadaar main hi hun,

Qabron se pooch asl zamin’daar main hi hun

Dariya k sath wo to samandar main beh gaya

Mitti main milke mitti ka haqdaar main hi hun

(Who is the true loyalist of India?

I am the true loyalist of India.

Ask the graves, who is the real landlord

With the river, he was swept away in the ocean

Merged with the soil, entitled to the soil I am)

The ghost of Babur still haunts the collective manufactured memory of the majority swiftly turning it into collective conscience. The Babri Masjid Demolition, still afresh in the minds, is often known to be a turning point in Indian political landscape but Babri Masjid demolition had far greater ramifications than just a political clickbait—in the minds and hearts of people—often projected through art. “We had a dream in 1947 about the kind of country we wanted to be. That collapsed over a period of time but the actual last stroke to me, personally, when the Babri Masjid came down,” Saeed Akhtar Mirza says about his film Naseem (1994), a movie portraying the everlasting mark the Babri Masjid demolition left in the minds of all Indian Muslims—irrespective in which ideological cube you place them—progressive, conservative, etc. Akhtar, in 1989, i.e. even before the Babri incident remarkably portrayed the anti-Muslim atmosphere that was already thriving in another of his work, Salim Langde Pe Mat Ro which ends with a memorable dialogue, “mera naam Salim hai, Hindustani hai mai, mere ko ijjat se jeene ka hai (My name is Salim, I am Indian, I want to live a life of respect).” But did these Salims ever receive respect? Our shared testimonies tell a different story.

Coming back to Urdu poetry, poet and scientist Dr. Gauhar Raza, in his poem Ram Mandir (Ram Temple), wrote:

Ke Jis Mandir Ka Gara Khoon Men Goondha Gaya Ho

Ke Jis Ki Saree Eeten,

Bastiyon Men Aag Sulga Kar

Pakaee Ja Rahee Hon

Ke Jis Ki Ghantiyon Men

Siskiyan, Aah-O-Buka, Cheekhen

Piroee Ja Rahi Hon

Ke Jis Mandir Ke Bunyaaden,

Watan Ki Sab Zadon Ko Khod Kar Tameer Ki Janyen

Ke Jis Ke Rang-O-Raughan Ko

Hazaron Aurtoon Ki Mang Ke Sindoor Ki

Wahshi Zaroorat Ho

Ke Jis Ke Patharon Men

Naqsh Jab Ubhren, To Yun Ubhren

Nazar Aaye

Kisi Masoom Ki Bindee

Kisi Majboor Ki Aahen

Kisi Burhe Ki Ummeeden

Kisi Kamsin Jawani Ki

Sisakti Aakhri Sansen

Use ‘Maryada Purshottam Ka Mandir’

Nam Dena Pap Hoga

Karo Tum Pap

Karte Hi Rahe Ho

Magar Mujh Se To Ye Hargiz Na Ho Ga

Men Us Ko ‘Ram Ka Mandir’ Naheen Keh Paoon Ga Hargiz.

Naheen Keh Paoon Ga Hargiz.

Naheen Keh Paoon Ga Hargiz.

(A temple built
With mortar kneaded in blood
bricks fired in burning ghettos
and with its tolling bells,
screaming with cries, lamentation, sobbing.
A temple rising
from torn, uprooted foundations of the land
sucking, vampire like,
the vermilion from a thousand foreheads.
its grotesquely carved stones
etched deep with the
cries of the oppressed,
dead hopes of an old man and
the dyeing breath of a young life,
cruelly smothered.
It is sin
to name a temple such as this,
The abode of Ram
You may,
Sinning comes naturally to you.
But I will
Never be able
to call it
The temple of Ram)

Post Babri Masjid demolition on the 06 December, 1992; Kaifi Azmi wrote Dusra Ban-bas (The Second Exile):

paanv sarju main abhi raam ne dhoe bhi na the

ki nazar aae wahan khuun ke gahre dhabbe

paanv dhoe bina sarju ke kinare se uthe

raam ye kahte hue apne duware se uthe

rajdhani ki faza aai nahi raas mujhe

chhe december ko mila dusra banbaas mujhe

(Ram had not even washed feet in River Sarayu yet

When he saw dark blood stains

rose from the side of the Sarayu without washing 

getting up and saying

I do not like the ambience of the capital

I have gotten the second exile on the 6th of December)

With another poem of his, Dr. Raza questioned the religiosity of those who only worship their hate, he writes:

Lahoo main doobe yeh haath kab tak?

