However, over the next few days I saw the people shouting such slogans being silenced and shouted down by fellow students. Their numbers have dwindled since and seem to have disappeared almost completely. However, if you thought they have completely disappeared from discourse, you are mistaken. There has been effort, every now and then to bring the genie back and convert the ongoing nationwide protests into a complete Muslim affair and to brush it green. Thankfully such elements haven’t succeeded and have been kept on the margins through watchful gaze of protest leaders, all of them young students belonging to different universities in Delhi and elsewhere.
Creating a different narrative
I have witnessed from very close quarters as to how some people, with vested interests, especially the Islamists, initially tried to give it a religious look by invoking a religious discourse for the protests. Not just their slogans were religious in nature, in many cases, these elements tried to bring ‘us vs them’ in a discourse claiming this all was happening only because they were Muslims. Furthering this very same argument they said that if this was being done to the community for being Muslims, they need to talk and fight as Muslims. Many videos of slogans like “Say it on the barricade, La ilaha illallah. Say it in the tear gas, La ilaha illallah. Tera mere rishta kya? La ilaha illallah” went viral. Shashi Tharoor stepping into the debate didn’t really help much. On the contrary, it emboldened these elements who were clearly marginalized from within the protesters without any outside intervention. Apparently, the young protesters wanted to carve a niche for themselves and further their Islamist agenda even at the cost of sabotaging and destroying the entire struggle against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and National Registry of Citizenship (NRC).
When Tharoor eventually came to Jamia to address the protesters, there was a campaign to corner the MP from Thiruvananthapuram with loud Islamic slogans. There was a nasty online and WhatsApp campaign to confront Tharoor. Even the people who were against Islamising the protests were lured into believing that it was time to shame him and that there wouldn’t be a more ingenuous way to do it than confronting him with reverberating slogans of Allahu Akbar (God is Great). The effort by a few dozen people to do so while he spoke from the podium was thwarted by the massive crowd that had gathered to listen to him and many other speakers.
While they failed to corner him at the main stage, he was caught on his way out by a few such elements who shouted La ilaha illal lah from the top of their voices, trying their best to corner him. Apparently Tharoor realized that it was being done to embarrass him. He was so happy by the rapturous response he got at Jamia that from there he headed straight to Shaheen Bagh protest site, the place that has caught the imagination of the entire nation.
There is a common perception that Muslims are too religious. However, the current protests have proved beyond any iota of doubt that it was another narrative that has been built around the community to make them look ‘other’. The entire protest has been run and managed by college going boys and girls and the religious elements have been kept at arm’s length. This was a conscious decision by the people who have managed the protests from the day one.
The fact that religious elements and the people trying to give it a certain colour have been defeated proves to a certain degree that Muslims’ life, unlike common perception, doesn’t really evolve around their religion.
On the contrary, their insistence on shouting nationalist slogans, singing nationalist songs, resonating the air with national anthem and creating numerous artworks on Gandhian philosophy prove that for them, their identity as Indian matters as much if not more than their religious identity. For many people this has been a revelation of sorts. And the elements who tried, though unsuccessfully, to hijack the entire campaign found to their horror that they couldn’t find enough supporters among the protesters despite most of them being Muslims.
Struggle for Indian identity
Muslims have realized that this was a struggle for their identity and their Indian nationality and not their identity as a Muslims. This realization seems to have been further strengthened by the large- scale support that the community received from common Indians, including Hindus, Dalits, Sikhs, Christians and everyone else. These protests, especially in Delhi and other metros, have sizeable presence of people from all walks of life and all religious groups. The mesmerising artwork being churned out by the students in Jamia Nagar and Shaheen Bagh is the collective effort of people of all faiths and not just Muslims. The massive map of India built at the Shaheen Bagh protest site has been designed by two students from Vishwa Bharti University and Jadhavpur University, and both are not Muslims.
The outpouring of opposition to CAA and NRC is basically borne out of the fear for the very survival of the community. This entire protest is being organized and run by people who were never really part of any protest in the past.
For women in Shaheen Bagh or the similar protests that are being held throughout much of the country, this is the first such adventure. After meeting innumerable women from different parts of the capital, I can claim with a certain level of certainty that they would have never dared to venture out of their comfort zones, come out on the roads in freezing temperatures, and protest had they not realized that their very survival was at stake. Most of them are unanimous that they had to come on to the streets to ensure that their kids were not discriminated against and made stateless in the country of their forefathers. These women, given the support they have received from women of all the faiths, who come to the protest sites night after night and day after day, to extend their support, feel humbled. While there are a few people still parroting the religious narrative, they remain on the margins and fail to attract the limelight they had initially hogged.
The bonhomie visible across the protest sites is only possible because these sit-ins and dharnas have a definite secular colour. Qur’an, Gita, Bible and Guru Granth are read side by side with no one, not even clerics, daring to raise any objection. Had the Islamists succeeded in their efforts to Islamize the protests, not just their beauty would have been lost, it would also have made the Sangh all the happier as it would have furthered its narrative. Thankfully the youths have been alive to this threat and therefore stood their ground.
While I love my religion, and chant shahadah before going to bed, I would never chant any Islamic slogan during the ongoing protests. It will destroy the very purpose of the protests and eclipse my identity as an Indian.More Columns by Syed Ubaidur Rahman: