Whether You Are ‘Team Hindu’ Or ‘Team Muslim’, You Must Read This Open Letter

Dear average Indian,

I write this today with a heavy heart because I’m searching for you in this crowd of people who seem to hate each other so much that they allowed this hatred to rip apart an eight-year-old child’s life.

I know you are there somewhere, no matter how agitated, lost for words and shocked. Hence I made this effort to write to you.

This letter is long and divided into the following parts:

1. A look at the boiling point of India today
2. My position in writing this to you
3. Dear Hindu
4. Dear Muslim
5. Dear Indian

So switch off your notifications, close those million tabs and grab your coffee or tea and pay attention.

1. A look at how India has reached its boiling point
(I apologize for my clumsy drawings :p)

India has reached its boiling point when a child, a girl of eight years is used as a plot to imbibe fear in the people of her community. As humans, we couldn’t go worse than this.

But some people did manage to find a new low when they stood in support of the accused rapists and took out a rally with thousands of people, carrying the Indian flag.

This reminds me of that old proverb that said – “The forest was shrinking but the trees kept voting for the axe because its handle was wood and they thought it was one of them.”

By any standards and definitions, this does not seem to be a democracy anymore when the charge sheet is obstructed from being filed and it is only the media storm and the public outrage that has pushed some tiny parts of the system to take some actions. A similar story is revealed in the Unnao rape case.

If you still insist on calling it a democracy, you’d at least agree that we are on shaky grounds and the word democracy is almost reduced to just a label, namesake if you will.

Hence, we need to talk. You and I, one to one.

2. My Position In Writing This To You

This morning, Sania Mirza tweeted her shock at the gang rape of Asifa.

Of course, her loyalty and patriotism were immediately questioned:

To this troll Sania Mirza responded:

 

If the loyalty and patriotism of a player who has been winning medals and gold for this India since 2001 is being questioned, I stand no chance.

The ones blind to anyone from a different faith may not get this, so now is a good time to quit reading and going back to trolling or cat videos.

For the suspecting ones, here is my personal stance. I am an Indian Muslim feminist author.

I was born and raised until teenage in Saudi Arabia and I have openly written about the human rights violations by that nation while also loving the friends I made there, the time I spent with them and the generosity I received.

I do not support any political party and have written against the misogynistic politicians of both parties in the last eight years since I started blogging. The only Indian politician I respect is Dr Tharoor and apart from him I have no hopes, let alone associations with any political party.

Yes, I practice the Islamic faith and yes I am aware of the pros and cons of being a Muslim woman more than you can tell me. And in my blog and books, I have boldly written about the practices that may have worked in the ancient times but no longer hold a place in the modern society – practices such as polygamy or triple talaq.

Yes, I am an Indian but I hang out with people of all skin colors, faiths, races, income statuses, sexual orientations and ages.

I hope that may have cleared up some reservations you may have about me.

3. Dear Hindu

Desmond Tutu once said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”

This quotation above pretty much sums up what the rest of this section is going to be about.

First of all, let me assure you that I know how you feel.

Some fanatic freaks that belong to the same faith as you, go out and commit a heinous crime and then the whole community is branded as terrorists or hateful people… Been there, felt that plenty of times as a Muslim.

Right now, in the aftermath of the Kathua rape outrage, you are feeling weird. I can say because your comments on social media and tweets reflect this feeling when you say #RiseAboveReligion or that stop linking rape to religion. And that so many of you are using the ‘what-aboutery’ argument quoting rapes committed by priests or mullas.

Internally, you are at war. You may have voted for the BJP. You liked Mr Modi. At some point, you may or may not have even spewed unpleasant things about Muslims or Dalits.

But the gang-rape of a child is where you draw the line. This is where you say it outright that this is an appalling crime and needs to be taken seriously. And then you see that there are people of your faith supporting the alleged rapists, using the name of your lord and carrying the national flag.

So many of you find it outrageous and speak up without any guilt because you know where the guilt belongs. You don’t feel agitated when you see this as a hate crime because you realise that it is indeed committed as a hate crime and if not, the poor dead girls’ funeral would have been carried out on her father’s land.

But many do not see that or purposely skip over that part of the rape where all the planning and plotting took place and the details of the 18-page long charge sheet that describes this as the strategy to drive out the Bakarwal Muslim community.

You may choose to ignore this part of the crime and pick and choose your outrage over just the child abuse part. No one can force you to see it if you don’t want to but to be an intersectional and truly democratic society, I suggest you should.

I know you may feel attacked when the word Hindu is used in the news articles and the fact that this rape was committed inside a temple.

But you know more than me that your faith does not teach that. What you can do is try and empathise with the people of the community that feel attacked. Just saying, “I understand how you feel,” would go a very long way.

You do not have to be defensive because you have nothing to defend! You are not those criminals who are trying to get sympathy and support by carrying the national flag and chanting religious phrases.

You are confused because you do respect the national flag and you do believe in the same phrases they were chanting but this is the time to realise this manipulation.

