India was dealing with the Coronavirus pandemic rather well. In fact, there was a point when Western Media was tacitly hoping that more people would die in India just so they could feed their white-supremacist ego and claim that the unwashed masses couldn’t possibly deal with a pandemic better than the “civilised” world.
Enter Tablighi Jamaat.
The cases spiked and spiked how. As per the Home Ministry, over 4000 cases in India are either members of the Tablighi Jamaat or those who came in contact with the Tablighi Jamaat. The fact that the Jamaat is responsible for an overwhelming number of cases is not the point of contention here. Frankly, a contagion could get anyone, any gathering, any religion, caste, creed or gender. It is the willful and shameless conduct of the Tablighi Jamaat that made them the focal point of the discussion that the Minority Commission is now miffed about.
After the Tablighi Jamaat event undermined India’s fight against Coronavirus, the criticism not only of the Tablighi Jamaat but the Muslim community, on the whole, has seen an unprecedented upswing. Rightly so, perhaps. But the criticism itself has not sat well with the Minority Commission of India or politicians who have based their political careers on mollycoddling the Muslim community.
The Union Government set up the National Commission for Minorities (NCM) under the National Commission for Minorities Act, 1992. Initially five religious communities, viz., Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists and Zoroastrians (Parsis) were notified as minority communities by the Union Government. Further, vide notification dated 27th January 2014, Jains were also notified as another minority community.
The Minority Commission Joint Secretary has written to Press Information Bureau (PIB) to ensure that through them, the message is given to the country that the entire Muslim community cannot be held responsible for the actions of Tablighi Jamaat.
“While such action by the Jamaat attendees is highly condemnable and merits suitable action by the authorities, it may be appreciated that these persons do not represent the entire Muslim community and holding the whole Muslim community responsible for actions of the Tablighi Jamaat attendees is wrong and uncalled for,” Richards said in the letter.
The Muslim community members are complying with the lockdown directives as rest of the citizens, the letter said.
The commission feels that there is an urgent need to present the correct picture in the media that the members of the Muslim community should not be linked to, and held responsible for the outcome of the actions of the Tablighi Jamaat attendees, the NCM joint secretary said.
“I request you to take necessary steps to ensure that this message is adequately conveyed in the country through all mediums of the media immediately,” the letter to the government’s principal spokesperson said.
Firstly, the basic premise of a ‘minority commission’ is rather Abrahamic. The assumption that Hindus would somehow oppress minorities is a notion that stems from the conduct of Abrahamic faiths and their conduct when they become the majority in any part of the world. One only needs to look towards younger, unruly neighbouring Islamic nations if one wants proof. Or better yet, one can simply read the history of the now Union Territory of Kashmir, and unless one has intellectual blindfolds on, the truth would be apparent.
Secondly, even if we submit to the notion that minorities need a body to protect their right, a minority that is well over 24% of the world population and in India, well over 15% amounting to almost 11% of the world population of Muslims, protection of rights being suspiciously blended with shielding them is a problem that is less spoken of.
One might notice that I mention Muslims and not Parsis or even Jains because, frankly, the Minority Commission has hardly ever spoken for other minorities. Not too long ago, there was a case where a sick Sikh man was thrashed brutally for refusing to convert to Islam. This happened in Punjab, there Sikhs are supposed to be the majority community. The Minority Commission, that should have spoken up for the Sikh man was conspicuously silent. Not a word of condemnation was offered because that would defeat the tacit function of the Minority Commission.
Not that the Muslim community is ever shy on reasons to call themselves the victims, with the Coronavirus pandemic, the syndrome has taken epic proportions (yes, it could get worse. The joke is on you if you thought it couldn’t).
Having said that, I understand where the Minority Commission is coming from because the trope is age-old and almost seems like a broken record now. “The Muslims Community, on the whole, cannot be held responsible for the action of a few”. It is a trope we have heard all too often. After every transgression, terror attack, riot, total disregard for public safety, laws, decorum, decency, murder etc, we hear the trope that the Muslim community, on the whole, cannot be held responsible. And that is not untrue, altogether. It is true that a large portion of the Muslim population is staying home, adhering to the lockdown (in the case of Coronavirus) or even refrain from subscribing to radical views. But there are two aspects to this that need to be discussed before following that trope, repeatedly, for every crime that is routinely committed by the Muslim community.
