Indian Muslims can’t let hate defeat them

There has been an increase in everyday prejudice directed towards Muslims on social media platforms and in real-life settings. (AFP)

In the past few years, we have seen a visible shift in the ideological sensibilities of a section of Indians. Suddenly there has been a surge of Hindutva sentiment and the right-wing ecosystem has left no stone unturned to ensure this sentiment remains in vogue for long. Yet, it would be wrong to assume that the current government is entirely responsible for the strong and sometimes offensive way people have started expressing themselves. 

Many will say this display of deep-seated prejudice is only restricted to social media platforms, where it takes the form of unabashed bigotry and hate-mongering. But it is naive to assume that the poison being propagated on social media is not seeping into our real lives as well.

I consider myself lucky as I hail from a background and position of privilege. My father served in the Indian Army for 35 years and my husband is currently serving, so I have spent a major part of my life in an environment that is far removed from any kind of bigotry or discrimination. Yet someone such as me too has not been spared prejudice in the last few years. I have witnessed the metamorphosis of many around me into something I find difficult to come to terms with. 

I noticed, for example, how people who previously restricted themselves to an occasional sly dig or a passing taunt no longer had any qualms about making remarks bordering on hate speech right in front of me, with utter disregard to how I would feel. The most obvious example presented itself in my college WhatsApp group, where one fine day a fellow classmate posted a hate-filled post regarding Kashmiris and urged others not to ever visit Kashmir. My mind immediately went to a Kashmiri friend in the same group. I thought, “Maybe it has slipped that person’s mind that she is in the same group. Maybe he doesn’t care that she is in the group. Or maybe it is actually directed towards her. Perhaps hatred and political ideologies have trumped old friendships and human empathy.”

My experience of social media platforms was a revelation in itself. I had never imagined that such a naked display of bigotry and hatred was possible. What stumped me was that this expression of hatred was not restricted to any class or strata and had no relation to the educational qualification of the person in question. A person with an IIT degree and another person who had no degree at all could speak in the same language – the only difference being that the more educated person would be better at articulating his/her hate. It was a toxic place to be in, but I realised that the number of Muslim voices in this space was small or those who did have a presence were mostly politically motivated. I continued to remain on these platforms but was resigned to the knowledge that these are toxic echo chambers where almost all have opinions, but only a handful have opinions based on facts. 

It has begun to feel like people hold every Indian Muslim responsible and answerable for acts of terror committed by Muslims even thousands of miles away. Nobody wants to understand that we are as responsible or answerable for these acts as anyone else. The only thing we probably have in common with those who commit acts of terrorism is a similar sounding name! 

How does one explain to a prejudiced mind that ISIS and Islam are not the same? That Muslims are their victims as much as the next person – probably more so because they are expected to be answerable for them as well? The ISIS wants the world to isolate and demonise every single Muslim, so that they have no place left. Isolation and othering are the breeding ground of radicalisation. What they are trying to establish is not an Islamic caliphate but their own version of a Wahhabi Islamic State, where every single person who doesn’t conform to their ideology is a transgressor. It doesn’t matter whether they are a Muslim or not – ISIS has killed more Muslims than non-Muslims as the mass graves found in and around Syria testify.

So, when an act of terror like the recent attack in Sri Lanka takes place, it hurts when people start raising their finger and demeaning every single Muslim. There is a poem by Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan, a British-born poet of Pakistani origin, called, ‘This is not a humanizing poem’. There is a line in it which sums up my emotions perfectly: “If I need to prove my humanity, I’m not the one who’s inhuman”. Am I to be blamed if I feel like my humanity is on trial? Is it difficult to understand why I wonder if there is any place left for me to exist? 

The current political system is thriving on propaganda – I am not talking about any specific political party here – because most people have allowed their reason to be overridden by vile emotions. If you listen to the speeches of some BJP leaders, they seem to portray the Muslim community as a demon that needs to be subdued and shown its place. Even the Congress has succumbed to the Hindutva tsunami and is going out of its way to distance itself from its previous unpopular image as a ‘Muslim appeasement party’. Indian Muslims have been reduced to a vote bank, albeit a vote bank without much value.  

So how should the Indian Muslim react to all the hostility that is being directed towards him or her for no apparent reason? I believe it is of utmost importance to hold onto one’s sanity and ability to reason in the current environment riddled with confusion and misinformation. Also, it is essential to keep reminding ourselves as Muslims that the war we are fighting can never be won if we let hate and resentment defeat us. We are not fighting a person, we are fighting against an ideology. Even if this government is voted out of office, the poison that has percolated deep into our social system will take much time to be flushed out. This is a fight to preserve the syncretic culture of India which defines every Indian. This is a war in which we all win or we all lose.

(Dr Nazma Parveen is an army wife and an unapologetic Indian Muslim)

The views expressed above are the author’s own. They do not necessarily reflect the views of DH.

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