The Unprecedented Loneliness of Indian Muslims
Another day another lynching. The numbers only keep increasing with each passing year. According to IndiaSpend.com, since 2010, there have been 87 incidents of cow related violence in India resulting in 35 deaths. A majority of the 289 victims are Muslims and an overwhelming majority of these incidents (97%) have happened after 2014. The latest in this series of public lynching is Alwar, where the victim, Rakbar Khan, was probably tortured to his death while in police custody. The defence of the Rajasthan government is ridiculous to say the least. They are blaming the police. As if being killed in police custody is lesser crime. The truth is more ominous. Rakbar was killed both by the mob and the state police who were supposed to protect him. The state, it seems now, has become an extension of anti-Muslim mob. The very thought is frightening.
The killings of Muslims are no news. Scores have been killed before. In most cases, these pogroms against Muslims happened under the watch of the Congress party. In some instances, these riots were not a result of Hindu Muslim clashes; rather Muslims were targeted and killed by the police. The state, acting on majoritarian impulse is nothing new for Muslims. We know that riots are mostly engineered but till today, we have not seen that either the police or the political players who orchestrated those riots have been brought to book. Impunity granted to murderous thugs has a deep genealogy. Forgetting this genealogy is just lazy analysis.
The anti-Muslim pogroms of yesterday have today transformed into anti-Muslim lynching. The result is the same yet the method is certainly novel and pernicious. Lynching is a public spectacle; it is orchestrated to be consumed. It is designed to show members of particular minorities their proper position in the social hierarchy. The lynching of Muslims follows a disturbingly similar pattern: the act is unfailingly recorded on video and then distributed. The act of lynching and the act of archiving and distribution must happen together for it to be effective. The purpose of lynching is therefore to tell the hard-line Hindu public that Muslims have been shown their place. Whether Muslims transgress any boundaries is incidental to this spectacle. The message is to show that a minority can live only at the mercy of the majority. Even those who are opposed to this act are forced to consume these images through the media and unwillingly become complicit in participating in a debate whose terms have already been set. Sanctimonious condemnation is an exercise in futility; the real purpose has been achieved. The majority comes to believe that Muslims have been shown their true place while Muslims, internalizing the humiliation, get the message that they have to tread very carefully. If the image of one lynched Muslim can have the desired effect, why waste huge logistics in organizing riots? If the spectacle can be enacted on a regular basis say every two months, you already have an audience predisposed towards its consumption. Much like the televised episodic beheadings committed by the ISIS, we are witness to a new mediated dawn where the ritual of murdering a Muslim has acquired a banality about it.
What is also new is our response to this murderous spectacle. The opposition to this act of pure evil has been lame. While we are celebrating the famous hug as an act of inclusiveness, let us not forget that hardly anything was said specifically on Muslims being lynched almost on a periodic basis. True, the exclusionary vision of the current ruling dispensation was referred to, but when in question is the very survival of Muslims, not dwelling on the problem specifically only tells us that the principal opposition of the country is shying away from the problem. After all, for a party which is trying its best to shed its pro-Muslim image, anything remotely connected with this group of people should not be spoken of. There is a reason why the new messiah of secularism very consciously did not campaign in Muslim areas of Gujarat. Even when he decided to meet groups of Muslims recently, he was generally very coy about the contents of the exchange. In a time when Muslims are being killed for being Muslims, general statements like the Congress party stands with all marginalised sections is an admission that the party is not serious about positing an alternative.
The Congress might have its compulsions but what about the others. The left in particular have their own cadre and in some parts of the country it is still substantial despite electoral setbacks. Why is it that we do not see a counter mobilization against lynching of Muslims from the left parties? Or is it that they have also decided not to be seen as pro-Muslim? Sumanta Banerjee, one of the leading historians of left movement in India, in a recent interview recounted that during the Ram Mandir movement, he asked the general secretary of one of the communist parties as to why he doesn’t rally his cadres and give a counter call to save the mosque at Ayodhya? To his horror, the general secretary told him that he was unsure if his own cadres will listen to him and go against the call of their religion. So we have a general secretary of a communist party who is deciding his strategy based on sentiments of the people when it comes to Muslims. Is something similar happening in today’s times? After all, why is it that there is all round silence over lynching of Muslims within different communist parties? If they can successfully mobilise peasants why is it that they cannot organise a national rally against lynching? And if they don’t speak up now, when will they?
Even the intellectual intervention which has come from the left has been patronising. During the JNU crisis a couple of years ago, when students were accused of sedition, one leftist professor wrote a column in which he proclaimed one of accused, a Muslim student, as his son. That perhaps is the defining relationship between the left and Muslims: a patronising, patriarchal, unequal relationship characterised by absolute asymmetry of power. Like the accused student, Muslims as a community are to be infantilized. And of course, children do not speak, parents speak for them. Like the accused, the community cannot have a voice, cannot have an agenda of its own. They have to be told how to speak and what should be their agenda. Under the loving patriarchal gaze of this upper caste professor, Muslims can never be friends because friendship presupposes equality and that is very hard to concede indeed.
Muslims are in an unprecedented situation today. There is so much Muslim talk these days but then there is no Muslim voice. Muslims are either spoken about or spoken over. The only Muslims who get a chance to speak are the sponsored ones: made for TV mullahs. They speak on an agenda which is pre-configured to otherise and demonise Muslims. If this cacophony of silence needs to be broken, it must be done by Muslims themselves. There is no need to wait for others to speak up. True this loneliness is killing, but silence around the issue will only allow this loneliness to rip apart our very souls.