For the best experience, open
on your mobile browser or Download our App.

What It Means to Be an Indian Muslim Today

After Ramesh Bidhuri's slurs against Danish Ali went viral, some of us Muslims expressed a deep sense of astonishment and others, the total lack of it. Indian Muslims have fallen short of accurate vocabulary to describe the everyday humiliations we face.
Illustration: Pariplab Chakraborty

In the decade since Narendra Modi became the prime minister of India, we have seen the rise of one of the most virulent forms of anti-Muslim hatred and dehumanisation in recent times. The latest addition to this unprecedented trend is the barrage of dehumanising slurs hurled by BJP MP Ramesh Bidhuri at Kunwar Danish Ali, a Muslim member of parliament from the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP).

In the new parliament – where not so long ago, the prime minister had lectured the opposition on the significance of decency of language and the need for good conduct to win elections – his colleague called a Muslim MP, a pimp, katua (an Islamophobic slur that translates to ‘chopped penis’), haramkhor, and a terrorist. As the camera tilted up, senior leaders of the BJP seated right behind Bidhuri were spotted giggling at their colleague’s ugly eloquence. 

These days, my cynically witty Muslim friends keep coming up with self-deprecating metaphors to describe this atrocious state we find ourselves in today. After Bidhuri’s remarks went viral, we had our small rant session in which some of us expressed a deep sense of astonishment and others, the total lack of it.

“It seems as if a boulder has been tied to our backs and it’s constantly eating into our spines; as if someone is aggressively stomping on our ribs while we gasp for breath,” a friend made his opening submission. “It seems like we’ve been turned into a trash can, in which anyone can throw up their filth,” I contributed. “No, we’ve been reduced to a toilet pot that nobody even bothers to flush after use,” it was quickly and crudely added. 

I remember how differently and angrily we’d have reacted to this incendiary outburst some years ago. Today, we are tired – our senses have been numbed or rather overwhelmed by the sheer pervasiveness of the anti-Muslim hatred in India. On another occasion, two Muslim seniors – in an equally cynical, though more serious and civil mid-night introspection session – said, “They have robbed our ability to dream. We feel stripped today. They want us to feel as if there is nothing good about us and we can’t be achievers.” 

Also read: The Opium of Nationalism

I believe that this melancholic rant has sadly become a ritualistic feature of Muslim life in India. We really don’t know how to react to the endless, ever-increasing list of accusations. At the same time, being unresponsive to such attacks even after a decade diminishes our own humanity. There is a strong need to rethink who we are. We can’t perpetually marinate in these stories where we exist to be battered and mourned as victims. 

Our liberal friends painstakingly explain how everything is just a trap to solicit a strong reaction that can polarise society or why Islamophobia is just the means and not the end. Even if it’s a trap, how can we make peace with being defeatists who are ever ready to be trampled upon?

At a meeting last week, a prominent progressive speaker pondered on the mistakes of secularists that led to the BJP’s rise. He lucidly explained why the right-wing feels so aggrieved today because of the approach of secular people. This supposed grievance of the right-wing with those who believe in secularism didn’t explain why Muslims are targeted. Every time secularists fall for these mischievous rationalisations, it’s the Muslims who lose the most. Whenever we find some logic in totally illogical and fake outrage campaigns, instead of outrightly rejecting them, they gain momentum.

While the other speakers made some important points, nobody bothered to ask if there has ever been a serious attempt whatsoever in the history of Indian politics to ensure the inclusion, protection, and representation of Muslims which may have stalled the pace of the present onslaught. Moreover, previous governments did little to protect religious minorities from persecution through legal protection – despite no dearth of targeted communal violence against minorities throughout the history of independent India. 

This is not the first instance when a leader from Prime Minister Modi’s party has participated in the dehumanisation of Muslims. Like those in the past, Bidhuri too is likely to get away with it. For many years, Muslims have pointed out that BJP leaders have marched in support of rapists and even garlanded murderers when their victims were Muslim. That Bidhuri represents Delhi in the parliament doesn’t make his vile utterances more astonishing. In fact, the baiting and bashing of Muslims has become an intrinsic part of Indian society and politics cutting across geographical boundaries. This humiliation also blurs class lines and there is hardly any escape; it even affects those who leave no opportunity to publicly claim that they have renounced their Muslim identity completely. 

Also read: Ramesh Bidhuri Has Exposed the Real Face of the BJP, Beyond PR Charm Offensives, Studied Silences

Consider the below-mentioned examples from New Delhi alone to get a glimpse of the scale of this attack: 

In the run-up to the February 2020 riots in New Delhi that resulted in the killing over 50 people, most of them Muslims, we witnessed a Union minister leading the crowd to chant the infamousgoli maro saalon ko’ slogan. We were told that since he delivered this hate speech with a smile, it was not hate speech. Another senior MP reportedly called for the total boycott of Muslims, remaining unpunished although – even though he did not speak these words with a smile. At the same event in Delhi’s Sunder Nagri, a BJP MLA said, “I was accused of entering Delhi with 2.5 lakh people. We were trying to make them understand, but the police charged us for killing ‘jihadis’. We will kill ‘jihadis’. We will always kill them.” Just two years ago, we witnessed an angry, pro-BJP mob shouting “Jab Mulle kaate jayenge, tab Ram Ram chillayengeat a BJP leader’s event just a few hundred metres from the prime minister’s residence. We also witnessed staged violence at Jahangirpuri and the subsequent retribution via bulldozers under the garb of clearing encroachments. 

