DELHI — Where to play, or not to play cricket, has become a life-and-death question for Muslims in India.
In Gurgaon's Dhamaspur village, members of a Muslim family that makes a living by repairing home appliances were attacked on March 21, the evening of Holi, by a group of drunken men allegedly from the Gujjar community.
The men appeared on bikes and objected to Muslim boys playing cricket in the open. The boys were told to go play in Pakistan.
Soon, around 25 men, armed with sticks and rods, arrived and chased the boys into their house. The violence that ensued on the terrace was filmed from the rooftop by a brave 21-year-old woman in the family, Daanishtha Siddiqui.
You don't have the right to play cricket here, because you don't have the right to live here.
It has become commonplace in India in recent years to intimidate Muslims in the name of Pakistan. There is a serious danger that lurks beneath the naturalization of this language. A popular idea of religious identity that has emerged in India's political discourse does not understand religion as a difference based on faith, but based on (and justified by) majoritarian sentiments. It is being drilled into popular consciousness that Hindus alone owe allegiance to the nation.
Muslims are openly accused of lacking loyalty, and their alienation is encouraged. Political rights are being defined in antidemocratic and even unconstitutional terms. A fascist ground is being created where — if the perpetrator is Hindu and the victim is Muslim — violence carries a legitimate alibi.
The politicization of religious identity is a majoritarian ploy to commit unanswerable and unlimited violence on minorities. When such politicization becomes part of a fascist project, the mere presence of minorities becomes impermissible. "You don't have the right to play cricket here, because you don't have the right to live here."
It is a fascist line of argument that seeks to create a new dictum of belonging. Only those who belong to the nation have rights here. By majoritarian definition, only one community, historically and politically, belongs to the nation. The rest are identified as outsiders, who can be shown their status anytime. This crude and bizarre language that threatens to snatch away from minority-citizens the rights of belonging is being slowly put to place in India.
It has become common to intimidate muslim Indians in the name of Pakistan — Photo: watchsmart
In filming the violence in the Gurgaon incident — at grave risk — Daanishtha makes an ethical point. She records a scary predicament. The motive to record the scene is an alert impulse in the face of fear. The woman behind the frame records the fear of terrified girls and boys huddled together around an iron door. The fear of violence is palpably near. The mobile phone is a defenseless extension of the body that despite fear has the power to record. Steady hands hold and move the camera, despite the fear.
The camera does not record Daanishtha's state of fear, only what unfolds before her. But her fear translates into our fear, as we fear for her people along with her. The camera is also used as a tool to bear witness, and testify against efforts to falsify the truth. Daanishtha made her point, speaking to Aishwarya S. Iyer of The Quint. "Mere naam ka matlab akalmand hain (My name means sensible)," she said.
Territorial violence carries a special logic of cruelty, where the victim is denied the right to exist.
The Hindu vigilantes surrounding and beating up a bleeding Muslim man is an image of excessive cruelty. The men look aroused, almost possessed, by the condition of a defenseless man, hitting him repeatedly.
Violence is addictive when it meets with fear and helplessness. Territorial violence carries a special logic of cruelty, where the victim is denied the right to exist. The right to exist (or not), is linked to the question of land. What is natural (the relation between land and body) takes on a political meaning, where land and body is divided on religious lines.
We have a fascist correlation: Natural = Political = National = Religious. This mad equation does not follow any law, be it scientific, political, national, or religious. It is the mad law of fascism that forges a fictitious relation between nature, politics, nation and religion to draw a circle of unreason. In postcolonial India, this unreason is rooted in the violent memory of Partition.
The logic and sentiment of Partition is reenacted within the nation. Pakistan is not just a place beyond the border, but exists within the nation. In The Quint report, Daanishtha says the men shouted, "Pakistan hai ye (This is Pakistan)." This is a fascist language of internal political demarcation. Muslims, identified as enemies belonging to another country, can have their material possessions — land, property and body — violated.
The Dhamaspur incident also demonstrates the political equation between land and body. The body, smeared in blood on the floor, deserves no pity. In the language of the Hindu vigilante, the Muslim body is considered the body of an alien, a man who does not belong to this land, and therefore is not protected by the law of sentiments. The nature of violence against Mohammad Akhlaq in Dadri, Afrazul in Rajasthan, and the minor boy, Hafiz Junaid, in Haryana, testify to this psyche. Muslims and Hindus are separated not just by faith, but bodies.
This is similar to racist notions of segregation, including those based on religion. The violence unleashed in such cases has a touch of unreality about it, precisely because it seeks to make what is unreal, real.
Daanishtha screams as she shoots the video, "Allah! Ghar mein ghus gaye…(Allah! They have entered the house...)" The young family members are clutching on to the iron door as a shield of defense. Her cries are cries of bare life, hanging by the thread. Life is reduced to (the fear of) its biological existence. The moral and secure sphere of life is broken down by an act of communal aggression.
Article 21 of the Constitution protects our right to life and personal liberty. But life is not simply a constitutional guarantee. Political reality threatens life, by dividing life into caste, class, gender and religion.
The politics of communal territoriality, based on majoritarian nationalism, threatens every sphere of minority-life. It enforces terrible paradoxes, the kind the Muslim household faced: the fear of losing a home within home, and the feeling of losing ground in a place they have lived in since the last three years.
The Muslim family paid the price for their members playing cricket in the street. Cricket is not just a game. It is a metaphor of territoriality and war. After the Pulwama attack, there is an effort to build a national consensus on not playing against Pakistan in the coming World Cup in England. Cricket is the new metaphor of internal partitions.
Manash Firaq Bhattacharjee is the author of Looking for the Nation: Towards Another Idea of India, published by Speaking Tiger Books (August 2018).
See more from Culture / Society here