Kahen ge khud ko dharam ka chaalak

Khuda-e-bartar ka naam leva

Manu ke qadmon pe chalne wale

Tere hi naare lagaa lagaa kar

Tere gharon ko gira gira kar

Tere hi bandon ka qatl kar ke

Ye bastiyon ko jala jala kar

Lahoo main doobe yeh haath kab tak?

(For how long will these blood-dripping hands
Call themselves the managers of faith?
The upholders of God?
But follow the footsteps of Manu

How long will they
In your name
Demolish thy houses
slaughter thy flock
and destroy shelters?
arrogantly laying claim
on your inheritance
of love, piety, prayer.
How long?)

A young Dr. Rahat Indori in early 1990s recited in his distinctive energetic style:

Aur hain kuch din nafrat k ye daftar vaftar sab

Laathi waathi topi wopi naykar waykar sab

(left are only some days of hate, of offices,

of batons, of caps, of knickers)

Post 9/11, the anti-Muslim rhetoric throughout the world gained momentum, India obviously was also affected. With the introduction of stringent terror provisions, rather draconian, the story of targeting young Muslim boys unfolded. In 2008, when young Muslim men were acquitted from the Mecca Masjid Blast case, Dr. Raza wrote Shiddatpasand (Extremist):

ki jis ko tana diya tha tum ne

ki us ke mazhab ki kokh qatil ugal rahi hai

wo maa ki jis ka jawan beta

tumhaare wahm-o-guman ki aandhi mein gum hua hai

tumhaare badle ki aag jis ko nigal gai hai

wo dekho ab tak bilak rahi hai

wo muntazir hai

koi to kandhe pe hath rakkhe

kahe ki hum ne bhi qatilon ki kahaniyon par

yaqin kiya tha

kahe ki hum ne gunah kiya tha

kahe ki maa hum ko muaf kar do

(the one you taunted

that his religion is giving birth to terrorists

the mother whose young son

has vanished in the winds of your delusions

whom you have swallowed in the fire

of your hatred

look, that mother is still lamenting

she awaits

a hand on her shoulder

a voice which says 

that yes, we believed in the stories of murderers

that yes, we sinned

that o mother, forgive us)

Munawwar Rana, the famous Urdu poet, wrote:

Me dehshat-gard tha marne pe beta bol sakta hai

Hukumat ke ishare par to murda bol sakta hai

Kai chehre abhi tak muh zabani yad he isko

Kahi Tum puchh mat lena ye gunga bol sakta hai

Hukumat ki tawajjoh chahti hai ye jali basti

Adalat puchhna chahe to malba bol sakta hai

Adalat me gawahi ke liye lashe nahi aati

Wo aankhe bujh chuki he fir bhi chashma bol sakta hai

Bahot si kursiya is mulk me lashon pe rakhi hein

Ye wo sach hai jise jhute se jhuta bol sakta hai

(I was a terrorist, a son can say after his death

at the behest of the government, even the dead can speak

he still remembers by heart many faces

don’t ask, even the dumb will speak

this burnt ghetto seeks government’s attention

If the court wants to ask, even the debris can speak

Deadbodies do not appear in the court to testify

Those eyes are extinguished but the glasses will speak

A lot of thrones are placed on the deadbodies in this country

This is the truth that even a liar will speak)

Manzar Bhopali, another famous Urdu poet, wrote:

Yahan Gunah Hawa Kay Chupaaye Jaate Hain

Chiragh Khud Nahi Bujhte Bujhaye Jaate Hain,

Ye kesa qarz hai nafrat ka kam nahi hota,

Ye badhta jaata hai jitna chukayen jaate hain

(concealed are the sins of the wind here

lamps do not extinguish themselves, 

are compelled to extinguish,

Never decreases such is the debt of hate

It grows more the more it gets paid)