A bulldozer demolishes Javed Mohammad’s house in Prayagraj. Photo: Reuters

This is also not the first instance when a Muslim leader was subjected to such derogatory treatment. Muslim politicians like Azam Khan, Asaduddin Owaisi, Salman Khurshid, Badruddin Ajmal, the Abdullahs, the Muftis, and even former vice president Hamid Ansari have faced relentless demonisation by the TV news channels and social media over the past decade.

Last year, there was an attempt on Asaduddin Owaisi’s life and Khurshid’s house was set ablaze. This extends to all Muslim professionals. Whether you’re Shah Rukh Khan or Naseeruddin Shah, whether you speak or go silent, there’s no guarantee that you won’t be hounded. As journalists, we often talk about the growing attack on free speech and the press but even in this regard, the attack on Muslim journalists stands out. The social media timelines of Rana Ayyub, Arfa Khanum and Mohammad Zubair show the variety of invectives that ordinary Muslims face in their daily lives.

What do you do when you’re held responsible for the very crimes perpetrated against you; when somehow the reality of any crisis is always inverted and the truth is turned on its head? How would you respond to the bogus charges of ‘tomato jihad’ and ‘juice jihad’? What do you do when all your words of endearment like abbu, ammi, bhaijaan, baaji, khala, and begum are robbed of their meanings and transformed into perverted pornographic connotations? What do you do when your mosques, style of worship, shrines, attire, heritage, festivals, appearance, language, citizenship, and food become a subject of persistent ridicule? How do you respond to a fundamentally provocative armed mob that wants the right to march through your neighbourhood like an invading army while playing songs denigrating your existence?

Illustration: Pariplab Chakraborty

India’s Muslims have become like that bullied kid at school who is taunted, mocked, and assaulted by his classmates, and in the end, is punished by the teachers. It’s always the Muslim victim, in this case, the BSP MP, who is held responsible for the provocation. BJP leaders have already started a dirty blame game against Ali. Propaganda handles claim that Ali refused to raise the slogan of Bharat Mata ki Jai  (Glory to Mother India) on a certain occasion. Some went even one step ahead and called it a reaction to a Tamil politician’s remarks against Sanatana Dharma – in which neither Ali nor any Muslim had a role to play. 

This is how the BJP machinery obfuscates facts, and rationalises its unjustifiable treatment of Muslims. Recall how Assam chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma reacted to former US President Barack Obama’s comments on Indian minorities. He wrote: “There are many Hussain Obama in India itself. We should prioritise taking care of them before considering going to Washington. The Assam police will act according to our own priorities.”

Muslims are not the only community facing persecution. There are cases of hate crimes against a Dalit or an Adivasi person, a Christian pastor is attacked or a church is vandalised. Sikhs are increasingly complaining about being targeted by right-wing forces under the pretext of the Khalistan bogey. 

However, the pride with which Muslims are violated is absolutely unparalleled today. Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat’s recent outreach to Dalits, in which he talked about atonement even if it involves eating cow meat, still leaves space for cow vigilantes like Monu Manesar to do what they do – but only against Muslims. Contrast Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan washing the feet of a tribal man, who was urinated on by a BJP worker, with the unjust imprisonment of Tasleem Ali, the bangle seller who was assaulted by a mob and later incarcerated. The bottom line is that with Muslims, the historical aggressor in the Sangh’s vision, the basic concepts of human decency vanish, the lines between lawful and unlawful are erased, and immorality becomes moral. This is why Zubair can be jailed for calling Bajrang Muni, the man who publicly called for the rape of Muslim women, a hate-monger.

Fatima Khan, a young Muslim journalist in Delhi wrote on X (formerly Twitter), “People keep saying ‘nothing even shocks us anymore’ and yet there’s something this country and its leaders do every now and then that comes as a gut punch.” While some of us used the word “shocking” and others used the word “unsurprising” to try and aptly describe this explicit expression of disgust for Muslims, I think that in reality, Indian Muslims have fallen short of accurate vocabulary to describe this everyday humiliation. Perhaps, we oscillate between a sense of astonishment and expectation because our reality is quite unpleasant – and just as any other group of humans, we can never make peace with being dehumanised. Our real quest is to find the language in which we can forcefully articulate and protest our dehumanisation.

Make a contribution to Independent Journalism
facebook twitter