16 April 2024 05:25 PM



A Churning in Muslim Youth That Cannot Be Ignored

No acceptance for the status quo

NEW DELHI: Targeted lynchings that encapuslate the concerted attack on Muslims as a religious minority have created a certain bitterness and anger in Muslim youth. Already way behind on the economic scale, as highlighted during the Congress government by the Justice Rajinder Sachar Committee report, the youth now find themselves at the receiving end of arrests, active discrimination and diminishing opportunities.

This has raised questions about their future, and a quest for answers in which so-called secular parties and organisations have not gone unscathed. A thread runs common through urban Muslim youth who are vocally critical of the secular outfits, and their inability to make space for the minorities in these trying times. The rendering invisible of Muslims, by the Congress and almost all other political parties which claim to be contesting the BJP’s policies, has created anger. This is also directed against secular individuals and organisations which are now being criticised by the young for not making space for them or their concerns.

The churning has drawn Muslim youth in Delhi at least, away from organised secular groupings, with most agreed that there needs to be a new approach to the old issues of communalism. A young journalist insisted that “they cannot take us for granted any more, we are not here to do their bidding.” A former television anchor was equally clear that a spade had to be called that and more, and that “this neither here nor there approach will not work.”

Most of the young people spoken to did not have answers, but as one of them said, “At least we are asking the right questions and so will find a solution.” They only know that the approach which had the Congress playing what it called secular politics, through the mullahs on the one hand and the elite Muslim on the other, is “totally discredited, of the past.”

The lynchings, and the silence of the polity have particularly upset Muslim youth, who consider the secular response to be lacking. There is a division here as many are being drawn to minority platforms to lodge a protest, even though they admitted to this writer that this was not necessarily the sound way out.

“Yes we need an inclusive response but where is it. The political parties do not want to see or hear from us when elections are on, interested only in the Muslim vote. And there is no one out there when Muslims are lynched for being Muslim, and are then arrested as well, while those who killed them go scot free,” a particularly articulate young man said.

Others agreed with this sentiment, with both young professional men and women particularly incensed with the absence of a secular response. There is a certain anger about being taken for granted - “where else will we go these parties think” - tinged with helplessness, “Indeed where will we go.”

As one young professional said, “You all write minorities, you hesitate in the media to write Muslims even when a Muslim is lynched and attacked. As if there is something wrong in identifying him or her. Why?”

The alienation is clearly compounded by a sense that they are being pushed into a space from where Dalits, through sheer organisation and will, are slowly emerging.

The very fact that Dalits have managed to place governments on the defensive, with individual leaders like Chandrashekhar Azad Ravan and Jignesh Mevani adding to the old guard, has had an impact on Muslim youth.

“We have no such leadership - no one from the secular platform will embrace a young Muslim leader as they have embraced and supported Jignesh and others. We are supposed to support a Rahul Gandhi if we want to survive, but then all these so called political parties are pushing us back into the ghetto, instead of supporting us, encouraging us to come out and speak our woes,” many spoken to said.

A realisation, as young Muslims put it, that they are acceptable when silent and not otherwise. As if by speaking out they polarise constituencies on religious lines.

Not one spoken with wanted to, or accepted, politics from a religious platform. But all demanded their rights as citizens of India, equal status and respect, and as two said in separate conversations, certainly “not invisibilisation”.

“We exist, please recognise that with respect and dignity” was the sentiment aired, together with a strong critique of the political old guard, which has not seemed to resolve or come to terms with the dilemma of identity politics.

This churning is different, deeper and more intense. It is visible in young reporters unwilling to compromise with mainstream prejudices and preferring instead to leave their jobs. It is visible in young activists who want to drive the agenda and have little patience with the secular outfits run by their elders. It is visible in an assertion of Muslim identity within the Indian ‘constitutional’ context that appears directionless but is different from the past, more aggressive, more critical, and far less accommodating of the status quo.