We have all grown reading about the Hindu-Muslim conflicts. But unlike the caste system, I personally never believed that religious discrimination and persecution of minorities had ended. It has been 70 years since Independence, and we haven’t made much progress in abolishing the same. Resentment and prejudice against minorities, particularly Muslims is common in India, but we have simply not acknowledged the sheer existence and scale of prejudice and discrimination. Hence, there has been little public debate or empirical analysis to establish the presence of discrimination and/or identify its sources.

The exclusion and discrimination of Muslims and other religious minorities is not episodic, but in fact, both everyday and institutional. It runs across all sectors and runs so deep that this religious prejudice appears normal to most people who perhaps don’t notice it or are unaware of it. This belief runs so deep that the government and media successfully managed to misreport and link a global health crisis of Covid 19 to  the Muslim community, increasing the social tension between the Hindu and Muslim communities and leading to increased discrimination, harassment and attacks. 

Over the past few months of lockdown, it is hard to tell which is galloping faster: the coronavirus or Islamophobia? From saffron flags on vegetable carts to the widespread use of expressions such as ‘corona jihad’, it has been a free fall and people have forgotten that – ‘A virus has no religion.’ These indirect anti-Muslim feelings have given way to direct hate-mongering. Social boycott has been compounded with economic boycott fostered with fake videos of Muslim vendors deliberately smearing fruits and vegetables with their saliva. The fake stories grab the front-page headlines and occupy centre-stage in raucous filled television shows; the rebuttals and clarifications are always too little, too late and unreported by the mainstream media. The damage has been done and the WhatsApp media industry is in full swing regurgitating misinformation and malice. As a country, we are split wide open.

Today, it has become more important than ever to recognize that religious identity remains an important axis of discrimination in India, and act to change this. The most dangerous and unfortunate part of any system of apartheid is the fatigue of those who are optimistic despite the discrimination. As each optimist begins to lose hope, the discrimination wins and gets rooted a little more firmly.

As Pablo Neruda said in his poem, ‘If you forget me‘:

Well, now,

If little by little you stop loving me
I shall stop loving you, little by little

If suddenly,

you forget me,do not look for me
for I shall already have forgotten you.

Today’s guest writer, Shoeb Khan, is a dear friend who I know for more than 10 years now. He runs his own architectural practice called Amakin. He, like any good friend, is a helpful person who would leave everything to go help a friend in need. I have attended his wedding and have been hosted in his family home with the utmost warmth and love and treated as one of their own. And yes, he is a Muslim.

Everytime someone talks about a particular community with hatred, I wonder, if they have ever tried to personally know anyone from these communities before following this set notion in their minds. There are bad people in this world who do bad shit, and they come from different communities, castes, genders and economic backgrounds. Generalising and pin-pointing certain communities is anything but fair. 

I met him when I was 18 and, believe it or not, he is my first friend from the Muslim community.  Now when I look back, I feel quite shocked that in the first 18 years of my life I rarely ever came in contact with or knew any Muslims, in my school or my neighbourhood or even anyone amongst my parents friends and acquaintances. Yes, that’s how isolated we are – completely unaware of how this community is marginalised and mistreated on religious grounds. When someone you know is wronged, you feel enraged but when you don’t know the person or community being wronged, you just ignore it and move on with your life. Doesn’t it seem really unjust and prejudiced?

So today, we are going to hear from someone who has been a part of the biggest religious minority community in India and faces the harsh realities of the same every single day. 

Shoeb Khan, Architect - Founder of Amakin Studio, India

I am Mohammed Shoeb Khan and I am a Muslim. My great grandfather, a member of the Muslim League, consciously took the decision of staying back in his HOMELAND and called India OUR country. My grandfather and father followed his footsteps. Even though my father went to Saudi Arabia in his youth, he came back and got settled here. I also decided to stay here even when most of my privileged Muslim as well as Hindu friends opted to leave for better opportunities in the West. There has always been a hatred in the minds of people against our community but if I have learnt one thing, especially during the past six years, is that I am really hated for my identity as a Muslim in MY country – India.

