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May 03, 2017

There is Nothing 'Nationalist' About Denying Fellow Indians Their Basic Rights

In this atmosphere of hate and suspicion, India needs people who will stand up and not flinch from defending those citizens who are under attack.

In this atmosphere of hate and suspicion, India needs people who will stand up and not flinch from defending those citizens who are under attack.

Muslims hold pigeons during a march to celebrate India’s Independence Day in Ahmedabad, India, August 15, 2016. Credit: Reuters

Muslims hold pigeons during a march to celebrate India’s Independence Day in Ahmedabad, India, August 15, 2016. Credit: Reuters

In response to Apoorvanand’s article, ‘Muslims Must Refuse to be Killed


I am grateful to Apoorvanand for writing and reiterating that Muslims must refuse to be killed. I thank him for his courage, dismay and camaraderie. We are living in times now when ‘liberals’ have to ask ‘minorities’ to demand that they be allowed to, at the very least, breathe. A demand for basic human rights and entitlements as equal citizens seems a far cry today. Muslims like me have been screaming out loud through different media about human rights issues across the country for years, but little did I know that I will actually need to demand/request/convince people to now let me live. But it is true.

My surname is Salim, but I am as Indian as you.

For the past few years, every time there is an issue I wish to speak up for, or against, and which has little to do with the religion I was born into and more to do with human rights, I instinctively ask myself: Am I against the beef ban because there is not much reverence for the holy cow in the texts of my religion? Am I talking about the rights of minorities being stifled because I believe in a certain God? No. It is because these issues affect me as much as they should affect anyone else who lives in this country and believes in constitutional guarantees of equality and dignity and respects fundamental freedoms.

When I met Mohammed Akhlaq’s son last year, a year after his father was lynched by a mob for allegedly consuming beef, I sensed a hesitation in his speech. With no comparison to the loss he and his family had suffered, in some ways it reminded me of my own hesitation in conversations in everyday life. From not wanting to disclose to the railway ticket checker my religion when asked, to trying to evade the question while meeting prospective landlords. There are many times in the past, when I have felt uneasy saying ‘salaam’ to my father on the phone even while fellow passengers have religious ringtones and prayers plying out loud without anyone blinking an eyelid. Why is it that I feel less equal than others on many an instance?

Would the fate of the murdered dairy farmer in Alwar have been different if his name was Pehlu Singh or Pehlu Kumar and not Pehlu Khan? Yes. What term should be used to describe Hindu men marrying or promising marriage to women belonging to the Muslim community? There are lots of such lovely couples.

In this atmosphere of hate and suspicion, I have to think twice and chose my battles carefully. Do I write about my belief in the urgency of banning triple talaq and introducing reforms in Muslim laws to address the problems of my Muslim sisters? Or will I be boosting the political career of  a certain Sadhvi by doing this?  Will the women gangraped in Muzaffarnagar during the 2013 riots ever see justice, given that many of those accused for inciting the riots now hold important offices in the region, being elected by ‘us’.

We all have to speak up against the wrongs committed on ‘us’. I need more people like Apoorvanand to stand up and tell me I can come to you when my fundamental rights are violated and that you and thousands of others will stand by me. That unlike the seven women in Muzaffarnagar, whose plea for protection and security met with delays, hostile statements and acquittals, I can turn to them for help if anything untowardly happens to me because of the religion I profess or the sex I am born into.

I choose not to say certain statements imposed on me and it has nothing to do with my religion. I choose not to say it because I believe no one can force me to say something I do not want to and chanting slogans is not my idea of nationalism. In my own modest way, I have worked with the marginalised and with Muslim women in this country, I have written about children working in brass factories in Moradabad and about riot affected families, and had many other small engagements with the disenfranchised in my country. I want to do much much more. This is my nationalism. I believe I am living in troubled times in my country where food, speech, ideas and livelihood options can cost people their lives, but I believe I cannot keep mum. Not because they affect me, but because in the long run they affect the syncretic fabric of my country. To address these is my nationalism.

I hope more people like Apoorvanand will stand up and speak for Muslims. Not because they are Muslims, but because they are fellow Indians who are being denied their basic rights.

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