As I relish traditional sewain on Eid here and reach out to my friends and family in India over the phone, to extend my wishes, an eerie feeling engulfs my being, writes Indian American Dr Samina Salim
DR SAMINA SALIM | Clarion India
TODAY it is Eid-ul-Fitr in Houston. It is a day to celebrate. The celebration is, however, subdued and modified in deference to a pandemic, like everything else, an acceptance of a new normal. No hugs, no kisses, but there are prayers and best wishes to count on.
As I relish traditional sewain (Eid special sweets) made using my mother’s traditional Lucknowi recipe and reach out to my friends and family in India over the phone, to extend my wishes, an eerie feeling engulfs my being. I think of many who remain stranded on streets and highways fleeing poverty, seeking safety and facing desperation in the hot Indian summer.
A flashback of a horrible year hurts my soul, the events that led the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) to list India as a country of particular concern (CPC) under the International Religious Freedom Act in its 2020 annual report. This is a fall from grace for a country which was once a champion of secular ideals and was fully invested in pursuit of peaceful co-existence.
Ever since, the ultra-nationalist BJP came to power in India, persecution of minority communities, especially Muslims, has become rampant. Revocation of Article 370 and gross violation of human rights in Kashmir, skewed verdict on the 16th century Babri Mosque, passing of the unconstitutional Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), brutal clampdown on peaceful civil dissent, use of excessive police force to curb social and political activism in universities, the Delhi pogrom and the more recent Islamophobic camouflaging of the COVID-19 pandemic, reflect genocidal tendencies i.e. stigmatisation, legalised discrimination, violence and extermination.
Considering the aforesaid circumstances, USCIRF’s timely recommendations deserve all applause. As an Indian American it is not a matter of pleasure to hear all this. But sooner we get to acknowledge the reality, the better it is. Perhaps, this form of public shaming might aid in crushing the rising tide of fascism in India. However, India’s unapologetic demeanour does not suggest it.
The rise of religious persecution of Muslims and Christians, the Islamophobic bigotry on social and mainstream media even at the time of a global crisis, goes unchecked. Most recent example of this unabated terror is the social, economic and even medical boycott of Muslims during the global pandemic caught the attention of intellectuals, human rights organisations, genocide watch groups, policy makers, foreign affairs circles worldwide especially in the Middle East, Persian Gulf and North America.
Sadly, the Indian leadership remained overconfident about the stupor it has cast on its base that regardless of the extent of their atrocities and their idiocrasies, their power would remain intact.
Taking advantage of this assurance, they decided to continue its clampdown on silencing peaceful dissent against CAA-NRC-NPR by making close to 800 arrests while the country of a billion plus population is under a crippling lockdown. All those arrested are social activists, Ms Safoora Zargar, Meeran Haider, Shifa-Ur-Rehman, Ms Gulfisha, Ms Ishrat Jahan to name only a few. They are all booked under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) – an absurd and draconian law that denies bail to the accused.
The police have accused the arrested activists of a conspiracy to instigate riots through hate speech and incitement to violence. This is obviously a grave abuse of state power. It is an irony that while the likes of Sadhvi Pragya (accused in a bomb blast case) and Kapil Sharma, who openly gave a call to violence, roam free, the innocent are kept under lockup. The fact that Muslims were at the receiving end of the violence in Delhi is no deterrent on the police to their persecution.
The story of Ms Safoora Zargar is particularly moving. It has been over a month since a would-be mother Safoora made to sit in a dark and dingy corner of crowded Tihar Jail despite an advisory which speaks of increased susceptibility of pregnant women to Coronavirus infection. This is obviously a stunt of the Indian government right out of the Nazi playbook to suppress future protests and dissent.
In a country of Islamophobes, racists and rapists, there also are those that remain committed to the ideals that India was formed at the stroke of the midnight on August 15, 1947, and they are rooting for Safoora.
Hang in there beautiful Safoora, you are a warrior of peace, a symbol of Indian secularism. The hate machinery has tried every tool and every medium at their disposal, to put different labels on you – violent, anti-national and so on. All forms of propaganda to continuously undermine, defame and dismiss have been debunked. Every time a new insult either in the form of a fake video or a dubious claim emerges, it is quickly subdued in the face of the impeccable character of impactful women like you who stand with an unflinching resolve to save the secular character of India. More power to you, Eid Mubarak to you!
Samina Salim, Ph.D., is Associate Professor, Department of Pharmacological & Pharmaceutical Sciences, Houston College of Pharmacy. She was born in Lucknow and raised in Aligarh and moved to the United States in 1999. The views expressed here are author’s own and Clarion India does not necessarily share or subscribe to them.