March 2020- The Muslim community was accused of spreading the corona virus on purpose, on the basis of misinterpreted data and biased testing sample set.

December 2019- The notorious Citizenship amendment bill was passed with a majority in both houses and made an act. 

November 2019- The controversial judiciary decision pending for almost 3 decades was pronounced by the Supreme court awarding the disputed 2.77 acres of land to one party and ‘GIFTING’ 5 acres of land to the other party anywhere in the country. 

July 2019- The conflicting Triple Talaq bill was passed with a majority in the parliament.

June 2019– Tabrez Ansari was stopped by a mob while riding his motorcycle in Kharsawan, Jharkhand, accused of being a bike thief, forced to chant ‘JAI SHREE RAM’ and beaten up resulting in his death.

April 2017- Pehlu Khan, a resident of Haryana, was stopped by a mob of around 200 people in Alwar, Rajasthan while on his way from a cattle fair in Jaipur Rajasthan and beaten up resulting in is death.

September 2015– Mohammed Akhlaq’s house in Bisara, Dadri, UP, was ambushed by a mob, accused him of having beef in his house, beat him up in front of his family resulting in his instant death.

February 2002- Ehsan Jafri, a former MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT, residing in Ahmedabad, Gujrat, was dragged out of his house along with several others and attacked and killed with swords and bats by a mob.

In all the above listed incidents, there are 3 major similarities, a certain community, a certain leader and a certain political party. A strongly optimistic person would fly them by as mere coincidences. I consider myself in the category of the long list of sarcastic ‘anti-national’ pessimists like Anurag Kashyap, Farhan Akhtar, Javed Akhtar, Javed Jaffery, Rana Ayyub, Ravish Kumar, Swara Bhaskar…

Incidents like these cast a disturbing shadow on my identity. I have seen some of my closest friends and colleagues changing their attitude post 2014. It’s as if there was this huge national shackle on this country’s majority, which our dear ‘KING DAENERYS’ arrived to break. I have seen posts and statuses online from many people and have been disgusted to the point of resignation and loss of all hope of redemption of ‘MY’ countrymen. 

The question then arises, why the hypocrisy for the past 73 years? If I was always unwelcome here, why was I allowed to be a member of this society, a natural citizen of this country in the first place.
Oh! I know, who would ‘THEY’ play ‘HUNGER GAMES’ with, if not for me.

‘DESH KE GADDARO KO, GOLI MAARO SAALO KO’.

Here are a few personal instances of my life that left me dumbfounded at the bigotry and blind biases of both citizens,government servants and authorities of India.

My architecture college is near the famous Siddhivinayak temple in Mumbai which is a high security area. Anyways, one day out of several bikes, my bike was stopped at a random police check post called ‘Nakabandi’. One of my hostel seniors (not a Muslim) was with me. FYI- both of us had beards. After the routine checking of all official documents, the policeman started asking me strange questions regarding my permanent address, my family background, my father’s business ventures etc. I felt strange and got agitated and asked him why were these questions relevant and addressed to only me from a bunch of people stopped. And he calmly replied because of our appearances and since we had untrimmed beards. (That’s right-the 21st century it is!) I did not know what he meant by that statement but his attitude towards me was highly condescending and unacceptable especially since he was very calm and respectable to my fellow passenger with an untrimmed beard.

Another incident that really boggled my mind was at the airport back when I was barely 18 years old. My parents were returning to Saudi Arabia and their flight was from Mumbai. This was at a time before the new T2 was constructed when the family members of the passengers were allowed into the airport upto a certain point to see off their loved ones. I wanted to give my father a hand with the luggage and family members of other passengers were being allowed inside. But out of the blue, I was stopped without any explanation. It was only later, I realized that this was because of my name and the fact that I was a Muslim.

