BJP is done marginalising Indian Muslims.It has now started demonising them

“We were all sitting in our beds in the hostel room,” recounts Samaira, a 17-year-old girl from Greater Noida, just 25 km from India’s Capital. “The dorm was being cleaned outside our room. As he swept the area, we could hear him talking to our matron. He was narrating in detail the lynching that had happened a few days back. As we heard the grotesque picture he was painting, I suddenly realised he was talking about Muslims and I was a Muslim too. And I was the only Muslim girl there. Suddenly I was very aware of my physical being. I felt everyone was looking at me. The more he described the events outside the more frightened I became inside. I was in class 8.”
Samaira remembers seeking out other Muslims afterwards: “We had never before come together, hardly ever spoken with each other.” For Muslims like Samaira, the ascent from being aware of their identity to plain paranoia because of it happens very quickly. It does not need to be in the face of a riot or a terror activity. It can happen just by the knowledge that events that pigeonhole us as the “other” are taking place constantly across the country.
This “otherisation” is not an overnight phenomenon. It has simmered in our social cauldron since the First War of Indian Independence. My own family had funded the 1857 revolt and all the men were hung from the four trees at Allahabad Chowk by the British. The process of breaking up the core strength of Indianness was put into action then – division along religious lines. The world over, there is not a god bigger than the one who is made to feel threatened the most.
Shared land got divided, shared language got divided and shared history got divided. Imperial designs handed down to us on our Independence Day were not just related to the way our society functioned, but also the way our leadership imbibed the opportunism that divisiveness provided. Shah Bano being a case in point. The unlocking of the disputed Babri Masjid being another and standing by as the demolition took place yet another. It has only been a downward spiral since.
Old fault linesSamaira and my father are separated by a generation but united by experience. It was similar paranoia, generated by the communal riots that followed the destruction of the Babri Masjid, that drove my father, then in Kolkata, to go by the name PJ Bharti. PJ being the initials of his actual name and Bharti – of Bharat – denoting his nationality. The author and historian Rana Safvi had similarly asked her children not to address her as “amma” during a long night’s journey on a train full of karsevaks.
In India today, the word “minority” has come to be casually used only for the religious minority. Being over-abused has dehumanised the word. What is being a minority? The only government figure we choose not to believe today is the percentage of Muslims in India – only 14.2%. Most of the community is still fighting for the basics – bijli, paani, makaan, naukri – just like everyone else.