JaI Sri Ram” was the cry raised by the rioters as they attacked Muslims who had dared to venture out during the January 1993 riots in Mumbai. Reading about these cases, I was repulsed by the way L.K. Advani and associates had transformed the name of one of our most revered and popular gods. A month earlier, I had felt ashamed of being a Hindu, watching the saffron hordes demolishing an ancient structure that had become the touchstone of our country’s secularism.
When Babu Bajrangi boasted that he felt like Rana Pratap as he killed Ehsan Jafri, most Hindus watching the sting operation on TV felt sick. Hearing Sadhvi Rithambara (in Indore, 1990) and Sadhvi Saraswati (at the Virat Hindu Sammelan last Sunday) call Muslims gaddaars, I was filled with loathing.
From the lynch mobs of 1993 to the Bajrangis of 2002 to Dara Singh, who killed Graham Staines and his little boys in 1999, to Yogi Adityanath declaring that if “they convert one Hindu girl, we will convert hundreds of their girls”, they have been proud Hindus, deriving their inspiration from Hindu mythology, harking back to a distorted version of history. In their imagination, they are the rishis and rajas of yore, roaming the countryside to slay rakshasas and invaders. Not for a moment can I say: “They are not Hindus”, though I can say this is not the Hinduism most of us practise.
Why then are so many articulate and politically aware Muslims finding it difficult to say that the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) are Muslim? “This is not Islam,” has been repeated many times over the last few days, as has “They are not Muslims.” Indeed, they are. They derive their inspiration from Islam. The picture of the gunmen released by their organisation has the kalima in the background. The kalima is what you recite when you convert to Islam, it is what you recite when you are about to die, so that you go to jannat. That’s why these gunmen made their targets recite it just before shooting them. They were mindful of their religious duty.
How many times have we heard “Islam prohibits the killing of innocents; one innocent killed is the killing of humanity. Hence these men cannot be Muslims”? Isn’t this a convenient way of washing one’s hands off the reality that these killers belong to one’s faith? Their version of Islam doesn’t gel with one’s own, for whom Islam means peace and mercy. That is fine. But at least it should be acknowledged that, for them, the same religion means slaying the enemy mercilessly. Accepting that doesn’t take away from Islam. In fact, it obliges one to counter their version of Islam with a different one.
Muslims who say that what was done in Peshawar was anti-Islamic and, hence, those who did it are not Muslims, forget that the TTP may well declare them kaafirs. “Jis Hindu ka khoon na khole, khoon nahin woh paani hai (The Hindu whose blood doesn’t boil doesn’t have blood but water)” is a slogan coined by the RSS. For them, many of us are not Hindus at all. But who has given them the right to say so? The same applies to those who declare that the TTP are not Muslims. Who is to define who is not a Hindu or a Muslim?
Many Indian Muslims were not even willing to believe that the Peshawar attack was the work of the Taliban. Excuses like “tribals’’ or “bearded imposters” were being made till they were left with no choice after the TTP owned up to the killings.
Then there’s the other excuse: “Terrorism has no religion.” It certainly does. Sadhvi Pragya is a Hindu, as are Colonel Purohit and Swami Aseemanand, who are accused of terrorist acts against Muslims. Hafiz Saeed and Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi are proud Muslims. Let us accept that religion is at the heart of much terrorism in India and Pakistan. By doing so, we don’t betray our faith. By denying it, we shrug off our responsibility to reclaim it.
The writer is a freelance journalist