By Arshad Alam, New Age Islam
01 March 2018
In many ways, the Batla House ‘encounter’ was a defining moment for the residents of the area and the larger Muslim community in India. For the migrant population living in Batla House and its adjacent localities, the stigma of being from the area meant that they were in very real danger of losing their odd jobs. For the students of Jamia campus, it meant being additionally burdened by the tag of ‘terror’ which attached itself through the insidious police leaks to the media. Having taught at the university those days, I remember the many questions the students had in their mind and the many refusals of the Delhi autos to ferry to that locality. The media, as pliant as ever, resorted to the worst form of profiling of Muslims living in the locality, as always refusing to ask difficult questions from the police and virtually acting as the lapdogs of the state machinery.
Most affected perhaps were students and other migrants from the city of Azamgarh. Local Muslims refused to give them accommodation and kicked out their tenants overnight. The fear within the Muslims was so much that the Ummah fizzled out: Muslims were condemning other Muslims as terrorists. The reason was clear. Majority of those killed in the police were from Azamgarh. Anyone from that place automatically became a suspect: for the state, for the general population and for Muslims themselves. But ultimately what defined Batla House was not the fact of the encounter but the resistance to it mounted by the locality and the university. Encounters had taken before: in BJP ruled Gujarat as well as in Mayawati ruled UP. And although there was widespread disbelief at the story that the police was peddling, there was no concerted attempt on the part of civil society or others to challenge the police version.
The Batla House encounter singed the community as before. But what was different this time was that people began questioning the police version and were successful in pointing out huge contradictions in the version of the state. The present book by Neyaz Farooquee must be understood in this backdrop: a courageous attempt by a young man to understand how the world around him changed after the so called encounter and how the resistance to it gave him the courage to open up.
Neyaz’s book should be considered a testimonio. Growing up as a student in those times, his narrative is representative of the voices of many a young men who would have undergone a similar emotional and mental turmoil. The structure of the book seems a little confusing at first but then it makes a lot of sense in juggling time: the constitution of the present is always informed by the past. Through his eyes, we see what the incident meant for young Muslims in Batla House.
What comes across starkly in the book is the deep distrust which Muslims have towards the police and state machinery. This is not imaginary: Muslims have been unfairly targeted by the police in riots after riots. Actually, more than anything else, Muslims fear the police the most in any communally charged situation. This fear and distrust is only exacerbated by the negative portrayal of Muslims in the media as potential terrorist. Through an engaging narrative, Neyaz is able to bring out the hurt of the locality towards the media personnel who were more than willing to become complicit with the statist agenda. That hurt became acute, when organizations like the NHRC, charged with protecting the human rights of individuals, refused to visit the site of the encounter in order to put fears of the locals at rest.
This autobiographical book brilliantly tells us the process through which the Muslim community is put on the path of alienation through a systematic othering by the Indian state. What is noteworthy about the book is the complete refusal by the author to put the blame for this state of affairs on any one political party. Thus it is far balanced in many ways from other works which squarely blame the rise of Hindu right wing parties for the many ills which beset the Muslim community. A dispassionate analysis will tell us that the story is perhaps more complex. Parties of all shades have been responsible for the current mess that the Muslims have themselves into.
However, it is also true that the community itself has done little to come out from the morass that it finds itself. Simply blaming others for its own conditions never solves any problem. Rather it is the misrecognition of the problem itself. It would have been better if Neyaz would have gone into this aspect also. There is a certain opaqueness within the community when it comes to discussions about lack of education, jobs, representation, etc. Unfortunately, what we end up hearing is that all this is the result of discrimination against the Muslim community. This is not to deny the existence of such a problem, however, that cannot be the only reason for the backwardness of the community.
Muslims have to look within and do a soul searching about their political priorities. They also have to ask whether there is anything wrong with the theology which they have been practising so far. There is a problem if there is a reluctance on part of the community to teach their young about modernity and become an obstacle in the education of millions of young children. There is the added problem that the hegemonic Muslim theology has had a complicated relationship with the idea of the nation itself.
But then, one single book cannot encapsulate each and every facet of the problem which Muslims as a community are facing. This book gives us a slice of the problem: how the Indian state itself alienates the community which it should be integrating in the first place. Through police action and various other processes of othering, the Indian state produces the Muslim minority as the perpetual other which is in need of humanization. All the time, the inhumanity of the state towards this community is hardly talked about. Neyaz’s book is a timely reminder to all those who are interested in the integration of the Muslim minority that without being empathetic to the concerns of the community, we are only alienating it further. This can have potential serious consequences for our collective destiny as a nation.
Arshad Alam is a columnist with NewAgeIslam.com
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