Well-meaning friends and colleagues from other communities often ask me why Muslims are anxious over the NRC-CAA. Their query evokes a mixture of feelings: Hurt — at the lack of empathy — relief at the thought that perhaps the anxiety is only in my head and then, impatience on realising that people view the issue through such different prisms.
The Union home minister has said that the “NRC will be conducted all over the country”. The CAA will exclude only Muslims and the justifications for this exclusion are not reassuring. The home minister has said that the CAA will not impact India’s Muslims. But the apprehensions among Muslims arise from a major trust deficit between the community and a certain kind of politics that neither the prime minister nor home minister have cared to address.
When the PM first assumed office in 2014, people hoped that things would change for the better. But his evocation of Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas was followed by lynchings by gau rakshaks. Leader after leader from the BJP has made communal remarks. Most of them were not reined in, giving the impression that their actions had the approval of the party’s top leadership.
It is such an atmosphere that emboldens, for example, the driver of a cab I was travelling in recently to make anti-Muslim remarks without even bothering to know the religion of the passengers. It does not surprise me when a friend sheepishly says that his family is “narrow-minded”. And, Twitter, of course, is a minefield of anti-Muslim hashtags. How can Muslims believe the leaders of a party that makes Sadhvi Pragya a parliamentarian? How can the community trust the home minister when he says Muslims will not be targeted?
An acquaintance told me the other day, “The CAB is for outsiders and as an Indian Muslim, you have no reason to worry”. I wondered if I was being too paranoid and actually felt relieved thinking that he could be right. But then he then asked me if I ever felt targeted as a Muslim. I told him that on the crime beat, I have heard cops making communal remarks. He responded: “Arrey you know how these cops are”. I did not react. But the memories of incidents like being denied a house in certain areas of the city kept coming back to me.
When I read about the Muslim professor who was forced to resign from the BHU’s Sanskrit department, I sent this acquaintance the link to the report. Only to be told that the media had a penchant for harping on stories with a communal angle. I realised, then, that there was little point in having this conversation. Our perspectives, it was clear, were far too different.
A few years ago, a dear friend told me that I was stupid to worry about the communal remarks of BJP leaders. “They are just election gimmicks. Look at development”. But my friend, who is from South India, understood my point when I asked him: Would you have voted for the Shiv Sena in the 1970s even if the party had been development oriented? He said no.
It is true that the exact links between and consequences of the CAB and NRC are not clear. Indian Muslims may not be affected at all. But given the current atmosphere, can we avoid being anxious? What if we do not find the necessary documents to prove our citizenship? Will my 70-year-old father have his birth certificate? What if we lose citizenship? Will we be kept in detention centres? Will I be separated from my parents?
I know I am not the only one worrying about this. The Muslim in your office/class/building also fears that he could suddenly be made an illegal immigrant, be separated from his family. I cannot even begin to think of the plight of those not as privileged as me. We would really appreciate a “don’t worry we’ll see this through” — not a “ don’t worry, you’re being paranoid”. So, the next time you see an anxious Muslim, by all means tell him/her they do not need to feel anxious. But please do so as an assurance, not a retort. Empathy is the need of the hour.
This article first appeared in the print edition on December 23, 2019 under the title “Why I am anxious”.