Published on: Feb 24, 2019
Written By: Anas Tanwir and Sanobar Fatma
It was 2012, and vacations had just begun. We were packing to go home when someone suggested we watch a movie before leaving from college. Anurag Kashyap’s Gangs of Wasseypur had just released, and we decided to watch it. In an interesting scene where Sultan visits Ramadhir Singh’s house, his wife interrupts them mid-conversation; upon knowing that Sultan will be eating with them, she asks her husband in a hushed voice, “Cheeni mitti ka bartan nikal de?”
The movie ended soon after, but that scene never left my mind. As I sat down in the train to go home, I remembered the numerous times when I had been considered 'impure', 'polluting' — someone who did not 'belong' here. How during the preparations for the Commonwealth Games, I was subjected to a more thorough security check since my ID carried a Muslim name. My friends, on the other hand, were not even questioned. I remembered how at one of Delhi’s most prestigious institutions, I was called a Pakistani and mocked for not eating meat. How when I was once crossing the street at Connaught Place, a friend casually remarked that I must be supporting the separatist movement in Kashmir, since I am a Muslim.
For long, I have been at the receiving end of such treatment — which can only be termed bigotry — and remained silent. Why am I treated like a foreigner in my own country, unless being a Muslim is the basis for this discrimination?
A platform for Muslims
In news debates on television, hashtags on social media, conversations on WhatsApp and in cafés, there is a growing anti-Muslim propaganda and Islamophobia. A lack of accountability means that it has become easy for a person with a Muslim name to be called a 'jihadi' or 'mulla'. Photoshop-ed images and edited videos circulating on social media, released with the intent to spread hate against Muslims, prompted a group of us to start a Twitter handle (and later, a Facebook page) called Muslims of India. I realised that in the face of hate, we should respond with love and positivity. We later took the movement to the streets. '#iftaar4all' was one of the ways this was undertaken — we believe that nothing connects people like conversations over food.
Through our presence on social media, we hoped to include as many voices as possible, so that people would know what it means to be a Muslim in India.
We wanted to reclaim the narrative from bigoted, pliable spokespersons to the common Indian.
A year on, we have had rational debates with and views from “normal” Muslims. Muslims who have been curators of conversations on our Twitter handle have based their views on the Quran, Hadith, and the Constitution of India.
In January, we decided to take the engagement forward and invited non-Muslims to clear their misconceptions, misunderstandings and ask us questions through '#AskAMuslim'. Amid positive feedback and genuine questions, a counter narrative emerged, driven by people who do not seem to believe in the Constitution and the secular culture of the country.
Why Muslim assertion
Vulnerable classes, castes, and races have often risen and asserted themselves. I believe rights cannot be bestowed – they have to be taken, and that makes assertion important, for it empowers the weakest, and through the collective power of a group helps to bring individual stories forward, to the mainstream. The problem, however, is that any assertion by us brings about restlessness and discomfort.
This was the first time I made an assertion of my Muslim identity on social media. Previously, I had discussed the issue with friends. Predictably enough, it was discomforting to both Hindus and Muslims.
For many non-Muslims, the disproving of misconceptions challenges everything they thought they understood about Islam and Muslims, and opens a window to the complexity and diversity of the Muslim identity.
Rights and protection of minorities
This quandary arises because despite living together for centuries, we have not made any serious effort toward appreciating our differences and acknowledging our similarities. In our haste to hate, we forget that from the First War of Independence to attaining freedom, Muslims have contributed with more than just their lives for the country. The song 'Saare Jahan Se Accha'; the slogan 'Inquilab Zindabad'; the words 'Sarfaroshi ki tammana ab humare dil mein hai' — they were all conceived of by Muslims, an oft-forgotten fact.
Significantly, the Constitution grants equal rights to Muslims, along with protection. All fundamental rights enshrined under part 3 of the Constitution of India are available equally to all citizens, except for some additional protection for minorities in terms of education and culture. Therefore, the assertion is not about which religion or culture is greater, better or true, but of Muslims being being equal in the eyes of the Constitution.
Some feel that in an election-bound country, any assertion has the potential to cause polarisation and benefit the ruling party. However, it must be noted that the defeat of Hindutva, which demonises Muslims, cannot be achieved by making Muslims invisible from the political spectrum.
The dilemma of the Muslim youth
The Muslim experience is important because, like me, many Muslim youth are left pondering over this question: Why is anyone who speaks for my rights dubbed a hardliner by the conservatives and liberals alike, when someone who spews hatred against minorities can be given a ministerial position?
We are also surprised when the ‘secular’ Congress gets defensive over the fake news that its leaders have Muslim ancestry. In fact, the party tries to show itself as aligned to Hindutva aspirations, whether it is through Priyanka Vadra's indication that she prefers vegetarian food, or Rahul Gandhi speaking about his gotra. It is outrageous that the Muslim identity has turned into an allegation; association with it is considered criminal.
On Republic Day this year, I was astonished when Muslims were hailed for display of patriotism, as if there is some novelty in this.
We have been an equal participant in the struggle for freedom, and a majority in the community rejected the idea of Pakistan. The arguments against this ignore the fact that 86 percent adult Muslims did not have a right to vote in British India, and “[T]hese election results tell us only that a little more than 10 percent of the adult Muslim population expressed their support for Pakistan by voting for the Muslim League.”
I am appalled at attempts to make me less Muslim and more Indian, when both the identities can co-exist. Muslims should not have to be who others want them to be. Our assertion is an assertion of the heterogeneity of India, and an attempt against converting India into a homogenous state. The Muslim assertion is the demand to be heard, if not understood completely. It is a cry against being silenced. In the words of Sudarshan Fakir:
Miri zubaan se meri daastaan suno to sahi
Yaqeen karo na karo maharbaan sunon to sahi
Anas Tanwir is a lawyer at the Supreme Court of India. In his free time he likes to rant. He tweets @Vakeel_Sb
Sanobar Fatma is an academician based in New Delhi. She writes about polity, law, and films, and loves to doodle. She tweets @SanobarFatma