I’d never imagined that people from my own friends’ circle, from my own localities, my own school and college friends would be turning against us on communal lines.

A stylised picture of Hyderabad-based civil and human rights activist Kaneez Fathima
Voices Blog Wednesday, December 23, 2020 - 11:17

Today, Indians are so divided along communal lines that it has become difficult to spot neutral and non-communal people around me. I’ve been witness to many people – some among my friends’ circle, some among the very common and ordinary people who have no connection to dirty politics and no time to spare for communalism – whose mindsets have completely changed.

After the BJP came to power under Narendra Modi’s leadership in 2014, there has been a drastic change in the atmosphere around us. Looking at the work and propaganda that the RSS and its allies are carrying on at the ground level, I had a sense that communities would be divided along caste and religious lines. But I’d never imagined that people from my own friends’ circle, from my own localities, my own school and college friends would be turning against us on communal lines, especially the educated ones whom I call “literate ignorant”. It’s not just me who is experiencing these issues, but many people around me, moderate common people, activists, democrats and friends in general, and Muslims in particular, are facing such instances.

I studied in a convent high school. Some 20 years after we finished our schooling, a classmate of mine acquired all our classmates’ phone numbers with a lot of effort and formed a WhatsApp group. Initially it was very enjoyable reviving old memories and sharing things about our life. But as the days passed and after Narendra Modi became the Prime Minister, the tone of these classmates (among whom only two are Muslims while the rest are Brahmins and BCs) changed.

Slowly they started praising the BJP and its leaders effusively and justifying every blunder these politicians were committing. I remember Modi had been denied a US visa earlier, but had to be given one after he became the PM. One classmate posted pictures and wrote, ‘Proud to have Modi as our Prime Minister’. Irritated, I responded, ‘How can we be proud of a person who was accused of presiding over a genocide in Gujarat?’ The other classmates then got angry and hurled very harsh words at me saying when the courts have acquitted him of all charges of genocide, how could I make such accusations.

Another time a male Brahmin classmate posted about how ‘gau mata’ is great, how ‘gau mutra’ is beneficial, etc. Many messages were posted on an everyday basis about the various mandirs, gau mata, and other Hindu religious matters. I found a write-up that was based on proper research about the mention of beef-eating in the Vedas and how even Swami Vivekananda had confirmed that Hindus ate beef, and posted it on the school group. The Brahmin men in the group started attacking me and asked me to leave the group. Then they went on to openly justify cow vigilante attacks on Muslim businesses, lynchings for eating beef, etc.

In another incident that happened at a market, I was the first customer at a vegetable cart. Another person arrived and started buying things. I was done and wanted to pay for my purchase, but the lady selling the vegetables did not want to start her business with my money and waited to take payment from the second customer (who was not a Muslim). She took my money only after she took payment from the other customer. The man who was with her asked why she didn’t take money from me, but she remained quiet. I didn’t feel bad, but wondered how people’s minds have been corrupted and where our nation was heading in the future. Till then, I thought only the elite and educated people were turning communal but that was not the case.

I narrated this incident in three-four WhatsApp groups, and as a civil and human rights activist expressed my concern for communal harmony and how there’s a greater responsibility on us to work towards uniting people across communities. In response, a Brahmin woman in my school group started arguing that all that was a waste, and then diverted the issue towards caste. She said there are a lot of problems due to the reservation system. Even though their children get the highest marks, they don’t get admission but ‘reservation people’ with low marks enter all establishments, and so on. But she and others intentionally ignore the fact that the upper castes have enjoyed all the privileges for thousands of years while lower caste people were denied rights all the way. If a few among the underprivileged get a good chance in education and jobs, why can’t we tolerate it?

A colleague of mine, who is from a Marathi speaking community, refers to me as “musalmaani” (in a derogatory manner), and opines that Dalits become IPS/IAS even if they secure 2 or 3 marks, and all the upper castes are poor and unemployed due to such lower caste people.

The same kind of reactions and hate against Muslims and Dalits is faced by many of my Muslim and non-Muslim friends in their school and college WhatsApp groups. Noorjahan Aapa, a senior activist from Hyderabad’s Old City who has almost 40 years of experience working on communal harmony, family issues, etc., has also faced similar experiences from a person (non-Muslim) who worked along with her during his youth. He now tells her ‘do not come to the Hindu bastis, we no longer want to work with you people, go and work in your (Muslim) areas!’

Another glaring example of communal divide was seen last December. When protests against CAA-NRC-NPR started, a large number of Muslims across the country too joined. Then Christians joined and much later Dalit communities also joined after they understood how the law harms them as well. But the other communities remained unaffected. Then came coronavirus and the subsequent lockdown. During the lockdown, the Muslim community was in the forefront helping the needy with money and food. Meanwhile, media outlets favouring the government and right-wing outfits tried their best to blame the Muslim community for spreading COVID-19. Not only in other parts of the country but in Hyderabad too friends witnessed people in posh localities refusing to buy vegetables and fruits from vendors who were Muslims.

Alongside the COVID-19 pandemic, Hyderabad city also witnessed severe floods during the last few months. The discrimination, the right-wing mindset, the differences were clear during even such a terrible natural calamity. Except a few localities, all other areas where the floods occurred were Muslim populated. When appeals were made for relief material and food by many organisations and individuals, apart from Muslims only the liberal and democratic type of people from non-Muslim communities came forward to help. Some non-Muslim friends told me that during the lockdown, people living in posh areas and apartments provided a lot of help for migrant workers. But during floods in their city, the same people were mum, nobody even wanted to talk about it. The reason was clear – the flood affected people were mostly Muslims.

Noorjahan Aapa says it’s not easy nowadays to go and work on the ground level on the issue of communal harmony. She says, “We have to adopt new ways to unite people of different communities, or else we will lose the harmonious culture of our city. Our peace-loving city that gave shelter and food to hundreds and thousands of people across religions, castes and communities will be turned into another Gujarat.”

Amit Shah recently said the BJP will free Hyderabad from the shackles of Nizam culture, and there’s no doubt that ground level work is going on in full swing in the city. This is clear from the behaviour of certain sections of the Hindu communities and also from the recent Greater Hyderabad Municipal Commission (GHMC) local body elections.

Kaneez Fathima is a Hyderabad-based activist working for civil and human rights for the past 12 years. She has authored a book titled Politics of Hatred: Region, Religion and Hindutva, and edited another book, The Fire Within: Remembering Rehana Sultana.


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