A leading name against Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), National Population Register (NPR), and National Register of Citizens (NRC) protests, Khalid Saifi’s arrest has been central to the reckless legal assault of Muslim leaders over the past few months. Saifi was arrested from the Khureji protest site where he was contributing his efforts in the ongoing relief work for the victims of an anti-Muslim pogrom. From the same protest site, Ishrat Jahan, ex-Congress Municipal Councilor was arrested for allegedly inciting the ‘Delhi riots’. Tahir Hussain’s arrest came in the aftermath on grounds of allegedly murdering IB Official, Ankit Sharma. His party Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) readily suspended him even when charges against him were not confirmed. There was ample of proof suggesting that he gave emergency calls to the police and even to AAP Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Singh and had to be ‘rescued’ along with his family on the night of February 24th. Danish, a law student is another name added to the list of the recent arrests being made.
There are many whose names would fail to find a mention in this list. The very exercise of maintaining such a list turns names into numbers; numbers which remain woefully hierarchized, where some are worthy of a mention and others eclipse into oblivion.
This anti-Muslim pogrom in Delhi was preceded by massive protests across the country against CAA, NPR, and NRC; hundreds of mass sit-ins inspired by women-led Shaheen Bagh protest site sprawled across the country, Bilariyaganj town in Azamgarh was one of them. On the early hours of February 6th, police cracked down on the protest site, arresting Maulana Tahir Madni, Rashtriya Ulama Council General Secretary, along with many women and minors. Tahir Madni is still in jail.
In all these cases, there is a common thread running through these seemingly disparate cases, it is to no one’s surprise that those being targeted are Muslims. The State has directly come for the Muslim leaders in the past few months with no bounds and control. The political backing, academic background, mass following, all is submerged under the desire of the State to rule with an iron rod. Every Muslim voice seeking justice is crushed under the brutal repression of all sorts without any accountability from the State; impunity has been reserved for culprits feeding on the Hindutva majoritarian discourse supported by this regime.
The onus of targeting Muslim leaders is not entirely reserved for visibly Islamophobic forces but, is being fed to the masses through a discourse of socio-psychological understanding. The ‘fear of numbers’ or to precisely put it, ‘the fear of becoming the numbers of minorities’ is instilled with the social construction of ‘public morality’. The State remains behind the curtain and the majority is used as ‘living puppets’ to put the seeds of an ideal state in which Muslim identity is limited to invoke the ‘diversity’ present in the country. The masses walk along the dictation, encapsulated under the garb of nationalism, any diversion from the instilled idea of the Hindutva State is a sign of anti-nationalism. The assertion of Muslim identity, the very idea of their right-seeking, their dissent with the Hindutva majoritarianism becomes morally unacceptable to the masses and is dealt with, regardless of how adrift it is from the ‘constitutionality’ of this country.
The construction of public morality is focused on making the subconscious of the masses, a shield to the State itself. But repression of dissent directly from the State alters the ‘sympathy of the masses’ consciously. The framing of fifty-one individuals under sedition, who raised slogans for the immediate release of Sharjeel Imam in Mumbai Queer Pride Parade at Azad Maidan was evident to suppress any support that may come for such Muslim leaders. After the anti-Muslim Delhi pogrom, picking of young Muslims from the affected areas of North-East Delhi did not even make it to the screen time of major news outlets. The reluctancy of the citizens to come and stand in support is a product of the State’s agenda to crush, alter, and rule.
This fear psychosis produced by the State is based on the principle of ‘othering’ which is carried ahead even by self-proclaimed progressive circles. Equipped with ‘saviour complex’ and a habit of ‘token solidarity’, these left-liberal circles delegitimize assertive Muslims as ‘fringe’ elements. By patronizing the ones who are speaking, by disqualifying their assertion, and by demonizing the very idea of identity politics, the liberal paradigm creates the idea of – the right type of activism. The self-representative narration by an unapologetic Muslim is deemed unsuitable to be the voice of the oppressed because primarily, it does not fit their narrative. The underlying idea is to portray Muslim leaders unfit for the political discourse of a ‘secular’ nation.
In fact, there is no benefit of the doubt when it comes to the framing of Muslim leaders, let alone Muslims. The case of Sharjeel Imam reiterates this. Sharjeel Imam, a PhD scholar of Centre of Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University who is behind the bars and has been slapped with sedition and UAPA by five States for an alleged doctored speech he made at Aligarh Muslim University. There is no coherent understanding in the mainstream circles and the masses to back him up for his conception of ‘social justice’ which has its roots in his lived experiences and well-amassed knowledge. The only way out is to take a ‘principled’ position in his cases, by diluting his Muslim identity to create a picture of human which only can suit the existing functioning of the State apparatus. Apparently, calling it the benefit of doubt undermines the value it carries on socio-political grounds – it should be called the ‘privilege of doubt’, clearly who it influences and what it influences is a tool of the majority where minorities and their leaders are not given a platform of consideration.
The Muslims in the case of these neck-cutting competition of arrests is left with a question of who to save and on what cost?
Zeenia Parveen is a student of M.A. Politics (with specialization in International Studies), School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University.