As I write this, three people are working in our flat. Abdul is repairing a door, Ishaq is painting the balcony parapet, and Saira, our all-in-one domestic help, is cooking. Abdul, a serious looking man of few words is around 30, but looks 50. Ishaq, still in his teens, has an earphone implanted into an ear. I ask him what songs he is fond of. Shreya Ghoshal, he answers. Saira too has a mobile phone, which is unreachable when we call her. But at our home, her hubby calls every hour – they are newly married – and she coos into the phone for a while. At first, I thought there was some magic. But I soon noticed that the first thing she does after reaching our place is to plug in her mobile. Her phone battery is dead; it works only if connected to external power. Also, quite appropriately, her caller tune is a koel’s call.
Ishaq is from Bihar and Abdul is from West Bengal. Saira too is from another part of Bengal. Ishaq and Abdul live in shanties made of corrugated iron sheets, provided by the builder of our humongous housing complex, a little away. As you enter the workers’ ghetto walled by corrugated sheets (what else?), a vile stench assails you. Non-sanitary toilets have been thoughtfully placed right at the entrance. Vaastu compliance?
Gentle Reader, everyone I have written about here happens to be Muslim. In the condominium we’ve moved into recently, 90% of the workers, barring the omnipresent Odia plumbers, are Muslims from Bengal or Bihar. The security guards, all of them, are from distant corners of Assam. Some of them are from my mother’s hometown. Since I speak their dialect, they have become pally with me. If I have a heavy bag, some of them insist on carrying it, much to my embarrassment. Incidentally, they too are Muslims, almost every one of them.
Why am I writing about Muslim workers? Well, for two reasons, one of which is that although the workers – who just eke out a living – are Muslims from faraway places, the engineers and supervisors are mostly locals and Hindus. Does this tell a story?
Let’s face it. You don’t need the Sachar Committee Report to realise that Muslims in India are among the poorest. And they are as decent and law-abiding as anyone else. As a matter of fact, most of them are just too busy to earn two meals a day, and have neither the inclination nor the time to chant Bharat Mata-ki Jai. Or for that matter, Allahu Akbar.
The second reason I am writing this is that some people close our ruling establishment have been insisting that chanting Bharat Mata-ki Jai is a precondition for living in India. Yesterday, I read this on Facebook: “Kill all the Kashmiris and Send all the Muslims to Pakistan. Or at least teach them a lesson they won’t forget in a hurry.”
This may be the voice of an extremist zealot, but unfortunately there are far too many of them. Those who trawl the Net are familiar with these trolls. The message of hatred spreads like a dangerous virus given the covert and overt support from the highest quarters. The PM in waiting – in an interview with Reuters – equated death of Muslims, at least 1,400 Muslims had died, in the Gujarat Riots with puppies coming under the wheels of a car [Times of India, 12 July 2013]. He has never apologised for the remark – he never does!
He becomes the PM in due course. His henchmen take up the cue. Thanks to the nature of the TV and the social media, which generally abhor serious dialogues and veer towards extreme positions, a mass antipathy is created against Muslims. In many parts of India today, Muslims cannot rent or buy homes. Recently a college lecturer, a beautiful young woman married to a Muslim, told me: “I have been married for ten years. For the first time as I was travelling on Rajdhani Express recently, the TTE looked at me in a queer way as he read out my name. And all the heads turned towards me. I felt I was an outsider who’d gate-crashed into a party.”
Send them all to Pakistan?
When will we realise that hatred towards a community goes against the basic grains of humanity, and no society can survive with deep fault lines. Countries that are at war with themselves, Pakistan, Burma, Afghanistan, are all basket cases today.