A recent now deleted post by the DM of Uttar Pradesh’s Bareilly district, Raghuvendra Vikram Singh expressing his angst at the deliberate efforts to flare up communal tensions in an already volatile state, has been trending for all the wrong reasons. Questioning this trend of raising anti-Pakistan slogans in Muslim localities, the magistrate was forced to seek some answers as to whether we are dealing with Pakistanis or our own countrymen in UP. The post posed some upsetting questions. Are all Muslims pro-Pakistanis? Do they all deserve to go to Pakistan? Statements such as these were common in the 1950s and 1960s right after partition when North India and Punjab experienced a complete exchange of population. The question is why now?
Part of this is an attempt to further marginalise the minorities and if the neighbourhood happens to inhabit Muslims, the propaganda seems to be even more effective. It’s ironic that Rohingyas, Muslims from Myanmar feel more secure in a camp in some parts of the country rather than in their homeland. The refugees argue that they had undertaken the highly arduous journey from Myanmar across the Naf River to Bangladesh making their way to India to protect their faith, i.e. Islam. They allege persecution by the ethnically Burmese majority that is inflicting untold miseries and violence in a deliberate attempt to ethnically cleanse their country of “foreigners”—Rohingyas. The Rohingyas pointed out to their continued presence in the Rakhine province since the mid 18th century as proof that they are ethnically Burmese. The question arises is how are we going to treat our minorities? Since Independence, Muslims have been subjected to the taunt that all they demanded was Pakistan and since its creation it is only logical that they should proceed to their homeland. These statements have not been confined to one political party; rather all political outfits had reaped huge political dividends. Despite the return of Muslims from Pakistan in thousands in the 1950s and 1960s, desperately seeking Indian citizenship, it is surprising that some still feel the need for practical proofs of loyalty. And what of those who never departed, despite threats to their life and confiscation of their property? Is their citizenship contested too, if yes what is the criterion for uncontested citizenship?
The processions in predominately Muslim neighbourhoods are no different, rather a part of a trend. Uttar Pradesh, with its 19% Muslim population, provides the perfect laboratory for testing these ideas and putting them into practice. But DM Singh’s post is a desperate attempt to highlight the complete failure of the administration to do anything to prevent the breakdown of law and order. The message should not be lost, for seldom do we come across official responses of this kind. What is more worrying is that for most of us violence of this kind is normalised. No longer are we surprised or seek answers. Have we also turned our back on them as Myanmar on the Rohingyas?
We are ready to burn down buses, block roads and threaten a leading actress and her director for making a film, Padmaavat, but we chose to remain silent on the recent happenings in UP. The kin of the 22-year-old Chandan Gupta deserve some answers as to who fired the fateful shot that killed their son. The main accused Saleem, a local businessman and his sons have been arrested, but there is no clarity about their role in the killings. What was the purpose of the Tiranga Yatra? The yatra has left one dead, with rumours of further killings adding to communal tensions and breakdown of law and order in Bareilly, along with the questions around the loyalty of Muslim community as a whole. If the purpose was instilling national pride, the intended purpose was entirely defeated. That citizens of this country be stopped from hoisting the national flag on Republic Day to make way for the Tiranga Yatra sets a bad precedent. Forced recitals of either Vande Mataram or Pakistan Zindabaad have had disastrous consequences in the past, leaving behind a bitter legacy. Let us not forget that.