The just concluded Delhi assembly elections must be the most Islamophobic elections in the history of the independent India. The sort of anti-Muslim hatred visible throughout the electioneering was simply unbelievable. This has shocked not just the Muslims, who were called names under different pretexts, but also the people who believe in secular credentials of the nation.
The people who have been unleashing volleys of venomous attacks on Muslim, and even others who feel sympathetic to Muslims, might not feel the pain that the Indian Muslims go through and suffer. However it is inexpressibly cathartic for a community that has remained on the margins for decades, always under pressure to prove its patriotism, and more recently being singled out by the right wing Hindu elements to prove its citizenship.
What is Islamophobia
Islamophobia, according to Imam Dr. Abduljalil Sajid, head of the UK’s Muslim Council for Religious and Racial Harmony, is “the fear and/or hatred of Islam, Muslims or Islamic culture and history. Islamophobia can be characterized by the belief that all or most Muslims are religious fanatics, have violent tendencies towards non-Muslims, and reject as directly opposed to Islam such concepts as equality, tolerance, and democracy”.
In their path breaking work, ‘Islamophobia: Making Muslims the Enemy’ Peter Gottschalk, Gabriel Greenberg and Gary Greenberg detail, how this sense of otherness is painstakingly created.
“Islamophobia: "anxiety of Islam"? Can this really be compared to individual psychological traumas such as acrophobia, arachnophobia, or xenophobia? The authors believe that "Islamophobia" accurately reflects a social anxiety towards Islam and Muslim cultures that is largely unexamined, yet deeply ingrained... Instead of arising from traumatic personal experiences, like its more psychological cousins, this phobia results for most from distant social experiences that mainstream …culture has perpetrated in popular memory, which are in turn buttressed by a similar understanding of cultures. This anxiety relies on a sense of otherness, despite many common sources of thoughts”, writes the trio.
Extreme and xenophobic
During the just concluded assembly elections in Delhi, the Islamophobia seems to have crossed all the previous records with anti-Muslim slogans being raised by not just small time political activists of the BJP, but even ministers who tried to instigate and provoke common people against Muslims. Shaheen Bagh, the protest site of anti-CAA activists, was used as euphemism by almost every big and small BJP leaders to target Muslims. This included the Home Minister Amit Shah whose comment became a common refrain for his party cadre. While speaking at an election rally, the Union Home Minister said, “Your vote to BJP candidate will make Delhi and the country safe and prevent thousands of incidents like Shaheen Bagh.” However, if that was not enough, he went on to add “When you press the button (of EVM) on February 8, do so with such anger that its current (poll result) is felt at Shaheen Bagh.”
However, what the Home Minister said was merely the tip of iceberg. His party leaders and even cabinet colleagues went much farther in their quest to garner votes. They crossed every limit of decency and veered towards extreme Islamophobia, that was never experienced at least in the national capital in the past.
Union minister of State for Finance, Anurag Thakur, who encouraged people to raise incendiary slogans in an election rally in Delhi, shouted what later became a normal thing during the BJP rallies in the city of 20 million people. At the rally, when Thakur shouted “desh ke gaddaron ko”, pat came the response, “goli maro saalon ko” (shoot down the traitors). Even if you ask school going children about the slogan, anyone would be able to tell you the entire slogan. While the minister later tried to present a sober image of himself saying he never really said, shoot the traitors, but it was part of the slogan that has been painstakingly spread.
He later told the Indian Express he was just trying to single out the traitors and didn’t ask people to shoot them. “It was the people who wanted the traitors to be out. What I was asking people whether they wanted to support those who stand with the Shaheen Bagh protesters or the tukde tukde gang. While (AAP leader) Manish Sisodia declared his support for Shaheen Bagh protesters, Rahul Gandhi went to back those who want to break India into pieces…I wanted people to throw them away by pressing (the voting button) for the BP. I just asked them to say that. My question was whether they want to back Arvind Kejriwal or Rahul Gandhi. They reacted. What can I do?”
Muslim symbols as symbols of hate
There was a conscious effort on the part of the BJP leaders, from top to bottom, to turn every Muslim symbol, from their attires to their food and even language as symbols of hate. So this was not surprising that Biryani, skullcaps and even their localities were pointedly called the symbols of traitors.
UP chief minister, Adityanath, who is famous for making inflammatory remarks, used biryani to express the otherness of the protesters at Shaheen Bagh. In an election rally, he said, "Earlier it was that Congress that used to feed biryani in Kashmir, now it is Kejriwal who is doing the same in Shaheen Bagh, everyone today has a new fetish of feeding biryani. Pakistani ministers are also making appeals for Kejriwal, one can imagine why that is happening."
On another occasion he demanded that the protests be fed bullets and not Biryani. “The protests happening at various places in Delhi are not because of the Citizenship Amendment Act…They are happening because these people want to prevent India from becoming a global power.” He went on to add that the protesters be fed with “bullets not biryani”.
However, much before Anurag Thakur raised his incendiary slogan or Yogi Adityanath talked about supply of biryani to Shaheen Bagh protest, Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, had talked about recognizing the anti-CAA protesters from their clothes. Just before the campaigning of Delhi election began, Prime Minister Narendra Modi while speaking at a rally in Jharkhand said that the people who are part of the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) can be identified by their clothes. “Congress and their allies are creating a ruckus…They are doing arson because they did not get their way. Those who are creating violence can be identified by their clothes itself” Prime Minister said.
If these comments were not really enough, the BJP released a rather long campaign video that tried to further the Hindu-Muslim divide by trying to allude Muslims as anti-national, though not naming Muslims directly. The four minutes and 28 seconds long video begins with “Dekh yeh kya ho raha, tujhe o meri Dilli,/ Dhongi dharna de rahe, uda rahe hai khilli” (look what’s happening to you, oh my Delhi,/ Imposters are sitting in protest, mocking you). The video that tries to show, hijab clad Muslim girls and Muslim men with skullcaps protesting against the CAA, is clearly Islamophobic in nature. Besides the video show what the BJP has been calling part of tukde, tukde gang including Kanhaiya Kumar, Aishe Ghosh and Umer Khalid. The video also shows Nehru and Kejriwal. Later the video says “Ab jag tu,/ Chhed raag tu,/ Ghar se nikal,/ Bujha har aag tu.” Get up,/ Sing your song,/ Go out of your homes,/ Douse every fire”.
Apparently, devoid of any positive achievement to talk about to lure voters, the BJP once again banked upon something that it has been using to for decades to win elections. However, this time it resorted to extreme xenophobic campaign, completely ignoring what Prime Minister Narendra Modi had promised when he returned back to Raisina Hills with a thumping majority. "We are for the 130 crore people of the country, we cannot differentiate between anyone. We cannot differentiate on the basis caste and religion or region. We have shown how to achieve Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas (development for all) and now we have to win Sabka Vishwas (trust of everyone)” Modi had said. He had promised that nobody should be ‘other’ for him. “Nobody should be 'other' for us” he had said in the same breath. However, the assembly election in Delhi has proved his party leaders willfully forgot what the PM had promised and indulge in Muslim bashing and Islamophobia in the most cruel form.
More Columns by Syed Ubaidur Rahman:
Indian Muslim women breaking the shackles
Despite muted denials, NRC will target Muslims
Bhagwat, Madani meet: End of the maddening divide
Ahmadullah Shah: Hero whose head and body are buried
Muslim women's entry in mosques: What is the truth?
Syed is a New Delhi based author and commentator. His forthcoming book 'Ulema's Role in India's Freedom Movements with Focus on Reshmi Rumal Tehrik will be out in October