Apoorvanand & Alishan Jafri
It has been a year since the Dharam Sansad in Haridwar, where dozens of Hindu supremacist priests clad in saffron robes called for the genocide of Indian Muslims. This gathering was a culmination of a series of anti-Muslim hate assemblies across the country, including in the capital city Delhi, at which prominent Hindu clerics made equally vitriolic statements.
Bajrang Muni, one of these “respected religious leaders” – as he was described by the Indian government’s lawyer in the Supreme Court – had publicly advocated Hindu men to commit mass rapes against Muslim women.
Yet, the police did not find a problem with such corrosive speech, just as it did not find anything wrong in the open calls for arming Hindus that were made at the gathering in Delhi. It said this was merely a defence of “community ethics”.
We are told that there is a silent majority that is upset by this vulgarity. One wonders why ordinary Hindus or the state apparatus, which identifies itself with them, does not feel offended by this rhetoric.
Of course, there is a limit to our tolerance. This level was breached in December when actor Shah Rukh Khan purportedly insulted the sacred hue of saffron by getting co-star Deepika Padukone to wear a saffron bikini in a sequence for the song Besharam Rang – shameless colour – in his film Pathaan. A film critic of long standing even wondered about the wisdom of choosing this outfit because saffron, this person claimed, is India’s national colour.
To identify only this particular colour as being shameless is a display of obvious bigotry: Padukone changes costumes at least six times during the song. However, this one short shot has forced parliamentarians and Madhya Pradesh Home Minister Narottam Mishra to react. A prominent priest in Ayodhya burnt an effigy of Khan and casually threatened to burn him alive as well.
These grievances ring hollow because Indian films are filled with songs and scenes awash with saffron, each competing to be “bolder” than the other. They have been watched by millions of religious Hindus who have never registered their hurt or outrage for these insults to the sacred colour.
There is, quite clearly, an industry manufacturing hurt Hindu sensibilities.
However, even if this abuse is scripted, the way it affects the victims is quite real. How could the targets not feel wronged when top state representatives lead the mob that ridicules and assaults their sense of belonging?
Shah Rukh Khan speaks during inauguration of the 28th Kolkata International Film Festival, in Kolkata on December 15. Credit: PTI.
Let us not fool ourselves. We know the real reason behind this abnormal outrage against Pathaan. It is another excuse to incite and justify violence and the industrial-scale irrational hatred against Muslims. Since the daily attack on ordinary Muslims barely solicits a response from civil society, attacks on individuals like Khan are necessary to test new ground.
Before the troll attack on Khan, there were attacks – real and virtual – on former Vice President Hamid Ansari, politicians Asaduddin Owaisi and Salman Khurshid, journalist Mohammad Zubair and actors Irfan Pathan and Aamir Khan. They are not ordinary Muslims, but it should be a matter of concern that they can be shot at by extremists, their homes vandalised, accused of treason without evidence by online mobs, and that they can easily be jailed.
A new understanding has been created that the majority can humiliate even the most celebrated Muslims and their actions will be justified by the press and the state.
Often, the targets of majoritarian hate are accused of being conservative or radicalised. That cannot work with Khan. He cannot easily be accused of disrespecting the Hindu faith since he fits the Sangh Parivar’s shabby claims of the ideal Indian Muslim.
However, merely respecting Hinduism does not seem adequate any more. It appears that Khan is now expected to condemn Islam and gloat at bulldozers mowing down “illegal homes”.
Other excuses are also used either to rationalise such attacks or minimise their severity. Has Khan made a film on social issues? Has he ever spoken against atrocities against Dalits or women? Isn’t Hamid Ansari an elite Muslim? Had he not always been an establishment man? Does Asassuddin Owaisi not work in Muslim politics? These reasons are made to appear rational enough to ignore attacks on these Muslims.
As a consequence, few ordinary Hindus speak out strongly against this violence. They say that since Hindus are non-violent by nature, these incidents are exceptions. They should not be asked to stand against them. They tolerate Islamophobic banter on their dining tables, dismissing it as merely humour. None of this is really to be taken seriously, they say.
Moreover, Hindus have been convinced that it is they who have actually been wronged: this talk of hate and violence against Muslims is actually a conspiracy to defame Hindus. Those who have committed atrocities against Hindus for 1,200 years are to blame for forcing Hindus to become violent. Those Hindus who condemn such violence are derided as seculars, or people with a slave mentality, or their Hinduness is questioned.
That is how Hindus, simply because they are Hindus, are freed from the responsibility of responding to the hate and violence that is being spread in their name.
Then there are Hindus claiming to be allies of Indian Muslims who try to persuade others (and themselves) that this hatred and violence is not real – it is only strategic. Ordinary Hindus are non-violent, they say, but are manipulated by fringe elements in the Sangh so that the Bharatiya Janata Party can reap dividends when elections come around.
But there is more to it than that. Violence against Muslim occurs even when there are no elections in sight. The home minister of Madhya Pradesh is no fringe element. This everyday hounding of minorities is unparalleled in our brief history as a democracy. Instead of looking for ways to rationalise this indefensible violence on Muslims, we should at least admit that there is a serious problem with Hindu society and it does no good to keep saying that those who are perpetrating it are fake Hindus.
Indian Muslims, on the other hand, are supposed to carry two kinds of burdens – the burden of shame and the burden of courage. They have to constantly express shame for crimes committed by Muslims across the globe. When they are attacked by a mob, they are expected to stand for themselves.
We know that this bravery can be very costly for Muslims. They can be jailed for eternity or killed. These Muslims never receive substantive solidarity from Hindus who keep denying the depth of the hatred for Muslims in India. Indian Muslims cannot end this violence. It is for Hindus to fight this evil within.
Apoorvanand teaches Hindi at Delhi University. Alishan Jafri is an independent journalist.