As India Continues to Humiliate Muslims, I Write An Elegy for My Dead Patriotism
The symbols of patriotism of my childhood have now become a reminder that I, a Muslim, am not wanted here.
Every day, Muslims wake up to a new humiliation in this country. So much so that when I initially thought of writing this article two weeks ago, it was about the disruption of Friday prayers by Hindutva terrorists in Gurgaon. It soon became a stale subject when the emboldened mob of Hindu seers, ideologically and politically aligned with the ruling regime, openly called for the genocide of Muslims at a ‘Dharam Sansad’ in Haridwar.
Truth be told, I did not immediately know how I felt. Nevertheless, I was not surprised, as it was not the first time that I had heard about how the only solution to the "Muslim problem" is to cut down a million of them. As I was gathering my thoughts to write about the genocidal hate speeches, photos of Muslim women were being put online for auction through a new app called ‘Bulli Bai’, an apparent play of words on a similar app – Sulli Deals – a few months ago.
This is the latest in a series of attempts to dehumanise and humiliate minorities in a country where the entirety of Hindutva innovation is focused on conceiving new ways to show Muslims their place. In today’s version, the Hindutva zealots are playing upon society’s belief that they can humiliate a community by demeaning the women.
I believe, and often say this to anyone listening, that the State by nature is oppressive. It does not surprise or upset me a bit that a political party is carrying out the vision that its ideological founders laid out almost a century ago. The fact that there were riots, attacks on human rights and the civil rights of minorities, Dalits, and tribals even before the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power implies that the Indian State has always been unkind to a section of its citizens. But what is distinct this time is the indifference of individuals, the ordinary citizens of this country. For a large population in this country, the oppression and humiliation of minorities, especially Muslims, is not even an issue. For some of them, it is an issue in the sense that this is what they wanted for a long time, and now is the time to achieve the dream of Hindu Rashtra where Muslims live as second-class citizens.
It does not surprise me that an oppressive State is using every tool in its arsenal to grind down Muslims, but it is agonising to witness the citizens of this country enabling, supporting, and cheering on the regime that is doing this. Some of those have been my friends, my colleagues, and my neighbours.
Beyond the lynchings, riots, and jailing of Muslims under Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), National Security Act (NSA), and the sedition law by the BJP dispensation in the last seven years, there is another apparent but invisible cost. Ask any Muslim today, and they will tell you how many friends they have lost. People they shared their childhood with, people they laughed with, people they cried with. I, for one, have lost too many.
My best friend from school? Gone! My best friend from college? Gone! For some, it simply could be a loss of friendship over the difference of political opinion. For me, it was the difference of opinion over my right to exist.
Their presence in my life reminded me that there were people, people I had loved and cherished, people I had shared meals and laughs with, who refused to acknowledge my pain and suffering. Their presence was a reminder that there were people claiming to be my friends but siding with the oppressor in my struggle for a life with dignity.
My childhood was spent in a school where most of the students were from local Hindu and Muslim families. There was Islamophobia, not so subtle sometimes. Teachers, most of them upper-caste Hindus, would comment on your “unusual” Muslim name, and ask who you are supporting when there is a match between India and Pakistan. Or the most common one, “Muslims are like this.”
Fellow students were more vicious. “Katua” and "Miyan" were usual slurs thrown at Muslims. It hurt momentarily, but never did I feel that I didn’t belong. I had similar dreams as my Hindu classmates, similar aspirations and plans, to build a life in what we knew to be one of the most diverse and tolerant nations in the world.
‘Ae Mere Watan Ke Logon…’ blaring out of loudspeakers on Independence Day and Republic Day gave me goosebumps. Those were the greatest festivals, probably only two days when a kid looked forward to going to school. My chest swelled with pride every time ‘Bharat Ka Rahne Wala Hoon’ played on the loudspeaker, which I now remember had noise louder than the music. I sang the national anthem with such devotion and adoration like it was the holiest and the grandest song on earth. I cried, tears rolling down my eyes, when some amateur actors from my school played dead in a skit to pay tribute to Kargil martyrs. So natural was the feeling that I never did think that there would be a day when I would be writing it while mourning.
India is still my home, but it feels like a rented house, from where my landlord would kick me out anytime to accommodate another tenant.
I still like the national anthem, the words written by Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore, but have to force myself to get up from the seat when it is played in a theatre. ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’ is not a mere slogan to me, but a warcry of a mob descending upon my home to burn it down. A picture of a green camouflage dress brings back the memory of paramilitary forces raining lathis and tear gas shells on students. Glorification of the Indian Army replays the stories my Kashmiri friends have told me, with a sense of humiliation and, sometimes, with tears in their eyes.
These symbols of patriotism of my childhood have now become a reminder that I, a Muslim, am not wanted here, in India, in my country, in my home.
The State wants me either in jail, in grave or in silence. The people of this country want me either in jail, in grave or in silence.
There are odd utterances from a section of the majority community that “this is not my country”. That common instances of hate and lynching are aberrations. They claim that people will rise up and reclaim their India. It may happen one day, but Akhlaqs, Junaids, and Pahlu Khans of this country won’t be alive to see it. Sharjeels, Umars, and Gulfishas of this country won’t get their years back. The domes of razed Babri Masjid won’t be resurrected. The dead won’t rise from the grave and the wheel of time won’t move backwards. The wounds of humiliation won’t heal, the indignation we won’t forget.
The day indeed may come one day. But what do I do till then? Drink the poison and accept the humiliation? Keep expressing my love for this country while it throws back rocks at me? Or do I keep my patriotism on hold till I get my country back? I am unable to do that anymore. My unrequited love for this country has been on life support for too long. No more!
Thus, I am pronouncing my patriotism dead for the country India has become, and this is an elegy for my dead patriotism.
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