The same manipulative trick used by politicians to get your votes. Indian masses have been gullible long enough and still are. But if you are reading this in English and are able to understand this, I am sure this is within the level of your intellect to realise.

We have been voting people for their religious promises and not how much progress and development they will bring. Our people vote on the colour of the politicianss dress and the beard but not on their educational merits. And this is why we are in this mess today.

So here are a few suggestions from my side:

Do not feel attacked when someone mentions the word ‘Hindu’ or ‘temple’ in these Kathua gang-rape memes on social media. You know better. Don’t get defensive and waste time on social media fighting about religion.

Do not question the loyalty of your Muslim friends and people in general. Focus on being a good citizen yourself.

Refrain from all sorts of name calling that has been going on lately including ‘intolerant’, ‘lib-tard’, ‘pseudo-liberals’, ‘anti-national’, ‘anti-Modi’, etc (does no good to anyone).

Realise the privileges the upper caste, wealthy Indian men have been enjoying(step out of your comfort zone and privileged life and make friends with people of minority groups, talk to them).

Try to listen to the underprivileged and minorities with an open heart and mind and understand their issues and struggles – why are they complaining, what is their side of the story, how does it feel to be them?

Do this and the rest is continued in the last section.

4. Dear Muslim

Yes, the Kathua rape victim was a Muslim. So were Akhlaq and the several other lynched by mobs in the last couple of years. I know you feel threatened. So do I.

Many of you want to protest, create riots or even want revenge if you’re that depraved (which I hope none of you are). But here are a few things I have realised and I am sure you may have too.

This is the same India where we have lived all our lives. And if we see some Hindus in these mob lynchings and rapes, we also can find plenty others that talk of peace and tolerance.

They are not hard to find really. Just look around or on social media. I have been following a hashtag related to the Kathua rape case for the last three days.

And while I did find people that were trying to use the ‘what-aboutery’ argument, there were an awful lot more who were offended that the criminals used a temple to carry out their evil plot.

This is highly reassuring in an environment that has descended to these levels of depravity. Just while I am writing this, constant news has been coming in, of a rape victim’s suicide in UP today, a toddler rape in Assam.

Rape in today’s India is business as usual. And while the rape in Kathua was a plot to drive away her community, isn’t every rape just as awful, just as bad?

If you want to be outraged – be outraged twice. Not just because she was a Muslim. But also because a rape, every rape must be met with outrage.

As long as we pick and choose our outrage only for the people of our faith, we can never have a safe country. When you hear the phrase ‘beti bachao’, don’t confine to the word ‘beti’. If she isn’t your daughter or from your community, you don’t give a damn about her. This shouldn’t be our attitude.

Every woman, whether or not a ‘beti‘, behn, ‘bahu’ or ‘ma’ deserves respect, so said our Prophet, may peace be upon him.

But, in the current regime and in the aftermath of the gang-rape, I can understand how you feel. So here are few suggestions that I want you to follow-

1- Don’t get provoked or agitated on social media while engaging with people of other faiths.
2- Don’t protest with violence of any sort, whether offline or online.
3- Want women to be safe? Start from your own homes. Don’t mistreat your wives, don’t stop your girls from getting an education, don’t force hijab on them, don’t keep them within the four walls,  don’t prevent them from having careers and marrying their choice of husbands. If you remain deeply conservative, you are as bad as the rest of them who commit those crimes in the name of their religion.
4- Please do not be influenced by politicians like Owaisi. I have not followed the man’s speeches enough to comment on him as a person but from the few speeches I did watch, he is not the ideal voice for the Muslims of India. Yes, we as a minority will not stand oppression but we also do not want extremists and fanatics to be our voice.

Have faith in the Indian inside the Hindus. Protest with peace and respect. Allah likes that. Remember that even in a war, we are not allowed to attack the children, elderly, women, destroy property or kill cattle and livestock. Don’t be influenced by the Middle Eastern extremists, we are not them and trust me we do not want to be like them.

If you truly want to revolt and stand up to this regime, educate the children in the Muslim community not just by sending them to Madarsas but also educate them in sciences, arts, humanities and technology. Let them become so wise and intelligent that they fight their wars with education and technology and protest not with guns but creative dialogue and art.

They should be able to spread the education within the rest of the community and who knows maybe one day solve the Middle East crisis along with the Indian one.

The Holy Quran came to the Arabs because they were the most ‘jahiloon’ in Arabic, which means uneducated and uncivilized in English. If we remain uneducated and uncivilized, we will not progress And do not forget, the first word of the Quran is ‘iqra’ which means to ‘read’.

Reading, acquiring knowledge should be the first and last weapon in your struggle as a Muslim, as an Indian, as a human.

5. Dear Indian

I know you feel just like I do. You are scared. You feel judged all the time and at this very moment you are struggling to prove your loyalties. On the one hand is your faith, your community and on the other hand is your humanity, your place in democracy. If you talk as a person of your faith, you receive backlash. And even if you speak as an Indian, your patriotism is questioned.

