It was quite dismaying to read the appeal, made editorially, by The Indian Express (‘Message much needed’, IE, December 24) to the Prime Minister’s followers to pay heed to his affirmation of the first principle of the republic of India that all citizens of the country are equal in the eyes of the state, no matter what their identity. It would have made more sense if the newspaper had asked itself how many times in the past six years has it been compelled to plead with the followers to listen to their leader. Why is it that they have gotten more and more brazen in their assault on minorities, especially Muslims, after each such appeal? And why is it that the PM keeps following hate-mongers on social media?
It could have been an occasion to hold the PM accountable to his words, to ask him why India has become one of the most violent countries for its Muslims. Why is it that he is enacting laws like the CAA and the anti-triple talaq law which put Muslims in an unequal position as compared to their co-citizens?
The editorial expresses thanks to the PM for striking a “note of inclusiveness and accommodation, at the end of a year that began with unprecedented nationwide protests against a citizenship law that was widely seen as discriminating against the country’s largest minority, and that has, most recently, seen a troubling criminalisation of inter-faith marriage in Uttar Pradesh.” Why did the editorial fail to note that the PM was speaking at the campus at a time when it was marking the first anniversary of violence which left its students bloodied by the UP police? An incident in which the university authorities failed their students. The least one expected was a mention of this atrocity. That of police breaking into the hostels — the same hostels the PM spoke about in his speech — and cracking down on students.
I, along with many, had visited the campus just after the violence and met the injured students. We could feel the anger and frustration amongst the young students the prime minister was lauding in his speech for their “shero shayari”, “hansi-mazak” and their “andaz”. In doing this, he was evoking stereotypes about Muslims — shero shayari, andaz, tehzeeb.
The students of the AMU, however, did not fit the bill. They chose to talk plain prose: “We reject the politics of exclusion and inequality and refuse to live as second-class citizens in our own land”. And they paid for this simple prose with their blood. Such cruelty could not have been possible without the PM exhorting his people that the protesters could be “identified by their clothes”. That’s why the speech to the campus was disingenuous and insulting.A university is known for the independence of the minds of its members. The university authorities ignored all protestations by its alumni and present student body, who were opposed to the PM’s presence. The students and teachers would tell you that the AMU has now become a favourite playground of the local BJP leaders, who target any dissenting voice — the authorities merely obey their orders, using overt and covert threats to their faculty and students.
The students of the AMU have faced arrests and are fighting criminal charges. The threat of violence against them is a reality. Their crime: They chose to speak out against a discriminatory act. The politics of dominance demands that the violated welcome the one who has brutalised them. He feels bad when reminded of the violence and wants to be seen as inclusive and accommodative. It is bad manners to refuse him salutations for his kindness. The domestication of Muslims is the objective of the politics of the man who has been applauded by the media for his open-heartedness. To separate him, the leader, from his followers is not honest.
India needs to be a questioning nation, a nation which respects independent young minds, not incites hatred or violence against them or puts them in jails.
This article first appeared in the print edition on December 30, 2020, under the title “Looking the other way”. The writer teaches Hindi at Delhi University