Democracy in India, affirmed through elections, is pushing Muslims to the margins
By Apoorvanand, The Indian Express| April 26, 2016
“Festival rubs off scars,” claimed a newspaper report that was accompanied by a photograph of Muslim men distributing water and sweets to Hindus celebrating Ram Navami. The place was Balu Math in Latehar, Jharkhand. The scars meant the murder of two Muslim men, one of them an adolescent, by members of the local Gau Raksha Samiti.
Rub off your scars and do not complain, Muslims are told after each violent incident against them. Their insistence on talking about their wounds is seen as a sign of their grumbling nature, love of their victimhood, and a proof of their disaffection towards Hindus.
Responding to criticism against his study of the sources of the authoritarian personality in Germans in the post-Hitler years, Theodore Adorno wrote “… in the house of the hangman one should not speak of the noose, otherwise one might seem to harbour resentment.” Adorno was trying to look for the socio-psychological sources of Nazism. He was accused of inducing guilt in the Germans about what was not a collective crime, but an exceptional event in the history of an otherwise liberal, enlightened culture.
The killing of Akhlaq at Dadri shocked the nation. But attacks on Muslims, in the name of saving cows or on some other pretext, have lost their ability to create a sensation. For every published story of violence against Muslims, there are at least 10 stories untold or unreported. Violence against the community is like domestic or sexual violence in which the women are expected to understand the temperament of their men and adjust accordingly. Grumbling or resisting women deserve further punishment.
Incidents of beating up of Muslims or social boycott of the community in Jharkhand have failed to find space in the media. Diktats are issued not to do business with Muslims. For the past two years, the Muslims of Jharkhand have been enduring this carefully crafted, ruthless and silent isolation.
How are Muslims expected to react? From petitioning the local police and administration to staging dharnas, community leaders use all possible democratic means to voice their concern. The law and order machinery, mostly, sees Muslims with Hindu eyes. The chief minister of Jharkhand feigned surprise when a delegation apprised him of these incidents. “Who is doing all this?” he asked. One of the delegation members replied, “Sir, they are those who think that now it is their raj path.”
Ironically, it has become the responsibility of Muslims to bring back normalcy. They were asked not to harbour animosity against Hindus. Victims were seen vying with each other to please their tormentors.
It is now seen as a normal democratic practice and a part of the freedom of speech to spread venom and hatred against Muslims. This newspaper has warned and pleaded editorially that hate against Muslims should not be made an electoral agenda. It has gone unheeded. The Assam election campaign saw virulent anti-Muslim propaganda. The chief of the ruling party cunningly used a historically absurd example of a 13th century Ahom king driving out a 16th century Mughal badshah and exhorted the electorate to follow his act. His history may be wrong, but it was a deliberate mistake. The message reached the intended constituency. While preparing for elections in Kerala, he openly called for the consolidation of all Hindu forces.
The rise of Dalit and backward politics has not been of much help to Muslims. If we look at their electoral behaviour, they have always chosen parties headed by Hindus. Parties that mobilise maximum number of Hindu votes usually get their support. But these parties, referred to as secular, refrain from being seen with them in the time of distress. We saw it during the Trilokpuri violence. Neither the AAP nor other secular parties could muster courage to be seen on the ground helping Muslims.
We approached a senior Congress leader in Delhi to request political support for the Muslims of Atali. He explained that they could do it only incognito as their primary concern now was to win back Hindus. “You have to understand that Muslims would back us only when they are assured that the majority of Hindus are with us,” he said. Three years ago in Dhule (Maharashtra), six Muslim youth were killed and many houses burnt. The leaders of the ruling parties, the Congress and the NCP, did not visit the bereaved families.
To be seen supporting Muslims can be electorally costly.
Democracy in India, which gets renewed and affirmed through elections, is now pushing Muslims to the margins and making them invisible. They are losing hope in India. This might sound alarmist, but it needs to be said. For the first time in independent India, they feel pushed to the corner and disenfranchised. There have often been reports from poll-bound states about “aggressive” voting by Muslims. It is a last ditch attempt to save whatever is left of the plural democratic space where they once felt secure.
“Do not leave us” is what Gandhi had told the Muslims in 1947. India will be incomplete without you. You would not be vassals of Hindus but their proud equals, Gandhi had assured them. He was punished with death for this audacity. After him, his disciple, Jawaharlal Nehru, bravely honoured the promise. Nehru was not afraid of being derided as half-Muslim, half-Christian. The shadows of Gandhi and Nehru seem to have receded far from Muslims.
The biggest challenge before secular politics today is to bring back the Gandh-ian courage and declare boldly that it is pro-Muslim. If it is not done urgently, we are in the danger of losing India, or whatever is left of it.