HOME | ABOUT US | Speaker | Americans Together | Videos | www.CenterforPluralism.com | Please note that the blog posts include my own articles plus selected articles critical to India's cohesive functioning. My articles are exclusively published at www.TheGhouseDiary.com You can send an email to: MikeGhouseforIndia@gmail.com

Saturday, March 30, 2019

How middle class Muslim millennials navigate through Narendra Modi’s India

How middle class Muslim millennials navigate through Narendra Modi’s India

Last year marked 25 years since the Mumbai riots of December 1992-January 1993, which erupted after the demolition of the Babri Masjid. A new generation has grown up since then, who witnessed the violence as children. Does that experience still haunt them? Are they bitter, or have they put that childhood memory behind them?
Jyoti Punwani spoke to a few of that generation and was surprised by their responses.
While a few victims refused to talk about their trauma, others explained why their experience of the riots did not mar their attitude towards those of another faith. 

Shivaji Khairnar 37 Auto showroom employee
Shyam Nagar, Jogeshwari
He experienced tear gas and burning missiles when he was 11; helped barricade his area against `the enemy’; heard the word ``shaheed’’ used for the two Hindus who were killed in police firing in his area; and also listened to the fiery speeches of politicians after the Radhabai Chawl incident, wherein six Hindus living not far from him were burnt alive. Overnight, playing with Muslim friends stopped.
But said Shivaji, who runs an NGO in Jogeshwari called Janta Jagruti Manch, even as school children, he and his Hindu friends felt what had happened was wrong. A few years later, he attended night college in Malvani, a Muslim area, and had no trouble making friends with Muslim classmates.
In 2012, when his father was seriously ill, he fasted on the 27th day of Ramzan on the advice of a Muslim friend, hoping that his father would recover. His prayers were answered and he continues to keep that one roza, breaking it in the company of Muslims in his office. A Muslim senior whom he refers to as ``Aadil Sir, my godfather’’, taught him the ropes of his profession.
Two years back, Shivaji invited Sajid Shaikh, who also runs an NGO in Jogeshwari, to welcome the Shyam Nagar Sarvajanik Ganpati on its 25th anniversary. As the police did the aarti, Hindu and Muslim youth stood side by side. The same year, his NGO gave its Women’s Day award to Munira Shaikh, who looks after stray dogs in Jogeshwari. ``She told me she sees (the god) Vitthal in every stray,’’ he recounted.
 Shivaji believes that ``individuals may do wrong, not an entire community.’’ He ascribes his ``positive thinking’’ to his grandfather, an abhang singer of the Warkari sect, and to his mother, who didn’t allow the riots to affect her friendship with her Muslim co-workers in her workplace. ``I’m lucky, we’ve had no politicians in our house,’’ he smiled.
Abdullah Qasim 37
Teacher, Islamic school, Byculla
As a 12-year-old, Abdullah was witness to the raid led by then Joint Commissioner of Police R D Tyagi on the Suleman Usman Bakery on Mohammed Ali Road and the adjacent madarsa. He was a student at the madarsa and his father a teacher. He saw his fellow students and a teacher being beaten by `commandos’ who broke open their door. He heard gun shots outside the room but didn’t know that his father had been shot. He only saw his father’s dead body a few days later.
``Had my father been alive, I would have achieved something,’’ said Abdullah. ``He used to ask me what I want to become. Without him, I just grew up anyhow.’’
Overnight, the 12-year-old felt his family’s protective cocoon dissipate.  ``My grandfather in the village turned invalid hearing about his death, and never got up from bed till he died eight years later. My mother had to look after him, and I had to look after my siblings. It was the madarsa staff that became my family.’’
In 2001, when he was just 20, Abdullah became an intervenor in court when the policemen accused of murder in the Suleman Usman Bakery raid applied for bail. He opposed their bail applications. He lost. Now, the middle-aged family man refuses to intervene in the ongoing case against the same policemen, saying it’s not worth the tension. ``How can this case take so long? Isn’t it a deliberate ploy to mock us? How can policemen charged with murder continue in their jobs, when an army man (Lt Col Purohit, accused in the 2008 Malegaon blast case) can be jailed for nine years?’’ he asked in anguish.
Abdullah recalled his father’s Hindu neighbours in Ghatkopar expressing regret at the death of a ``changla manus’’. Unfortunately he found that their children looked upon people like him – maulanas with beards - with suspicion. When he requested them to store his belongings in their house, they asked: ``Sure there’s no bomb in there?’’
Abdullah continues to feel angry at the way his father was killed, but said he: ``What can I do? I can’t take revenge against just anyone, against innocents. That’s not what Islam teaches. My revenge against those who killed my father should have happened with the help of the government, through the courts.’’
Abdullah has lost faith in the State, the judiciary and the police who he feels, are trained  to act against Muslims. Yet, he cannot forget the one `commando’ from the raid who told his colleagues to stop beating the madarsa students and allowed the latter to drink water.  
Shanul Syed 36
Interior decorator, All India Majlis-e-IttehuduI Muslimeen member

