This is rage.
This is fear.
This is breathing in aluminium soil and sulphur clouds.
This is tear gas tearing up your eyes.
The morning of uncertainty, the morning of being left alone, the morning of ruined hope, trampled esteemed and scarred bodies. This is the morning of calling friends to ask if they are okay. This is the morning of googling “casualties” and if anyone has died. This is the morning of counting your loss, their loss, our loss! This is unapologetically carrying your identity on your head. This is calling them out on their atrocities, this is parents fearing the safety of their child not on the black-lit roads, but under the arms of the protector of their safety.
This is them saying, without saying, that you deserved your rights to be snatched, assaulted, threatened to live in fear because you are an outsider, an invader. You are the overpopulation; you are the disease. You are the terrorist, you are the leftovers, you are the Indian Muslim.
So, allow me to speak today before they snatch that right away. Allow me to write my story before they turn it into forgotten memories, changing histories, calling me a bastard in my own country, raising question on my entire existence, basing it solely on a mere sheet of paper.
There’s a famous saying “Jiski lathi, uski bhains”, which in English means that he who has the stick gets to own the Buffalo, or in other words, “might is right”, “jungle law” or “power comes from the barrel of a gun.” If you still cannot understand, you need to watch movies like Gandhi or Bhagat Singh, and look for traces of violence and atrocities perpetrated by the police forces controlled by then British colonial government. If you think there was no law back then, and that the British officials did things because that suited their fancy, then you are highly mistaken.
The British did everything by passing an unjust law. A law that legalised every act of brutality with complete impunity; that’s how it all begins. It follows a pattern, starts by categorical and systematic discrimination against a particular community, by passing a law. An unjust law, if not opposed, can lead to genocide, or apartheid of minorities. It’s started by giving unrestrained, unbridled power in the hands of police authorities. We don’t have to look far, it reflects in the recent police brutality during the ongoing CAA protest by Jamia students, or the apocalypse that has befallen in Northeast Delhi in the form of a pogrom.
I first posted this article on the YKA platform after the Jamia incident happened, but I was too scared by my ambition to join bureaucracy one day, so I pulled it down. That one cowardly act of mine has haunted me till date, and over the past few months, I have repeatedly asked myself one question, “Is giving up on my right to speak freely without fear something that I am ready to accept and live with?” After three months of contemplation, the answer I came up with was a naked No. Even after three months of relentless protesting and raising our voice, the majority has acted with utmost cowardice and hate. Whether it’s Jamia, AMU, JNU or the Delhi pogrom, the anger, helplessness, rage and shame that I feel is still the same.
I am an Indian Muslim woman and today, I will speak my truth till I’m allowed. As Faiz Ahmed Faiz says, “Bol, ki lab aazad hai tere, bol ke zubaan ab tak teri hai”.
All my grandfather ever wanted was the freedom to live in his own country with dignity. We all know the history. Each one of us who proudly call ourselves citizens of India have had our ancestors contribute towards the struggle of Independent India. But no history book has documented the individual struggle for freedom. Tomorrow, if someone were to raise a question against my citizenship, my nationality, my loyalty, I would have no means to prove it, and why should I anyway?
Why should I tell them that my grandfather fought side-by-side with Mahatma Gandhi, that he was a driver to Kasturba Gandhi? That he’s still known as Gandhiji in his village? If you go to my native place in Siwan, all you have to ask is “Gandhiji ke ghar jana hai.” But none of this would matter to them because no matter what I say or do, I would be reduced to my Muslim identity, the identity I wasn’t even conscious of as I spent nearly 10 years in Muslim majority institutions i.e. Aligarh Muslim University and Jamia Milli Islamia, until I went to pursue law from Faculty of Law, Delhi University.
I felt threatened by my Muslim identity, and it made me conscious of the politics around it. I become conscious of the society I was getting educated in, and my lack of privilege in this society. How I would refrain from talking in my Urdu zubaan, making sure I don’t use “shukriya”, “Inshallah” or “mashallah”, even though no one ever said anything. But I knew it would make people around me uncomfortable.
Privilege is a right or immunity granted as a benefit, advantage, or favour. There is religious privilege, gender privilege, heterosexual privilege, economic privilege, able-bodied privilege, educational privilege, and the list goes on and on. At some point, one becomes conscious of the privilege that they hold. It’s my privilege to be able to have the ability to write this article in a language that is not mine. It is somewhat embarrassing for me to accept just how privileged I am, and if you’re reading this, you too have some kind of privilege.
It’s also really difficult for me to consider the ways in which I lack privilege, or the ways in which my privilege hasn’t rescued me from a world of inequalities and hurt. On many days, I’m not sure what is more difficult, being a woman or being a Muslim woman. I’m happy being both, but the world keeps interfering. There are all kinds of infuriating reminders of my place in my country. People question my faith, my identity, and my loyalty towards my own country; with the legislature persistently trying to legislate me, liberate me, sexualise my body, gender, citizenship, and my existence in my own damn country.
Privilege is when you have been given the advantage to create a particular fervour, banning the singing of something as beautiful and innocent as the prayer “lab pe aati hai dua”; painting it in a religious colour, calling it a “Muslim prayer” due to the word “Allah” in it. And the reason given is that State-funded institutions cannot be associated with any particular religious device in any way, forgetting the Ganga-Jamuna tehzeeb or the rhetoric of “India’s diversity” that we often hear.
