This incident is from the time of my fieldwork in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, in the winters of 2016. We as a team were trying to analyze the effect of media on politics. One evening, we were walking down the streets in Hazratganj admiring the place when I stopped by a small shop to buy something. Ganesh, (my other teammate) who doesn’t like wasting any time, whispered in my ear, “इनका भी इंटरव्यू ले लेते हैं” (let’s take their interview as well). I ignored his advice and proceeded to buy something for my friends and cousins.
I bought some tops and was paying for the same when Ganesh started talking to him. To my wonder, the shopkeeper turned out to be the most interesting man we met on the last day of our fieldwork. Mr Munawar Khan was a man with a distinct charisma and vision. When we asked him about his educational qualification, he was so proud to let us know that he was a pass-out from an English medium school. According to him, a politician’s sense of secularity is his biggest quality- “हिंदू, मुस्लिम, सिख, इसाई सबको साथ में लेकर के चले”। (Be it Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, or the Christian community, they should strive for everyone’s progress).
Soon, he started speaking about the state of diplomacy in our country and the prevalent tension amongst the Hindu and Muslim community. He cited examples of the likes of Dr APJ Abdul Kalam who was also a Muslim but irrespective of his religious identity was secular in every sense of the word. He did so much for the country, and yet Muslims are still often referred to as the agents of Pakistan.
The day was December 6. We had already seen and heard the slogans that the members of the dedicated Hindu extremist parties were shouting on the streets of Hazratganj (the main market and posh locality in Lucknow) when he himself mentioned “आज 6 तारीख है। आज मस्जिद शहीद हुई थी” (Today is the 6th, the mosque was martyred today). He recalled people all around the place shouting anti-Muslim slogans. You talk about law and order, where do the law and order go when they shout?
“हिंदी हिंदु हिंदुस्तान, मुल्ला जाओ पाकिस्तान, मुसलमान का एक ही स्थान, कब्रिस्तान और कब्रिस्तान” (Hindi, Hindu, Hindustan, Muslims go to Pakistan. Muslims belong in only one place, graveyard and graveyard). “What do you think we go through when we are made to feel like anti-nationals, outcasts, and outliers in our very own country?” he added.
We had no answer to this question. As our interview was done, we helplessly said thank you to Mr Khan and walked out of his shop and down the lane silently!
I wish I could meet him again. I hope I can respond to his question once I have the answer!