Right of Muslim to dignified life: a constitutional chimera in Islamophobic India

Photo: Shaheen Abdulla/Maktoob

In every age, it has been the tyrant, the oppressor and the exploiter who has wrapped himself in the cloak of patriotism, or religion, or both to deceive and overawe the People.” – Eugene Victor Debs

It’s the 8th of August and there is a cool breeze indicating that rain is just going to pour down. A group of people have gathered outside the Jantar Mantar; a place hardly two km away from the Indian Parliament. The groups comprise mostly of young men and boys as young as 10 years old. The capital would have seen such crowds most often but this is different. The mob is clamouring for the blood of the Muslims, the largest minority of the country.

“Jab mulle kaate jayenge, Ram-Ram chillayenge” (when Muslims will be slaughtered, they would shout the name of Lord Ram, a Hindu deity). The young kids too were holding posters clearly saying “complete annihilation of Muslims from the country”.

Over the past few years, the temporal and spatial occurrences of such Islamophobic gatherings have proliferated. Islamophobia has also begun to loom so largely in India’s political calculus. A few months back Mahapanchayats (a large gathering) took place in Mewat and Pataudi in Haryana and Dwarka in Delhi where an open call for slaughtering of Muslim men and kidnapping of Muslim women were made. Communal venoms were spewed and derogatory comments were passed. Also, in North-East Delhi, an Islamophobic gathering of Hindutva militants took place in February 2020, who vowed to take the law into their hands, if the Muslims were not stopped from staging peaceful anti-CAA protests.

The result was inevitable. A dreadful anti-Muslim pogrom took place which was one of its kind that the capital witnessed in decades; 53 people had lost their lives in that bloodshed.

The whole issue needs to be visualized in two prospective- the people who constitute the republic and the Indian State that governs the republic. When it comes to the people, a vast number of the population peddles the rhetoric that these diabolical Hindutva mob comprises a fringe of the majority. Well, that’s the first mistake we make in understanding the issue. It was not a fringe who carried out the anti-Muslim pogrom unabated at Delhi for a week, nor it was a small fraction carrying out such pogroms at Gujrat, Muzaffarnagar, Meerut, Bhagalpur, Nellie, Kandhamal or Jammu.

How many of the people from Hindu Community came out against the shameless Babri verdict or against the nefariously drafted Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019. As sensible citizens, we might bemoan but should not gloss over the brute fact that a majority of the Hindu Population has been radicalized and there should be deliberations as to how it can be deradicalized.

Besides, if we assume this flimsy argument and suppose that only a modicum of 5 percentage of the Hindu Population (1 in every 20) is radical and is thirsty for Muslim blood, well, for a population of 139 crores, it comes out to be around 7 crores. Now think about this, for a Muslim population of 18 crores, there are 7 crores of people longing for their blood. Isn’t it a terrifying number?

Some people argue that, since the incumbent government has failed in its promises in fields of development, employment or national growth, so, it is using communal tactics to drift away from people’s attention from these important issues. I find it too problematic. This argument fits the classical case of missing the wood for the tree. Narendra Modi was not chosen as the Prime Minister after the Gujarat genocide, but he was chosen only because of the riots. A vast majority of BJP voters didn’t vote for the party for development but voted to keep Muslims in check. As long as the party continues with the agenda of Muslim oppression, they are satisfied.

When it comes to the state that governs the republic, be it Jantar Mantar, Pataudi, Mewat, Dwarka or North-East Delhi, the most common thing is the pathetic response. In all the cases the perpetrators roam freely giving a clear indication of the impunity these Hindutva mobs enjoy by the state. When these bloodthirsty words reciprocate in action in the form of communal violence, the state evidently sides with the Hindutva mob (very much evident in the N.E. Delhi pogrom 2020) giving a clear indication of how the state is hand in gloves with the Islamophobic ideology, making the word communal harmony, a constitutional chimera.

Another group of people, says that the anti-Muslim rhetoric and Islamophobic mobs have become a new normal in Modi’s India. Well, it might be the new low in morality for the political parties but it’s nothing new to Indian Muslims. It might be a new low to see a veteran from the so-called secular political party claim how Rajiv Gandhi was the first to open locks of the Babri masjid or other secular messiahs to congratulate on the Babri verdict. But for Indian Muslims, we have seen more such violence in the past while a secular party ruled at the centre.

This issue is too grave to be brushed under the carpet. Minorities in any democracy have three major concerns; security, equality (non-discrimination), and identity (religious, cultural etc.). The Indian state has been clearly failing on all these fronts. Indian democracy also has the dubious distinctions of subjecting its religious minorities to recurring genocidal attacks with the connivance or even with the sponsorship of the state (Nelli-1983, Delhi-1984, 2020, Bhagalpur-1989, Mumbai 1992-93, Gujarat-2002, Muzaffarnagar-2013, Kandhamal-2008 etc.). The only thing worse than denying justice to these victims of communal violence is to falsify their trauma.

Ironically, after every violence, the onus is put on the victims and they are further subjected to series of legal trauma (as with the FIR 59/2020 of the Delhi Riot case where peaceful anti CAA protesters were presented as the orchestrator of the violence). This destroys whatever shards of credibility the state have in hearts of its citizen.

Muslims are the warp and woof of the fabric that constitutes the Indian Nation. Any threat to their lives or act of demeaning them would certainly destroy this fabric. It’s high time for the obdurate state and responsibility of the high offices to discharge their duties not only on the basis of law and jurisprudence but also based on the value and ethics which forms the bedrock of their very existence.

If it doesn’t happen and Muslims are denied a right to a dignified life, then to quote Nelson Mandela: “When a man is denied the right to live the life he believes in, he has no choice but to become an outlaw.”

Aasif Mujtaba is a social activist and a alumus of IIT Delhi. He runs a relief group called Miles2smile Foundation.