Shakespeare proven wrong in today’s India

Shakespeare once said, “What’s in a name?” If he happens to come back to life to live in the middle of India, he will discover to his shock how wrong he was in saying so. Here, one’s name is all that clearly drives a wedge between those who are considered patriots and the ones branded as traitors.

This is what India has turned out to be in last six years of the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi’s regimes. Values of secularism imbued with the traits of justice, equality and freedom as envisioned and cherished by India’s founding fathers are going to lose their relevance.

At the time of Independence, India was faced with two options to build its polity upon: Hindu nationalism or secularism. The political leaders of that time sensibly inclined for the latter. Subsequent Indian leaders have evermore put their energies to make India a secular state. They have been somewhat successful in achieving the dream of a secular set-up, but not thoroughly.

Side by side, with the desire to paint India with secular hue, there has always been an underneath streak eulogizing and promoting the ideals of Nathuram Godse, an extremist Hindu national who killed Gandhi on the plea that the latter had been kind to Muslims.

The ideology epitomized by Godse has been raising its venomous head during the struggle for secular structure, but most leaders at the helms have been keeping tabs on that.

But all this while, the intolerant forces kept lurking under the carpet waiting in ambush for the wholesome atmosphere. In the incarnate of the Chief Minister of Gujarat in 2002, they found a ray which might lead them meet their decades old pent-up desire – to turn India into an Hindutva state where the Indians could settle the scores with the descendants of the Mughals.

As Narendra Modi ascended the throne of power in 2014, this bevy of nationalists felt relieved. They had awaited this moment – and the moment had come when they could avenge upon the ones who kept them subjugated for centuries.

From there started a series of hateful episodes, wherein the Muslims were made the target of the worst ire unleashed by the rancorous Hindu nationalists.

In 2017, over seven hundred academics and vice-chancellors from 51 states and central universities of India gathered in Delhi University to learn how to bring the “true nationalist narrative” to the main discourse of India. The event was called the Gyan Sangam – knowledge summit. Its main motivator and the speaker was Mohan Bhagwat, the supreme leader of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). The topics under discussion, reportedly, were the “cultural onslaught on the educational system,” the “colonization” of intellectuals and the resurgence of nationalism in academia.

Hate related issues have redoubled since Narendra Modi became the Prime Minister for the second term last year. Revoking the special status of Indian Occupied Kashmir and the subsequent lockdown of the valley, the judicial verdict to build the temple of Ram on the site where Babri Masjid once stood elegantly, and the recent legislation on Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) categorically exhibit that only Muslims are the butt of bigoted ideology pampered by the state.

Several outrageous happenings have befallen since the emergence of the biased Citizenship Amendment Act, which fast-tracks Indian citizenship for Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Zoroastrians, and Christians from neighbouring Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, excluding the Muslims.

The residents of the Muslim-dominated areas say that the police enter their homes, hurl abuses at everyone including women and children, break their doors and beat up whoever is around.

A Muslim cleric, Maulana Asad Raza Hussaini along with his some seminary students, was picked up by the police. Hannah Ellis Peterson writes in The Guardian that the police stripped the Maulana off his clothes in front of his students, beat him mercilessly and shoved an iron rod up his anus causing rectal bleeding.

Hamid Hassan, a 73 years old victim, says that the police stormed into his home and attacked him, his 65 years old wife and 22 years old granddaughter with metal batons. The granddaughter was given so much thrashing that blood spurted out of her forehead. At hospital, she got 16 stiches on her forehead-wound.

Hamid Hassan sobbingly tells the news reporters, “Muslims in this country are being made to live in fear, even in our homes we are not safe from violence now.” 

A fortnight ago, an ideologically motivated young man shot at the peaceful Muslim protestors at Jamia Islamia Millia, Delhi. Having been grappled by the police after a while, he chanted loudly, “Hamaray des main sirf Hinduon ki chalegi aur kisi ki nahi (in our country, only Hindus will prevail)”. 

During these protests against citizenship act, identities with obvious signs are erupting. Muslims wearing particular attires chant ‘Allahu Akbar’ while hoisting Indian flags in response to ‘Har Har Mahadev’ – a Hindu war-cry against Muslim invaders.

Many Indians argue here that one can’t fight Hindutva communalism by promoting Muslim communalism. Identity politics will destroy India.

The answer is when a community is victimized for having a certain creed, the adherents do not have option but to rise up to defend themselves. Hannah Arendt Bluecher, a German-American philosopher and political theorist, once said, “When one is attacked as a Jew, one must defend oneself as a Jew. Not as a German, not as a world-citizen, not as an upholder of the Rights of Man.” 

So, the name, faith and identity-symbols carry their significance in today’s India. The robust fight the Indian Muslims are giving is, in fact, a struggle to regain the ideals which Jawaharlal Nehru and Ghandi have cherished. The former said in 1948, “We cannot encourage communalism or narrow-mindedness, for no nation can be great whose people are narrow in thoughts or in action.”


Muhammad Tahir Iqbal
The writer is an educationist and historian.

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