Tonk (Rajasthan): Aslam, 18, a delivery boy with a local mineral water supplying firm, was unfazed by blaring loudspeakers near his home where a bunch of political workers were singing paeans to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. They were loudly proclaiming that Modi’s ‘muscular nationalist’ approach had “silenced” Pakistan while his domestic policies had “empowered” the poor and marginalised.
When asked whom he would vote for, Aslam was initially afraid to talk about politics, but then whispered: “My vote is for the party that guarantees us safety and security. We want nothing beyond it.…”
Before he could complete his sentence, Aslam was stopped by 45-year-old Sajid. The two were fearful of talking on the subject and have every reason to do so. The duo — belonging to Malpura town in Tonk district of Rajasthan — have not forgotten the mob violence during which they suffered grievous injuries, and the torturous interrogation by police that followed. They had been caught by a rampaging mob after a clash broke out between two communities over the Kanwar Yatra that was taken out last August violating Section 144.
Aslam suffered head injuries while Sajid fractured his hand, but they somehow managed to flee. They were later taken to a hospital where a medico legal case (MLC) was registered. When they demanded that a case be filed against the rioters, they were taken to the police station, ostensibly to file a complaint. But to their surprise, the police booked them under several sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) — 307 (attempt to murder), 323 (voluntarily causing hurt), 341 (wrongful restraint), among others. Aslam, being a juvenile, got bail after one-and-a-half months from the Juvenile Justice Board, while Sajid had to approach the Rajasthan High Court to get out of prison.
“Humein zinda rahne do, humein aur kuchh nahin chahiye. Hum apne rozgar ka intezam khud kar lenge (Just let us live, we don’t want anything else. We will arrange for our livelihood ourselves),” Abdul Ahad, a resident of Malpura, told Newsclick.
“We don’t want to be killed in mob violence. We don’t ask the government to give us employment and reservation. The only thing we want is the right to live with a sense of dignity. Nafrat ke is daur men zinda rahna hi hamare liye achche din hain (In this time of hatred, just staying alive counts as ‘good days’ for us),” he said.
People in the area feel that Modi’s promises of “achche din” (good days) and “sabka saath, sabka vikas” (together with all, development for all) have not been fulfilled. In fact, the marginalised sections and minority communities, especially Muslims, have been further pushed to the wall. In the context of the extreme social, educational and economic backwardness of the community, this makes for a double burden of oppression.
Status of Muslims in Rajasthan
Muslims make up around 9% of the state’s population, a majority of their population lives in urban pockets. Data from official sources compiled by the Budget Analysis Rajasthan Centre (BARC), which analyses budget and demographic data, shows that Muslim literacy rates are lower than other communities, drop-out rates from school are higher, and enrolment in higher education is only 1.7%.
The state government formed a separate department in 2009 to supervise welfare schemes meant for minorities and to address their problems. The department got an allocation of Rs 180 crore in the 2018-19 budget — a mere 0.085% of the state’s total budget. Even this minuscule amount could not be fully spent, according to the central government’s figures. The department spent just 47% of the total funds allocated during the 12th five-year plan (2012-17). Around 44% of the sanctioned posts in the department are lying vacant.
Muslims in the area narrated how the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its associates had been sowing seeds of animosity among other communities against Muslims.
Also read: While Communal Violence is on a Rise, BJP MP Wants Muslims Ousted from the Country
“Taking out processions through Muslim-concentrated areas, playing loud music and chanting provocative slogans have become the ‘new normal’ in the past few years. When people object, it results in communal violence. Houses and shops are torched. And when all this is over, we are the people who face police crackdown. Our boys are booked under false charges despite being victims. People are being lynched in the name of cow,” said Ahad.
Junaid Akhtar, a 28-year-old school teacher, accused the BJP and its leaders of being brazenly against Muslims.
“Check the statements of the party’s leaders. It appears as if they are fighting Muslims, not elections. Investigate their involvements in communal flare-ups, and you will find the answer,” he said.
“They (the BJP) hate us, but their politics depends on us. Imagine if there are no Muslims, I bet all BJP leaders will lose because they only win elections by polarising society,” Akhtar added.
Hilal Ahmed, associate professor at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), has worked on the subject of political Islam, Muslim modernities/ representation and politics of symbols in South Asia. He explains the reason behind this fear psychosis.
“We must necessarily look at the whole idea of Muslim issues contextually. At present, many people would argue that the issues faced by ‘other’ communities are Muslim issues. However, there is an important concern about the safety of life and property, which has emerged over the years as specifically a Muslim issue,” he said.
“This has two reasons. The first reason is the entire dominant anti-Muslim rhetoric, which is used by BJP to create or nurture its identified Hindutva constituencies. The second reason why the fear psychosis has developed is because of the power structure at various constituency levels. So, we also have to realise that it is not entirely what is happening at the larger national level that is contributing to the imagination of Muslim electorates at the constituency level. At the constituency level, the local power structure and Muslim elites at the very bottom level of the society also try to create a sense in their respective Muslim community that they have to be silent and they have to rely on them so that their legitimacy can be maintained,” said Ahmed, who has recently authored ‘Siyasi Muslims: A Story of Political Islams in India’.
When asked why the community opposes BJP, Syed Shahab Ahmad, a nursing school tutor, said in the aftermath of the Babri Masjid demolition riots in 1992, as many as 23 people were killed in Malpura and 11 of them belonged to the same family. Similarly, in another communal flare-up in 2000, eleven people were killed from the Muslim-concentrated locality.