Taking the current scenario as an example, it is obvious that not all Muslims of India are out on the streets, spitting on Kaffirs and beating medical and police personnel up. However, it is also worthy to note that there is a large section belonging to a specific community that is indeed indulging in such delinquent behaviour. It is true that Tablighi Jamaat hid their travel history. It is true that Tablighi Jamaat members defied lockdown orders. It is true that Tablighi Jamaat members are misbehaving with medical personnel while in quarantine. It is true that they were hiding in Mosques across the country aided by Mullahs and Imams. It is true that Muslims have defied lockdown rules every Friday for Jummah Namaaz. It is true that Muslims have pelted stones at healthcare officials and police personnel throughout the country. It is true that these elements belong to the Muslim community and their conduct stems from their deep-seated faith in their religion.
In such a scenario, when the delinquents undermining the fight against a pandemic, where at huge personal cost, over a billion people are staying home, making sacrifices, belong to the same community and their delinquency stems from either their religion or the herd mentality that comes from their religion, it is only fair that the community as a whole is questioned. To question the community, the operative analysis to be done is whether the delinquents were acting because of their personal motivations or community and/or religious motivations. It is abundantly clear that the motivations were religious and/or community loyalty. They pelted stones because they did not want the police to quarantine the local Mullah. They defied lockdown because their religion mandates community Namaz. They hid in Mosques, not homes. They were sheltered by Imams. And when the entire community is involved in the perpetuation of a crime affecting the entire country, the assumption that “all Muslims should not be questioned” is a mollycoddling technique that is employed time and again to shield the Muslim community from being held accountable for their actions.
For a moment, to understand the gravity of the situation, let us flip the situation. What if Temples across the country were hiding Hindus who had attended a religious gathering and were infecting people by the hundreds? What if Hindus were spitting on Muslims and in some cases, deliberately trying to infect people who don’t follow Hinduism? Would the argument be the same? Would Hindus, as a community, not be blamed? Would the community participation in hiding the criminals not be a subject of discussion?
It would, because no other community gets a free pass and an honorary lifetime membership of the victimhood community like Muslims. What ebbs the community to continue to indulge in this behaviour is the embarrassing bigotry of soft expectations that the Liberal word seems to have from the Muslim community. ‘Secularism’ in its modern glory demands that a long rope is given to Muslims in particular and thus, even a Muslim being a normal human being and not killing Kafirs is seen as an act that must be rewarded and hailed for its heroism. This, coupled with the street veto that Muslims enjoy makes it almost impossible to be remotely honest.
The famous punchline for any sort of violence that the Muslim community indulges in is that “they were provoked”. Overnight, good Muslims seem to turn into the very ‘radicals’ against whom the ‘good Muslims’ are supposed to be a shield. When Charlie Hebdo happened, the party line was that freedom of speech has limits and that nobody should be offended to point that they lose their minds and resort to violence. When the recent Delhi riots happened, the defence was that their mythical oppression under big-bad Modi led to them slaughtering Ankit Sharma and dumping him in a drain. When the first bout of riots happened in November, during the anti-CAA protests, the defence was that they are scared about them being othered and their citizenship being revoked, a lie spread by the very Islamists and their enablers who were rioting on the streets.
Every act of violence by the Muslim community is protected by the same argument – ‘they were provoked’. And this argument is craftily used to ensure that the fear of provoking the Muslim community burns fresh and bright in the hearts of the Kafir.
Christopher Hitchens, may peace be upon him, defined this phenomenon rather brilliantly. In an essay headlined, ‘God-Fearing people, Why are we so scared of offending Muslims?’, Hitchens writes:
Islamic belief, however simply or modestly it may be stated, is an extreme position to begin with. No human being can possibly claim to know that there is a God at all, or that there are, or were, any other gods to be repudiated. And when these ontological claims have collided, as they must, with their logical limits, it is even further beyond the cognitive capacity of any person to claim without embarrassment that the lord of creation spoke his ultimate words to an unlettered merchant in seventh-century Arabia. Those who utter such fantastic braggings, however many times a day they do so, can by definition have no idea what they are talking about. (I hasten to add that those who boast of knowing about Moses parting the Red Sea, or about a virgin with a huge tummy, are in exactly the same position.) Finally, it turns out to be impossible to determine whether jihad means more alms-giving or yet more zealous massacre of, say, Shiite Muslims.
