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A candle for Ankit

... and his lost love and a flickering secularism. A worrying silence echoes in the public sphere

Written by Teesta Setalvad | Updated: February 6, 2018 1:06 am
Ankit Saxena was killed in west Delhi's Khyala area allegedly by the family members of a woman with whom he was in a relationship. Ankit Saxena was killed in west Delhi’s Khyala area on Thursday night allegedly by the family members of a woman with whom he was in a relationship.

It was an act of violence and terror, albeit of a critically different kind. When 23-year-old Ankit Saxena’s throat was slit after an altercation with the family members of his childhood sweetheart a few days ago, while the usual suspects of the BJP, Manoj Tiwari, and the Bajrang Dal swung into pre-scripted, hate-driven action, a worrying silence from votaries of “secularism” and “religious progressives” echoed in the public sphere.

It would be easy to assuage the guilt caused by this silence by brushing off Ankit’s murder as an act of individual brutality and insanity, atypical and distinguished from organised, targeted killings in the name of faith or caste. Young Ankit’s death can also then be distinguished aside and away from the “secularism and Constitution in danger” paradigm. Warning bells need not be rung. For the venomous proponents of the “love jihad” myth, this is an act in reverse, with the young man, a Hindu, a victim. For both sides of the deep communal divide, the response is common: Greater segregation, less democratisation for the young, no sharing of spaces. Do no candles need to be lit for Ankit and his lost love?

The traumatised 20-year-old Muslim woman has so far found no friends, terrified as she is of being another victim in her family’s act of violence and hate. She has courageously named her relatives as those who, in all likelihood, are guilty, and is inconsolable in grief. The police have said her life is under threat. So far, at least, she battles alone, clear that she will be coerced into a life shorn of autonomy, choice and love if left to her family and community. Tragically, her younger 16-year-old brother was set upon her as a spy, monitoring the calls that she made and the messages she received from Ankit.

Yes, she is a Muslim and it was a Muslim father and uncle who, in all probability, we are told, did Ankit to his death. Yes, while it was an individual act of brute terror, its construct stood upon an inward, rigid, communal non-negotiable — that the autonomy of choice is out of bounds for a woman. That while we may speak of “secularism”, when it comes to protection of life and liberty and equality before the law and Constitution (and God knows what travesties those notions in today’s India are), this self-limiting definition does not extend to breaching the physical ghettos of space, mind and spirit.

Ankit and his childhood sweetheart played and dreamed together as they grew up on the lanes and streets of a mixed west Delhi neighbourhood, Raghubir Nagar. Their affection and attachment, which was to prove fatal, endured even as her family moved away, physical distance not eroding a bond that an urban, secular space had forged. Newspaper reports say they were planning a court marriage on his birthday next month. Now, with such a tragedy unfolding, rabidly communal outfits like the Bajrang Dal have made even the woman’s family, economically, victims: A beauty parlour run by female relatives of the Muslim woman in the mixed neighbourhood was forcibly closed down reportedly after the owner of the rental premises, Vinod Kumar, was threatened by west Delhi Bajrang Dal chief Jagjit Singh Goldie. In all likelihood, the extended family is likely to flee back to the recesses of Uttar Pradesh to escape the “shame of the limelight”.

Ankit’s father, Yashpal, has made heartfelt appeals to politicians and the media to refrain from communalising the issue. “We have lost our son. We are not against any community,” he has pleaded, objecting to the coverage on some electronic media.

Babasaheb Ambedkar, that critical political philosopher who had the uncanny knack of spotting the deeply political in the personal, had, among so much else, written about and advocated promotion of inter-caste marriages to ensure and enable the withering away of caste exclusion and discrimination.

Such marriages that breach societal and religious taboos break new ground and show us the way, he had argued. He pushed this argument even further, saying that a state wedded to the principles of equality and non-discrimination must encourage such alliances, partnerships and liaisons.

No wonder, then, that in some states like Maharashtra, the government is meant to provide incentives to such unconventional alliances.

