Updated: September 11, 2021 7:32:05 am
India runs through my veins. It is the core of my being, my home, indelible and irreplaceable. Far from being a mere geographical space, it evokes a sense of belonging and emotional bonding that encompasses family, friends, custom and tradition. It is the precious locus of good and bad times, where my fondest memories and hopes reside. It is where I have found community and brotherhood in a many-splendoured, multicultural ethos. But of late, it makes my heart ache.
I am an Indian but the fact that I am a Muslim threatens to undermine my claim to equal citizenship. A narrative built around cultural symbolism, abrasive religious differences, historical injustices, ethnocentrism has become a potent rallying point for demonising and stigmatising an entire community. The contestation of what constitutes Indianness has peaked in the last few years and by the looks of it, the idea of India as homogenous, exclusive and Hindu, where minorities live on sufferance as second-class citizens is here. What terrifies me is that rampant systemic discrimination against Muslims has taken root and will not easily go away.
The Supreme Court has recently emphasised the critical democratic need for speaking truth to power. Chief Justice N V Ramana underscored the importance of the independence of the judiciary, stating that it “cannot be controlled, directly or indirectly by legislature or executive, or else rule of law would become illusory”. Mighty words indeed. However, when confronted with the first real test of its determination to uphold democratic norms, the topmost judicial body chose expediency over justice.
As the SC collegium pats itself on the back for the appointment of nine judges to the SC in one go and for digging in its heels on 12 names for high courts, its ignoring of the legitimate claims of a Muslim candidate has gone largely unnoticed.
Chief Justice of Tripura, Akil Kureshi, is ranked second in the all-India list of seniority for judges of high courts. His ostensible crime is that as a judge in the Gujarat High Court, he gave two judicial verdicts that incensed the powers that be, but also enhanced his reputation as a fiercely independent judge. By ignoring his legitimate claims, the Supreme Court has reinforced the belief that majoritarian sentiment holds sway in the institutions of governance.
In the US, the most brazen example of a racist system is the mass incarceration of blacks who are sent to prison at more than five times the rate of whites. The main worry for those concerned with criminal justice reform is that many individuals are punished not solely because of their crime but because of the colour of their skin. Our criminal justice system too is heavily skewed against the Muslim. The latest NCRB data shows that Muslims, who make up 14.2 per cent of the population, comprise 16.6 per cent convicts, 18.7 per cent undertrials and 35.8 per cent detenus. But, of course, say the baiters, Muslims are more prone to crime than others. Sadly, this kind of unattested prejudice is what the Muslim faces today.
So, let’s get to the specifics. The communal riots in Northeast Delhi in February 2020 were the most awful expression of man’s inhumanity to man. By all accounts, including that of a team of three former Supreme Court judges, Muslims bore the brunt of the mayhem. Official figures bear this out — 53 dead, of whom 40 were Muslims, and 85 per cent of property damaged belonging to Muslims.
It is the surreal distortions and manifest bias of the police investigations that are deeply troubling to the minority community. Even as the investigations were underway, the Special Commissioner of Police, in an order to officers heading the probe teams, stated that arrests of some Hindu youth had caused “a degree of resentment among the Hindu community”. The order further named two Muslim youth, stating that there is resentment among the Hindu community at alleged police inaction “against the two”. Shorn of bureaucratese, the CP’s letter was a call to go easy on Hindus and to fix Muslims.
The subsequent criminal case filed against the CP was decided in his favour on the grounds that 535 Hindus and 513 Muslims had been charge-sheeted and hence it could not be construed that his order fanned prejudice. Although Muslims were disproportionately targeted, the chargesheets were evenly handed out between the two communities, an inversion of justice that is par for the course in today’s India.
The Tablighi Jamaat case is another scandalous communal witch-hunt, aided and abetted by the entire executive. A year on, the courts are still unravelling the iniquities in these investigations.
The past ghosts of our history are being resuscitated to intensify the alienation of the Muslim. Partition Horrors Remembrance Day is endorsed as a fitting commemoration of the suffering of Hindus and Sikhs at the time of Partition. The comparable suffering of Muslims is sought to be erased. To equate Partition with the Holocaust, where six million innocent Jews were victims of the Nazi horror, is a degenerate correlation. But then, as George Orwell points out, “every nationalist is haunted by the belief that the past can be altered… material facts are suppressed… events which ought not to have happened are left unmentioned and ultimately denied.”
A leading social scientist has lamented the plight of Muslims who “have been subjected to the untold misery of being excluded from the idea of the public”. There is hardly any public outrage at their wretched situation. Even allegedly secular political parties are averse to giving them overt support and solace. Segregated, they live in a mind-numbing environment of prejudice and hostility, victims of everyday cruelty. At a time when parallels are being drawn between the horrors of Partition and the Holocaust, the Muslim is left dreading the thought that his beloved homeland is becoming like the Heimat of Germany in the 1930s.
This column first appeared in the print edition on September 10, 2021 under the title ‘I am the other in my homeland’. The writer is a former civil servant and Secretary-General of Lok Janshakti Party. Views are personal.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines
- The Indian Express website has been rated GREEN for its credibility and trustworthiness by Newsguard, a global service that rates news sources for their journalistic standards.