It was the summer of 2010. This was my first visit to London and I couldn't resist a bist to Madam Tussaud's, the famous wax museum. I wanted to see the wax statues of my favorite celebrities. I was so delighted to see them there and came back with sweet memories, but the most cherished memory was not about these statues. It was something else that has remained deeply etched in my memory.
Today, with the systematic outbreak of recent incidents of gruedomr violence against Muslims in India- the country ofmy birth– it is an important narrative to share.
At the museum, among several famous Indian icons was Sachin Tendulkar – a prominent batsman of the Indian cricket team. While I was busy taking pictures, a couple came up to me and asked me if I can take their picture with Tendulkar. Perhaps, they were husband and wife with a son. Both appeared to be practicing Muslims with the man wearing a skull cap and sporting a beard and his wife wearing a burka. I made them stand at the right angle and took several pictures of them on their camera. They were all happy and left thanking me for this small favour, a common enough feature at any tourist attraction.
I do not know which country the couple was from. I never asked them. But it is possible that they were of Indian origin like myself. May be not. They could be Pakistanis who are also fond of cricket like many Indians. When it comes to cricket fans they often do not discriminate between the players like our politicians do.
I regret not asking them which part of the world they were from and why they liked Tendulkar. But that is not relevant. What is relevant is that they were a Muslim couple and wanted to be pictured with the statue of Tendulkar – an Indian cricket hero and this story is important to remember and share, to break the stereotypes about Indian Muslims being supporters of Pakistani cricket team. These myths have rather gained currency under a right wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) government in India. The BJP has always been accusing Indian Muslims of supporting Pakistan and that allegation is not just limited to cricket. If the BJP has its way it would try to "prove", again and again, that the entire Muslim population in India is loyal to Pakistan. We have been listening to this irrational crap all these years. Now that they are in power these stories are being widely accepted.
In these circumstances, when thevIndian cricket team recently lost to Pakistan, 15 Muslims were arrested in Madhya Pradesh after being accused of celebrating the victory of Pakistan. They were initially booked for sedition, but later the police dropped those charges and rather framed them for inciting violence between the two religious communities and disturbing peace. If this was not bad enough, the alleged complainant has stated that he was forced to make these false allegations by the police that is directly acting under the instructions of their political masters who are used to projecting Muslims with a perenially suspicious eye.
Even if one believes that Muslims did celebrate the victory of Pakistan what's the big deal? The cricket fans on either side see no boundaries. They can sometimes rejoice over the best performance of a rival team and that is called sportsmanship. The charges of sedition and even disturbing peace are highly uncalled for. If the Indian police is so worried about peace and unity then why not charge the supporters of BJP who every now and then keep spewing venom against Muslims and incite hatred?
Though the BJP came to power with brute majority in 2014, Muslims and other minorities have always been under a microscope in the world's so called largest secular democracy. I remember sharing the London visit story to many of my friends before 2014 and not surprisingly the prejudice against Muslims within the Indian community has been so strong even before the BJP rode to power on the Hindu nationalist plank that many who heard it either laughed at it or brushed it aside as an exceptional case. They mostly believed that Muslims in India can never be trusted.
The most disturbing part is that many Sikhs, the community I belong to are also deeply influenced by such propaganda. Early this year, when I was visiting India, a friend tried to justify the ongoing violence against Muslims under the BJP government saying that the community has been involved in crime and terrorism. I had to remind him that the Sikhs too became target of similar attacks during 1980s and were frequently blamed for terrorist acts of a few Sikh separatists and accused of being anti-national. So much so, the Sikhs were also seen as Pakistani allies by the Hindu fanatics. And this was all happening under a secularist Congress government.
I remember how as a teenager when I had long hair and sported a turban I was often taunted by my classmates as a "terrorist". My brother and I were once separated from other bus passengers by the soldiers of the Central Reserve Police Force at a checkpoint on a highway, and our luggage frisked while other passengers looked on, helplessly. On one occasion I was picked by the Punjab Police as I was taking a stroll after my dinner and taken to a police station where they beat me up for no reason. Thankfully, my father who was a government servant used his common sense and connections to find me out and take me back home. Who knows what the police intended to do with me? They were threatening to kill me in a staged shootout on the way to the police station. I was 17 at that time. We often heard about people being killed in staged shootings during the period of Sikh militancy and was constantly worried about my ownsafety.
Its a shame that majoritarian democracy that is the root of the problem is not being seen as a real danger. The process of othering the minorities has been going on for years. With the BJP being in power it has only intensified. The alarming aspect of this process is that it also pits one religious minority against the other. When there is an attempt to scapegoat one community the chances are that other religious minorities also fall into the trap laid by the majoritarian groups. That is what is happening now with Muslims in India and elsewhere. The growing Islamophobia in the west has made the job easier for the BJP which has a clear mandate to turn Indian into Hindu theocracy.
Nevertheless, however powerless we maybe, we need to amplify the stories such as the one buried in my memory so that people can resist the attempts by the powerful to pollute our minds through false propaganda that is aimed to divide us so that they can rule.
For now, Indians like me welcome the victory of the Pakistani cricket team, have no hesitation in waving a Pakistani flag and even say, Long Live Pakistan. If that makes me anti national, so be it.
How far and until when we will have to keep proving our nationalism? And who holds the right to give out certificates of patriotism? If the majoritarian democracy holds that power, I reject it completely.