“This is the real India,” declares Ibaad Rahman, as he waves the Indian tricolour he carried with him behind Jantar Mantar to protest the series of mob lynchings, mostly targeting the minority community. The result of a Facebook event created by Delhi-based filmmaker Saba Dewan that went viral, the protest titled #NotInMyName found resonance throughout the country, with outraged Indians setting up protests in cities within and outside India.
A map tracing the number of lynchings since 2015 covered India in a bloodied trail as poetry readings and performances on stage spoke about the trend. The tipping point came, for me as well, with the killing of 16-year-old Junaid Khan in a Mathura-bound moving train, as his mother waited at home for him to return with his brother to start Eid celebrations. Who are these people, who protest against so-called beef-eaters, killing helpless human beings? There is not enough outrage, or rather none at all, when it comes to the powers that be. It’s like Junaid’s death and that of others in past lynchings, never happened. This inspired me, and so many others, to show up at the protest, aptly titled #NotInMyName.
Ibaad Rahman, a businessman who shut his shop in Old Delhi for the day to be present at the protest, was shaken at the recent lynching. He says, “I spent my childhood in Delhi and this has never happened before. We don’t feel the pain until it happens to us. I have a brother; what if it happened to him? This was done deliberately. I could be a target tomorrow. I’m here for humanity and not for any particular religion. This protest shows me that we’re on the right track.”
Twenty-year-old Kamya Sud had her own reasons for showing up. “My mother is Muslim and father a Hindu, who married in 1992 (at the height of the Babri Masjid-Ram Janmabhoomi agitation). It scares me that this can happen in my own country. There is so much nationalist rhetoric around the world, including Hindu nationalists here. We had made so much progress as a country and it’s terrifying that something like a mob lynching can happen in 2017. Recently, a friend advised someone visiting Delhi to be careful how they interact with people; I don’t want people talking about India this way.”
Since her name doesn’t let on her Muslim heritage, she is also privy to a lot of comments that play on stereotypes. “Calling somebody terrorist as a joke or talking about how goats are slaughtered during Eid are things one hears. I try not to subdue my Muslim identity, but it happens at a subconscious level. As Indians, we should not be afraid of voicing our concerns.”
Another woman, who didn’t want to be named, reveals how she and her 18-year-old son have begun censoring each other on things that may be misunderstood if voiced in public. Her coming out for the protest was also an effort to reclaim public spaces. She says, “I feel the entire country should be safe for women and children to roam freely. We should fight for constitutional democracy and not let a majoritarian mindset prevail. Mob mentality can’t govern law and order. The fear has to go.”
A dispassionate review of the Modi government in the Economist magazine recently had this to say, “The fear is that, if the economy falters, Mr Modi will try to maintain his popularity by stirring up communal tensions. That, after all, is how his Bharatiya Janata Party first propelled itself to government in the 1990s.” Well, the #NotInMyName should show politicians, from all sections, that there is a sizeable chunk of India that doesn’t endorse minority-bashing. It’s time for all right-thinking people to stand up and be counted to reclaim the idea of India that we call ours.