All of these could be bitter coincidences but after the past 5 years of chaotic and shocking experiences nationally, I have begun to see a pattern in all of this. There are several such events in my personal life as well as lives of my family and close friends, but the idea is not to point fingers at all the government servants in all the government institutes or to gain sympathy but to highlight tyranny at the smallest of levels like my person to the highest of levels like in the case of Advocate Shahid Azmi. Wherever I go, even today, on learning my name, people’s behaviour alters, and suspicious glances are exchanged. Suddenly, it feels like all they can see in me is the fact that I am a Muslim, nothing else. 

In the words of the great MARK TWAIN, ‘I have seen Chinamen abused and
maltreated in all the mean, cowardly ways possible to the invention of a degraded
nature, but I never saw a policeman interfere in the matter and I never saw a
Chinaman righted in a court of justice for wrongs thus done to him.’

After a brief period of heartbreak, depression and anger over the situation, I came to the conclusion that our country has a rich and eternal history of resistance and resilience towards such atrocities and if we do not learn from it and apply it into practice in our lives in such hard times, we might as well resign being its citizens.

The power of organized educated democracy at the social level, the power of education and institutes at the system level, the power of the pen at the intellectual level and the power of words and speeches at the political level can and will bring the change. Maybe, we might not live to see those changes, but we certainly can be the trigger that starts the wheel rolling in the right direction.

I end with a few lines from a beautiful poem by Sahir Ludhianvi that moved me severely. 

P.S. – Pardon the tough Urdu words, I am sure the essence of the overall poem shall sink in everyone’s heart. 

Dharti ki sulagti chhati se bechain sharare puchhte hain
Tum log jinhen apna na sake vo ḳhoon ke dhare puchhte hain
                         Sadkon ki zaban chillati hai sagar ke kinare puchhte hain                           Ye kis ka lahu hai kaun mara ai rahbar-e-mulk-o-qaum bata

Ye jalte hue ghar kis ke hain ye katte hue tan kis ke hain
Taqsim ke andhe tufan me lutte hue gulshan kis ke hain
Bad-baḳht fizaen kis ki hain barbad nasheman kis ke hain
kuchh ham bhi sunen ham ko bhi suna.

Kis kaam ke hain ye din-dharm jo sharm ka daman chaak karen
Kis tarah ke haiñ ye desh-bhagat jo baste gharon ko ḳhaak karen
ye ruhen kaisi ruhen hain jo dharti ko napak karen
ankhen to utha nazren to mila.

Jis raam ke naam pe ḳhuun bahe us raam kī izzat kya hogi
jis dharm ke hathon laaj lute is dharm ki qimat kya hogi
insan ki is zillat se pare shaitan ki zillat kya hogi
ye kis ka lahoo hai kaun mara
ai rahbar-e-mulk-o-qaum bata

Now you might all ask- But what about all the terrorist attacks we have faced in the past? That is real. It is not something made up by the media. Well, to that I, VD, would just like to conclude by saying that – Yes, that is real. But so are the thousand of violence stories against these communities which are happening everyday and going undocumented, without any justice served. A person just doesn’t wake up one day and become a criminal or a terrorist. It is almost always, his past that leads him to chose that path. And we are all responsible for that past. 

We must always remember, the more we traumatise, isolate and persecute the minority communities, the hate crimes against them will keep increasing in turn leading to rise of ‘rebels’ who then try to take justice in their own hands. Also, you just can not hold an entire community accountable for something done by a handful of people. There are many Hindu criminals as well, but that doesn’t make you and me bad people as well, or does it? 

The only way to end terrorism as we know it, is to accept and include these communities in our society. Treat them as equals and fellow citizens. 

Social equality for all is the only way to live peacefully in the future.
VD

P.S. – There have been many shows like ‘The Family man’ and ‘Paatalok’ on Amazon prime recently showing this issue quite well. If you want to do some more serious reading you can check out the book ‘Begunah Qaidi’ by Abdul Wahid Shaikh (available in Hindi and Urdu, will be soon made available in English as well) or his youtube channel. Go watch these, think, reflect and change your thoughts and actions.