But I know what you want:

1. You want to wake up in a nation that is safe.
2. You want to have breakfast, kiss your kids and go to work to earn a stable living.
3. You want to be friends with your colleagues and shop owners around your shop.
4. You want your children to be safe in their schools and get a good education.
5. You want your spouse, parents and friends to be happy, healthy and safe.
6. You want your children to have a sustainable future in this country.
6. May be reduced taxes, reasonable fuel prices and onions not as expensive as gold.

And here’s what you don’t want:

1. You don’t want to see toddlers raped because then you constantly worry about your children.
2. You don’t want your father’s beaten up in jail and see them die helplessly.
3. You don’t want to fight on social media over religion.
4. You don’t want to return home in pieces because someone blew you up.
5. You don’t want to prove your loyalty to your country to every troll and idiot.
6. You don’t want your friends, colleagues and acquaintances to doubt your commitment as an Indian.

WhatsApp and social media have played a huge role lately in influencing popular opinions on political parties and fueling religious hatred. In fact, I can’t do a better job at explaining how these troll armies work than this EIC video:

So make sure you are not just an Indian, a Muslim or a Hindu. First be aware and awake of the messages you receive.

We can sit and debate for months about the Mandir-Masjid issue or the Taj Mahal or cows and beef or demonetization. But there are few things I want you to look at first:

1. India Is The Nation Of The Most Unemployed In The World, according to the Labour Bureau Statistics.
2. In the World Happiness Index, we rank a pathetic 122, worse than Pakistan, Iran, Bangladesh and Somalia!
3. The Indian passport ranks a lowly 75th position in the World Global Power index.
4. A 13-year analysis of crime data reveals there is one rape every 30 minutes in India, some data says one rape every 15 minutes.
5. One in five cases of honour killing internationally every year comes from India (United Nations)
6. The rate of malnutrition cases among children in India is almost five times more than in China and twice than in Sub-Saharan Africa (The World Bank Report)
7. 12 million children spend their childhood at work and not in a classroom (2011 Census)
8. 270 million persons live below the Tendulkar Poverty Line (NSSO Survey 2013)

There are plenty more shameful data about caste discrimination, religious discrimination, farmer suicides, untouchability, mental health of Indians, violence against women, environment and other areas that I can quote from but I guess you get my point. The next time someone provokes you to discuss religion and political inclination, talk of these numbers and discuss common ground progress.

So what should one do in the face of divisive politics and hate crimes?

Well, like my educated, urban, upper middle class, foreign travelling, English speaking friends; you can remain unbothered and unmoved by the ground realities of the data above and the politics and hate crimes and continue with your privileged lifestyle clubbing on weekends and shopping on weekdays. But then there is a risk which Plato warned us about when he said-

One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors.”

This holds absolutely true if you look at the ex DGP of Karnataka, who called Delhi gang-rape victim’s mother ‘fit and smart’ or the High Court judge of Rajasthan who recommended that cow be the national animal of India while claiming that peacocks mate when peahens swallow tears of a peacock. I mean, biology what, right?

Being blind to politics is not going to help, believe me, I tried.

So what will help?

Education and awareness. Nelson Mandela once said that – “The more informed you are, the less arrogant and aggressive you are.” The aggression we show at the moment, the name-calling, the labelling and the vile hatred is not the India our freedom fighters fought for.

And if continued unchecked, it will lead to the things I mentioned in the list of things you don’t want as an average Indian citizen. Being an Indian is hard. We live in a nation of 1.32 billion, almost 17% of the planet earth.

We have people of all skin colours and religions.We have been independent for 70 years and we built ourselves up from famine, poverty and a state of complete disaster.

We fought the most powerful colonial regime and now we are losing to our own vicious politicians who are fueling so much religious hatred that an 8-year-old girl lost her life in the most painful way possible due to this hatred.

We have to remember that the nation that we call India, includes people of other faiths and more importantly, people of other opinions. What we lack deeply is to feel calm in the face of opposition. We have divided our thoughts, our culture and way of life into a binary – the right or the wrong way. In which we are the right ones and anyone with a different mindset has to be wrong.

We have to give up the thought that ‘my way is only the right way’. We have to be okay and teach our next generations to be okay with people who do not follow their line of thought.

We need to learn how to be in the same room and empathise with people that are physically and spiritually different from us. And while we are at it, why limit this being okay to just Indians. We are global citizens. We need to be accepting of all humans regardless of their passports.

Specifically, during the times of elections, we need to remember to think like an Indian and not let religious sentiments distract us from our true spirit – our democracy. We all proudly declare India as the largest democracy in the world but we must remember this thought from the Wrath of Gnon – “Democracy only works as long as you can trust your neighbour to vote in the best interest of you both.”

Now is the time to question your actions and whether you want a progressive India or an anarchist one where people with money, power and privilege create more Kathua victims, Delhi gang-rape victims, Rohith Vemulas and Akhlaqs.

Yours sincerely,
An average Indian

Featured and Thumbnail image used for representative purposes only.

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Image Source: Daniel Berehulak/ Getty Images,  Allison Joyce/ Getty Images
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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

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The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

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Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

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With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

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A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
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campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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