Speaking about my experience as a Muslim woman has never been pleasant. When I point out the discrimination we face, I always get a common response, “You’re out of your mind. What is so bad that is happening with you?”
Hence, we’ve always had an understanding – just shut up about the hateful narrative, the mob lynchings, the intolerance attacks, and the Sambit Patra one liners, “Baith mulla baith, masjid ko Shiv ke naam pe rakh dunga” (Wait, mullah, we will rename a mosque in a Hindu god’s name). One learns to live without discussing politics and discrimination in order to keep the peace because we already have accepted that most people from the privileged majority would not empathize with us and it is just too exhausting and unpleasant to even try.
The Pulwama terror attack shook India to its core. As we watched the dead bodies of soldiers come to their families for funerals, something else shook us. The troll brigade on social media.
As a Muslim woman, one learns to live without discussing politics and discrimination in order to keep the peace.
Was it tragic? More than words can express. Does it need to be condemned? Without a doubt. Should we demand a nuclear war on TV debates and Facebook? I’d rather leave such decisions to the army because I have faith in them and won’t let my emotions make me the expert on war tactics. (Apparently, the last statement makes me an anti-national.)
The communal hatred that had been simmering for the last 5 years on a slightly higher flame than earlier, reached boiling point after the Pulwama attack. Here are snippets of incidents that occurred a few days after the attack.
Day 1: Video announcing that all Muslims should have left India after the Partition.
In a video circulating on social media, there was a man vehemently upset that Muslims were living in India after partition. His comments reminded me of a film called Garam Hawa which was based on the aftermath of Partition, after India became slightly stable. The movie showed how Muslims were treated because the Hindu majority were upset about them not going to Pakistan. Students were not given scholarships, youth were not given employment and business people were not granted loans simply because the logic was – “We’ve given you a whole country, why don’t you just go and get your share of jobs, loans and life in Pakistan?”
When I saw Garam Hawa, I learned how much conviction it took for Muslims of that time to stay behind with their Hindu friends, in their land and not chase religious hegemony in Pakistan. They stayed behind because they were told by the then leaders Gandhi and Nehru that India is going to be a secular democracy and not a religious one.
No matter the hatred and violence on the ground, they did not cave and resort to kicking out the minorities. They had a vision of India where people sang ‘Mile sur mera tumhara’ in harmony. We were not perfect, but we were together and learning to deal with the hatred left in the aftermath of Partition. It did take time but slowly, by the ’80s, ‘Go to Pakistan’ was not a thing anymore. To be honest, I’ve only heard it in the last 4 years, specifically since the JNU incident and watching Garam Hawa made me learn that this phrase isn’t new. It has just made a comeback.
I am not saying India was a rose garden before 2014 and all of a sudden now it’s Desi Nazi-land. But the narrative has changed. And since news anchors and spokespersons on the TV have popularised such communal rhetoric, the person on the street who earlier hesitated in saying hate speech, is now saying it out loud. In fact, tons of them are followed by the Prime Minister on Twitter and they have earned a badge of nationalism by cursing minorities.
Those who try to defend minorities are called deshadrohis (traitors) publicly because anti-national is the keyword of this regime. Any person who talks about secularism is tagged urban naxal, anti-national, or intolerant – not to mention the rape and death threats.
the person on the street who earlier hesitated in saying hate speech is now saying it out loud.
The vilification of Muslims is on peak. Even to respected actors like Aamir Khan or Naseeruddin Shah, the message is the same – ‘go to Pakistan’, because you have no right to express concern or disagree with the government. Shah Rukh Khan was recently accused of donating money to Pakistan, for instance, right after the Pulwama attack, in order to fuel the hatred against Muslims.
Scared yet? See what I come across on Day 2.
Day 2: Shoe seller asking Muslim woman to say “Pakistan Murdabad”
This video of a shoe seller chanting ‘Buy shoes, Pakistan Murdabad’ went viral. The jawans died on the border so he could sell a few pairs of shoes by using people’s fury against Pakistan. The shocking part was when he approached a burkha clad woman and asks her to say ‘Pakistan Murdabad’ (Death to Pakistan). Why only her? Because she was Muslim by appearance and he thought it was his birthright to question her patriotism. He was the one who will issue a certificate of loyalty to the nation.