Why, then, should we be commanded to “respect” those who insist that they alone know something that is both unknowable and unfalsifiable? Something, furthermore, that can turn in an instant into a license for murder and rape? As one who has occasionally challenged Islamic propaganda in public and been told that I have thereby “insulted 1.5 billion Muslims,” I can say what I suspect—which is that there is an unmistakable note of menace behind that claim. No, I do not think for a moment that Mohammed took a “night journey” to Jerusalem on a winged horse. And I do not care if 10 billion people intone the contrary. Nor should I have to. But the plain fact is that the believable threat of violence undergirds the Muslim demand for “respect.”
He further writes:
It is often said that resistance to jihadism only increases the recruitment to it. For all I know, this commonplace observation could be true. But, if so, it must cut both ways. How about reminding the Islamists that, by their mad policy in Kashmir and elsewhere, they have made deadly enemies of a billion Indian Hindus? Is there no danger that the massacre of Iraqi and Lebanese Christians, or the threatened murder of all Jews, will cause an equal and opposite response? Most important of all, what will be said and done by those of us who take no side in filthy religious wars? The enemies of intolerance cannot be tolerant, or neutral, without inviting their own suicide. And the advocates and apologists of bigotry and censorship and suicide-assassination cannot be permitted to take shelter any longer under the umbrella of a pluralism that they openly seek to destroy.
Thus, the Tablighi Jamaat members are shielded today by saying that not all Muslims can be branded because of the action of a few, because we cannot offend Muslims. After endangering an entire country and infecting thousands, they are hailed as heroes because reportedly, some of them have decided to donate plasma in order to help other Coronavirus positive patients. They are shielded by demonising those who question. By calling them bigots, saffron terrorists, Hindu extremists etc.
And then the minority commission steps in the formalise the diktat – thou shalt not criticise. Thou shalt not question. The governments are instructed to ensure that the outlandishly special community has a supply of fruits while they observe Ramzan while no such concern is expressed by pretty much anyone when Hindus were observing Navratri fasts. A man is booked under sedition laws because he did not accept delivery from an individual who was scratching himself and not wearing a mask, simply, because he happened to be a Muslim.
Tablighi Jamaat is turned into “single source event” or even, “special operation” because the cardinal rule – Thou shalt not offend Muslims.
There comes a time in the journey of every country, where the truth, as apparent as it is, becomes the subject of debate. The truth is then demonised, hated, shunned, discredited. Those who dare are branded. This phenomenon is not incompatible with the global trajectory. One recalls how women were branded witches and those who claimed that the earth is spherical were called lunatics or worse, blasphemes. India stands at the precipice today and I daresay, while it has known the truth, in its heart of hearts for long, the ‘witches’ were banished for even whispering the truth lest it offends the heretics.
This phenomenon seems to be amplified by every individual in power, entrusted with the responsibility of treating citizens equally. While the Hindu community gets even more miffed with every passing “single source” incident, even the constant demonisation of the Hindus for expressing their angst has failed to uphold the mythical values of ‘secularism’, as we see more and more people refusing to even buy groceries from Muslims.
In my mind, there are only two possible solutions to an impossible conundrum.
Firstly, the Omertà of silence has to be broken. The world cannot tip-toe around the Muslim community and mollycoddle them at every given transgression simply because offending them seems to be a far costlier option that ends with invariable bloodshed or demonisation. And secondly, like one of the greatest Muslims to walk the pious land of Bharat, Dr Avul Pakir Jainulabdeen Abdul Kalam, pious Muslims need to up their Kaffir quotient and rely on coexistence, science and modernity far more than dogmatic beliefs that push them into ghettos. The Omerta that is in place to ensure that Muslims don’t get offended is also a disservice to those Muslims who do not subscribe to these views or behaviour. In fact, I would go as far as to say that the Minority Commission, by shielding the behaviour of a large section of Muslims, is complicit in the branding of decent Muslims because they are seen working for the benefit of the delinquents.
Not all Muslims are bad. Not all Muslims defy the basic principles of humanity. But the Community must stand scrutiny when an entire nation’s sacrifices are being flushed down the toilet because one community refuses to assimilate and submit to the laws of the land.