Where Were You Before? I Don't Know But I Am There Now
NEW DELHI: In the long decades of covering India, intensely, her conflict, her violence, her grassroots I have come to realise one big fact: oft the country reacts very slowly, some times it does not respond at all, but when it starts stretching and moves from slumber to waking up position all who have never slept must take note. And embrace the movement, prod it and ensure that it moves into a wide awake zone.
That is why I am finding it difficult to understand why so many people who have actually responded wide awake to challenges in the past, are so critical of NotInMyName and are giving vent to narrow sentiments on the social media. But before going into that let me state some facts, and try to create the picture in say Junaid, or Pehlu Khans house after they were set upon and killed. Also in Kashmir in that police officers home after he was lynched by a mob, or indeed in all those homes where young people have been killed in firing.
There is desolation. And there is an acute sense of isolation. It is all pervasive insofar as the Muslims of India are concerned as the violence has created fear, depression, and terror as indeed it was intended to. The attack has been sustained since 2013 with Muzaffarnagar being the first chapter of this new phase of violence. It has been relentless and unending since. With the lynchings no longer a dot on the map, but a terror line linking states.
The poor were terrified. As is 15 year old Junaid’s family whose surviving son, an eyewitness to the brutal murder in the train and the attack, was to come for the protest but the terrified family does not want him out of their sight. There is in most Muslim homes---elite et al---a sense of fear and as a well known academic known for her secular stance always, said to me after Pehlu Khan was lynched by a cow mob on the national Delhi-Jaipur highway, “why is it that no one is responding, no one is saying a word about these lynchings.Has India changed so much, no one cares for the minorities any more?”
This was the pervasive sentiment, the emotion expressed in whispers by Muslims for whom India is the only home they know, the country they chose, the polity they connected with, the Constitution they embraced. Not just fear from the mob attacks---that had sent out the message that Muslims were not safe on the roads, in trains, in their villages, in their homes---but a sense of deep betrayal , and as a senior journalist said, “anguish that no one cares any longer.”
There is always a certain fear that the marginalised people of India--Dalits, Tribals, sections of Muslims--- have about the might of the state as they have been on the receiving end always. But even so there have been channels of appeal, through courts, a more sensitive administration at times, rights groups, other villagers, legislators. Mobs have in one stroke done away with these channels, and placed justice in the hands of goons and lumpens made sinister and dangerous by the support they enjoy from governments and ruling parties.As a result the police is paralysed, as is the administration, and the mobs move not with just impunity but also a mandate that has been visible in the lynchings in different parts of the country. The Opposition is paralysed too, with the fear of mobs, and the impact on the majoritarian view keeping all leaders, including Congress President Sonia Gandhi and her son indoors. (or abroad as the case may be).
The result is that the minorities, who since Independence have reposed their trust in the secular political paries of India---rejecting efforts by some leaders from the Jamaat e Islami or for that matter even Owaisi to acquire pan India minority support---were left with no one on their side. With just silence and deep fear as their sole companions. The result was continuing intimidation with the families of those lynched---as with the wife and children of Mohammad Akhlaq dragged out of his home and killed in Dadri---often having to leave their homes in terror.
Not in My Name has broken that silence. Not just in Delhi but all over, including at least two cities in Adityanath’s Uttar Pradesh--Lucknow and Allahabad. And sent out reassuring signals that are so important for the people of India, to feel that they indeed still have a home. The tentative smiles on the faces of the very serious relatives of both Pehlu Khan and Junaid who came not knowing what to expect, said it all. The poetry, the songs, the banners, the environment was so reassuring. It provided solace, as many present at Jantar Mantar kept saying. It also underlined a determination that people had decided to speak out, and do so by embracing the minorities with warmth and tangible love.
In every city across India the reports have spoken of protestors who have never protested before. Young enthusiastic students and the city’s elite---as was so visible at Jantar Mantar--and the very old came together to speak out. As an 80 plus fragile lady who had come with support said, “how could I not be here, how when my country and my people are under attack.”
How indeed. So while there was a message to those mentoring and organising the lynchings, there was also an equally important and perhaps even more successful message to those being lynched. “We are all in this together”, and this reaching out, this gesture of healing will go a long way in isolating now not the innocents but the perpetrators of violence.
Journalists felt the heat. One particularly obnoxious channel reportedly did not cover the protests at all. Another in the same category linked the protests to Pakistan (so what else is new!) but was unable to really carry this with conviction, more so as another news channel run by the same group spent as many hours in defending the protests, and lauding the participants. And by the end of the evening one hears there was even a new ‘convert’ a fourth channel that has been vacillating on issues such as this in the past coming out in full throated support of Not In My Name, and denouncing mobocracy, and lynch mobs.
No one at the vigils was under any illusions that the lynchings will stop. But what they said perhpas constitutes a turning curve: we will not keep quiet any longer. The paralysing silence has been broken and this is no mean feat. And by masses who cannot be categorised---even by the quibblers writing volumes in response to Not In My Name--- as any other but ‘very concerned citizens of India.’