Dear Prakash Raj, ‘Hindu Rashtra’ is a struggle for equality

The other day on Times Now, during a debate on Hindutva, actor turned villain Prakash Raj tore into the concept of ‘Hindu Rashtra,’ exhorting the people of India to ‘learn from history.’ Among other things, he presented the following gem:

If the Middle East decides they will send back all Indians … because you want your Hindu Rashtra, we want a Muslim Rashtra there.”

No seriously, he did say that. Watch from 6:30

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What if the Middle East decides tomorrow to become a ‘Muslim rashtra’? Seriously?

What do you suppose Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar, Kuwait, Iraq and Iran are? Secular states? Are Rahul’s fans deliberately pretending to be ignorant so that Rahul Gandhi’s IQ looks higher by comparison? Serious question.

And why do you say “If Middle Eastern decides they will send back Indians?” Are you glorifying the way Middle Eastern countries are set up today? Are you suggesting that you are fine with the way Hindus are treated in Muslim countries of the Middle East at this very moment?

Let me put this on record, even as someone you would probably consider a ‘communal bigot.’ I am absolutely not fine with a nation where our Indian Muslims are treated the way Middle Eastern countries treat Hindus. In fact, I take extreme offence to you for implicitly suggesting such barbarism.

Let me now address the question of ‘Hindu Rashtra’ and what it means for people like me. It is nonsensical for you to suggest that it has anything to do with asking Muslims to leave the country or treating them as second class citizens.

This nation has seen many movements for justice. For example, political and social movements among so called ‘lower caste’ Hindus for emancipation after centuries of oppression. Many of these movements are still very active. Over the last several decades, the Indian state has moved to enact multiple provisions intended to compensate for historic injustices.

These movements were very much needed. Would you have asked them if they intend to throw all “upper” caste people out of the country? No, that would be silly.

Would you ask the movement for equality of women if they want to throw all men out of the country? Silly again.

Would you ask the movement for equal treatment of homosexuals, transgenders, etc if they want to kick all heterosexual individuals out of the country?

Ridiculous, I know. Then, why adopt a double standard towards the movement for Hindu Rashtra?

The movement for ‘Hindu Rashtra’ is a struggle for equality and justice. By members of a community who have suffered oppression at the hands of another community for 1000 years.

It is Hindus who lost their homeland in what is now called Pakistan and Bangladesh. That’s a huge chunk of our historic nation where Hindus will never be able to live with their heads held high again. The handful of Hindus who are stuck in these places have been tormented into submission, a vanishing minority.

What has been the fate of Hindus after the Republic of India was formed? There is only one large Indian state where Muslims are a majority. An entire population of Hindus had to flee their homes to save their lives. That was not 1000 years ago. That was barely 25-30 years ago. Many of the people who fled are still alive, with their first-hand account of what happens to religious minorities when an area becomes Muslim majority.

Answer my three questions, if you will dare:

(1) How have religious minorities been treated in the 50+ Muslim majority nations across the world?

(2) How have religious minorities been treated in Muslim majority nations of South Asia?

(3) How have religious minorities been treated in Muslim majority states of the Republic of India?

Our fear is real and very justified. So do not tell Hindus they are paranoid. Tell the Muslim community to reform. I say something similar when a woman suffers sexual assault anywhere in the country. Do not tell women that they can’t go out on the street or at night. Tell the men to change their attitude.

I do not ask for anyone to leave the country. I want the Indian state to reform and grant full equality under the law to all Indians irrespective of religion. This means freedom for Hindu temples and Hindu owned schools from the yoke of government. This means equal treatment for all Indians under a uniform civil code. This means, for instance, that Aligarh Muslim University cannot be both a public institution and a Muslim institution at the same time.

Tell me which one of my demands is unjust or unfair.

Above all, I call for the Indian Muslim community to reform and change their attitude towards their Hindu fellow citizens. I do not want riots and conflict to build a Ram Temple in Ayodhya. I want my Muslim fellow citizens to recognize the injustices inflicted upon Hindus for centuries, to understand why a Babri Masjid at Ram Janmabhoomi reminds us of the worst crimes of history … and to happily offer the land as a gesture of humility and apology.

I want to address the underlying attitude of Indian Muslims and those who purport to speak for them. For instance, Aligarh Muslim University is run by the government on government funds. Why do you stick to the demand that it should remain a minority institution, despite repeated judgements of the Supreme Court and High Courts? Why do you object? What would happen if AMU became a secular institution tomorrow? Why do you worry? What is wrong with being equal to Hindus?

The reason we celebrate when a woman becomes India’s Defence Minister is not because we hate all men. The reason we celebrate when a Dalit becomes India’s President is not because we hate all “upper” caste people. We celebrate because they become symbols of correcting historical oppression, a sign that the old walls are falling and we are moving towards a better future, with liberty and justice for all.

These struggles for justice, be it the movement for Hindu Rashtra, the movement for women’s rights or the movement against caste oppression, are not in conflict with each other. In each case, I take the side of justice.

When a Muslim mob is throwing a Hindu population out of their homes, I am on the side of the Hindus. If those Hindus happen to be from “upper” castes and they are discriminating against a man for belonging to a “lower” caste, I take the side of the “lower” caste man. If that “lower” caste man is deliberately not sending his daughters to school, I take the side of the daughters.

I take the side of equality and justice for all.

Abhishek Banerjee is a math lover who may or not be an Assistant Professor at IISc Bangalore.

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