Before the riots, 11-year-old Shanul used to go with his friends to participate in RSS drills held every evening in the maidan near their Santacruz colony. ``We saw them as people we could exercise with,’’ he shrugs, ``not different from us.’’
The violence made him realize ``we were different,’’ said this grandnephew of the Communist freedom fighter and poet Maulana Hasrat Mohani, who grew up with stories of the freedom struggle.
Shanul saw an immediate ghettoization after the riots. Muslim homes, including those of his relatives, in the predominantly Hindu colony near his house, were taken over by Hindus, and Hindus in his predominantly Muslim colony moved out.
``We heard elders discussing that we had been targeted because we were Muslims. Parents started telling us to be careful when we went to `their’ area, and our daily visits to each other’s homes became weekly visits.
``Then, three years after the riots, a huge Sunni Ijtema was held in Bandra. We all bunked school to attend it. It influenced us a lot; we couldn’t stop discussing our Muslim identity. By then, the Tableeghi Jamaat had become active in our area, just as the Bajrang Dal had in the Hindu area.’’
Shanul did make new Hindu friends in college, but it was not quite the same as in childhood. However, though he sends his children to an Islamic school, Shanul lives in a mixed colony and expressed happiness that his children’s best friends are Hindus. Mixed living spaces are the best, he said, where each community learns about the other’s culture, instead of the ``thousands of mini Indias and Pakistans we have across Mumbai, which are so vulnerable to communal propaganda.’’
Congress MP Sunil Dutt’s frequent visits to his locality form a vital part of Shanul’s memory of the riots. ``Thanks to him, we were not attacked. After his death, no leader has played this role.’’   
Aadil Khan 36
Process Head in a call centre
Every evening, they would switch off the lights and pile up furniture against their door. But after their home in Kandivili was stoned, Aadil Khan’s father decided to shift the family to Aadil’s grandmother’s home near Bombay Central. Theirs was one of only two Muslim homes in the Kandivili colony, and Aadil remembers his father’s neighbours persuading him to stay on. They were bank officers like his father was. When they saw he had made up his mind to leave, these Hindu neighbours dropped Aadil’s family to Bombay Central in two cars. 
The Khans returned after the riots were over and continued staying there till his father retired.
Today, Aadil lives in Hindu-dominated Goregaon, and returns greetings of ``Jai Ramji Ki’’ with the same words. He started visiting temples with his Hindu friends as a teenager. His elder brother’s wife is a practising Hindu.
``My father taught me: `Be a good human being’ and that’s what I tell my office team of 150 persons, most of them Hindus,’’ said Aadil.
Aadil voted for the BJP in 2014 both in the Lok Sabha and Assembly elections because he felt Modi was ``good for the country’’. The frequent lynchings by cow vigilantes reminded him of a frightening experience he had faced in 2008, soon after the 26/11 terror attack. He and his four friends, who included one Hindu, were beaten by villagers and police in Uran who thought they were terrorists. The five bike-borne youngsters had been taking photographs of what turned out to be naval property. The police were called; and the five were finally let off late at night.
Despite this experience, Aadil said he did not feel afraid, even today. ``Why should I? This is my country. My nationality is Indian, I have an Indian passport.’’ He wished though, that politicians would propagate that Hindus and Muslims are one, instead of spewing poison ``like Subramaniam Swamy and Asaduddin Owaisi do on TV.’’ He also wished a hospital or school would be built on the disputed site in Ayodhya.

