The massacre at Christchurch in New Zealand has forced European countries into deep introspection. New Zealanders are bewildered as to how and why such a horror could visit their country. In Australia, the birthplace of the accused, people are being asked to look at the reality of increasing malice and hatred against Muslims in particular and immigrants in general. It has been pointed out that the massacre is only the end point of the Islamophobia that is spreading across public life, institutions and the media.
Amidst this recognition of Islamophobia, it was heartening to read about mosques across the globe being flooded with flowers from people from other faiths. In Singapore, New Zealanders went to mosques to express their solidarity with the Muslims. They felt it was important not only to underline that the perpetrator, who sought to speak in their name through his 74-page manifesto, was rejected by them, but also to express their active empathy.
You could see the sincerity of pain on the face of the prime minister of New Zealand and could sense the urgency in the worry expressed by the Australian prime minister. He has also supported the call for action against an Australian senator who put the blame on the victims.
In India, home to the second largest population of Muslims in the world, we saw no such initiative. Indian Muslims were killed in the massacre but no compatriot sympathised with them. It is futile to expect the governments and political classes to join their kin in their mourning. We happily accept the foreign currency they bring but would not share their loss.
My mind went to the attacks on mosques in India — Malegaon, Mecca Masjid, Ajmer Sharif. How did the nation react then and what was the response of the governments?
Mosques, in these election times, are in the news for a different reason. The BJP in Delhi has asked the Election Commission to “appoint special observers for the mosques especially in the Muslim-dominated areas so that political and religious leaders cannot spread hate among people to influence elections on the lines of religion”. It did not evoke outrage. Barring the AAP, no political party thought it necessary to call out the BJP for making mosques objects of suspicion.
In the West, there are people who work constantly to identify Islamophobia in all forms and demand action against those who promote it. In India, we have normalised it so much that if Muslims complain, they are called unnecessarily touchy. Experiences of Muslim children being mocked and bullied in their schools travel through generations. A man past his 70s tells me about how he was harassed by his schoolmates 68 years back for being a Muslim. A man in his 50s said that sitting though the classes of medieval history was painful for him. He could feel the accusing eyes of his classmates as the stories of Muslims plundering India rolled out as objective history. A Muslim girl, all of 6, studying in a “progressive” school in Delhi, thanked her Hindu mother for being so wise as to not let the surname of her Muslim father be in her name. The principal of my daughter’s school refused to believe her when she complained about a teacher indulging in blatantly othering Muslims. And we are not even talking about the chain of schools under the Saraswati Shishu Mandir organisation which turn out Hindus as perfect Others of Muslims.
Policy makers and implementers unabashedly express their Islamophobia under cover of national security. Recently a friend shared his horror after returning from a mid career training of police officers and civil servants who openly denounced Muslims and underscored the need to “put them in their place”. Madrasas are being asked to submit proof of nationalism by different governments. It has not shocked us that in the name of culture and economy the eating habits of a large number of people have been criminalised. The Supreme Court, by making Sri Sri Ravishankar one of the mediators in the Ayodhya dispute, legitimised Muslimphobia. You can speak against Muslims and yet remain respectable.
The ultimate form of Islamophobia experienced by Muslims is when they are told that they are so modern that they do not look like Muslims. Muslims are asked to shed their Muslimness in all forms to be accepted as equal members of a civilised society.
Elections are around the corner. We will see the open demonisation of Muslims as a means to mobilise Hindu votes. Recently, in the campaign for the assembly elections, the prime minister and his party talked about a conspiracy to make a Muslim the chief minister of a state. A minister in Assam is openly talking about the fear of some constituencies turning Muslim majority and also about the “disastrous” prospects of Badruddin Ajmal becoming the chief minister. We have made Muslim demonisers our leaders and ask Muslims to accept them to prove their tolerance and inclusiveness. We see them as our role models. It is seen as a good bargain to secure economic growth.
Writers like Premchand and Ramdhari Singh Dinkar repeatedly asked Hindus to accept Muslims as equals. They are long dead. Islamophobia continues to run like blood in our veins. We share our lives with those who hate Muslims and yet claim to remain civilised. Unless we first recognise this duplicity, we would not be able to move towards getting rid of this disease.
The writer teaches Hindi at Delhi University