Should we be really surprised at this behaviour? When news anchors and politicians openly display this behaviour on TV debates, why wouldn’t people think it is okay to do so?
she was Muslim by appearance and he thought it was his birthright to question her patriotism.
For us Muslims, this isn’t new. Any time there is a terrorist attack by a so-called Muslim organisation, we are “tested”. Apparently, we are all pro-terror attacks until we publicly condemn them. And guess what, even public condemnation doesn’t spare us from the generic hatred and blanket statements about Muslims being terrorists.
When Pooja Shakun Pandey, Hindu Mahasabha leader, shot an effigy of Gandhi, artificial blood spilled on the ground and you could hear someone in the background say ‘Ganda khoon tha iska’ (His blood was dirty). The video is painful to watch for several reasons but it made me wonder, what if a Muslim had done this?
When I shared this on social media, I noticed several Hindu friends quickly come to defend this and ask not to share posts against their religion. To my shock, they were not concerned that it was Gandhi being shot but they worried that Hindu Mahasabha might be under fire after this.
While it is perfectly normal to push a burqa clad woman to chant Pakistan Murdabad, it is not okay to question every Hindu why their Mahasabha leader shot at Gandhi and they are not publicly condemning it. Ah, the double standards. Neither is fine, but the hypocrisy is mind boggling.
Moving on to day 3.
Day 3: Kashmiri traders being beaten up, expelled and threatened
I came across a video of this Kashmiri shawl trader being beaten up on my timeline that shook me. A bleeding Kashmiri youth was sobbing, scared, while a mob yelled ‘Bharat mata ki jai’ and ‘teri ma ki…..teri behen ki….’ insults in the same breath. Students were asked to leave, people were sacked from jobs and rendered homeless by landlords who were warned by mobs to not let their houses to Kashmiris. There are roughly 5000 Kashmiri students across India returning to Kashmir at the moment due to safety reasons.
The Pulwama attack brought a lot of difficult conversations about Kashmir to the forefront. Arfa Khanum invited some Kashmiri students and asked them about the ground realities. Frankly speaking, the rest of us Indians know very little about the ground realities of Kashmir. Making it clear that no one should take up arms and think violence can solve anything, we also have to agree that our present and past governments have failed to sort the Kashmir issue. They haven’t been able to provide Kashmiri youth with feasible employment options and nations on both sides of the border have exploited the issue for political gains.
By threatening Kashmiri youth, what message are we giving? We want Kashmir to be ours but not Kashmiris?
More importantly, the Kashmiris who did not choose to pick weapons and instead stepped out to study, work and make their lives meaningful are being targeted. By threatening them, what message are we giving to them? That we want Kashmir to be ours but not Kashmiris?
At such a critical time when the higher officials in the government should have issued a statement to reassure the safety of Kashmiris in the rest of India, we see a tweet from the Meghalaya Governor Tathagat Roy, asking for a total economic and social boycott of Kashmiris.
In another similar incident, two shawl sellers fled from a moving train, leaving behind goods worth lakhs, to save their lives from an angry mob that accused them of being stone pelters. They were significantly injured.
In times like this when hope was dwindling, CRPF issued a helpline for Kashmiris across the nation and the Sikh community stood by and protected them. What a contrast of passionate feelings. The humane and inhuman come face to face.
Day 4: Journalists targeted for asking questions and phone numbers revealed
On day 4, the contact details of eight journalists including Ravish Kumar, Abhisar Sharma and Barkha Dutt were outed on Twitter. Their phones would not stop ringing and the death and rape threats were vulgar beyond comprehension. The common streak in all the abuse they received was the Islamophobia angle. The presence of ‘mulle’ or ‘Pakistani’ was massive.
