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Dec 27, 2022

Don't Shoot the Messenger Whenever a Muslim Voices Concern on Intolerance

Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Abdul Bari Siddiqui's assertion that he has advised his children to settle abroad was met with familiar cries of 'go to Pakistan.' But mere rhetoric cannot address the real fear borne of an intolerant atmosphere.
Illustration: Pariplab Chakraborty

A veteran Rashtriya Janata Dal leader has become the target of Bharatiya Janata Party’s attacks since he said that due to the current situation in the country, he has advised his children to settle abroad.

In a video, which has by now been widely shared, RJD leader Abdul Bari Siddiqui can be heard saying, “My son is studying at Harvard. And the daughter is a London School of Economics graduate. The kind of situation which has emerged in the country, I just told my children – find jobs abroad. If you can get citizenship, take it.”

He also adds, “You can understand how painful it is for a person to tell his children to leave their homeland. But such are the times that we are living in”.

Responding to Siddiqui’s statement, the national general secretary of BJP’s Other Backward Classes Morcha and the party’s spokesperson in Bihar, Nikhil Anand said,  “If he feels so suffocating, and if he has a problem with all the facilities and comforts that have come his way as a leader, he should go to Pakistan with his whole family.”

Anand is not alone in lambasting the former minister. Despite the RJD leader’s clarification, the entire party has trained its guns at him.

Nityanand Rai, a member of Lok Sabha from Bihar and the Minister of State (MoS) for Home Affairs on Monday, December 26, said, “As the MoS Home, I am stating with emphasis that India is the only country where everyone including the minority communities is safe.”

C.P. Singh, a BJP MLA from Ranchi said, “If he is feeling afraid he indeed must be afraid. If he wants to go from the country, he must go and also take others along with them.”

The RJD leader has said his comments are being read out of context. However, it cannot be denied that Indians are renouncing citizenship in large numbers.

In 2021 alone, over 1.6 lakh Indians renounced citizenship. This was the highest number in the past five years.

Moreover, between January and October 2022, over one lakh Indians have renounced citizenship. A majority of these people are non-Muslims.

One can argue that most of these people are leaving India and settling abroad because they were looking for better avenues. If that is the truth then Siddiqui is within his rights to advise his children to settle abroad.

One can assume that they too can seek better opportunities like many other Indians and are not simply destined to go to Pakistan, if they ever want to renounce Indian citizenship.

The kind of responses Siddiqui’s comment has generated remind me of the now very famous and real slogan, “Musalmanon ke do hi asthan, Pakistan ya qabristan”. There are only two abodes for Muslims, Pakistan or a graveyard.

This is not a figment of my imagination. We know well how every time a person with a Muslim name talks about the ‘situation of the country’ – irrespective of whether intolerance is the topic – they are immediately asked to go to Pakistan.

When actor Amir Khan talked about rising intolerance in the country, he faced backlash so severe that in the seven years since then he has not dared to open his mouth on the subject again. It is clear that the atmosphere of intolerance has neither decreased nor vanished over the years.

There has, in fact, been a steady rise in intolerance over the years. The biggest victim of this have been members of communities of religious minorities of India, especially Muslims and Christians.

Earlier this year, The Washington Post in its editorial noted, “Bulldozers have razed houses in majority-Muslim neighborhoods under dubious pretenses, with local officials even boasting of the demolitions. The BJP-run state government of Karnataka banned hijabs in schools, a motion the state court upheld in March. Hate crimes against Indian Muslims and other religious minorities number in the hundreds each year, as local and state BJP officials engage in hate speech themselves. Amid all this, Mr. Modi and the national BJP have been quiet — until now.”

Naturally, all this has affected the communities under attack. Like Siddiqui, many Muslim parents across the country must have given their children the same advice. Several Muslims may have either already opted for or could be toying with the same idea.

Far from being alarmist and creating panic, Siddiqui, by sharing his concerns publicly, has echoed the sentiments of a large number of Indian citizens, who are under attack for their religious location and belief.

Instead of shooting the messenger, what would be useful for the representatives of the government and its allies is to patiently listen to people like Siddiqui and act to address their concerns. Mere rhetoric claiming that India is the only country where everyone is safe, including minorities, does not address the real fear borne of an intolerant atmosphere.

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