Indian Muslims have never been passing through as difficult time as they are now, says Harsh Mander

“Muslims have never been passing through as difficult time as they are now. It’s not just a crisis for Indian Muslims, but for all us who believe in India regardless of religion,” said Harsh Mander

 Indian Muslims have never been passing through as difficult time as they are now, says Harsh Mander

Ashlin Mathew

“I think since Independence, the Indian Muslims have never been passing through as difficult time as they are now. It’s not just a crisis for Indian Muslims, but for all us who believe in an India regardless of their religion,” said Harsh Mander, a social activist.

“All political parties, including the Congress, have not risen to the challenge. In 2014, we could have deluded ourselves thinking that people voted for hope, but this time the discourse was full of hate. And the fact that even more people voted is troubling. I have been driving around the country as a part of the Karvaan-e-Mohabbat and have tried to visit every family hot by lynching. I see so much grief, isolation, fear and as a society I feel we are deeply polarised,” highlighted Mander, who was speaking at the launch of Congress leader Salman Khurshid’s book Visible Muslim - Invisible Citizen: Understanding Islam in Indian Democracy.

He was in conversation with Former Union Minister Salman Khurshid, Lok Sabha MP Asaduddin Owaisi, BJP national spokesperson Nalin Kohli, journalist Seema Chishti and Associate professor with Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) Hilal Ahmed.

Pointing towards the extreme brutality in the lynchings of Muslims in the country, Mander said even the issue of ‘cows’ is being dispensed with. “The eyes are gouged out, bodies slashed. There is a performative nature of the killings. Such killings should put you behind bars for life, but instead they are valourised, they become heroes. This is troubling,” contends Mander.

“The role of the police, even in Rajasthan under the Congress government, needs to be questioned. The victims are treated as the accused. I have not seen a single site of lynching where the local Congress politician has gone and shown some care as the New Zealand Prime Minister had shown. In India, we are not broken-hearted by these incidents, we simply do not care. None of the political parties even show that they care,” lamented Mander.

Kohli, who is also a lawyer, decided to call these murderous attacks as instances of “cow lynching” and not as instances of human beings being lynched, essentially proving Mander’s statement.

Raising the concerns of the minority community, Khurshid said that there an emphasis is being made on "uniformity" being "integral" to the unity of the country. Owaisi also said a country should not have uniformity, and its "diversity should be celebrated".

“I think there is no atmosphere of fear in areas of Delhi where we live or work, but yes there is a feeling in small towns and villages. It is the responsibility of every Indian to assuage these fears,” explained Khurshid.

"If in a democracy there is no room for disagreement and dissent, then that democracy is questionable. Inability to exchange opinion on a disagreement or dissent is a tragedy of democracy," Khurshid said.

Explaining the term liberal, the former Congress MP says, “Being liberal is a fantastic way of articulating a particular personality, which essentially means you believe in the right of the other person to be wrong. You cannot be dictating, paternalistic or that I am right.” And then he conceded that BJP did not believe that, but went on to add that he did not want to bring in political parties into the discourse.

Pointing towards the culpability of BJP in these matters, Ahmed said no one in BJP stopped those people from committing these atrocities. “As the ruling party, it could have said, ‘stop misusing BJP’ and neither does the ruling party criticise these acts,” reasoned Ahmed, who is currently working on a book project on the politics of Muslim political representation in post-colonial India. To which, the BJP spokesperson said that acts of violence have always been condemned and that he personally had criticised it, but, “if you have not heard it in the large discourse of 600+ channels, the onus of my message not having travelled to you, is not on me”.

“Just because a party gets a certain number of seats, the chief minister of a state cannot say ‘thok do’. Did they take their oath on the Constitution or on ‘Mein Kampf’. There is a difference between rule of law and rule by law. NHRC has given strong orders on these encounter cases. The UP Chief Minister can say, ‘we will crush illegal activities with democratic means’. The only reason it became controversial was because a Brahmin got shot. You keep saying that this is acceptable to a vast majority of Indians, but it isnt’t,” countered Owaisi.

“I as a Chief Minister cannot use that language. When a CM uses that language, you are telling the police force to go out there and shoot. What made the UP govt that they cannot go out and shoot is when an upper caste man got shot,” quipped Owaisi. Supporting the UP CM Ajay Bisht, Nalin said, “If you were on the other side, it would mean if you are a criminal, you have much to fear.”

The discussion was moderated by Bhupendra Chaubey, who instead of allowing for a nuanced debate on the topic turned it into a TV spectacle and went so far as to suggest that “Khurshid somewhere believed that Muslims are in danger of being disenfranchised”. Chaubey seemed to be more fascinated by the title of the book than the contents of the book, with Chishti even suggesting that it had been turned into a case of “Whodunnit”.

“A visible Muslim is who falls within set-up tropes of having a beard, a skull cap… It becomes important for certain kind of politics to make visible those aspects, but when it comes to those wear these symbols, then their being citizens is slowly pushed under the carpet. So, the visibility is being used to suit a certain kind of politics, but their centrality of being citizens goes,” observed Chishti.

Quoting Maulana Azad, Chishti says the India project if not one of tolerance, sufferance or adjustments of anybody, whether they are Dalits, Muslims, Hindus or Christians, but where each of these elements are integral parts which make this project possible.

Taking a dig at TV channels, Owaisi quipped that they like "man with a beard and skull cap as it is good for their TRPs". Asked if he was a Muslim leader, he stated matter-of-factly, "I'm not a Muslim leader... People assume wrongly that I am one. The struggle of my life is to work for constitutional rights to the minority.”

While more opinions of the panellists could have been sought, especially of Seema Chishti and Hilal Ahmed, Chaubey had decided he had more to speak than any of those on the dais.

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