A large group of protestors shout slogans and protest against the CAB at the Jantar Mantar in New Delhi. (Express Photo: Tashi Tobgyal/File)
Being a student at Aligarh Muslim University, I have closely witnessed the sequence of events December 9, 2019, till the protestors were brutally assaulted. Nevertheless, the agitation in the country continued with redoubled fervour. Lately, there has been a divide among the protesters after the video where slogans like “Tera mera rishta kya, La Ilaha IlAllah” were raised, and especially after Shashi Tharoor’s tweet condemning “Islamic extremism”.
In response to Irena Akbar’s article ‘Why I protest as a Muslim’ (IE, January 3), I would argue that we can only expect to gain the support of the majority by making this a secular movement. Keeping the protests secular does not imply leaving my Muslim identity at home; it only means to fight as Indians and creating a space where a non-Muslim can raise the same slogans with the Muslims.
When we raise a slogan where we assert that there is no God but Allah, the verse that is the backbone of a Muslim’s faith, and also the verse that a non-Muslim recites when he converts to Islam, we automatically alienate the people who do not believe in our Allah. The slogan does notthreaten the pluralism and diversity of India but only excludes other communities who have been fighting with the Muslims, as Indians, against the current regime. The protests that were started by AMU and Jamia Millia Islamia, have become a nationwide movement. This is undeniably a Muslim front movement, but it should not and must not assume the shape of an all-Muslim movement.
The CAA directly targets Indian Muslims. An Indian Muslim, in order to save his Indian identity, first calls the Act “unconstitutional”. When he does, it naturally becomes a nationwide crisis, for the Constitution belongs to all of India. Hence, the movement cannot be restricted to only Muslims. The pluralism of India will be restored when a Muslim woman wearing a hijab, a Sikh with his turban and a Christian with his cross walk together, for the Muslims.
Akbar cites Hannah Arendt’s statement — “If one is attacked as a Jew, one must defend oneself as a Jew. Not as a German.” I would argue that the citizenship of a Muslim is questioned, not his religious identity. Thus, the situation demands an Indian Muslim’s assertion of his Indian identity, because the crux of the entire resistance is to protect secular India.
The assertion of Muslim identity is acceptable and needed, and slogans like “Allah-u-Akbar” and “La Ilaha IlAllah” must be chanted when the state attacks the faith of Muslims. Islamophobia demands a Muslim empowerment movement, but now is not the right time for it. A rally where Muslims walk alone becomes an all-Muslim rally. Just as I, a Muslim woman, will prefer to not chant “Jai Shri Ram’ or “Jesus, son of God”, even if I support their cause sincerely; we cannot expect them to chant “La ilaha IlAllah” even if they are against CAA.
Lastly, though Muslims are raising slogans with innocuous emotional fervour, we stand extremely vulnerable to violent communal resistance and we will end up facing it alone. Recent violence on students by the UP Police and Delhi Police are testimony to the fact that the state does not care for Muslim lives. If we are to struggle against the “othering” of Muslims, we should make sure that we do not further contribute to it and rather try to bridge the gap. Making the communal divide more prominent will only benefit the BJP and RSS that thrive on communal animosity.
The idea of a nation could never be drawn as an absolute idea in India. Sir Syed Ahmad Khan’s idea of a nation involved Muslim supremacy, the Congress advocated a social, democratic, civil libertarian society while Jinnah from being the greatest advocate of Hindu-Muslim unity turned to his two-nation theory. In the 21stcentury, India is what we make of it.
This article first appeared in the print edition on January 13, 2020 under the title 'Not just as Muslims'. The writer studies history and literature at Aligarh Muslim University.