You care for us Muslims? Show up! 

Your solidarity must stretch beyond commiserating messages and tweets; it needs your active participation, writes Sabika Abbas

Shop owners in Haryana's Nuh show their documents shortly after their properties were razed by the administration for allegedly being 'illegal constructions', 5 August 2023 (Photo courtesy: Sushil Kumar Verma/ Frontline
Shop owners in Haryana's Nuh show their documents shortly after their properties were razed by the administration for allegedly being 'illegal constructions', 5 August 2023 (Photo courtesy: Sushil Kumar Verma/ Frontline

Sabika Abbas

I am tired of those messages in my inbox that go ‘tsk-tsk’ and ‘I am so sorry’ whenever a video of brutality on Muslim bodies goes viral. While we witness fellow Muslims being attacked and beaten, their shrines destroyed, their homes bulldozed, our non-Muslim friends, colleagues and neighbours go on blithely with their daily lives.

Some of them send an occasional text, but that is rare. I clearly remember the reaction of one of my friends when I was auctioned online—“You know how they are. What can we even do?” This very entrepreneurial friend, who has travelled the world, did not know what to do.

I soon realised that privileged Hindu folk around me are really at a loss to react credibly, meaningfully in the face of the brutality we face. The only handy phrase, in their very long dictionary of words, is: ‘I am sorry’.

Well-meaning, Urdu-speaking, biryani-loving people, who write elaborate captions on Instagram, find it very hard to do anything. ‘What can we even do?’ This has echoed in my ears for way too long, and I’ve come to the conclusion that it is time to start a tutorial on allyship.

Maybe a series of videos on social media, a step-by-step guide to allyship and solidarity. Someone has to teach this, right? To be very clear, as a Muslim woman, it is not my job to tell anyone how to be an ally to Muslims in India.

Nevertheless, I have set myself up to write a toolkit of solidarity. I’ve taken it upon myself to start treating every single ‘tsk-tsk’ person around me with a pamphlet of solidarity. I’m not begging for it, but I do not want any of you to have an excuse, to tell us: ‘We didn’t know what to do’. I want to bring everyone to a point of hujjat, leave no wiggle room. This is an open toolkit.

For anyone who wants to refer to it. Instead of sending us zero-value ‘sorry’ texts, you could do one of these things. The toolkit is not complete, but here’s a free starter pack on allyship: To begin with, the most important way to be an ally is to speak up, act, take a stand. It requires some courage. But you can do it. You can begin practising allyship at home.

Start by taking a stand at home, when that uncle calls for the killing of Muslims or discusses whom to vote for or says “Mohammadan hotey hi aise hain (Muslims are like this only)”. Do not stay silent to save family ties. That is not what a good ally does.

You can also be an ally in workspaces. When colleagues make casual Islamophobic comments, let them know what you think. Look around you, ask how come your office has barely any Muslim employees.

Did you ever question your HR department? If you run a company, or work in HR, or even as an employee in a line function, push for inclusive hiring, if you think of yourself as an ally. Just ask questions when your workspace holds diversity and inclusion training.

Ask your new, recently relocated colleagues if they had trouble renting flats because they are Muslims. Prepare lists of friendly neighbourhoods and brokers, in advance, and share it with them.

If you see our homes bulldozed, do not be a spectator, a tamashai—show up. They cannot run bulldozers over five upper-caste humans standing in front of a house. Your lives are very important; use that privilege. Please do not run Ganga–Jamuni campaigns instead.

‘My business is separate from my politics; if I get business from them, I will take it.’ No. If you are entering into business with or rendering services to genocide enablers, you can’t be an ally. You must not platform them. You must not give them benefits. Boycott oppressors and their supporters, wherever you can.

A mob had invited the police and shouted down a Friday prayer congregation in a prominent city. I don’t care about those who attacked; my question is: where were those who were against it? What were they doing? If you see something similar, take action You are safer than any Muslim in such a situation. Make groups in your localities to counter hate. File FIRs. When there are public crimes, anyone can file FIRs.

The outrage on social media when a child was slapped repeatedly in his school at the behest of a teacher, allegedly for being Muslim, made me think that if people are so disturbed, they will take some action. But no, no one filed an FIR. Those 46-character sentences are not enough to be an ally. Act!

Ask your kids what they are doing in school. Teach them to be kind and how to show solidarity. Please stop asking Muslim folks to act first, to protest, to bring about the change they want to see. It is not only our burden, nor do we have the power.

You, who are privileged, must do something. Take the lead. Educate yourself, believe the survivors, speak up—and act Listen. Listen to stories, listen to what we have to say. Check in with your Muslim friends, neighbours, colleagues. See if they are feeling safe.

Ask them what they would want you to do. And when you do act or speak up, please do not take centrestage. Pass the mike, know that all of this isn’t about you. Our biggest misfortune is this lack of true allyship. Allyship isn’t easy. Speaking up requires courage. Sometimes it has dire consequences. But it is essential and it is the need of the hour.

I refuse to believe that the hearts of all our fellow citizens have been poisoned by hate. Those who are already the foot soldiers of hate, I have nothing to say to them. But those who do feel sorry, I hope they will act, they will speak up. It is shattering to always have to pick up the broken pieces on our own, every time the oppressors lay their hands on us.

We are the ones raising funds, visiting bulldozed villages, offering a shoulder to cry on, fighting those cases… while you commiserate with a ‘tsk-tsk’. It is already very late. Elections are round the corner. If you are our ‘I am sorry’ pal, your homework is to find ways to dissuade people from voting for hate.

Remember, the voices of violence and oppression can only be drowned by louder voices of allyship and solidarity. We need you to demonstrate, speak up, write, organise, strategise, file FIRs, stop bulldozers—we need you to care. Otherwise, we will manage.

(Sabika Abbas is a poet, organiser and educator based in Lucknow)

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