“Go and check the cases, you will find the involvement of BJP leaders in all these. But we, who are the victims, face the wrath of police, instead of getting justice,” he alleged.
He was echoed by Syed Aqueel Ahmad, a teacher, who said, “When we press the button on the EVM (electronic voting machine), only one thing comes to our mind — defeat communalism.”
“After the 1992 riots, then Chief Minister Bhairon Singh Shekhawat had to step down and Governor’s rule was imposed. But the perpetrators are still roaming scot-free. Our men were put behind bars. We think about this while choosing our representatives. A few years ago, we had protested peacefully against the Danish cartoonist who had made a caricature of Prophet Mohammad. We handed over a memorandum to the district administration. Even the police roznamcha (daily diary entry) had mentioned that it was a peaceful agitation. But later, based on someone’s complaint, nine youths of our community along with 100 unnamed persons were booked under 124A (sedition) for allegedly shouting pro-Pakistan slogans, which had never happened. All the nine were arrested. They are still on bail,” he said.
During last year’s unauthorised ‘Kanwar Yatra’, he said, shops and other property belong to Muslims were looted and set on fire. Several people had suffered injuries, but the people who were tortured and arrested by the police were Muslims.
He said while language was not the property of any community, yet Urdu is necessarily associated with Muslims. “Appointments for vacant Urdu teacher posts in schools have either stopped or put on the backburner. Urdu teachers are generally transferred to remote areas so that they face inconvenience,” he alleged.
Political Representation for Muslims
Md Yusuf, a driver, said representation of the Muslim community had witnessed a drastic fall in Assemblies and in Parliament.
“The BJP, which raised the issue of triple talaq with such intensity and fanfare, did not give a single ticket to a Muslim woman. If you are so concerned about Muslim women and honestly want to empower them, you should have fielded Muslim women,” he said.
Also read: Meet the Meo-Muslim Woman, Who Bags the Maximum Votes by any Candidate in Rajasthan Elections
Asked if he thinks Muslims need their own political party, such as dalits, tribals and other marginalised communities, he along with many others was clear,
“We can make someone win or lose, but we cannot win ourselves on the basis of identity politics”, he said, while admitting that community had been let down by the Muslim leadership as well.
“Our leaders are experts in delivering emotional speeches, but they—except a few—choose to keep mum at appropriate forums. We need leaders such as Owaisi (All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen chief Asaduddin Owaisi), Kanhaiya Kumar (Communist Party of India candidate from Bihar’s Begusarai constituency), Sushmita Dev (Congress MP from Silchar in Assam) and Ranjita Ranjan (Congress MP from Bihar’s Supaul), who raise our voices. We don’t need leaders like Badruddin Ajmal, who could not even talk sensibly when Parliament was discussing the triple talaq Bill,” he added.
Asked why they support Congress despite its long history of keeping silent on, if not conniving, in communal violence, Yusuf said, “What you say is true, because the party has ruled the country for a long time. But at least we feel secure to a great extent under Congress rule. We get our representation, if not due. Our voices are heard at least. Its leaders generally do not give anti-Muslim remarks.”
Ahad said Muslims now have to choose between two evils. “And we prefer the lesser evil,” he added.
Javed Jamil, a Muslim scholar and an independent thinker, however, felt that the “allegation” (against Congress) was misplaced because “whoever is in power, it is always Hindutva brigade which masterminds riots”.
“Congress may be accused of not being able to control riots, but not for fanning,” he said.
Iftekhar Naqvi, a government employee, said, “We are soft on Congress because we do not have any other choice. The Congress is a sweet poison, but the BJP is our open enemy…. We prefer the former.”
Navaid Hamid, president of All India Muslim Majlis-e-Mushawarat, said, “We have political differences with Congress on key issues but with BJP, we are ideologically poles apart.” By referring to “we”, he clarified, he implies not only Muslims but the citizens of India who are constitutionally guaranteed equality, fraternity and justice. He dispelled the fears of ‘fascism’, but he agreed that “excessive pressure on minorities, Dalits and other marginalised groups may lead to anarchy”.
‘Go To Pakistan? Then Why Does Modi Visit Mosques in Other Countries?’
Asked how they feel when Muslims are asked to go to Pakistan, everyone that Newsclick spoke to said they “feel hurt”.
“We are Indians by choice, not by compulsion. Our ancestors have given their blood for the integrity of this land. Even our religion commands us to do whatever we can for the safety, security and development of the country. We love our country more than anyone. But unfortunately, we are always expected to prove our patriotism and nationalism,” said one of them.
Md Shadab, a nursing staff in a government hospital, said Prime Minister Narendra Modi loves Muslims if they are foreigners.
“Modi ji visits mosques on foreign land, but not in India. He claims to have good relations with Muslim nations. But his partymen hate Muslims back home. This is an irony.”
Advocate Saeed Naqvi, who practices in the Rajasthan High Court, said it was unfortunate that Muslims, despite having so many socio-economic issues, are forced to be primarily concerned about their safety and security. They don’t talk about employment, education, development of their areas.
“Where have we come as a society? Whichever party forms the next government must think about it and do something concrete to restore the people’s confidence, so that the community can be brought back into the mainstream. So that they vote keeping in mind other important issues, not just safety and security,” he added.