Open letter to Mr Modi, sincerely from an Indian who happens to be Muslim
Dear Mr Prime Minister,
The wise should work without attachment (Nishkaam Karma), for the welfare of the society – The Bhagavad Gita
As we start another year on a cautiously positive note for our loved ones and our great country, I thought of sharing some assorted thoughts with you. These somewhat seemingly disparate notions are linked by a deep love for the civilisation called India and a belief that constructive criticism is an example of tough love and not self-loathing. It is this love that motivates us to make things better, by identifying the flaws rather than sweeping them under the carpet.
I belong to Lucknow (am originally from Amroha in Uttar Pradesh, but have lived most of my life in Lucknow), the epitome of the Ganga-Jamuni tehzeeb. My first window to the outside world was the newspaper, perhaps justifiably delivered by a Panditji (read the Hindu learned man). Our house lay behind a building owned by a Jain family. The first sounds that broke the silence of the early morning hours were the azaan from nearby mosques, followed by bhajans, played out at a police post across the street.
My father’s best friend was Mr AN Singh. No Eid was complete without Singh uncle’s visit. He even managed one such trip during a curfew relaxation, as the Ayodhya dispute engulfed north India. At Diwali, our refrigerator struggled to accommodate the boxes of sweets gifted to my father. The Holi procession passed through our street, and as boisterous children, we enjoyed the colourful sight with elders who had no qualms about getting a tilak from celebrants.
At school, we took equal pride in reading about the exploits of Rani Laxmi Bai and Havildar Abdul Hameed. My parents had no issue with the singing of Vande Mataram during assemblies. Bhasha Bhaskar, my Hindi textbook, introduced me to the fascinating world of Hindu mythology. Each episode of the Hindu epics – Ramayana, and later Mahabharata – that was shown by our state broadcaster Doordarshan, was eagerly awaited by my family. I saw them as part of our shared heritage as Indians.
But sir, something changed in 2014. I was made aware of my Muslim identity more than ever, though there is nothing in my attire and attitude that sets me apart. Religion to me has always been a private affair.
Sadly, it seems that even secular voices like mine are fast becoming an object of ridicule in the name of chauvinistic nationalism (which I see as opposed to enlightened patriotism). I know what it is like to be a minority but this surcharged environment is an acutely distressing experience for me.
Mr Prime Minister, you represent the whole of India, even the 69 per cent who did not vote for your party. As a tax-paying, law-abiding citizen of India, I have every right to question governance when I feel disconcerted or threatened. Isn’t it something that the Constitution guarantees me?
As the past has shown, even the Grand Old Party of India was shown the door when it became complacent. Your remedy against corruption resonated with those who voted for you. It was a decisive mandate to turn things around.
Unfortunately, many of your party workers took this as an opportunity to avenge the Muslim appeasement that happened under previous governments. Since then a counter-narrative has been created, with a measure of success, in order to bring Hindus under one umbrella. This “Us versus Them” psychosis will only make matters worse. As world events have shown, dividing people into specific groups inevitably leads to divided lands.
Hate crimes are on the rise in our country. According to IndiaSpend, India’s first data journalism initiative, 11 deaths resulting from cow-related hate crimes have been reported in 2017. This is the highest since 2010 and the minorities have been at the receiving end mostly. An Indian killing another Indian, driven by an extreme view of his faith, should be a cause of worry for us all.
Since the 2019 general elections are not far away, it is time for you to take a clear and unequivocal stand. Good governance (or a certain interpretation of the term) is not for a privileged few as it seems to be becoming. In our national interest – please do not let the fringe become the new norm. I leave you with this quote from Mahatma Gandhi:
“The conception of my patriotism is nothing if it is not always, in every case without exception, consistent with the broadest good of humanity at large. Not only that, but my religion and my patriotism derived from my religion embrace all life.”
Inam Abidi Amrohvi
(An Indian who happens to be a Muslim)