Ramesh Bidhuri’s vile verbal attack against his parliamentary colleague and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) MP, Danish Ali, on September 21 in the new parliament building has justifiably invited severe criticism. The assault by the South Delhi BJP MP on the three-time MP from Amroha is mind-numbing in its depravity and marks a new low in the political and social life of the country.
The only ones not condemning the attack in clear and unequivocal terms are, of course, the members of the party Bidhuri belongs to.
Danish Ali was understandably heartbroken. “If this has happened to me in parliament,” he said in anguished tones to a group of reporters, “imagine what is happening to ordinary Muslims all over the country. Perhaps I should resign from parliament.”
But perhaps that is precisely what Bidhuri and his political masters want, for if there is one thing the operatives of the ruling party have shown themselves adept at, it is causing despair.
How else do you convince a three-time MP wanting to quit his rightful place in parliament?
BJP MP @rameshbidhuri calling MP Danish Ali a “Bharwa” (pimp), “Katwa” (circumcised), “Mullah Atankwadi” & “Mullah Ugrawadi” ON RECORD in Lok Sabha last night.
— Mahua Moitra (@MahuaMoitra) September 22, 2023
It was also despair that led Sakshi Malik, Vinesh Phogat and Bajrang Punia to finally want to immerse their hard-won Olympic medals in the Ganga, after their month-long protest at Jantar Mantar ended in them being brutally manhandled. What is the point of trying to make one’s country proud when those who are ruling it vilify the victims of sexual abuse and protect the prime accused instead?
It was despair, too, that made a disturbingly large number of farmers protesting at Delhi’s borders take their own lives when it looked like the Modi government was not going to take back its three controversial Farm Laws.
Words have power. They heal or hurt, bless or curse, unite or tear apart. In fact, hurtful words can remain in our system and cause psychological and social damage long after they have been uttered. The BJP understands this psychological principle well and uses it to deadly effect.
A verse of the Book of Proverbs in the Old Testament says, “The spirit of a man sustains him, but a wounded spirit who can bear?” (Proverbs 14:18)
Bidhuri’s words were designed to wound, and they did. They shocked and stunned not just the recipient but many others. Undoubtedly, they reopened old and not-so-old wounds in the minds of many Indian Muslims who have been at the receiving end of slurs like the ones Ali was. Not just Muslims, anyone with a modicum of decency and empathy would have felt outraged, possibly even despondent, at how low public discourse has fallen.
For me personally, the incident brought back to mind an event that transpired a few years ago. Driving down South Delhi (Ramesh Bidhuri’s constituency) with a friend one late Friday afternoon, we passed a group of Muslims in skull caps who had probably just finished offering their namaz. My friend said with a clear note of scorn in her voice, “Oh look, there go your people.”
“What do you mean?” I said, genuinely mystified.
“Those mullahs are your favourite people, aren’t they? You are always standing up for them.”
The atmosphere in the car became tense.
“Please don’t call them that”, I said, but my co-passenger simply laughed.
If my friend with a string of university degrees could casually utter a slur like that, what hope was there for so many others? That evening I felt a sense of despair.
(To cut a long and painful story short, we are no longer friends. The attempt to bridge a vast ideological chasm despite my best efforts simply did not work.)
The incident in parliament brought that memory back and others like it. If I, as a secular Hindu, have felt anxious and upset at the recent incident in parliament, one can only imagine how much more those in the Muslim community might feel.
What, then, does one do in a time of heightened despair? Perhaps we do well to take a leaf from Rahul Gandhi’s book who took the time to visit Danish Ali and show empathy and solidarity. Knowing that you are not alone in your time of grief is what gives you the strength to get up and try again.
Perhaps the best thing to do at a time like this is to resolutely do the exact opposite of what members of the ruling party are doing, and encouraging the rest of the country to do the same.
In the words of St. Francis of Assisi:
“Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.”
Perhaps that is all that will defeat despair and those who cause it.
Rohit Kumar is an educator. He can be reached at [email protected]