By Vir Sanghvi
July 04, 2017
It is hard to find a single phrase that captures the mood of educated Indian Muslims today. On the one hand, there is no obvious threat to their safety. There have been few communal riots over the last three years. There has been nothing as divisive as LK Advani’s Rath Yatra which sharpened anti-Muslim sentiment.
And when the Prime Minister does speak about communal issues, it is hard to fault anything he says, such as his recent reproach to Gau-Rakshaks who resorted to violence.
And yet, judging by the Muslims I have spoken to or interviewed on TV, there is a sense of discomfort, anxiety, uncertainty, and yes, insecurity. Many Muslims feel that something has changed in India over the last two years or so. And they worry that these changes, while creeping at first, will eventually transform the environment they live in forever.
One obvious reason for their discomfort is the beef agitation. This is not a new issue — it also flared up in the 1960s -— but the fear is that this avatar of the agitation has less to do with worshipping the cow and more to do with targeting Muslims.
Most Indian Muslims are not great beef-lovers. Beef is not the primary meat in such great cuisines as Awadhi and Hyderabadi. The people who do eat beef fall into two categories. The first is Christians, in Kerala, Goa and the North East. These people have less reason to worry — the BJP has already announced that it has no love for North Eastern cows.
It is the second category that needs to worry: those on the margins of Indian society, the Dalits and Muslims who can’t always afford chicken or goat and eat beef only because it is cheaper.
But all Muslims are now regarded as beef-lovers. And never before, even during the heated cow slaughter agitation of the 1960s, have Indian Muslims felt that their personal safety is under threat because of a food most of them don’t like.
A prominent Muslim intellectual who is a friend told me about some relatives who were deprived of meat (goat) because their butcher had shut shop. They asked my friend if he could bring some for them. My friend agreed.
But then, he began to worry. Supposing his car had an accident? Supposing he was stopped along the way? If they found him carrying meat and discovered that he had a Muslim name, they would claim he was transporting beef. His life and safety could be at risk.
Such fears may strike Hindus as exaggerated and unrealistic. But such is the mood within the community that every Muslim I have told the story to, says they know exactly how my friend feels. Nor are these the only issues that worry them.
Most educated Muslims feel no particular kinship with Kashmiri Muslims. And many hate Pakistan, holding it responsible for many of their troubles. (If there was no Pakistan, then it would be harder to say that Indian Muslims had extra-national loyalties). They despise the mad mullahs. And they believe that practices such as triple Talaq are medieval.
And yet, as they watch TV debates night after night, they begin to get increasingly uncomfortable. Is triple Talaq really the biggest issue of our times or is it just another way of portraying Muslims as barbarians? Is the constant abuse of Pakistan a coded way of expressing communal anger against an “acceptable” Muslim target? The situation in Kashmir is tragic but complex. Do we need to see it mainly in Hindu-Muslim terms?
Much of this has less to do with the government and more with a mood of Hindu triumphalism, which the ratings-hungry media are eager to monetise. Indian news TV sees the world in black and white. So the Muslim position will be represented by some irrelevant mullah who will shout, on camera, at some equally medieval saffronite lout.
All this makes Muslims uncomfortable. Some Muslims wonder if this is just the beginning. With the public mood so ugly and the discourse poisoned beyond belief, will the attacks now move closer home? Will the focus shift from beef and Talaq to the very patriotism of Indian Muslims?
Perhaps these fears are groundless. Perhaps things will die down. But to ignore the concerns of our single largest minority would be a mistake: India is built on the belief that we are all equal.
These days, however, you could be forgiven for thinking that India is a Hindu country where Muslims are welcome as long as they ‘behave themselves’.
The views expressed are personal.