When will the day come when the world realizes that Muslim lives matter?


Syed Tahir Rashdi
The Black Lives Matter movement in the United States should remind India that it has much soul-seeking to do on issues of race and identity. The death of George Floyd, a black American, at the hands of a white police officer in the U.S. state of Minnesota has sent ripples round the world. In America, people have flooded the streets despite the coronavirus pandemic and more than 100,000 deaths it has caused—blacks and whites together, hand in hand. In other countries too, peopl have started to accept
that racism is real and that biases based around skin color exist. In India, people with smartphones and access to the internet have once again started talking about racism and other forms of discrimination prevalent in society. With increasing violence against minorities and weaker sections of Indian society, like lower caste Dalits and Adivasis, or aboriginals, it is not surprising that in today’s India, hashtags like #MuslimLivesMatter and #DalitLivesMatter are echoing the sentiments of #BlackLivesMatter. If you are unfamiliar, Merriam-Webster defines racism as “a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities, and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race.” While skin color is a concern in India, too, the equivalent of such systematic discrimination has more than one form. Do Muslim lives matter in India? As the Black Lives Matter movement rages throughout the United States, the ordinary Indian citizen has often been conspicuously silent in the face of glaring injustice against their own — in the form of a systematic campaign of persecution, and murder, carried out against India’s largest minority. The reason is not far to seek — any dissent from the government
narrative — be it on the “thorny” issue of Article 370 pertaining to the autonomy of the Kashmir region or the evidently undemocratic Citizenship Amendment Act, a precursor to the brutal National Register of Citizens — is crushed with an iron hand. In 2002, a pogrom in Gujarat when the Prime Minister was heading the state government there claimed over 1,000 Muslim lives. The perpetrators were not punished. The likes of Babu Bajrangi who were among only a handful of those convicted are out on bail. In February this year, a sudden bloodbath immediately preceded by incendiary speeches of BJP leaders
Anurag Thakur, Parvesh Verma and Kapil Mishra, all available on record, snuffed out 53 lives in northeast Delhi, mostly Muslim. No action was taken against them either — by the government or by the party machinery. In June this year, a Delhi court enied bail to 27-year-old Safoora Zargar, member of the Jamia coordination committee, who is also pregnant and was arrested by the Delhi Police special cell for creating a roadblock that allegedly facilitated the February-end clashes. Since there is no prima facie
evidence against her of the terrorist activity that she has been accused of under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), she was eligible for bail even under this draconian law. Ms Zargar has been booked under UAPA, India’s main anti-terror legislation, alongside Jamia Millia Islamia’s Meeran Haider, Shifa-ur-Rehman and Asif Iqbal Tanha, and JNU’s Umar Khalid and Natasha Narwal. These young men and women were surreptitiously apprehended and put behind bars under cover of the Covid lockdown. But their only “crime” could well be the exercise of their freedom of opinion and right to dissent, both of
which are so essential for the healthy functioning of a democracy. This week, a bid by women and children to resume the anti-CAA sit-in at Shaheen Bagh — and start a parallel one outside Jamia — was foiled by Delhi Police. Meanwhile, Muslim victims of the rampage have struggled to lodge FIRs. Those who could register it after much hardship saw charges being diluted and non-bailable sections of the law against Hindu names dropped. Often, their complaints were clubbed together with a multiplicity of others, and then they were falsely implicated. As happened in the case of Hasim Ali, a 60-year-old tailor
from northeast Delhi. Mr Ali lodged a complaint after his home was burned to the ground. His complaint was attached with that of his Hindu neighbour. Later, it was Mr Ali who was arrested on the flimsiest of grounds. No action was taken against the persons he named in his complaint. The constitution of India has declared the country secular. And indeed, India is home to many religions. But it is also a country with the traumatic past experience of Partition based on religion. In a way, ever since 1947 when the “Muslim state” of Pakistan was formed, the integrity and loyalty of those Muslims who chose to stay in
India have been questioned by the majority. Unfortunately, it prevails even today and has come back with a vengeance in the last few years. In 2015, a 52-year-old man, Mohammed Akhlaq, was lynched to death by a group of cow vigilantes in the town of Dadri in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh for allegedly killing and consuming cow meat – cows are considered holy by many Hindus. What came off as shocking and unacceptable then soon spread like wildfire to other parts of the country. Religious minorities, and Muslims in particular, became the target of slurs like “terrorist,” “jihadi” and “Pakistani.”
And those who came out in support of the minorities were branded as “anti-nationals.” Attacks on , some even leading to killings, started to become a regular item in the news. Five years on since Akhlaq’s murder, there have been so many such cases that the actions of cow vigilantes have become normal and, sometimes, to our great shame, even praised by Indian lawmakers. In February 2020 alone, more than 50 people were killed in a targeted mob violence in the Indian capital of Delhi. More than 70 percent of those who died were Muslims. Their crime? Exercising their right to protest against a controversial citizenship law. India is not new to skirmishes between majoritarian Hindus and the
Muslim minority. But with a Hindu nationalist government at the helm, the fault lines have become starker. Their idea of India, often described as a Hindu rashtra (a Hindu nation), has inspired the majoritarian population to brazenly ignore the Constitution and take over, even if it sometimes means crushing the minorities, literally to death.