Another man in the same area sent me videos of state security forces barging into his neighbor’s house. “They threatened his father, asked him if Islam allowed him to have sex with his own daughter and started laughing,” the man said. “They opened the cupboards, stole the gold, jewelry, vandalized their homes.”
One of the officers pushed the father to the ground and said, “You circumcised must remember, this is the price you pay for protesting” — a reference to the demonstrations that have spread across India in the past weeks over the passage of a discriminatory citizenship law pushed by the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The Bharatiya Janata Party government in Uttar Pradesh — led by Yogi Adityanath, an Islamophobic hard-line Hindu monk — had warned protesters of revenge on Dec. 19. Within hours, I and other journalists were flooded with calls and messages about police vandalism and brutality — just before the state cut off the Internet.
Also on Dec. 21, I received a frantic call from an orphanage for young Muslim students in Muzaffarnagar. The line disconnected. I tried calling back but the line went unanswered. A few days later, a disturbing news report emerged. Teenage Muslim students of the Sadat Hostel had been beaten and forced to chant “Jai Shri Ram” (Glory to Lord Ram). The teacher, an elderly Muslim cleric, was stripped and humiliated.
I am a Muslim journalist who has witnessed the worst anti-Muslim carnages up close, and the repression and intimidation in Uttar Pradesh bring back nightmares that we wish to erase from our recent memories. But this is all a manifestation of hate fanned by Modi and nurtured among his supporters in the security forces.
The prime minister has maintained a dangerous and strategic silence through it all, and it’s impossible not to think of his role in the anti-Muslim violence of 2002, when he was a provincial minister in Gujarat. Whether Modi’s police in 2002 or Adityanath’s in 2019, the hate remains unchanged.
As the constitution is trampled and Muslims are once again threatened, Indians have noticed the silence, hypocrisy and complicity of powerful sectors — in particular the film industry.
Paranoia about Muslims is reflected in mainstream Bollywood. Since Modi assumed power, filmmakers have been bending over backward to please the Indian right wing. Film after film over the past four years has had a common enemy — a kohl-eyed Muslim ruler whose debauched gaze preys on Indian Hindu women, or the evil Muslim sultanate that wants to pull India away from its magnanimous Hindu supremacy.
In the new film “Tanhaji,” lead actor Ajay Devgn, a Modi supporter, plays a Hindu warrior of the 17th century who has to protect Hindu pride from Muslim rulers who seek hegemony over India. He has called the film a surgical strike that shook the Mughal Empire, repeating the phrase that the Modi government used to describe attacks in Pakistan a few months ago.
The actor Saif Ali Khan, a Muslim, plays a key role in the film — but he has played another important role off-screen, enabling the worst impulses of the government. His decision to look away from the abuses is demoralizing. While people from across the country mobilized to protect the rights of Muslims, Khan played it safe, saying he was ignorant about the citizenship bill.
He has offered cover to Modi before.
In 2018, a CNN anchor asked Khan whether he was concerned about the intolerance to secularism in Modi’s regime. He replied that he was not sure it existed. In contrast to the majority of India’s Muslim population, who live below the country’s socioeconomic standard, Khan belongs to one of the most privileged Muslim families — an erudite man who has developed amnesia when it comes to oppression.
Others have chosen the same path, including the icons Shahrukh Khan and Aamir Khan. Both have been threatened by BJP leaders in the past over their opinions of the intolerance in India. However, neither of the superstars has commented on the current nationwide protests.
A director who works closely with Shahrukh Khan was stunned at their hypocrisy. “They are worried about their business, about their films getting adversely affected should they critique the government,” the director told me. “What bothers me is that Shahrukh himself is an alumnus of Jamia Millia Islamia, where the first crackdown was unleashed by this government.”
But now the cowardice of the privileged public face of the Muslim elite is being replaced by the extraordinary courage shown by ordinary Muslims gathering in mass protests with fellow Indians, holding the national tricolor, wearing it as a symbol of their strength, rescuing it from the ethno-nationalist degradation led by Modi.