For real diversity, let us acknowledge identity

Much of the participation of Muslims in these protests has been dynamic.

Debates about the assertion of identities are unsettling for people like me. When people from the persecuted and marginalised communities — especially women — speak up without alienating themselves from their identities, in this case, Muslims organising as Muslims against the Citizenship (Amend-ment) Act (CAA), they are often patronised or shut down. Our concerns, termed self-serving, elaborate rants, and our assertion of lived realities, ridiculed as “identity politics”.

The phrase “identity politics” is to remain in quotes as a reminder that it is often used to discredit marginalised groups reclaiming space in the political discourse; Whether it is dalits asserting against the brahminical hegemony and oppression — the Pasmanda movement, the Muslim anti-caste social justice movement, or now the Indian Muslims organising themselves against the Hindutva regime.

India legalised Islamophobia with CAA in December 2019. Since then, citizens — especially Muslims — across India have organised for the rollback of this and the National Population Register and the proposed nationwide National Register of Citizens. The three, together, are feared to be laying a legal foundation for pushing the largest religious minority of India towards second-class citizenship.

Much of the participation of Muslims in these protests has been dynamic. Further, like Shaheen Bagh in Delhi, most of these protests are not led by any of the Opposition parties. The unifying factor has been faith. It would be unethical to not acknowledge it.

Such a public assertion of faith has rattled many including MP Shashi Tharoor, who himself doesn’t shy away from being vocal about his Hindu identity and has even written a book — Why I am a Hindu. The recent furore on social media over La Ilaha Illallah — the Muslim declaration of faith — where a section of political and academic elites came together to one-up Muslims is rooted in the same prejudice as the one perpetrated by the Sangh.

Much has been said about Tharoor-brand liberal solidarity giving a communal connotation to such chants. Yet, reiterations won’t be a lost cause because those who believe in obfuscating identities for the larger good seldom face enough flak for their politics of convenience.

The political elites of all shades — but particularly the centrists, and the liberals — have unabashedly and repeatedly burdened the oppressed — Muslims in this case — with the responsibility of not breaking the solidarities brought together for a common cause. Tharoor’s prescription being — protest as Indians instead of Muslims against the current fascist regime in India. This suggestion was lauded by many again.

There is no reason for Muslims to shun faith while fighting against the CAA-NRC-NPR as it is inherently anti-Muslim. Let alone fascism, such subsuming of identities is a deeply amoral way to address any form of oppression or persecution inflicted upon those being born and/or choosing these identities.

Also, it conveniently erases all the physical violence that Indian Muslims have been put through: From lynching that has been lost on the memory to the most recent state-sponsored violence that killed at least 25, Muslim, protesters, since December.

The rhetoric and mansplaining of the cheerleaders of the common cause politics notwithstanding, Muslims — especially women like Irena Akbar — have tried explaining the same with an exemplary amount of tolerance and empathy. This, only to be met with responses swinging between patronising sympathy and discomfort for Indian Muslims and disdain for their faith. This also unleashed the worse forms of misogynistic online abuse and Islamophobia.

Such has been the consciousness among Muslims — including the Ulema — about the growing discomfort among the allies, that in the Million March in Hyderabad, people were stopped from raising Allahu Akbar as a slogan.

Promisingly so, some among the Hindus — mostly the disgruntled citizens again — are taking up the task of teaching the rest to sit back and listen — if not agree — as a basic courtesy when extending solidarities.

What the current debate also reflects is the lack of familiarity about Indian Muslims beyond biryani and haleem. While the Hindutva brigade reduced us to puncture-wallahs, even those from the allies found it apt to hold posters about biryani at the protests.

While pop culture indulged in reductive imagery of kurta-clad, topi-wearing, kohl-eyed Muslim men and the women draped in a burqa, a veil often fluttering over their faces; the liberal political elites peddled an idea of Muslim that even several among us fell prey to — the moderate Muslim. The other characterisations often floating around are atheist, cultural, progressive, practising or fundamentalist. The first three were welcome, the “moderate” Muslim being the ideal for the secular fabric of the country and the rest are to be bulldozed, lest it upsets the Hindu far-right majoritarian conscience.

At the risk of romanticisation, this is perhaps the first time in the past few decades that Muslims, sans polticial affiliation, have organised in such large numbers. As a Muslim, it instils hope that the fascist regime had deprived us of.

For hope, I also look up to music to seek a sense of comfort that academia fails to provide in such times. Nina Simone’s Mississippi Goddam, a civil-liberties anthem from the 1960s, recently hit too close to home: You don’t have to live next to me. Just give me my equality. Everybody knows about Mississippi goddam. I have been humming my own version of it replacing Mississippi with India since December: And everybody knows about India goddamn.

Probably not everyone around knows yet, but as one can see, Muslims are in no mood to give up. Armed with the Indian Constitution written by Babasaheb, Muslims will fight: And, we will give up neither country nor faith.

Ayesha Minhaz is a graduate student at SOAS, University of London, and a freelance journalist based in Hyderabad

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