When silence is shameful: A time to speak up (as an Indian)

August 3, 2017 by  
Filed under India, newsletter-india

India, August 3, 2017: When my 16-year-old daughter, Ishta, raised a Christian (like her mother) – though I am Hindu – asked me who Junaid was and why he had been killed, I was unable to answer.  Hafiz Junaid, a young Muslim boy not much older than my daughter, was killed by a Hindu mob and thrown off a train, with three other Muslim boys who were also viciously attacked, a month ago.

The boys were on their way home after having attended a Muslim religious festival.  Nearly 200 people present at the railway station where they were hurled off the train, later claimed not to have seen anything.

Time to Speak Out

For some time now, I have been deeply troubled by the rise in Hindu religious fervour and fundamentalism throughout India, which has clearly been encouraged by a right-wing government that, until recently, chose to remain largely silent about this and other attacks on Muslims and other religious minorities.  I am grateful to my daughter, whose question prompted me to think back another heinous murder that took place in a different country nearly 55 years ago.

On 15 September 1963, four young black children lost their lives when white supremacist members of the Ku Klux Klan blew up the African-American 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama.

A day after that awful event, described by Martin Luther King as “one of the most vicious and tragic crimes ever perpetrated against humanity,” a white southerner, Charles Morgan Jr., delivered a speech at a venue that was widely considered to be the heart of the city’s white establishment – the Young Men’s Christian Club.

He blamed community leaders, and indeed the white Birmingham community in general, for their failure to stand up to the prevailing climate of racial intolerance and outright hatred.

Morgan’s speech was entitled ‘A Time to Speak’ – an allusion to the Biblical reference “A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak (Ecclesiastes 3:7).”

As a proud Hindu, I find it appropriate in these intolerant and violent times in India to be drawing inspiration from Morgan’s brave speech and indeed from the Bible itself. Hinduism has traditionally been associated with being respectful of other faiths, with tolerance and secularism, and certainly not bigotry and religious hatred.

The recent killing of young Junaid and others in the country, for being Muslim – or for being Dalit, or Christian, or, for that matter, for consuming beef – is as worthy of condemnation as the murder of those innocent children killed in Birmingham all those years ago.

‘Not In My Name’ Protests

Many brave voices (but not nearly enough) in India have condemned Junaid’s murder and violence against Muslims in no uncertain terms (for instance, Irena Akbar’s “Inside the Mind of the Indian Muslim”, Indian Express, 8 July 2017, and Imad Ul Riyaz’s “No Country for Reconciliation”, Indian Express, 24 July 2017).

Equally worthy of admiration are the spontaneous ‘Not in My Name’ protests that arose in several cities across India after Junaid’s killing – an otherwise very noble bit of news in between the all-too-frequent reports of rapes, mob violence and the murder or abuse of religious minorities that seem to emerge almost daily from India.

Hindu hardliners and apologists for the right-wing have been quick, however, to condemn even these inspired and timely protests.  See, for instance, the opinion piece by Swapan Dasgupta titled “The Liberal Flaunting ‘Not in my Name’ Placards got it Wrong” (TOI, July 2, 2017) where the author’s basic – and untrue – critique appears to be that the organisers of the protests had a secret agenda: ‘to kick Modi and brush aside related issues that didn’t quite fit the narrative of Hindu self-flagellation.”

If he gets around to reading this piece, Dasgupta is no doubt likely to condemn non-resident Hindus like me for being out of touch with ground realities in India. Let me pre-empt him, and others of his ilk, by pointing out that sometimes things can be even clearer when viewed from a distance. Those of us living in Singapore or other countries, may be physically distant from India, but we are hardly emotionally distant from what seems to be an alarming campaign against minorities in India.

Should Condemn Senseless Violence

Where this intolerance stems from is complex and better addressed elsewhere. The nature of this intolerance should nevertheless be amply clear to every Indian of every hue, whether resident in the country or not. We must all condemn this violence and narrow-mindedness, which goes against the original precepts of Hinduism, for unless we all speak out, we risk allowing the violence and intolerance of a few be imputed to all of us.

We were all marginalised by young Junaid’s murder and should be ashamed of senseless violence like this being allowed to take place in India. If we continue to remain silent witnesses, we will be no different from those present at the station where Junaid lost his life and who later denied having seen anything. Things risk spiralling further out of control unless we all condemn such senseless violence and bigotry.

– the quint

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