Series: 3 letters to 3 Leaders

Dear Prime Minister Modi,

I am writing to you as a citizen of India, a great grandmother who has spent her entire life in this country. I happen to be a Muslim, and I live in Lucknow. I and my entire family worked with Gandhiji and fought alongside for freedom. We were amongst the millions of Muslims who decided to stay in India, becoming the largest ‘Muslim’ country in the process. I do not know if you are aware that more Muslims stayed back in India than went to Pakistan, that at that time included Bangladesh as well.

I am--although steeped in memories---not going to speak of the past where I belong, but of the today and the tomorrow.

I did not think that I would live to see the day when a political leader---RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat my grandchildren tell me---would stand up and actually say without any fear of contradiction that “Hindustan is a Hindu country.” I wish to ask you as the Prime Minister of this great diverse, pluralist democracy, since when? And why is it that you did not tell the RSS that the Constitution of India is secular in character, and believes in all its citizens as part of this federal, diverse blanket that shelters all of us equally. If this has changed, perhaps the government should tell us so we know where the minorities stand in India today, and whether the country we all invested in, now belongs to a religion and not the people?

Sir, I am an old woman now but I want to die knowing that the future generations are secure. And that the violence that is continuing somehow even now---just heard that there is tension now even in Hapur---will not divide us into religious communities by generating bigotry and hate. Communalism, as we all know, is created by vested interests who play on the ignorance and the innocence of the people to make them fight each other. We saw it during the days of Partition when rumours and lies floated through the air, spread by those who did not want to see us truly free and secular, and turned humans into monsters set on devouring each other. We escaped from that with our country partitioned, but still with big dreams as our leaders spoke the language of unity and not divisiveness then.

India’s strength in the world has always been her ability to manage her contradictions and bind her people into one large whole---despite our different languages, beliefs, indeed cultures. I was just the other night repeating the old fable to my great grandchild---how the father of the family was so upset and tired of his squabbling sons; so one day he called them and gave them a stick each; he told them to break the stick, which they did easily; he then gave them a bundle of sticks tied together and asked them to break these; they could not. So the old man told them: united we stand, divided we fall and break just like those sticks. A simple lesson it seems, but clearly very difficult for the world to learn. I hope dear Prime Minister you will understand the wisdom in this fable.

My granddaughter was extremely upset the other day. She is always on the computer, and tells me she uses it to talk to friends on something called FB…I forget what it stands for. But she told me that a lot of people claiming to be supporters of the Bharatiya Janata Party and carrying its symbol are abusing her and others like her with Muslim names. They told her to go to Pakistan; they tell her she will be taught a lesson; using abuse they say that secularism is only Muslim appeasement. I was shocked and could not sleep the entire night thinking of what Gandhiji used to say, and how he insisted that this country was for all of us equally! It is then I thought of writing to you Modiji, as you are a leader of the BJP. And I thought you could tell those people that this is our land as well, and we are as Indian as you or them. And we are perhaps even more proud of India than they are because at least we do not abuse others in the name of ‘nationalism.’

My children told me that on August 15 you called for a moratorium of ten years on communal and caste violence. That is so good of you, but I did wonder why just ten years? Of course I am sure you did not have the time, and will explain to those who do not understand that you are talking of a state effort, and a political effort, to ensure that the language of hate does not dominate; that people are not attacked and killed; that anger and hatred is not allowed to be spread; that action is taken against violators; that communal and caste violence incidents are probed impartially and the perpetrators brought to justice; that those indulging in hate rhetoric are immediately arrested and punished. You are a strong leader they say and I am sure you will be able to contain all those organisations---like the one that killed that poor boy in Pune---and ensure that your government steps in to ensure that the secular atmosphere of the country is not vitiated.

People say they are scared as communal tension is spreading in UP. I am too old to be scared for myself but I worry as I find that it is not very easy to be a Muslim now with taunts, and accusations increasing in the absence of a political check. The state government run by Mulayam Singh Yadav is useless, and he has always tried to play on the minority card to consolidate his votes. As has the BJP that tries to polarise and consolidate the majority vote. But you have been talking of progress, growth, development, jobs and because of that I feel that perhaps you are different, and you realise that there can be no economic growth without unity of all India’s people. And that communal and caste violence will take our country back into the Dark Ages, with all the promises that you make becoming redundant as a result.

The choice is easy. A strong united India stepping forward with confidence in her secular, democratic character or a weak, divided India regressing with every passing day. You used to be so talkative, but you have become very silent. Perhaps that is your way, but I would like you to speak on these issues that are of utmost concern to India’s minorities and secular majority; and tell us whether you agree with Bhagwatji or with Gandhiji.

I am an Indian Muslim and none of the abuse will ever be able to drive me away. This is my country Modiji. Not just of those who abuse my grandchildren in the name of religion.

Wishing my India the very best in the days and years to come,

An old woman.