Press mute for Indian Muslims: Gujarat flogging shows up ‘secular’ silence of Indian politics


Who speaks for India’s Muslims now? Who can, or is even trying to fill the Mulayam Singh Yadav-sized hole there? The answer is none. The BJP’s rivals want the votes of Muslims, but are frightened of being seen as their leaders. For clarity, this week’s National Interest isn’t yet another obituary, tribute or critique of the late Mulayam Singh Yadav. It is just that since the 1990s on, he had risen as the prime spokesman of Indian Muslims, ‘Maulana Mulayam’ as the BJP mocked him. His demise is an important moment to examine the vacuum in Muslim leadership and why, after Partition, the leaders of India’s Muslims have been almost entirely Hindu.

This is particularly so in a week when the Supreme Court has kicked the can down on a road that’s more political than judicial on the hijab issue. And when a Taliban or Islamic State (IS) style flogging of young Muslim men by police in poll-bound Gujarat’s Kheda district passed with minimal comment from those with the ambition to defeat Narendra Modi.

This happened in front of a cheering Hindu crowd. It was filmed and videos were widely shared. Their alleged crime was that they disrupted and “threw stones” at the local garba celebration. Even if they’re guilty, this isn’t how anybody is punished in constitutional India. Nor has public flogging been a part of any Hindu tradition, however conservative. At least not in living memory. This atrocity is a seminal event in our political evolution. The pictures will endure, as much as those of the first flogging in Zia-ul-Haq’s martial law regime keep surfacing to remind us how awful religious extremism can be.

Young scholar Asim Ali, in this article for ThePrint, did raise a provocative question: Why are we calling this flogging Taliban-style? Why be shy of describing it for what it is, Hindutva-style? It’s understandable and this gets a lot of Hindus’ backs up: How dare somebody compare us Hindus with those pre-medieval, violent and lawless Islamist forces?

We haven’t, however, raised questions about this, introspected, been outraged as we might have pretended to be if a few Ahmadiyyas had been flogged like this by the police in Pakistan with a Tehreek-e-Labbaik-style mob cheering.

Does the blame, then, for not questioning this fall in our own social, constitutional and moral values lie with us, the majority? To say so will not only be self-flagellation but futile, and will neither bring any succour to the Muslim minority, nor make ‘people’ understand the gravity of what has happened, and then say, ‘never again’. It is at junctures like these that a diverse, democratic republic needs political voices. They’ve mostly been missing over this week. The most critical political contestation in 2022-24 is how each party’s secular commitment is defined….

Secular Islamophobia: How Modi’s BJP bulldozed rivals’ imagination, left them scared to speak for Muslims

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