Dr. Indori, capturing the frustration within the community and condescension from outside, wrote:

Ab kahan dhoondne jaoge humare qatil

Aap to qatl ka ilzaam humi pe rakh do

Apni pehchaan mitaane ko kaha jaata hai

Bastiya’n chord k jaane ko kaha jaata hai

Pattiyan roz gira jaati hain zehreeli hawa

Aur hume ped lagane ko kaha jaata hai

(Where will you find our murderers now

put the blame of our murder on us

we are asked to erase our identity

asked to leave the ghettos

poisonous wind make the leaves fall everyday

and we are asked to plant more trees)

From Malikzaada Manzoor Ahmad’s dekhoge to har mod pe mil jayengen laashen, dhundoge to is shehar main qaatil na milega (look and you will find dead bodies at every turn, search and you will not find a murderer in this city) to Irfan Sattar’s Main jaag jaag ke kis kis ka intizar karun, Jo log ghar nahi laute mar gaye hongen (For whom should I be awake and wait?, those who did not return home must have died) to Kamil Bahzadi’s Is qadr maine sulagte hue ghar dekhe hain, Ab to chubhne lage aakhon main ujaale mujhko (smoldering houses I have seen so many, O light, you prick my eyes now), the shadows of communal trauma is inevitable.

The pain in poetry of contemporary poets like Manzar Bhopali, Rahat Indori, Bashir Badr, is often seen to be fuelled by the loss and trauma post 1992. Young poets like Hussain Haidry who got into prominence with his poem Hindustani Musalman (Indian Muslim) to Aamir Aziz’s Sab Yaad Rakha Jayega (Everything will be Remembered)— No generation of Indian Muslims sans the shadows of communal trauma and anti-Muslim violence. Every generation, very systematically and efficiently, is reminded of its place in our society. Naturally, there is something in poetry that is unsettling for the oppressors—it turns testimonies into shared history. It keeps reminding people of the pain they have felt, the pain their people have felt, the same pain that their ancestors had felt—datas and reports do not do this. This human element of trauma is what the oppressor fears.

Anyhow, Indian Muslim poetry, with contours of memories of violence also has remarkable hues of resistance. Dr. Rahat Indori, famously wrote:

Lagegi aag to aayengen ghar kayi zadd main,

Yahan pe sirf humara makaan thodi hai

Main jaanta hun k dushman bhi kam nahi lekin

humari tarha hateli pe jaan thodi hai

Jo aaj sahib e masnad hain kal nahi hongen

Kiraaye daar hain zaati makan thodi hai

Sabhi ka khoon hai shamil yahan ki mitti main

Kisi kay baap ka Hindustan thodi hai

(If there is a fire, many houses will get affected

It’s not only our house that is here

I know that the enemy is no less but

he can’t put his life at stake like us

Those who possess the throne today

will not be here tomorrow

tenants they are, not landlords

Everyone’s blood is in this soil

India does not belong to anyone’s father)

These lines gained quite popularity during the Anti-CAA/NRC Protests in India. During one CAA-NRC poet-protest meeting in Hyderabad, Manzar Bhopali recited:

Rang laata hai lahu mazloomon ka

Haal har haal main zalim ka bura hota hai

Aap har daur ki tareeq utha kar dekhen

Zulm jab hadd se guzarta hai fana hota hai

(The blood of the oppressed bears fruit 

the oppressor is defeated, in every situation

Pick history of any period

When oppression crosses its limits, it fades)

One of his famous sher that he has recited time and again given the situations that have almost been identical for generations of Muslims, he further recited:

Taqaten tumhari hain, aur khuda humara hai

Aks pe na itraao, aaina humara hai

(The power is yours but God is ours

Don’t boast over the reflection, the mirror is ours)

These days, it is often discussed how the “tide has changed” post 2014, how we are losing the India that we have always known—the India of our ancestors. These assessments, besides being subjective, further reek of privilege. If anything, the experiences of marginalised communities from generations refute them. This ignorance towards the shared inter-generational trauma within Indian Muslims and demuslimization by reducing their poetry to romance and talaffuz (Urdu pronunciation/articulation) should be called out.