I could go on about the pettiness of logic behind it, but as a law student, I have to refrain myself from making any emotive arguments. When I see portraits of Goddesses of Hindu religion hanging in Law Faculty of Delhi University, I’m repulsed by the hypocrisy of it.
I’m often chivvied that voices raised by the Muslim community, civil societies or others could only do so much. The silence till now was not the result of apathy, we were quiet because it was expected of us, because of the fear of consequences. When a State systematically discriminates against members of one community, it is unconscionable to expect that community not to mobilise against that discrimination.
The schadenfreude of the majority is reflected in the celebration and keeping quiet during the whole thing, in the prevailing narrative of the other side of the debate that protesters have started Khilafat 2.0. There are accusations going around that protesters have allegedly damaged public property, and have attacked the policemen. That those policemen have only used “minimum force necessary” to stop the protesters. Minimum force doesn’t etch lathi scars on students’ backs. It doesn’t give them bullet wounds.
Instead of holding those police authorities accountable for their barbarity, they are being portrayed as the “victim” here. This is seriously reprehensible. Without any investigation and inquiry, this presumption of protesting students having allegedly torched buses by saying “we all know people from criminal backgrounds live in these localities” reflects the prejudicial and biased mindset of the people. The Indian judicial system is based on the doctrine of “presumption of innocence until proven guilty”. I think these self-proclaimed academician and lawyers have forgotten the basic principle of criminal jurisprudence.
The question that needs to be asked here is why does a protest always turn violent when the police get involved? If we have a fundamental right to protest and demonstrate, then why do we need interference from the police “until the protest gets violent.” That is the rider, the reasonable restrictions provided in the law. This assumption that a public gathering to protest is not people but mobs ready to vandalise life and property is problematic.
The benefit of the doubt being given to the police authorities becomes nugatory when they are the ones hurling the students like criminals and terrorists, raising hands above the head, as if given the slight liberty, they would drop a bomb on them, meanwhile taunting students “Abhi hum patthar utha ke maare toh kaisa lagega? (Now, how would you feel if we pick up stones and throw them at you?)”
The revulsion and animosity was visible in their eyes. This is your privilege, it’s your stinking privilege with which you colour everything that a Muslim does in communal light, while you can protest, demand reservation, ask for extermination of the Muslim community, and your leaders can openly call out “to rape women of my community”.
I am your sister only when I fulfill your political agenda, when I’m a victim of polygamy or triple talaq. If you see me raising my voice, defending my hijab, rejecting your placatory demands, you are quick to characterise me as a jihadist, demographic dividend, terrorist-making machine. That’s your privilege.
It’s the aim of the constitutional democracy to safeguard the rights of the minority and avoid the tyranny of the majority. The Constitution of India is a unique document because of the principle of constitutionalism. The Constitution is nothing without the principles of constitutionalism, which means there should be a Rule of Law, opposed to authoritarian or despotic rule, and based on the belief that the power of a government should be limited in order to prevent abuse and excess. It is based on the universal principle that citizens should be able to recognise an unconstitutional system of governance that does not respect the provisions contained in the national Constitution and demand respect for their rights and freedom.
The liberal hysterics and fellow Muslim pragmatism of not making CAA and NRC a communal issue is misleading. To quote Susi Kasem, “The most dangerous people in the world are not the tiny minority instigating evil acts, but those who do the acts for them.” For example, when the British invaded India, many Indians agreed to work for the British and kill off Indians who resisted their occupation. In other words, many Indians were hired to kill other Indians on behalf of the enemy for a paycheck.
Today, we have mercenaries in Africa, corporate armies from the western world, and unemployed men throughout the Middle East killing their own people, and people of other nations, for a paycheck. To act without a conscience but for a paycheck, makes anyone a dangerous animal. The devil would be powerless if he couldn’t entice people to do his work. So, as long as money continues to seduce the hungry, the hopeless, the broken, the greedy, and the needy, there will always be a war between brothers.
Today, Muslims are being played politics with, they are reduced to TV debates and statistics of backwardness, crime and violence. Today, we are limited to a word limit on Twitter, trying to prove our faithfulness. You say you want to believe, but the majority of Muslims who stayed in India actually voted for the Muslim League, so now whatever we say or do will be seen from the prism of community-loving, partition-demanding, riot-instigating, and hate-mongers.
Remember the independence of India and read how our grandparents spilled blood for this country, read the history of establishment of Jamia Millia Islamia; you would know its commitment towards the unity and diversity of India. When pain makes it difficult to articulate coherently, quiet remembrance helps. Like many other Indian Muslims, I have been in silence, commuting to memory, the deed, dates, and faces of the injured students, their scared faces, the grieving female students leaving the safety of their university because they don’t feel safe anymore.
These may disappear from headlines, but they have already found their place in our collective memory. India remembers what is done in its name, in the name of democracy, in the pretext of security. Whether its full impact reaches your drawing rooms and offices or not. Your soldier of reason carrying their press card might dissuade you from seeing it, comfort you with their cynical use of academic categories and interpretation of Indian nationalism. They might retweet, rerun the carefully-chosen, convenient images on TV, but India sees the unedited Jamia.
Featured image is representative.