Politics

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.

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

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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 Mohammad 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.

  • Rohini

    Dear Mariya,
    I feel very sorry that you had to make a statement that ‘your surname is Salim and that you are as Indian as XYZ’!. Ms. Salim, most Indians do NOT need this reassurance from you. There is NO doubt about your nationality. Your surname does NOT matter. Please, my request to you is to NOT bow down to those forces that are FORCING you to say this. I disagreed violently with Apoorvanand’s article for various reasons but agree wholeheartedly with you..is this possible? You bet it is.

    I also think that YOU should stand by Muslim women on triple talaq irrespective of whose career you think it will boost or not. Issues like this must transcend politics. Issue-based activism is what is required, not political partisanship. Muslim women must not be held hostage to politics.
    Stand strong, speak up, there are Indians (I use the word INDIANS very deliberately because I do NOT believe in dividing ourselves on religion for issues of humanitarianism) who will support you. I stand by you, maam. Sane Indians do NOT support lynchings or triple talaq or dowry or feticide or madness that defies humanitarianism and the law.

    Although, this does not mean I support the ‘right’ to kill the cow but decry and denounce what is happening in the name of the cow. Can there be such a position? You bet there can. It’s called nuance. But bigots on ALL sides cannot understand that.

    May I also ask if you are afraid to speak on triple talaq not only because of your political position but also because of the extreme hate you will receive from some of your co-religionists? Perhaps that is also part of the reasons? Because, you will receive extreme bigotry from Muslims themselves should you become openly vocal against triple talaq.

    You carry on..we walk with you! More love, strength to and solidarity with you.

  • kujur bachchan

    I find it incongruous or rather ominous the sudden outpouring of concern and sympathy for Muslim Indian women by the whole ragtag groups of Muslim hating Hindutva outfits and their armchair sympathisers over the issue of the practice of so-called triple talaq. The Hindutva outfits appears to have a carefully planned agenda to appropriate and take control of the narrative of the issue of the so-called Triple talaq, Why? To inflate their ego and to thrust a wedge in the Muslim community. I wonder how many of us know anything at all about the teachings of the Koran; the origin of the prevailing religious practices; the legality and/or illegality of the so-called triple talaq or any other such supposedly outdated and harmful practices. I for one, do not know. But no, we have to join the bandwagon because the Indians who are Muslims are the ‘whipping boy’ of the majority.

    The highest judiciary of the country assisted by the best legal brains is examining the issue of the so-called triple talaq. Let us not corrupt the case against the practice of Triple talaq or vitiate the debate by blabbering on and on our half baked partisan suggestions.

    It beats me why a fellow countryman who happens to profess Muslim faith has to prove his or her nationalist credentials to the majority in order to be called an Indian. Why do we refuse to accept the simple historical truth that Muslim Indians have been inhabiting this land for as long as any other Indian? Only difference is that at some point of time in distant past, their forefathers decided to leave, for diverse reasons, their earlier faith (NOT NECESSARILY HINDUISM. For all we know they could have been ‘primal’) and embrace Muslim faith. Does that fact make them a lesser Indian? Who gave us the right to judge them? Why are the Muslim Indians expected to do things only to please the Hindu majority? No wonder good Indians like Mariya Salim and others are venting their exasperation and anguish through heart-wrenching messages like the one above.

    I would like the enlightened readers of the wire.in also to check out the blog, “The Unapologetic Indian Muslim” written by Sabiha Farhat in kafila.online on 26 April 2017.

    • Rohini

      asking one to understand the quran before taking a stand against a horrible practice like triple talaq is bizarre. I think being a woman is enough to empathise with the victims of this practice.
      No religious book needs to be consulted to take a stand against injustice and for fairness and equality. In fact, religion should have no place in personal laws of a secular democracy.

  • Rohini

    I am referring to the personal laws that are separate for religions. All are not equal before the law per those specific personal laws.

  • Rohini

    Thank you. I appreciate it but I am completely aware of the nitty gritties of all personal laws, including laws o marriage, divorce, property etcc..across religions, including the IMA and the ISA.
    And all the holes and inequities in them – not only are people of different religions treated differently, menand women are not equal withtin each religious law. And the nail int he coffin – women are in such bad shape across these various laws, it truly defies imagination how we women have stayed silent all these decades. e.g. I do not have the same rights as a Muslim woman who does not have the same rights as a Xtian woman and so on!

    Which is why I said the Indian Constitution is not secular. When one wants to be truly secular, laws can have no flavour of religion.