Can or will or should the same principle also be extended to inter-faith marriages, partnerships? To genuinely tackle the communal demon, a green, secular and progressive signal must be given to marriages and partnerships between adults of different communities. Not only do we see no reference to this debate but the studied and uncomfortable silence and discomfort after Ankit’s murder can probably be located here.

The battle for constitutional values and secularism has been limited to the rights between ghettos, physical and real. These ghettos have been spawned over decades with targeted violence against minorities being the cause. Within these ghettos, the inter-mingling between equals is limited and even controlled. Our battle for a lived secularism has given up, virtually completely, the re-doubled struggle needed to breach these ghettos, often at great risk, to forge freer, common spaces.

The streets and lanes of Delhi where Ankit and his lost love played and bonded need to be the shared and common spaces in which our dreams of a robust, flourishing Indian secularism prosper and grow. As do other locales still live and present in a myriad, different Indian milieus. This imaginative and creative re-fashioning of the struggle is critical for a real-life secularism to emerge from its own embers.

The writer is a journalist, author, civil rights activist and educationist

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  1. Freak Jesus
    Feb 8, 2018 at 4:05 am
    By allowing a Criminal fascist rapist fear monger liar Teesta to write an article in Islaic Express, IE has lost all credibility and has shown that it is funded by the Christian Fascist Church.
    1. V
      Feb 7, 2018 at 9:50 pm
      Teesta is an expert in playing victim card in any situation. Are you not ashamed to blame Hindu organizations and BJP where the victim is a young Hindu boy and killers are from musl!m community and they did this just because the boy is from the Hindu community. How low can you go in your writings? Do you think that people can not see you through?
      1. Freak Jesus
        Feb 7, 2018 at 12:10 pm
        All kinds of tricks, were used to convert the girls. From outright expressions of love and attending their churches to trapping them in moral scandals, everything was fair game. In this, the extremists were often helped by young Muslim women who identified likely targets, encouraged the Christian girl in the “relationship,” and would even help set up the morally compromising situations. While ruining the lives of others, the former Muslim states he thought he was serving his religion, since Muslims “were in a perpetual war with the ‘filthy infidels’.” He lived for three years with one woman he had converted, tormenting her mercilessly, while converting seven other Christian women during that time. In essence, the love jihad is a form of demographic aggression. Like the “stealth jihad”, which employs political activism to achieve Islamist aims in Western societies, it employs deception and is viewed as a useful tactic in bringing about Islamic world domination.
        1. Freak Jesus
          Feb 7, 2018 at 12:05 pm
          But the best evidence that this form of jihad has been in operation for some time comes from a former Muslim extremist, who converted to Christianity. In the book, Why We Left Islam, a compilation of testimonies by former Muslims who left their faith, the unidentified apostate gives a powerful account of his days as a jihad Romeo in Egypt who targeted Coptic Christian girls. Like in Kerela, the former Muslim testifies that money was paid for conversions and that it came from outside the country. And the higher the educational and social status of the victim’s family, the more money the jihad Romeo received. Unlike in India though, the recruiters would parade the converted girl through the streets, playing music and waving flags, while yelling “Allah Akbar.” The goal, he said, was to humiliate the Christians, especially the men, and dishonor their families in a country where the women are the family’s honor. All kinds of tricks, he writes, were used to convert the girls.
          1. Freak Jesus
            Feb 7, 2018 at 12:03 pm
            With conversion, their reproductive powers are taken away from infidels and increase instead the Muslim extremist population. But while the term love jihad may be new, the tactic is already a known one. In the 1990s, Sikhs in England believed young women in their community were being targeted for conversion by muslims. Young Muslim men looking for prey were even thought to have attended parties for young Sikhs, while pretending to be Sikhs themselves. Sometimes, however, the jihad Romeos in England used a more brutal approach. A story in the Daily Mail two years ago stated that police were targeting such Muslim extremists and working with universities against “aggressive conversions.” These involved Hindu and Sikh girls being beaten up and terrorized by the Muslim men they were dating until they converted. The Hindu Forum of Britain, the story says, claimed hundreds of Sikh and Hindu girls were victims of such vicious intimidation. Some even had to leave their university to escape.
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