Travails of being a Muslim in India

The release of Shahrukh Khan’s film Dilwale (December 2015) was accompanied with protests by Shiv Sena and other Hindutva groups. These protests were supposedly against his comment on the growing intolerance in India. Shahrukh Khan, on the occasion of his fiftieth birthday a few weeks earlier, had said that there was growing intolerance in India and that being non-secular was the worst crime for a patriot. In response to this the Hindutva cabal pounced on him and he was labelled as anti-national, unpatriotic and asked to go to Pakistan. BJP general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya said that he lived in India but his soul was in Pakistan. Shahrukh did come out with a sort of apology when he said, “really sorry if someone felt bad”. He elaborated that he was not saying this as his film was going to be released, but that he meant it. On the back of this Kailash Vijayvargiya again tweeted that nationalists had taught a lesson to the morons (nalayaks).

It is not the first time that Shahrukh Khan was subjected to charges of being anti-national. In 2010, when he supported the idea of Pakistani cricket players to be allowed to come for IPL matches, Shiv Sena protested vociferously and posters of his film, My name is Khan were torn as a mark of their indignation. Other stars who received similar treatment were Aamir Khan and Dileep Kumar. Aamir Khan, while talking at the Ramnath Goenka Excellence in Journalism Award function last year shared his anguish that in the surcharged environment his wife Kiran Rao felt unsafe, particularly for their son. To this, Yogi Adityanath, BJP MP, retorted that Aamir Khan was talking like Hafiz Sayeed of Pakistan and that it would be better if he went to Pakistan.

Aamir Khan, in a statement, clarified that he had never thought of leaving India, that he would continue to live in India and quoted lines from Rabindranath Tagore’s poem, “Where the head is held high…”. The labels of unpatriotic and anti-national were freely stuck to him by different worthies of Sangh Parivar. Interestingly, such rowdyism had full sanction of top leaders of the party and the Parivar as none of them came forward to reprimand the offenders. One of the leaders of VHP in a talk show said that when a person like Shah Rukh Khan made such a comment,the whole community came under the scanner, making it clear that Muslim community was to blame.  

One also recalls the plight of the Peshawar-born Dileep Kumar when he supported the film by Deepa Mehta, Fire. Shiv Sena volunteers protested in front of his house wearing underwears in 1998. Several of them clambered upto his roof in their briefs. When he was awarded Nishan-e-Imtiyaz, the highest civilian honour of Pakistan, there was a lot of protest demanding that he should not receive it. He went on to accept the honour. Former Prime Minister Murarji Desai was an earlier recipient. Loose-mouthed Hindu nationalists had called him anti-national, un-patriotic, etc. Dileep Kumar was so disturbed that he approached the then Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, who went on to defend his nationalist credentials. However, even Vajpayee did not intervene to stop Hidutva hooliganism.    

During the recent anti-Muslim vilification campaign, toxic statements of leaders like Sakshi Maharaj, Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti, Yogi Adiyanath, Manoharlal Khattar, Kailsh Vijayvargiya and Sangeet Som shook the roots of our society. The silence of the prime minister indicated that all this was being done with his tacit approval. The precipitating point came with the murders of Dabholkar, Pansare and Kalburgi and lynching of Akhlaq. The response to all this came in the form of returning of awards and statements issued by former Admiral Ramdas, academics, historians and activists. The uncoordinated, spontaneous award returning went on in full fury till the results of Bihar elections came out. These results acted as soothing balm on the tensed nerves of society, and the process of award returning gradually tapered off, barring one exception, that of Jayanta Mahapatra, who returned his award after the Bihar assembly election results.

During the process of returning awards right from President Pranab Mukherjee to industrialists Narayan Murthy, Kiran Majumdar Shaw and RBI governor Raghuram Rajan stated that there was a growing atmosphere of intolerance in the country. Interestingly, only Muslim icons were chosen by Hindutva enthusiasts intense attacks, raising doubts about their patriotism. None were accused of being politically motivated. None dared take on the Presidents’ observations. What does all this indicate? Aamir Khan correctly pointed out that the response to his statement did finally prove that there was growing intolerance. The differential response to Muslims statements and similar statements made by non-Muslims gave the game away and exposed the mindset the RSS affiliates.

It may be recalled that following bomb attacks on Mecca Masjid, Malegaon, Ajmer and Samjhauta Express a number of Muslim youth were arrested as a regular practice. After Hemant Karakare’s investigation showed that it was Hindutva groups of people like Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur, Lt. Col Purohit, Major Upadhayay and Swami Aseemanand who were behind those acts of terror. The arrests of Muslim youth were a respite for these people I remember having attended a meeting organised by Anhad (Act Now for Harmony And Democracy) in 2009. The theme of the meet was “What it means to be a Muslim in India?”. With great disbelief I heard prominent Muslim writers and activists pouring their hearts out and confessing that they did feel that Muslims were being given a discriminatory treatment and they had started feeling the pain of being Muslim. Most of these friends are known mainly for being activists or for their literary contributions, not for their religious identity. Naseeruddin Shah has said that lately he is being made aware of his Muslim identity. And in similar vein, Julio Rebeiro said,  “as a Christian, suddenly I am a stranger in my own country”.

India has been a democracy with considerable space for secular, plural values. This has been much better than most of the countries in South Asia, where the democratic processes are comparatively weaker. Countries like Saudi Arabia are nowhere close what we have achieved in matters of democratic processes. It is disgusting to see India being compared with these countries. We have been pursuing a path towards better human rights. To say that Indian Muslims are better off than Muslims in Pakistan or Saudi Arabia is degrading our own system which has emerged due to the freedom struggle. Our system is trying to keep the Indian Constitution as the reference point. Needless to say, we do need course correction, and those following politics of religion need to be countered to preserve our democratic,plural values.    

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 February 2016 on page no. 11

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