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Tuesday, January 03, 2006

'These Muslims'...most astonishing incident of my life

MUSLIM, REMAINS  THE OTHER!
Surprises await us at every nook and corner in our life but there are only a few incidents that etch lasting impressions on the memory.

I had a few experiences of tragedies in childhood and later on there was the demolition of Babri Masjid, the Gujarat riots and some other mishaps that hurt me deeply but nothing gave me such a jolt as a brief interaction with an elderly man in a nondescript small town in central India during my visit as part of my job as a journalist.

It was during the assembly election in 2003 and I had just reached the town in the wee hours. Barely a couple of pan/cigarette shops at the station were open. I came out of the taxi to take a look at the place when I saw an elderly man, around 60 years of age, who had probably returned after a morning walk was sitting at the bench.

ELDERLY ISLAMOPHOBE

I was to cover the political mood of the place before the election and being new to the town I asked him."Dada ji, yahan kaisa mahaul hai?" The question was to assess the political climate of the area that whether the wind was blowing in favour of Congress or BJP [the area has no presence of any third force].

Barely had I finished my sentence that the man erupted like a volcano. 'Sab se badi museebat to yahi hain', he pointed to the other side of the station and the pan kiosks. Seeing my blank face, he got more specific...'Yeh Musalmaan, saale ek ke sattarah moot hain'. (moot=piss, sattarah=17)

My reaction was of absolute shock. Clearly, he could not even think that this journalist could have been a Muslim. He suddenly got conscious and changed the topic, started asking me a lot of questions but I was so shaken by the ferocity of this statement I could not help but move away.

SUCH LEVELS OF HATE!

Whatever the phrase exactly meant but the meaning was crystal clear. More so, I could sense the contempt in it. I later realised that the small shops were owned by Muslims. It was a city overwhelmingly Hindu [naturally] but divided in such a way that on one side of the railway track it was mostly Muslims who lived while the other side was dominated by Hindus.

The statement took time to sink in but it was an experience of lifetime, surely, such 'original' experience of the real bias towards Muslims could not have been felt by me had I introduced myself. It gave me an insight into the kind of gulf that exists between the same people of different religions who life side by side for a millennium in this country.

I wondered what amount of hate or anger towards Muslims may have prompted him to blurt out such a demeaning expression without a thought. I salute his audacity. And his conviction. He hated Muslims and he said this before a stranger.

TRYING TO UNDERSTAND THE ROOT OF THE DIVIDE

Now for the record the district I am talking out was carved recently. It has a Muslim population of just 7% but as Muslims are hardly in rural areas, the urban area has a concentration and their percent swells to over 15 and in the main town it is even more.

But apart from small-time jobs and a few shops they don't run business or own establishments. They are not eating into any one's business or taking away jobs at all. Then what could be the cause for such a tremendous hate and impulsive anger towards the community.

Is it about the way Muslim are, their apparently aggression and ego that is intolerable to others who probably want them to be like the extremely lower castes--unable to raise voice. The town I am talking about has no history of any communal record at all.

[To be continued.....]

READ SECOND PART HERE