BREAKING NEWS, BROKEN PEOPLEby HUMRA QURAISHI June 18 2023, 12:00 am Estimated Reading Time: 5 mins, 17 secs
In the wake of the communal calls of the Right-Wing groups of Uttarakhand, telling the Muslim community to leave Purola or face dire consequences, Humra Quraishi asks why the authorities are making no definite attempt to stop the fringe.
As World Refugee Day nears, I wonder if the focus will shift upon the many who are displaced within the country – scores have been forced to flee from one place to another, in their own country, forced to leave their own lands.
This tragedy was first addressed during the 2013 communal riots in Muzaffarnagar. Hundreds of Muslim families ran for their lives as the land mafia supported by politicians hounded them out from their own homes. Fear had gripped them to such an extent that they refused to leave their shelter in makeshift tents to go back to their ancestral villages, lands and homes. One cannot ignore the fact that the State did little to control the violence at the time when right-wing goons were openly issuing threats to the Muslim community from public platforms.
I recall how the well-known and well-respected commentator-journalist, Srinivasan Jain, had sensitively and powerfully shown that upheaval in his weekly program on television. He had covered the distress of Muslim families packed inside small tents. Children were made to leave schools, men and women had abandoned their businesses - it was a sad situation.
Muslims are being pushed against the wall now and provoked so that they strike back in retaliation. Through conversations with several Muslims from the rural stretches of Northern India, I believe that the land mafias, in cahoots with the politicians and right-wing goons, are using shrewd methods to make them leave their ancestral properties.
Soon after the Muzaffarnagar riots, there was this dangerous trend of Muslims in Hindu majority villages fleeing to Muslim dominated areas or moving into camps as refugees. I had personally met many of the survivors and was told repeatedly by almost all of them that they were left with no other choice because the threat upon them was so huge. This trend wasn’t confined to Western Uttar Pradesh alone because a similar pattern emerged in the outlying villages of Delhi and Haryana, too, where dozens of families left their homes amid fears of death and destruction. I recall an elderly Muslim man summing up the scenario (of being besieged by communally surcharged Right-Wing mob) in these words: “It felt like I was a goat hounded by a pack of wolves!”
So, from landed families who were living on ancestral properties for generations, many became daily wagers, labourers, even beggars, to survive. This, after most such families had chosen to live on our side of the border when the partition took place in 1947.
And, in rural Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana, several Muslim families have left their properties because of organized attacks on them.. In 2018, whilst the Prime Minister was speaking at Davos, inviting investors to India, a Muslim family in Haryana’s Sonipat was being threatened and asked to go away to Pakistan! Their fore-fathers had been living in that village for 300 years! Fortunately some elders intervened.
When the BJP led government was launching ‘Start Up India’, there was an artisan family of Yusuf Khatri in Madhya Pradesh, which was so badly terrorised by right-wing goons that it almost left India. Yes, one of India’s most prominent families in the field of art, which produces and exports award-winning Bagh prints, had considered moving to the United States because of the threat and violence they faced when Yusuf Khatri’s brother and nephew were attacked by goons in January of 2016.
In recent years there have been so many communal incidents in northern India that it is hard to keep count even though activists have been documenting them. The All India Secular Forum team led by LS Herdenia, has been following such incidents taking place in Madhya Pradesh where Muslims are targeted.
I recall my last meeting with the sitar maestro Pandit Ravi when he was shifting base, from here to the US. He had told me he was just too fed up and disgusted with the political decay. To quote him: “Yes, I’m shifting from India, to the US, because the mess in the country is getting too painful for me. The politicians and pollution have finished New Delhi. I’m not a fighter. I’m a musician and I can’t stand vulgar people, besure log. Even in Benaras, all sorts of crude elements have sprung up, those decaying values stifle me, so I decided to shift out of Benaras to New Delhi, but the political pollution is killing here. I wish our present-day politicians were more musically-inclined; then there’d be harmony and not the present-day cacophony! When I was 18, I went to live with my ustad, Baba Allauddin, and though he was a devout Muslim, his home in Madhya Pradesh’s Maihar was full of photographs of Kali, Krishna, Christ, Mary…music makes you more tolerant. For me, religion is a very personal thing. I am certainly not ritualistic. In fact, like me, most musicians are broad-minded.”
I’ll end today with this verse of PRAGYA BAJPAI from the book – Amity Peace Poems (Hawakal Publishers):
The Beast/In the midst of Breaking News/showing violence, attacks and killings/in war-torn countries/with bold rolling headlines on the screen/about exploitation of conflict dynamics,/about party politics,/about fragility, complexity, strategy,/their views on global solidarity/that I watched intently/with nipping sense//My puppy suddenly threw himself at me,/straight on to my breast,/buried his head against my belly,/refusing to watch terrifying humanity/I heard him moan, turn his tail, feeling frail//He was sacred, fearful in shape/I held him tight and said,/We are living in a world we can’t escape/and with dismayed eyes wide open/he pleaded for sympathy like men/stuck in refugee camps//So I turned it off for his peace of mind/The breaking news broke us both/He didn’t know what it was, but/demanded amity in his own tongue/and showed me who the real beast is.