Till yesterday I used to walk with my head high, travel across the globe exulting in people’s appreciation of the secularism in India that gave us all the freedom to practice our religion. Today I am no more than my religious identity. A monolith to be reviled and attacked. I am not a woman, I am not a journalist, I am not an Indian. I am only a Muslim, they say, and hence everything I say has to be vilified, targeted and attacked
“Yes I am, I am also a Muslim, a Christian, a Buddhist, and a Jew.” -Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi
[dropcap]I[/dropcap] woke up with this quote of Gandhi today, his birth anniversary, sent to me by a friend. He said this when he was asked if he was a Hindu. And was killed for his uncompromising stand on secularism by Nathuram Godse, an assassin revered by many in power today. A sobering thought, as is the official government effort to reduce Gandhi from a towering symbol of freedom, democracy and religious unity into a figure virtually wielding little more than a broom to clean the litter off the streets of India. The Father of the Nation has been reduced to a Swacch Bharat symbol, with cleanliness now being his only contribution that the leaders of the day like to remember. And that too just about.
But so far they have not been able to take away from the rich legacy of resistance, ideals,vision, democracy, freedoms he left behind , and because of which the post independence generations grew into proud Indians conscious of not one, but many identities.
So waking up on Gandhi’s birth anniversary my first thought was about these identities, of the yesterday that had told me a story starkly different to the today. And while using the personal “I” , I like to think that I am speaking for many many Indians —some who are walking the talk, some who are silent but worried, some who are sitting on the fence but ready to plunge away from the world of hate and divisiveness that is being created deliberately, on the other side. From deaths over beef, from killings over concocted ‘love jihad’ stories, from attacks on rationality and reason into the world of reason and sanity, of freedoms and rights, of secularism and democracy.
Like other Indians I too have multiple identities. I am a woman, a journalist, an author, an Indian, and a Muslim. I am a daughter, a sister, a mother in my defining roles as a woman. I have many identities that work together in harmony, and establish that I am not a monolithic entity but a myriad that revels in being the many and not the one.
Till yesterday I used to walk with my head high, travel across the globe exulting in people’s appreciation of the secularism in India that gave us all the freedom to practice our religion. I was aware that I made some Pakistanis uncomfortable, and while the embraced the non-Muslim Indians for their efforts at peacebuilding, they were not as easy with me as I represented the failure of the two nation theory. By being a happy and proud Indian in my existence—did not need to carry it as jingoism on my sleeve—I was the walking, talking counter to the justification of Partition. I knew that, as did my friends and it certainly made us all smile.
Till yesterday, while aware of the dangers that communal forces represented in India, I was sure that these would be beaten back. And had confidence in the political parties ability to fight these back with a strong assertion of secularism. But have to confess the last ten years of this yesterday made one pessimistic as the Indian ruling dispensation showed a marked inability to grasp the message of the Constitution, and pandered to base religious sentiments as and when these squeezed the pressure points. And it was during that more recent yesterday, that as a journalist I started feeling the weight of prejudice that seemed to react to the ‘Mustafa’ in my name, a slow but what I had not realized then, steadily growing bias that was more concerned with the religious identity of the writer, than the facts.
Today I am no more than my religious identity. A monolith to be reviled and attacked. I am not a woman, I am not a journalist, I am not an Indian. I am only a Muslim, they say, and hence everything I say has to be vilified, targeted and attacked. I have armies of trolls on the social media waiting to pounce and bare their fangs as the rabid kutta, or their chest as a Namo supporter, or whatever to hurl vitriolic abuse, threats and all the dirt that their ugly, filthy minds can make up.
Today I am aware of the ‘armies’ that those in power nurture, that we journalists still call mobs, with the ‘soldiers’ following those who spread the rumors and the lies, to kill and maim. As they did in Dadri where the rumor was about a calf missing, beef being eaten, and then the attack on the single family as the ‘accused’ with 55 year old Mohammad Akhlaq being beaten to death with bricks. Why? Because some goons said he was eating beef?!!
Today I see these ‘armies’ every minute on the social media, threatening the three target groups that their mentors have identified. Minorities that includes Christians and Muslims; Secularists that includes all progressive, peace loving people of India including the rationalists who are being targeted and assassinated; And of course women who are always easy prey and have to follow the ‘culture’ as those in power today define it.
Anyone speaking out for their rights is vilified, attacked, and virtually hounded out of the sites as most decent persons cannot use the language that is on display these days. I err on all three counts—being a Muslim, secularist and a woman. And of course every now and again I am also attacked for being an atheist! . It takes a thick skin to be able to ward off the ‘attack’ by trolls being fed and clothed by those who want to destroy the plural democracy of India.
Today I see a political collapse of the forces that have lost credibility, and hence become toothless. Except in states like Bihar where there is a fight on. In others it seems to have dropped to the last denominator of accommodation, with Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Orissa, West Bengal coming immediately to mind where the chief ministers are not particularly worried about the fascism creeping in at a pace that is faster than originally envisaged. As the political opposition has not realized—or perhaps does not want to realise— that all that is secular, democratic, progressive is under attack. The idea of India is under attack. And perhaps we all need to re-read Martin Niemollers famous lines against Hitler and fascism:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
Today, conversely, I also see a resilience from civil society. Anger by the non-Muslims who are clearly not supportive of the rashtra they are being promised. A fight back, slow but again rising steadily. But till when? For how long? And how effective can civil society be without a political movement?
I know I owned the yesterday that Gandhi built for us. But have I lost the today?