“If this jamaat thing did not happen, we would have been safer no”
“What? There was no Surat case linked to them.”
“Arre, but you did not see that video? The Muslim vendors around our area increased in lockdown and they were licking all the vegetables and all. It was on Snapchat.”
Now, my friend is a privileged rich Jain who studied in a good school and college, yet fell prey to such fake news propaganda. Interestingly, I had received the same information from a 60-year-old aunty who got this message on her WhatsApp, and then the society took an action to ensure the vendors are of a specific religion (this is what was told by a friend).
Islamophobia is not a new disease except it is increasing exponentially just like Corona. Neither does it have a cure yet nor does it impact a particular class. Tablighi Jamaat is undoubtedly a big mistake on the part of the organizer as well as local government and shall not go unpunished. The issue is why are we attributing it to the entire religion? The moment the story was out, one channel screamed Corona Jihaad, I laughed and then felt the depth of this becoming the new normal.
In these 21 days, I read about the Shraadh ceremony being organized with 800 people in MP but no one attributed it to Hindus. I read about the Jain Munis breaking the law in Surat, but no one attributed to all the Jains, and I also read about UP ministers attending a religious ceremony, and as expected an FIR was lodged. No, not against the ministers, against the media outlet which informed citizens and did their work. What I did witness, is the circulation of fake news to malign an entire religion. The beauty of fake news is that when it arrives, we welcome it with open arms but when it is proven fake, we apologize with a pinch of salt. Hi, Arnab.
I still want to take the chance and say that all the fake videos were true and all the 500 people misbehaved with doctors, broke laws, and deliberately created those Tik Tok videos, yet we are talking about 500 people. That’s 0.000002% of the Muslim population in India. By that logic, lakhs of migrants on road trying to reach their home and defying the rules right now should be tagged as Migrant Jihaad. No, that’s the generalization or attribution we do on our biased small samples. This is what political parties play upon to create an atmosphere of fear and hatred which is now clearly visible during Corona. The time when we are supposed to come together as a country, we stand all the more divided.
Were we always like this? Well, I grew up in Saharanpur and my Jain school had people from all the religions. My Muslim friends were reciting Navkar Mantra and my Jain friends were sharing lunch meals with them. The problems started at home where my mother would raise an eyebrow seeing a Muslim friend coming home. She was taught to keep a separate glass for them and that’s where the discrimination began in our minds. Despite these small actions, she never hated them. The conditioning was simple- “We are different.” “Marry anyone but a Muslim.” What escalated the issue to go out of hand?
There were two big changes in the last decade which led to the worsening of the situation, in my opinion. The advent of social media and the rise of right-wing. While the right-wing extremism can take an entire book about discriminatory policies, I will restrict myself to harmless social media observations. TRP Media played a big role in driving the hatred filled narrative and for the first time, it became normal for people to let out their worst thoughts. The lynchings, the threats, the Ghar vaapisi, the Romeo squads, the love jihad, the beef bans each was spiced up with IT cell and, the biggest enemy of mankind, WhatsApp.
With the increase in internet penetration, the App became the source of news for most of the Middle and Upper class of this country. It became easier for people to share their thoughts, vent out their frustrations, and blame all the problems around one particular religion. A couple of years back, I went to receive my father’s friend and, on the way, back from airport he proudly exclaimed- “Thanks to Yogiji, UP is now safe as he is shooting down all these Muslims goons in encounters.”
What is important for people of my age, the youth, the educated, the privileged is also to look closer to home. Recently, I got to know that a friend of mine, working at a big position in a PSU, is unable to get a flat in our locality because the agent asked her caste and told her that “sorry, this is a Jain society”.
I was perplexed and yet not that surprised as I had seen my casteist friends claiming to be superior to others. She went on to tell me that her boss is unable to get a place either and his case is even worse because he is a Muslim. That reminded me of a funny incident when my uncle had got in a fight with someone from our society and to corner and scare them off, he would jokingly say- “I will leave this society and sell my flat off to a Muslim.” That threat was enough to scare people off as the rate of flats would go down instantly.
Two months back, when the CAA-NRC protests were at the top of our mind, my family WhatsApp group became active on Islamophobia. A Delhi based Businessman cousin started with his vent about all Muslims spreading terror across the country. This was not the first time it was happening but this time, I decided to engage. At first, I started sending neutral love-filled photographs of Sikhs distributing Langar to protestors.
I hypothesized that we are Punjabis and it will be difficult to go against love. He reverted to Khalistan. Yes. I decided to give another shot and share the famous photograph of a girl giving a rose to a soldier. Well, now my Fufa joined in spreading hatred. I called them out and told them- “There are kids in this group and they will be learning this from you for their life.” My father came in support and I could see that my work in slowly making my family aware of subtle discrimination is working. The group decided to not have any religious and political discussions henceforth. A small win.
I remember the good old days of dissent and debate in college. Those days are now just a part of nostalgia. The friends on the other side grew up to become part-time businessmen and part-time trolls who are on social media vigilantism to suppress opposite opinions and have “Go to Pakistan” always copied on their screens. Last month, I faced the wrath of the same. My best friend (not anymore) posted- “Support the country you live in or live in the country you support.” As a close friend ready to engage with him on laughs, I promptly asked, what if the government is going against the country? Then die like the ones in Delhi. This time, instead of the cheeky comebacks, an army of trolls came in abusing me and threatening to come to my home while asking me to go to Pakistan right away for always questioning Modi or the government.
Yes, questioning is something they do not want to allow, but their IQ is so low that they think it will be allowed in Pakistan. The scary part is that this entire group, Marwari Jain Businessmen (part-time), were all in my class, and this time, my best friend supported them. The fault is mine though, we had ignored a lot of cues in the past. This was not the first time he was being Islamophobic, the man had a separate account to post such things in which he did not add us. Caring, I know. I solely tried to calmly answer their comments and slowly realized a simple rule of life- “Ghar se logic ki dukaan hai door, chalo kisi troll ko unfriend kar dein” (These people are far from logic, it’s best to unfriend trolls). I removed all of them from my list and yes, lost a close friend to hatred.
I am an atheist. So, I do not have issues with calling out a religion, I have issues with the discrimination in the same as all the religions are imperfect and will always have a percentage of humans whom you can not control. In studying for MBA, they called it “outliers”. The big question is- are we ready to let outliers define how we want to live in this country? Where are the “Topi Shuklas” beautifully mentioned by Rahi Masoom Raza? Where are the Iqbals who wrote Saare Jahaan Se Achha Hindostan Hamara? Where are the Ram Prasad Bismils and Ashfaqullah Khans?
Well, I do not have a definite solution but we all need to pull our socks on this and use Corona as a time wherein we reach the end of the tunnel as a human and not a troll. Let’s be good teachers not just to the next generation, but to friends and family as well. I do want to go back to my childhood where my Hakeem Bauji passing through the old lanes of Saharanpur was greeted by the Mullahjis and Jain Sahbs alike with “kya haal hakeemji” (how are you doing, Hakeemji?) and he would look up and reply- “bus uski kripa. (Just his blessings)”.