By Mohammed Wajihuddin
July 19, 2018
An UK-based Indian friend, currently in Qatar, has sent me a message urging me to write “I am an Indian Muslim. I am human too! You can talk to me” on a placard and post it on the Twitter with the hashtag # TalkToAMuslim.
Piqued, I went to the Internet and consulted Google Maharaj who told me that someone started this social media campaign to counter the propaganda which makes even talking to a Muslim “problematic.” I could not help but laugh. Laugh at the sheer stupidity and the ludicrous, amateurish, immature way to respond to a “real and vicious hate campaign.”
I looked around to see if any non-Muslim (read Hindu) friend has stopped talking to me. I checked my mailbox, Facebook wall, WhatsApp and message box on my mobile phone to find any incongruity, anything abnormal or bizarre. I found that my Hindu friends still responded to my requests to befriend and sent me requests for friendship on Facebook. They replied to my emails and reacted to my social media posts. Since online chatting could be tricky and misleading, I wanted to check and verify it physically. So I called up several Hindu friends just in case their tone told of any change in the attitude. I didn’t find anything amiss. No Hindu friend tried to avoid talking to me. Our conversations were as lively and animated as ever.
Then I checked with some office colleagues without dropping any hints that I was trying to gauge the sudden change in the “mood of the nation.” My conversations with my Hindu colleagues also didn’t give any clue that someone was trying to avoid the eye contact because I am the “other.”
I concluded that in this age when half-truths and false propaganda are packaged and sold as “news” this #TalkToAMuslim campaign is also part of the same propaganda to further otherise, exclude the Muslims. If you want to fight the increasing demonization of the Muslims, such paranoid pamphleteering will not help. On the contrary, this condescending, patronizing campaign (#TalkToAMuslim) will only worsen the situation. It will only give another handle to the proponents of exclusivist, majoritarian ideology to further target the minorities.
Let me elaborate on why Hindus and Muslims cannot afford to stop talking with one another. Only yesterday I attended a press meet of Khazana, a festival of Ghazals, the three great Ghazal-Badshahs—Pankaj Udhas, Anup Jalota and Talat Aziz hold annually at a five-star hotel in South Mumbai. This is the 17th year of Khazana and they will hold it on 27th and 28th July with the same passion and bonhomie they have shown all these years. There may have been professional rivalries among them but the trio, along with other members of the Khazana team, work like a family. Now, Udhas is a Gujarati, Jalota is from Uttarakhand while Aziz is from Hyderabad. For years they have been friends. Yesterday they hugged each other, laughed, joked and posed for the shutterbugs. There was nothing “abnormal” about their conduct.
Some may dismiss this example as odd since “professional needs” bring artistes of varied backgrounds and ethnicities together. But the fact is that despite our diversity, India remains a mosaic, the biggest glue to bind us together being the centuries of co-existence. And comingling of cultures, costumes and cuisines. Growing up in rural Bihar, I saw how the communities are knit together. I saw how my father’s best friend was a Brahmin who sought and respected my father’s counsel to settle his family disputes. I see even today an RSS member is my elder brother’s friend. I don’t think he has ever tried to harm my brother. My high school friend and classmate Rakesh is a filmmaker in Mumbai and we often use non-Parliamentary, sometimes even unprintable, language when we talk. We are buddies and our religions never come between us. There are uncountable Indians who laugh at the lunatics who preach hatred through speech or writing.
Yes, mob lynching is abominable and institutionalized biases are worrisome but India is too strong to get split by such incidents. Didn’t we see recently how a man received flak from both Hindus and Muslims when he claimed on the social media that he refused to ride an OLA car he had booked because the driver was a Muslim? Our social bonding is not so brittle as to break so easily. Unless, of course, the people become complacent and the state remains a mute witness or become complicit in the acts of violent vigilantism.
India’s famed Ganga-Jamuni Tahzeeb (composite culture) is too deep to get uprooted by machinations of a few misguided men and women. I find the fragrance of this famed multiculturalism in Raskhan’s poetry, Kabir’s and Rahim’s Dohas, Premchand’s Urdu short stories, Nazeer Akbarabadi’s poems on Hindu festivals like Holi and Diwali. Our faith in Hindu-Muslim unity only strengthens when we see Urdu’s leading poet Allama Iqbal calling Ram Imam-e-Hind (leader of India). The same Iqbal, while paying tribute to India, says that Meer-e-Arab Ko Aayee Thandi Hawa Jahan Se (the leader of the Arab, Prophet Muhammad, felt the cool breeze coming from India). How ironic that Iqbal was hijacked by the Pakistanis and many Indians too started believing the lie that Iqbal is Pakistan’s founding father. But then this is another debate and let us keeps it for another day.
Returning to the #TalkToAMuslim, do I need to tell my non-Muslim neighbourhood grocer who supplies ration to my house to “talk” to me? Do I need to remind my Rajasthani milkman that he should keep “talking” to me while he delivers milk to my doorstep every morning? And do I need to tell my Tamil Newspaperwala to keep conversing with me if he wants to keep me his customer? Similarly, shall I ask security guards (all Hindus from UP) at my society building where every occupant is a Muslim to keep talking to me?
How should I explain to my UK-based friend that we don’t need to launch #TalkToAMuslim campaign because we Indians are talkative, argumentative people and here Muslims talk to Hindus and vice versa?
A senior assistant editor with the Times of India, Mohammed Wajihuddin writes about Muslims, their issues, hopes and aspirations. Committed to upholding inclusiveness, communal amity and freedom to dissent and debate, he endeavours to promote peaceful existence. A passionate reader of Islam, he endeavours to save the faith from the clutches of the jihadists. An ardent lover of Urdu poetry, he believes words are the best weapons to fight jingoism.