Why Anti-CAA Protests Have Taught us Unity Amid Differences

In a country where stereotypes and misconceptions about Muslims have become part of official rhetoric and we refuse to break free, what does secularism mean?

Amidst the wide protest across the country against NRC and CAA, Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently made a ‘statement’ which is for many reasons problematic. He said the people who are creating violence can be identified by their clothes. What the PM meant is not clear. Is he pointing towards the Muslims or some other political Party, or his own ‘Police Force’ or the ‘Modi’ inscribed suit, no idea, let’s leave that to his subjectivity. But we should keep in mind; this was coming from the mouth of a Prime Minister after the students of this country were brutally trashed by the police force. There will be a large number of people without any valid reasoning who goes with the rhetoric. They will never go in-depth of the truth or will never critically analyze what is exactly right. That is, of course, the success of a leader, but never good for a country with diversities. The after-effects of such statements become visible in every day of India. This also affects the secular nature of the country. This spreads hatred towards Muslims and leads to increasing Islamophobia. 

Once I was traveling from Jama Masjid to Munirka with other two friends in an auto-rickshaw, a guy in skull cap and a patchy beard, possibly in his early 20s asked for a lift to his place. With no hesitation, we agreed as it was mid of the night and he would have found it difficult in finding another vehicle. On the way, the auto was stopped by the police and he asked our whereabouts. We told him we were students going back to the room. He didn’t ask anything further but he was repeatedly questioning the guy who asked for the lift. He was asking why you are out at this time. Where are you heading to? Why are you wearing this skull cap even at night? Further, the officer said to us, these people can’t be trusted. Out of some kind of fear, I didn’t counter this statement or my friends. After this incident, I was trying to reflect on myself, from where is this fear coming, why people, the citizens of this country are afraid. How Junaid, the boy who was killed in a running train would have gone through a situation of hatred. When will we be ready to appreciate the diversity of this country rather than blaming or hating others? This default fear itself makes the minorities second class citizens. The problematic ‘us’ and ‘them’ dichotomy engulfs us in a suffocating shroud. This is not a spontaneous move but a well structured, well-articulated plan of the Hindu Nationalist. As noted by Angana P. Chatterji, the new Indian state is structured upon a “pro-corporate, pro-upper caste compound of policies” but this is paired with the anti-minority rhetoric. 

Earlier while traveling by train, people offering namaz was quite common. People never hesitated to pray or perform their beliefs. But these days, this isn’t a common sight. Maybe the Muslims are ‘not’ traveling by train or the above-mentioned fear is severe these days. Even people traveling are afraid to open their tiffin boxes. Where is this fear coming from?Of course, the hate speeches by the people in power, its practicing side, the lynching, and visualization of the same to show the rest, this will be your fate too. When the country is going through economic distress, when the youth is facing unemployment, the government introduced CAB. Interestingly after the Citizenship Amendment Bill became Citizenship Amendment Act, many parties who voted for the Act too became vigilant about the problems it can create in the future. The everyday protests taking place in different parts of the country gives signs of a better tomorrow. The real failure lies in the saturation point of every protest and dissent. That was the case until yesterday. But the clear cut rejection of NRC and CAA is uniting people, where the young people of the country coming to the roads and asking directly to the government, when are you going to roll back the Act, joined by chief ministers of many states who openly stated they will not allow the NPR to take place. 

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This year India celebrated Christmas with protests and enlightening the self what exactly the reality is. Women from different religions wearing the headscarf, Men wearing Skull Cap and openly making space for the Muslims to offer Namaz and all other possible secular dimensions is a direct hit on the face of Prime Minister. But this spirit of true secularism should not be reduced to the moment. Before going for the protest, we should self reflect, yes we were stereotypical about the skull cap, the guy who was offering namaz, the man with a long beard, the women wearing hijabs. Those were just stereotypes that should be eliminated from our minds. Every other way of living must be appreciated. Everything is possible only when the power of the collective exists; otherwise, the idea of democracy will fade away.  

Thafseer Ummer, Doctoral Candidate at Centre for studies in social exclusion and inclusive policy, Jamia Millia Islamia.

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