Between Badaun and Muzaffarnagar

There is an imminent need to think along the lines of how to build a ‘wider solidarity’ among Bahujan community cutting across faith, argues the writer.

By Abul Kalam Azad,

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“As the media and civil rights groups shifted their focus to the hanging of two dalit girls in Badaun, the riot affected families’ do not know what lies ahead of them”, read the curious editorial in The Hindu on June 24, 2014.

I will not get into the hideous politics behind identifying the women from Badaun as dalit, even when it is clear that they are not, which is handled elsewhere incisively by Sruthi Herbert.

File Photo of a relief camp in Muzaffarnagar

Instead, I will focus my thoughts on this curious juxtaposition of Muzaffarnagar and Badaun in most Savarna narratives.

Muzaffarnagar, in many respects, is a different and permanent saffron-stain on this torn and stinking cloth called India, than that of Gujarat. Not only in the extent of media coverage and conscience churning, but also the dominant modes of violence inflicted upon Muslims’. The death toll, is less in comparison to the grotesque spectacle that was Gujarat but the paralyzing dominant violence caused here is due to gang-rapes (that did not lead to death), large-scale displacement, and livelihood uprootment- a percolating sense of loss, and of denial of a life with dignity. A morbidly efficient methodology to ‘put them in their place’, with minimal public or media outrage, which is ever obliging and ever ready to be amnesiac and apathetic vis-a-vis violence on Muslims’.

The relief camps, brimming with displaced Muslims’ , who are now being forcibly evicted and pushed towards their ‘home’ where the perpetrators are socially, politically and economically formidable now more than ever, and gearing up to unleash fresh violence, on the recalcitrant Muslims’, with impunity, the rape victims, to whom justice and daily sustenance is a receding mirage, the scores of people bereft of means of livelihood, of their sense of belonging, of their sense of history,….This, this heart-rending tragedy unfolding gleefully under our noses’,papers’and pens’ should have been enough for any conscientious human to lose sleep over.

But, as Babasaheb Ambedkar reflected, time and again, this Savarna clan is strange. So is their sleep.

These people are manipulating their social, political and cultural capital into exploiting the misery of Indian Muslims’ to perpetuate their casteism. Using the apathy, again of their very own Brahminized political and civil society, towards the grief of Muzaffarnagar rape victims’ to frown over, what they conveniently perceive as medias’ bias towards victims of caste atrocities, especially Badaun. How many such Badauns’ escape the gaze of Savarna media, just as Muzaffarnagars’ do? Why don’t I read even a single sentence regarding the justice delivered and the outrage generated/manufactured in their favorite Nirbhayas’ case while they are very willingly eager to screw in Badaun, in a slot it does not, and should not fit, definitely not on Savarna media? Why project themselves as an ally of Indian Muslims’ which they clearly are not, not till they acknowledge their caste privilege, reflect on why communalism and caste go hand-in-hand, why, most of the times, it is their Savarna brethren, who rape both muslim and lower caste women with impunity, why they prefer envy and distrust to thrive among the marginalized instead of solidarity and empathy, why it is always ,and shall remain, Badaun VS Muzaffarnagar, not, Badaun and Muzaffarnagar in their castiest, and hence, communal narrative.

Recently, when I was trying to reflect on the smug injustice camping with the Muslims’ of Muzaffarnagar, I fell into the pit of positing Badaun against Muzaffarnagar, (which inevitably meant demonizing and usurping into the dominant narrative, the few selective pockets who are striving towards achieving a wider solidarity), from which I was lifted out with concern, by one of my friends. I realized I lacked the language to voice my suffering, sensitively, without sounding like the oppressor myself, mired as it is in exclusionary Savarna idioms. This forced me to reflect on why this happened- why it was so easy for me to be manipulated into the discourse of Savarna mainstream, talking their talks, walking their walks, except with a bahujan tag.

The saddest thing, to me, as a Muslim, is that this castiest coverage is the only kind this Savarna-controlled media benevolently grants us. We are forced to make peace with it and, even pretend, that it is genuine empathy that is embedded within this discourse. All said and done, Muslims’ in India lack social, political, and most importantly even protest capital. We are compelled to let these apparently empathetic Savarnas’ be the face of our dissent. So, the only vocabulary, the Savarna media shoves down the throat of a Muslim is horrifyingly castiest and we fall prey to it, inevitably and willingly, if not helplessly. Brahminized castes shape the social, political and cultural discourse of this sickening country. They control the idioms of interaction among the oppressed: how a Muslim perceives caste atrocities, how a lower caste Hindu perceives communal violence.

Who’s responsible for the dialogues that hit me hard from my Muslim brothers, like, “Bhai, unlike ‘those people’ who have prevention of atrocities act, we do not have anything to safeguard us from violence. Look at the fate of Prevention of Communal and Targeted violence bill”, “Bhai, unlike, ‘those people’, with affirmative action…”, “Bhai, unlike, Badaun…” ? Why can’t I hear heart-warming proclamations like, “ Bhai, let us unite and launch a sustained dissent to demand our right to a life of dignity, just like our dalits’ and extend solidarity to their movement as well, and hope they do the same” ? Why we not able to discern that are the difference between like and unlike, is that of between solidarity and suspicion, between fraternity and envy, between a hug and a slap, between collective emancipation and individual alienation?

Why don’t we reflect on how the movement against oppression, of a particular marginalized section, significantly enriches the comprehension of our own subjugation, for instance, the voyeuristic parading of victims’ bodies’ and identities in the case of Badaun made me ruminate on how a similar violence is perpetrated on Muslim womens’ bodies, especially on those from the most heinous crimes’ ? Why do these glaringly similar oppressions’ and shared memories’ of hegemony fail to bring us together? Why has this terrain become so unbearably rugged and bitter? Why?

I, daresay, my Savarna big brother, has a significant role to play in this contortion of inter-marginalized dynamics, lest, we all, Bahujan population, unite and topple him from his comfy chair of tyrannical supremacy. Siva siva!

Savarna media should kindly stop hampering the movement towards building solidarity among the oppressed with its hypocritical rants. As it is, their clan has done a lot in rendering empathy impossible between us.

We, as marginalized sections’, should reflect on why, many of us, sadly so, who speak about Badaun do not do so about Muzaffarnagar, and vice-versa, without being trapped in this Savarna concoction of castiest idioms. Maybe, it is high time that we ponder over how to bridge the gap between Badaun and Muzaffarnagar, consciously maintained and manufactured by Savarnas’ who are striving hard to make us believe that one movement has to be sacrificed in order for the other to gain traction, on how to reclaim our path of solidarity and our sense of fraternity.

However, I understand that, as my friend puts it, “solidarity is a murky terrain” and there needs to go a lot of thought into it. I am not into any illusions’ that just giving a call for solidarity overnight, without serious reflections’ on how to go about doing it, would achieve anything. Such a hasty solidarity might in fact turn out to be detrimental as it might end up forcibly homogenizing all the various struggles’. Solidarity should mean mutual understanding, respect and empathy for each other’s’ struggles, and not homogenization and hollow association. There is an imminent need to think along the lines of how to build a ‘wider solidarity’ and why it is crucial that we do so.

It is a murky terrain, yes, but one that cannot, and should not, be ignored, and one that should be defiantly waded through.

(Abul Kalam Azad is a student at IIT-Madras.)