SEEMA MUSTAFA | 5 NOVEMBER, 2014
When an Ice Cream Turned Into a Molotov Cocktail
The three identities that have turned a three-in-one ice cream into a Molotov cocktail
NEW DELHI: For the first time since I was born I find that I am under threat. In fact my three main identities, that define and characterise me, are under immense threat.
Journalist, Woman and because of my name a visible Muslim. And if I want to forget one, the other will remind me of the threat. The day I do not get the threatening tweets banishing me to Pakistan, that day I will read of the goon squads who have attacked women for being women. The day I do not get to read about the violence against women, I will hear about the murder of journalists doing their job. And if not that will witness the murder of journalism every single night on Indian television channels.
In all ways I am under threat, and cannot escape as one or the other of my three foremost identities will keep me in the firing line.
I feel threatened as a woman. Women who cannot walk on the roads in the evenings, barely make it in the day; who cannot take a taxi or an auto or even the metro without being eve teased or threatened, or molested. And now cannot even walk with a man, or sit with a male friend, as that is frowned upon by the right wing organisations ruling the country today.Women can’t dance, cannot drink, cannot sit in a pub without attracting the moral police. They cannot even wear jeans as that is not the ‘traditional’ dress cleared by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the RSS of course.
I know that the Islamic State, and the Taliban, also have the same opinion and till date I used to always thank the gods that people believe in, that my forefathers had fought for the independence of India and insisted on staying back to the country they believed to be their own after Partition. I used to preen before friends in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, like the dancing peahen, to say. “look at me, look at me. I can dance, I can sing, I can wear what I want, I can walk with whomsoever I want, I am independent and I am getting empowered. I am an Indian woman.”
Now I walk past them with lowered eyes as the Taliban here is now deciding who I walk with and what I wear. Women cannot even marry a man of their choice. For if he is of a different caste or religion he and the woman he wants to marry can be killed by order of a mahapanchayat with impunity. Every other day senior politicians from different political parties pass remarks humiliating women, that would have invited legal action against them in any country, but that occasions at best a snigger from governments here in India.
The threat of rape looms large, with little children being assaulted by perverts who again get away. The United States and western countries have recognised Delhi as the rape capital of the world and put out advisories asking their citizens to be careful of security and safety. In other words to visit India at their own risk. Our founders had dreamt of an India where women would walk tall, but women find that their space is shrinking, as the fear for their life and safety increases by the day.
I feel threatened as a journalist. Journalists can no longer write what is the truth. They can be attacked and killed if they live in the north east or in Jammu and Kashmir. They can be harassed and attacked by goons who do not like the truth being reported. The threat of violence is always there, like the Damocles sword, hanging over scribes who feel chastened, and scared and worried when these are sentiments that should never attach themselves to journalism that needs to be courageous, independent, bold to be truly free.
Journalists are not just scared of being done away with. They are fearful---and this really is the major threat right now--- of losing their livelihood as they know no other job. Hundreds are fired at a time, being thrown on to the roads without warning, without compensation. Often servility and not merit determines the sacking. The corporate owners want servility and the journalists to snap to attention with every crack of the whip. There is no place for irreverence, and for the truth. The poor are not to be written about, the rich cannot be ignored. One had never thought that Malcolm X would be proven right when he wrote, “if you’re not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.” Oppressive governments put pressure on the corporations who put pressure on their hired editors who terrorise the working journalist who finally is booted out for trying to report the news as it is and not what it should be.
I am terrified as a Muslim. I remember how a few years ago when welcoming an American bride into the family, a cousin laughingly said while raising a toast, “welcome to the Mustafas and a lifetime of being frisked at the airports.” In India one can twist this to say, “welcome to the Mustafas and a lifetime of threats and abuse” as that is what is happening these days. Tweets, posts, phone calls threatening, abusing are part of life, to the point where one blocks, deletes and turns over to sleep. But so are riots, attacks on individuals, burning down of shops and lifetime businesses, with the Muslim becoming now the official ‘other’ to be attacked and subjugated. Any number of communal riots are taking place without a word in the media. Records speak of 600 incidents of communal violence in Uttar Pradesh in the months leading up to the Lok Sabha polls, and 400 incidents in Maharashtra before the Assembly elections. Delhi is simmering with the resettlement colonies witnessing communal violence for days on end. No one reports on this, no one is writing on this, with mobs and fear stalking these far flung areas. Again mobs with impunity, not a trace of fear of reprisal.
As a journalist colleague said, “it is fashionable to be communal these days.” So in Delhi’s drawing rooms one hears perfectly rational ---or at least so they seemed till yesterday---seniors talk of the uniform civil code, Article 370, and the Ram Mandir as if this is not just the desired, but a necessary agenda. There is no realisation what communalism can do to a diverse country like India, how hate can divide and de-stabilise, and move a democracy rapidly down the road to ruin.
There is this threat of attack, of violence, of arrests, of encounters that Muslims are now living with. A dread that their young men will be picked up, a fear that they will be attacked, as they run from the mobs in dire fear of their lives. Muzaffarnagar, Pune, Trilokpuri. Again attacks with impunity, attackers becoming heroes, being given tickets to win seats, becoming legislators with the police that should be arresting them touching their feet as a system is created to protect and nurture and encourage the worst from what used to be recognised as the best. Secularism has been turned into an ugly word, while those propagating hate against the minorities being the new kids in the town.
Three-in-one, used to be a delicious ice cream but today is more in the nature of a Molotov cocktail working from within.