Dr Tharoor, Asserting Muslim Identity Won’t Make Protests Communal

Hate to break it to you Dr Tharoor, but Muslims aren’t making these protests communal.

Hot Take
5 min read

Congress MP Shashi Tharoor has been at the forefront of debates after his comments on a video posted by a social media user who was encouraging people to say ‘La Ilaha Illalla’, the Islamic Kalima, translating to “There’s no God but Allah.”

“Our fight against Hindutva extremism should give no comfort to Islamist extremism either. We, who’re raising our voice in the #CAA_NRC protests, are fighting to defend an #InclusiveIndia,” he wrote. Twitter had opinions, calling Tharoor’s narrative “soft bigotry”, compelling him to pen a piece on The Quint, clarifying his statements. Today, I scrutinize his words and explain why I vehemently disagree with his opinions.

When Tharoor clarified his initial stance in a second tweet, he said: “Just making it clear that for most of us this struggle is about India, not about Islam. Or Hinduism. It’s about our constitutional values & founding principles. It’s about defending pluralism. It’s about saving the soul of India. Not one faith vs another.”

Why must the movement become about what “most of us” think it is about? Is this majoritarian appeasement once again? Moreover, saying this isn’t about “one faith vs another” is extremely idealistic, and entirely untrue. If you strip down the problems of the country today to the bare bone, the discrimination is clearly against Muslims. It is about Islam and Muslims being systemically attacked by the elected government. For example, the massacre of Kashmiri Pandits cannot be simplified and called “atrocities against a minority group.” What minority group and why? How do we hope to get justice if we cannot identify the victims? In that sense, yes, this is about one religion vs another, and running away from the fact surely can’t be a prudent choice if we are truly trying to look reality in the eye.

How do we hope to get justice if we cannot identify the victims?
“Protesting purely as ‘Muslim’ facilitates the other side’s efforts to divide opinion on communal lines. Say you are fighting for your rights as an Indian, and every right-thinking Indian will empathize with you.”
Shashi Tharoor

Are you saying we must mould the movement’s core to make it one that cannot be easily attacked by the BJP, even if it dilutes the discourse attempting to understand the gravity of the actual effect of the policies being implemented? That’s like saying: “Why call it feminism, when you can call it fight for equality. That way, it will gain more support from men.” You’re telling Muslims to keep quiet and not make this about themselves as if in some way it is NOT about them.

When you say that Muslims should fight for their rights as an Indian, and look away from the direct discrimination they face so that it becomes easier for them to gain support, as a Muslim, sir, I tell you - we aren’t begging. We aren’t making corporate deals here where we are willing to lose some to get some. This IS an attack on Muslims, and we shouldn’t be afraid to call it that. This is an attack on secularism as a result of being an attack on a specific minority community. If saying that loud and clear makes “right-thinking” Indians scurry away, then that wasn’t the support we were looking out for, anyway.

“Some Muslims do themselves a disservice by seeking to make this only about them. We’re all in this together.”
Shashi Tharoor

And that’s my point. We’re all in this together as a country, as it mentally tears us apart to see the fabric of our Constitution marred with divisive ink, but the actual effect of the problem falls mainly on only one religious community. No, we aren’t in this together when it comes to actual suffering. And if we are so afraid to see that, then maybe we never truly wanted to. Muslims aren’t making this about themselves, it IS about their rights.

The Dalit Bahujan movement wasn’t made about Dalits, it WAS about their rights. The feminist wave wasn’t MADE about women, it WAS about their rights. Why are we so afraid to see that?

“The hand on which hot water is poured can truly feel the pain which a sympathiser never can, even if he tries.”
Irene Akbar
“You can’t fight Hindutva communalism by promoting Muslim communalism. Identity politics will destroy India.”
Shashi Tharoor

A group of men, out of country-wide protests chanting “La Ilaha Illalla” was enough reason for you to deem the entire movement Muslim communalism? How is it not identity politics when public schools in India play Hindu prayers as morning prayers? How is it not identity politics when corporate offices have designated pooja-days? How is it not identity politics when you write a book called “Why I am a Hindu” - but a movement where the Muslim identity is, in fact, being attacked to the point of being negated cannot allow one slogan that bonds the entire Muslim community? Moreover, the deductions are too extreme. No ground report has deemed any of these protests unwelcoming for people of other communities.

That’s a narrative even the most polarised of media outlets couldn’t spin off. When a Muslim man is grabbed by the collar and made to chant ‘Jai Sri Ram’ - that’s when the religious slogan becomes a problematic war cry. 'Jai Shri Ram' in itself is not the problem. We must understand that these groups at no level said anything to provoke, belittle, or offend the religious beliefs of others. It was simply to bring a sense of solidarity amongst the people most ridiculed and hurt by the state of affairs: Muslims. The Gita, Quran, Bible were recited at Shaheen Bagh. A reclamation of one’s identity is not the same as divisive politics. If one Islamic slogan can deem a whole movement useless, then surely, we are Islamophobic in covert ways, and that’s a whole new problem.

“As I said in Parliament, this is a battle for the soul of India. Every Indian has a stake in the India that Mahatma Gandhi fought to free. Let’s not betray his vision.”
Shashi Tharoor

Mahatma Gandhi said, “I do not expect India of my dream to develop one religion, i.e., to be wholly Hindu, or wholly Christian, or wholly Musalman, but I want it to be wholly tolerant, with its religions working side by side with one another.” “Working side-by-side”. Our secularism isn’t that of France or other European nations. It doesn’t force its people to give up religious identities to be accepted. It accepts people for their religious identities. It celebrates unity in diversity. It celebrates people of all faiths. That faith cannot just be Hinduism.

I see your point when you say that Islamic kalimas might be confusing for non-Muslims. But not understanding a person’s religious beliefs has never been an Indian’s reason to not respect it. The fight to save the country’s constitution against discriminatory politics will be done despite all the religious differences between people opposing it. Muslims of this country are being attacked, and they have every right to cling to the pieces of their identity. Muslims are being called out for their skull caps, so hell, we won’t stop wearing them out of fear of triggering the oppressor. Muslims in India have never had to give up their kalimas to be citizens, and they’re not about to start doing that today.

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