By Mushtaque Rahmat
Last Friday witnessed protests across India by Muslims against BJP’s spokesperson’s blasphemous statement about Prophet Mohammad (PBUH). So far, two have died and a dozen injured in the police firing during these protests. At the last count, more than a dozen countries have denounced the blasphemous statement and asked India to apologise. On a positive note, this international embarrassment has temporarily halted unrelenting Islamophobia by the rabid votaries of Hindutva patronised by the current ruling dispensation. But unfortunately, the muted displeasure and demand by the Muslims and the saner minds of the society to renounce the blasphemous statement went in vain. As usual, BJP wanted this to pass as the normalisation of hate speech but was caught on the wrong foot by Islamic countries.
There have been a few social media posts by some influential Muslim clerics seeking support, from Arabs and Islamic countries, for Muslims of India. Muslims in India welcomed these unexpected calls from Gulf nations who called Indian ambassadors and handed over demarche’. Some of my co-faithful reactions border on joy and happiness. However, I am not the one who would rejoice in this international repudiation of India. Muslims of India should be better off without the support of their co-religionists from the Gulf’s autocratic nations, whose own record of minority treatment borders on exclusion if not denial. Indian Muslims should also learn to discern the difference between support of religion and concern for their well-being. Muslims in India have been suffering authorisation and exclusion from the political, economic, and social spheres for some time. There has been a constant threat to their life and livelihood by the current dispensation. The RSS, BJP and its cohorts have never hidden their disdain for Muslims.
Indian Muslims must not forget that Gulf nations and others have voiced concern for the Prophet of Islam, not for the follower of the same Prophet residing within the geographical boundaries of India. There is a clear distinction – Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) is universal and heavenly unconstrained by man-made geographical and political boundaries, and the hapless Indian Muslims are a citizen of a nation-state. Their reaction is directed against debased and absurd statements against the Prophet Mohammad, not in support of Indian Muslims. These nations shouldn’t speak for Indian Muslims for their interest to remain safe and secure. Speaking out for Muslims of other countries, they wouldn’t like to invite similar reactions to the happenings in their backyard.
International condemnation of Islamophobic statements blurted out by the rabble-rousers of Hindutva forces. The mainstream media may help gravitate a section of Hindus into the fold of Hindutva by construing this intervention as a global Islamic plan. Such elements will easily overlook that these Islamophobic statements are the product of a toxic anti-Muslim and anti-Islam ecosystem created by BJP and Sangh Parivar sustained by pliant media and, if not egged, at least tolerated by a large section of Hindus for some time now. There have been many Dharam sansads and the meetings held across India calling for Muslims’ genocide, rape of Muslim women, an economic boycott of Muslims, and hatred against Islam, the Quran, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), and his wives.
Hindutva forces, as a matter of ideology, regard Islam and Christianity as foreign religions to India as their holy places of worship lie outside the geographical boundary of India. Therefore, Muslims and Christians, even if they have been living for centuries in India, can’t be true India as their religion and culture are foreign. Likewise, only a Hindu can be a true Indian as their faith originated from India, their holiest places of worship are in India, and their culture is Sanskrit. Thus, Savarkar- the ideological progenitor of RSS and BJP, instates the origin of faith as the test of loyalty to one’s motherland. Therefore, it is no surprise that most hate speeches, anti-Muslim bigotry, and anti-Islam profanities are mouthed by those who ascribe to Savarkar and his tribesmen.
The Indian Muslims must fight their own battle on their own. Pinning hope of international support to fight domestic political struggle doesn’t have strong moral legs to walk far. Any word of help from forces other than Indian society will increasingly radicalise Indian Muslims. If this week’s demonstration across India is anything, it points in this direction. Although there have been few demonstrations immediately after Nupur’s statement, those remain muted and restricted to some areas only, protests this Friday were at far more places, incidents of stone-pelting are also reported, and protestors looked more excited and determined.
Contrary to what liberals would like us to believe, these condemnations from Islamic countries have temporarily helped push back anti-Muslim bigotry in India. But unfortunately, we are not seeing an end to this madness if Sangh Parivar and its cohorts remain in power; a large section of Indian media and society continue to peddle and believe in this nonsense.
Liberals also would like to draw parallels with Gulf Nations studied silence on the issue of Uighur Muslims; perhaps they cannot appreciate the difference between faith and the faithful. Nations are asking apology or denouncing BJP for the faith, not for the faithful. That’s why no Arab countries ever criticised India for its shabby treatment of Muslims. This unwanted support from Arab nations for Indian Muslims may indeed be counterproductive. BJP and Sangh Parivar have mastered the art of dog-whistle, double speak,studied silence, smoke screen, or not acknowledging any wrongdoing. They may turn around and play the victim card against the Islamic nations, whose core constituencies will lap up on the one hand. On the other hand, they will unleash full state power on the hapless Muslim demonstrators by indiscriminate firing, arresting, and bulldozing their houses. Thus, as Yogendra Yadav said, blasphemy may stop but not the bulldozer.
Indian Muslims must recognise that these Gulf Leaders are only as good as their statements. Once this storm passes over, things will return to normal. Gulf nations lack the moral authority to challenge countries like India, whose constitution, at the least, guarantee freedom of religion as a fundamental right and accord equal status to all its citizen irrespective of their faith.