Among all this was Anupam Kher fuelling this troll army by making outrageous videos stating that these journalists were trying to distract our sympathies for the martyrs and their families, so we oughtn’t pay attention to them or sympathise with them. This was problematic because it forced people into an either-or narrative. Either you care about the soldiers and are loyal or you are concerned about the trolling of journalists and are not loyal. Why must we pick only one?
I could not go beyond a few tweets – not only because I felt bad for her, but because the insults involved anti-Muslim curses.
The Pulwama attack was done by people who did not identify as Indians. But the people attacking these journalists do so with the Indian flag proudly on their display pictures.
Barkha Dutt’s timeline on Twitter was so vile, I could not go beyond a few tweets – not only because I felt bad for her, but because the insults involved anti-Muslim curses. While this hatred makes me depressed, people like Barkha, Ravish and Rajdeep also reassure me that the India I lived in, the idea of India that I have in my mind is still in alive.
But the straw that broke the camel’s back was yet to come.
Day 5: Upasana Singh’s Sting operation by Cobrapost
On Day 5, the Cobrapost sting operation that recently uncovered over 40 Bollywood celebrities being ready to promote political parties for money broke out. I had goosebumps watching celebrities like Shakti Kapoor ask for 9 crore rupees to promote BJP. What was worse that all of these people were willing, in fact insisted, that the money be given in cash (black money), so no taxes would have to be paid.
The videos were addictive and after a few, I came across the one with Upasana Singh, a childhood favourite actress. In my home we know her as the ‘Abba Dabba Jabba’ lady from her hit role in the 90s. In her video, you could see her admitting that despite her support for BJP, she thought that demonetisation had failed. On the topic of politics, she said she disliked the Congress because Rahul Gandhi was the son of a Muslim. The myth of Feroze Gandhi being a Muslim is a major achievement of the era of WhatsApp university.
The woman in the video above is saying “Nehru ki peedhi ka naata Musalmano se juda hai” (Nehru’s daughter has been with Muslims). When I see such things, I can’t help but thinking – so what? Firstly, they aren’t Muslims, but what if they were? These people are actively hating the Nehru and Gandhi families for just being associated with Muslims. Can you imagine if they actually were Muslims?
Singer Abhijeet Bhattacharya proposed to abuse opposition parties and suggested we first shoot the people sympathising with the Rohingya refugees and then the refugees themselves. How soulful, for a singer singing love songs.
While Rahul Gandhi receives hatred for his supposedly Muslim lineage, Priyanka is trolled for another set of super sexist reasons. In the latest viral posts, her breasts are the centre of attention. I have no words to even begin on how anti women this troll brigade is and how they objectify women politicians.
As I watched a beloved childhood favourite and fondly watched celebrities talk in this vile way about Muslims, I broke into tears.
This feeling isn’t something that can be described in words. The Indian Muslim is constantly targeted, shamed, put on trial, humiliated and hated by the very same people they stayed behind for. My mental health has been unstable for the last few days because it is very hard to not take all this personally and not think about it. Despite not being in any direct physical harm, this hatred and discrimination is like a psychological genocide. And I cannot even imagine how those Hindus feel who are trolled and threatened for being secular Indians that live on the ideology of Nehru and Gandhi Ji’s India.
Despite not being in any direct physical harm, this hatred and discrimination is like a psychological genocide.
Just like all Hindus don’t want to be made responsible for the actions of the Hindu Mahasabha celebrations of Gandhi’s assassination, all Kashmiris don’t want to be punished for Pulwama and all Muslims don’t want to accused of being pro terrorists. It’s as simple as that.
This hate narrative needs to change and our coming generation must grow in a nation where we don’t barely ‘tolerate’ those different from us, but celebrate diversity and learn to live in peace.
P.S.: This article is anonymous because there are only two possible ways to go now; either I self censor and remove every single reference to politics and religion (which would render the article senseless) or I remove the links to my identity so my mental health does not deteriorate more from the vile abuse that I might be about to receive.
Featured Image Credit: PTI (via Scroll)