Mahesh Padval 39

Businessman, Shiv Sena vice president Consumer cell
From the time he was in Std VIII, this Shiv Sainik has never missed a Bal Thackeray speech in Shivaji Park. Mahesh Padval was 14 when the riots took place, and saw his best friend flee Radhabai Chawl and later settle elsewhere. But he continues to live in his old Prem Nagar home. There, his Muslim neighbour not only ties a rakhi on his wrist every year, but also a thread for good luck on every Muharram. ``On Bakri Eid, I hold the goat while my neighbour slaughters it,’’ said this ardent Shiv Sainik.
Education changed Jogeshwari, said Mahesh. ``Muslims realized that if they wanted good jobs, they would have to educate their children. Today, our children go to the same school. My children take sheer korma to school on Eid, and Muslim children come dressed as Krishna on Janmashtami.’’
Like a true Shiv Sainik, Mahesh described the party’s role in the 92-93 riots as ``defensive’’. But on further discussion of that time, he confessed that the Shiv Sena did go ``too far’’ in its ``retaliation’’. 
But he was sure those days won’t ever come back. This year, he said proudly, his party put up a 19-year-old female Muslim medical student as a candidate for the municipal elections. 28 out of 40 Shiv Sena ward pramukhs in Jogeshwari are Muslim, he pointed out.
Most importantly however, said he:  ``our children won’t let us riot’’.

Syed Firdaus Ashraf 46
It was 1989, and L K Advani’s rath yatra was to pass through Hazaribag (then in Bihar, now in Jharkhand). Syed Firdaus Ashraf remembered laughing when his relatives there spoke about their fear of violence during the yatra. ``I was 18 and as a Bombayite, I thought talk about Hindu-Muslim riots was nonsense. Thanks to my father (journalist Syed Feroze Ashraf) and his Leftist friends, religion was never a topic at home. I used to relax every evening in the temple near my house in Malad with my Hindu friends.’’
But after his uncles’ home down their lane was attacked, the Ashrafs fled to the Muslim colony of Millat Nagar In Andheri, escorted by a Hindu and a Christian neighbour. Firdaus still remembers the sight of burning shops all along that journey from Malad to Andheri.
``In school, I had felt singled out in Std VI when the life of Shivaji was being taught. Some classmates passed comments that made me feel uneasy as a Muslim. But then, a Muslim rowdy joined the school and silenced those boys. But after January 15, 1993, I knew no one would come and protect me. I knew my carefree days were over,’’ he recalled.
The Ashrafs shifted to a Muslim area in Jogeshwari and today, Firdaus lives in Mahim, in a Muslim pocket. It gives him a feeling of security, he said. So, he felt ``safe’’ despite the tension in the air the day Bal Thackeray died in 2012. Earlier, too, when Shiv Sainiks went on a rampage after Meenatai Thackeray’s bust was vandalized in 2006, Firdaus wasn’t scared in his neighbourhood.  
But Firdaus has seen a change in the Shiv Sena. ``I have personally witnessed Shiv Sainiks going out of their way to help Muslims in need,’’ he said. For him, the bigger fear today, is of ``looking Muslim and being caught carrying meat – any meat.’’
Firdaus also expressed frustration with the increasing tendency to immediately label people. ``I’m an Indian but whatever I say, people turn around and say: `You are saying that because you are a Muslim.’’’
While the riots convinced him that India is ``essentially a Hindu country’’, and that Muslims cannot ``take on the State’’, he retains faith in two institutions: the judiciary and the media.
Firdaus could never go back to his childhood home. Did that sadden him? ``Could the Kashmiri Pandits go back to theirs?” he asked in reply.   

No comments:

Post a Comment