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Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Indian Muslims must avoid street protests

An incident that largely went ignored in national media recently occurred in Jalna, which is located in 'Congress-ruled' Maharashtra, and has lessons for Muslims.

Upset over circulation of a distorted photograph on Facebook, Muslims took out a protest. There was ruckus during the procession that sought stern action against culprits. Some youths in the demonstration had face-off with traders and resorted to stone pelting. A vehicle was also reportedly torched.

What happened thereafter is incomprehensible. The Jalna police registered cases under sections meant for  dacoity and attempt to murder against these youths. They were arrested and sent to jail and the father of one them died of heart attack when he heard news of his son's arrest.

Certainly there was no need for any ruckus in the procession and if, at all, there was lawlessness, it warranted legal action. But the police should have applied the appropriate sections under the Indian Penal Code (IPC), not the cases meant for acts that didn't happen. Instead they used such harsh sections that are never used in such incidents. One again you can cry 'injustice' or recite couplets like 'ham aah bhi bharte haiN to ho jaate hain badnaam, voh qatl bhi...'.

But there are several lessons for Indian Muslims in this:

1. Firstly, many would say that it is 'injustice' and that protests which are much more violent--ranging from open arms display by right-wing groups to Barjang Dal attacks during Valentine's Day or the Gujjars blocking railway track, don't invoke such harsh sections.

The fact is that incidents like Forbesganj firing, Gopalgarh killings and now Jalna arrests, show how administration acts in such cases. Was a mere Facebook post so damaging for a religion professed by hundreds of millions?

2. Couldn't the local Muslims have taken legal route--either filing FIR in the police station or getting case registered through a private complaint in the court. Else, submitting memorandums to district collector. Couldn't they have taken a leaf out of Muslims in another city [I have forgotten the name], who took Hindus and Sikhs also along, while taking their delegation to the officials.

3. How many protests have Jalna Muslims undertaken for issues pertaining to their socio-economic backwardness or how many times have they joined hands with other communities in taking out protests. We, mostly, go out, when there is an 'attack' on 'our religion'.

4. We exclusively take out protests. In such instances, there is often a risk, that the section of policemen or officers who don't like the sight of a 'Muslim juloos' may use extra force. There is apparently a feeling that with such processions, Muslims want to show their 'strength'.

This feeling is reinforced and officials sometimes take stringent action. If another group that is allied to a political party may get away lightly with a protest, it doesn't mean that you will also be let off that easily. The cases would be registered, youths hounded and their future [careers] affected.

5. A history of such incidents must have taught us that often the 'protesting minority' is seen as 'the other'. In Jalna, 60 Muslim youths were sent to jail. While one may criticise police action and the case may or may not stand in the court later on, the reality is that there was lawlessness to an extent, which you can't justify. And now the youths and their families are suffering.

The youths will experience what it is when your name is once registered in the local police station and you are deemed a troublemaker. It is really frustrating to see Muslims repeating the same mistakes again and again across the country.

6. Protest is out democratic right.But if you feel that someone else can get away with a violent protest and thus you should be spared as there was just a 'mere stone pelting', it is not a practical argument. Words like 'injustice', 'biased action', 'communal mindset' are often used but this can't justify your stand.

It also hurts the image of the community that it is ready to take to streets at the slightest provocation. Is our religion or belief so weak that any damn person's post or photo on a social networking website can hurt it. And why not take proper action, rather, than chanting emotional slogans and taking to the streets.

7. Frankly, you must protest for other people, belonging to other communities also for valid reasons, not just your own community as if you are absolutely isolated. We only go out for ourselves. This reinforces the set 'image' of Muslims. Each such protest results in loss for Muslims. This pattern is going on for decades.

8. I can recall dozens of incidents in the last decade alone, starting from the Kanpur case to the recent incidents that occurred in Rajasthan and Bihar. The violence in Kanpur had occurred in 2001, when Muslims protesting desecration of Holy Quran were fired at.

At least, 13 Muslims were killed as per official reports and the destruction of property of Muslims was immense. Not just right-wing groups but UP's notorious PAC smelt blood again and went about loot and destruction.

The better example is the case where Muslims took members of all other communities along and they took up the cases of online mischief that was 'hurting religious feelings' with the officials. Hindu leaders took up example of pictures of Gods that were morphed and similar was complaint of Sikhs.

As a result, the administration promptly acted and with greater sensitivityYou must take others along, rather than blowing your own trumpet alone.

9. Don't always think that it is you who gets the raw deal. In daily life, almost everybody who is unprivileged gets a bad deal from police and administration. The Tribal, Dalit and other weaker sections, a poor belonging to higher caste, are also a victim of numerous injustices.

So don't think that you alone are targeted all the time and stop raising the bogey of 'victim hood'. You are no special that you would be treated less harshly. Thus Jalna incident should again serve as reminder that reckless  actions can lead to further problems.

Muslims must learn to hold silent sit-ins and dharnas, if at all, it is necessary or innovative forms of smart protests that attract media rather than affecting traffic and turning off others. Otherwise they run the risk of getting labelled as aggressors and termed as 'troublemakers'. It's time to ponder seriously whether mindlessly protests serve any purpose or they instead hurt us.

10. And yes, new media is evolving. There will be a lot of stuff that you may find offending. But it shouldn't drive you crazy. You must learn to ignore things as well. One can only hope that repeated incidents will now serve as lesson for the community and they would learn to be more responsible and tactful.